Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bittersweet Memories

Pretty sure I've covered this meme (First set of wheels) before, but I'm lazy and ain't gonna look it up in the archives. That is my only digital picture - robbed it off an old Tripod site I uploaded it to years ago, and the original picture has apparently been lost in their many upgrades and the many hard drives I've had go bad over the years. So that pic is it.

That is a 1965 Ford F-100 SWB with a three on the tree and a 240 cubic inch six banger. A fifty cent piece would choke the huge carb right down. Dad bought it for me with the promise that we'd really work it over - we were gonna get 'er painted and drop a V8 with an automatic to make it go. Well, with many of my father's promises, that never worked out. When it came time to cough up, he always had an excuse. He paid for the truck, the insurance and tags, and the gas. The flip side was I had to stay with him for a summer job - one that didn't pay very well or get me many hours. My friends were making three to four times as much as I during summers, and could afford to buy halfway decent cars. He just couldn't understand why I wanted to move on to something else years later - I guess I should still be driving it according to his thinking at the time. Oh well. It served me pretty well for what it was.

What it was - indestructible. The valves would float before it revved out, so it could be floored and it had it's own natural redline - it just wouldn't run any faster, and it wasn't fast enough to grenade. I could get it to lay a scratch, but I had to wind it up and dump the clutch. Can you say axle tramp? I could make the bed bounce in pain. Wham wham wham wham! I'm sure the quarter mile times were well over twenty seconds. One of my buds had a '66 with the 300 and a four speed - he could always get me out of the hole, and I'd ever so gradually ease by after the quarter mile line had gone by as we lumbered over it. I always got beat, but it was close. These races were always quite amusing to our friends with serious quarter mile cars. They'd sit in the ditches watching us rolling with laughter.

The sheet metal was thick. When it was loaded down with mud, I could kick the body panels to dislodge huge chunks without denting the beast. The paint was a lost cause, so another scuff? Which one? I did my best to customize my pride and joy - I bought some white high back bucket seats from a Charger in a junkyard to replace the bench seat, those white wagon wheels in the picture (Dad bought some chrome ones originally, but they rusted out even though I kept them polished and waxed), an AM/FM 8 track from JC Whitney, a floor shifter from Hurst and other little odds and ends. That fade out red paint? It looked really good for about a week if I slathered on some wax and didn't really work on buffing it out, spray a ton of Armor All all over, then wax it again a couple times. The Armor All worked it's way into the paint and made it look pretty shiny (even slicked over scuffs!), but it didn't last. But I tried, anyways.

All this lack of power surely meant it made decent fuel mileage, right? Not so much. It didn't matter how fast or slow I drove - eleven to twelve mpg. Since it was a six banger, it was geared pretty low, and seventy mph was really pushing it hard. Fifty five was more to it's liking. Didn't matter. It drank fuel like it was cheap and was always gonna stay that way.

Those bucket seats were the spark behind one of the worst arguments between my parents I ever witnessed. I bought the things with the idea that Dad would help me install them - they needed some brackets fabricated to fit and I did not know how to weld at that time. Dad kept putting me off, and the seats sat outside in the weather for a couple of months. My mother finally got tired of seeing them sitting in the yard and how disappointed and hurt I was - because I'd ask for help every once in a while and fail. Generally, a nap during a baseball game on television was a priority over helping me. She jumped into Dad big time and ate his ass out about leaving me in the lurch, how the seats were going to rot, and any other thing she could throw out. At first, he was arguing back, but she eventually proved her point, because he grabbed me, and in tears, went to town to buy some angle iron. I got to hear all about how he was just about to get to this project, etc., what a bitch my mother could be and so on. I'd heard all that before, and I'd just seen her behavior get more action than anything I could safely pull off, so my sympathy meter was running pretty low that day for the Old Man.

Like I said - this truck has bittersweet memories for me.

Another time, he sent me out to get estimates for a repaint. He wanted the best - back then one hammered out the panels carefully and used lead rather than today's plastics for filler. Yesterday's plastics had a tendency to fall off after a period of time. The tech was new and needed work. He even directed me to go to another town to a highly regarded shop. After I got home with the estimates, he about had a cow and told me that we weren't going to paint this pickup - no matter what we did or how much money we spent, it was always going to be a six hundred dollar pickup - that being the original purchase price. I look back on that now and wonder WTF was he thinking? Why send me on a wild goose chase building up my hopes? I got home all excited and pumped. Which changed in a hurry.

I started hearing a clunk when going around a corner, so I told Dad about it - I had no clue where or what to even begin looking for. He correctly determined that the rear bearing in the transmission was going out, but he kept putting off fixing it. It kept getting worse, and I guess he got tired of hearing me, worried, telling him about it, so we made an appointment in town to get it fixed. He was following me when all of a sudden, the driveline locked up. Luckily, I was on gravel. I fought for control, and gaining it, even managed to slide off to the side of the road out of the way, until it could be towed into town. The bearing had broken apart and locked the gears in the transmission. Dad said he was pretty proud of me for the good job of driving I did, and that lasted until one of the shop owners said it was a good thing that it happened on gravel. On pavement, it might have broken a u-joint, and if it was the front one and the driveshaft drove into the ground sending the pickup into a roll, Dad might have been burying me instead of bragging on my good driving. He should have gotten that truck in there long before he did.

Dad wasn't always an asshole - I've written about another incident where he rose above the situation. Plus, the ol' Ford had an oil consumption issue when he bought it, so he knew it was going to need overhauled. During a slow period one summer, we took it over to our neighbors and tore it down. The cylinder walls were really in pretty decent shape - we just honed 'em out and took a ridge reamer to the tops. The pistons were coated with carbon - it was my job to carefully chisel that crap off. The rest of the motor was full of crud, so we washed it all out. Detergents in engine oils have improved off the charts - back then, it was not unusual to find sludge all over and even plug up oil galleys when the motor was operated in a dusty environment.

The cylinder head got hauled to town to get rebuilt - the valves, guides and such were all pretty well shot and we just didn't have the tools to fix that. We went back with cast iron rings - figuring they'd seal up on the still slightly grooved cylinder walls. Dad figured we'd be back in to bore it out within about 10k miles, but those rings sealed up tight and I put on way more miles than that before we sold it. So that was one father/son project promise that was fulfilled, and that I enjoyed.

That old pickup did provide me with a freedom that I appreciate to this day. It was far from what I would liked to have, but it worked most of the time. It was more than a lot of kids had, too. It got me home from after school activities like football practice, took me to school events, got me to and from our various fields, took me hunting, cruising around aimlessly listening to the latest eight track, and so much more. Some girls turned up their noses at riding in it, but that was a sure fire clue that particular girl was not for me - even if I'd had a beautiful car good enough for them. I learned a lot of life lessons with that pickup - some were not positive, but they were valuable.


Anonymous said...

Ah my friend. There are lots of great memories for me stored in that trucks many miles...including getting all four wheels off the ground jumping the railroad tracks. And the bucket seats were pretty cool. And there was a year or so where you had a ride and I did not, that I was envious of your red truck ... even though it could have used a paint job. ;0)

Jeffro said...

Hah! I remember jumping the tracks - I think I only successfully got air once, but do not remember who was with me???? As I recall, it pretty well shook all the dust out of that fiberboard headliner! Cough Cough!

Yeah, I was whining - at least I had that ol' truck. Not everyone had something that good.

Anonymous said...

*Envious sigh*

Lisa Paul said...

Lovely bittersweet essay. You are a true writer. Amazing how something like a car or truck can be so associated with other memories.

To add a flippant note, I'll quote my friend Rob (an Englishman who can't get enough of American metal): "Thank the Lord for the big block Ford."

Jeffro said...

Tatyana: yeah, quite the contrast, eh?

Egads, Lisa - you're making me blush.