Thursday, May 09, 2013

Ahhhh, Sweet Memories

Saw this on Facebook tonight, and it really brought back memories. I used to drive a single bunk version of this very truck with much the same paint scheme. And yes, I had it shined up like this one as well.

Sorry about the quality of the image - it's off an elderly Tripod website I set up years ago. Now when I sign in, I cannot access the original images. I can only copy the thumbnails. But go there if you wanna see some of the trucks I used to drive as well as my ol' Vette and other personal vehicles. I did get a Hooter's waitress to pose in the Batmobile (that is what little kids called my car back in the day), and those pics are there as well.

At any rate, this particular Ford CLT-9000 had Detroit two stroke power in the form of a Silver 8V-92 rated at 475hp. The regular ol' green ones were rated at 435 tops, but this series was supposed to be new and improved, and had a high mileage warranty on it. Which we used, since some o-rings failed and started dumping the contents of the radiator into the crankcase. Detroit stood behind it and rebuilt it into a smoking shadow of it's former self. Never ran right again.

But when it ran, boy did it run good. I could really piss off the Caterpillar boys. The famed 3406B had come out, and people were cranking on the fuel pump hard for that "little extra help" in the HP dept. This sucker could out drag them. It had a ten speed direct (no overdrive) and 370s, so it didn't run much faster than seventy five or so. This was back in the 55mph days, so that kind of speeding was kinda risky anyways.

I'm sure I've told this story before, but what the hey. Back in the good ol' days, National Carriers really was "The Elite Fleet" like you see on their trailers to this day. Back then, the tractors that leased on with the company had to be nearly show quality and fairly new. And they all drove fast as well, fuel mileage be damned. One guy had several yellow Petes with V8 Cats and sidepipes. They'd go blowing by me in one of the far lesser trucks I started in and just rumble on by, sucking out my windows whilst I putted along. That generally happened in an older Ford cabover with a 350 Formula Cummins turned up to 400 and worn down to the point where stock 350 Cummins would outrun the thing. It also had a nine speed - the Chicken Hauler Fleet Truck Tranny.

But not the Blue Beast. I and a compadre were idling through Kingman, KS, eastbound on US54 one fine day and we could hear some Critter (old slang for National Carriers) drivers talking. We were in the left lane at the last stoplight in town, and they pulled up next to me in the right lane. Peterbilt 359. Cat with straights. Big walk in sleeper.
Yeah, we'll blow off these grain haulers here in town, then when we get outta town on the four lane, we'll do some serious motoring to get to the Air Cap (Wichita).

Uh huh. I let out on the clutch and went to hammering, and slamming my way through the gears. Left him in the freaking dirt. Truly it was sad. What was even worse was my compadre, who was piloting an older and pretty rough looking IHC 4300 conventional pulling doubles cranked him as well.

We cruised on out of town where the four lanes ended, then after a couple miles, it opened back up to a four lane all the way into Wichita. After about five minutes, one of the lead Critter's partners asked:
Why aren't we blowing off these grain haulers? I thought we were gonna stroll into Wichita?
He started grumbling about not running what other people wanted him to run, and not being forced into something he didn't wanna do, or some such drivel. He was pissed that his doors were sucked out, and didn't have the sense of humor to deal with it.

At any rate, that damn truck required more screwing around than I wanted to put into it. All the air lines were Ford specific, and not what you'd find in any other American made Class 8 vehicle. This truck was old enough that there were a ton of air leaks, and every air line required special adapters. The HVAC system was cobbed from their automotive division, where all the switches activated vacuum motors. Vacuum motors to switch from heater to vent to defroster. Vacuum motors to vary the water valves for more or less heat. And so on.

Vacuum goodies that were designed to be in carbureted gasoline powered vehicles. Diesels are fuel injected and generally turboed, so vacuum is a pretty scarce commodity in one. So, Ford's solution was a vacuum generator, which was a venturi port that ran compressed air through it all the time. Which, since air dryers were also a scarce commodity back then, meant the thing was using air all the time, and since Detroit compressors put out oily air, meant the thing would plug up all the freaking time. The various vacuum motors were spring loaded, by the way, to a default setting of full heat and defrost. So, running down the road on a hot, sunny summer afternoon in excess of a hundred degrees, enjoying the A/C would actually find yourself scrambling to shut everything down since your defroster was cranking out some mighty hot air,since the venturi was plugged up.

Then, just because it was a cabover, it sucked. Remember, this was back when all trucks had leaf spring suspensions, not air ride. Cabs were firmly mounted to the frame. You were riding ON the front axle. Being high had one being pitched from front to rear, and side to side. There was a saying: You'll always be the first one to an accident in a cabover.

And another Ford peculiarity - if you look at the top pic, you can see the depressed handhold. That was actually kinda cool, but look for the bottom step. It's a thin strip held out by two curved pieces of steel. I'd usually bail out of the thing by swinging around, grabbing the grab bar with one hand and jump out into space, skipping the two inset steps, grabbing the bar with my other hand, and land on the bottom step with my right foot.


Sometimes I'd miss that step and my foot would go inside into that big gap, and I'd bust my ass hard. That setup trapped my leg up to about my calf and I was just along for the ride.

And, the damn thing was too tall for a lot of elevator loadout doors back then as well. Most were originally designed to clear Grandpa's '39 Chevy, not semis. Finally the grain elevators started to knock out their doors to accommodate the stand up sleepers that started showing up on their doorstep to load, but I always had to barely scrape by. I replaced several horns, horn covers, and bent the turnouts on the stacks several times. There was no "air dump valve" available to lower the truck.

I had a real love/hate relationship with that truck. When the motor was fresh from the factory - boy did it ever run. But, typical two stroke Detroit, it went to hell tout suite. And Ford just needed to get out of the Class 8 truck business, which they eventually did. But it sure did look nice with it's blue and silver multi colored stripes, with a fresh coat of wax and the wheels and tanks all polished up. It was sharp, man.

If I had to drive that today, after running air ride cab conventionals with air ride suspensions for all these years, I'd tell you to go straight to hell.


drjim said...

Always a good read, Jeff!

I know diddly squat about Big Rigs, but it's nice to know I have a friend who does.

Jeffro said...

And I know bupkis about HAM radio, and it's great to have a friend who does and writes about it.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Wow . . .

You just made me feel old.

Jeffro said...

Snork! I do what I can, Chas.....

Garand Gal said...

I, too, know next to nothing about big rigs so thank you for sharing the information. My boss has a heavy wrecker that hauls them, although he's preparing to sell it. My nine year old is bummed, he likes to think of No. 15 as his own personal transformer lol.

Jeffro said...

Poor kid! Some of us never grow out of being a gearhead!

Thanks for stopping by!