This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue.
It’s not too often you see an old Dodge Power Wagon driving around in 2021. It’s unique; and that’s what Mike Presher loves about his 1959 Power Wagon. The three-quarter ton truck turns heads everywhere the owner takes it, and so far that’s been a lot of places.
“My buddy rode with me the other day. He said, ‘Man, you’re like a rock star in this thing, huh?’” Mike recalled. “Everybody waves at you. You fill up with fuel and they want to talk about the truck. Lots of positive reactions.”
While it’s not quite a daily driver, it’s pretty dang close. Mike works as a dirt contractor in Tatum, N.M., and will often take the Power Wagon with him out onto dirt roads to perform estimates on jobs in oil fields or elsewhere. It’s reliable enough that Mike mentioned he would take it on a road trip all the way up to Oregon if he needed to. A tall order for a 62-year-old truck, though not surprising for a build once used as fire trucks, a job that relies on reliability.
Getting The Truck
Mike used to collect Power Wagons and once had three or four of them at once. A friend of his gave him a lead on one at a ranch and Mike drove out to see if they were interested in selling it. Instead of selling, they said, ‘You can have it if you clean up the bone yard.’ Mike has a partnership with some friends at a junk yard; this was going to be a breeze. Then “just” 15 hauled cars later, Mike had himself another Power Wagon.
It sat in his garage for six months until he was able trade a ‘78 Scout for a rolled-over truck. He took the cab off it, shortened the frame 3.5 feet, moved the motor mounts back 8 inches, boxed the frame in place and mounted on the Power Wagon’s body. That was in 2008 and he’s been driving it ever since.
Putting In The Work
Since getting the Power Wagon, which Mike says is his favorite vehicle, he’s put quite a bit of work into keeping it in shape. It’s on a ’96 chassis and has a Cummins engine with 40-inch IROK radial tires on 16-inch Mickey Thompson wheels. It used to have a 47RE transmission in it, but the automatic tranny let Mike down a few too many times so he switched it out for a NV4500 5-speed manual. He says it, “gives it more of a truck feel.”
It also has a Dana 60 axle in the front. The rear was a Dana 70 but he burned up the pinion bearing it in.
“In my little bone yard at the shop I had another truck,” Mike explained. “It was a one-ton, single rear wheel with a Dana 80 in it, so I ended up putting that rear end in this. It was all the same gear ratio, like a 3.54, which sounds really high but it’s got pretty good low gears too.”
In the interior Mike has built consoles and installed rubber floor mats, an on-board air compressor and even an ARB fridge in the back. He also put in air conditioning a couple years ago which he says, “works really good,” and has installed auxiliary lights. Thanks to his hunting experience, there are deer hides on the door panels, a bear hide on the headliner and the sun visors are mule deer.
The Power Wagon has a 7.5-foot truck bed that Mike wanted to put a camper shelf on. He bought one for $50 thinking it would make for a fun weekend project. After shortening and narrowing it, his “weekend project” that turned into a three-week journey was finally done.
While looks aren’t everything, Mike loves the reddish, rusty hue of the truck, which is how it got its nickname, the Redneck, and has no plans to paint it.
“It would ruin it for me,” he said. “Before I added the camper shell, when I went in the woods I could park right on the side of the forest road in the shadows and people would fly by on the road and not even notice you were there because the rust and the color of the truck just blended in almost perfectly.”
Mike also owns a ’90 Suburban with 37’s on it and uses it when he wants to take a bunch of people somewhere, but prefers his Power Wagon, citing its reliability and overall feel.
With as much overlanding, hunting and adventuring as Mike does, he’s bound to come back with a few stories. One of his more notable tales was three years ago in Las Cruces, N.M. He was with a friend up in the mountains on a rainy day when they saw something strange up ahead. They cautiously inched closer to examine and discovered 4 inches of water running down the road. Within 30 seconds it had grown to 24 inches. A flash flood. While most people, including safety officials, would tell you to stay away from something like that, Mike isn’t like most people. His friend asked him, “You’re not going to go through that are you?” Mike threw it into drive and said, “Hang on.”
“It was like a raging river,” Mike explained. “It was really a trip. We made it down that road about two miles and finally came to a gate, but my buddy couldn’t get out to open it because the water was so deep. So we found some high ground and set up camp right there.”
Years ago, just after getting the Power Wagon running, Mike was bear hunting when he found himself caught in a hail storm. Unfortunately for Mike, he hadn’t put in side windows yet. He hid it up under a small apple tree and stuck a poncho over the side window to stop the hail.
“I’ve had this thing like 15 years so I’ve been through quite a few adventures in it.”
Mike has also entered it in car shows where he’s won, though car shows aren’t a big deal to him. His favorite part is the homemade trophies, such as a handmade tractor crank shaft, that’s he’s collected from the shows.
With a truck as unique as this, it’s sure to bring in some potential buyers.
“I’ve had a few offers,” Mike admitted. “I don’t pursue them too much because I’ll never find another one. Dodge had really low production numbers on these trucks in ‘59 and they’re really hard to find--this power giant body series. And it’s unique. I like the Toyotas, I like the Jeeps, but it’s just not unique. I’m just an old truck guy, I guess you could say.”
Trucks have always come naturally to Mike, from riding his yellow Tonka toy truck down his driveway as a kid to driving through two feet of water in his Power Wagon as an adult, and he’s not slowing down anytime soon.
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