COAL: 2000 Ford E-150 Econoline – Happy Birthday, Dammit

In the interest of full disclosure, I started this article on May 9.  While the event which has triggered this essay isn’t until late June, it is highly likely my gag reflex will be triggered during the composition phase thus I will need to write this in snippets.  Why?

As of June 24, I have owned this van for ten years.

Ten years?  How the hell did that happen?  Ten years is exactly half the time this van has been in existence, nearly half the time Mrs. Jason (previously referred to as M.A.R.I.E., my Marital Asset Reallocation & Investment Executive, and her name truly is Marie) and I have been married, and for ten of our daughter’s eighteen years.

Ten years?  I’ve never had any other car or pickup licensed, on the road, and in my ownership for that amount of time.  Yes, I’ve had my 1963 Galaxie longer, but it wasn’t back on the road until 2013 – three years after we bought this van.

While I’ve recounted it before, here’s the thumbnail sketch of how it came to be…

In early 2010, my wife was diagnosed with Category IV or V endometriosis.  If you’ve never had to experience, or even have occasion have hear about, endometriosis, be thankful.  It is a female condition in which rogue uterine like cells occupy the abdominal cavity.  It can range from mild to rampant, with the more rampant cases causing ovaries, intenstines, and other internal organs to have adhesions, fusing them all together.  These adhesions are further triggered by estrogen, so women have consistent pain accompanied by monthly and intense flare-ups that coincide with their menstrual cycles.

Let’s just say it’s highly unpleasant for all involved.  Let’s also say there are a stupefying number of gynecologists (male and female) who do not comprehend the disease or just want to perform a hysterectomy, which does not treat the condition.

In early 2010 my wife had surgery to diagnose her condition (surgery is the only method of diagnosis).  While she was in recovery, her gynecologist spoke with me, saying he had never seen such an extreme case and it was beyond what he felt comfortable treating.  I greatly respect his self-awareness.

My wife ultimately found a surgeon who specialized in endometriosis located in Bend, Oregon.  To transport her there, we weighed many options, finally deciding to purchase a van.  Having to transport a post-operative woman half-way across a continent does prompt some strategic and creative thinking.  To provide some perspective for those outside North America, the distance from our home at the time to Bend is about sixty-five miles further than it is from Paris to Moscow.

Marie found this van on eBay, a little over an hour from where we were living at the time.  We went to look at it the day before the auction ended.  Despite being the high bidders, our bid not meet the reserve.  I called the owners, a retired couple, and struck a deal ten minutes after the auction ended.  For $5,500 we began our foray into conversion van ownership.

Somewhere in Wyoming or Montana

For transporting three people plus two weeks worth of food and clothing to Oregon, our Econoline was ideal; it worked just as well for having five people on the return trip.  We visited every national park on the way to Oregon, from Yellowstone to Craters of the Moon to John Day.  All the windows were great for our then eight year old to see everything and not feel like she was in the bunker-like backseat of a sedan.  The windows give a near panoramic view of things.

But there are still visibility issues.

For instance…the day before Marie’s surgery, we went to visit a museum south of Bend.  Marie’s parents had flown out the night before so there were five of us.  As I’m backing up in the parking lot of the condo we had rented, I managed to encounter a nice solid post despite having looked.  I was rather impolite, stating “I’m selling this son of a bitch as soon as we get home.”  The conversation deteriorated from there.

I’m man enough to admit it.  During the course of my life I have backed into a fixed object exactly six times.  Five of those times were in a fourth generation Ford Econoline like this one.  Three have been in this van, the most recent leaving a nice little battle scar on the left rear fender (or whatever you call such an area on a van).

In my life I’ve driven hundreds of vehicles over distances adding up to hundreds of thousands of miles without any major incident (other than one deer, but that can’t really count).  Ford vans are my Achilles heel.

During the eight years I’ve been involved with CC, I have written about this van a number of times.  In retrospect, part of that has been to rationalize my relationship with it.  There has been a large part of the last decade in which the mere sight of this van instantaneously angered me.  I wanted it out of my life so badly it hurt.  Simply going somewhere in it with my wife and daughter triggered my detestation of it, usually causing a tiff with Marie inside three minutes time.  I’ve never hated any vehicle so much – and I don’t generally hate anything.  Yet Marie wanted to keep the van around.

To its credit, this van has been ultra-reliable.  Only once has it failed to start.  Even then I wasn’t stranded as the fuel pump decided to call it quits while in the driveway.  This happened after only eighteen years of service.

The reliability of our E-150 is all the more remarkable given how much it sits.  When purchased in June 2010 it had 89,000 miles.  In our first year we put around 12,000 or so miles on it.

It has just under 125,000 miles now, so we are averaging less than 3,000 miles per year over the last nine years.  It once had 1,400 miles put on it in two years.

It has also had several bouts of sitting for months without movement.  In early 2012 we moved the 110 miles from Hannibal, Missouri, to Jefferson City, the state capital.  In our temporary digs we had no room for the van so it was put in a storage unit for five or six months while we attempted to sell our house in Hannibal – a twenty-one month ordeal.  This sitting was then followed by it sitting at my in-laws house for several months.  When we finally brought it to Jefferson City, it sat a lot more, with it sitting for several months after the fuel pump crapped out.

Yet after sitting at my in-laws for months, the day it came back it had a load to pull.  On stale gasoline, and being tasked well beyond its rating 6,500 pound towing capacity, she did as asked without protest.  There is also a certain irony to this picture.  I loved that F-150 and hated the van.  Since then the F-150 has gone away while the van remains.  That’s a story for another day.

The van is now twenty years old but, like a woman with good genetics, time isn’t making its presence known.  The paint is still quite shiny, there are no squeaks or rattles, the underneath is pristine, and it still runs as smooth as silk.  I replaced the upper and lower radiator hoses about three years ago, the fluid in the differential about eight years ago, and the brake rotors last year.  The brake rotors were pitted, likely due to sitting, and she got another set of brake pads in the process.  The right brake caliper was a little too grabby and it was replaced in June 2019; the left brake caliper soon followed suit and I replaced it in May 2020.  There was a bad ball joint in 2013.

Last fall, on our way back from Kansas City, the “Service Engine Soon” light came on.  The scanner at the auto parts store said the original thermostat was not opening all the way.  Five dollars later we were back in business.  At that time I also replaced the original and still new looking PCV valve since it was due as per Ford’s maintenance schedule.  Except for the fuel pump and ball joint I’ve done all the work in the driveway.

Replacing wear items and following the maintenance schedule is primarily all we’ve had to do to this van in a decade – and it was a decade old when we bought it.

However, there has been one little wrinkle.  Two years ago the battery kept losing a charge.  One night I went outside for something – likely to take the trash to the curb.  Walking by the van, the light over the step servicing the side doors was lit.  It would not turn off.  So, being pragmatic, I removed the bulb.  Problem solved and two years later the formerly discharging battery is still in place and doing well.  (Update:  This battery self-immolated and I replaced it on June 24; there is a certain degree of irony in this.)

We have no compunctions about driving it anywhere.  Last November we drove it to Bloomington, Indiana, which is over 350 miles each direction, to obtain Harp #3, with Indiana being one of the seventeen states we’ve driven it in.  Really, that’s not too bad given I recently read the average American person has been to only twelve states.  While I’ve been to vastly more than seventeen states, I have never driven any given vehicle in so many.

Despite my past detestations of this van (I’ve either softened after a decade or I’ve become senile) it isn’t all bad.  This van is phenomenally quiet and smooth in its operation and the 5.4 liter V8 powering it was, in my view, its only redeeming quality for many years.

As an aside, this Ford is, despite all its physical presence, invisible to the police.  This past February I drove it to my parent’s house in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  On the trip there, I was behind a slow poke on a two-lane section of US 50.  Seeing a large opening down into a valley and back up the other side, I nailed the throttle and got around this rolling impediment to my progress.  As I pulled back into my lane, I saw two of Missouri’s finest sitting in a field entrance clocking people.  I glanced down to check my velocity.  It was 78 mph in a 55 mph section – and I had already slowed down some.  They never looked at me.  They did, however, see and pull over the second vehicle to pass Rolling Impediment.

The way things work out in life is weird; I learned long ago to never speak in absolutes or it’ll come back to bite.  Never would I have anticipated we’d still have this Ford after ten years and with no plans of selling it.  The reasons are simple; we need it to haul Harp #3 and I’m wanting to visit the six remaining states in the Continental US I’ve not yet visited (New England, I’m heading your way) and this Econoline would be a good way to do it cheaply.  It isn’t like it’s ever really depreciated on us.

Prepping for such trips will not require much effort.  Just take a couch and a stove.  Easy peasy.  I may even be able to cook while sitting on the couch.

Sure, that 5.4 does like fuel, although we’ve routinely achieved 18 mpg on the highway.  While not great, that’s not unlike what most SUVs and contemporary vans will routinely see.  This old girl has a lot of life left and numerous adventures waiting to unfold.

So, Ford van, Happy Birthday.  Dammit.