Stephenville’s own Rat Rod

By Peggy Purser Freeman

Photos by Art & Soul Photography

A fourth generation McCann in Erath County, Justin had never thought of building a vehicle from scratch, but this twenty-six-year-old year old strengths rooted and grew in the farming and ranching lifestyle. Building an automobile in thirty days and only spending $3,000 sounded like a good time to Justin. So he placed his name in a drawing in the 2015/2016 Rat Rod Build-Off contest. When his name was chosen to represent the great state of Texas, he knew he had to get serious.

“I felt like I couldn’t let Texas down. I saw this old 1949 Chevy truck body in my neighbor’s yard, hidden in the grass, but I knew we had to do something different. So, I thought–not just a work truck, but a four-wheel-drive truck.”

Justin’s love for vehicles began with his dad, Joe McCann. Justin laughed as he shared his memories of Joe racing dirt track in the ’90s. “I watched and learned everything I could. I remember back when I was probably about five-years-old, taking the lawn mower apart in the backyard and telling my dad I was just working on it.”

“But,” Joe interrupted, “That wasn’t as bad as the truck. “He was only sixteen when I drove up and saw him taking his truck apart. It wasn’t even paid for and he had it dismantled and laying all over the place…all the way down to the frame.”

“I wanted to paint my white truck black,” Justin explained.

“I kept thinking, he’ll never get it all back together. But he did,” Justin’s mom added. His expertise is so well known that no one is surprised to see him owning his own company, McCann Garage and Autobody Shop, at such a young age.

Building a rat rod in thirty days began to make sense as Justin shared. “I’ve been doing auto body work since I was sixteen-years-old. So cars are pretty much all I know. I grew up ranching and farming. If it broke, we had to fix it.”

Finding the old 1949 Chevy truck body in his neighbor’s yard and talking him into selling it to him was a great start.

“When we pulled it out of the weeds and brush, a rat ran out from under it. That was a good sign since we were building a rat rod. Then I found a set of axles from a 1988 Ford F-250. Attaching it and adding the 1995 Dodge 2-wheel-drive dually and making it all work on a 4-wheel-drive was tough. The hardest part was building it while holding down my full time day job. I didn’t know if it would run long enough to make it from Grafton, Illinois to Saint Louis Missouri to qualify to be in the contest.”

There’s one thing a Texas boy has plenty of—good friends. Justin phoned his friends. “I couldn’t have done it without my team,” Justin said. “My dad and mom, brother Jason McCann, Lindsay Scitern, David Gaines, Ruben Martinez, Stephen McCarty, Zac McIntare, and Chandler Cooper worked as hard as I did, late into the night and wee hours of the morning. The most unique part of this rat rod is the flip-front end. “I got an S-10 drag racing truck. I stuck a 383 stroker in it, and every time I have to work on it, it’s a pain. So I made the whole front end flip forward for easy access. The massive ‘too ugly’ bumper is really the 4X4’s personality. The interior seats, covered in real cowhide by Karan’s Automotive Upholstery, and the steering wheel made from a chain off a hay-bailer, adds class. Riley Pemberton painted the logo on the side of the doors.”

Not only did the McCann Rat Rod run, it won the People’s Choice Award. Voted on by people across the U.S., Justin and his team brought the Rat Rod trophy back to Texas and Erath County.

“It wasn’t easy, especially near the end of the month,” Justin explained. “There was the little matter of making things work together, like a ‘4th generation gear head’ and a then there was a problem with a simple little rod. The day that I needed to load it up on the trailer I was still working vigorously on the front brakes. It was braking to the point where the front calipers started smoking. I had done everything I knew to fix it and still had the same problem. I had one day left–24 hours. Working my normal job and work until three in the morning in an extremely hot, non-insulated shop was tough. The flies kept landing on my sweaty face, driving me nuts. I just sat in front of the fan thinking, what could be wrong? What did I have to change to make this truck work? As I looked at the brake master cylinder, I remembered using a rod from it on a previous project. I had replaced it with another one. Quickly, I loosen it up some, and as soon as I did that the front brakes released. The rod was too long–basically telling the master cylinder I was applying the brake. I ended up finding one at a local junkyard. We loaded the truck on the trailer and headed to Grafton, Illinois. From there, the truck had to make it to Saint Louis, Missouri under its own power. As I drove, all I could think of was, ‘I sure hope the brakes don’t lock up.’”

The McCann truck made the trip—flawlessly. “The most stressful part of the build seemed to fade, Justin added. “Then the happiness that comes when you figure it out yourself and it works flawlessly hit me. Winning made it even better.” He credits some of the engineering and mathematical classes he took in college for his knowledge, “but 90 percent is what I taught myself.” he added. “I’m the first one to admit that sometimes I don’t know everything. However, I do stop to educate myself. The information is out there–such as wiring diagrams, exploded views of mechanical assembly. You just have to find it.”

Justin hopes to compete in the 2017 Rat Rods United Competition, where you build an entry vehicle and then take it on a long trip with a group across America. “It’s about a 2000-mile trip.” Justin added. “The car I have been gathering parts for is a 1929 Ford model A Coupe. My dad has always talked about having one, and I was lucky enough to run across a body in Oklahoma.” If you catch a glimpse of the Rat Rod out and about, honk at Justin or drop into his new business. “Stephenville is a great place to start your own business.” Justin added.