Standing in my mechanic’s office in August of 2006, I laid down the sad story of Fred’s demise, my brother’s misfortune, and my need for a replacement. In his usual way he nodded and started walking out to the lot where he pointed me to a truck that he’d picked up about a year ago from a customer and wouldn’t mind getting rid of it. My Dad chuckled a bit as I walked up starry eyed to the tan and brown 1992 Ford F-150 XLT; it was already pretty clear that I would drive it home despite my insistence on a test drive. While it was a short bed and lacked the 300 six or a manual, from my cursory inspection it was pretty darn good.
“It’s almost like it’s too good for you..” my Dad chuckled as we pulled out on to the test drive and I remarked about the cruise control, automatic transmission, and carpeted interior. In a way it almost was! Where Fred had been honest to the point of being slightly rough around the edges, this F-150 was almost plush. It was quiet, easy to drive, and thanks to a recently rebuilt 302, accelerated without any hassle at all. Not a bit of haggling took place as a check for $2,500 was exchanged for a title and bill of sale. I obviously had to have it.
You know what they say about sequels… but this one defied the odds. Where old Fred was rough around the edges, Dad was right – it was really good. I never thought the XLT interior could be much better than the Custom but I was wrong – it was night and day! Where Fred’s seat was comfortable if a bit stiff, the sequel was like a big comfortable couch – one of the most comfortable I’ve had. Where the big 300 six was torquey, the 302 had been rebuilt recently and improved, making it somewhat of a hot rod. It seemed to like to be kicked in the butt, but at the same time was quiet and comfortable rolling down the highway – almost like a refined, cushy truck.
One spot the sequel was far inferior from the original was in economy. Or rather, the best way to describe this one was a lack thereof. With the AC running driving in town it would get around 10mpg, and never much more than 11 or 12 in the city. On the highway the story wasn’t much better – 15 to 16 was the name of the game, quickly running both tanks dry if you even thought of using the go pedal. For me it didn’t really matter, with the bike as my primary transportation the F-150 was basically recreational – and the next owner would be surprised that I only put 8,000 miles on it in the four years I owned it.
Yet that didn’t stop me from adventure. I started toying with the idea of cycling again over the summer, and one night I threw my bike in the back and went out on some crushed limestone. I was hooked – while not totally relevant to here, of course, I pretty much immediately became addicted to cycling. Storm spotting, fox hunting, hiking, cycling, hauling a boat or just driving to see my girlfriend were no problem at all for it. I started biking to work and then on to my girlfriend’s house after work, which not only benefited my health but also my pocketbook.
Adding to the yin-yang effect, the sequel was as much of a loyal companion as Fred – and more so. While the 302 didn’t score any points for fuel economy, I really enjoyed how easy it was to drive in the country. No thoughts of downshifting when climbing long gravel stretches or timing shifts when hustling, you just pointed and shot. It took me on many a spotter callouts, transmitter hunts, and other adventures. On it’s first hunt, a good friend commented that he knew where I’d turned around by some tire tracks left in the gravel – it was pretty easy to swap directions on gravel by using the right foot with the 302!
While I owned it for a short period of time, it transported me to some of my most important events in life. I spoiled it in the last installment, but another thing that happened along with getting married was getting a family. My wife had two kids from a previous relationship and when we got serious I knew it was a package deal – another one of my best decisions ever. Several weeks after purchasing it, my F-150 took my then girlfriend, now wife, and her daughter to her first day of Kindergarten. It helped move us into our first house together, and brought home the kids’ first bikes followed shortly after by transporting me and the kids with our bikes to the trail for our first ride together.
Of course, pretty quickly I realized that buying a regular cab pickup shortly after getting serious with a woman who had two kids might have been a bit of an oversight in my otherwise flawless execution of automotive choices. While it did fine when I needed to pick both kids up from school, if all of us wanted to go somewhere it would require multiple vehicles or just taking my wife’s vehicle. As long as we kept our family size it would work great – I was still riding my bike to work every day, and being only about 4 miles from home it was pretty easy for me to zip home and grab the truck to pick up kids if need be.
Remember those best laid plans? Late in the summer of 2007 we had a new plan – we decided it was time to expand the family and planned for a third child. Of course in the fall after the excitement of the pending new arrival wore off we realized a big oversight – the truck wouldn’t work to transport three kids around. Oops! It went up for sale hopefully in favor of something different, but didn’t get many bites – and then again life intervened. Through a stroke of some odd circumstances I got a lead on a job that turned out to be the best career move I’ve ever made – and am still with. Luck, fate, and work intervened – when we purchased a bigger vehicle the F-150 was given a new lease on life thanks to me taking over my wife’s old car.
A guy who rides his bike to work definitely needs two cars, right? Sure – why not! For three years I kept a car parked at work, rode my bike to and from, and had my pickup at home. It was perfect! When it would snow the car would get swapped for the F-150, and of course I’d still bike in the snow – the truck would take the bike back for the swap. I kept off and on trying to sell it, with not a lot of luck due to rising gas prices and my honesty to potential sellers. I wasn’t the guy who told them “oh yeah, 20mpg is no problem” – nope, I laid it to them honest shattering many a dream.
Speaking of snow, I bucked conventional wisdom that I’d learned while owning Fred and trusted a tire store salesman in the winter of 2007/2008. While they had decent tread, the generic A/T tires on the new truck were dry rotting and way out of balance – they definitely needed replaced. I was set on some BFGoodrich All Terrains but the salesman talked me out of them in favor of Uniroyal Tiger Paw GTSes. Not only would they ride better and be quieter, he told me, but they’d blow me away in snow. With two wheel drive in Nebraska the latter is definitely a concern – so I was on the fence, having been bit by “all purpose” tires once on Fred, but I trusted the guy. Man was I ever glad I did! Not only were they about 40% cheaper than the BFG’s, everything else he said was absolutely true. Nice, quiet, smooth riding with better acceleration and they were downright amazing in the snow.
So I had a pickup for weekend duties and fun – which was pretty awesome. Coincidences happened again in 2008 with another car being acquired, so another car and the F-150 were put up for sale. Sure enough the car sold right away, but I kept the F-150. Nobody was interested with gas prices where they were and I didn’t want to take a complete hit on a great truck with new tires on it. It still got worked, above transporting part of the winter load of firewood home for my Dad in the fall of 2008, something my eldest son thoroughly enjoyed.
Of course my Dad’s F-150 held just a little bit more firewood than mine, and I’ll be honest – I had grown to appreciate that generation of F150 much more as his aged. My wish list for Fred basically expanded with this truck – give me 4×4, a limited slip diff, and more cab room for all the kids and I’d be happy. While at first I was wary of the short bed, I came to appreciate it as it made driving through parking lots and in town much easier all while not seemingly sacrificing much space. Perfection was close.. but in the interim I was enjoying my weekend warrior.
On the weekends it would also transport bikes to the shop, me to Menards, or just whatever I had in store. It was fun just having a truck for fun – one that was paid off, rough around the edges, and that the kids loved riding in. I didn’t care about gas as I filled it up maybe once every two months, and changed the oil twice a year. Even sitting frozen in the cold of January 2010 for a week, one of the harshest winters we’ve had in a long time, it fired right up when it was asked to.
Oil, fuel, tires, and a new set of plugs were all I did to it in four years of ownership – literally. Yet in May of 2010 circumstances changed and I was about to pick up a new vehicle that I thought would be nirvana. For the fourth time since I bought it, I put it up for sale – ready to take a low ball offer as I needed either it or the obligatory work car gone to make space for the new vehicle. A couple hagglers showed up, but then a really nice guy came to look at it. He told me that he was looking for a truck to get his mowing business off the ground, and really liked mine. Despite a haggler calling me with offers, and people standing right there I gave the mower dude the first shot – and sold it to him for full price. With just over 200,000 miles on it – it was going back to work.
Honestly, even though the replacement was far superior in many ways, I was, and still am at times, sad to see it go. Yet just last year I saw it pulling a trailer full of mowers down the highway, still hard at work even after all those miles. That definitely made me happy and I’m guessing if the truck could talk it would admit happiness too.
So with the truck gone, its replacement was what I thought would be perfection. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait through two installments of the work cars to get there, though. Cars I thought would be terribly boring, but in their blandness I still found tons of character.