Toronto

How restoring a truck is helping a teen through his illness and bringing a community together

In a small town outside of Campbellville, Ont., some hot rodders sand down a tired old truck. It doesn’t look like much yet, but there’s a special story behind this 1954 Chev stepside, five-window pickup, and it all starts with a young man named Jeremy Cassidy.

Jeremy Cassidy has a dream of driving his 1954 Chevy to auto shows across Canada

Jeremy Cassidy holds a drawing of what his dream truck will look like when it's finally restored. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

In a small town outside of Campbellford, Ont., some hot rodders sand down a tired old truck.

It doesn't look like much yet, but there's a special story behind this 1954 Chevrolet stepside, five-window pickup — and it all starts with a young man named Jeremy Cassidy.

Jeremy lives with an inoperable brain tumour. It's resulted in many surgeries, procedures, and rounds of chemotherapy. This has required him and his family to travel to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto for months at a time.

It was on one of those drives when he was just 12 that he spotted something he knew he was meant to own.

"I would tell my dad that it was my dream truck every day and then we ended up buying it," Jeremy says.

Recalling what made it so special, the now 18-year-old says "just the look of it, it's pretty spectacular."

Jeremy Cassidy stands beside his dream truck after one of his surgeries. (Submitted)

Jeremy's father Tim Cassidy holds a photo album showing the truck's journey — from when it first caught his son's eye behind an old shed — to group shots of all of the people who have since come out to help with restoring it.

Tim laughs as he remembers the day they finally met the owner and bought the truck. Parts were falling off onto the road, but it was something he said he knew he had to do.

"At that time I didn't know a lot about brain tumours and how much time Jeremy had," Tim says.

"I made a decision at that time that if he was going to be taken from us it was going to be living the dream that this truck was going to be done."

It's since provided an outlet for both Tim and Jeremy as something to work on as father and son and look forward to together. Thinking of the day Jeremy will finally be able to drive it brings tears to his dad's eyes.

"It's going to be very emotional."

Community coming together

Throughout the years Tim confided in Neil Candy, one of his former coworkers. He's now retired but still builds old cars.

Through Candy's hot rod network, they've managed to collect donated parts and funds to restore the truck. Candy says helping the family was an easy decision.

"This young fellow will not have the life I've had," he says.

"So we should try to do the most we can for people like him, I think it's really important for the community to be involved and help people."

People have donated their time, money and truck parts to help Jeremy see his dream through. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Candy also became emotional when speaking about Jeremy's character.

"Jeremy has lived a lifetime already," he says.

"He's a very courageous young man who will discuss his illness with you and it'll be one of the most humbling experiences you'll ever have."

Help has come in the form of art work, parts and money from all over Ontario and even the U.S.

Candy started a Go Fund Me page to get the vehicle ready in time for a big auto show, The Atlantic Nationals in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Looking forward 

Neil Graham, who wrote Jeremy's story for an auto publication, points to what will eventually be the rear fender and truck box.

"This was all rust and it's brand new; this is a fender that was sent to Peterborough, restored and sent back. People are just coming out of the woods to help," he says.

Graham has been a part of a group of people who come out to help work on the truck regularly. The body work including mudding, sanding and painting is still in progress. The final assembly will involve wiring, as well as the sound system and glass installation. 

"People worked. People sent parts. People bought parts. People coming together to help. It's just amazing."

Jeremy Cassidy and his dad Tim have spent many hours together working on the truck. Tim Cassidy says it's certainly brought them closer together. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The aim is that when Jeremy attends the auto show in New Brunswick, they'll also be able to send his family to enjoy a little vacation there.

"They deserve it," Graham says.

The auto show is one goal, and Jeremy is still looking forward to the future with a positive attitude.

He's already been accepted into all of the colleges he's applied for, and has plans to become an auto mechanic. The young man admits the years-long journey with this truck and all of the friendships that have come out of it, have provided him with a much needed distraction.

"Every time I come out here to work on it, I feel happier."

About the Author

Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She's from Guelph and has also reported in London and Winnipeg. From the Middle East to West Africa, Talia has travelled around the globe volunteering and photographing. She enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find Talia creating recipes for her plant based food blog.

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