Merle Munger retired in 1998 after 35 years as an inside wireman. But he wasn’t about to stop working or aiding fellow electricians in need -- particularly those at Local 48 in Portland, Oregon.
|Local 48 Business Manager Gary Young, right, stands with retired member Merle Munger in front of a 1952 Chevy 3100 that Munger recently finished restoring. He will donate all proceeds from the sale of the truck to the local.
Munger, 78, took up restoring old and vintage cars as a hobby after his retirement. His latest project is a 1952 Chevy 3100, a brilliant orange pickup with silver chrome. For sale now for $27,500, proceeds will be donated to a fund to assist Local 48 members in need.
“When you retire, you have to occupy your mind, so I took it on,” said Munger, who lives in Vancouver, Wash., just across the Columbia River from Portland.
The third Chevy restored by Munger, he updated a 1971 Chevelle and ’62 Nova and gave them to his two grandsons. He started working on the truck at the recommendation of a fellow IBEW member, who spotted it for sale for $2,500 in Beaverton, Oregon.
Auctioning off his latest work is a way of saying thanks for a good life, which he credits to being part of a strong union.
“The local has been really good to me over the years,” said Munger, who served two terms on Local 48’s executive board. “I’m more than happy to do it.”
A Labor of Love
Munger worked more than six years restoring the truck. He recently added up his receipts. Turns out he spent more than $44,000 on the project.
Munger’s background as an electrician helped. Still, considering the complexity of engines and transmissions in today’s cars, patience proved to be a virtue.
“I took some classes and deliberated quite a bit before I made a move,” he said. “I stayed persistent, and kept that kind of focus, not to get in a rush and screw things up.”
It is a model from more than six decades ago, but the interior and exterior now are state of the art.
The truck is a hot rod powered by a 2008 Chevy 4.3 Vortec motor with a four-speed automatic transmission and V6 engine. Munger installed a new suspension system and cleaned out gobs of sludge, the gooey, tarlike substances of oil that build up over time.
A computer specialist helped him make a modern engine compatible with an older model car. A friend with body shop experience helped him extend the dashboard 3-4 inches to make room for modern technology. He also installed a new defrosting system for the windshield.
“When you start changing the whole suspension underneath, from solid axle to independent suspension, and completely change to a new style engine and transmission involving computers, it’s a pretty complicated thing,” he said.
Asking Price: $27,500
| Retired Local 48 member Merle Munger leans over the engine of a 1952 Chevy 3100 pickup that he spent more six years restoring. All proceeds from the truck’s sale will aid Local 48 members in need.
Munger is being assisted by Clif Davis, international representative in business development, who worked with Munger at Local 48. Davis has nearly 40 years of experience selling classic cars. The Chevy 3100 is now listed on Craigslist.com. Asking price is $27,500, but IBEW members can get a break. Asking price for them is $22,500.
Retirees giving back to their locals is an IBEW tradition, but Davis agrees that Munger’s actions are more generous than most.
“He’s kind of the old-fashioned, hard-work, get-it-done type of person,” Davis said. “But he’s also charismatic and friendly and always willing to help anybody. He always brought that to the [local] executive board.”
Local 48 Business Manager Gary Young said the most he can remember the fund having is $7,000, but it’s usually closer to $3,000. Munger’s donation will help more workers now and also give volunteers a chance to grow the fund in the future.
“This is pretty exciting,” he said.
Working Hard to Inspire Others
Munger grew up on a farm just outside Vancouver and his father worked for Kaiser Shipyards, a leading shipbuilder during World War II. He earned his IBEW card in 1963. Besides the executive board, he served on the board for Local 48’s credit union and on a committee that worked with industries in the Portland area to improve the apprenticeship program.
“I loved everything about local leadership,” he said. “It was always a challenge. The people in the industry are really smart.”
Munger doesn’t want to just help people in need. He hopes younger members seeing a retiree remain active in the local will encourage them to seek out leadership positions.
“They don’t fully understand the labor movement because they don’t get involved enough to understand what goes into receiving benefits and how that comes about,” he said. “It’s not just a number that is drawn out of a hat. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into negotiations and a lot of reasoning that goes on on both sides. Young people, if they don’t get involved in organized labor, they never really understand that.”
Munger’s been able to live a comfortable life during 17 years of retirement. His top hobby besides working on cars is gardening. He gives most of his fruits and vegetables away – much like he’s given away his restored cars.
“This is really above and beyond for a person to be this dedicated,” Davis said.