by | Jul 17, 2023

Jamey Simmons reflects on Ralls County Electric’s vintage truck

Not long after Ralls County Electric Cooperative energized its first power line, a 1938 Dodge 2-ton truck rolled off the assembly line. It ended up on a farm near Vandalia where it was used to haul grain and cattle to the market.

Flash-forward to the late 1980s and the truck came up at auction. Jamey Simmons, jack-of-all-trades for the New London-based electric cooperative, won the bid and hauled the old truck back to the office. It was the start of Jamey’s many years serving as the truck’s caretaker and the face of the co-op at parades, fairs and festivals, including the Missouri State Fair where the truck can be found on display at the Missouri’s Electric Cooperatives building. 

“It was made to work,” Jamey says. “There were no frills like we have today. It was made to haul, and they weren’t worried about the driver’s comfort.”

Not that Jamey minds the lack of comfort — his home in New London is surrounded by garages packed with vintage vehicles ranging from tiny Nash Metropolitans to low-slung hot rods. His oldest is a 1919 Studebaker touring car. He’s got his dad’s 1955 Mercury convertible and a 1934 Dodge truck. His latest “get” is a 1930 Dodge sedan. 

“The cars seem to find me more than I find them,” Jamey admits. “That’s a problem around our household. We get an old car, and it becomes part of the family.” 

Naturally Jamey was the go-to guy when former Ralls County Electric Manager Dan Strode decided the co-op needed a vintage truck to help tell the story of how electric co-ops wired the countryside. 

At first the plan was to restore the truck after hours at the co-op. “But there’s no way to do your normal job and then restore a vehicle,” Jamey says. “It ran and drove when we got it. We took it apart, then sandblasted the frame. Our mechanic who was here at the time rebuilt the engine. He went through the transmission and cleaned it up.” When the project ground to a halt, the truck went to a shop in Palmyra that closed before work was completed.

“We got it out of that shop and ended up taking it to Vandalia where Brian Snodgrass and his father worked on it. They finished the truck and made the bed for it,” Jamey says. Once complete, the truck now hauled sports teams, Rural Missouri’s Buddy Bear and the ladies of the Red Hat Society, mostly with Jamey behind the wheel.

Trucks like this one were widely used at electric co-ops during their early years. Jamey, a 42-year veteran of the cooperative, used his share of spartan trucks during the early days of his career. “We had one bucket truck when I came to work here,” he says. “It got passed around, wherever it needed to go that day.”

He says the co-op’s current fleet makes the work much easier and safer while reducing outage time for members.

Still, he says there’s something magical about driving the old Dodge. “You get in there and look out that windshield and you think back to how it would have been when you drive that old vehicle down the road. It would have been a hard life just driving the truck. It was made to work. Do the job and that’s all.”

Jamey plans to retire soon, and is looking forward to finishing his many project vehicles. But if Ralls County Electric Manager Lynn Hodges calls, Jamey will be quick to answer. “I wouldn’t say no to coming back to the old truck,” he says. “Because it’s fun.”

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