All I Want for Christmas is a Shiny Red Crane Truck

18 December
Quiel Crane Truck
by founder Tod Swormstedt

My mother likes to tell a story of when I was just a little tyke of maybe four, sprawled out on the living room floor, thumbing intently through the yellow pages of the phone book.  “Are you looking for something in particular?” she asked. “Crane trucks,” I replied matter-of-factly.

It’s not surprising that a little boy born into the sign industry would have a special fondness for crane trucks, and I guess my inner child never quite got over it.  Which would explain why when I visited Quiel Brothers Signs in San Bernardino, CA ten years ago and founder Ray Quiel’s tour of the shop included a shiny red vintage crane truck over in the corner, my eyes lit up like that four-year-old boy from long ago.  Imagine my delight when he suggested he might donate it to the museum some day.

Ten years later, during a recent Quiel family meeting, the idea of donating the truck came up again.  That triggered the email I got from Ray’s son, Gary:

“My company has a restored 1944 dodge truck with the hand-crank Garland crane… we would like to donate to the museum if you are interested.  Please let me know.”

What a surprise!  What an offer!  I immediately called him to confirm our “interest,” barely able to control my excitement.  Good things really do come to those who wait.

The Quiels acquired the 1944 Dodge flatbed commercial truck in 1996, still sporting its original – though faded – paint, and slowly dying of old age.  It had low mileage, though, and a good running engine, no rust, and no dents.  According to Ray, “We disassembled every part, sand blasted, steam cleaned, painted and reassembled them using all stainless bolts, reupholstered the interior and refurbished the bed.”

He found the manually-operated 40-foot Garland sign crane in a junk yard in Sacramento.  They lovingly disassembled and restored it to its original condition and mounted it to the truck bed.  The Quiels belong to the American Historical Truck Association and have brought the truck to both sign trade shows and Americana rallies like San Bernardino’s Route 66 Rendezvous.

The truck has been in storage the past few years, though, and Gary said it was going to need a little work.  We’ll be getting back with him after the holidays to figure out the logistics of getting the truck to its new home.  Wouldn’t it be great if the museum could drive the truck back from California to Cincinnati across a “blue highway” such as Route 50?  What a road trip that could be, stopping at sign shops along the way.  Hmmm. Stay tuned . . .

About the Quiels:  Ray Quiel’s sign career dates back to 1944 – same as his vintage truck.  He operated a GMC crane truck in 1947 while erecting signs in downtown San Bernardino. The current company has been doing business as Quiel Bros. since 1961. Ray still operates the company today along with his tree sons, Larry, Jerry, and Gary.

Here is the finished truck with layouts and dimensions for the various handlettered sections

Here is the finished truck with layouts and dimensions for the various handlettered sections

The Quiels brought in veteran signpainter Bill Warner to letter the truck.

The Quiels brought in veteran signpainter Bill Warner to letter the truck.



8 Responses to "All I Want for Christmas is a Shiny Red Crane Truck"

  1. Kyler Brown says:

    I am a big fan of restoration projects, and this one was really neat to read about. It’s amazing what you will find in a junkyard, and how it can be transformed into a thing of beauty. I hope to see more posts like this in the future! Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Read More says:

    There are three main standard involved in handling and operating a crane. First, your crane must be capable to lift the heaviness of the load. Second, your crane must not collapse and lastly it must not rip apart. Good luck with your shiny red crane truck.

  3. American Sign Museum says:

    Thanks, Bob, for sharing this. We are definitely enjoying it!

  4. Bob Meyer says:

    I got into the sign business as a welder in 1967 for the Quiel Bros. Ray and Gordon. Ray\’s older boys were still in High School.We were installing 50\’ to 100\’ high oil company signs on every freeway off ramp. Some had stations on all four corners. I would get done with a truck load of pipe up to 35\” when a new load would come in. Gorden was the salesman and Ray was the mechanic with an uncanny ability to save time with out cutting quality or safety. Anything that could be done in the shop was cheaper than two men and a truck. I welded nuts in the top sections of pipe for brackets that they clamped a section of ladder before they raised it. You put another ladder against it from the ground. Two men could install a sign 60\’ to the bottom with one truck. The permit man, Carl, got good enough building info that I could build complete roof structures that were small enough to fit on a trailer. Larger ones we made in pieces. The crews could set them on the roof, drill trough the holes in the base and hit roof beams. He was worth what ever they paid him. They had a 65 and 80 all electric Garland and a 100\’ Skyhook. I never saw the truck in the article.They bought another 80 which I made the truck bed for and drove the truck to Garland to pick up the crane. I worked there until 1972 doing various jobs. I moved to Seattle and worked as an installer for 20 years using the tricks I learned from the Quiels It was fun to see this article and the truck. Enjoy it at the museum, Bob

  5. […] See our initial blog post about acquiring the truck here. […]

  6. The laminate works you have done on your truck is looking perfect. I will also make a perfect look to my truck with these exterior designs.

  7. Looks like nice coverage with the yellow, not so easy to do.
    Interesting to see the shade done before the lettering.

  8. Dave Dubé says:

    I started painting signs when I was 14 beside my dad, who had a huge stack of Signs of the Times magazines in our shop. I devoured them, because at the time I was doing truck lettering. Fabulous resource you have here!

  9. Skip Moore says:

    What a wonderful gesture. I’ve seen this truck and she’s indeed a beauty. I think it’s great that it will end up in a place where artifacts of the industry are treasured.

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