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0508 FG: Tales of a Hay Hauler: Still plays with trucks

Brad Nelson Published on 17 October 2008

In 1963 Ford made a red one-ton truck. The engine was the 292 cubic inch “Y” block V-8. This one came with a 5-speed transmission. I became its proud owner in 1969.

It had a covered utility body on it and with just my young bride and me in the family, it worked for an occasional camping trip. The marker lights on the utility bed seemed to be too bright.

When they started burning out and I went to replace the bulbs, I found them to be 6-volt bulbs. That told me that the utility bed had been on an older truck and that the person who put it on the ’63 had not bothered to update the lighting to the 12-volt system.

The red truck had a very nice pair of spotlights. I think the light bulbs used in them were designed as landing lights for aircraft. I wish I could find some like them today.

The first modification I made was to unbolt the seat from the floor and placed a wood two-by-four between the floor of the cab and the seat.

That gave me much more leg room. The next summer the utility bed went away in favor of a flatbed Elli’s dad helped me build. I mounted a pair of 15-gallon drums to the frame of the truck, one on each side between the cab and the rear wheels.

I plumbed these to the fuel system on the truck and could run from the main tank, which was inside the cab behind the seat, or from either of the 15-gallon tanks. This helped since the truck got all of 10 miles per gallon, loaded or empty, uphill or downhill.

The next summer we got a 1958 Ford car, and the truck towed all our plunder and the car nicely when we moved back to college in the fall.

On the way from Nampa, Idaho to Provo, Utah the generator stopped working. We made it in by dim headlights, and the next morning I had to hustle to get the driveshaft put back in the car so I could drive in to register for school. (The car had an automatic transmission and without removing the driveshaft, towing the car any distance would make burned toast out of the transmission.)

The only brand-new vehicle I owned in my life was a 1971 Ford one-ton that I ordered in about the time my tenure as a college student ended. It was the long wheelbase model, and I built a ten-foot-long flatbed for it.

It had the 390 cubic inch V-8 engine and a 4-speed manual transmission. The seat height was quickly altered by adding 2x4’s under the seat, then an auxiliary fuel tank and then dual exhaust.

This one did better on fuel. The average was 12 miles per gallon, and it was a lot more fun to drive. Just to show how little the dollar is worth these days, the 1971 truck cost just over $3,500.

When I needed a truck to haul hay to my dairy cows some time later, I got a good deal on a 1958 Ford C-600 tilt cab. I got it cheap because the engine just barely ran.

The engine was the big brother to the 292 – the 332 cubic inch V-8. It ran poorly because the rocker arm assembly on one head had starved for oil, and the valves were not opening adequate for the engine to run well. A trip to the used parts store and a couple of afternoons and the truck became worth ten times what we paid for it, since it now ran well.

I broke an axle in the rear end of this truck. It was not a clean break. A chunk of axle shaft about 8 inches long splintered and lodged inside the axle housing, and it took all my spare time for about a month to get it out.

Then I went looking for parts and found that the whole rear axle was from a 1938 vintage International Harvester truck! I paid more attention to things that might break an axle shaft after that, things like getting stuck in the mud. That old rascal was fun to drive.

Next came a 1964 Ford F-800 that had been retired from a potato hauling fleet as the fleet moved on to diesel power. The power was the 391 cubic inch truck engine, with a 4-barrel carburetor and the power got to the road via a close-ratio 5-speed transmission and 2-speed rear axle.

Next I acquired the first “big” truck, the 1962 Freightliner with the 220 Cummins engine. This is the one that blew about 18 inches of flame from the exhaust stack when it was pulling hard. This truck had a good block heater so it would usually start on the coldest days of winter.

I had a diesel tractor that had to be helped to start by the Freightliner’s 24-volt series/parallel set up. Even with the little tractor plugged in at night, it would not start.

The only way I could make it start was to put jumper cables on it from the Freightliner so I fed 24 volts through the tractor’s 12-volt system. I would not attempt to use the glow plugs on the tractor since I also had to use starting fluid. Starting fluid plus glow plugs equals the cylinder head of the tractor on Mars.

With the motor turning over fast, I fed it starting fluid until it gave up and started. It usually took about a can of starting fluid to get it to fire and more to keep it running long enough to warm up and run on diesel by itself. I have no idea why the 12-volt starter did not melt down under this abuse.

The 1968 Mack followed the Freightliner, and it was followed by two more Freightliners, both altered to do what I wanted them to do and to fit my over-sized carcass into the cab.

My current “ride” is the 1997 Dodge diesel one-ton I’ve had for the last eight or nine years. The air ride driver’s seat was such an improvement that I added another on the passenger side, also a custom shift knob, a C.B. radio, a scanner, a radar detector, the muffler went away, the power is up to 340 from the stock 215, plus the sliding tool box cover I made.

The kids tell me that the only thing about the Dodge that is the same as when I got it is the title. The back up lights came in a box that said “driving lights” on it.

The other day I parked it near where the second generation Hay Hauler was working on some new lettering for his Freightliner. Some time later I noticed that the back of my Dodge was neatly lettered, “Still plays with trucks”. Who raised that dang kid, anyway?  FG

Brad Nelson