Funny enough, our story starts again in January. This time, January 2010. My newly roadworthy Firebird is months old from its restoration. Up to this point, eastern Iowa has seen a couple of snowfalls, which has proved that the Firebird will not be a good winter car. At the time, my dad had a 1993 Ford Ranger. I cannot remember why, but he was on the hunt for parts for his Ranger. Time seems to have lost the specifics, but either way, my dad was an expert at Craigslist searching. One cold morning, he brought home a 1998 Ford Ranger XLT. It was being sold for some ridiculously low price, due to it hitting a deer and the owner did not want to spend the time or money to fix it.
The repairs for the Ranger were honestly minimal; it needed headlights, a grill, and a front bumper. The hood had a small wrinkle but was only noticeable if you were looking hard. Besides that, the truck bed was packed to the top with wet, soggy leaves. I think it took my dad and me a good chunk of an afternoon to clean all the wet leaves out. Minus the front end damage, the truck was in decent shape. The previous owner had purchased it new and if memory serves me correctly, it had around 150k on it when my dad purchased it. It was equipped with the 4.0L Cologne V6 and the 5-speed manual; the same powertrain as my dad’s Ranger. The truck was optioned relatively high for a 1998 Ranger. It had power windows, CD player, ABS, 4.0L engine, sport bucket front seats, and a fiberglass step-side bed.
I think the original intent with purchasing this vehicle was to swap parts over to my dad’s Ranger, but upon cleaning up the truck, my dad decided it was too nice to part out and take off the road. It was no show queen, but it had lots of life left in it. The decision was made to park my Firebird in the comfort of our garage and drive the “red Ranger” for the remainder of the winter. Soon replacement parts were ordered from Rock Auto and Ebay. A cheap chrome bumper and an unpainted (black) grill were installed on the car. Since the front Ford emblem was missing, my dad bought a cheap Ford decal sticker from the auto parts store and stuck it on the grill. From 10’ away, no one would have known the difference. Up close you could tell it was not the real deal. Either way, it got the job done.
The truck did not need much mechanical work. We did a full brake job and changed all the fluids. Besides that, everything else worked on the truck. However, there was one mechanical system that never did work correctly. For the 1998 model year, Ford gave the Ranger many improvements. They changed the suspension, added the feature of a four-door Super-Cab, fiberglass step-side bed, a 5-speed auto transmission, and changed the four-wheel drive system to a newly designed system called Pulse Vacuum Hublock (PVH). The PVH system used vacuum lines to each front hub. When the 4WD was engaged, a vacuum was drawn to each hub and either engaged the hubs or disengaged them. Shortly after it came out, it was discovered to be a finicky system that would often engage/disengage one hub or not the other. Ford abandoned it in 2000. My “red Ranger” PVH system did not want to work at all. Seems the vacuum lines running to each hub had disintegrated beyond use. My dad and I looked at the system and decided it was too complex to fix. The next thought was to install manual hubs. However, we discovered that manual hubs for these specific trucks were very expensive. I do not remember if it was my dad’s idea or an idea from the internet, but we soon had a solution.
My dad drilled a ¾” hold in the plastic-chrome hub caps on the front wheels. If you wanted 4WD, all you had to do was stick your finger inside the cap and push on the end of the hub. When the vacuum was applied, the hub would pull in and engage. If you wanted it disengaged, pushing on it would release a spring (similar to a ballpoint pen) and push the hub out. This gave the truck a pseudo manual hub setup. This setup worked well. The only exception was unlike a manual hub that told you which position the hubs were in, this setup did not. If you forgot, cycling the hubs would tell you what state they were in. One afternoon we were dismissed early from school due to freezing rain. The driveway of our high school was at the bottom of a long, gradual hill. I needed to exit the driveway and turn left up the hill. Turning left at this driveway can be difficult due to the school being on a busy road. I saw my chance and quickly turned left and proceeded up the hill. I made it about 100’ before the Ranger came to a stop due to lack of traction. Turns out it was too icy to make it up in 2WD. I had to stop the truck, get out and manually lock the hubs. Meanwhile, I had a long line of cars behind me waiting!
The truck served me well that winter. I was very used to driving a Ranger, so there was not much that surprised me about this truck. As far as features went, the red Ranger was nicer than my dad’s, but when driving the trucks back to back, the older, higher-mileage Ranger always felt like it had more pep to it. One time my sister was in my dad’s Ranger and I was in the red Ranger. We both took off from a stop and I beat her by a sizeable amount. Now driver capability might have had something to do with me beating her, but all in all, the red Ranger just never seemed to run as well as my dad’s. This included the fuel bill, as the red Ranger did not do as well on gas as the older one.
Truth be told, there were not any special moments or events that happened with this truck. I drove it all winter and it served me well. The only complaint we had with the truck was the fiberglass step-side bed was kind of pointless. There was not 48” between the sides of the bed, meaning a sheet of plywood could not lay flat. Big misstep on Ford’s part. By the end of the winter, I was itching to drive to Firebird. At the time we had seven cars in the driveway for four drivers. As soon as the gravel roads were not soup, it was sold. However, having a second 4WD vehicle proved to be very nice for our family, which made my dad go looking for something else with 4WD and more seats. He would end up purchasing something he had owned in the past. That vehicle would prove to have more character than Ranger and one that I became very fond of.