Family COAL, Via The Cohort: 1990 Ford E-350 – Passed Around Like A Christmas Ham

Seeing this extended length one-ton Ford van posted at the Cohort by William Rubano made me chuckle.  Why?  I owned one for about two days.  Naturally, there’s a story about it all…

In August 2006, shortly before we moved to Hannibal, Missouri, my wife’s cat died.  Stormy was a trailblazer for his husband and wife veterinarians as they had never seen a diabetic cat last more than two years.  The ever-resilient Stormy was at seven years diabetic and counting.

While I acquired the ability to give an uncooperative cat an insulin shot with the best of them, nature intervened.

Stormy had technically belonged to my wife, but our daughter had developed a strong affinity for him.  When Stormy passed away, we promised our daughter another cat upon landing a new home.  Why not?  It was becoming obvious we likely weren’t going to be having any more children and cats are certainly cheaper.

So around the time of our daughter’s birthday, we took her to the animal shelter in Hannibal.  While she shopped for a cat, I asked the manager about the Ford van parked out front with a “For Sale” sign in the window.

The van was an extended length 1990 Ford E-350, with the words “Northeast Missouri Animal Shelter” emblazoned down the sides.  It was refrigerator white, was obviously used but in quite sound physical shape, and, best of all, the asking price was $300.  It ran great while test driving it around the parking lot.

I wrote them a check.  Not only did they get rid of an unwanted van, they also found a home for a kitty our daughter would name Cinderella.  Cinderella turned out to be one mean cat.

We didn’t really need a third vehicle but I had been wanting an old pickup for hauling the various large items I kept having to haul.  While vans aren’t nearly as talented in hauling what I generally haul (think dirt, brush, and remodeling debris), it would have been better than the trunk of the Taurus we had at that time.

Thus I bought that Ford van, meaning I have acquired two white Ford vans in my lifetime.  Oh, did I mention this first white Ford van was powered by a 300 straight six?  Yes, it’s that engineering marvel and crown jewel of Ford’s truck division which produces a glowing admiration among others that has bypassed me.  Its 4.9 liters of cast-iron despair was bolted to a three-speed automatic.  But I figured that for no further than I would be driving it (ie, in town), its lackadaisical demeanor would suffice.

When we went to pick up Cinderella I took the title to the van.

As fate would have it, a day or two later my wife’s oldest brother and his wife came for dinner.  Due to a number of complicated reasons, they were about to take custody of four siblings, the middle two of whom were twins; all required car seats.  Their largest vehicle at the time was a Ford Escape clone Mercury Mariner, making it impossible to haul all four of them together.  Brother-In-Law was not panicked but aware of his need to do something.  Quickly.

This particular Ford van had two seats up front with what seemed like thirty-seven acres of open sheetmetal behind it.  But it had started life as a passenger van so all seat mounting points and seat belts were still present.  By some miracle, it was absent of any animal smells.

After some discussion, I took a check for $300 from Brother-In-Law and handed him the title.  We went to get it about an hour later – for whatever reason, I hadn’t even brought it back to my house – as the plan was to get it regardless during their visit.  I drove his Mercury back to my house.

Not them, but you get the idea

Within a few days the van had received matching salvage yard seats with plenty of space in-between for those four children who all seemed to hate each other.  Months later Brother-In-Law told me that Ford van was dead reliable and he really didn’t see the need to get in a hurry to drop any coin on a different kid-hauling vehicle.  To my recollection, he never did bother to cover up the “Animal Shelter” verbiage down the van’s flanks.

At this point, it is likely wise to point out nobody in my wife’s family, similar to me, is overly pretentious with what they drive.  Lacking any sense of pretension opens so many wonderful, inexpensive, and fun-filled doors that would otherwise remain closed.  Life is an (automotive) adventure, so one needs to make the most of it.  Especially when they come as cheaply as old Ford vans.

One weekend we went to see my wife’s parents.  Somehow, Pa-In-Law had been rooked asked to haul the kids somewhere, taking the white Ford van.  Pa-In-Law remarked about how smooth it ran, although he noticed it having meager power, thus he was concerned there was something wrong with it.  When I told him it had a 300 six, he suddenly had more clarity, dryly stating “then it does have something wrong with it.”  The love seems to have bypassed him, also.

Fast forward a few years.

My wife is the youngest of three, being eight and nine years younger than her brothers.  My mother-in-law said after having had twins the hard way (two kids within ten months) she was in no hurry for more.  So some amount of time after Brother-In-Law purchased a 2009 Dodge Caravan for hauling the brood (which he still has both and, last I looked, the Dodge had 215,000 miles and was running fabulously) he sold the Ford to his younger brother, whom I’ll call Brother-In-Law #2.

Brother-In-Law #2 has always had an unknown, but sizable, number of motorized chariots.  This van simply added to the herd.  It was Brother-In-Law #2’s daily driver for a short while.  For reasons unknown, the van wound up parked in the woods for an indeterminate amount of time, but it was in excess of two years.

One day several years ago, Brother-In-Law #2 told me he had sold the Ford van.  When prepping to sell it he realized how long it had been sitting as the battery was profoundly dead.  Replacing the battery, Brother-In-Law #2 said he didn’t know what to expect when trying to start it.

He was amazed it started on the first try and it ran as smoothly as it ever had.

No doubt that poor, underpowered Ford van is still chugging away for somebody, somewhere.  Unless rust or a fixed object intervenes, vehicles like these Ford vans really don’t die.