Got the Truck Home. Just Barely.

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Getting Rhodie roadworthy

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Like I said, bought an F-150.

It’s a ’94, just like me.

It’s dark blue and rusty, also just like me. (Kidding).

A mechanically savvy friend agreed to drive me to the northern Vermont town where I bought it to pick it up.

Brilliant leaf change and reddish, craggy angles of rock wall all along the 89.

About 72 degrees, and not a cloud in sight this particular time of year.

That’s the good thing about Vermont, even if the taxes make you want to hang yourself and there are statistically more bureaucrats than normal people.

Yes, some of the young newcomers there want you to live on chlorophyl and charcoal and drive a sail-powered Prius, but the land itself is gorgeous.

I kid, they’re good people, the Vermonters, especially the old school farmers.

What scenery on the drive. Rolly-polly hills. Apple-red, pumpkin-orange and goldenrod leaves overhead.

Can’t wait to see it passing by out of the window of the new truck.

New, now there’s a wrong description if there ever was one.

Rust holes pock the lower part of the blue bed. Rust encrusts the undercarriage. If you lift up the rubber mat under the driver’s feet, you can see clear through to the pavement below. If the brakes go, at least you could use the Flintstone option.

Why buy a truck in such morbid condition? Other than affordability?

There’s a cliche about certain women, that they look at a chatty, coke-head wino and think, “I can save him.”

Even knowing nothing (yet) about mechanics I look at this battered truck and think something similar: I can save her.

We are here. There’s my blue ride where I left her.

The auto-savvy guy strolls up to the truck.

This is the first time he is seeing it.

He’s been advising on the truck hunt from a distance, but I forked over the cash for this one on my own.

Wonder how I did.

He chuckles at the degree of rust.

He asks me to turn the engine on. I slide into cabin, with its cloth seats, elderly rubber, and old truck smell, and fire up the engine.

Whine, rattle and roar.

“Holy moly, that is the worst sound I ever heard come out of a truck in my life. Shut it off.”

A twist of the key, and peace returns to the Vermont afternoon.

Well, it could be worse.

Savvy guy opens the hood. He pops the belt off of the wheels in there. Spins the wheels. The rattling is all coming from the alternator.

And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as he says that, the guy who sold it to me, an old-school Vermont guy, a walrus-mustache biker with a leg in a brace, hobbles into his shop and comes out with a brand new alternator.

Just like that.

He plunks it down on the edge of the hood and says it is included in the price of the truck, no extra. That was pretty cool of him, I thought.

Unclear what the standard etiquette is when you buy a truck for cash, but that seemed pretty cool.

The bolts on the old alternator love their home. They won’t evacuate. We soak them down with PB Blaster.

Out comes the old part. Its wires need to be snipped, poked into the new part’s metal tubes, and the tubes crimped. Out comes a pen knife and the copper wires get their oxygenated crust scraped off.

My friend lays a wrench down on the edge of the truck’s open hood to create a hard surface he can use to hammer the tubes into a flat crimp. He brings the hammer down.

Orange sparks fly up. The wrench slid under the blow. It completed a circuit running from the positive battery terminal to the edge of the truck. After some adjustment, my friend tries again. The tubes are crimped and the new part is connected to the wires. Now it’s time to get it bolted in place.

Getting the belt back on is a two-man job.

I scoot under the truck to hook the belt over a wheel from there.

Then I’m back up to crank back on this wrench that lifts the set of wheels the belt runs on to make them reachable. The wrench is just too short.

My friend grabs a piece of pipe from his truck, and saws it off with an electric grinder. Orange sparks rocket off the metal and onto his jeans. The grinding rips through the quiet air, and echos off the barns. He hammers the wrench into the end of the pipe. Now it’s a lever that will work.

I crank on the better lever and savvy guy shoves the belt into place over the wheels. I fire up the ignition.

Nothing.

Dead battery.

That was fast. It sparked a second ago.

Trip to town and back for a new battery.

Last thing is fixing a flat tire.

We grab an air tank from the truck and fill the tire.

We’ve got about 25 minutes to a town where we can fill up the nearly empty gas tank.

I am driving the new truck while my friend follows .

The truck is rattling and rumble-bumping along.

It likes to lurch way to the right.

Driving takes constant correction on the steering wheel.

It sounds better with the new alternator in.

Hey, here’s a Shell. Perfect. I pull in.

The truck has two gas tanks, one in the middle of the body and one in the rear. The condition of each tank is unclear. The switch that toggles between them is set to the back.

I put seven gallons in the back and seven gallons in the front. As soon as the pump is back in its holster, we hear trickling.

I look under the bed. Rivulets of gasoline are trickling all over the pavement out of the front tank.

I pull it up near the grass next to the shop.

We figure we have get it home, even though it is dripping gas from one of its tanks.

My job is to watch the rearview mirror as I drive in case the truck makes a spark and a fire starts.

The plan is pull off to the right, scoot out of the passenger door should that situation happen.

Well, I’m watching the speedometer, the road, my sideview because there’s no rearview and then just before our exit, almost there, almost there-

BOOM!

Tire blows.

I pull off to the side of the road and scoot out.

Soon, I’m riding home with my friend and Googling the tire type for a ’94 F-150.

All the shops are closed because it is Sunday night.

I guess I’m doomed to a fine from the cops for an abandoned vehicle.

Or maybe not.

Wouldn’t you know it, my friend has a trailer’s tire with the exact right lug pattern.

Yes, it will be so skinny compared to the other tires it will practically look like we jammed a bike tire on a truck.

But for one more exit?

Twelve more minutes of driving home?

It should work.

Back home, we grab jacks, blocks, the tire, and head back.

After the roadside tire change, I ease the truck home watching the mirrors and dials with intense paranoia.

After everything, there’s the truck in the front yard, leaking gasoline into a five gallon bucket. Got it home. Just barely.

Tomorrow the real work begins.

To be continued

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