By on April 18, 2010

Welcome to Havana, Oregon. Back in the eighties, living in tony Los Gatos, I used to gaze longingly at photos of old American cars and trucks still hard at work in Cuba. But within days of moving to Eugene in 1993, I came across this very truck, hauling its daily cargo of recycled cardboard. And it planted a seed in me, to document the old vehicles still earning their keep, which finally came to fruition with Curbside Classics. Although we’ve strayed from the strict interpretation of that mission a few times along the way, no other vehicle more perfectly embodies the original ethos than this 1956 F-350.

I’ve seen this rolling relic coming and going all these years, and tried to catch it since starting CC, even searching futilely in the Yellow Pages for “B&L Recycling”.  But on our daily walk yesterday, there it was, with its owner loading up a week’s worth of cartons from Cafe Zenon. After a hard first twenty-five years as a farm truck, since 1979, “Gus” has been earning a living for owner Mike McCool, hauling cardboard to be recycled at the local pulp mill five and six days a week, year in and year out.

Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way first: either you “get” Gus and his owner, or you don’t. If you do, you can skip this paragraph. If not, I’m not sure I can change your perspective, but at least give Mike the credit that every aspect of his truck and his life’s work is deliberate. That goes for his precarious-looking load in the back: he’s been at it so long, he knows exactly what it’s doing; hasn’t lost one yet in thirty years. Mike’s hardly some marginal or pathetic character to either pity or wish the hell he’d get his battered eyesore off the road. He’s a successful independent small businessman who’s found a niche that allows him to make a reasonable living while living his passion for recycling. And keeping old things running forever.

It’s a way of life that I can relate to, even if I chose not to live it quite to Mike’s level by a long shot. Although my similarly battered ’66 F-100 isn’t getting worked as much anymore as it was during my old-house moving and rebuilding days. Let’s just say Mike and I share at least an old Ford truck in common, and we hit it off. He was happy to show me the various tricks employed to keep a fifty-five year old truck running happily, like the original oil-bath air cleaner that never needs replacing. He did just mount an alternator to the old 223 cubic inch six, and recently splurged for some new custom-made 16″ front wheels to replace the 17″ split rims that are such a pain. After he’s amortized that rare and pricey investment, he’ll buy some for the rears too. Finally having radials on the front were like suddenly getting power steering. I know the feeling.

Lest I forget, Mike did rebuild the engine after he first bought it in 1979. Burning a quart of oil every hundred miles was a strong incentive. He used high quality parts, and it’s still running strong. The 223 six started life in 1952 as the 215, Ford’s first modern OHV engine. It developed a rep as a rugged work horse; but then that pretty much applied to all of Detroit’s sixes back then. It’s definitely the way to go if maximum reliability and minimum upkeep are high on the priority list and V8 power isn’t. Gus sticks to the surface streets, and the six purrs contentedly.

These old American trucks used a healthy grade of steel throughout. They come from a time when American trucks were still exported throughout the world, as paragons of durability, power and utility. And it really isn’t hard to keep them on the road pretty much forever. Except for some rust on the lip over the windshield, Gus is good to go for…as long as Mike wants him to.

Although it may seem that Mike lives in a world a bit different from ours, he’s actually as or more intimately connected to world affairs and the global economy than most of us. The global price of cardboard fluctuates dramatically, based obviously on the demand for cartons to ship the world’s products, especially from China. Having weathered a crash in the price down to $5/ton in the worst months of the recent recession (living debt free and cheaply made it possible), its recently jumped dramatically to $70. Not exactly back to the all-time highs of $110 a few years back, but that’s probably a good thing. According to Mike’s cardboard price index, the recession is quite truly over. But he’s not running out to buy a new truck. Enough chatting; Mike and Gus have work to do.

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48 Comments on “The Ultimate Curbside Classic: 1956 Ford F-350 Still Hard At Work Six Days A Week...”

  • avatar

    Love the dash mounted HVAC system.


  • avatar
    Andy D

    I had a 223 that outlasted an F100 and an F250. IMO, the ohv Ford 6es were waay better than the more popular Ford OHV v8s of the 50s

    • 0 avatar

      A lot of contemporary reviewers suspected that the OHV six was more powerful than the final flathead V8, as well, and that its rated output was deliberately understated to maintain the V8’s nominal superiority. Motor Trend did an interesting comparison between two ’52 sedans, one with the six, the other with the flathead V8, and found that the six was actually a little faster.

  • avatar

    1955 Ford F-350 Still Hard At Work Six Days A Week
    And on the seventh day, it rested.

  • avatar

    I get it, i like it.
    Good for Mike and Gus
    Keep on Truckin.

  • avatar

    You sure that isn’t a ’56?

  • avatar

    Does this ever bring back memories. A green ’56 Ford two ton grain truck, with a high-low differential. It was the first motor I ever rebuilt, the 272 Y block with that weird carb that had the bowl on top of the venturis. We ran glass packs on it and it made a wonderful noise pulling a up a hill with a load in it. We eventually replaced the 272 with a T-bird 312. Those were the days.

  • avatar

    Built Ford tough! Hooray for Mike.

    I agree it’s a ’56, as per the wraparound windshield. Also has a recessed-hub (“LifeGuard”) steering wheel.

    I used to see an incredibly rickety old truck of this vintage, hauling junk around Oklahoma City. I always wanted to offer the owner $50 to let me paint on it in big letters, “Acme Plutonium Haulers.”

  • avatar
    the duke

    Reminds me of a sixties Unimog box truck that used to (and presumable still does) run around SE Portland delivering the Oregonian to the local delivery outlets. Loved that truck.

  • avatar

    Is it still in warranty?

  • avatar
    Billy Bobb 2

    “Lamont! You wan’t one right across yo lip?”

  • avatar

    If you keep using it, you don’t need to recycle it. That’s what I call keepin it green.

  • avatar

    It’s beautiful. And it’s amazing to see all that space in the engine bay, how they used to be, and to have a clear view of where all the engine innards are. But it’s most amazing that that thing is still running after all these years–even with the engine rebuild.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Paul, if you keep on finding people like that I will HAVE to move out to Eugene.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Mike and Gus: This Buds for you!

  • avatar

    Yeah, I’m feeling what Steven Lang is saying.

    And, oh, dung–I just read 50Merc’s comment directly above. Now that’s funny!!!

  • avatar

    I always wanted to offer the owner $50 to let me paint on it in big letters, “Acme Plutonium Haulers.”

    And you didn’t? Darn.

    ‘Is it still in warranty?”

    Probably didn’t need one to begin with.

    The other thing about this truck…is someone ever going to cut you off?

  • avatar

    Makes my battered 89 F-350 CrewCab longbed look like a young’un. I hope I can keep it running as long.

    @NickR: You’d be amazed at how many people are willing to swerve in front of a truck this big, and then slam on the brakes. Apparently, they’re just not capable of considering that not all vehicles are as agile as their cars. Another favorite trick is to pull up just off my right-rear corner, roughly even with my back bumper, and then hang there obliviously (newsflash, folks. This thing is TOO LONG to do a head check).

  • avatar
    N Number


    I look forward every day to your Curbside Classic pieces. What started out as a curiosity has become a TTAC staple. To put today’s auto industry into perspective, one must look to the past. Keep it up.

    I enjoyed the heck out of this particular piece, but I find your interest in the big 1-ton Ford puzzling; like today’s full-size trucks, the cargo floor is much too high up to shovel in compost or otherwise load with ease. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  • avatar

    Sanford and Son lives?

  • avatar

    I nostalgia’d!

    My grandfather had one similar to this. It had that same straight-six in it. He always used to brag about how he used to climb into the engine bay and tune the thing up in the dark (in the snow, up-hill both ways)

    I actually drove it on his ranch when I was 14 or so.. driving that thing was a workout as it had power NOTHING.

    His was a ’56

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, climb right in and work on it out of the rain. (Confess I’m the geezer behind the wheel).

      What Paul mentioned but didn’t emphasize enough in his fabulous article was that the one really unKool thing about the ’56 F350 was its wheels: 17″ split-rim widow-makers.

      Not pictured here is the pair of custom tubeless rims from Stockton Wheel in CA that have changed my life. As Paul said, soon as I can swing it I’m buying a pair for the rear.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      mondo56/mike, Thanks for finally letting me catch up with you; I was beginning to get worried. Keep on trucking, and see you around!

  • avatar

    Maybe one of you old timers can answer this… Why does the intake and exhaust manifolds appear to have 4 ports each on a six cylinder? Well, the exhaust appears to have five or six maybe…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Shared ports were a very common feature on older engines. In low speed engines like these sixes, sharing a port does not make a big difference in the breathing. It really comes into play when higher performance and optimal breathing are the goal. Nowdays, its unheard of.

  • avatar

    If only we built them this well now…

  • avatar

    What this country needs is more (mondo 56) people.

  • avatar

    What a great article! The truck is a real beauty.

    And I’m glad mondo mike popped for a new (modern) electric wiper motor. Was the original one vacuum powered?

  • avatar

    Glad everyone loves Gus–know I surely do.

    And no, that’s the original electric wiper motor factory-installed; just got it rebuilt a few years back and they made it look brand new.

    And yes, there’s an outfit in town that actually takes pride in maintaining old electrics–they’ve re-worked my starter motor a few times over these 32 years and it was they who fixed me up with that alternator conversion.

  • avatar

    We have a 1973 Ford truck with a Cummins 330 diesel engine. My dad bought it in 1984 and it’s been running strong ever since, even though the radiator has been half full of oil for the past five years. (Whenever we’ve tried to fix it we get laughed out of the Cummins shop while being told just to just park it in the trees and buy a new one).

    It is still one powerful, big bad truck, though. Although it is a bit clumsy, we have new Kenworths that can’t hold a candle to it in terms of raw power. As long as we baby it for short trips, it should keep running strong for another 40 years.

  • avatar

    Know. This built-in obsolescence might keep a lot of mooks employed–but that doesn’t mean it isn’t [email protected]

    Had a hot-rodder crawl under my truck the other day and when he came back out he said he’d give me $2k for my rear-end case. Said they were great for dragsters and custom racecars ’cause they were built so bulldog tough.

    And hey when I see these modern over-valued rigs rated at 1 ton I can only smile. At that same spot where Paul shot all those yummy pix of Gus, right behind me a fellow had parked his brand new F350 and he had amerikan flags all over it so I said what a shame there was no longer any such thing as an American car–unless maybe you counted Toyotas.

    Knew I was kinda bating him but I couldn’t resist. He said what you might expect, what the hell did I think I was talking about and I said he must know there hadn’t been a car built completely in amerika for over 20 years and that the only honest thing he could say about his rig was that it might possibly have been assembled in amerika but its parts were from all over the world.

  • avatar
    A is A

    “(living debt free and cheaply made it possible)”

    People living in McMansions and driving Cadillac Escalades on borrowed money have a lot to learn from this entrepeneur.

    I would really like to spend a trimester working for this man for food and a place to rest. There´s a lot to be learned from him.

    • 0 avatar

      Frugality is not something to be ashamed of and on the anniversary of Earth Day it’s perhaps appropriate to remember ronnie ray gun. It’s never kool to drag politix into any discussion but here’s the one kat who did his very best to gut the environmental movement and his message to America was clear: frugality?–forget about it.

      Despite the fact that our economy has seemed to depend on this malignant and exponential growth, the rule should be the same as it was for our grandfathers: don’t make payments on anything unless it appreciates.

    • 0 avatar

      If it ain’t broke why fix it? Especially in a work truck such as this.

  • avatar

    That is cool, I bet it’s a “bone-shaker” but still way cool.

    My dad had a 50 Dodge 1 ton stake truck with a non-synchro trans, it was a very rough ride on dirt roads. I still remember how to double clutch.

    I just bought a 61 Falcon with a 144 six just like dad had. It ran forever and got great gas mileage. I’m gonna make it my daily driver.

  • avatar

    Bone-shaker indeed–till as mentioned I put a crowbar in my wallet and sprung for those custom-made 16″ tubeless rims so I could mount 235/85 r16 steel radials. Now it’s like I’ve got power steering and instead of rattling my teeth over the teeniest bumps it rides like I’m on marshmallows.

    Congrats on your acquisition of that ole Falcon. Had a ’63 e150 with the 170 engine–which I suspect was just a bored out 144–and put over 300k miles on it. Back and forth across amerika nine times.

    There’s a young punk up the street with a Falcon and every time he cruises by I give him a thumbs up. What a gem.

  • avatar

    clearly he’s a detail guy-that old Ford 6 looks really clean under the hood.

    • 0 avatar

      I noticed that the drive belt was either brand-new or really really clean.

      I prefer to think it’s the former.

      Some of these kids driving the rice-rockets these days wouldn’t know what a drive belt looks like. Pah!

    • 0 avatar

      Thanx for noticing that. (Can see I ain’t gonna be able to slip anything past you guys). Yep that belt’s only a few weeks old–and Paul revealed that he’s an unregenerate motorhead by reaching down and checking the tension.

      As I’m fond of saying, the engine’s so clean you could eat off it. Fact, when I bring a cold lunch from home I often set it out on the engine to warm up.

      Gotta thank all of you for being so polite about the mold and moss on the paint. Gus does occasionally get washed–but I’m afraid it’s no more than a couple of times a year.

    • 0 avatar

      Mondo Wrote: “…and Paul revealed that he’s an unregenerate motorhead by reaching down and checking the tension.”

      Well, it’s a good thing because I think that’s part of Paul’s job description!

  • avatar

    Wow, I just stumbled upon this site and the picture of this truck jumped out at me. I KNOW this truck!

    I moved to Eugene in 1975 and met a couple of college students named Bill and Leslie. I was involved with BRING Recycling and Bill & Leslie soon bought this old truck (it was old even then) and started a cardboard recycling route. They brought the cardboard to Weyerhauser paper recycling, where I had just started work. They would load the bed with the cardboard having first run a rope under a big piece on the bottom. I’d hook my “scatback” bucket to the rope and they’d stand on the brake while pulled the bulk of the cardboard off the truck.

    After a few years, Bill & Leslie moved to the east coast and sold the truck to Mike, McCool. Mike is a talented writer, having written and published the novel, “Cooling Off”, while he worked days collecting cardboard.

    Hey Mike, if you see this, five me a shout ([email protected]).

  • avatar

    Great old ’56. Reminds me of my dads ’55 F-350 express pick-up.  Used to haul more than twice it’s limit to the scrap yard monthly.  Dads truck will be coming back up here from Nevada in a few months to be fully restored, along with a ’55 F-800 Big Job (to join my ’54 F-750).  Bring that ’56 to Madras, and we can make him look as good as he runs.  I got a nice set of fenders for him too.

  • avatar

    Don’t tempt me, Joe!  The high country is so great for making rigs immortal.

    (We just scored a 1960 canned ham trailer and it spent its entire 50 years of life up there on the plateau so you can imagine what great shape it’s in).

    As for my peach ’56, was told by a fellow in the local F150 club that this year is the single most popular truck for restoration and that there are outfits in CA that make fenders hoods and doors all out of fiberglass.  Adios rust amigo!

  • avatar

    The ’56 Ford is amongst the most popular of all domestic vehicles produced back then.  So much so, that they actually have a cab reproduced out of glass now too.  The entire ’56 F-100 can’t built out of a catalog.  However, the F-250, and larger trucks are finding their own level of extreme popularity now too, and the only part not the same, is the front fenders.  The F-350, like yours, shares its front fenders with the F-350 thru F-600 sized trucks.  There are very rare times when a small opening front fender can be found on a F-350, but that is EXTREMELY rare.  I have a ’53 F-600 coming my soon, and it has nice front fenders on it.  The reason it’s destined to be a donor, is because the frame is worn, from years of heavy use, leaving only a very usable body to work with.  Some day, if you find yourself wanting to fix the old truck up, you just let me know.

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