Fall of 1998 came and I’d had enough of the CRX, working three jobs, and was even starting to tire of the partying phase. When it came time for another vehicle, though, this time I was going to get a little more picky I said to myself and pick the perfect one. I didn’t look very long, but I must have done pretty good because I bought it in November of 1998 and had it until March of 2006, during that entire span it served as my daily driver, weekend escape, toy hauler, workhorse, and just about everything in between. I’d still have it today, were it not for a rather unfortunate circumstance. I don’t think “it” really does the vehicle justice, he was “Fred”, my 1992 Ford F-150 Custom.
When I was a kid my Grandma had a farm outside of West Plains, Missouri and one of the highlights for me and my Dad was the old farm truck – a 70’s vintage F-100 with a FE big block and most importantly the four on the floor with the big shifter sticking up through the floor. Lots of memories of my Dad rowing that big stick through the gears as we bounced through the fields in the old Ford, doing whatever it was that Grandma had us working on. On my 16th birthday my Grandma sent me a check, but more important a model of the 1993 Ford F-150.
Sure I wanted the real thing, really bad too. I absolutely loved -and still to this day think it’s one of their better designs – the 1992-1996 Ford F-150. When I was 17 and the other kids were a bit older Dad finally got his own truck, a new 1995 F-150 XLT 4×4, regular cab with a long bed and the 302. It was an awesome truck that I didn’t get much chance to drive but always admired it and enjoyed it when I did. Dad’s had two trucks since then, but I think the ’95 was his favorite.
As the CRX was itching to be out of my life, the decision was pretty easy – I wanted a truck. I was ready to go a bit older than the ’92-96 F-150’s that I wanted as my budget probably wouldn’t support them, but at a dealer auction with my mechanic we found my truck – and it was perfect. A 1992 F-150 Custom with the 300 six, five speed stick, long bed, regular cab, tow package and… that’s about it. Vinyl seats and floors, AC for comfort and nothing else but honesty. I rushed back to get a loan in order without ever driving it, trusting the mechanic and hoping the price wouldn’t break the bank too bad.. and it didn’t! A two year, $5,500 note was signed and I had a truck – which also coincidentally, in November of 1998, was the last car loan I’ve ever taken out.
A college kid with an F-150 may not seem like the perfect pairing, but after coming off the previous two vehicles I owned and all the time I spent in the box trucks – it was perfect. It was comfortable for my six foot two frame, rode nice and mellow, and the 300 six was perfect for what I did with it. I also fully admit – I just wanted a pickup truck.
I quickly mastered the art of the parallel park in downtown Lincoln – something that is, I admit, a slight feat in a manual transmission long bed pickup but even to this day I’ve still got it. When not in class I worked overnights at a gas station which worked out pretty well in giving me income and a place to do my homework, but not much of a social life. When I did, though, the F-150 did a great job of carrying two buddies and a bunch of beer somewhere to do something ridiculous – but always did it honestly.
On my “weekends” I discovered something else, that I could quench the adventure side of me by hitching up the family 16 foot Lund fishing boat to the back of the F-150 and heading out somewhere. I’d get off work at 6 or 7am, grab the boat and some coffee (or beer) and head out to the lake. Towing the boat, or towing a dual axle flatbed with a 1968 Galaxie on the back, Fred never once let me down and always got the job done.
I know this is a heated subject at times, but believe every good thing they say about the Ford 300 Six. It was not a speed demon by any stretch of the imagination, and when you railed on it, it sounded more like a moaning UPS truck than a hot rod – but I quickly realized that was, or wasn’t, the point. When I drove it like it was meant to, it always got me and whatever I was hauling where I needed to go without any drama or excessive noise. Keeping the revs low and not being afraid to pin the throttle to the floor were the name of the game, and it would just pull for days.
On the open road it would do whatever you wanted, too. Flogging it and putting it right up against the speed limiter (just over 90mph, on mine) was fine, but it really was most happy between 60 and 75 mph. Under that and hills would require a downshift; over and it would play nice but suck the tank dry with reckless abandon. Keeping it in the sweet spot you could just cruise all day long in overdrive, and get close to 20mpg to boot.
College came and went, but I kept my red truck. I looked at a lot of replacement vehicles over the years and even got close to one rather ridiculous purchase – keys in my hand, paperwork being signed and everything – of a brand new Ram Hemi Daytona in ridiculous orange but I ended up driving home my F-150 as the day closed. It could haul a load of servers in the bed as easily as it could haul a cord of firewood, all without debt, full coverage insurance and expensive repair parts.
Of course there were things I’d change about it had I been given a do-over (and in context, these are rather amusing and important). In the winter I would have loved either a limited slip axle or four wheel drive – both would have been fantastic. It only once got stuck in the parking lot of my apartment complex, where my favorite history professor pushed me out, but that right wheel got a lot of spinning in the cold months. I also would have liked four wheel ABS, and believe it or not – a supercab. Sometimes taking more than two friends would have been fun, and the extra interior space as a bonus. Over the years that’s what I built online – F-150’s with the basic engine (by then the 4.6, as the V6’s I wasn’t a fan of), limited slip axle and/or 4×4, supercab and long bed. Yet.. never bought one.
It became increasingly relevant in 2005 as I got involved in ham radio mainly so I could do storm spotting (spotting, not chasing – big difference – we’re only slightly nuts), and as a bonus discovered “fox hunting”. I’ll give you a summary – it involved a lot of rural roads, just the kind of stuff that was right up my alley, and the F-150’s. A couple times I really wished for 4×4, but even down a muddy minimum maintenance road that came up out of nowhere – the truck always got me home.
My most fond memory was one of the last, our group was allowed to use the local National Guard training facility for some transmitter hunting – which is the day the cover photo for this entry was taken. Of course this facility had “roads” for Humvee’s and three of us decided what the heck – why not! A 4×4 Durango, 4×4 Ranger, and Fred headed into the woods where yet again – the F-150 held it’s own and went through stuff I never thought it would make it through not once needing a tow from the two smaller trucks. Covered in mud and sand after a day of merciless flogging it drove me home yet again without any drama.
I know one thing for certain, despite by that time the rust and faded paint – I’d still have this truck today. Yet with all great hero stories, this one comes to an end that’s both tragic – and embodies how well Fred saved my rear over the years. As spring came in 2006 we had our first severe storm and I was utterly jazzed to go out on the first spotter callout. Fred was loaded to bear, and I picked up another ham/spotter to ride with to our assigned point out in the county. Our assigned spot was a field entrance on a hill that had excellent sight lines due west and south, but with the torrential rain that we were getting hit with I started to worry about my chances of getting out of the spot as the ground softened. Funny, that, surrounded by green skies and a downpour of epic proportions my greatest fear was getting out of the soft spring mud/grass mix I was parked in.
Of course the F-150 backed right out without a hint of issue, thanks in part to it’s super powers and in equal part to the good all terrain tires on kept on it. Heading home after after some adrenaline filled time my passenger and I talked not even realizing that we’d both neglected to put our seat belts back on. As the road was still pretty wet and I had a passenger, I kept under the speed limit as we headed back into town. Lights on, below the limit, every precaution taken – but in an instant a new Chevy 3500 dually pulled out in front of us and… stopped halfway into the intersection. Going 45 mph on a wet two lane road without a median I locked up the brakes and considered that this wasn’t exactly how I thought I’d go out – but knew what was coming.
Despite the other driver not having a valid driver’s license since the mid ’90s, admitting it was his fault on the scene, and overwhelming physical evidence the second his wealthy family’s lawyer arrived at the scene and saw both of us being taken off in ambulances.. it was all over. A legal battle that lasted almost two years finally ended with my passenger, whose injuries were pretty serious, and my medical bills being taken care of. In addition she was able to finally buy herself a car – a nice new-ish SUV – which made me quite happy in the end. As my lawyer described the other driver adequately – “a squirrely little spoiled bastard” – seemingly it didn’t matter to the insurance companies who let it drag on forever, and gave me several grey hairs in the process.
As with all good heroes, Fred burned out in a blaze of glory rather than fading away. Yes that Dually absolutely totaled my F-150, which I knew the second I saw the bed sitting at an awkward angle while the hood was crushed back nearly to the passenger side. Somehow old Fred protected both of us in the end, despite all odds neither of us flew through the windshield and lived to talk about it. Not to mention me living to wear my seat belt every single day from that day forward.
On a cold March afternoon I cleaned out my stuff from the truck that had been my loyal companion for almost 8 years under the watch of the most grumpy ever lot tender at the private impound lot our county contracts with. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to reminisce but as I stood there and surveyed the damage I could only think of all the places we’d gone that neither of us should have been able to go, and how I’d wished I would have taken more photos of the truck in it’s heyday. It is somewhat ironic that I have thousands of digital photos dating back to 1998, but nary a one of the outside of my truck in it’s heyday – just the places it took me.
So I ventured into the prime storm and transmitter hunting season with my “second vehicle” that I’d come into a couple of months earlier, but couldn’t have been more opposite from the trusty F-150 that had served me so loyally for so long. If you guessed somehow I’d find adventure, you’d be right.