Jungle Jim’s “White Whale”
by Eddie Buck
It all started simple enough. I get a phone call from a guy, telling me about an ad on Racing Junk for a box truck. The ad claimed it was Jungle Jim's, and my typical groan-and-eye roll followed. Everything seems to have belonged to Jungle, if it resembled anything he had. The price was pretty steep; the guy wanted 10 grand for it. Judging by the photo of the truck, there were definitely some ragged edges. In spite of that, I called the guy and got the basic info. He told me there was a cab thrown in the deal that was sitting in the box and, of course, he had half-a-dozen guys beating a path to his door to buy it...don't they all! I told him I was going to be at the Funny Car Reunion in a couple weeks and would stop on my way back home, if he still had it.
My son and I had gone to the FCR and then spent a couple days with my daughter in New York City. The day before we headed back home, I called the guy and sure enough he still had the truck for sale. He still had (of course) any number of guys showing up at any time to buy it...yeah ok. I told him I'd be through that way the next morning. We left New York City and made our way through New Jersey into Pennsylvania. Road weary is not a state for me to be in when making decisions. I was beat from the week. Stopping seemed too much a nuisance and I went past the exit, figuring this was probably a BS deal anyway. I mean, hell, if it was a genuine Jungle piece it would have already been snapped up. A few more exits and I look over at the kid snoozing and decided to get off at the next exit and circle back. I find the exit and the take the directions given and arrive at a shop with a lot full of Corvettes. Off to the side sits the truck, faded white box, rusty fenders, orange hood and what looks to be a roller coated paint job on the cab. I walked towards the door of the shop, where the gruff and raspy-voiced owner says, “you that Eddie fella? Truck's over dere... gotta find the keys."
Walking around it, I found he had the back door of the box open and sure enough there was cab shoved up in there. A couple milk crates and boxes full of parts sat in the back gathering rain, leaves and whatever else the Pennsylvania country side would give up as an offering. Looking up I knew why the door was open... broken spring and a pair of locking pliers holding it up. Maybe if I bought it, I'd get the Vise-Grips! He gave me the tour, showed me the leopard skin seat cover, the sleeper with the ages-old NHRA bed sheet set. Under the hood, wildlife from anywhere other than a jungle had taken residence. When I wondered aloud about the fenders, "them’s easy to fix," he says. I asked what bottom dollar was. He says, "since you got one of his cars, I'll give'er to ya fer 8 big ones." Gee thanks, I think to myself. "How about $6000?" I ask. "Aw...gawdammit!" as he throws his cigarette on the ground and spits. "I had a feller in here yesterday offer me $5000 fer it and I told him I'd burn it to the ground where it sits before I'd sell it for that." He shoots back, "$7500 and not a penny less!" He takes out a smoke, lights up and says, "I gotta get busy. Look it over a little more…I'll be inside." As he walks away, I asked if there was a place to get some breakfast and think it over. He points south, says "Denny’s" and disappears into the shop. I grabbed the pen in my pocket and scribbled the VIN and serial number from the box. The decal on the side read Oleynik. I knew they built trucks like this, but not this old.
I get back in the truck and wake up my son with, "let's eat." While I was waiting I find a number for the truck builder and sure enough, they were still in business. I ask the guy if they have any records that go back in the seventies. He said they had records going farther back than that. I give him the numbers, thinking he would be able to instantly find them and give a full report on its history. He then says, "we'll give you a call when we find something." We finished breakfast and headed to the truck. Pulling out onto the street, my phone rings...it’s Oleynik.
"Yeah, that's me."
"April 1972, Briggs Chevrolet, $3200."
"Yep. Got a note here that Jim Liberman picked it up."
"I'll be damned..!"
"Need to know anymore," he says, “can’t help ya..that's all I got."
I thanked him and headed up the road; it was time to talk turkey with my gravelly-voiced pal.
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