YARMOUTH — Erv Bickford loved old trucks — the look, the sound, the feel of them.
It was a passion that compelled him to travel across the United States, scoping out rare Macks, Kenworths and Brockways wherever he could find them. He appreciated the rusted junkyard hulks that he bought for parts as much as the restored gems that he displayed at antique truck shows.
Over the years, Bickford — a respected town leader who died in May at age 79 — built a collection of 300 trucks that represent the life’s work of a trucking company owner who savored his job.
“He worked pretty much all the time,” said Susan Bickford, his daughter, “but he used to say he never worked a day in his life because he loved it so much.”
Now, Bickford’s family plans to build an open-air pavilion in the center of town to display a few of the 50 exhibition-ready trucks in the collection. Some are in remarkable original condition, including an orange 1964 Mack tractor-trailer that worked in an Oklahoma oil field. Others have been painstakingly restored, including a 1956 Kenworth tractor from New York that features Mid-Century Modern blue striping and an aerodynamic stainless-steel trailer.
Susan Bickford, who lives in Newcastle, is working on the project with her two sisters, Tamson Bickford Hamrock of Cousin’s Island and Catherine Bickford of South Portland, and their mother, Marilyn Bickford.
The pavilion will be the realization of Erv Bickford’s dream and a gift to the communities that held him in high regard, including patrons of the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum, which dedicated its annual Truck & Tractor Meet, held Saturday and Sunday, to Bickford.
“These trucks embody a lot of human emotion for a lot of people,” said Bickford Hamrock. “Many people were so distressed when Dad left us.”
Before he died, Bickford, who served eight terms as a town councilor, secured the municipal permits needed to build the pavilion at the former Bickford Transportation Inc. headquarters at Railroad Square, just off Main Street.
Three old wooden coal sheds that once stood along the railroad tracks were torn down earlier this year to make way for construction to start this fall. The family hopes to complete the pavilion by next July, in time for the annual Yarmouth Clam Festival that Bickford enjoyed so much.
The truck exhibit is expected to draw old-truck enthusiasts from across the country and beyond, said Fred Chase, president of the Antique Truck Club of America, which has 3,000 members in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and Australia.
“It’s nostalgia,” Chase said, pinpointing the attraction. “Most of us have been in the trucking industry all our lives and we like to remember the good old days, before computers.
“Today, if a truck breaks down, you’ve got to wait for a computer expert to come and fix it. The old trucks, you could fix them yourself, by the side of the road. There was no brain surgery required. It was simple mechanics.”
Chase, who lives in Gill, Mass., said Bickford was known across the country as a true gentleman and an expert truck restorer, even as the work grew more difficult.
In recent years, Chase said, restorers have been forced to make parts from scratch, especially as scrap-metal recycling prices have risen, reducing the chances of finding a treasured old truck behind a barn. Bickford was undaunted in the face of a challenge.
“Anything Erv Bickford did, if he restored it, it was perfect,” Chase said, noting that several of Bickford’s trucks are on display in museums.
The pavilion in Yarmouth will be designed and built by Bickford’s nephew Tim Bickford, owner of Bird’s Eye View Woodworking, a timber-frame construction company in Limington. Wood for the post-and-beam structure will be harvested from a family woodlot in Bowdoin.
Basically a roof set on posts, the pavilion will be about 90 feet long and 30 feet wide, providing about 2,700 square feet of display space. The design will resemble an old train depot, similar to the historic Grand Trunk Railroad Station building located directly across the tracks at Railroad Square.
The pavilion will have seven bays to display some of the smaller trucks in Bickford’s collection, including the Royal River Band Wagon, which Bickford drove in the annual clam festival parade. The 1928 Brockway huckster carries an antique military band organ that cranks out old-time music. Susan Bickford will carry on the tradition of driving that truck in the parade.
Most of Bickford’s collection is stored at his truck restoration facility at Yarmouth Junction, on the outskirts of town. Dirigo Restoration is now operated by Bickford’s longtime employees Jimmy Hall and Wayne Devoe, who will help Bickford’s family manage the truck exhibit at the pavilion.
Family members have yet to work out details on how the exhibit will operate, including when trucks will be displayed and how security will be maintained. A chain-link fence may be installed around the pavilion so people can see but not touch the trucks when the exhibit isn’t staffed.
Marilyn Bickford said both she and her husband will be pleased when the pavilion is completed and the public has an opportunity to view some of his collection.
“It means a lot to both of us,” she said. “I went through all of this with Erv and I know he will be happy to see it done.”