In my introduction to this series, an open ended question I posed was whether or not to write about my Ford van – yet again.
At the time of that writing, I was leaning toward its exclusion from the series. This is not the first, second, or even third time this van has been the subject of an article in these pages. Yet this seasoned Ford van has recently (once again) proven its worth and mettle. Hopefully that doesn’t jinx it.
We have now owned the van for well over twelve years. In my entire life I have never had any other vehicle on the road that long – and anybody who has been around here for a while knows I have had many tumultuous and mean-spirited thoughts about this poor old helpless Ford Econoline.
The van was purchased in June 2010 from a retired couple near Moberly, Missouri. It was acquired for a medically related trip to Bend, Oregon. With having to move a post-operative female half-way across the continent, this seemed like the best option for doing so. It did that job flawlessly.
So it hung around despite all my protests. Yes, I associated it with some extreme unpleasantries.
At this point, I must also throw out another reminder…the charms of vans (both big and small) some have sung about on these pages is a tune I am unable to carry. Ponderous, hard to work on, and a pill to drive, especially with any type of crosswind, I have only recently began to see sporadic yet ever so dim glimmers of why some people have such an affinity for them.
To be fair, vans do make awesome campers. No argument there. In fact, we camped in the van several nights when we made the trip to Oregon in 2010.
However, when it comes to cargo hauling I am admittedly swimming against the currents. Unless one has a cage inside their van, or unless cargo is bolted down in some fashion, I find myself fond of having something more substantial between my cargo and my head than just air and optimism. Yes, I’ve been called offbeat before and it will no doubt happen again.
Vans do need credit for their ability to keep cargo out of the elements. So there is one positive.
But that glimmer of light for van affinity beyond camper or people carrying use is still little more than a meek, intermittent flicker with a very brief dwell time. But enough of that, let’s get to the crux of the matter.
In the interest of full disclosure, the uses we have found for this van keep evolving as the world turns. Never have I seen such a seemingly never-ending automotive story first-hand, let alone experience it. It’s almost like the never ending story of a soap opera. So let’s dive into this…
When we took the van to Oregon in 2010, it hauled three people, held over a week’s worth of food and clothing (all strategically placed to minimize flight risk), and stopped at every national park along the way.
On the way back, it hauled five people, another week’s worth of food and clothing, and did so briskly. That 5.4 liter engine is the best part of this van.
The purpose of the trip to Oregon was for the wife to have surgery with a specialist in Bend.
After we returned from Oregon, the van filled the role the Taurus had played plus serving as long-distance family hauler. A year later is when we moved to Jefferson City.
The van then transitioned back into the role of people transport – plus a couple of cats.
When we first moved to Jefferson City we rented a house from a guy getting a divorce. That lasted 59 days until he wanted his house back; I cannot remember if he and his old lady reconciled or if he was just being a prick. Regardless, the van did not fit in the garage and there was nowhere at that house to park it.
Further, since we were trying to entice buyers (such that they were) at our house in Hannibal, we were concerned about having the garage stuffed with Ford Econoline and 1963 Galaxie. Those two pretty much filled the space up. So the van went to a storage facility for months.
Upon leaving that particular rental house, we then moved to an apartment. There was no space for the van there, either. At some point, likely in mid-2013, we relocated the van to my in-law’s house an hour north of St. Louis. It sat there for another six or so months.
In late 2012 we found an old farmhouse to rent west of Jefferson City. After a while the van did a good job of keeping the adjacent pole barn company.
If memory serves, we put less than 1,500 miles on the van in about a two to three year timeframe.
When we bought our current house in 2015, the van did move some items (but nothing heavy due to flight risk) although it seemed to really be serving as a collection point for stuff having no good destination in the new house. It continued to sit a lot – outside.
Once we moved into the new house, the van did get used to haul some items for various reasons. I do give the van props for swallowing a full-size couch with no issue. Can you even do such a thing with a minivan? Can one do similar with any SUV or CUV? It doesn’t seem likely. But the concern of having to stand on the brakes never left my head – and had I needed to stand on the brakes, that couch may have never left my head.
To be fair, I did find a use for the van that really played with someone’s mind. A while back I went to the lumber yard and bought a few 12′ boards. I was able to slide them all the way up to the doghouse and close the rear doors.
On the way out of the lumber yard, the guy making sure nobody was stealing anything had a lot of trouble finding where I had put the boards. Oh yeah, the boards were slid beneath both rows of seats, so they really weren’t very obvious.
By November 2019, the van’s use scenario evolved yet again. This time it was transport of a harp.
Here’s a fun aside…every few years, The American Harp Society magazine has what they call their “Harpmobile” issue. Having read a few of these, they take a harp case for one of the larger harps available and go around to various car dealers to see how well it can fit.
They know some vehicles may require compromises to the position of the front seat to accommodate the harp. So they use their findings to give each vehicle a subjective “harp ability” score based upon ease of fit, the degree to which one has to adjust their seat, and ergonomics for a person eating a sandwich while driving between gigs.
Minivans are always high scoring whereas CUVs are all over the spectrum as a Chevrolet Traverse is far superior to a Chevrolet Equinox in harp hauling, with the similar, smaller CUVs (Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, etc.) generally not garnering a huge degree of enthusiasm. Among SUVs, only the larger ones (think Ford Expedition) score highly but they do get dinged for cost and fuel mileage. The society still laments the passage of sedan based wagons, although one of their more recent Harpmobile issues did not bode well for the Jetta Sportwagen nor did it reflect resoundingly well for the Buick Regal TourX. Why? They are too small with the contours of the cargo compartment not working well with the width of the harp.
A few years ago I saw a picture taken sometime around 1990. It was of the parking lot at an American Harp Society gathering. The lot was full of Aspen/Volare wagons, GM B-body wagons of all flavors, Ford Panther based wagons, and a few assorted Volvo wagons.
One suggestion and/or recommendation in the most recent Harp Mobile issue was to use a van, such as a Ford Transit Connect, if one can stomach its looks.
Looks like we have trumped the Transit with something we already had.
Which leads us back to today. As I write this in late June, the van is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, carrying out yet another mission. The van still serves as backup transportation which is why it is there. With a trip scheduled to Sioux City this week, the plan had been to take our VW Passat. However, thirty-six hours before departure, there was coolant on the garage floor beneath the Passat. It seems Volkswagen deemed it appropriate to use a plastic impeller in some water pumps, one of which is on our VW. In turn, it seems enough people deemed it appropriate to file a class action lawsuit against Volkswagen for defective water pumps.
After the diesel thing, is VW on a crusade to aggravate the rest of their customers? I digress.
So after sitting for just over a month the van was suddenly called upon to go to South Dakota for the annual gathering of, naturally, The American Harp Society.
Since the plan had been to take the VW, which would have had limited room for the travel friendly harp, a harp was found for rent while there. As the hotel is a ten minute walk from the convention center, the harp required transport back and forth a few times. The van was pressed into hauling yet another harp.
In 2021 and 2022 my wife and daughter identified yet another use for the van. They entered the local Fourth of July parade and needed a prop to go along with what they were doing. Seems the van made a really good clown car. Want to take a wild guess at who drove it in said parade both years?
Some of the reactions of spectators were priceless. A man was in disbelief something small wasn’t being used for a clown car. His wife, who seemed to be the paragon of patience, staccatoed “well, it is a clown car, I’m not shitting you.”
The world does keep turning just as uses for this van, which seems to have mostly escaped the ravages of time, just keep changing. It will be interesting to see just how long we end up keeping this thing and what other tasks it will tackle.
You never know – I may just gut the interior and turn the van into a camper. There are six states in the continental US I still need to visit. All but one are in the Northeast. I have no doubt this rig would make these trips with ease.
Postscript, June 2022: Naturally, the van ran flawlessly for its trip to Sioux Falls and back. Aren’t all 22 year-old vehicles this reliable? The only rub was it having a rock hit the windshield near Vermillion, South Dakota, so there may be new glass in its future.
Update to the June 2022 Postscript: The license plates were set to expire the end of July, necessitating a Missouri state safety inspection. The windshield caused a failure as did worn wiper blades. $50 to the glass company for some epoxy and some close-enough sized wiper blades from my stash got her to pass with flying colors. She’s now good for another two years.
Postscript, August 2022: After the van sat in the garage for four weeks, one night we noticed a wet spot on the floor beneath the rear axle. Sure enough, there is a leak around the differential cover. Taking it to our trusted and reasonably priced mechanic, he reminded me that early this past spring he had replaced the seal on the front of the differential where it meets up with the driveshaft. So this is a second issue with the differential leaking. Our mechanic is still in awe of how this van is utterly rust free underneath despite its age and mileage.
My twelve year relationship with this van has been the ultimate automotive soap opera.
(Author’s Note: As The World Turns aired on CBS from April 2, 1956, to September 17, 2010.)