Truck Of A Lifetime: 1966 Ford F-100 – Thirty (Six) Years of Hauling Shit, Cheaply

shoveling a load of “black gold” (well-aged manure) in 2008

(first posted 9/8/2017. Updated 9/8/2023)  I bought my ’66 F100 in the summer of 1987 for one main purpose: to haul stuff. Back then, it was mostly well-aged manure for the garden and tree trimmings from our woody one acre in Los Gatos, CA. Although the range of loads has greatly expanded in the subsequent decades, tree-trimmings and manure are still a regular staple. I only drive it if I have to haul something bigger than my car can handle, so it’s led a hard but productive life these past 36 years. It sits outside, rain or shine. It always starts instantly, after a pull on its manual choke. And my credo these 30 years has been: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But it just keeps on agoin’. In fact, it’s needed less this past ten years than in previous decades. As in essentially nothing (he says, tempting fate). (Update: boy did I ever tempt fate by saying that)

Obviously, the aging process has made itself felt (and visible) on both of us.  But we’re in it for the long haul, so hopefully I will be able to bring you an update in another 30 years.

My love of pickups started early, long before they were cool. That was undoubtedly due to my exposure to them at the Mennonite farm I used to spend several weeks each summer during my grade school years in Iowa. In addition to driving tractors (I took this photo of their son on the Farmall H), I rode in Mr. Yoder’s rather tired ’54 Studebaker pickup, just visible on the right side of the picture. I always hopped in the bed whenever he went anywhere with it, and stood right behind the cab, with my face in the wind as he barreled (so it seemed) down the gravel country roads.  I almost fell out of it once in a fast curve, but that didn’t diminish my love for the genre the slightest.

In addition to inculcating a love for tractors, trucks and all sorts of mechanical devices there, there’s no doubt that my time spent with the Yoders left me with a deep streak of self-sufficiency. They did almost everything themselves: in addition to all the various kinds of farming that was not specialized back then, that included carpentry, blacksmithing, butchering, gardening, canning and freezing food, etc. Most of all, making home-made ice cream, which would on occasion be eaten as the main course for supper. The ability to do many things, to be a genuine jack-of-all-trades, is an increasingly rarer phenomena in this day of specialization and consumerism. It left me a hard-core DIY-er.

At the tv station in LA, I used to love driving one of the two International pickups up the long rough dirt road to the transmitter on Sunset Peak, overlooking all of LA, to haul up a bed full of 5 gallon jugs of distilled water for the transmitter, or whatnot. I climbed the tower right up near the top for a more dramatic view. Even after I became the general manager, I still made a point to get out like that whenever I felt too cooped up in my office and suit. Pickups were an escape vehicle from the urban jungle.

In LA, it never quite made sense to get a truck, but that changed shortly after we moved to Los Gatos in 1987, to a historic 1866 house on a one acre lot. I looked in the paper one Saturday and found a ’66 F100 for sale. It was only $500, but then it had a bad clutch, which turned out not to be just a bad clutch, but a bit of a lifelong affliction. No, my truck is not perfect.

I would have loved to get one of these old Advanced design Chevys, pretty much my favorite pickup ever. But we had two little kids, and I wanted a cab wide enough to fit them as well as Stephanie (I added two more sets of seat belts, for all four of us). And the Fords of the vintage I bought have a steel floor in the bed, which I preferred too. And the bed is just longer and wider too. I was being practical.

There was a lot of dreaming involved too. As in imagining life without a 9-5 job, suits, corporate politics, sales pitches, employees, budgets, and all the headaches that came with managing a start-up tv station. But I was very happy on the weekends hauling straw, manure and the other necessities of gentleman gardening.

I did have to attend to the clutch, which had been oil-fouled by a leaking rear main seal. Unfortunately, replacing the rear main seal was not a permanent fix; it started getting a bit grabby/jerky again before long. I just lived with it, but eventually years later, I found out that there was a nick in the crankshaft right at the rear seal which causes it to leak past the seal. How that got there, I don’t know, but I do know it’s almost certainly not the original engine.

The seller, a young guy, did say something about the engine, the 240 CID “Big Six”, being “rebuilt”. The truck showed 88,xxx on the odometer at the time, but it was showing quite a bit of wear, so my guess is that it had 188k miles on it. And the engine may most likely have been swapped in from a 4×4 truck or van, as it has the wrong oil pan. I couldn’t figure out why the oil drained right onto the cross member, until one of our more astute readers (Scoutdude) here pointed out that it has the wrong oil pan for this application.

The truck now has 34,665 miles now, so I’ve added some 46,000 miles in 30 years, or about 1500 miles per year. Except for the several trips I made up and down I5 the year we moved to Oregon, it’s all been very local driving, but those haven’t exactly been easy miles.

When we decided to move to Eugene in 1993, I found an old ATV trailer frame, put plywood on the floor and sides, and used it to haul our excessive amount of shit belongings, but it took several trips to do so. But the first one was the most memorable.

Needless to say, I had been just a wee bit concerned about some of the mountain passes we had to cross on the way to Oregon. The F100 has the same modest 11″ drum brakes as used on Ford passenger cars, and they fade all-too quickly. My plan was to use second gear down the biggest, the 4,310 ft Siskiyou Pass, which marks the dividing line between California and Oregon.

As we (my son was riding with me) crested the summit, I shifted into second. This was Ford’s all-syncro “top loader” three speed manual that shifted very nicely, and whose syncro first gear was a welcome relief compared to the majority of American three speeds. But within a hundred yards or heading down, the floor-mounted Hurst shifter (which had already been in the truck) popped out of second gear into neutral! This was literally straight out of a bad dream.

I don’t remember if I tried to jam it back in, but if so, it popped right out again. The truck and trailer combo was now gaining speed, maybe 35-40 mph. I knew that if I was going to get it to stop, it was right now or never. So I put my foot hard into the brake pedal, and turned into the wide shoulder. It slowed, but the closer it got to a full stop, the harder the pedal got. And the less braking there was. I kid you not, it was all I could do to get it to come to a full stop. At the end, it just kept creeping along, with the brakes emitting a nasty smell. I finally got it to stop, and grabbed something from the floor of the truck and popped it in front of a tire as a chock. I’m not a wussy about these kinds of things, but that was not a fun experience.

I was pretty rattled. Enough, that I can’t remember now whether I finally drove down the shoulder in first gear, or just kept it in second by leaning on the shift lever the whole way. Ironically, we probably would have been ok in third gear, as it’s really not all that steep. Maybe.

When I got to Eugene, I saw a little transmission shop in an old garage building just six blocks from our house (condos are there now). And when I saw that the proprietor drove a ’65 F100, I knew I’d gone to the right place. I told him that I wanted an overdrive transmission, and he knew where to find one.

We’re talking about the legendary Warner T85 with the R11 Overdrive. This was the heavy-duty big brother to the T86/R10 combination, as used in so many Ramblers and Studebaker sixes. The T85 is a heavy-duty three speed that was used behind larger V8s, all the way to the very biggest ones ever made. And the R11 overdrive turns it into a six-speed, if it’s set up for manual operation as mine was, although realistically, five of the gears are used regularly, as 1OD is a bit too close to second (non-OD) to be of much use. My post on the B/W Overdrive is here.

All I was wanting then is an overdrive for more pleasant highway driving for my coming trips up and down I5, but what I got was much more. Second-OD is perfectly spaced between 2nd and 3rd, and makes an ideal gear in residential neighborhood driving, as well as for heavy loads climbing or descending steeper hills, like the passes on I5 when fully loaded.

Plus the overdrive means that shifting between gears no longer requires using the clutch, as the free-wheeling takes the power off one of the gear shafts, and is in essence the same as clutching. I made this video showing clutchless shifting, but most folks think I’m just timing the shifts. Nope. It’s just like shifting with the clutch pushed in.

The 6 ratios with all three main gears split are 2.98, 2.15, 1.75, 1.26, 1.00, and .72.  At 60mph, the engine is purring along at 1900 rpm. And keeping track of the gears and splits is engaging in lieu of any on-board entertainment.

I’ve documented my repeated bouts of overloading this half-ton truck here several times, meaning that I regularly carry three or four times its rated capacity of some 1200lbs.  During the years of my full-time work renovating moved houses (a post on that is coming shortly), I also used to regularly rent Bobcats and excavators, like the one shown here behind the husky Ram dump truck I rented the last time I needed both. The Bobcat and trailer weigh roughly 7500lbs; that’s about twice what my truck weighs. It has 129hp. And those little drum brakes. It was always more than a bit scary, especially making sure I didn’t end up on an uphill Stop. Without an extra-low first gear, I’d never have gotten going again, if it was steep enough.

But riding home with a load on the rubber axle stops is still a common occurrence, but I’ve sworn off trailering really heavy loads. I must be getting old.

A load of recycled foam insulation is more like it. But it could be anything.

Like using its tailgate for a ladder platform.

I towed the Caravan home from Portland once, on a dolly. Just today, I hauled a load of tree trimmings and sunflowers to the garden waste recycling facility, and then two dead appliances to the dump.

Yes, the dump. It’s what I first got it for, and it’s still one of its most favorite destinations. Hauling shit; it never seems to end.

So what’s it taken to keep it going for 30 years? Unfortunately, I never started a little notebook in the glovebox like I did with all my subsequent vehicles. But I have a bunch of receipts, and I think I’ve remembered most of its issues. That started with that clutch and rear seal job after I got it. In 1987, that cost a bit over $300.

It originally had aftermarket “spoker” wheels, and the tires were tired. I picked up a set of barely-used Michelins at a junkyard in San Jose for $50 (these are more recent tires, also bought used). Initially I bought some baby moon hubcaps, but they were cheap and started rusting out after a few years. But a hubcap shop in town had a set of these, and I’ve always liked this style. Three sets of tires (two used) has totaled some $600.

I had to replace the driver’s side sun visor, but I made it myself out of vintage 1/4″ plywood, which I had.

There’s been a couple of tune ups along the way, but we’re talking peanuts for a set of points and condenser. And a cap or two, and maybe a set of plugs or two. Timing is set by ear.

Oh, I did have a problem with the distributor some years back. There’s a little pin in the drive, that sheared off. It left me stranded on a parking lot. But Stephanie picked me up, I got another one, and put it back in. I keep a spare now.

I bought this radiator at a junk yard maybe a dozen years or more ago, for maybe $35 or so. It’s leaking a bit now, but it’s a small crack and I haven’t bothered with it yet. I’ve probably put three batteries into it. They last about 6-8 years. And of course I change the oil and lube it annually, despite the low mileage, although I missed one or two years. And the master cylinder needed replacing early on.

(not my picture)

I’ve had only one somewhat more significant mechanical repair. The cam drive gear on these is made from some fiber product, to make the gears quiet in passenger cars and light trucks. But they tend to break. Mine did too, at the dump, no less. Stephanie towed me home with the Forester and the tow line I keep in the cab for mostly other purposes.

I decided to replace mine with an all-steel set, as used in HD trucks. It won’t ever break again, but it does howl, just like a 1930 Blower Bentley. Oh well. It’s maybe not quite as bad as it was, but I probably don’t drive enough to get it settled in properly. Someone said it could take 20,000 miles. That’s be a while then.

I did the repair myself, which wasn’t too difficult.

The clutch got worse and worse form the oil fouling, so about a dozen years ago or so I had the same guy who put in my transmission redo it, this time putting on a sleeve which was supposed to fix the leaking out the big end seal. It was great, for maybe six months or so, but eventually it slowly got a bit fouled again. The leak is very minimal now, but just enough to foul the clutch disc somewhat. It’s much worse in reverse, for some reason. I’ve just learned to live with it.

About twenty years ago, I decided to take a look at the brakes. The linings were getting low, and when I took the drums in to my favorite local parts store, I was told they were too thin. I was a bit worried about what it would take to get new drums. “We’ll have them here from the warehouse in less than an hour”.  And they were dirt cheap. There are many advantages to having a vintage vehicle for which parts are still very plentiful. And the new drums and linings did improve braking action, to some extent.

There’s a little crack in the exhaust manifold; it’s actually visible here, to the right of where they all join together, it’s  a light color. But it hasn’t gotten any worse.

And then there’s the carburetor. One of the reasons I wanted a six and not a V8 was because I had many memories of hearing these Ford FEV8s (and others) being a bit finicky about starting at times, and then stumbling and dying and showing other signs of less than perfect running, unless they were in stellar tune. In my experience, straight sixes with their simple one barrel carbs seemed to have little trouble running right most of the time. My truck? I’ve never touched the carb in 30 years! And it always starts instantly, no matter how cold or hot. Of course the manual choke helps, but it just runs fine all the time.

And the plugs always have that ideal color (tan), so I know it’s not running rich or lean. I can’t tell you how many well-intentioned folks have told me to convert it to electronic ignition. Or tried to get me to swap in a modern engine with fuel injection. No way; maybe I’m lucky, but my truck runs just fine as is. Well, just like me, it prefers to get going on dry and warm mornings rather than really wet and cold mornings, but I can’t really blame it for that.

I have a dim memory of a new muffler. Oh yes; I know why. I blew mine wide open!

Back in Los Gatos in the early years, I used to take my two little kids along to the dump, which was way up in the hills. On the way down the winding road, I’d turn off the ignition for a moment, then turn it on again, which ignited the unburned gases in the exhaust with a lovely BOOM!  It was a ritual to make going to the dump fun, along with leaning over exaggeratedly on each other in the hairpin curves. One time I waited too long, and the really loud KABOOM!!! ripped my muffler wide open. I felt a bit dumb. But it had been worth it; my kids still talk about it. this is how memories are made. And what’s a muffler for one of these cost? Peanuts.

The only effort at upgrading it, other than the overdrive transmission, was the Sun tach I put in very early on. Not that it’s really necessary, as it lets me know when it’s done revving under a load or maximum acceleration, which is about 3500-3600 rpm. Speaking of, I came across some old tests that showed these trucks with a 0-60 time in the 16-17 second range, and a 20 second quarter mile. Tested mileage was in the mid teens to about 20, based on speed and such.

I long ago gave up keeping track of mileage, especially since it’s almost all city driving, but I did eke out a solid 19mpg once on a tank. And it will roll right along; I still take ‘er up to 75 or so sometimes, which is pretty effortless actually. I hit  90 once back in the day. It actually is pretty stable at speed; not scary. Well, it probably would be for you if you were along.

But that’s without a load. With a really heavy load, I keep my speed down; the slightest twitch of the wheel sets up a yaw.

It may seem crude to talk about money regarding my automotive soul mate, but then it is also a tool of my trade. So what’s it cost me all these decades? A rough calculation is about $2000 for purchase cost and repairs and maintenance. Of course, those aren’t all 2017 dollars. Comes to about 4.3 cents per mile. Peanuts. And of course the truck is worth more than that now (the T85-R11 transmission itself is a hot commodity), so the capital cost/depreciation is actually negative.

But then there’s operating costs: registration, insurance and gas. Registration has averaged about $40/year, so $1200. Insurance about $200/yr, so $6,000. And we’ll assume about 14mpg for those 46,000 miles for 3,285 gallons, and assume $2.00/gal. for $6,570. So operating costs have been about $13,800, which means total costs have been about 30 cents per mile. That’s a bit higher compared to my Subaru Forester, which cost us 24 cents/mile over its 15 years.

But that’s a rather uneven comparison, because the truck gets so fwe miles per year on it. The more meaningful way to look at it is that for 30 cents per mile, I’ve had a very useful piece of machinery at my disposal.

Obviously, most folks with 50 year old cars don’t focus on the their cost per mile, because if they did, it would probably be astronomical. But this is my work truck, and it’s well below the 54 cents the IRS allows for mileage deductions. It’s making me money on my taxes too!

This has gone on way too long (the article), so it’s time to pull over and give it a rest. As to the future, there’s undoubtedly more of the same, as long as we’re both able. Now that I don’t really need to be so cheap anymore (it’s  hard habit to break), I have given some thought of fixing the clutch, permanently. And the best way to do that would be by slipping in a 300 six, which is in every way identical to the 240, except for the longer stroke and the internal parts to make that happen. Maybe I can even find the crank, con rods and pistons from a 300, and just keep the current block and head.

I do love me some good low-end grunt, and although the 240 has never let me down that way, a 300 with a low-restriction muffler might be fun. The more the better. And with the fiber cam gear, please, so I can hear it purr instead of howl.

One thing is for certain: as long as load heights keep going up on new trucks, I’m not going to be buying one. As I said at the beginning, I bought my truck to haul, and I’ll be damned if I can’t load or unload it with a shovel while standing back there, or have to climb up steps to get into the bed. I’ve loaded and unloaded a slew of large appliances myself this past summer, and there’s no way I could do that with a modern truck.

So we’re stuck with each other; works for me.

Update, 9/8/2023:  There have been a few issues that I chose to address or was forced to since this was written in 2017.

In the fall of 2020, I decided to finally address a number of issues that had been ignored for too long: replaced the heater core, replaced the radiator, fixed the brake lights and turn signals, replaced the front suspension bushings and all four shocks, fixed the instrument lights, and had a shop weld in new floor panels, as the old ones were badly rusted out, as well as do a bit of rust repair on the roof. And some new door seals and window channel guides. The full write up on all of that is here:

F100 Chronicles: If It’s Been Broken In Many Places For Years Maybe It’s Finally Time To Fix Them

In 2021, the transmission failed. I found one at legendary Turner Auto Wreckers in Fresno (full tour here), and installed it after hauling it home. Unfortunately, it was very noisy, but I found a guy in town who has lots of experience rebuilding these. He did a great job for a very reasonable price.

And…just a few weeks ago, I decided to take a look at the truck’s brakes, which I had last attended to some 25 years ago. The first one I took off had a leaking wheel cylinder. Time to do a full rebuild, but I’ve been very busy with Port Orford, hiking, rafting and other projects, so I called the mobile mechanic who had replaced the a/c compressor in the Tracker. He replaced and rebuilt everything, master cylinder, rubber lines, wheel cylinders, shoes, springs, etc., and the result is great. I’d forgotten how properly working brakes are!  He wanted $200 for his labor! I insisted he take twice that, and I still feel I underpaid him.

Here’s some of the previous posts of my truck:

Curbside Comparison: 1966 F100 vs 2016 F150 – How Much Has Changed?

Overloaded? By How Much? About 2200lbs.

My Truck Gets a Wash, a $10 Tuneup, and a Set of Used Tires

Instead of Writing a CC, My Truck Gets a Wash, Inspection and Upgrade

Accelerating Through Five Gears Without Using the Clutch (with Videos)

Why I’ll Never Buy a New Truck (ttac)