Cars Of A Lifetime: 1985 Ford Courier – Busted Flat In Ford Blue

(note: my Courier was not worth taking pictures of so the pics above are of a very similar truck)

This is the truck that almost ruined my life, as well as being the junkiest car I have ever owned. Maybe there’s a connection there. Anyway, it was 1995, I had just returned from my adventures in Alaska in the 1978 Toyota Corona wagon, and I was back working at our college in Oklahoma. Our year-old Hyundai was sitting idly behind the dining commons in a pool of transmission fluid thanks to my high speed driving antics while we continued to make payments on it. As I knew nothing about working on cars, fixing the Hyundai myself was out of the question and our insurance deductible was 500 dollars. We had 300 dollars. So I went down to the first used car lot just down the street. That was mistake number one: I should have kept looking.

He had several cars that were too expensive and I did not want to finance. But just as I was planning to go, I saw an old blue pickup in the grass behind a shed. I asked him about it and he said he thought it needed some carburetor work but really didn’t remember. So I asked how much if it would run, he said three hundred and come back with a battery and some gas and we will see.

Well I did and somehow we got it going. I handed him over the three hundred and drove off. As I drove of into the turn lane of the highway, I immediately discovered several important things about this truck. 1, it handled crazily (latter found that it had different sized tires and wheels all around, one being the front wheel/tire from a Ford tractor), 2. the brakes felt all wrong (later discovered that only the front brakes were hooked up), 3. the passenger side door would not stay shut, and 4. it backfired allot. Down the road I went holding the door shut across the seat. Not a good start.

Oklahoma has a motor vehicle safety certification to go through every two years. And mine was expired. I knew it would never pass so I started asking people with other crappy cars how they passed. Eventually I was pointed in the direction of a little shop behind some old buildings where for five dollars under-the-table they would certify anything, and they did.

I essentially learned how to work on cars on this Courier. The first thing I taught myself was how to seal the holes in the floor board (through which one could see the road zipping by, perilously close to ones heels) with expanding spray foam.  Having grown up in a car-less family, I was completely clueless. I noticed that it did not run right so I went in to the parts store and had the guy listen to it. He recommended a tune-up and sold me the stuff to do it with. I was savvy enough with machines in general to be able to take old stuff off and put new stuff on. Except when it came to the spark plug wires. I soon learned not to take them all off at one! And learning to do timing by ear was a bit tricky at first also.

I decided it needed the carburetor rebuilt. So I got a kit for it, took it all apart on the kitchen table on some old cardboard, writing down the names and numbers so I could put it back together, and cleaned it up and put it back together with the new parts. I soon learned that one had to adjust carburetors. Somehow I lost one of the idle screws on the road. So I simply made one from rolled up paper. It worked after a fashion until I finally got a new one.

And then there was the little brake incident. Remember how I said there was only front brakes? Well there was no emergency brake either, I was puling into a gas station and suddenly there were no brakes at all. I circled around the parking lot missing cars and skimming the curbs until I could slam it into park. It sounded terrible, the noise of the parking pall grinding across the gears was grating, and then, slam!

When I took it apart in their lot I found that I had let the front brake pads get so low that the brake piston on one side had pushed all the way out taking all the brake fluid with it. Sure could have used that rear brake circuit, or even an E brake. I got new parts and of course it started snowing and sleeting. I had the truck up on milk crates and the management at the gas station were very nice to let me fix it there. I put all the parts on but I could not get the brake pads to go on the new rotors. Eventually I was forced to ask my friend’s friend named Turtle to do it for me. He was a real hillbilly sort and he knew I was a real greenhorn. He charged me 40 bucks to come over, compress the pistons into the calipers with a C clamp and put the calipers on. I have never paid another soul to touch my brakes again. I still only had front brakes though. That got real interesting come winter trying to deliver pizzas on sheet ice.

We decided to go see Michelle’s parents in Tennessee for Thanksgiving. Amazingly the truck made it there and back just fine, but the steering was so loose that one had to throw the wheel to one side to arrest any wandering and then throw it back to the other to correct for that all the way there and back.

But the worst was yet to come. I had gotten fired from my job, was newly married, winter was setting in, and we had been evicted from our apartment. I slept in the truck while she stayed with her friends. One day while driving around desperately looking for work the truck stopped running. I can’t remember what was wrong with it but I do remember trying to fix it. I was laying on my back nestled against the curb under the truck. Ice cold water and big chunks of ice were running down the street and into my collar and out my back. I asked my wife to gt me a ⅜ wrench. She said she didn’t know which one that was and that she was cold. I said, “I am colder and this truck is our only asset, we have to fix it, look for the wrench with the 3 slash 8 on it”. She said she did not have to and that I could do it myself. I told her that she needed to be useful and do something besides complain and get me the damn wrench. She said “it’s your way or the highway isn’t it?”. I said “yes I guess it is in this case”. She walked off down the highway.

She had a nervous breakdown and moved away to her parents place. I got the truck fixed and found work. I figured since our marriage was over I might as well do whatever I wanted t do so I went and signed up for the Army. That night she appeared at my hotel door and told me she was ready to come back. Sigh….

Strangely I was forced to ship out from Oregon, even though I had enlisted in Oklahoma. But I would need to return to Oklahoma, for my basic training.  That how they do things in the Army!.  So we decided to drive our lovely little Courier from Oklahoma to Oregon. It had started leaking oil from the rear main seal but I did not want to change it. So we bought lots of oil.  We packed what little we had left and hit the road in my decrepit oil-dripping truck.

Along the way we picked up a large stray dog and Michelle named it Gracie; it rode in the back. We crossed the Rockies in a blizzard and the brakes were of course a nightmare, especial with bald tires that had the belts showing. We crossed through the desolate Arizona desert on the edge of overheating the whole time. Finely the truck gave up the ghost just outside of the little town of Nephi Utah. Apparently so much oil was pouring out the bottom end that it could not develop any pressure even though there was still oil in it, and seized up solid. We had spent most of our gas money on oil and now we had about forty dollars.

We got it towed and the tow company was very understanding. We stayed that night sitting up at the counter of a truck stop MacDonalds. The next morning I called my parents and asked them to see if they could rent me a car. They said they had one in Provo, about forty miles away, for me. So I took the last of my money and bought a ticket to Provo. The bus didn’t leave until that evening and I didn’t have enough to take Michelle so when I left, I left her and the dog to wait at an all night convenience store.

When I got to Provo it was late and I got to the car rental place just before it closed. When I asked about the car they told me that they had made a mistake and were unable to rent one to me without my own credit card. All our cards had been maxed out. So with nothing else to do I walked back to the bus station. I just sat there and prayed.

The station was closed and the last guy came out and locked up. As he was driving away he glanced at me sitting there on the curb. I sat there for I don’t know how long and just tried to trust God to take care of Michelle. A car pulled up and a man got out and came toward me. It was the man who had closed up earlier. He asked me what I was doing and I told him most of my sob story. He told me he was the owner of the station and invited me in. He then told me he was a bishop of the local Mormon Church and that he would call the bishop of Nephi and have him pick up Michelle and put us up in a hotel until we could get some money. He then gave me a bus ticket for the last bus that night to Nephi and I greatly expressed my appreciation.

We stayed the night at the hotel and I made sure to leash the dog very loosely outside. The next morning the dog was gone, and I helped Michelle to cope, feeling only a little guilty. We were able to get my parents to wire us enough money for a bus ticket to Oregon and we left all we couldn’t take including some tools in payment for the tow we got. And thus ended our tumultuous affair with that old Ford Currier.