COAL: 1987 Dodge Ram 250 – The Bold and The Beautiful

Everybody has their kindred automotive spirit.  Of the various cars and pickups I have owned over the years, long ago I concluded this quad-toned Dodge pickup must have been mine.  Everything about it was just so right.

Yet another thought occurs…if this lovable, quad-toned Dodge truly was my kindred automotive spirit, what does that say about me?

There is a lot to unpack with that somewhat rhetorical question.

Well, perhaps I should start by saying this old Dodge was first covered ten years ago.  The specifics of it all can be found there.  This Dodge truly was the best $400 I have ever spent.  But, as with most things, there is often a touch more to the story, especially having had a decade to ruminate on it.

This Dodge came into my life when I was 34 years old.  By that point, Spring 2007, Marie and I had been married for nearly nine years and we had a five year-old child.  We had just moved across the state from St. Joseph to Hannibal in late 2006 and life seemed to have regained a degree of normalcy after my abdominal surgery earlier that spring.

But first let’s take a quick diversion to discuss Hannibal, similar to what we’ve done with Cape Girardeau and St. Joseph.

A statue of Tom and Huck at the base of Cardiff Hill, peering over the downtown river front. From wikipedia

Located 100 miles northwest of St. Louis and 100 miles west of Springfield, Illinois, Hannibal has a population of only 17,312 according to the 2020 Census.  The largest town on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River for many miles, Hannibal is a destination for tourists from around the planet and is still best known for being the hometown of, and setting for, native Mark Twain and his novel Tom Sawyer.

However, Hannibal’s aura and influence extends beyond the obvious.

In addition to Twain, Hannibal has an abundance of other notable natives including Margaret Brown, better known as The Unsinkable Molly Brown who survived the Titanic’s little mishap.  William Lear, he of the Lear Jet and development of the 8-Track, was born in Hannibal.  George Poage, the first African-American to win an Olympic medal, was born in Hannibal and earned his two bronze metals at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.

A highly historic yet easily forgotten event also happened in Hannibal with a Hannibal native.  Marie Ruoff Byrum was the first woman to vote in a candidate election in the United States after ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which gave women the right to vote.  Byrum cast her vote four days after the amendment was ratified.  Another Hannibal lady voted exactly one minute later.

Local cement production provided material for the construction of both the Panama Canal and the Empire State Building.  Hannibal is truly a remarkable town whose diminutive size is quickly forgotten when considering its legacy.

I had been hoping to find myself an old pickup for a while.  When the optimism faded is when Marie found the ad in the newspaper.  The City of Vandalia had a 1987 Dodge Ram 250 flatbed for sale.  After inspecting it, I agreed to buy it if they would fix a leaking rubber fuel line.  We didn’t even haggle on the price.

The 360 cubic inch (5.9 liter) V8 nestled under the hood was simply icing on the cake.  The day after being purchased I found a bed and rear bumper for $125 all in; a coworker and I removed the flatbed, installed the regular bed, and it looked so much better.  Plus I recouped $40 when scrapping the old flatbed.  That Dodge was rather an eyesore with that miserable looking flatbed as it was rusted and the wood floor was rotting.

By this point, my newfound pride was not about having scored a cheap, reliable old pickup.  Rather, it was what the acquisition of this pickup represented – Marie and I were now fully self-sufficient.

Granted, Marie and I had been independent and mostly self-sufficient for a rather long time, but everyone has instances in which they simply need to haul something.  Our frequency is perhaps heavier than normal and hauling anything of any size with either of our sedans was simply not realistic.  We have not lived near family in over twenty years so the luxury of borrowing a pickup from them or getting assistance from them is not a reality for us.

Looking back at my time at CC, there is no denying my sporadically being an apologist for pickup ownership, perhaps even stoking the flames a time or ten.  The reason for being an apologist is, after much introspection, how this self-propelled tool uniquely represents an independent, self-reliant mindset (at least to me) and I’ve (likely ineffectively) tried to make that point.  It’s rather doubtful I am alone in this mindset but sometimes we just don’t articulate thoughts as well as we can at other times.

Currently, we live on two acres that is half covered with all manner of insidious and invasive vegetation with the other half having abundant trees.  It seems cutting brush has been a hobby of mine for nearly seven years now as I am constantly picking up fallen branches, trimming trees, or trying to eradicate the invasive stuff.  Burning is frowned upon due to being within the city limits so brush needs to be hauled off.  Marie would not appreciate my throwing all manner of brush into the back of our effervescent Ford Econoline van.

My plans for this summer also included some landscaping in the front yard which necessitates dirt, brick, and decorative rock.  Buying in bulk is the more advantageous route to go given the needed quantities, so loading my material will involve a loader or skid-steer.  While some prefer using a van to haul their whatever, one of the great unsolved mysteries of modern life is how to dump material out of a loader bucket into a van.

I’m a do-it-myself type of guy; one always has to have the right tool for the job.  For my use case a pickup is the way to go.  Plus, the $400 I spent for this old Dodge was cheaper and infinitely more versatile than a new utility trailer.

This Dodge was the perfect tool for all the various tasks facing me when we lived in Hannibal.  Replacing the carpet in three bedrooms and a hallway with laminate?  Yep; I hauled the laminate home and then hauled all that nasty old carpet and crumbling pad off for disposal.

That brings up a story, especially since there was just mention of burning things…

After all the carpet and pad was pulled up (the pad was so deteriorated and crumbly in my daughter’s bedroom it took a scoop shovel to remove it), a coworker and I hauled the mess out to a desolate camping area on the banks of the Mississippi River.  This campsite was closer than the landfill and disposal cost me nothing since we burned it.  That carpet was likely thirty years old, as that was the age of the house at the time, and it made a terrific sized pile.

We stacked it up in an area that had a mild depression in ground level.

Figuring our fire might need a little help getting started, I dumped kerosene on the pile before lighting a match.  A second match was unnecessary as kerosene makes a wonderful starter for a carpet fire.  However, I have always wondered if the kerosene was really needed given how well that carpet and pad took off burning.  The flames shot high and the black smoke was rolling.

Just as the flames had gathered their mojo, a gust of wind hit and flames shot horizontally.  Thankfully, they shot toward the river and all we had to do was squash some of the peripheral flareups of flame.  The flames also (thankfully) avoided the trees on that dry, cold January day.

Some experiences you only want to have once.  However, this endeavor did offer a few learning opportunities, such as…

  1. Always pay attention to forecasts for wind speed.  We didn’t.
  2. Carpet is like the dirt from digging a hole; it seems to grow in volume once dislodged.
  3. Carpet padding gets even nastier than does the carpet.  Don’t position yourself to inhale its noxiousness.
  4. Always have kerosene on hand.  It’s like insurance; if you have some, you’ll never need it.
  5. I may be permanently out of the running for any environmental awards after disclosing this sordid tale.

Having that Dodge also gave me the ability to immediately address urgent items, such as a large safety concern Marie discovered.  Our house in Hannibal had several brick pillars on the back patio which she had discovered were not well secured to the concrete.  This was on a Thursday.  Two days later, on Saturday, a citywide cleanup was being held with people at the disposal site to help unload whatever trash you wanted to purge from your life.

Some cathartic swinging of a remarkably ergonomic sledgehammer let me rid myself of these columns.  Marie and I had been rather concerned about these unstable columns falling on our daughter or one of her friends.  After about twenty minutes the pickup bed was full and half the columns were hauled off.

Upon returning to dispose of the other half of my bricks, the people at the dump site all quickly found something else to do when I pulled back in.  As colorful as that Dodge was, there was no confusing it with any other old Dodge.

This wonderful old Dodge was a 3/4 ton, a classification which is a throwback to days long ago, with a gross vehicle weight of around 8,000 pounds.  In other words, I didn’t have to prematurely worry about overloading it.  Even if I had (and that first load of bricks had it squatting a fair amount), it wasn’t like it was hurting anything.  That Dodge was accustomed to such things.

In the automotive pantheon, this wonderful old Dodge basked in its rarified and rightful status among the bold and the beautiful.  Truly, it was bold in its abilities and beautiful in its unparalleled utility.

To answer my rhetorical question from the opening of this piece is difficult.  This Dodge was like me in being honest and highly unpretentious.  We are also minimally concerned about what people think – besides, what you are thinking is not my business.  Further, the various setbacks we have been dealt in life may affect our physical appearance, but we are resilient and keep going.

Even better was this old Dodge was profoundly comfortable, sat just right, and it was like an old dog in effectively yet nonverbally telling you of any ailments.

One of the true mysteries in life is why Dodge didn’t sell more pickups than they did during the 1980s.  I’ve driven Ford and Chevrolet pickups from the 1980s – the Dodges weren’t any more dated in appearance than the square body Chevrolets, drove better, were more rust resistant, had similar build quality, and were stouter.  The Dodge had drivetrains that weren’t nearly as strangled as what Ford had on offer.

These truly were the best pickups of the 1980s.

That Dodge also spoiled me.  When one is able to easily take care of whatever business presents itself, suddenly not being able to do so is a situation in which it is hard to acclimate.  My parting ways with it was voluntary as the bold and beautiful old Dodge was getting a case of cancer in its undercarriage (you can see part of my high-quality patch panel in the above picture), thus I sold it.  Dr. Jason did not care to perform a cab-ectomy.

Having such utility at my disposal, only for it to disappear, was akin to trying to run a marathon while breathing through a straw and having your ankles cuffed together.  It was really tough.

But my timing was right.  We were about to move (again) and while having the Dodge’s utility was phenomenal, its replacement was something that much better fit the huge need that was about to present itself.

(Author’s Note:  The Bold and The Beautiful premiered on CBS March 23, 1987, and new episodes are still broadcast daily.)