Big Red


Big Red has been in the Tinsley family for as long as any of the Tinsleys can remember.

“Dad used it to haul timber,” said Billy Tinsley of the 1948 F5 Ford truck his father, the late-Plez Tinsley Sr., obtained in 1956. 

Tinsely of Madison said the truck has been around so long it is almost considered a member of the family.

His father, Plez Tinsley Sr., bought the 1948 F5 Ford candy apple red flat-bed truck in 1956.

“I don’t know if he purchased it or traded for it,” said Billy, who was only about a year old at the time and the second of the four children of Plez and Edna Tinsley of Philadelphia in Neshoba County. Billy has been in real estate in Madison for decades.

The truck is a step up from a regular pickup truck, and Big Red is a real workhorse with a bigger frame than a regular pickup and a V8 flathead engine with a four on the floor. Big Red is decked out with a flatbed and a large wench on a boom that is perfect for hauling timber or pulling other vehicles out of jams and towing them.

Billy and his brother Mike remember their Dad being a bit of a prankster and having a recurring prop gag. 

“Dad had a telephone receiver that was on a chord that he kept in his glove compartment,” Mike said. “He would go through town like he was talking on the phone. He said one day you will be able to have a phone in your car or truck.”

While Plez Sr. never used Big Red commercially, Billy said he did make money off of the big truck’s wench — on at least one occasion he recalls with a son-in-law.

“My brother-in-law Rex (Rounsaville) that is married to my sister, he got his pickup truck stuck behind his house and the truck is an old wrecker truck so it has a wench on it,” Billy said. “He called my Dad to come pull him out of the mud so my Dad went over there. He hooks the wench up underneath it and he walks back over to the truck and he doesn’t do anything. He just kind of folds his arms and Rex says, ‘Go ahead and pull it out,’ and my Dad held out his hand and said, ‘That’ll be $20.’ We laugh about that. He did pull him out. He had him in a jam. He hooked the wench to him and all of that.”

Rex did give Plez the $20.

Because of such fond memories of Plez and Big Red, Billy and Mike, who both followed in their Dad’s footsteps in real estate, could not part with Big Red when they jointly inherited the truck after Plez died in 1995.

After inheriting the truck the brothers would occasionally drive Big Red to keep it running and in operation but about three years ago they decided Big Red needed some work.

“It was in about average shape,” Billy said. “We had a (restoration) where they took the whole body off it and sanded it down and repaired any rusted metal and then painted it. It has got an incredible paint job on it. It is red. That was the original color. That’s why we always called it ‘Big Red.’”

Billy said the brothers split the bill that he estimated to be about $20,000 total and the work took approximately six to nine months to complete.

Billy said the decision to restore Big Red was not a tough one to make.

“I have got an older brother Plez and my sister Jo Ann, and when we were settling up things decided who wanted what and they didn’t really want to put the money into it,” Billy said. “So me and my brother Mike fixed it up.”

Their younger sister Jo Ann Tinsley-Rounsaville said she is glad the brothers fixed up Big Red.

“I am so proud,” she said. “When they approached me about it they decided they wanted to do it and the funny thing, Daddy always said, ‘Don’t ever be partners, especially with family.’ I took Daddy’s advice and opted out. It is wonderful. I’m proud that they did it, and I know that Daddy would be tickled.”

Jo Ann said she remembers as a teenager their Dad taking the truck to the Neshoba County Fair.

“Of course when we were teenagers, we were just so embarrassed that he was going to do that,” Jo Ann said. “He would put a fake telephone in it and he would say, ‘One day there are going to be phones in cars,’ and he would drive around the race track with that phone to his ear and I thought we would die.”

Jo Ann said she later came to respect her father and was no longer embarrassed by him.

“I stopped that at the age of about 20 when I decided he was a lot smarter than what we gave him credit for after about three of us were in college and my oldest brother was in med school at the same time,” she said. “Daddy didn’t borrow a dime. He just always worked … but they saved for our educations and paid for it and I’m very proud of where I came from.”

Even before the restoration, Mike said they got a lot of offers from people wanting to buy Big Red. Doing the restoration took a bit of research, too, Billy said, adding parts can be a bit difficult to find.

“There is a guy up in Connecticut that specializes in big trucks like that,” Billy said. “Having the internet makes it a lot easier to get information.”

Billy and Mike both said they would like to add power steering to Big Red because driving without power steering is tough.

“It takes both hands on the steering wheel and your feet have got to be quick to get to the clutch,” said Mike, who does most of the driving. “It is a four-speed. It has got a real low gear that we call grandmaw, and it has got three others. I think the top speed is about 45 or 50 mph. It has got, I think, around 83,000, actual miles on it. It has a pretty simple motor.”

Power steering is proving to be difficult to obtain for Big Red.

“We’re trying to find out how to get power steering on it now,” Mike said. “I think that is a no-go on that.”

Billy said his research indicates you cannot get a power steering kit for a truck the size of Big Red.

“I kept searching this website, and it said you need to put ‘Armstrong power steering’ on it,” Billy said. “I didn’t know what that meant. These old guys know, and I’m old too, but what is Armstrong?”

Billy said he finally found out what Armstrong power steering is.

“What they are talking about is putting one of those balls on the steering wheel to turn the steering wheel with,” Billy said. “Yeah, that’s Armstrong. I actually put one on there for my brother. I didn’t have it tight enough. It was coming loose. He was trying to use it.”

Both brothers agreed the restoration was more about preserving family history than about any monetary value of Big Red. 

“It has been in our family 60-something years,” Mike said.

Billy and Mike agreed they hope Big Red stays in the family.

“It is preserving family history for my kids and also my nieces and nephews in the future,” Billy said. 

In the meantime, Billy said he enjoys going to car shows and looking at other vintage and antique cars and hot rods. He favors muscle cars from the 1970s era of his youth.

“It doesn’t fall into that category,” Billy said of Big Red. “It is more like a family tradition type of deal vs. an interest in older cars. I like older cars, but I’m not one of those older car nuts. I like to go see them but it’s not the end of the world.”

Billy said he goes to Cruisin’ The Coast on the Mississippi Gulf Coast most years but would not try to take Big Red because of the difficulty getting it there.

The brothers agreed, however, that they will take Big Red to the car show on the Sunday of the Neshoba County Fair this year. Big Red has been there before.

“We will get it out there,” Mike said. “We put rocking chairs on it.”

Billy agreed.

“We are going to take it out there this year,” Billy said. “That’s close enough for us to take it to a car show.”

Jo Ann is hoping they can get a picture of all of Poppa’s great-grandchildren at the Fair. “It would be a great time to do that. He would be tickled to death,” she said.