Many will remember the age-old jingle sung by none other than Dinah Shore that compelled Americans to get out on the open road. “See the USA, in your Chevrolet” became the theme for many who opened their bill-folded maps and filled their tanks and picnic baskets, for adventure. Jeff Thisted may use more modern, electronic maps, but he is still determined to see as much of the USA as he can in his 1955 Chevy wagon.
Jeff uses his ’55 Chevy as his daily driver – there is no other vehicle in the Thisted household. He confided to us he really wanted a Nomad, but soon learned that not all wagons are Nomads, and this one was for sale. He documents the differences between his ’55 Chevy 210 station wagon and the ever-more-popular Nomad in this short video:
Other than that slight change of plan, his ’55 had everything he was looking for when he located it in 2012 on eBay Motors. A small-block Chevy V8 was already between the frame rails, and since he knew he was going to be driving the car, he wanted disc brakes, air conditioning, and power steering. The last two were available as options in 1955, while disc brakes wouldn’t come along until much later. Thankfully for Jeff, this car already had been updated with all three.
Jeff actually lost the online bidding war, but the seller contacted him later when the original sale fell through. Upon receiving the car, Jeff had an overdrive 700R4 transmission installed “almost immediately,” he said. Down the road a bit further, he had an LS swap performed on the ’55 along with a 4L60E transmission behind it. He also installed a set of Bilstein shocks and all-new body mounts to smooth out the ride.
Hitting The Open Road In a ’55 Chevy
Jeff is often asked about his reasoning for putting so many miles on a vehicle that is almost 70 years old. Some folks look at him in amazement when he explains this is his only car. His response whenever he hears someone say, “You can’t daily-drive a Tri-Five Chevy!” is simply, “Not with that attitude you can’t!”
Having the right attitude is everything when hitting the open road in any older vehicle, not just a 1955 Chevy. To date, Jeff reports that he’s put over 100,000 miles on the car since he’s owned it. A broken speedometer cable meant the odometer wasn’t working for a while, so he knows it’s traveled more than that, but not sure how much more. During the first quarter of 2023, Jeff and his Chevy have put on approximately 8,500 miles. In the past two years, Jeff and his ’55 Chevy have traveled 48,673 miles.
With so many miles under his ’55 Chevy’s seat belt, we asked Jeff if there was still any apprehension when setting out on a new adventure. “Kind of,” he said. “Each trip starts with a new beginning. I do everything I can, sort of like a pre-flight inspection. I also make sure to have a can of fix-a-flat, a patch kit, a spare belt, relays, and some wire. Then, I’m on the road early and get 300 miles by 10 a.m. At that point, you’re pretty well settled in.”
Even with the best precautions, things are bound to happen. In those moments, Jeff is quick to point out, “I’ve had many run-ins with good-hearted people when I needed them most.” Some issues, like when a fuel injector harness came unplugged, can be rectified with a zip-tie. Others, notably a cracked transmission pan, require a little more ingenuity and personal kindness.
On a recent trip through Kingman, Arizona, one of the valve springs in the LS engine gave way. No one in Kingman had a valve spring. Jayson, the mechanic at the shop where Jeff limped in the ’55, was rebuilding his Camaro’s LS3 at home and had a set. He texted his wife to bring them into the shop. He replaced the broken valve spring with one of his own, just to get Jeff on his way back home!
The USA Beyond The Open Road
In our four-lane, super-slab world, we look back at iconic roads such as Route 66 as these tiny thoroughfares that weave their way throughout Americana. Back in the day, these two-lane roads were the major highways of their time. While they were riddled with a myriad of wayside attractions and stopping points, they also were the most direct route across the USA.
Jeff prefers to travel the two-lane route, but will also veer from the asphalt entirely to see some of the USA well beyond the paved roads of America. He’s traveled dirt roads, brick roads, and even some areas where there are no roads in his ’55 Chevy!
We asked him if there was ever any time when he stopped, and called off the pursuit of adventure. “Pop and I went to the Great American Horse Drive in Maybell, Colorado,” he said. “They drive these horses for 60 miles. When Pop’s Highlander got stuck, I backed up!”
YOU Can See The USA In Jeff’s Chevrolet!
Some may question Jeff’s thinking of how he enjoys driving his ’55 Chevy, but he simply explains to them, “I don’t have a girlfriend or a dog, so this is what I do.” Thankfully, for those who might never point their hood ornament in the direction of adventure, Jeff has begun documenting his tours on his blog titled, “I Drive A ’55.” Jeff also has a variety of well-edited videos on his YouTube channel to complement his blogs.
The intent to drive the ’55 Chevy was always there, the idea to document everything came later when a friend said, “You’re getting to do all this stuff, you should start videos and stuff!” That started Jeff down another path in life, one of a prolific blogger. He not only puts miles on the car, but as a rabid history buff, he documents notable areas of the landscape, including historic buildings, iconic waypoints, and even some pop-culture highlights that would easily go unnoticed if you didn’t know their significance.
While you may not know all the words to the famous jingle Chevy created back in the 1950s, you can experience all the places that Jeff and his ’55 Chevy travel as they weave their way back and forth across the USA. Check out his blog, and watch the videos. Both are a great way to see and learn about this great country we live in. And, you may just find a burning desire to hit the open road in YOUR classic ride. If so, say, “Hi” to Jeff when you pass him on the highway!