Quick! Take a picture while they’re still clean!
Today was a painful day on a couple of counts, but the Mighty Furd is now mechanically ready to handle the future Intrepid truck camper. The bed has yet to be cleared, but something stood out recently which impressed upon me that it was time to replace the original shock absorbers, which have crossed over the 80K-mile mark. This is normally easy to diagnose on a softly-sprung vehicle, but it gets progressively more difficult as spring rates go up.
I’d long ago noticed that the rear axle was twisting under power, a trait called “axle hop”. That’s when you apply power on a poor-traction surface, and the rear axle immediately begins jumping around, shaking the rear of the vehicle. That is a trait of leaf spring suspensions that’s tough on the rear U-joint, but I’ve lived with it for quite awhile, being careful to shift into 4WD-High as soon as it began. As originally delivered, no such trait existed, the axle staying steady as a rock. In fact, given the engine’s bottom-end torque, the only way to tell that you didn’t have traction was that the truck was not moving as quickly as it should for a given throttle setting. With one shock mounted in front of the axle and the other behind, such shenanigans are prevented.
The other tell-tale trait stood out with new vigor when I eased slowly over a speed bump at a border crossing on my way to Prescott to see the new Granby. I’d noticed that the front end kept bouncing a few times some 20,000 miles ago, but this recent event was positively embarrassing. The considerable weight penalty of the diesel engine exaggerates it, there for all to see. Is it possible to be shamed into new shocks? Time to make an appointment.
This was driven home on the winding pavement along route 89 just short of Prescott, which is sports car territory. On this twisty patch of asphalt, the Ford’s springs are too stiff to allow much lean, but the sensation of rubbing all the shoulder rubber off the front tires is there. The tall, squirmy tread on the Coopers certainly doesn’t help any here, but things just weren’t right for such a foray.
I’ve driven low-speed autocross in my misspent youth, and this section of 89 was somewhat similar. There was a certain rhythm that the pavement wanted, kind of a smooth touch of brake, dive in, find the apex within the constraints of one lane, and throttle briskly out of the exit to prep for the next turn. One might reason that, hey, a tall, heavy 4WD pickup truck is no sports car, but as delivered, the Mighty Furd was (astoundingly) the full equal of a then-new Mazda RX8 quasi-sports car I had, at least for pulling steady-state G’s. And that had sticky tires. The Mazda’s weight let itself be known at the same speed as the Super Duty, and the latter still had just a little more suds left. I kid you not. Sure, the physics make it impossible, but the speedo doesn’t lie.
So here I was on 89 with a nice couple in some kind of nondescript Toyota sedan in back of me. It’s not like I was going to try to lose him, but simply hold my end up so that the end of the thing could eventually come calling. It’s a respectability thing. You don’t want to be the slowpoke creeping along in the water wagon, but the Ford wasn’t having it. Goosing the throttle and dabbing the brakes went okay – I even chugged away on some of the uphill sections, but those long turns were excruciating. I was thankful to come upon a widened passing section so he could go on about his business. Last straw. I wasn’t heartened by some clown in a clapped-out Toyota truck-with-cap lurching around a turn headed in the opposite direction. He was doing the TV version of Kojak, well off the proper line and very nearly skidding over into my lane as he did his impression of driving fast. The goal is to be brisk and competent, not threatening other traffic.
The truck was struggling, and loading 1,500 pounds of aluminum into the bed wasn’t going to help. Time for shocks all around. That was finally accomplished today, and in 1972 dollars, the cost was a bit traumatic. I chose old-school shocks that are stiff and stay that way, as opposed to the more sophisticated (and more expensive) sensor-type shocks that try to go limp on smooth roads, and then firm up on bigger bumps. I want control, not a smooth ride. That can’t happen with such stiff springs, anyhow. Once they removed the defibrillator paddles and I hit the road, I found the end result to be a relief. She’s back to normal, such as you may choose to define that.
A problem I spotted on arriving home is a concern. I’d gone to the local LTVA camping area to visit, made a tight turn to get on the paved road, and found that a metal sawhorse was hidden under my passenger window. Never saw it as I idled around almost 150 degrees at full lock. It flopped over, I noted the scratch in the paint in the door (since patched), and set the thing back up again. Back at the ranch, I noticed a slice in the sidewall of the right rear tire. It’s down to the cords in some spots, so now I’m ruminating on the most appropriate all-weather substance to seal it off again. It’s so dry here that I have a little time, and if I can seal off the cords from air in a timely way, I won’t have to worry about rust or rot of the cords. There’s still heaps of tread left, so making a game try of it can prevent considerable heartache later. I know what you’re thinkin’, Virginia: duct tape, and I even have some in black! I’m gonna keep looking though. Might call the tire dealer tomorrow. He might have an opinion on that black goop they use around patching plugs.
[Update: a local tire dealer who specializes in retreads and vulcanizing for the local ag folk took a look at it and said, “Nope, don’t worry about it. It’s not down to the cords. That just a surface rubber cut. Not a problem. Doesn’t make any difference.” That simplifies my life a bit! I was a bit confused when I pulled in, as they had a ton of people at picnic tables under a huge permanent canopy, and wandering around masses of pickups scattered all over. Piles of BBQ’d meats, the works. It was customer appreciation day. They know how to do it right. My son does a different form of the same thing for his business, so maybe he’s onto something there.]