By on December 12, 2009

It’s a little problematic having me make selections for The Best Of TTAC, but in keeping with the new Saturday truck theme, I offer up this from the vaults.

It was a successful launch, and I was going for the record books. The 534 cubic inch Ford V8 bellowed and roared through the two short pipes exiting under my feet. The wide-open Holley four barrel noisily sucked the cool morning air. The air-scooped hood rose and dropped on the passenger side with each banging shift, a visual testament to massive torque. As my speed approached record territory, I had my hands full keeping the snorting beast under control. I glanced down on the big round speedometer and confirmed my victory: ninety miles per hour.

I was abusing a 1966 Ford F-900 Super Duty dump truck loaded with some 10 tons of gravel down a narrow country road. Normally, the Metro Pavers fleet would top out at sixty-five. But  Number 8 had an erratic engine governor, as well as an Allison six-speed automatic. Every so often, when you first floored it, the governor didn’t engage. And it stayed that way, until you backed off.

These unpredictable moments of Holley-anarchy were the equivalent of turning on a bottle of nitro or a turbo (or both) and an irresistible invitation to explore the true top end capabilities of the giant hot-rod Ford– as long as the engine held together.

The odds of an untrammeled blast were about one in ten; kinda like playing the slots. The random inevitability of a noisy payoff kept me on my toes (literally), and helped break the rapid-growing ennui of hauling gravel all day.

Ford trucks play a recurring theme in my life; from my first truck drive to my most recent (yesterday). My initiation to Ford-truckin’ arrived via the usual baptism by fire.

I was a seventeen-year old car jockey at the local Ford dealer. I had noticed the big F-900 when I came to work after school. A salesman walked in and asked if anyone knew how to drive a truck. Without hesitation, I said yes. The cab looked just like an F-100. How hard could it be?

The salesman imparted his minimalist directions: “follow me”.  I had no idea where we were going or what I was doing. Man, everything sure looked small from way up there. Was that warning alarm ringing away a novice driver detector, or something to do with air pressure?

I found the first of ten gears (a five speed and two speed axle), and released the heavy clutch. A groan and shudder, and then… nothing. The engine stalled. Painfuly. I finally found the air parking-brake release and set off.

The first order of business: keep the big rig in my lane while sorting out the 10 gears. Once I figured out how to stop locking the unloaded rear wheels with the grabby air brakes, people stopped staring at me.

Our route included the busiest and curviest piece of freeway around, followed by surface streets through the heart of downtown Baltimore. I sweated bullets keeping up with him. It was another righteous, riotous rite of passage.

A couple of years later in Iowa City, I grew tired of washing dishes (surprise, surprise) and answered an ad for dump-truck driver. Inexplicably, I was hired without a commercial license. A female state trooper showed up to give me the driving test. There was just one problem: the trucks had no passenger seat.

I found an old rickety wooden chair whose legs I rudely shortened. She gave me a look of disbelief. I gave her my best killer smile. She was a real trooper to perch on that wobbly chair while I drove her around. Mission accomplished.

It was mostly fun driving those gnarly old Ford Super Duty’s (back then that name was reserved for Ford’s biggest commercial trucks). But the day I lost my air brakes wasn’t a lot of laughs.

I had just loaded eight yards of gravel at the quarry. Getting back in the cab, my knee must have hit the air-brake switch. The low air-pressure warning alarm was broken. As I approached the stop at the highway, I realized my predicament. Trees blocked the view in both directions. I seriously considered bailing out. But I stayed with my truck and barreled into the highway, hoping for the best. It’s a good thing traffic was lighter back then.

I still rent a dump truck (Ford, of course) every now and then. Today’s big turbo-diesels have a wonderfully intense but short torque curve. And the transmissions now offer blazing quick clutch-less shifts.

My ’66 Ford pickup with its manual steering, non-power brakes and three speed (plus two speed transmission) keeps my skills in shape. It has the exact same cab as those hoary old Super-Duties, just a whole lot closer to the earth. I’ve even hit 90 with my pickup, but it wasn’t loaded with gravel. So the old record stands.

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9 Comments on “The Best Of TTAC – Autobiography 15: The Doh-Dah Man...”


  • avatar
    Jseis

    Fun story..sort of like my ’58 F8 with the bobtail 5 yard rig..frequently overloaded to 8 yards+ of sand heaped from the dumpgate to the cabguard until it fell on the windshield. Then I would manuever it like a rumrunner yacht in storm out to the cranberry fields. It has a 390, 5 speed with the 2 speed (electic shift) rear axle. I always descended from the gravel pit in 1st for fear that stopping was not really an option and I’d cross 101 and end up in the bay.  Speed? maybe 70 topped out but the kingpins are woobly so I kept it under 60. With dual blown out glass packs and short pipes that FE bellowed and moaned empty or loaded. It was a blast to drive empty and the cab made it looked like a chopped pickup.  Sitting behind the barn rusting away.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    My old man got an early start in trucking, and his only Ford, a 41 swb tractor with 48 Merc engine, was sold before I started driving. Nothing but Cornbinders from then on. While I never drove the Ford, I rode on a road trip in it one time when he hauled a TD-14 bulldozer to Sixes, Oregon, to work in the woods there. It was a good truck but a little small for the work we had for it.

  • avatar

    Here’s a blast from the past from the General  http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/3-the-stars/star-truckin/344-1963-chevrolet-viking-60-cabover-milk-truck-that-became-a-farm-hand.html

  • avatar
    sortahwitte

    I too cut my teeth on many a Ford Super Duty.  The most memorable was a F-900 water truck I drove hauling water from a gas engine powered water pump at the river to a mud pit at a drilling rig site.  This all happened in Louisiana in about ’68.  The track I followed through the woods was nothing but aroad of pure dust.  They told me it was a poor truck driver that let the dust catch up to him.  Finally, one day, I got to break in my replacement.  He got in the cab and I came from the other side.  First thing I said was “you have to double clutch it.”  He replied” You’re not shittin’ me, one of them is the brake.”  Yes, he fit in very well.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    My life flashed in front  of  my14 yr old eyes. I was riding  with Hollis Pina in a  60 something  Autocar trailer dump  overloaded  with 35 yds  of  gravel that  was going 95 mph  down a  hill toward  the onramp  from  Rt 95 S onto Rt 128.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    It’s definitely important to learn not to stop short in a truck like that. Sometimes it’s more important than others. (video clip)

  • avatar
    sortahwitte

    I too cut my teeth on many a Ford Super Duty.  The most memorable was a F-900 water truck I drove hauling water from a gas engine powered water pump at the river to a mud pit at a drilling rig site.  This all happened in Louisiana in about ‘68.  The track I followed through the woods was nothing but aroad of pure dust.  They told me it was a poor truck driver that let the dust catch up to him.  Finally, one day, I got to break in my replacement.  He got in the cab and I came from the other side.  First thing I said was “you have to double clutch it.”  He replied ” I’m not falling for that, one of them is the brake.”  Yes, he fit in very well.

  • avatar
    baabthesaab

    Wow! You guys learned on some pretty nice trucks! My first was a 1956 Dodge Model H (in 1969) with a single-speed rear, 5-speed tranny, and a flat-head six. If you had to start off on a hill in first, you had to stay in first topping out at about 8 mph, because, in the time it took to double clutch to catch second, you were rolling backwards and couldn’t engage it.
    The shift pattern was conceived by a masochist – 2nd to the left and forward, 3rd right behind it. 4th in the center and back, 5th in center forward. Reverse to the right and forward, with 1st in back of reverse. At least with double-clutching, you had time to look around.
    On the highway, any slight upgrade caused a downshift to 4th to hold the 40 mph minimum. You got up to 90? I was good for about 52 after a mile or so, on the flat, with the go pedal on the floor.
    What a beast! And I didn’t even mention steering the thing.


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