Well, I can check the bucket list box that reads, “buy an old heap sight unseen, show up and drive it home 500 miles,” now. The mission to go out and get Brutus, the newest addition to the BangShift fleet was not wrought with a ton of drama or unplanned excitement. Sure, there were iron butterflies in my stomach when we pulled out of the hotel on Saturday morning to start racking up the highway mileage on the way back to my eastern Massachusetts home. Why? Mainly because playing the “fetch the old car” game is high stakes poker when the object in question is a truck big enough to swamp a standard issue tow truck and certain parts are starting to look more and more like unobtanium. First things first though, the truck did not blow up and my marriage survived intact.
My wife Kerri was along for this mission. Not wanting to completely freak her out, I’d crack the occasional joke about the truck exploding and us ditching it on the side of the road. It was my subtle way of letting her know some bad junk could go down while we were ambling home. She was along, not because she loves tow trucks or getting her car showered in gear oil, but because my mom and dad in law wanted to take the kids for a night or two. Yes, my wife was thinking this weekend tow truck recovery would have a little dab of romance dialed into it. No screaming boys, no constant cooking meals, just us and the road, at low speed. The gear oil shower would be an added romantic bonus.
The trip out –
The joke between Kerri and I was that her Pacifica would explode long before the truck did. The Pacifica, a car that I have openly hated since about 13 minutes after we bought it, was going to play support/chase vehicle. That being said I needed to load tools, sutff, and most importantly, Goliath’s two outer rear tires (more on why in a couple minutes). The 5,000lb car was probably pushing six by the time I was done loading all my cool and necessary gearhead stuff and then the other important items which were clothing and beer.
The ride to Salamanca, NY where the truck was located was going to be a decent haul in the modern car, even though the modern car is wildly underpowered, over weight, and mildly unreliable. Despite all the tools I had in there, if the Pacifica went down, I wouldn’t be of much help. The car didn’t share a platform with anything else at the time so there’s lots of weird stuff on it that requires specialty tools outside of the normal tow truck fixit stuff which is a demolition hammer and rope.
The 50mph limited speed part was NOT adhered to. We made the ride in a little more than 8.75 hours, including lunch and pee breaks. Kerri and I were in the far reaches of western massachusetts when we saw this truck…
This is a truck that belongs to a sausage factory. It pictures (as you can see) a pig dancing. What kinds of horrible torture are these animals subjected to before being ground into total deliciousness? Moving along…
The ride was pretty scenic. The one thing I remember thinking virtually the whole time was that there sure were a lot of hills and there sure weren’t that many exits the further we got into New York. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that the truck wouldn’t be too happy with long grades, a thought that proved to be true. As the exits got more and more stretched out, I also realized that they were mostly country roads with little to no “stuff” off of them. If the truck took a dump in central NY, it was not going to be easy or cheap to get things mended.
As we closed to within 20 miles of the truck, my phone rang and it was the seller letting me know that he was not going to be there when I got to the truck. He’s a tow truck driver himself and said he had a call to respond to. I didn’t think much of it, then he threw in a, “Oh, you’ll probably have to jump it,” for good measure and my stomach started to turn a little. Was the guy bailing out because he knew the truck was all jacked up? Was the thing even going to run? Onward we pressed.
Arriving at the truck, we found it sitting in a grassy patch on the side of the road. There was some crusted on shoe polish with the word, “SOLD” scribed across the sale price. It looked as advertised with no overt surprises. I tore around the truck for a few minutes before positioning the Pacifica next to it for a jump. After putting the cables on and waiting about 2 minutes, I hit the key and the motor jumped to life, with oil pressure and everything! Once it started I let it sit and idle for about 10 minutes as I crawled around to find major leaks or noises that would indicate imminent disaster.
When that checked out OK, I gritted my teeth, put the clutch in and place the truck into gear. I let the clutch out slowly and it moved freely. As you can see by the photo above, the small patch in front of the tire indicates that it was hanging out there for a pretty long time.
So now I knew it ran and moved. I topped off the brake fluid because the front wheel cylinders are weepy and it was virtually empty, something that mildly freaked me out because I wasn’t sure how severe the leak was. I had Kerri pump the brakes vigorously while I was under the truck to see if it was spraying fluid. It was not, and to my delight I did not have to top off the fluid for the whole ride home.
The main concern on my mind at this point was the tires. I had brought two of Goliath’s large tires as the seller told me the ones on the truck were no good. He was not kidding. Unfortunately, there was not a place to swap the tires safely where the truck sat. I gulped and decided to run the truck the 10 miles to our hotel on the backroads and keep the speeds low to prevent the remains of the tires from flying apart or exploding.
Being ancient bias-ply tires that had sat stationary for a long period of time, those babies were essentially square. The tires were so out of round, I pulled over after the first half mile as I thought there was a problem with the rear end. It was like I was driving with cinder blocks attached to the ends of the rear axle. They rounded out after a little more distance, although I was still not comfortable driving on them, even at low speeds. The good news is that we made it back to the hotel safe and sound, but the truck seemed to have used about a quarter tank of gas to go the 10-15 miles to the hotel. That couldn’t be right, could it?
How bad were the tires? Check this out. It is a miracle they held on for 10 miles to the hotel.
Other than the horrifying tires, things in the truck were otherwise awesome on the ride to the hotel. The transmission is nice and tight, as tight as an SM465 can be. It feels far better than the SM420 in Goliath. First driving impressions were that there was something different in the truck’s gearing than I expected. I had expected that the single speed rear end would be packing the 7.20 cogs that Goliath has, but I quickly found out that a 6.17 gear was living back there. The fact that first gear could actually run to about 7mph was an indication of the taller gear set, also the truck completely falls on its face once it is shifted into third gear. Tugboats would walk this truck on flat ground. Goliath, although it runs out of breath at 57-58mph, gets there in a decent amount of time. Things go from pokey to glacial in Brutus once you push the lever into third. I was pretty nervous for those big hill climbs after feeling the complete lack of umph. The steering is super tight and nice. There is virtually none of the wander and float that Goliath has. The truck can be run down the road with one hand on the wheel and there is no drama involved. Suspension wise, this thing is a Cadillac as compared to Goliath. The big wrecker body certainly softens the ride, and just by the looks of it, this truck has a different spring package than Goliath. Hell, it even has shock absorbers!
Here’s ol Brutus back at the Microtel in Olean, NY resting comfortably for the evening. Microtel, you ask? You get a room slightly larger than a broom closet, but it is clean and about sixty bucks a night. A perfect road trip place to stay.
After a great dinner at a Attard’s restaurant in downtown Olean, NY , we retired back to the executive suite (a room that had to have been about 150 sq/ft) and planned out the morning. I was going to wake up early, get the big tires swapped onto the truck and we would roll onto the highway at about 8am. Man, that sounded like an awesome plan.
The blessing and the curse on these big, old trucks are the tires. In one sense, they make the whole package. In another they weigh a crap ton and are a giant pain in the ass to work with. I hit the hotel parking lot a little after 6am and by the time we were supposed to leave, neither of the tires I had to get off were detatched from the truck. My half-inch breaker bar wouldn’t budge the lugs despite a lot of swearing, curious hotel onlookers, and help from a cool older guy who offered me tools. That guy had a 3/4″ drive breaker bar, but not the right socket to fit the lugs. He left it with me as he went off to a wedding, just asking I would give it back to the front desk when I left. How great is that? The gearhead brotherhood is still alive and well.
Kerri became a Microtel celebrity as she walked though the lobby to check on my progress, she heard a guy say, “There’s the tow truck guy’s wife!” We’re HUGE in Olean, NY!
So, after hours of near vessel popping fury with my little 1/2″ drive bar, I set out to find a socket that would fit the loaner 3/4″ drive bar left for me. I bounced to a couple stores, including one old school auto parts place before being directed to an industrial supply house. I walked in and laid my eyes on a bad mother 3/4″ drive, 44″ handle bar. Forty bucks later I had the bar, a socket and the lug nuts didn’t stand a damn chance. It was smooth sailing from that point and I busted hump to get the tires swapped and the old meats strapped down to the back of Brutus.
With the big tires installed and my trusty wife glaring at both me and the clock, we pulled out of the hotel and hit the gas station to fill up. This would become a frequent ritual for the next 500 miles. I had initially thought that the gas gauge was jacked up because of the way it dropped on the short drive from the truck’s previous home to the hotel. Turns out the gauge is dead nuts accurate. The truck gets roughly 6mpg. With only a 20 gallon tank, that made for frequent stops . I have never driven anything that you could actually glance at the gauge every 30 seconds and see a difference.
The good news is that with the taller gearing and the tall tires, the truck would run along about 62-64mph happily on the flats. There was no tach to read, but with my experience with Goliath, the motor was buzzing along right about 3,000rpm.
Oh, now is the time I should expose the one element of total hackery on the truck that I left in place to see how long it would carry me. The mechanical fuel pump had died on the truck, so the seller had rigged a low volume Mr Gasket electric pump to feed the engine. He had it hot wired to the battery. I wanted to see just how far that little bastard setup would go, so I put the two leads on the battery, the pump whirred to life, and it worked like a Swiss watch the whole way home. I even had a mechanical pump to swap on, but never needed it!
Truth be told, I was nervous as hell. After all, this truck had not done anything like this haul in decades, if ever. The engine had not been run for any sustained period for years and it was going to be run at three-grand for days on end. The first 50 miles were nerve wracking as I waited for something bad to happen. But nothing did. We were steaming east and had set up to convoy with a couple BangShift members through the Binghamton, NY area. Rumbling under a highway overpass, we spied a bad ass Pontiac GTO sitting on the side of the road. It roared to life as we passed by and a feeling of relieved happpiness came over the whole scene. The calvary had arrived! If something went sideways now, we at least had some backup.
A few miles up the road, we spotted a blacked out Crown Vic Police Interceptor. That car belongs to another BS member who joined us as the fourth vehicle in the slow moving convoy.
Coming through Binghamton, we encountered the first of the several grades we would pull on the ride home. I hit the base of the climb at a screaming 65mph and by the time I made the top, the motor was getting warm, I was in third gear and my eyes were glued on that temp gauge. It plummeted back into the happy zone as soon as I crested the top, but it sure got me sweating a little. On the next gas stop I noticed a trickle of coolant running down the center of the block. Hmmmm….head gasket or cracked block? Oh well, no time to worry about something trivial like that. We got miles to cover!
Other than some close calls with the overheating situation, which actually pegged the gauge all the way over on the Mass Pike at one point, the rest of the ride to home was uneventful. It was expensive and slow, but eventful. I drove straight over to my mom and dad in law’s to scoop up my two missing intrepid companions. They were super stoked to see the truck and their expression in this photo, pretty well sums it up.
One of the major positives of the trip is that the front end of the Pacifica will never rust. Brutus was puking a fair amount of gear oil out of the axle vent and since Kerri was following right behind me, the car got bathed in it. Not only was it a slimey mess, it also smelled like shit to boot.
So after being home for about 12 hours, it was time to swap all the good rubber off of Goliath and onto Brutus. We used this as the first excuse to lift junk up with the truck!
So that’s that. The truck has been home for a couple weeks, and I have been driving it a bunch with the boys riding shotgun. It still runs like a thirsty top. As far as wrenching on it, I have basically adjusted the idle and that’s about it. Even the ghetto rigged electric fuel pump is still in place, but that will be gonzo this weekend.
This is a must do type trip for anyone that bleeds gasoline. It was fun as hell, just grueling enough, and the anticipation of expecting the unexpected was really awesome. Now that we have done 500 miles, it may be fun to try and find a car 1,000 miles or more away to limp home. Hmmmmmm……