Art Caball’s and his water pumper buggy: 45 years of creativity, survival, and determination.
It is rare to find a water pumper buggy built in 1971 that survives to this day. It is even rarer to find one that has gone through several years of modifications in the pursuit of continued refinement.
The story of Art Caball from Augusta, Michigan begins in 1965 when he had his first encounter with a dune buggy. While in training to be a structural welder in the U.S. Navy Amphibious Fleet based in San Diego, California, Art attended an open wheel race at El Cajon Speedway. “A guy came on the track during intermission driving this ride, it looked like a praying mantis. The driver sat up high on some sort of spring under his seat, way in the back near the rear axle which had four cross cut farm implement tires. It had an injected small block Chevy with zoomies for the exhaust. He did some wheelies out on the track. I thought it was pretty cool!”
Art became “hooked” on dune buggies the summer of 1969. His friend, Dave Eldridge along with Bob Dummire, built a buggy based on a stock 1957 Chevy. They moved the engine back a couple of feet, welded the rear axle to the frame, put in a full sized bench seat, and added a roll bar and platform to stand on at the rear. They headed to Silver Lake Sand Dunes, a first for Art, but that was all it took to motivate Art to build his own buggy.
Later that year, Art suffered a near fatal car accident spending 22 days in ICU and 60 days in the hospital. During this time, he drew up a lot of plans for the “dune ride”. Per Art, “Many of these ideas and plans are on my buggy to this day. I was very determined!”
Art’s buggy project was put on hold as he started his own welding business and continued to recover from his car accident. In 1971, Art began construction on the buggy he envisioned while in the hospital two years earlier. The custom frame is still within 1/32” of being true and straight. Various 1950s era components were used for the powertrain: ’58 283ci Chevy small block V8, ’51 Chevy ¾ pickup provided the top loader four speed transmission and floater rear end, and a ’57 style blow proof bell housing. Bill Storm turned the 283 V8 into a stout, high winding 301 engine producing an estimated 400 horse power. Although the rear axle was solid mounted to the frame, Art fabricated brackets that allowed him to move the axle forward and backward to adjust the buggy’s weight balance. To cope with the solid mounted rear axle, Art developed his own suspension seats. The original front axle assembly, a ’37 Ford I-beam with a transverse leaf spring, was replaced with a ’65 VW Beetle king/link pin independent front suspension in ’72. The cowl was composed of ½” EMT conduit for the framework and print press die sheets from Kellogg Company cereal boxes.
Art finished the first rendition of his buggy in 1972. For the next eight years, Art continued to innovate to improve the overall handling and performance of his buggy. Along the way he won and placed in multiple sand drags, hill climbs, and car shows.
By 1980, Art sold the buggy; “I needed to buy a lawn mower and the buggy wasn’t used that much. It was very hard to let go, I was depressed.” As time passed, Art wanted his buggy back. The original buyer still had the buggy and agreed to sell it back to Art. On the day of sale, Art was reunited with his buggy for the first time in twenty one years. Like Art’s previously broken body, his buggy was abused and broken. “I was emotional. I thought, she is broken but coming home where she belongs.”
The buggy went untouched for eight years until 2009 when Art started the new build. “I wanted to get the buggy out of the trailer; make it more multi-purpose so I could enjoy it more frequently via parades, car shows, the dunes, and as a push car at races.” Art implement several changes including: a 1969 Corvette 427ci V8 rebuilt by Cheney Engines, Hastings Michigan, bored to a 439ci, pumping out 660 horsepower, TH400 automatic transmission built by the Shift Shop in Maurice, MI with a manual shift valve body, Winters quick change rear end, replacing the damaged VW front beam with an aftermarket beam that was 6” wider, power and rack n pinion steering, and a new wheelie bar designed both for sand and street.
There have been many challenges, changes, and daring adventures that Art has experienced with his buggy over the past 45 years and through it all, the essence of Art’s one of a kind “dune ride” remains; a ride, like it’s creator, that is determined to run…to run hard.