Sunday, April 01, 2012
My Dad's Hot Rod
I do not have a picture of my father's farm truck - a 1948 or 9 Ford F-6. Imagine this truck painted white, equally dented and neglected and showing some rust. The bed and sides were wood as well, and were gradually deteriorating in the Kansas sun. Dad's baby sported black wheels, with a black bumper to match.
Driving the ol' girl was quite an adventure - it had a non synchromesh transmission and a two speed rear axle. The push/pull switch for the two speed was in the dash rather than on the shifter like newer trucks. The brakes were the disappear in the floor variety, like a VW. It was new enough not to have a floor starter, but it did have a separate starter button on the dash. Twist the key, pull the choke, and push on the button to start.
The brakes were vacuum boosted - you could hear the gurgling, whooshing sound of the booster when applying the brakes - but you didn't want to use them for very long or they'd disappear like a gaseous eruption in a breeze. Windshield wipers were vacuum assisted - but Dad wasn't much on replacing the blades. If the sky dropped some moisture, the wipers were generally a waste of time. You could stop 'em by stepping on the gas, and let them wipe by backing off.
The transmission had to be double clutched to shift it - otherwise you'd just grind gears and I guarantee ya you wouldn't have the strength to force it in. It was a pretty stout tranny with straight cut gears - it would whine it's way through every gear. Newer trucks (and cars) eventually went to helical cut gears to minimize the noise, but that was just part of the ol' schweetheart's charm. Meanwhile, this old relic would just keep on whining and not break down.
Power steering was provided by The Armstrong Company. One did not even try to change course unless there was forward or reverse progress, particularly if it was loaded. Turns were negotiated with careful planning as to how one could avoid moving the steering wheel unnecessarily. Peaked gravel roads made 'er a little squirrely when it was loaded, so ya had to be careful there. The tires dated from the fifties mostly, very weather checked. The thought that one might just pop off kinda was a self governor as far as driving fast went.
The interior was spartan, to say the least. It was a pretty narrow cab, so the dark gray vinyl bench seat would hold two kids and the adult driver, three adults would be an uncomfortable squeeze. The floor consisted of one big fitted black rubber mat. Brake and clutch pedal pads looked like rubber representations of the Target logo. The dash had a big plastic (it was white, so I doubt it was bakelite) ventlike grill in the center of the dash, shrinking with old age. The gauges were minimal - the example above is a customized truck, but Dad's had the same layout. Just not a chrome turn signal switch - heh. That is the correct steering wheel, too, but ours was a bit more worn and cracked. There was no radio. The knob on the dash above the instrument panel ran the wipers.
But, all those amenities were not what made Dad's truck a charmer. When I came upon the scene, it was on it's second engine. The first was an inline flathead six. It had a flathead V8 for engine number two. It shelled out, and the local garage recommended a Chevy 327 V8 smallblock, so that was shoehorned into the engine bay.
Now, this was just an average truck engine of the day - two barrel carb with an oil bath air filter. It was, I'm sure, just a two bolt main block. However, in that truck, it was a performer. I was under the penalty of certain death were I to hot-rod or abuse that truck in any way, and that included driving fast. Mostly because of the tire situation, but still. That truck was a big time sleeper most of it's life with that particular motor. Using only part of it's performance would still hustle that ol' warrior up to about forty five mph in a hurry, which was about as fast as you would want to drive any of it's compadres of the day. It hid it's light under a bushel basket, so to speak, except when we took it to town.
There is a hill on the north side of Cimarron - not much of a hill, when compared to mountains or even in other towns in the Midwest. But, even the minuscule drop off was too much for many of the elderly grain trucks back in the day. The driver might come into town a little "hot," heat up the brakes to the failure point, and just keep rolling through town, through the stoplight (all those years and runaway trucks and there were no t-bone collisions), across the rather high tracks (hoping the aged springs didn't give away or some ancient suspension part didn't fail), and roll on down towards the river bridge until they'd coast to a stop. So, when behind the wheel, one approached that hill with extreme caution.
Which meant the truck had to be in a lower gear, and to stay in that lower gear, no matter how slow it seemed. The lack of synchros meant you did not dare shift it without error, so it was just a better idea to stay in second gear, maybe playing with the two speed axle. In this baybee, that meant the exhaust popped, cracked and rumbled like any Chevy small block would - man, it sounded good. Just hearing it for the first time would astound people who knew what it did sound like, but weren't expecting to hear it from a Ford farm truck! Frankly, I enjoyed driving the old girl.
One time, I was riding with Dad from a trip to town to unload some wheat during harvest. We were ambling along on a wide gravel road headed back to the field, when a shiny new custom harvester's tandem went blowing by us, with the young driver tooting his air horn in derision at the no doubt lower life form Dad was driving. Eat his dust. Well, this inspired the Ol' Man to show off a little. He stomped on the gas and she took off after the cocky driver. He saw us coming, and I'd bet the Mega Millions his foot was to the floor. As we went by, I waved at him and smiled. His eyes were like saucers. Unbeliever is what he was. Dad backed 'er down - always worried about the tires but unwilling to bear the cost of replacing them, and the kid kept behind us.
Quite the machine, it was.