When borrowing a man’s truck…

…or a woman’s, since ours more than ceremonially belongs to Pretty Wife, here are a few things to keep in mind:

When you swing by to pick it up for your apartment move or latest oversized Craigslist acquisition, you won’t find much gas in the tank. If you know something about non-current models, you might take note of the extra filler cap, search the dash and find a little chromed fuel tank selector lever just to the right of the heater controls.

Yes, heater controls — the “heavy half” farm trucks of 1975 didn’t often come with air conditioning and the “defroster” function is pretty laughable, especially given that the fan will start squealing and give up shortly after you first try running it on “FULL.” This won’t really matter, since you’ll need to keep the driver’s window rolled down in order to signal your turns.

The turn signals don’t work (though the emergency flashers do; more on that later). If you don’t know how to perform the simple semaphore of hand signals, brush up before you jump in to drive because it’s worth a ticket if you don’t. If other drivers don’t understand your signals, too bad for them — you’re in a truck; you go where you want. We spent about 300 bucks and some time on re-commissioning the signals a couple of years ago. In a couple more years, they may rise to the top of the “to-do” list again. Or not.

Putting a decent car stereo into the truck that we never lock probably won’t hit the list anytime before “never.” If AM radio is good enough for Rush Limbaugh and the Crystal Cathedral, it’s good enough for you.

What hits the top of the list most often is emergent maintenance. We expect you to tell us if something breaks in service. There are no demerits for this, and of course we’ll come and help out if you get stranded with some simple problem. A few of these “service calls” have included field replacements of the battery, thermostat, voltage regulator, and transmission modulator. The truck also seems to have a voracious appetite for vacuum caps. We keep a few knocking around in the glove box most of the time but if you run out, corking the appropriate passages with a green twig end has worked for us in the past.

Old Green Ford

Old Fords are good for practically anything — except impressing your date.

There ain’t no guarantees, see. If this were U-Haul, we’d feel a fiduciary obligation to make it right for you. But you’re not paying us to borrow the truck (nor are you allowed to), which means the responsibility falls on you. Big boy rules apply — substitute “big girl” as appropriate, even if you’re kinda little but show a lot of heart.

If you run into difficulties that exceed my (very limited) troubleshooting skillz or are more than, say, 50 miles from our house when you experience your special circumstance, “we use and recommend” the AAA RV Plan. Turn on those fine and functional emergency flashers, pop the hood, smile and dial.

If you don’t bring the truck back when you’re done — for whatever no-doubt very compelling reason that is in no way fair or your fault — we’re gonna have us a little problem. See, we expect you to deliver it back safely to our driveway in runnable condition, no matter what that requires of you. Keep this in mind when you smile and reach for the keys.

If you run into a fence post, a drag race you couldn’t win, or a burned-up engine because you couldn’t be bothered to check the oil or coolant and can’t read a gauge or notice a big, red warning light, you’re gonna owe us money. Possibly a lot. Probably more than you think the vehicle’s total value is — to you. You should know right now that if the engine dies on your watch, I’ll be replacing it with a rebuild and that will be at your cost. Will there be a contract stating that? Nope. We rely on your honor and on the fact that we know where you live.

Speaking of maintenance, the transmission won’t go right into gear when you first start it up. Feel free to crank it up and sit there for a moment or two, savoring the fact that you’re about to haul a bigger or dirtier or heavier load than your Saturubaruvrolotasler will conveniently haul. Relax. Get your mind in the game. Smoke ’em if you got ’em. The window’s down anyway, right? But don’t mess up my ashtray. It’s where we stow the drive-thru espresso cards for a homeward-bound treat on those days when chainsawing or mulch shoveling or lumber stacking has kicked us flat.

Inside the cab, you’ll find some work gloves, load straps, trailer hitch slides, log chain and other handy things for running work loads, including a fine and comprehensive first aid kit behind the seat (make note of it — if you weren’t risking injury today, you probably wouldn’t require a truck). You’ll also find a packaged Fel-Pro exhaust gasket set, which I picked up to cure that slapping sound you hear from the iron manifold on the right side, sitting on top of the dashboard, faded almost white. It’s on the list.

There are dog hairs on the seat. We dearly hope you’re not allergic, but they’re family. I know what it’s like to be allergic to family, but one must make accommodations. We expect you’ll understand.

The bed is probably pretty clean, and we’d like to get it back that way. It is certainly not “spotless” unless we’ve recently enjoyed a particularly heavy rainfall, and you should know that we haul everything from oil-dripping vintage motorcycles to crushed rock to alpaca manure back there. You are welcome to use our truck to tote your new, cream-colored sofa across town, but you might want to bring a clean cargo blanket or two.

If you need to take a load to the dump, you’re all set. You’ll find a tarp strapped to the driver’s side of the bed. It’s a good enough tarp to prevent an uncovered load ticket, but check it for alpaca poo if you’re covering anything you want to keep. Tell us what you need for your load and we’ll cheerfully fix you up. There’s a 1,000-lb. lift gate on the back (you’ll want a brief safety primer before you mess with that) and we’ve got a hand truck, assorted shovels and rakes and an industrial shop broom lying around the place. There are solid, LT-rated radials all the way around, but you’ll need to remind me to toss the spare tire into the bed.

But we were talking about gasoline, weren’t we? Right-o. So, that switch next to the heater controls? Go ahead and flip it right away after you crank ‘er up. You’re gonna want to take stock of your fuel. Most likely, it’s practically empty on “MAIN,” and then still practically empty when you switch to “AUXILIARY.” You’ll probably tap the gauge and wonder if it’s broken. After all, the windshield’s cracked and the heater fan is warbling like a loon on a Minnesota lake.

It isn’t. We keep enough fuel in there to get us (or you!) to the nearest gas station, which is half a dozen blocks by road. Do not be deceived by the incredible fuel capacity of a dual-tank truck and confidently set off about your business with the gauge fluttering half a needle width above the “E” line. This truck gets 11.5 mpg on a good day with a tailwind. Or on a bad day going uphill. Or if you pushed it out the back of a C-17 with the engine idling. It gets 11.5 mpg — no better, no worse — and it does NOT have one of those “magic” Toyota fuel gauges that are designed never to hurt your feelings. Like an old, surly horse, this truck will demand to be fed or it will make you walk.

By the way, if you have to walk to 7-Eleven and buy a gas can, please DO NOT bring it back here. We have about 20 of the damned things, most faded to a light, dusty pink. Please to procure one before you leave. Don’t even worry about bringing it back.

Yep, the truck will have gas in it when you leave, but not enough to dine out on and it’s probably old mower gas that I poured in at the end of last season because the truck (unlike the mower) will run on anything from cheap bourbon to lighter fluid to 80LL avgas. It might also be premixed chainsaw fuel. I tell myself the extra oil is good for the valve seats and if not, well, she smokes a bit anyway, especially when cold. Or hot. Or whenever delivering 11.5 mpg.

She should be pretty well warmed up when you get to the gas station — oh, quick safety note: if you notice the front tires locking while the backs just roll (which happens a lot when it’s running up high on the choke, which is a bit sticky so you’ll have to throw ‘er into neutral and boot the accelerator from time to time), then make sure to check the brake fluid as the master cylinder leaks from the rear reservoir; you’ll find brake fluid under the hood alongside the power steering fluid which you should also check if I haven’t done it lately — where you will discover that filling an old truck with latter-day crap fuel is an exercise in hazard management.

Fuel will leak out around the nozzle and drip onto the ground, pretty much no matter how you negotiate the filling process. This is true for either tank, but the problem isn’t with the vehicle. The problem is the fuel. If you drove back into the mid-1970s and filled with the commonly available pump gas on the plain skinny nozzles they had then, it would gurgle happily in. Since that’s not an option today, you can either borrow one of our dozens (!) of faded old gas cans and use it to pour in a gallon or two at a time, or push real hard on the nozzle and try to spill as little as possible. We use and recommend old work shoes…

That’s a real pain in the ass, you might well say. Well, sure it is. Why’d’ya think we didn’t fill it up before you got here? Because it’s a pain in the ass! That, and the fact that it’s managed to make it’s way back to us fifty bucks lighter on fuel than when it left — more than once.

And don’t try bringing her back totally empty and handing over cash instead. Besides the pain in the ass factor, the only way you’re likely to believe how much benzene you burned on your special chore is if you have to hand it over to the unsmiling robot running your personal pump. It’s not my job to explain strategic oil policy, regional pricing, or home economics to you. Hell, come to think of it, it’s not my job to keep a truck around for your personal use, but we don’t really mind unless you start feeling entitled to special service and on-demand availability.

Truck loans are free around here — and worth every penny. The only currency accepted is a demonstration of your personal character. If you want to pony up for the right to have standards for truck performance, U-Haul and the car dealerships are open late, every day.



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  1. Great illustration of the realities of old pickup ownership. Mine isn’t quite that old (it has an 8-track in it) but it’s with yours in spirit. I should give it the new tranny it needs.

    I try to bring pickups back with a full tank. Expensive, perhaps, but not as expensive as renting. And wash out the bed no matter how it looked when I got it. Cuts down on the lender regret.

  2. One of these days, when the eagle shitteth the correct dead presidents, I shall bring it back with *both* tanks full. Please to not be dying of shock, eh? That would entail /paperwork/. Consider this advance warning?

  3. john lowry says

    Sound advice. My friend Paul borrowed my old Ford Stepside to carry some yard debris to the dump, as it has a current dump sticker in it there is now need to pay, just roll through the scales and say “howdy”. As he pulled onto the scale the dump worker said, “this ain’t yur truck is it? That’ll be $8.” My question, Paul you turned off the Hank Williams music and sported that Oregon Ducks cross country running hat huh?

  4. …reminds me.
    I gotta 0730 appointment tomorrow. I’ll be wanting to go out and crank my ol’ beater over, just to be somewhat sure she will. Somewhat.

    Mind if I print your commentary and toss it in the seat, Jack? It’s close enough. ‘Course the ol’ beater has a few different quirks. There is a valve to another tank. There is another tank. The filler access went away when The Boy changed beds. And it bothers the hell out of me when folks just keep repeatedly trying to bang the passenger door shut. Flick the damned door latch up, fer chrissakes.

    Yep, better go out and see if she’ll fire-off.

  5. My Green Truck is merely middle aged at 20 years of service, has different quirks, a mite better gas mileage and smaller bed, but has similar problems with feedings. I may also print this off and toss it on the seat.

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