Friday, May 23, 2014

Frank the Farm Truck Roars Back to Life

I still have the 1983 Chevy pickup that I used to drive back when I was in college (sometimes it seems like it was a hundred years ago).

It's on its second transmission, third transfer case, second set of leaf springs, I had to replace the front drive shaft after I wore it out, it's had three sets of front hubs, four exhaust systems, three carburetors, and unknown numbers of alternators, starters, and fuel pumps. I put a lift kit on it years ago along with a set of mud tires so that it both looked COOL and wouldn't get it stuck in the mud (which was very important when I was younger) .  Because of all the different sources of parts, and a few scars and dents in the sheetmetal, it's nicknamed Frank (short for Frankenstein).

I drove it all the time up until about 10 years ago, then about six years ago it was retired to the farm to be used as a farm truck.  I had to reluctantly park it about four years ago when I had trouble keeping it running (mainly engine troubles).  For four years, I've been meaning to get it running again because it's perfect for driving around the farm and all over pastures looking for cows, it doesn't have anything like computers or sensors on it, it's almost indestructible, and it's awful fun to drive.

After four years of procrastinating, I finally got around to fixing it and I started out by replacing the spark plugs, spark plug wires, cap and rotor, and battery.  Then, I sprayed a can of carb cleaner all over the outside and inside of the carburetor (no fiddly carb rebuilds except as a last resort for this guy), replaced an oil gauge line (no use getting it running if it's squirting oil all over the place), poured a can of Sea-Foam in the engine oil (not sure if that was worth the effort), and topped off all the fluids.

After a trip to town to get a new air cleaner after a backfire caught the old one on fire (who's the idiot that sprayed all that carb cleaner on the carburetor??), it eventually roared back to life. So much thick smoke from burning oil was pouring out of the tailpipes that I almost chickened out and shut it off so I could do the proper thing and carefully determine why it was burning so much oil.  But I figured that if it was really that bad I was going to need to pull the engine and spend a big pile of money anyway, so I revved her even more, hoping it was just a stuck ring or something from sitting so long.

The next thing on my checklist was checking the brakes, so I did my patented quick and dirty brake test by first trying to do a burnout, then roaring down the driveway and locking up the brakes.  After a handful of burnouts and roaring down the driveway so I could lock up the brakes (don't skip this very important step, you need to make sure your brakes are working), the smoking had slackened off and was a whole lot less worrying (engine rebuilds, smengine rebuilds, just gun the engine and it'll fix itself).  By this time, I figured I'd done enough work for the day, so I parked in a nice open area so I wouldn't burn anything down except for the pickup if something happened to catch fire under the hood. 

The next day,  the truck had survived the night without burning to the ground, so I fired her up, and miracles of miracles, there wasn't as much smoke coming out of the tailpipes (I told you it was just a stuck ring!) and the engine had that nice loping sound it had years ago.

I really had a burning desire to road-test this beast, so I jumped back in the truck, floored it, and flew down the road to check some cows. 

Luckily, I didn't meet any cops on my short drive (no insurance or tag since it's been sitting for four years), I made quick work of checking the cattle, but there was a little hill that was just crying out to be climbed so I could test the suspension by flexing it all up and down and all twisty-like (it's tough work, but someone's gotta do it).

Essential Suspension Flexing Testing
The cows didn't seem to be all that impressed with the suspension flexing capabilities of my old truck, and the picture doesn't do it justice, but I was impressed with the confirmation that my memory of what I used to be able to do with it was indeed sorta close to the truth.

I never would have guessed that driving that old beat-up pickup around again would be so much fun, and I might even wash some of the mud off of it for old-time's sake (but then again it would just get dirty again, so what would be the point of that?)

Now that you know what to look for, if you happen to see a guy flying down a dirt road or out in a pasture checking some cattle in a blue pickup that looks kind of similar, make sure you yell out nice and loud, "Hey, are you that Rich guy?" 

If it's actually me, then I'll give you a thumbs up and shake your hand.


  1. By a very strange coincidence, I am actually reading _Frankenstein_ right now. Poor monster...

    The Frank's in my life did not survive my teen years. May they R.I.P...

    1. In an attempt to make a extremely witty comment about coincidences, farm trucks, and the actual book, Frankenstein, I did a quick online search and found out that I apparently didn't really remember the story the way it was actually written. I didn't realize that the monster evolved into an articulate being, and was able to teach himself to speak and read.

      Maybe Frank(enstein) isn't the best nickname for my pickup?

      I think I have the book somewhere around here, so I'll have to re-read it if I can find it.

    2. I ran across the book at a garage sale several years ago, and read the back cover out of curiosity. It sounded like the creature was a lot more intelligent than the braying bellowing monsters Hollywood creates... now that I finally got around to reading it, I found that I enjoyed the story quite a bit. Although the creature does do some terrible things, it is pretty hard by the end to regard him without any sympathy.

      Most folks probably haven't read the book, though, so any bolted-together mechanical monster can probably be called "Frankenstein" without any confusion.

  2. There is just something about driving an old vehicle that you've been through a lot together that is comforting. My dad had a Dodge pickup of about the same vintage that I drove around a lot and had many of the same feelings you do about yours. The think got like nine miles to the gallon on the highway! But back then you didn't worry about mileage because it had two tanks and you could just go to tank by the shop and fill them both anytime you needed.

    The truck moved on and I moved on to the black car I have now. It is young compared to your truck at 16 years old but every crease, dent and rattle are as familiar to me as the creases on my palms. My wife keeps bugging me to sell it but I tell her that it is worth more to me than it would be to anyone else. I tell everyone I just plan to drive it until the wheels fall off and then call it a day... maybe.

    1. Whenever someone makes a comment about getting rid of my pickup, I have the advantage that it's almost reached the point of being a collectable classic sort of vehicle like a Jeep or a Mustang.

      Anybody that would even think about getting rid of an old Jeep or Mustang just because it's beat up would be crazy.

      I don't know if it's exactly true, but that's what I tell 'em.

    2. I fear that I've given up Jeeps twice. Recently, in fact, I've been looking for one. Or a Land Cruiser.

      Sort of like the idea of owning a mule, the ideal of owning a Jeep never really leaves your head.

    3. Nobody's probably even heard of him, but I used to read Granville King's column in FourWheeler back in the '80's and he made a big impression on me.

      He lived down in Baja Mexico, on a beach 50 miles from town and wrote about his offroad adventures in the desert, Jeeps, and his dog SuperDawg. He lived the life that an 18 year old Rich envied.

      I had a CJ-5 at the time so I could relate to a lot of what he wrote about, he claimed that there was a Jeep Cult, and that once you owned a Jeep (an actual honest to goodness sort of Jeep, not the SUV Jeep) you were a member for life.

      Paraphrasing terribly, when you drove a Jeep you drove history and you drove legend. You had a link back to WWII and famous offroading adventures. The guy driving an Oldsmobile didn't have anything like that.

      I knew exactly what he meant, because when I drove my CJ-5 I could imagine living on a beach in Mexico or driving deep into the mountains to find and elk.

      I'm a proud member of the Jeep Cult, and I wish I still had a real Jeep.

    4. Power Wagons, real Power Wagons, not the Dodge pickups they call Power Wagons, are the same way, except once you have one you never depart with it.

      My first Jeep was a M38A1, the military version of a CJ5. I bought it when I was 15 years old. The engine was well worn and it never ran right, but I learned a lot about mechanicing from it. The fact that it didn't run right may have been its saving grace, as Jeeps are a fairly dangerous vehicle actually, and maybe a guy out to be 40 years old or older before he really owns one.

      My second was a CJ2A. The very first civilian Jeep.

      If I had my ruthers, I'd probably go with the Toyota Landcruiser. The original one. Just a little bigger than the Jeep.

  3. I burned 2 vehicles to the ground through my teen years, but I do miss my old Jeep Commanche pickup I had...It didn't burn but was just a fun truck. It's cool having a truck that you can really run...I miss her...

    1. I used to have a Jeep Grand Cherokee that was pretty reliable and I always thought that a 4wd Comanche with the 4.0L engine would make a nice rugged pickup.

      Of course, I would have had to put a small lift on it along with some tires that were just a little bit bigger so I wouldn't get stuck in the mud.

  4. Neat entry here. As a person whose always been fond of older trucks, it's neat to see one that's been used by the same person for a long time, and to find it recommissioned and back at it.

    1. I'm not entirely sure on all the philosophical mumbo-jumbo definitions of terms like "a sense of space", but there should also be a "sense of stuff".

      Sense of Stuff would be about being comfortable using and being around stuff that has a deeper meaning and purpose, like a beatup muddy pickup that's been around for a length of time.

      When I roar down the road to check some cows in this pickup, I'm also roaring down the highway to college or going down a dirt road to go hunting.

      If more people had a Sense of Stuff, they'd be more likely to have their own version of a beat-up muddy truck. (or not, I'm not up to date on my philosophical mumbo-jumbo).

    2. Indeed, I agree.

      Part of that is the appreciation of the useful. Things that are useful, have their own value. A lot of new stuff, really has no more, or even, utility.