Cool Plumbing Trucks: Field Find Becomes Everyday Driver

Latest addition to California plumber’s work fleet is 61-year-old Chevy.
Cool Plumbing Trucks: Field Find Becomes Everyday Driver
Buster, a 1955 Chevy 3/4 ton, is the everyday driver of Terry Swney.

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 “Buster” is not your typical plumbing truck. The 1955 Chevy 3/4-ton with vintage plumber’s body belongs to Terry Swney, co-owner and COO of Tonkin Plumbing in Riverside, California. Found rusting in a California orange grove, Buster was given a complete overhaul, right down to the period-correct paint.

“I always liked that color. It’s called Skyline Blue, which was the color of our first work trucks when we started in the business,” says Swney, a licensed master plumber with 35 years experience.  “It’s an original mid-50s Chevy color. The other kicker is the donor truck we put that on was my first-ever new truck. So I get to drive my first new truck all over again.”

Named after its former owner, Buster is mounted on a 1997 GMC 3500 chassis and drive train that feature all the modern conveniences, including anti-lock brakes, fuel injection and air conditioning.

“The guy that owned it for years was a local councilman. He and his brother used to drive that truck back to Yale for college twice a year,” Swney says. “His last name is Buster; it’s kind of a tribute to him.”

So why go to the trouble — and expense — of restoring a 61-year-old classic, only to drive it to work every day?

“I was looking at buying a new truck, and it was over $60,000,” Swney says. “I figured I could build this thing and resurrect it for less than that, which we did. And then there’s the advertising factor.”

Swney began work on Buster in March 2015 and was driving his new truck just after Thanksgiving.

“When we got it, it was sitting in an orange grove,” Swney says. “They were using it for doing all their irrigation repairs. It was kind of a rolling supply house for parts.”

Swney’s plumbing career began in New Zealand where he and Phillip Tonkin (pictured) finished a five-year apprenticeship with the same company. Tonkin later moved to California’s Moreno Valley and began work for Rancho Plumbing. In 1987, Tonkin opened his own business.

In 1994, Swney joined the company and a partnership was formed. Today, Tonkin Plumbing has 12 employees, many with 20 years experience, including the co-owners. Tonkin Plumbing serves residential and commercial clients in the Riverside and Corona, California, area, offering service and repair, underground pipe boring, sewer line relining and bursting, trenchless installations, tankless water heater installations, instant hot-water systems, full kitchen and bathroom remodels and water service replacements.

They also have a very cool truck named Buster.

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