The other day I received a wonderful message from amazing artist Neil Hannum on Instagram. He wanted to draw Betsy in all her glory from a picture I took in Gallup, NM in front of the El Rancho Hotel. I was thrilled, to say the least. I’ve been interested in an illustration of Betsy for a while now and to have an artist I admired come forward and be interested in such a project from their own end was so incredible, and inspirational, and validating as well!
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Neil also asked me to write a poem for the piece, and I obliged:
An old Ford truck
Will never get stuck
In any place
You cannot embrace.
Hit the open road, rely on luck.
To see more of Neil’s work, check out his Instagram. If you want to purchase some of his original art you can find that on his Etsy store. You can also commission him to illustrate your rig in the same style!
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But before I could even do that, we realized that I didn’t have the right gear oil in my tranny. So I did my first transmission oil change before I had even put the transmission to use. Check.
After having so much trouble with the flywheel and clutch assembly, I was terrified of actually putting the transmission back in the truck. I was scared I was gonna mess something up, brake something, not align something, or make any number of newbie mistakes that would set me back months.
As I was aligning the input shaft to go through he clutch assembly I made many frantic texts to friends far and wide. Making sure I was doing it right with the rugged set up I had of an uneven and tilted drive way and a cheap Harbor Freight transmission jack that would periodically not work for who knows what reason.
I experienced new levels of stress induced TMJ with every turn of the wrench on each nut and bolt to draw the transmission deeper into the engine. With every rotation I felt like something was going to shatter somehow.
Magically, nothing went wrong, even though I was expecting the worst. The transmission was in and now the home made linkage the previous owners made up had to be attached. We ended up just slapping it up there without being able to test it until we got the new u-joints and the drive shaft installed.
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Crust Master Evan helped me instal the new u-joints on my old driveshaft and I greased them up. I had a grand old time. I was so close now to driving Betsy for the first time in six months. All that was left to do was connect the clutch linkage and see if my baby would properly shift into gear with the engine cranking.
Being able to shift gears, turns out, is pretty important…
After we took the old engine out and tucked it away in the depths of my garage, we put the “new” engine in the driveway. We had to take some of the parts from the old engine and put them on the “new” one so it would connect properly into Betsy. We took off the thermostat housing, the water pump, and the bracket for the generator, cleaned them and put them on the new engine.
After that was done the next steps were to put on the flywheel and the new clutch assembly. We figured out that the flywheel from the “new” engine was 9.5 inches while the clutch kit that I got was for a 10 inch flywheel which is what was on the old engine. However, I only found this out after trying to put the new clutch kit on to the 9.5 inch flywheel, after taking it to get resurfaced.
After finally getting the right flywheel resurfaced, and watching several hours of YouTube videos, I figured out how to get the clutch assembly on there. I put blue Loctite on all the bolts, used the star pattern to tighten, centered the clutch with the alignment tool, and as I was torquing the last possible bolt to the proper amount, the half-a-century bolt broke on me.
I had to take the whole clutch assembly off again to get that stupid bolt out of there. For the record, that bolt broke the Harbor Freight extraction kit bought to get it out. I promptly returned it, obviously. After drilling into it with everything we had and getting it our, we saw that we had hit the threads. I thought I had to find a machine shop that would fix it for me, but it turns out all they had to do was throw a Helicoil in there and call it a day.
However easy this may seem, that, it was not. After going through so many ups and downs with one project you begin to lose it. You lose your excitement, you lose your confidence, you lose your resolve to make anything happen at all. The smallest thing makes you want to throw in the towel and quit. This is the moment when you make a decision. This is the moment that really defines what you are made of. And however much you can imagine yourself in that situation, you definitely don’t know how you will act when you get there yourself. You can pretend that you’re the toughest mother effer out there, but until you’re faced with a constant stream of obstacles that beat you down to a pulp, you just don’t know.
To get through it all, I had to learn to see every failure as a positive. There is something about this project that I just can’t give up on. No matter if logically it all seems like everything is pointing towards me quitting, I just can’t stop. And so far, even in the worst of times, Betsy has only brought the best people into my life. That’s a lesson I will take to my grave.
Sometimes you don’t know how or why something will affect you until you experience it. This has happened to me several times on this trip already.
Last Thursday I crossed into Arizona from California and in the middle of the bridge I saw the mile 0 mark and every emotion I’ve ever had and then some hit me all at once. I pulled off at the first exit and took this picture.
I didn’t expect for that to hit me as hard as it did, but there’s something about crossing into a new state in a vehicle that you didn’t know was ever going to run that really hits you. As big rigs were whizzing by I tried really hard to get a grip but then I realized that this might be the first time Betsy was ever in Arizona.
I’ve had this dream for so long, and I’ve pictured it, and planned it, and visualized it for the majority of this year. But I’m doing it now, I really am doing it. And it’s going even better and more magical than I could have ever planned for. It’s almost hard to believe it’s real because of how phenomenal it has already been.
From the California/Arizona border I took a stunning sunset drive on the Oatman Highway, which was an incredibly exhilarating experience. As soon as I was out of those mountains, I wanted to turn around and do it all over again. However, I had plans to spend the night in Kingman with my friend Shawna’s family, who just happened to live there. They welcomed me like I was one of their own children. They fed me dinner, gave me a bed to sleep in, and a bathroom to get clean in. It was an incredible way to spend my first night in a new state. Shawna’s mother, Isabell, not only made me an incredible breakfast in the morning, but also loaded me up with a whole bunch of road snacks to keep me going, many of which I’m still eating almost a week later!
In Kingman, I stopped by a dollar store and stocked up on some essentials (toothpaste and trash bags) and an AutoZone (which was the biggest AutoZone I had ever seen) to get some Lucas Oil Stabilizer, which came highly recommended by Dan from Blackbird Ranch. After the essentials were checked off, I headed back down towards the mother road to check out the Route 66 Museum and also a short side trip to a older part of Route 66 from the 1920s and 30s.
I pushed through Hackberry (where I had a lovely lunch of tuna, crackers, a cheese stick and Route 66 Black Cherry Soda), Valentine, and Crozier. I was sailing pretty smoothly until my oil pressure light suddenly turned on.
And here I was at the side of the road with my first real break down of the trip! I was so excited! I was finally a real adventurer, vagabond, Instagram person! I had been looking forward to this moment and it was glorious. I was miles away from the interstate, I was in the middle of Route 66, and the sun was setting in the most beautiful pink and purple colors. It was beyond perfect.
It wasn’t long before a local hero, David, spotted me in his super clean looking mustard yellow Chevy C10. He offered to help, and at the time I thought Bets had just lost some oil because she’s old and leaky and the oil level was pretty low when I checked it. I added some of the Lucas Oil Stabilizer (Dan, really knew what he was talking about, unsurprisingly), tightened up the oil pan bolts, and drove her down a couple miles but the light stayed on. That is when I really started to get worried. I called my truck dad, Evan, he wisely told me to check the wires for the oil pressure switch, maybe it was just an electrical issue. And that’s when I saw that Betsy was spewing oil from the switch itself real bad. Like Monty-Python-tis-but-a-flesh-wound bad.
Again, local hero David came to my rescue to check up on me, even thought I was already a couple miles down the road. He told me that he knows a guy and he happens to be only a few miles away in Truxton.
We roll up just as it gets dark and this guy is closing up shop. He takes one look a me and Betsy and he knows exactly what to do. He hands we a wrench with a socket and tells me to take that oil pressure switch out. Betsy pukes a bit of oil to mark her spot. He hands me another switch that would plug the hole so oil doesn’t leak out but it’s not going to be helpful if I have an actual oil pressure problem. He tells me to just drive it and when I get to Flagstaff to find the right part. And that was that.
The entire time I never felt scared. Just when I would start to get minutely worried, a wonderful human would pop up and have a solution to whatever I was dealing with. If I were to try and plan a Betsy breakdown on the road, I couldn’t have planned a better one. Getting on the ground, with oil dripping, while the sun is setting is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. The entire time I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be at every moment. That’s what I believe they call Route 66 magic.
Once Betsy was plugged up nice and good I drove through to Seligman where my friend Ian had magically arranged a great overnight parking situation for me behind the Delgadillos’ legendary Route 66 souvenir and barber shop. Angel Delgadillo is pretty much the reason people still know Route 66 even exists, so getting to stay behind it was an incredible and memorable treat. By the time I got to Seligman, I was wiped out. I made myself some ramen, scarfed it down, and passed out to the sounds of trains going by.
And that there was my first full day on the road completely on my own. There was no part of it that could be been better or more perfect and wonderful.
After what will now be known as the infamous Oil Pan Tragedy of 2017, I knew I needed some serious help. Much, much, much more serious.
My mom coincidentally found out that one of her co-workers, Evan, had a 1956 Ford truck. She was clearly very worried about me. She wouldn’t trust that I could fix all the problems on this truck myself safely, rightly so. She somehow got this poor soul to come over and check Betsy for any possible trouble spots while I was hiding in the desert crying about my transmission woes. I’m sure she bribed him with her gluten free cooking. From that moment on Evan knew he would be spending long weekends working on Betsy and he surly regretted ever saying yes to coming over that one fatefull day.
Luckily for me, Evan turned out to be the best truck dad ever. When we realized the engine Betsy came with was completely dead, he got on the ol’ Craiglist machine and started searching for any options that could be viable for Betsy. He scoured high and low, like some sort of internet bloodhound, and he found a straight 6 223 engine out of a 1959 Ford Galaxie that someone was selling in the San Fernando Valley for $300. Evan, being the hero that he is, pushed me to go for it. At the time I was considering dropping $1500 for an engine rebuild on the old engine. Somehow Evan knew that parting with $1500 wouldn’t happen so easily for me. He decided to offer me a deal, one I could not pass up. We went halfsies on the $300 ($150 from him, $150 from me) and if we dropped this engine into Betsy and it didn’t run, he would take the hit and have a new fun project on his hands. If it ran, I’d pony up the $150 and have a running engine in Betsy for a grand total of $300.
We met at my house early on a Saturday morning and set off in a rental Jeep Compass (Graciously provided by my step-dad), to the Valley. Once we got close to the promised land of I6 223 engines, I realized I had to stop by my bank to get the mullah. I missed the turn and we ended up behind a non descript office building. As if by magic, a bunch of old plywood that was carpeted on one side appeared behind the alley. It was meant to be. We quickly stuffed it in the back of that lame Compass and peeled out, pretending we had just robbed a bank.
We drove up to our destination and there was a lot of good signs. These dudes had that sweet little Galaxie sitting right out front of their huge garage. The pulled out the engine and it looked clean! It had a new oil pump, new Pertronix coil and distributor! Evan noticed that right away and knew we had scored a pretty great deal. Somehow we got it into that stubby Jeep Compass and headed back to Long Beach.
And they day was only just beginning!
Evan’s magical powers of summoning things just as when we need them were not done yet. We managed to get in touch with his buddy who had an engine lift which we needed to get the “new” engine out of the Compass, and the old engine out of Betsy. So we set off on another mini road trip to Huntington Beach in my mom’s RAV4 (or RAD4, more like) to procure that instrument of grace and precision.
We got back and we wrenched and wrenched. And then we wrenched some more. It got dark, and we continued to wrench. We finally got the engine out and called the day a win.
Between rebuilding the transmission we decided to do some basic maintenance, like any responsible owner of a crust bucket. Put in new spark plugs, replace the fuel filter, check the fluids, do an oil change, and replace gaskets.
Or so I thought.
Cool, let’s start by taking down the oil pan to change that gasket and do an oil change as well! Exciting when you can hit two birds with one stone. So we take down the damn oil pan and this is what is what we find:
Turns out that big old clanking sound wasn’t the transmission at all. It was the connecting rod from the 2nd cylinder that fell apart and was just banging around in the bottom of that oil pan like that. So, that’s great.
What probably happened was the bearing on that rod was installed wrong, or there was a piece of dirt that got caught between it and it spun out and the engine ate it up. The bearing was non existent at the point we found it. The spun bearing probably cause those two bolts to vibrate off and that’s how that connecting rod fell apart.
So at this point I’m half way through my transmission rebuild and I realize that now I may need an engine rebuild as well.
Luckily I had made some friends in some low places…
After I opened up my transmission I decided to follow the shop manual step by step to continue to take the whole thing apart.
I needed to get the roll pin out to drive the countershaft out of the case so it would be easier to take off all the gears one by one. At least this is what the book told me to do. For a month or so I tried to drive out that damn roll pin, but it only got more jammed between the idler shaft and wouldn’t come out. This means I couldn’t get the countershaft out either. At this point, I was almost defeated by this little cast iron box of gears.
After taking a break and running away to the desert for a week I came back feeling refreshed and ready to outsmart this project. With my tiny hands and with a lot of finagling I was able to tilt the output shaft and gears in such a way that let me wiggle them off and out of the case.
Now with the out put shaft and input shaft out of the case I needed to find someone with a press so I could press off the old bearing and press on the new ones. A press would also be helpful to get that damn countershaft out as well so I could properly clean out all the metal pieces from the broken bearing from the bottom of the case. I had some major help from a few dudes who used the shop at their place of employment to get all of that done for me. This was incredibly helpful and a bit terrifying but all that mattered was that it was done!
Once I cleaned everything in some industrial strength degreaser it was time to rebuild. With the much needed help and encouragement from my friend Martin, we put it all back together in about 6 hours and took some pretty great boomerangs of it all. We replaced all the synchro rings, snap rings, and spacers that came in my rebuild kit. We didn’t need to replace any gears, except for the speedometer gear, since they all looked pretty good. I finished up the project the following weekend after managing to borrow a torque wrench to get everything properly tight and sealed up.
Now the only thing left to do is to put her back on to an engine that actually runs…
Betsy ran pretty good for the first three weeks of our brand new relationship. I learned to drive manual with her and we were really spending quality time bonding together every single day. I drove her to a few places around town, and I felt it was time to take her on a bit of a longer trip on the freeway.
As I was driving her around the block to get ready there was a terrible grinding, banging sound and as I got her back to my house there was loud pop as my heart stopped beating.
I was no expert, but something was definitely terribly, terribly wrong.
As I tried to figure out what went wrong, there were many theories. It was the engine, a pushrod maybe? Something wrong with one of the cylinders? The transmission? The pilot bearing in the clutch?
As I opened up different parts of the engine and looked at them like I knew what I was doing, I decided with the guidance of some pretty knowledgable opinions that it seemed like we needed to look at the transmission up close and personal. So we took that baby outta there.
We noticed that the front input bearing was cracked and the ball bearings inside had chewed up the cage that was holding them apart. Which meant that there were shards of this metal cage just chillin’ in my tranny which, for the newbies out there, is not so great.
This is how my first ever car project ended up being a transmission rebuild.
When I first started looking for a truck I didn’t know what I was going to find. I looked at everything from tiny 90s Toyotas to beaten up Broncos to big old F250s with V8 engines. In the end though I came to the realization that if I’m going to make such a large purchase which I plan on investing so much time into, it better be something I really really love.
I ended up buying the oldest truck I could find. A 1963 Ford F100 with a sweet little straight 6 223 engine.
I found her on Craigslist in Rancho Cucamonga, California (which is amusingly located on Route 66). Her previous owners had put in a lot of work on her before she came to me but she still needed more before she was going to head out for the trip of both our lifetimes.
Her quirks are many, for a start, her bed is actually from a different year all together. The Ford trucks from 1963 all received the bed from previous years because of some sort of fault with the design of their unibody trucks and surplus of truck beds from previous years, as I found out after some research. Sometimes the emergency flashers come on, however there’s no switch for her to even have emergency flashers. When her lights are on, the right turn signal just stays on and doesn’t flash like it should, but works fine when the lights are off. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Within the 4 months of owning her I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned a lot about her, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself as well. To own something this old, that comes from a different time, really puts your grit, character, and determination to the test. I cannot be afraid of the challenges she will surly put in front of me, but overcoming them will feel more incredible than anything I’ve ever experienced before. It’s a cliche, but it really is about working to fix something that’s broken to love for many many years, instead of throwing it out and getting a new to play with every year.
To quote the song which gave Betsy her name, “She may be rusted iron, but to me she’s solid gold.”