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Rough Road

Ocean Springs resident Dan Tisdale and his wife, Anna, discovered the magic of cruising 54 years ago while going up and down the beach in Dan’s ’48 Chevy two-door sedan. After high school, they went separate ways, with Dan serving in the Marine Corps. But, they found each other again and married 22 years ago. And, they have returned to cruising, this time in a ’53 truck Tisdale found on Craigslist.

But, the return wasn’t as smooth as they would have liked.

Last year, they were intrigued by the Rat Rods that seemed to be stealing the show during Cruisin’ the Coast events in their hometown of Ocean Springs. The Rat Rods are often creatively rebuilt with a theme. Some of them have noncritical parts removed, and they may be combinations of several makes and models.

“I told my wife I’d really like to build a rat rod,” Tisdale says. Anna supported him in his quest to have a rat rod of his own to show off at this year’s Cruisin’. Thus began a series of life lessons Tisdale says he learned from a truck.

He traveled to near Pittsburgh to pick up the truck and haul it home on a U-Haul dolly. The Craigslist ad had described the truck as “a solid Chevy pickup with 30,000 original miles and rust-free.” At 4 a.m. of the second day of the trek home, the Tisdales were leaving a gas station when the U-Haul dolly began to jackknife, the truck slipped and the tailgate crushed, exposing a lot of Bondo (a putty used in auto body repair).

The trip continued, and the Tisdales made a stop in Bristol, Tenn. Two men pulled up behind them saying they had been following for a while to get a better look at the truck. They identified themselves as Chevy truck fans. The men pointed out some things about the truck, including the fact that the frame had been spliced and welded and the rear end was from a Ford.

When they got to Mississippi, Tisdale and his brother began to work on the truck and decided that the mileage was probably closer to 230,000 miles than the 30,000 the former owner had claimed. Also, the truck had no rear brakes. The rear end brake lines were dangling free.

The truck was soon to earn the nickname “Roadside” as it became stranded more than a dozen times — a dead battery, a blown oil line, a fuel pump failure, a muffler that fell off on the middle of the Biloxi-Ocean Springs bridge (at night), a dome light wire short that filled the cabin with smoke, an overheated engine, steering that had to be redone twice, an ignition switch failure, brakes that locked up, an air conditioner that blew fuses when turned on during a hot July day and a serious fuel leak.

Tisdale wanted to duplicate the engine and bumper system on his old Chevy. He also chose a nautical theme, taking the flywheel off of an outboard motor to serve as an air filter. A crankshaft from a small outboard motor became the shift. He removed the fuel tank and put in an outboard motor tank. Boat cleats and nylon rope to tie the hood down add to the nautical feel.

The truck does have its original motor and wheels. After cutting away some of the rusted-out parts, Tisdale says the cab looks like a Corvette because the floorboard is so high.

The Tisdales haven’t waited until Cruisin’ the Coast to show off their rat rod. They enjoy a date day every Wednesday, cruising local beaches and taking day trips to Bay St. Louis, Wiggins and even some locations in Alabama in their tricked-out truck. On their cruises, the Tisdales have discovered new places and have enjoyed meeting people the truck attracts. As they cruise along Front Beach and East Beach in Ocean Springs, the truck draws a lot of attention.

Tisdale smiles about his experience. He takes it good-naturedly. In fact, he has been writing a log of his adventures, casting it from the truck’s perspective. He calls it “Stranded, But Not Abandoned,” because he always knew that, despite the odds, he would get the truck ready for this year’s Cruisin’.