Richard Best and the very best vehicle collection

Two or three weeks ago I attended the Best truck show for the first time. Although the annual event could certainly qualify as the best truck show, the real reason for the name is the host’s name — Richard L. Best. I say “was” because, sadly, Richard L. Best passed away Sept. 10, just two days after his annual open house.

I regret very much never having had the opportunity to meet Best — I’ve heard about his annual event, during which his amazing collection is displayed, for a number of years, but either forgot about it, or some other commitment interfered with me attending.

I had planned to write this account of my visit before I heard of Best’s passing, and feel I still should. I trust none of the family will be offended as I mean this as a sincere tribute to him.

Best commenced collecting transportation items in 1951, when he wasn’t much more than out of high school, and over his lifetime amassed an amazing collection of cars, trucks, buses and all the related memorabilia — plus a lot miscellaneous stuff.

I’m less than a year younger than him, and in the early 1950s the last thing on my mind was collecting old vehicles — all I wanted then was just one nice set of wheels to run around in.

All of us who have developed a love for “rusty iron” should give thanks for men like Best, who had the foresight and who were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to save all these old artifacts and vehicles from the scrap yard and the garbage dump.

First impressions

The first things you see on the asphalt apron outside the two larger buildings are a four-wheeled logging trailer with hard rubber tires that was loaded with three large logs, a probably four-foot high replica of the famous Mack bulldog, and an equally large statue of a Plymouth Rock rooster.

There were three main storage buildings open to the public, and in these Dick had crammed some 70 cars, trucks and trailers, plus a number of miscellaneous collectibles. Trucks included a WC-22 White tractor and yellow fuel trailer lettered for the U.S. Air Force, a 1930s International B or A series dump, and a rare 1919 Oldsmobile truck with a wooden cab.

Dodge trucks included a late 1940s cab-over road tractor and a moving van as well as a Power Wagon. There were two 1936 Ford trucks like the ones Dick’s father, Harry W. Best, had used when he started his Struthers trucking company. There were two armored cars, one lettered for the Dollar Bank, and a big 1921 Pierce-Arrow sedan that had been converted into a tow truck.

Mack trucks of many different vintages were on display, including three scarce 1937 Mack Jr. models, one a one-ton panel, another a civil defense truck, as well as a big 1937 Mack wrecker.

Canadian vehicles

Mercury was the Canadian version of the Ford truck and Dick had two Mercury pickups, a 1947 and a 1949. There was a cement mixer truck — although I’ve forgotten what make — a Model A Ford pickup, a 1953 Ford grain truck, a 1940s Studebaker flatbed and a Diamond T pickup.

What is probably one of the largest private collections of American Bantam cars was owned by Dick — six in all — and included three early ’30s passenger cars along with another three from the late ’30s, a pickup, a panel truck and a car. Other autos in the first two buildings included a 1939 Dodge, a ’47 Kaiser and a 1912 Brush Runabout.

The really rare stuff was in the last building. There was a steam-powered Galion road roller, several beautiful early 1930s Packards, a Buick pickup truck from the teens, a ’28 Buick coupe and a 1914 Saxon roadster.

A 1932 Lincoln Phaeton and a 1933 Chrysler sedan were accompanied by early models of the Corvette and T-Bird. I counted four Whizzer motor bikes, plus a seldom seen Sears engine that hooked to a bike’s front fork and drove the front wheel through a friction roller.

Rare items

Other very rare vehicles included an early Maxwell, a 1905 Mahoning car and a turn of the century Fredonia runabout, both made in Youngstown, as well as a Hatfield truck of about the same vintage.

Dick amassed a large collection of dairy memorabilia that includes a 1935 Twin Coach milk delivery truck and a Goshen Dairy milk wagon, complete with a fiberglass horse in full harness. He had three of the little ice cream vendor bicycle freezers, also from Goshen Dairy, that Nancy remembers running around the streets of Salem when she was little.

There were hundreds of milk bottles from various dairies, bottle carriers and a dozen or so ice cream scoops. Thousands of oil cans of all sizes lined the walls, while there were service station gas, oil and air pumps of all descriptions, including about a dozen old brass hand tire pumps.

More treasures

Also lining the walls were hundreds of signs. There were also hundreds of toys, mostly with a transportation theme, including a nice array of Buddy L trucks. From the ceiling hung more signs, plus a half dozen or so large scale model airplanes.

In there somewhere was a small Caterpillar tractor and a big Hercules hit and miss engine. Parked outside in the rain were some 30 other collectible cars and trucks and three or four busses, mostly brought in by interested owners, and a local Model A Ford club brought in a convoy of eight or 10 of the old Fords.

All in all, it was a great experience to visit Dick Best’s extensive collection — just the thing to warm a Rusty Iron lover’s heart on a cool and rainy morning. My condolences to the Best family — and many thanks Dick!

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

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