Flathead Food Truck: 1938 Ford 1 1/2 Ton Truck

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One of the more pleasant trends in the past decade has been the popularity of food trucks.  These mobile kitchens have provided opportunities to talented chefs who may never be able to own their own brick-and-mortar restaurants.  They usually have some tasty, unique foods too!  Most, however, have to come up with an eye-catching vehicle to attract attention.  Well, you could hardly find a more distinctive vehicle than this 1938 Ford 1 1/2-ton truck for sale on craigslist in Phoenix, Arizona for a relatively reasonable $12,000 as is.  Does this cool old flathead-powered truck, suggested to us by reader T. J., have what it takes to be a successful business?

I am not sure what it is like in your area, but food trucks have had a big impact both in our little town and in the neighboring city.  There are currently three operating food trucks near us.  One is a garden variety barbecue truck, another is a Carolina-style barbecue trailer, and the third is a cool little “canned ham” trailer converted into a coffee shop.  The neighboring city has dozens of them.  Local businesses hire them to cook for employees and they can be seen on the weekends at both farmer’s markets and at what are called “food truck roundups.”

The beauty of a business like this is first and foremost a relatively low startup cost in comparison to a standard restaurant.  Many talented chefs will never make enough money to start a restaurant and have the funding needed to build the business over the first few years.  Food trucks are a good way for them to show off their talents and build a clientele.  For the average consumer, the great part about food trucks is that they can offer new and interesting foods that are usually not seen in their area.

This 1938 Ford 1 1/2-ton truck appears to have been some sort of carnival wagon some years ago.  Popcorn, caramel corn, and candy apples seem to be the main items for sale, with drinks to wash these healthy treats down likely sold as well.  There appear to be some signs that the truck may have some equipment inside if you look closely at the photos.  The seller does note that a cotton candy machine comes with the truck and that the old Ford was used at events in the Southern California area 5-7 years ago.

While it is not currently in running condition, the seller tells us that it can be for an additional $3,000.  Restored would run you another $35,000 or more with customization options available.  If you were going to build this up into a full-on food truck, then you would have to do a little leg work to see what was required for permitting.  We had a sno-cone trailer in town last year.  They sold sno-cones and canned drinks for about two months before the health inspector shut them down for not having a sink with hot and cold running water.  I didn’t even know we had a health inspector in our county.  It wasn’t like any of the local restaurants worried themselves with what any health inspector wanted…

Evidently, you have different rules to follow depending on what you are serving.  Pre-packaged foods and canned drinks could probably be sold out of a truck like this.  With a little extra work, maybe hot dogs and such.  Anything more extensive is going to require a lot more weight and complexity.  At that point, there may be better options than this old Ford. If this truck were yours, what would you sell out of it?

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  1. HoA Howard AMember

    Jeff goes more into detail about food trucks than the truck itself, and pretty much described food trucks role today, BUT, missed an important point why. It’s more about lack of wait staff in conventional sit down restaurants. In my little town, pop. about 5,000. the heart of the Rockies, tourists up the ying yang, the last sit down restaurant is a fixing to close, after like 50 years. The parking lot is packed, great food, but with wait times over an hour, they can’t make it. No help. I give people credit, they try their luck at some different kind of food( Mexican is huge) and last about a year and gone. So food trucks eliminate that issue, but not cut and dry either. One, a hot dog ( and other things) truck went under, not because of help, it’s supply. Prices are so out of whack, they literally can’t afford the products.
    Enough of that, the truck is a 2 year design, and quite rare. It’s a shame it’s being used as a display, rather than a classic truck. I’d lose the back, which I’m sure is horribly out of date, and make a dump truck out of it.
    Your call, I suppose. A poor time to start ANY business, food, like the author says, is a finicky business, you’d be better off driving for Swift or I hear the repo biz is booming,,,,it is still a neat find, truck-wise, that is.

    Like 11
  2. geomechs geomechsMember

    Quite a novelty but I rather doubt that this would end up losing the cook shack and donning a cab. I sure hope that it doesn’t end up losing that pristine Barrel-Nose grill and hood to some other project. For a few years there was a ‘39 sat beside the road. One night a crew of midnight auto wreckers absconded with the grill and hood.

    Like 6
  3. man ' war

    This reminds me of the Jeepneys in the Philippines.

    Like 3
    • Bob C.

      Never heard that word before. However, Chuck Berry has used the term “Jitney” in a couple of his songs in reference to a vehicle.

      Like 2
      • man ' war

        Bob C. Look it up. They are made in the Philippines and are used only in the Philippines as far as I know. They are used like a taxi to haul people around for a fee.

        Like 1
      • Mikey P

        They were “Jitney’s” in San Francisco all the way up to the 1980’s.

        Like 1
    • Bob C.

      Man ‘ war, I just did. Yes, I see what you mean.

      Like 1
    • 67Firebird_Cvt 67Firebird_CvtMember

      This kind of gives me the creeps, it reminds me of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (I think), where the guy drives around with a truck giving out candy then when the kids come out the decorative sides drop off, and it’s a jailcell that they take the kids away in.
      Maybe wrong movie, if so feel free to correct me.

      Like 1
      • Bluetec320 Bluetec320

        Nope, you’re right! I remember the “child catcher” scene always scared the bejesus out it me.

        Like 0
  4. Jerry Murphy

    Put a wide door in the back w a ramp. Would be perfect to haul a couple old HD’s to a show

    Like 1
  5. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

    I can envision this as a static food vending truck, perhaps in an amusement park with a section for vintage themes, offering prepared food and drink. Many locations will require the old engine/trans be pulled as they potentially have a fire risk. But once the drive train is pulled, the under hood area can become a storage location. If there is one thing all food trucks need, it’s extra storage space.

    Over the years I’ve helped 2 different friends enter the food truck business, my shop did a lot of the conversion work on the original bread vans. In the mid-Atlantic area most county and state requirements for mobile food trucks are patterned after restaurant regs, and as far as I know, they all require hot & cold running water and the cooking fuel often must be a special propane tank, fixed in place [no 20 lb grill tanks]. The requirement of a fixed fuel tank is a recent requirement due to some serious 20 lb propane tank explosions on food trucks in New York and Washington DC.

    I can see this easily requiring another $20k to be spent on not just the current state-of-the-art food prep equipment, but also replacing the old wood structure where the windows are located, as the wood appears to be rotted in places. Plus many of these areas will need to be either replaced with, or covered with, grade 3 brushed Stainless steel for health reasons.

    Like 3
  6. Troy

    Looks like something that would be in the shrines parade full of clowns Needs a giant head of pennywise on the top

    Like 2
  7. TortMember

    The investment to update it to get it road worthy and appliances for food preparation may be costly but it sure would be a hit at car shows. county fairs and the many festivals small town America has every year.

    Like 4
  8. RMac

    Looks like this was a dual Lu but the outer set of wheels and tires is gone maybe removed just to fit on that trailer? Sweet looking truck and I like the Rx-7 racer in front on the trailer as was already mentioned not much write up on the actual truck

    Like 1
  9. Tom

    Possible RV? I see plenty of old school busses (Schoolies) going that route. This looks to have decent size for an ingenious imagination. Today’s RV products are very compact and advanced for small spaces. A solar system on the roof could provide enough power for off-grid dry camping. Would have to replace the running gear to something capable of pushing it down the highway at today’s speeds. Probably cost less to do this than restore to original. Awesome ride regardless!!

    Like 1

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