This is a story about a relationship that began and ended with shouting.
“What are you doing now?” my mother shouted, poking me in the chest through my greasy coveralls. “You have a real job, get a real car!” Mom was right; my yearlong experiment with a high mile RX7 wasn’t that successful. It looked great and was fun to drive, but it required constant attention. I was supposed to be spending my free time on my wretched Triumph TR4 project and didn’t need another distraction.
Recalling my Uncle’s parts chasing pickup, I decided that a Ford Ranger was a suitable replacement. After the usual pre-internet newspaper and magazine search I wound up with a silver 1988 short box, with a 5-speed, 2.0 liter four, and ridiculously low miles. The previous owner had bought it as a cosmetic write-off, then repaired and repainted it over several years of free time.
Originally a zero option truck, he had partially upgraded to an XLT interior so although it had a rubber floor mat, it also had nice door panels, cloth bench seat and a radio. Beyond that it was dead nuts simple. Manual steering, manual brakes, no A/C, no power anything.
I was proud as can be of this, my first serious vehicle that I hadn’t cobbled together from others’ castoffs and it was dubbed The Wee Truck.
Driving The Wee Truck took a firm hand on the tiller. The unbelievably heavy armstrong steering was about 6 turns lock to lock, and the unassisted disc brakes took a firm shove on the pedal.
A first time driver of The Wee Truck had to take a short tutorial to avoid immediately careening into oncoming traffic. The uninitiated would approach a turn by placing their foot lightly on the brake and turning the wheel a quarter turn, which would result in the Ranger continuing in a straight line at unchecked speed followed by frantic wheel wrenching, pedal mashing and a string of curses.
My Girlfriend (later Wife) and I had many great adventures with The Wee Truck.
It was just the thing for a young active couple. The short box was never an issue; it accepted camping gear, bicycles, home renovation supplies and garbage.
The camping trip shown above was memorable because The Wee Truck’s battery died, and we had to push start it everywhere we went. When we got home I put in an oversized premium DieHard battery so it wouldn’t happen again. (Remember this, it becomes significant later).
The Wee Truck carried many and varied loads. In addition to this Honda 450, we helped move friends, and moved ourselves a couple of times.
One winter we lived in an old rented house where 100% of the front yard was driveway, I used to shovel the snow into the wee truck and haul it to a nearby park. Once I bought a yard of loose topsoil, and the backhoe operator heaped the entire bed to overflowing. I swear the front wheels were dangling above the ground on the trip home, it really lightened up the steering effort but didn’t do much for the brakes.
All in all The Wee Truck was great. It didn’t cost much to run, there was almost nothing to break and unlike the RX7 the heater worked spectacularly. There was only one thing I disliked about it:
Behold the mighty 73hp 2.0. The Wee Truck was the slowest gasoline powered vehicle I have ever driven before or since. Slower than my 40hp VW, so slow that a trip over Hamilton’s Skyway Bridge necessitated downshifting into fourth, then to third, and chuffing up in the slow lane at 60 km/hr.
Ontario has emissions testing every two years, and on these occasions that Aisan two barrel carburetor became the scourge of my existence. Two tests were done; one at idle, and one at 40 km/hr.
The Wee Truck had never idled well, and at 40km/hr it lurched and stumbled. Every two years I rebuilt the carburetor so it would run a little better, and every two years it would barely squeak out a pass, with unburned hydrocarbons right on the limit.
Despite my biennial carburetor annoyance the Ranger was otherwise highly reliable, with only a single noteworthy failure. One sunny afternoon at the park I returned to The Wee Truck and started it up to go home. Something didn’t sound right, so I shut it off to find that the engine was still cranking. The starter solenoid had jammed, and the entire electrical contents of my oversized premium DieHard battery were being fed to the starter motor in a single meal.
Because I never carried tools in the Ranger, all I could do was pound on the solenoid with my shoe, which didn’t help. I stood back and watched as the starter ground on and on, and the wisp of smoke from under the hood became a column. Amazingly nothing caught fire or exploded, and I returned later with a pair of pliers, disconnected the solenoid, push started the wee truck and drove home.
When my son was born in 2000 things didn’t change much, in fact he enjoyed playing in the truck bed. The whole family still fit in the Ranger, although with the infant car seat installed only first, third and fifth gears were available.
However, two events were about to change my relationship with The Wee Truck;
The first was when I got a new job. It was for a tier one automotive supplier, and a big step up in responsibility for me. Guess which vehicle belongs to the company owner.
The commute was over an hour each way. I should have expected this, but The Wee Truck responded to being driven three times as far by wearing out and breaking three times as fast. Truck maintenance became a series of late night and weekend thrashes so I could continue to get to work.
The other was that Mrs DougD became pregnant again. One day I was pulled out of a meeting at work and told that my very pregnant Wife had fallen and I was to meet her immediately at the hospital. How my foot tried to push the gas pedal through the floor as I wrung the truck out on the highway. The trip still took an agonizing hour, the Ranger just couldn’t go any faster.
The Ranger bounded into the parking lot, I bounded into the maternity ward to find that the baby had been turned upside down by the fall, but Wife and child were not in immediate danger. Luckily baby turned herself back in time to be born healthy two days later, but I looked at The Wee Truck in a different light after that.
In the spring of 2003 I had a lot on my shoulders. The family stress of a toddler and a new baby, a long commute and a demanding job when I needed to be home more. Work was a disaster, the pressure of the auto industry was far greater than I had imagined, and some nights I didn’t come home; I even slept on my office floor. The company was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and tempers flared as the project managers fought each other for scant resources.
The Wee Truck needed a ton of work. It was running worse than ever, the emissions testing deadline was looming and I had no time. One wet snowy morning it absolutely refused to start, and I snapped. I shouted “That’s it, you’re fired!”, stormed back into the house and made a call to my father in law, the Ford Sales Associate. Two days later a lightly used Focus ZTS was in the driveway.
The Ranger languished in the snow, and once the weather warmed up and it would run again I sold it for little more than the value of its rust free bed and fibreglass cap.
A ten year relationship and it ended with shouting. At the time I felt The Wee Truck had let me down, but I probably let it down too. If I’d had more time or spent a bit more money I could have kept it going for a while longer, or at least made a more graceful transition. But it was for the best, I have a better job now, family life is great, and I’ve had a ten year relationship with the Focus.
With no shouting…