COAL 12: 1989 Mazda B2200 – Mini Trucking Yet Again

Working and moving.  That’s what the second half of the 1990s was to me.  We were putting on a lot of miles and as awesome as the Yellow Toyota pickup was, it was also slow, noisy and sucked gas.  We needed something that was better on the highway, so we turned once again to the type of vehicle we had best luck with. A mini pickup, this time a 1989 Mazda B2200 2-wheel drive. There’s not going to be a surprise plot twist here, this was another rock steady Japanese small truck that led a boring life with us for the most part.  For the most part that is, until it was pressed into service as a replacement bush rig.

The girl with the motorcycle was on her way to becoming the wife with the motorcycle.  She had a fair bit of travel to do as part of her schooling and getting started in her career.  I was off working a lot, using Yellow and so it became time to go car shopping to replace the red Toyota truck for her. Car shopping for me increasingly meant truck shopping in those days. We went to a bunch of dealers in Kelowna and found a nice blue B2200 SE5 that was just a bit out of our range, and we couldn’t make a deal.  But at a small independent lot just down the road there was the identical truck sitting there amongst a bunch of quite terrible cars.  The salesman got very excited thinking I might wish to trade Yellow in, but that wasn’t going to happen.  He let us test drive the Mazda and even said we could get an inspection.  We came to a deal I could live with; I wrote a cheque, and all was well.  It was the only worthwhile thing on the lot and the owner admitted as much, but he said there was little demand for small 2-wheel drive trucks and so he had no trouble getting this one for his lot.

For the next few 4 years we drove that truck everywhere we had to travel.  It had a gentle life and other than the gravel road we lived on it spent its life mainly on pavement. I have zero recollection of any mechanical issues with it. It was well assembled and pleasant enough to drive with a very nice 5 speed transmission.

About four and a half years into owning the Mazda, two automotive events occurred, both coinciding with a move into Central BC.  The first was that my wife decided to get an actual car to drive which would be more pleasant for the distances she was travelling.  The B2200 was getting up there in miles by that time, and with me on the road all the time, we wanted her in something newer.  The second event was that next week’s COAL had managed to break in a most inconvenient way at the start of a major forestry contract I was working on.  Stopping the contract to repair the other truck was not an option, so I had to solve the problem quickly.

I had a couple of choices, one of which would have been pretty cool, but a stupid business decision. My father, once again with one of his bargain purchases had an FJ40 Land Cruiser sitting around that he had brought back from a trip to Vancouver Island. It was in nice shape and had an aluminum replacement tub on it, so rust was not going to be an issue.

My mom says the trip back from the coast was harrowing and they even went around a corner on two wheels crossing the Douglas Lake Ranch. I think she was done riding in it after that. Then another near rollover on an icy off-road obstacle that his Ram regularly traversed without incident made Dad decide the Cruiser maybe wasn’t for him and it became a yard queen.  I drove it a few times and found it a bit uncomfortable and just could not picture spending 3 hours a day in it. Nor dealing with icy logging roads at speed in a tippy short wheelbase rig.

The other choice was to just use the Mazda and try and get the contract done as early as possible before 4-wheel drive was going to be near mandatory.  I chose the safer path and went with the Mazda to save the day.

A few things became obvious right away as I started off on the 3-hour trip to where I would set up camp.  Although I had only a 13-foot 1300 lb Okanagan Ultra Lite trailer to tow, the Mazda didn’t have the heft to make pulling it a fun experience.  There was enough power and almost enough brakes but any series of bumps could set up an unpleasant pogoing motion.  It also had a shorter wheelbase than the truck it was filling in for, which exacerbated the instability. So I had to really pay attention which itself was made more difficult as the dog I had took up more seat than he should have so I was occasionally fighting with him while driving.

Fortunately, a dry fall was underway, so I made progress through the contract.  All of the areas I was working in were being harvested and the roads were in good enough shape for the little Mazda.  I had installed a VHF radio which allowed me plenty of time to get clear for logging trucks.  I was lucky enough to find a pair of studded mud and snows for the rear and I carried tire chains as well. And I was very careful.  Two-wheel drives bring that out in me.

Inevitably the change of seasons came, and snow started to come to the high country. I got very good at putting chains on every morning.  I never got the Mazda stuck except for one time when I came around a corner to a surprise logging truck.  There must have been a rock wall blocking the radio signal as both of us had been calling our kilometers.  I drove into the ditch to avoid being a Peterbilt’s hood ornament. The log truck driver stopped, and we threw a choker onto a log load, and he tugged me out in less than a minute.  I was glad to get the bulk of the high-elevation stuff done before I moved on to the more accessible low elevation blocks. But after a week it started getting snowy and muddy lower down as well.  Not really enough for a snowmobile either.  I’d save that until I was desperate.

I had reasons for saving the sled until I was desperate. There is no single type of machine in my life that has caused me more grief than the snowmobile. I may eventually have to do a SOAL on my current sled which either misplaced sentiment or masochism has led to it being with me for a quarter century now. But during that contract I had a different sled, a long-tracked ET 340 Yamaha.  I read recently that Yamaha stopped making snowmobiles this year. They could have stopped before they made this ET 340, and I would have been happy. Like so many sleds of the 70s and 80s it was near incapable of actually moving in deep snow, preferring groomed trails.

Back when we first got the Mazda there was a good example of how a snowmobile can wreck a day.  One really cold February day, I had to check out some trees that required a snowmobile to get to.  The unloading spot was quite close to the highway.  Since my wife was going to college right along the way we decided to save gas, I would leave Yellow at home, and I would put the sled in the Mazda.  The weight of the sled would give the Mazda all the traction it needed.  All went marvelously with the plan until I was heading back to the truck at the end of the day and got the sled stuck in a gully. I worked at getting it out for an hour and was making headway until I broke the pull cord.  Running out of daylight I donned my snowshoes and slogged back to the truck.  Once I got there the Mazda, now with no snowmobile as weight, couldn’t get back out of the place it was parked.  I hoofed it to the nearest house a few miles away.  Of course, my wife was stranded at school. I had to phone my mom to come and get me before I froze to death. In her Mazda Protege it turns out.  The next day I was back using Yellow and hating snowmobiles more than usual as I hiked back in with a new starting cord.

Back to the contract. I did solve the mud and snow problem for little money in the form of a 1984 Honda ATC200M trike which I found in the Buy and Sell.  People will tell you that trikes were unsafe, and you were at great risk of physical harm when riding one. Of course, those people were right.  Three is not the right answer as to the question “how many wheels a conveyance should have?”  They aren’t too bad on slippery surfaces. On hard surfaces they are deadly. I got pretty good at riding it, avoiding the all-too-common death and injuries that happened back in the day.   The ATC with a little help from the Yamaha allowed me to finish the contract and retire the Mazda from bush work.

The low height of the Mazda made loading up the sled and trike easy at least.  There was always one or the other back there that season.

I found a picture I took at the exact moment I said never again to a 2-wheel drive bush truck.  It was time to pack up camp and get the trailer.  There had been a light snowfall after a rain.  The trailer was 5 miles up a forest service road.  I chained up the Mazda and it got up the road easily enough.  Coming down with the front unloaded was a bit terrifying.  The dog and I got out to calm down here and consider maybe camping right at that spot until the roads melted.

I eventually got my other pick-up situation sorted out.  The Mazda became surplus, and I traded it in on something else.  It had served me very well. Maybe these were the best mini trucks of the era. I think Mazda did a good job with them.  You don’t see them too much anymore, but I saw one yesterday looking good but also looking impossibly small.

My dad sold the Landcruiser after a few years of barely using it.  I realized a few years later that I just should have bought it as an investment as you won’t see one in that good a shape for $3000 anymore.

I put a lot of miles on the ATC200M before I sold it to a someone I know, who got more use of it and then sold it to someone else I know. Last week he sold it to another person.  As far as I know it hasn’t maimed anyone yet. It does get my vote as the toughest gas-powered anything I have ever owned. And the most dangerous.

The Mazda had a long trouble-free time with us.  Next week’s COAL spent a long time with me as well.  But it certainly wasn’t trouble free.