My Birthday Truck – Optimus Not-So-Prime

craig with beater truck
I am now the semi proud owner of not 1, but 2, 1986 beater Ford F150 trucks. I was born in 86, so I feel a connection to these trucks. If I were a truck… the first one looks how I felt when I got out of the military; tired, beat up, and in need of a new heart. This veteran farm truck was with me for a year before it died. The second truck would be the equivalent to if I had started doing meth… when I was 8. That truck is a complete POS, but has a working engine, some great tires, and unlike the farm rig, has a windshield that doesn’t resemble a spider web.

Now how did I come to have my own junk yard starter kit? The “rebuild” of my farm truck ended before it even began a few weeks ago when I found a huge hole in the cylinder block. For those of you who don’t know car parts, (me 6 weeks ago) that means the big piece of metal that makes the car go vroom vroom was broke.
Hole in cylinder wall
This left me with 2 choices; scrap my farm truck, or replace the engine block. I didn’t really want to sink a lot of money into this project, but at the same time replacing the engine would be a really good learning experience. So the craigslist search began.

I found the beater listed for $600, so I called the ad and scheduled to come check it out. The truck was like a Tinder date… it looked way worse in person. My dad helped me inspect it and the engine seemed to meet his approval, but that was about it. It had several parts we could use to doctor up the farm truck (tires, windshield) but the body looked like it had been sitting in front of Babe Ruth’s batting practice. The stock door handle was missing and its replacement had been rigged from a bent strip of sheet metal. As I climbed inside I accidently knocked off the arm rest which was fashioned from an old scrap of 2 by 4. About this time I realized, I didn’t want to pay full price on this truck. Then comes the part I’m not good at, the price negotiation.

Anybody who posts something on Craigslist knows there is an unwritten rule that you never get full asking price, but the honest business person in me hates low-balling people. I know it is part of the dance, but it’s just not me. Luckily I had done copious research in haggling (I watched like 3.5 episodes of Down East Dickering), and went with the best line I’d seen. “What is your bottom dollar on this truck?” Then silence. I wanted him to low ball himself… and bingo.
“I’d like to get $500.”
“I have $500 cash on me right now.”
And just like that, I now had a rusty piece of shit.

The truck was described to have issues with the steering. Not a big deal unless you want to do stuff like, you know, turn. I figured it would be best to tow it just to be safe. My Dad and my friend Brett came with me the following day to tow it, and the truck didn’t fit on the trailer. It was a few inches too short. Story of my life. Brett, who is quite the car enthusiast was there to give me the encouragement I needed. “Just drive it home.” Technically it was drivable, it was merely a safety thing. I turned to my Dad who stood next to me and he gave me his usual ‘I told you that yesterday’ shrug, and it was decided.

My dad hopped in the Beater while I followed him in his Bronco. Things were going well until about halfway through the trip the beater truck died right as we were pulling through an intersection. This typically isn’t a big deal, unless the truck you are driving needs to be jump-started every time, and that the registration tags on said vehicle are expired. Both of which applied to us. We were definitely ridin’ dirty.

My heart was racing. I could just imagine the local sheriff turning the corner at any second. Cut to me with a frowny face as I fork over my birthday card money from grandma to pay the fine. I was determined that the po-po was not going to get me today. Not on my birthday! We pulled his Bronco up on the curb alongside the Beater. I sprang from the truck, popping the hood and had jumper cables hooked up in 90 seconds. The truck fired to life and we were back on the road, Dukes of Hazard style… if the Dukes were a dad and his son, and they drove a broke ass truck instead of the General. (For those who are wondering, yes, at 29 my grandparents still send me birthday money.)

We were almost home when my dad pulled the beater off the side of the road into the drive of an old farm. I followed in suit and jumped out to see what was wrong just in time to hear the engine die. No no no. Not again! “What’s wrong?” I yelled half expecting flames to start bursting from under the hood. We had run out of gas. I guess the seller forgot to mention none of the gauges work. Thanks Charlie.

Luckily we were only 5 minutes from home. I returned shortly with a gas can and filled the tank, but now we had to bleed all the air that had been pumped from the empty fuel tank into the fuel lines. Trucks have a valve under the hood like the one on a bicycle tire to get air out of the gas line so that fuel can once again reach the engine. For my car challenged people, that means it makes it go vroom again.

Finally we got the truck back on the road and parked it at my parents’ house. My dad headed inside to pour himself a drink, while I laughed about our luck, imagining the day when this truck would make it to its final destination, the scrap yard.Craig with engine

Even when everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong, I wouldn’t have my life any other way. It truly was a Happy Birthday.

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