By Paul Fattig
The 1973 Ford F-100 pickup that is Army Spec. 5 Eric Lektorich’s pride and joy is scattered all over Medford.
The bumper, grill and steering wheel are sitting in his parents’ garage, along with the wing windows. The bench seat is across town, as is the disassembled body, including the truck bed, left-front fender and the rest of the rig.
“It’s in the stripped-down mode now,” observed his father, Jerry Lektorich. “The bed is off the truck. We’ve got the bench seat out and at an upholsterer. The left-front fender was an issue because it had been crinkled. It’s sitting over there with the truck.
“And we’ve got a new grill, bumper, steering wheel and some other stuff sitting here at the house,” he added. “I’ve got the windows here. But that’s stuff that will be easily attached once it’s painted later this month.”
The soldier’s family and friends figure they will have completed their secret mission of restoring the old truck before the soldier’s return home late next month after his second tour in Afghanistan.
“We’re at the spot now where we are tying up loose ends,” said Scott Lektorich, the soldier’s big brother. “When I talked to him Monday morning, he said he might trade it in when he gets home. So he thinks it’s just rusting out in front of the house.”
The restoration work on the 40-year-old truck, whose engine Eric rebuilt as a 2001 senior project at North Medford High School, is a gesture of the love and respect they have for him, Scott said.
“We’re going to surprise him,” he added, noting the family is asking that no one alert him about the restoration work via Facebook or other means.
The family mission was launched shortly after Eric Lektorich, 29, arrived in Afghanistan in mid-September last year.
A member of the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky., he was scheduled to complete his four-year enlistment last summer but volunteered to extend for the nine-month deployment. He joined the Army in 2008, serving his first tour in Afghanistan in 2010-11.
The Medford native has an associate degree in machine-tool technology from Mt. Hood Community College in Portland. He is always ready to help family members or friends with their car problems, Scott said.
He won’t be officially discharged until August but is expected to be able to head home to Oregon around June 20, thanks to accrued leave time he has coming, his father said.
“He has entertained the idea of taking a week road trip and driving back,” he said. “If I take a week off and drive back with him, I can control when he arrives here.”
Joining in on the surprise project is Eric’s mother, Sue, and sisters Katie and Julie. A younger brother, Bryan, died in 2009.
Before joining the Army, Eric helped his father rebuild the family’s 1968 Cougar, which is now fully restored and in classic condition.
In addition to rebuilding the truck’s 360-cubic-inch, V-8 engine, Eric has had the automatic transmission rebuilt and replaced a battered dashboard. The vehicle’s power steering and disc brakes are in good shape, they said.
The odometer reads 43,228, although it is likely the odometer has turned over once, Scott said.
Several businesses have stepped forward to help in the endeavor, providing parts, paint and professionals for free or reduced cost. However, the Lektorich family is still looking for a helping hand in obtaining a stereo system, a bed liner and detailing on the engine.
“The last part of this project is planning a coming-home party for Eric to meet his new truck,” said Scott, noting that any advice or assistance from a local restaurant would be much appreciated.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.