COAL 14: 1998 F-150 XL 4X4 – The White Truck

I sure liked the Toyota T-100 and Tacoma and on my way to Vancouver to go truck shopping that’s what I envisaged driving home in.  Economics and financing being what they are I found myself heading back up to Lone Butte where I lived with something I really wasn’t sure would work out for me, namely a Jellybean Ford F-150.  I figured these things were pretty soft.  But it turns out that maybe Ford knew a little about building a pickup truck.

I really wasn’t ready for a new truck. I figured I could get a few more seasons out of the grey Toyota.  But when I followed my wife to a new region the first contract I took had stipulations on vehicle standards.  Which meant I needed a newer truck.  Complicating the situation, I had just lost a tax appeal due to a change in year end accounting procedures at Revenue Canada, meaning I had a large tax bill to settle.  My accountant and Revenue Canada said that mine was a worst-case scenario of the legislative change which was meant to be benign.  Add that problem to being self-employed and it compromised my ability to finance anything for six months while I paid my back taxes.  So I found myself in Vancouver dealing with a leasing company that was willing to gloss over a few small details to get me approved.

I was adamant that it had to be a standard which were already getting thinner on the ground.  They came back with a low mileage 1998 F-150 that had been used to deliver flowers which was in perfect shape and even had some factory warranty.  I traded in the Mazda B-2200 to offset some tax and all was well.  The truck was a long box work truck, and it had the little 4.2 V6. Most importantly it had a 5 speed like I wanted.  I’ve driven all manner of hill descent control outfitted vehicles off road and none seem to work any better than a standard transmission in first gear 4-low.

The drive home that night was actually pretty good. The F150 was quiet and felt powerful compared to the mini trucks.  The ride and handling were far better.  I had all sorts of reservations about Fords in general, and the Essex V6 and the Mazda M5OD 5 speed in particular but since I was leasing the truck for only a few years I figured it would be OK.  The first couple of years of the 4.2 had problematic intake manifold gaskets.  After that error was rectified, I have read that it is among the most durable motors Ford made.  Admittedly a low bar.

The contract I had taken on for the summer was looking after remote campgrounds for the Forest Service.  The Little Fort Hill was a lot shorter with the more powerful truck as I could go up at the speed limit or more.  On its first trip out to the worksite I was going through deep snow to get into a site and I hit a hidden stump with the rocker. There went the idea of returning it at the end of the lease.

Since the internet had become full of information by then, my browsing made me a bit paranoid about the intake manifold gasket. Mine wasn’t leaking but I kept a really close eye on it. Other than always expecting that problem was about to happen, the truck was pleasant, surprisingly good on and off the road, and far more stable at speed than the Toyotas.  The loggers who hated the “Datsun” would wave happily at the F-150. My travel time was reduced so I was getting more work done per day offsetting the truck payment.

I think an epiphany moment occurred when I had to haul the Toyota on a U-Haul trailer across the Monashee and I think it was the fastest trip it had experienced across the pass.  Moving houses was much easier with the big box and although the stated payload didn’t seem huge compared to the mini trucks, the big Ford handled a load well.

I kept contracting for a few more years and then I started doing something else so I’m not sure about how durable a truck it would have been long term in the bush.  It seemed to be well screwed together.  One of the things that reduced the abuse it took was that I used the Honda Trike and the grey Toyota in the narrower places.  I bought a different snowmobile that actually could deal with deep snow as well.  I had concluded after some research that I needed A Ski Doo Tundra 2.  However, the dealers wanted actual money for those.  So, I phoned an ad in the Buy and Sell from a snowmobile wrecker and repairer in Westbank, he had a few old Alpines including this 1970 399R. For those fortunate enough to be not familiar with the Ski Doo Alpine it was a work sled with only one ski but two tracks.  That was of course problematic for many reasons, mainly to do with steering, but at the same time, they were heavy-duty in a way that no other snowmobile from that era was.  The twin tracks gave a ton of flotation.

Most every day the Alpine would have a minor problem or two but it could make it to the block no matter how much snow there was, and it would bring me home every night.  I had a near miss one day when I absentmindedly put a tiny squirt of gas down a cylinder to get it primed and then got distracted and pulled the cord without the spark plug in.  This started a fire which started to spread to the greasy mess that is a two-stroke snowmobile engine bay.  This situation was made worse by the fact that the sled was on the truck at the time.  And just for extra excitement it was still tied thoroughly down.  Some frantic firefighting efforts ensued along with the usual round of cursing about both going to forestry school and being foolish enough to own a snowmobile.  No damage done in the end except to my nerves.  I had thought of doing a SOAL about this most terrible of snowmobiles but decided after thinking about it, a few pictures here is all it deserves.

Here it is laying down a smokescreen as it comes to life. Old two-stroke sleds usually start fairly easy in cold weather. Except when they don’t. Which is often.

I do deep breathing exercises and stretches to ensure I am physically and mentally ready to get it started.  Get that first pull wrong and you may have bought yourself a half-hour wait by flooding it.

The old girl would certainly keep going in snow that would have stopped the Yamaha dead though. Very low gearing and mechanical reverse helped.

Left a pretty decent cross-country ski trail behind itself.

I wrote a guide for the number one issue on these old Ski Doos.  Or more correctly one of the numerous “number one” issues that will stop it running right anyways.  This one is for the carb.

Okay. That’s off my chest now.  When I read here about COAL authors’ battles with all manners of cranky old T-Birds, Jags, Lexi, VWs, BMWs and whatever else you unaccountably try to fix when you maybe just shouldn’t, well I too have been there.

Back with the F-150.  I did have a real mechanical blunder with it.  I stripped the splines off the driveshaft in a giant truck-eating mud hole.  A scrapyard driveshaft was easy to find and solved the problem.  For 10 seconds anyway until the wrench I left on the U-bolt inadvertently made a giant hole in the oil pan while I was backing out of the garage. You have to lower the front differential to change out the oil pan I learned.

I tried a few different ideas to broaden out my business.  One was collecting Ponderosa Pine cones which I sold to an American broker in huge quantities.  Many a Christmas Ornament in the North America was collected using this truck. I was like a squirrel with these stashes all over the place.

The dogs loved this truck.  They had a cage on the back for summer or could ride in the cab in winter.

One day I heard an ad that the SPCA was having pet pictures with Santa and knowing my dogs,  they may have caused some trouble for the jolly old elf, so I decided to take my own Christmas pet pictures.

A total waste of a few rolls of 35mm film. Manual focus made it hard to get the shot. That is until I thought to put them in their happy place, the F 150.

It was their happy place because a ride in it usually meant an adventure. So my happy place as well.

I drove this more miles than any other vehicle I have owned.  Rolling along at 85 miles an hour across the Interior Plateau and crawling up mountains in low range and first gear.  My reservations about the soft Ford were not well placed.

Having only room for two or three people reduced its usefulness for a family of four. But comfy for a Dad and his helper.

It left me walking out of the bush once.  I hit a giant rock with a tie rod end knocking the joint apart.  Just could not get it hammered back together so I jogged to where I could get cell service. A field repair the next day and it was back in service.  I did also eventually change the intake manifold gasket out before it could blow and ruin the engine. It went into semi-retirement brought out for dirty jobs and not much else. It had sadly become surplus.

I never ran into tax trouble again.  A regular job tends to preclude that happening.  A regular job also meant that it was hard to keep a pair of big dogs busy.  They both retired and lived very long and happy lives.

And the old Ski Doo Alpine?  It was a cantankerous, miserable and unpredictable machine. It was impossible to steer, had terrible brakes, was a nightmare to load and it was back-breaking to operate. A trip of more than 10 km required a pocket full of spark plugs. Every time I set off on it could have easily been its last trip or worse yet my last trip. It smoked like a 19th century factory. It was a complete and utter worn-out piece of junk. It probably left the factory in Quebec with numerous defects from new and the half-century since then was not kind to it.

Still love it though.  I’m barely man enough to ride it now, but I like to think that we have a few adventures left in both of us.

And the White F-150. Lots of good memories of this truck. My oldest daughter came home from the hospital in it.  Her early life was spent riding around in it as the air conditioning made it a comfier place for a child than the sweatbox Civic.

Life goes by fast. She is now going into her third year of Engineering at University.  And since I gave the old F-150 to her last year, once we do a few repairs she will again be able to enjoy riding in it again, this time from the driver’s seat.  The White Truck has been in the family for a quarter century, and I think it may be around for another one.

Next week I need to find a people carrier.