COAL: 1991 Dodge Power Ram 150 – One Life To Live

At a point in the midst of their lives, some people will spend an inordinate amount of money on some shiny, youthful automotive bauble.  It seems the intent is to help salve the angst an elevated age can sometimes cause in a person.

Ever the nonconformist, I bought an old $2,400 Dodge pickup.

The aging process has never really bothered me.  If you take a moment, there is actually a lot of humor in it.  Things start to wrinkle, droop, or leak, hair in places below your collarbone starts to gray (so I hear), and your body likes to taunt you with stiffness and other maladies.

When such happens with a person it is typical.

Such is also typical for a vehicle but vehicles aren’t your physical self, thus options exist.  When my Ford decided to go on a weight-loss regimen, it seemed a good option was to allow it to find happiness in somebody else’s greener pasture.

So what the hell happened for me to make such a retrograde move?

Another benefit of aging is the perfect cocktail of mental clarity, pragmatism, and not caring what others think.  The red F-150 was only traveling about 4,000 miles per year, indicating my need for a pickup exists but it isn’t a high utilization proposition.  When a coworker texted me this incomplete picture of a 1991 Dodge Power Ram 150, my brain started working.

Yes, I could have kept the Ford, rust and all.  But there was still the issue of exorbitant property tax, insurance, and further depreciation.

This Dodge is practically free in those regards.

All else being equal, the old Dodge suits my current needs better than did the Ford.  While that Ford had fit my needs at one time, things evolve.  I was back to needing an 8′ bed while keeping something with four-wheel drive for getting to work in bad weather.  The last year of the pre-Magnum 318 is no powerhouse, but my need to pull a trailer is rather infrequent these days.  Rather, I’m into hauling brush, dirt, bricks, and various other debris.

This Dodge is ideal in that regard.

Years ago I remember seeing some form of this Dodge commercial on television.  While normally not one to fall prey to such syrupy drivel, it somehow resonated with me.

While I often mention Cape Girardeau, Missouri, I grew up ten miles and a world away in Illinois.  Since becoming an adult that part of Illinois has found a new home in a place that lies beyond terminal decline; it was not to that point when growing up.  We only lived where we did due to my father having grown up in the area; even then it didn’t make sense.

The county seat of Cairo (pronounced Care-Oh and a place I did not frequent) has fallen off its once admirable perch in such spectacular fashion various documentaries have been made about its implosion.  Even as a pre-teen I knew my life would lead me in a direction that did not include the State of Illinois.  While having no clue where it would lead – Alabama or Georgia generally came to mind, perhaps due to warmer weather – the imagery of the young guy having found success and driving his new Dodge back to visit family resonated with me.

That has mostly come true; the sole missing ingredient is the new Dodge Ram pickup.

Yes, these Dodges have wormed themselves into my brain.

Figuring we all have just one life to live, I acted uncharacteristically and bought this old Dodge.  It spoke to me.

Buying any vehicle this age is a pig-in-a-poke proposition.  There was a distinct leap of faith involved but these old Dodges contain a certain hard to describe figurative opiate.  They are delightfully simple and I just enjoy driving it.

So far the ownership experience has been about what I expected, both good and bad.  But let’s talk about that later.

I have been using this Dodge as intended since Day 2.  It has happily performed all assigned tasks – it has hauled dirt for the garden, debris from removing a deck, and bricks for a retaining wall plus countless loads of brush.

The first load of stuff to the landfill was 880 pounds of deck I had pulled off the house.  My being methodical in truncating the deck quickly yielded to my general impatience and wanting to be done with the job.  Needling the Dodge through the various obstacles of tool shed and trees that comprise my backyard, I utilized a saws-all and my trusty log chain to jerk free the portion of the deck to be eliminated.  With the Dodge in four-low, a smooch on the throttle made short order of removing that deck from the abbreviated remainder.

The events of leaning the deck onto the tailgate for slicing it into two pieces for easier loading sealed the deal on my ownership.  After blazing down the middle of the eliminated portion of the deck with said saws-all, the two halves did an Olympics worthy synchronized flip onto the rear fenders leaving matching dents and identically sourced chunks of tail light deposited onto the ground.

So how does the Dodge drive?  Hearing it has a 130-odd inch wheelbase, a solid front axle, shock absorbers that retired likely during the Clinton Administration, and a 170 horsepower 318 to move around 4,500 pounds of two-tone Dodge, one could make a few incorrect assumptions.

Hit the starter and it turns over rapidly.  The Highland Park Hummingbird was last seen in 1987; throttle-body injection came along the following year as did a new, uninspired sounding starter.  If anything under the hood changed between then and 1991, it was little.  This Dodge always starts immediately regardless of ambient temperature.  It starts just as readily in -10 degree Fahrenheit weather as it does when it is 110 degrees warmer.

Place the four-speed automatic into gear and she’s ready to go.  The steering is slow but certain as I’ve made some enhancements.  All the tie-rods were shot when I purchased it (despite having passed inspection, surely something nobody has ever pencil-whipped) so those were changed.  Another source of slop was the rag joint steering shaft which I replaced with an aftermarket universal-joint type in October 2020.

The old girl tracks great and power delivery is steady but not overwhelming.  The only discernible difference between being loaded with a thousand pounds versus being empty is the Dodge upshifts later and the ride is somewhat smoother.  Otherwise, this Dodge is unfazed with being loaded.

It would seem any vehicle built like this Dodge would be rough, noisy, and not at all nimble.  That would be somewhat wrong.  Ride and noise insulation was never its forte, but in regards to nimbleness, this Dodge flys way under the radar.  It has a profoundly comfortable driving position and a relatively tight turning circle so one could easily drive it all day on the farm or city streets without any form of undue challenge.  Of course, visibility is unfettered by much of anything which also helps.

Fuel economy?  Let’s not dwell on that.

As stated earlier it has not been perfect.  But that’s okay.  While I drive it to work most days, on those rare occasions when it is suffering from age, I simply take a different vehicle.  After my initial tune-up, which included replacing the original distributor cap and rotor, that 318 really woke up.  Since then, it has required the mentioned tie-rods, ball joints, a wiper motor switch, and a water pump.  Some proactivity prompted replacement of heater and radiator hoses along with the front wheel bearings.

When purchased, the paint was flaking on the hood and roof.  A coworker repainted these areas for a grand total of $250.

The tires were nearly new.

The totality of what I have spent on the Dodge is still less than what I would have spent for new tires on the Ford (it was needing them) plus three years worth of property tax.  Depreciation is a non-issue.

If this Dodge has an Achilles heel, it would be the electronics.  What I suspect to be a fusible link has killed power to a particular fuse in the fuse panel.  Thus, I have no heat as the blower motor gets no electricity.  Really, that’s no big deal.  My drive to work is three miles so this last winter, when temperatures had dipped into the negative zone on the Fahrenheit scale, I garaged the Dodge and arrived at work before it got cold inside.  Besides, the engine would not have warmed up in that time period, so there wouldn’t have been heat anyway.

The wiper motor switch recently decided to work overtime as the wipers were at full chat with the switch turned off.  A new switch was procured and was obscenely easy to install.  Despite such petty distractions, the old girl starts every time, runs like a champ, and does what it is asked to do.  Can one really complain about that?  To me, that indicates a certain degree of fortitude.

Few vehicles can brag about longevity in the same manner as these Dodges.  These amazing beasts were designed in the 1960s, introduced in the 1970s (the 1972 model year to be precise), were mildly updated in the 1980s, and this example was produced in the 1990s.

Years ago when I first met editor Jim Klein we talked about regional differences in automotive composition.  For some this Dodge may be something novel, an example of something rarely seen in their area.  Conversely, in this neck of the woods, half-ton Dodges of this vintage can be seen anytime you venture out.  These half-tons are more plentiful than are the contemporary Ford and Chevrolet examples.

These are still so prevalent there is a location a few miles north of me in which two houses facing each other both have a half-ton Dodge pickup of this vintage parked in the driveway.  All are still being used; none of them are pampered garage queens.  If one is ever here and sees someone with his approximately 1990 Dodge half-ton hauling scrap metal, they would agree these pickups are still working day-in and day-out.

That is exactly what is still happening with the Dodge seen here.  Purchased new by an old man who used it to haul firewood, then purchased by someone who used it as a spare in his farming operation, I am the third owner and this Dodge continues to work without complaint.

In the course of this series, every vehicle I have owned has been covered except my 1963 Ford Galaxie.  Of the bunch, none has ever generated the number of positive comments as has this Dodge.  It has been called awesome, beautiful, bad-ass, and cute.  While I don’t seek such attention, I have certainly received it.

All that said, this Dodge is nirvana on four, fifteen inch wheels.

Will I own this Dodge for as long as what Paul has owned his 1966 Ford F-100?  I don’t know.  Circumstances may change, problems to test my tolerance my erupt, and life can evolve.  What happens happens.

We all have but one life to live and we need to make the most of it.  Having turned fifty during the course of this series has once again spurred me to reassess my outlook on life.  In other words, I want to enjoy my Dodge for as long as I can, whether that means an additional three days, three years, or three decades.

I figure if I can have the stamina of this old Dodge I will have been successful.  There is no hurry for this my Dodge to enter the next chapter of its already long and fruitful life.


This installment concludes my COAL series.  It’s been quite the journey as it has exhumed a lot of things I had simply forgotten about; with any hope you have found it to be enjoyable and perhaps even insightful.  There will undoubtedly be more chapters to add but those will come in time.

(Author’s Note:  One Life to Live aired on ABC from July 15, 1968, to January 13, 2012.)