Archive for the 'vantruck' Category

 

Operation ENDURING BROWN: To Kill a Unicorn; The FITech EFI Installation Horror Picture Show

Jun 29, 2017 in vantruck

And we’re back! This is a special edition of Big Chuck’s Auto Body Center, and it’s one which is super special to me because it represents the largest systemic rework and installation I’ve ever done on a vehicle: Vantruck is now no longer carbureted; instead, it has a FITech EFI system. No more massaging unicorns to try and get the thing to run right!

Being a car-thing, the process was rife with what I call “tribal knowledge” – the “go on this forum and ask these people / read this thread” kind of Do You Know a Muffin Man documentation which I absolutely dread. As someone who isn’t a car guy by history, I once again found myself in the position of potentially saving hours of testing and debugging which would have been more intuitive to someone who’s worked on automotive systems extensively, or if the manual & official documentation had been more complete.

So that’s why I’m going to write this down in excruiciating detail, because I know I’ll forget half the reasons why I did something in a few months, and plus now so can you. I really hope to clear up some of the mysticism around the product by putting it in long form with my own analytics. To skip the opening movie and go directly to the installation and tuning, click here. And my summary of the install here.

The story begins with this:

Hey, if you ever wondered how a muffler works, there it is! They’re deceptively simple inside. While I’ve seen the diagrams and videos explaining how they work, that still isn’t the same as seeing…. your own…. up close.

That is the result of an epic afterfire. What led up to it was about 10 minutes or so of completely normal operation as I headed to help a friend move apartments (“Yes! Finally a reason to justify the ownership of a 21ft long dually truck in Boston!”). There after, it suddenly started running extremely rich, very quickly. I’d put a link to explain those terms here, but the top hundred Google results or so are all “How do I tell if my engine is running lean or rich?” followed by dozens of car bro comments on debugging carburetors.

The bottom line is loss of power, black smoke out of the exhaust and all, followed by the onset of puffs and pings as pockets of unburnt fuel ignited in the exhaust system. And then it exploded.

Did I mention I was in rush-hour traffic? So besides farting black smoke on people, I just grenaded the muffler surrounded on all 4 sides by probably grimacing tech/biomed workers wondering which flyover state I drove in from. And then it caught on fire.

You see, the muffler is positioned sort of directly inside of the frame rails, and when it opened up, it did so towards the frame rails. Fresh hot exhaust gases and probably gasoline droplets began cooking the frame. Right next to the opening, as it turns out, was the forward bed mount rail with its rubber bushings. Which proceeded to catch on fire and billow more smoke.

So now I’m in the middle of rush hour and smoke is emanating from under the truck. I pull the most illegal possible U-turn over the median (because who is going to stop me?) and rolled into a shopping center. At this point I didn’t know where the smoke was coming from, but I was paranoid about the forward fuel tank being involved, so I ran into a restaurant and demanded a fire extinguisher because there was now a burning vehicle in their parking lot. They happily obliged, and I puffed the bushing out.

I had Vantruck towed back (by the same dude as before, no less) later that night after deciding it was not going to make it back to base with the muffler still pointing at the same spot.

And then I straight piped it. Hey, inspections aren’t for another few months! You can see the crystalline residue from the compressed water extinguisher’s output, which smelled like vinegar and had the appearance of green coolant, and a little bit of charred wiring that leads to the running board lights. Behind the wire and barely visible are the cooked rubber mounts.

Luckily, my extra thicc steel slats that mount the bed appear to have kept the fire underneath for the most part, and there was no significant damage to the bed that I could see. The event all went down after the muffler bomb in about a minute, so I’m fairly sure the frame isn’t heat-damaged, just the rubber mount and my pride.

I resolved that day to never deal with carburetors again. I didn’t even bother looking at it or taking anything apart, because the next time I opened the hood, it was getting removed completely. I don’t care how whisperable they are, I’ll take an inferior performing system for consistency over something which requires constant jiggling and knob turning. What if that randomly decides to happen in the middle of Detroit?

Yeah, yeah, I’m a Mechanical Engineer and all, shush. I’m pretty convinced that emissions laws ruined carburetors, turning them from simple mechanical devices to complex vacuum-this valve-that nonsense…. and Vantruck’s carburetor belongs squarely in the latter category. When the magic gas-dispensing unicorns get that bad, they’re going to get euthanized.

Which brings us to….

the install

YEEEEAAAHHH. One of the first things I did when I got back to the shop was start scouring eBay and Craigslist for nearby EFI rigs. I had been investigating this as a stopgap option between caburetion and my electric install (The dream is still alive). The Holley Sniper, Fitech GoEFI, and MSD Atomic TBI were all on my list, and appeared to share similar functions.

I found a single listing in New Hampshire for the Fitech full kit, including the miniature nuclear reactor on the left, a high-pressure fuel pump and sump, all for 1K, making the Fuel Command Center basically free. Sure, why not!

I was on the fence before, but this event pushed me over the edge. Right now I can’t have a half-taken-apart project vehicle, so when that day comes, I’ll sell the whole powertrain to make that cost back if need be. The explosion went down on Friday, and I was on the road Monday to pick up the unit. Because fuck everything, especially careburetors.

Here we go! I picked out the following Saturday to get as much of it installed as I could. First order of business was mounting the nuclear reactor. Seriously, what else does it look like!? From doing research after I bought it, this device seems to have overheating issues, so mounting it was a tradeoff. I didn’t want to stick it under the body, since I’d then have to run new high-pressure rated fuel hosing up to the engine bay (almost all of the existing connections and hoses were designed originally for low pressure pumps). And under the hood was convenient for those reasons, but next to the engine seemed to be a no-no.

I found a spot on the drivers’ side just behind the headlight. There is a round cutout with direct grille access for moving air. I’d just have to relocate one of the horns, which I did by mounting it to the same stud as its brother.

 

The reactor mounting bracket is secured by a single overtightened 5/16″ bolt sandwich with lockwashers and regular washers of incrementing sizes.  What, did you expect me to engineer a decent mount when I had access to unbridled mechanical terrorism instead?

 

The FCC installed and initially plumbed. This reactor thing is supposd to be a ‘returnless’ system, so it should only have one low-pressure input fuel line. It has a vent hose connection which is supposed to go back to the fuel tank. I just connected it to the Return port of the magic fuel tank switching valve anyway, since obviously it would need to vent to the same tank it’s drawing from.

Don’t talk to me or my son ever again.

This removal was fairly simple. I undid the throttle cable (which was a ball joint… I’d never seen this before, since Mikuvan’s throttle cable ends in a pinch lock like a bike), unfastened the fuel line, vapor collector lines, and random vacuum lines, and then loosened the 4 nuts retaining the whole carb.

The problem was that I now had a mess of vacuum lines. A lot of research let me to find that the majority of these control emissions-related functions – some are heat-triggered, some are manifold vacuum triggered, and so on. Well, good thing Vantruck is emissions exempt in Massachusetts, because I’m never going to hook these back up. I capped every vacuum line I could find that wasn’t the distributor; other vacuum functions like the transmission modulator and brake booster had their own direct-to-manifold fittings.

The next job was to transfer over the throttle lever. I did this figuring that nobody made the ball joint that was on the thing, and since it was riveted in, I’d have to salvage the entire linkage (which is ALSO riveted/stamped in). Come on, people.  I used an angle grinder to carefully shave the stamped connection and pulled the lever off.

Later that day, I found the ball joint on the shelf at Pep Boys. Ah well…

Here is the lever installed and both of the throttle flaps connected. The secondary linkage connection point (to the right of the big nut) is at a bad spot to be effective. This arrangement would really only let the secondary open about 45 degrees. I may play with it later, but I’d rather run on 1 barrel and a pony keg forever than keep trying to get all four barrels in on the action.

And back on we go. The little ball chain is the connection point for the cruise control vacuum actuator (Crap, I should go check if that still works…)

Continuing the “plug the vacuum line” game after hooking up the new fuel hose, which I synthesized from the fittings provided in the kit and some sections of 5/16″ EFI-rated fuel hose from Pep Boys. The High pressure side was now plumbed.

Next, I dove under to route the oxygen sensor. The kit has a wideband O2 sensor with a provided clamp-on bung, so installation was simple with a step drill. That exhaust pipe looks rusty, but it’s all surface and still has reasonable wall thickness all-around. I installed this as close to the Y-point of the exhaust manifold downpipes as I could stuff the drill, since the transmission was still behind me.

I’m told that the clamp mount is less secure and more prone to leaking than welding it. I’ll check on this thing periodically, but I’m not busting out a welder. Remember, if I play my cards right, it will be Tesla powered in a year or two and all of this internal combustion hogwash is leaving. Keep the dream alive.

The vacuum line plugging game continues at the back. Most of these are now vapor collection lines. Since all of that has been rendered obsolete by fuel injection, I also went ahead and removed all of the control valves which formerly led to the carburetor too. The only connections to the vapor system I’m aware of now is the fuel tank. Maybe if this affects operation, I’ll find which line went to the purge control system and hook them back up. Until then, rot in hell, stupid vacuum bullshit.

The thick cable coming out of the TBI unit is the O2 sensor cable, which was just long enough to reach the spot I ended up drilling at, with something like less than an inch of slack. Yay!

Another vacuum-powered accessory to go was an air intake diverter plate. It opens and closes based on temperature – when the engine is cold, it pulls from near the exhaust manifold which heats up quickly, helping warm the intake air. When the engine warms up, it intakes from the front of the grille. Well guess who’s forever intaking from the front of the grill now!?

Vacuum powered this, vacuum powered that. Seems like the better these trucks ran, the more they sucked.

This yellow thing was connected to a coolant bung next to the water pump – it seems to be the thermal switch which lets the temperature-dependent emissions ratchets and clanks access the manifold vacuum. It went away so I could locate the TBI unit’s water temperature sensor there instead, and all of its connected lines were plugged. I’m sure I’ve plugged the same circuit multiple times now. I don’t care.

 

Performing final hose routing… I labeled literally everything, even if it’s supposed to be dead obvious. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from working on silly vans, it’s that nothing is obvious the way I’d like it to be, and That Doesn’t Mean It Works.

 

I wired in the fuel pump with the provided Big Red Wire and my own section of ground wire, which was tied to the frame nearby.

One random thing I found was the underhood light being directly connected to the battery positive, through a fusible link. Now hold on…. there is no way this wasn’t someone’s random hack. Why would you connect a light bulb directly, unswitched, to the battery!? I figure this must be why the underhood light socket was empty – because otherwise, you’d have a light bulb draining your battery constantly!

I tied this circuit away as I cleaned up the battery-side wiring for powering the ECU. It may…. return some day?

The next wire to be installed is the ignition sensing wire. I’m setting up the system in “easy mode” since I am not inclined to take apart the distributor to lock out the centrifugal and vacuum advance system (good explanations starting about 60% down the page). Since the engine ran great (when it wasn’t shitting itself), I figured all the timing components were adjusted correctly already.

I wanted electronic timing control, of course, but it seems like this was one aspect which wasn’t self-learning, and I would actually need a dynamometer to really take advantage of it to get the maximum performance possible. Hey, you know what else makes this thing haul ass? Two Tesla motors!

So at this point I had ECU power, oxygen sensor, coil sense, and fuel pump. The last thing to do now is the ignition key swich. There wasn’t a good exposed point to do this cleanly at, so I spliced it in line with the associated ignition module wire. That yellow push-on connector, also fitted to my other wire splices, won’t be there forever. Just for the first run, since it’s not very vibration proof.

And it’s ALIVE! Well, partially. This is really where the fun began, and the whole activity began to remind me of tuning a custom 3D printer: You have to perform a multi-variate gradient descent kind of optimization of several variables at once, from a baseline configuration.Everything is changeable, so you can actually arrive at the same result from different directions with different end settings. And there is not a single correct answer. Kind of like building silly go-karts!

This process really took me longer than the install itself (which the advertised 3-5 hours, by the way, is utter bullshit but I’ll get to that!) and occurred over a few days of road testing and annoying the neighbors in the parking lot.

the problems

First, I had trouble getting it started at all. It would crank for 15-20 seconds at a time, and then very begrudgingly begin to idle. I couldn’t tell if it wasn’t getting enough fuel (too lean) or too much (too rich, engine being flooded). Being that my initial few pulls were at night, I couldn’t see if the exhaust was emitting dark smoke (too much fuel). Some times, when it did start and run, it would then idle well.

Other times, the screen would go blank and the ECU would reset, cutting the ignition and shutting the engine off.

When it did successfully start, run, and warm up (about 1/3rd of the time), I noticed that the Idle Air Control position, which is recommended to be between 3 and 10 by the manual, would never really rise above 0-2 no matter where I had the idle position screws adjusted to. I even accidentally backed them all the way out, causing the throttle butterflies to stick in the barrels (needing a hard shove on the throttle pedal to free them).

I deduced that the hard starting and the random cutting out was two separate problems. With the day pretty much done and any more bald eagle emitting from the now straight-pipe exhaust going to really piss off the households across the street, I decided to return the next day.

One of the things I noticed in the daylight was that the exhaust did indeed shoot out black smoke while it was desperately trying to climb up to idle speed (which itself took a few seconds). As I found out from asking around, this is a pretty classic sign of too much fuel at start causing the engine to flood out, and the gradual acceleration is the clearing of the unburnt fuel out of the cylinder. There were settings to adjust how much fuel the injectors add at start under the Prime Fuel Multiplier and Crank Fuel [temperature] labels. I decreased Prime Fuel to 0 and Crank Fuel down about 10 units each at a time, but I couldn’t really make the starting more reliable or less sooty.

However, I also found that while the engine was running was how low the battery voltage was showing compared to what it should be while the engine is running. I found that it varied significantly between about 11.5 volts to as low as 10 volts, with a variation of 0.3 or more. And it was constantly changing. The battery, meanwhile, was sitting at an expected 13.5 volts.

Uh oh. That to me was a sign of a bad ground or bad power wire. I know all the positive connections were secure (the little orange things have never let me down despite not being a long-term solution), but couldn’t figure out where the unit derived its ground. A call to FiTech support (and a 30 minute hold wait) confirmed that the unit grounds through its machined casting bottom and a bare spot above one of the mounting stud holes.

Oh, the bottom that’s touching a thick rubber gasket and the machined spot which is attached to a very rusty stud and equally rusty nut? That one? Great! I cleaned the stud with a wire brush and used a new zinc-plated nut – and the ground problem went away! I had stable 13.0v on the ECU readout and could now try to replicate my other problems.

I didn’t get a chance to fully differentially diagnose the starting issue, though, because while on the phone I discoverd that my unit’s firmware was well out of date. The new firmware included a setting to modulate the fuel pump PWM% to prevent overheating – great, I’ll upgrade immediately. Updating the firmware was basically dragging and dropping an entire operating system and folder structure onto the handheld programmer’s SD card. I see that they employ real software developers!

Obviously, it started on the first pull thereafter and settled to idle very quickly. So I’m not entirely sure if it was solved by the grounding remedy or the new firmware has more correctly set initial conditions – the Crank Fuel settings were all zeroed out compared to my original firmware. I’m also not sure if the previous owner changed them or not from the older firmware’s stock settings; the guy’s story was he ran the engine it was installed in for a very short time before deciding to move in a different direction with his entire project.

I personally lean towards “grounding issue” because another symptom I wasn’t sure was quite correct was that when I first keyed on, the injectors would fire wildly. I was told in the manual to expect a click, but what I got were several dozen if not hundreds of clicks. Some more poking in the FiTech Owners Facebook group showed me that the wild clicking is the result of noise on the coil sense line. I could buy that a bad ground would cause enough apparent voltage swing on the coil to falsely trip the logic.

Either way, with the grounding issue resolved and Vantruck starting consistently without smoking up the whole neighborhood, I returned to fiddling with the Idle Air Control setting, which still had problems moving from zero.

I was informed by the group that if the vehicle has secondary air injection (smog pumps), that this would cause issues with running because the exhaust would have fresh air injected into it, causing it to read artificially lean. Well, Vantruck has not one, but two of them!

I could buy this as a reason why the IAC motor was shutting the valve off completely. Say the air pumps make the exhaust gases read too-lean. That says to it more air than fuel is being inducted than necessary. Because the idle fuel and RPM target is something you set, it can’t just increase fuel, because it will also increase the idle RPM. It has only one variable of control: the IAC valve.

To test this theory, I just removed the air pump belts.

Aha, and the IAC instantly leaps up to the mid 20s. This actually seemed to run fine, but I decided to re-adjust the throttle linkage and the idle control screws to put it in the recommended range of 3  to 10.

One of my mistakes in fidding with the throttle linkage was trying to tune the idle control screws with both of them connected together. I really wasn’t sure what was moving what, and it took a while of either not being able to change the IAC steps, or backing one of the screws out so far it wasn’t touching the butterfly stops any more.

This was my “A Car Guy would know better” moment. I found out that you should disconnect the primary and secondary, adjust the idle control screws separately, then connect them together with the linkage set to the right length.

I started with both idle control screws cranked rather far in to ensure they were touching the stops. This caused Vantruck to want to idle at 1800 RPM, which was quite exciting. I then adjusted the secondary throttle stop out until it was just barely not sticking (closing too far) and Loctite’d the screw in place.

Then I did the same to the primary throttle using the IAC step value as a guide. I turned the screw outwards slowly until the IAC settled above zero, then out some more as it increased in value (throttle too closed, I’m gonna open more).

I finally got it to settle between 5-8. At the behest of some group members, I changed the Loop Up and Loop Down settings upwards to make the IAC respond faster (settling to idle from revving high quicker) as it was taking a few seconds to find the idle again after throttling.

After the engine could start and run reliably, I began turning down the Crank Fuel and Prime Fuel settings again to see if I could get it to use less fuel on startup. I ended up settling on -20 and -30 for the 65 degree and 170 degree (basically, summer-cold and warm restart) Crank Fuel settings, with Prime Fuel remaining at zero. Obviously, I have no way to test the 20 degrees Crank Fuel setting at the moment, but in the coming months….


After travelling to Pep Boys on its own power to pick up some air filter studs (the stock one no longer fit), I made one final linkage adjustment to connect the secondary throttle less sloppily, and closed up the system.

The story doesn’t quite end there. On a 60-mile test loop around the Route 128/I-95 corridor, I had a moment where I lost fuel feed in the middle of some afternoon traffic, and had to scramble to the rightmost lane. It seems like the FCC is still overheating, taking a few minutes to cool back down before some sort of thermal fuse/breaker resets. Either way, that was an embarrassing few minutes taking up space on I-95 during somewhat rush hour.

After it cooled off, I decided to high-tail it back to base, whereupon getting off the highway, being in regular street traffic, it died again.

Another few minutes of sitting around in a parking lot with the hood open again, and I was able to make it back to the shop (and subsequently after it cooled completely, on a local Home Depot and Taco Bell run) with zero problems. The day afterwards, I was able to run on another ~30 minute local mission without issues, but the FCC was too hot to comfortably touch afterwards. So it seems like the system’s heating time constant is between 30 and 45 minutes to failure.

There are several modifications that people make to the FCC to ensure it can cool off, which I will attend to later in the week. The FCC is a “returnless” system, which simplies installation, but seems to imply the fuel pump basking in a small puddle of rapidly heating gasoline. It also means it’s heating a sealed container of gasoline to 200-fucking-something degrees. What. The modifications involve repurposing the “vent” hose as a real fuel return line – luckily for me, I already have a return system set up, so the modifications will just need to be made and then the pump can cycle through fuel quickly.

And there we have it. Vantruck is now no longer powered by unicorns. What mythical animal should the FITech rig be? Some friends suggested a griffin, but I think I’ll stick with some sort of Pokemon.

So how satisfied am I so far?

3/5 stars, might not recommend

It’s not the functionality of the system (past the quirkiness of the FCC, which looks impressive but didn’t seem to be that well thought out). In fact, I want to love everything about it, and it seems like many people do. Maybe my love for it is just caused by my abject hatred of caburetors. But the process to get there is extremely arduous and it seems like I am far from the only one who has faced some seemingly common issues.

Here’s what I see as problems:

  • The documentation provided does not explain what the variables and settings mean in detail, only that there are some that you should change to certain ranges for most applications. It exists to a limited degree in the “Basic User Manual”, but what would be helpful is company-provided presets for certain engine ranges, or known working configs for a specific engine year range. This exists as people sharing calibration files, but it really needs to be an official thing.
  • The documentation is scattered as blog-like posts on FITech’s website and .doc files provided with the firmware drop, and a lot of additional documentation simply exists as answers to FAQ posts by users. And they apply to different firmware and hardware revisions without any indication – there’s no version control for the documentation.
  • There is practically no debugging or troubleshooting guide. I feel like the unsteady injector clicking (caused either by the ground problem or the noise on the coil sensing line) should be at the top of one. The only source of troubleshooting I used in this install was my mechanical/electronic engineer’s intuition and asking people.
  • As a result, the setup and install really relies on the “guru” or “tribal knowledge” system, or as I call it, “Do You Know a Muffin Man?” where you find someone who’s done it before and ask them about it. I tend to have a dim view of these systems if it’s a product which should have a company’s dedication behind it. If it’s some open-source hackable, I find it more tolerable, since the idea there IS that the community builds up something that’s greater than all of its members’ individual contributions.
  • Even the Basic Setup guide still assumes a lot about “car guy” knowledge. I don’t know how much you can really stray from this, since installing an entire new fuel system is kind of not a generalist task. Maybe this is just compounded by the frequency of needing to refer to a user community for guidance, and it’s on me to learn some of these hobby- or trade-specific things.

 

lul and then wut

 

The FCC’s problems are seemingly still being worked through and they may have an ‘official solution’ soon, but I think even a general informational document, like a service bulletin, that has the overheating issue spelled out would have been less frustrating. Hey, I’ll loop the damn thing into the air conditioning circuit if I have to, just tell me that I have to! I’ve had to piece together from the user groups the steps needed to modify the FCC to use a true return line.

In the mean time, I’ve at least gotten everything back to the state where it works 100% of the time, 60% of the time! Consider me a happy customer. There will probably be more setting jiggling posts coming, since you never truly finish tuning a homebuilt 3D printer.  In summary, the problems I faced and the remedies I used:

  • Poor ground. Symptom: Unstable RPM readings, unstable and too-low battery voltage readings, sporadic injector firing (many clicks) on key-on. Remedy: Be better grounded. I polished the attachment hardware, some people run a dedicated line to the battery.
  • Hard starting. Symptop:  long cranking, gradual buildup to idle while sounding like it’s running on 3 or 4 cylinders, and smoky exhaust indicating too-rich condition. Remedy: Adjusting down the Prime Fuel and Crank Fuel values. Problem might have been solved by proper grounding.
  • IAC value too low. Symptom: The IAC floored itself to 0 and stayed there. Remedy: Proper adjustment of throttle linkage to use idle stop screws, removal of SAI/smog pump drive belt.
  • IAC value too high. Symptom: The IAC ended up around 24-30. Remedy: Proper fine adjustment of the throttle linkage. Though some in the community now say that having it around 20 seems to be better anyway. The books still recommend 3-10.
  • FCC overheating. Symptom: It gets too hot to touch and will fail to push any pressure. Remedy: Updated firmware to latest version to enable PWM control, but it may still be facing sporadic overheating problems. Future remedy as of now will be modifying the canister to use the VENT line as a Return line, and also connecting the onboard fuel pressure regulator to the vacuum system.

Operation ENDURING BROWN: The First Battle of Bunk Bed Hill

Jun 05, 2017 in vantruck

Alright! Welcome to another exciting episode of “Wait, when did this become a car blog? I thought it was about brushless motors!” Well, just like how I commit horrible abominations to the industry of mechanical engineering daily, here is an abomination for gearheads: If you ever wanted to mate a truck bed to a van frame, this is your moment. Because I’m about to do just that, and put it on record.

As soon as I got VANTRUCK running (even if a little off-tune), I called a convention of my somewhat automotive-minded friends. We’re like the Justice Friends of working on silly vans. Together, we will take on the challenges of…

 

Oh boy. This mess needs to be unstacked first, then we deal with everything else. This assemblage was referred to as “bunk beds”, lending the name to this glorious undertaking. In one work afternoon we planned to remove the old bed and at least inspect/plan for new bed install. It was known to not be a drop-on installation, at least not with our knowledge of the light truck universe. That is, someone who has worked with Ford products for years could probably have identified a shortcut or workaround by reading on… well too late, we already did it the stupidest possible way! Actual installation was to be another day, with a week in between (where people had real jobs to attend to) where I would pregame making the needed brackets and assembling hoisting tools.

Removing the F350 bed from the stack was a 4-person job that involved sliding it backwards off the old bed and standing it upright on a large sheet of cardboard. It was then slid out of the way on the cardboard. I’d estimate it weight around 300-350 pounds – we could all handle it, but not with much finesse and certainly not for long.

So here we go! The first task in removal was identifying and removing all of the bolts holding the old bed on. The rusted-in-place carriage bolts with nuts underneath hidden by fuel tanks, crossmembers, and suspension components.

Half of the 12 carriage bolts were simply cut off at the heads because well, am I gonna reuse this? No. and the other half came off with differing amounts of effort.

This adventure took up a full half of the afternoon alone, and made me swear off the use of any independent nuts in the new mounting scheme. I’d much rather tighten bolts into threads that are machined into or welded onto (via weld nuts or tapped spacers/plates) the new bed mounting cross-members, than ever deal with a rusty Ny-lock nut again.

 

Lacking any sort of crane or hoist, we improvised with shoulder-slung steel tubes. This worked okay and clearly let all of us see who was the manliest man to ever man. Hint: wasn’t me.

This custom bed probably weighs north of 400 pounds (and is enormous) and while we were able to remove it, it was not with any precision. We basically dragged it off over the wheels.

This cannot be the case for the new bed, because it would mean a lot of damage to the underside. It’s built with more heavy steel than the F350 bed; we all thought it would weigh less, but in my opinion it was actually substantially more. Probably because it was designed from the start as a 5th-wheel mounting point.

And here it is, I now have a Vant. We just removed the -ruck part. There’s a lot of interesting and absolutely terrific things going on under that bed. First thing to note is it’s all mounted to 10 rubber body-mount bushings, not directly attached to the frame in any way. I don’t know if that’s normal for truck beds in general.

 

These are what I call “Precision Van Spacers”. They were under every crossmember, in varying amounts. I don’t know if these were “factory” or if someone installed them “aftermarket”. A good laugh was had by all.

 

What made me wonder even more was this large 5th-wheel hitch mounting plate. While it had Precision Van Spacer mounts in the end crossmembers, it was also welded to the frame through the angle brackets, here seen cut through with a grinder. So was the bed floating or not!? Anyways, this contraption had to be totally removed. It looks like it was supposed to be bolted through drilled frame holes, but someone made some interesting van decisions. I’l likely grind the remaining tabs more flush later.

I took the bushings off and….. I should not have taken the bushings off.

I didn’t need to see this. 1980s mulleted chain-smoker Charles would not have bought one of these now that he has had a good look at the build quality and, umm, craftsmanship.

So that’s the conclusion to Day 1 / Week 1. I now had to measure out and plot how to make new crossmembers to take advantage of the existing ragged Glory Holes torch-cut into the frame. <:(

I knew what I wanted was all topside service (no one guy above the bed, another underside, with some combo of breaker bars and push-me-pull-you dances) and no nuts. The new crossmembers would be fewer in number, as the F350 bed only has 3 rows of mounting holes, and likely just a flat slab of thick steel so I can thread into it directly.

Hey, look what’s easy to reach now! I replaced the rear fuel pump assembly and gauged the condition of the tank. Verdict? The rear tank is in much better shape than the front. This means the front tank had been out of service potentially for a year or two, if not more, gauging from its interior condition and the state of the remnant gasoline I pulled out. The rear would have been in use and cycling fuel through, preventing a lot of corrosion. The rear fuel pump wasn’t bad either, but the fuel gauge resistor strip had worn through (that’s why it didn’t read properly).

In the intervening week, I decided to just buy a Harbor Freight engine crane. I’ve had reasons to want one before, but never pressing ones such as “The landlords are asking why I have truck parts strewn about all over the parking lot”. As I mentioned above, we were not going to be able to wrestle the new bed on with any degree of precision, at least not with the GAINZ we’d be able to pick up in only a week, so a hoisting device was needed to take the weight while we did maneuvering only.

I also researched how people manipulate truck beds. This video (mute the soundtrack -_- ) ended up being my example, since he used the Harbor Freight engine crane. I’ve also seen two-crane dances and gantry cranes; while I would love to have a portable gantry crane, it’s basically a rigging job to buy one on its own and I decided it was beyond scope for the time being.

There was only one problem. The 2-ton Harbor Freight crane wouldn’t have reached far enough into the bed to balance it, since the truck in that video has a short bed (6 foot) and I have a long bed (8 foot). We thought about a few ways to counterbalance it, but ultimately I decided on doing it My Way.

This is #OSHAcrane:

Look away, Harbor Freight lawyers.

That’s an extra-long piece of 2″ square, 1/4″-wall steel tubing I drilled and machined to accept the same mounting hardware in order to make an extended reach crane boom.  Not shown is a steel biscuit that fits under it to take up the height difference between the outer tube and new boom. Otherwise it would have tilted down significantly and stressed the outer tube a lot more.

In terms of dimensions, the Harbor Freight crane is made with metric (C H I NA ) steel tube as far as I can tell. The inner adjustable boom measured 2 3/8″, or right around 60mm. I couldn’t get 2.25″ tube locally in time, so opted for thick-wall 2″ tube. If I wanted to make this again more correctly (…) I’d try to order metric steel tube online.

#OSHAcrane has about 18″ more reach than the stock crane. Shown under it is the two steel slats I’ll be making the new crossmembers from! They’re 8″ wide, 42″ long, and 1/2″ thick.

They are not light. But neither is VANTRUCK an aircraft or drone* and it really does need more weight over the rear axle anyhow.

*yet.

I arrived upon this dimension of steel plate by measuring and laying out the known mounting dimensions of the van frame and truck bed. I then picked two sets of body bushings which were the closest, and basically wrapped a rectangle around them.

The rear set of bushings would need to be moved up a few inches to accommodate, but I found that 8″ wide steel bar was sufficient. Otherwise, if I chose to not move the rear set, I’d need a 12″ wide slab.

Good thing I just got a milling machine running, huh? Bridget proved to be indespensible. I’d hate to have done this with a drill press, also inb4 get a plasma cutter. how about no

 

This is a finished replacement crossmember. The big hole is 3/4″ to clear a 1/2″ bolt with Van Precision – these get installed and tightened into the body bushings first. Then the bed is dropped on top and bolted from the top into the 1/2″-13 threaded holes.

Here they are installed! I had to machine out a portion of the forward crossmember to fit over the fuel pump.

Now it’s Saturday again, and we are once again gathered to shift heavy steel things a few inches at a time until Charles is satisfied. The rigging begins in the same fashion that the Ford Lightning bed removal video showed, using 4 ratchet straps, one to each corner of the bed. You can see that #OSHAcrane reaches exactly to the middle of the bed as designed!

” DESIGNED “. I make myself sound so serious.

This worked extremely well. The bed was raised just enough to move around…

…and up and over it goes! Flawless. We did exactly what we set out to do – provide guidance force only, and hold hoses and wires out of the way.

A snag – the shock absorber towers in the rear line up with one of the stock F350 bed crossmembers exactly. Well give me a carbon fiber enema…… why don’t I just mount the bed to those?

A half-hour of awkward step-drilling was needed to buy it some clearance. I drilled a sufficiently large hole such that the shock studs fall into them on each side.

Next snag! Ford, you assholes.

The rear set of mounting holes? 34″ apart, not 35″.  It was high enough up that I had a hard time getting a good visual alignment of the tape measure, and ended up making Certain Assumptions that “oh maybe they did a logical thing and made them the same so it’s easy”

Back to the mill I go….

After that fight was settled, the bolts were tightened down, and IT’S DONE! HOLY CRAP IT’S IN ONE PIECE AND IT RUNS AGAIN!

Here it is from the side. And you know what? i hate it.

Okay, not really, but now I am really thinking about a revision.

As we were drilling the two new holes for the rear crossmember, the thought suddenly occured to me that…. you know what, what if I just drilled new holes where they’re supposed to be, aligned with the truck bed crossmembers, so I didn’t have to use such wide steel slats?  I didn’t know how hard it would be to drill new holes (surprise: truck frames aren’t made of AR500 or anything, a step drill works too) so opted for the safe and quick solution of wrapping a rectangle around it. I was out to quickly get it back in one piece to not piss off the neighbors, over anything else, optimal solution be damned.

Second of all, I didn’t have a good way of determining the alignment vertically – the van frame curves up and down and was hard for me to get a datum off, especially in a beat up and unlevel parking lot. So this first pass at mounting it let me see what needs to move where.

I’d like the front edge of the bed to come upwards about 1″, and the whole thing should move forward about 1/2″ to close the epic cab-to-bed gap. I designed in the gap as a safety measure – would rather have too far than interfering – and now I’ve had a chance to see how it actually goes together, I can move them inwards for a more factory look…. not that the body lines meet or anything.

So there will be a Second Battle of Bunk Bed Hill. Especially that I know it’s super easy to lift the bed off with #OSHAcrane! I wouldn’t even need to lift everything, just one side at a time. I’m plotting the new crossmembers as 1.5″ x 3″ or 4″, 0.188 wall rectangular tube, and the new rear as 1/2″ thick x 3″ or 4″ wide steel strip. The tube would have machined 1/2″-13 coupling nuts welded through it to act as a tube boss (so the bolt isn’t just pulling on one wall of the tube) and the rear strip would be similar in construction to the current one.

With a significant source of stress lifted (heh) off my life by #OSHAcrane, I could now sleep easier and start picking at some of the smaller tasks. For instance, hooking up the new bed’s taillights. This first required some van spaghetti untangling:

Here’s all the factory, aftermarket, and after-aftermarket wiring extracted from the old bed. The F350 bed has all the lights terminating in a single connector, which is nice.

What’s not nice is not being about to find or source the matching connector. So I decided to improv and pulled out a 7-pin military surplus Amphenol connector from MITERS. Now I have even more America on this thing! Military-grade hardware!

Decoding the Ford connector was easy with a multimeter (and battery + suicide cable to see the lights turn on and off). All it then took was cutting off all of the van spaghetti and reaching back into the frame to grab the OEM wire harness and pulling it out. Here’s the terminated non-spaghetti lighting harness mated to the new bed.

The little green wire is a detail for later. That is supposed to be connected to the brake pedal switch directly, apparently so it can power a CHMSL. Vantruck does not have one, and I currently have no plans to install one (though if it will help keep texting idiots off my new bed…..) so I wrapped up this pin in the bundle for now.

All of the extraneous spaghetti removed, along with what sockets and bulbs I could salvage.

 

Something something about being lit, fam (shoot. me. now.)

The last major mechanical task is mounting the new step bumper, which has to be mounted on a long extension bracket to clear the bed. The Ford E-series step bumpers I bought do not have a cutout on the corners to fit around the bed like the F-series bumpers do, so I have to mount well behind the bed. I’m talking like a 8″+ extension bracket. This will be performed after I make adjustments to the bed position.

I will probably take a short break from Vantruck work, since it fundamentally is back in one piece, runs well, and is street legal lighting and fenders-wise.  At the least it can get out of its own way. Look for more work on Brushless Rage coming soon, because I want to push that damn thing to beta and to release this summer.

Operation ENDURING BROWN: Well, This Smells Familiar

May 31, 2017 in vantruck

Work on the beleaguered U.S.S. BROWN C. STENNIS has been continuing at a rapid pace! For what really is the first time with one of my projects, I called for extensive backup from friends willing to lend some elbow grease. First, because some of them are more “car people” than me, and second, because everything on this thing is heavy. It’s like the Chevy of trucks: cheap and heavy.

Wait…. Hang on.

This post recaps all the events of about 2 weeks ago following its return from my mechanic; I elected to take it back since it had not yet been consistently diagnosable (i.e. it was becoming a “throw parts at it” situation) and I didn’t want to keep running up labor charges. I ended up going through a series of cross-checks and inspections and discovered the problem was all too familiar, but obfuscated by a compounding issue. In the end, it was literally entirely my fault, so I’m very satisfied; unlike most people, I’m only happy if I caused the entire mess in the first place.

Let’s begin.

Prodding Ford Truck Bro forums and groups led a lot of Internet mechanics to suspect an ignition problem. The ignition coil on these things is tucked snugly into the valley between the two V8 cylinder banks (seen above) and its electronic control module can also succumb to temperature-related failure. As I described it, where the engine will start and run for only 10-20 minutes, it sounded like a temperature-dependent electrical issue.

I had my doubts, because it would only some times start and run for 10-20 minutes, and other times have a hard time starting at all. But seeing as these parts were all fairly cheap, I decided to outright replace them just in case.

 

That’s the Ur-ECU ignition control module. I like how it’s just bolted into the wheelwell stamping like a good ol’ retrofit system that got put into production. “Looks good here! Build ‘em like this!”

So this didn’t resolve anything. I started wondering about other electrical systems in the path of the fuel pumps. For some reason, there are a whole bunch, as illustrated by this handy diagram I drew in a fit of frustration:

I managed to locate and test the fuel pump cutoff relay but couldn’t find any trace of the fuel tank selector relay. Based on some more sleuthing, I deduced that the DPDT selector switch might have been wired directly to the fuel pumps. The object that says “NEW!!!!” all over it is this contraption:

Another one of those “Well why the hell did you do that?” parts on this thing is the fuel tank selector valve. It’s basically a small hydraulic solenoid valve that connects one circuit to two, but shittier and plastic. And it was the source of one of my troubles.

See, while bypassing the fuel pump power safety cutoffs, I did numerous impromptu fuel pump volume tests (because I wanted to see if it was pumping fuel with shortcut wiring). This led me to discover that some times, the fuel volume was low or nearly nonexistent. It would start off good, and then taper off. This actually corroborated a weird behavior I noticed where some times when the engine would start sputtering, I would wiggle the selector switch repeatedly for a few seconds and it would gain some run time. This was in fact one of the symptoms that made me think a power supply to the fuel pump problem.

Uh oh. Suspecting that this valve had been bad from the beginning despite me testing it on the bench  listening to it turn over, I performed another volume test upstream of the valve. Both pumps were giving the correct volume, so I scrambled back to Pep Boys and picked up a new valve and spliced it in. I don’t know exactly what kind of failure mode it is – maybe the mechanism inside is sufficiently worn or damaged such that it might travel fine, but can easily be pushed out of position by fuel pressure. Maybe that causes it to backflow into the un-powered tank, or maybe it just plugs up and sits there.

The recurring lesson I’ve been learning from VANTRUCK is “BTDMIW” :  But That Doesn’t Mean It Works. Just because I jiggled the component on the bench, or in isolation, doesn’t mean it actually is working correctly when installed.

But there was more! The fuel being pumped from the front tank, the one I personally serviced with a new pump and float  – was rather BROWN. It was darker than what I usually knew gasoline as. Even more telling was that there was sediment on the bottom of the jar.

I instantly knew what was happening. The next thing I did was run around to the front and start unscrewing the carburetor fuel inlet line:

…and I sheared it off in the process, because I untwisted the first big nut looking thing I saw, but it was really the nut that went into that nut. Brilliant!

I couldn’t even blow through that little metal sponge. It’s the “filter of last resort” for the carburetor, and it had trapped in it all of the rust slurry being pumped from the front tank. You can see some of the visible grunge on top.

Dedicated readers might recall that I also replumbed the fuel tanks in the same operation that I replaced the front fuel pump in. Even more dedicated (or observant) readers will also notice that I did not install an inline fuel filter on the front tank. Why? Who knows?! Maybe I’m just traumatized by fuel filters. Maybe I thought the fuel pump’s jizz sock thing was enough.

I patched this section of steel fuel line with some rubber hose and called it good.

Here it is installed behind the zinc-chrome part in the lower center. That is a “vapor separator valve”, or as I kept calling it, the vaping valve. It was bypassed earlier this photo series by a chunk of fuel hose. Unlike a modern fuel injection system where there’s a fuel pressure regulator bleeding off fuel into the return line, this is just a little pipe with a hole in it. Its nominal purpose is to prevent vapor lock by having fuel vapor escape through the little hole, along with small amount of fuel. Ford sells these in several hole sizes depending on how much you want your engine to vape and also to help modulate fuel pressure. What the hell? Almost every system on this vehicle in some way is analogous to touching a variable resistor to something. None of this is okay.

And you know what? It ran GREAT!  Rev for days! Piss of the neighbors!  A M E R I C A N  P R I D E. Oh crap, what’s that smell??

This is a giant puddle of BROWN  that was slowly increasing in magnitude as I was having too much fun firing gun-wielding Bald Eagles out of the exhaust. Which, by the way, was backfiring (afterfiring) like crazy. It was clear the thing was running super rich. I now had literally the opposite problem as before. Hurray!

A little research showed that all of this BROWN was coming out of the vapor canisters. So much fuel was getting into the carburetor that it was coming out of, and flushing, the vapor collector lines and washing out the canister. Great! It’s like clearing your sinuses!

(The parking lot is still BROWN and smells like a freshly coated gym floor there, to this day)

So what was the cause? I dug into the carburetor manual a little after observing it with the air cleaner removed. That’s where I discovered another “tighten the incorrect nut” problem.

I found a little nut on the carburetor that I thought was left loose by the mechanic; since, you know, I kind of bailed it out of their hands before they could put it back together. So I tightened it. All the way.

Well it turns out that’s the fuel level adjust screw and accompanying locking nut for the secondary throttle (which only opens after about 50% throttle travel or so). All the way down is all the fuel, all the time, forever and ever. I noticed the secondary throttle discharge was completely wet even while idling.

This screw was adjusted more correctly.

 

And off we go! I went on a “Lap of I-95″ test. On the whole, performance was excellent. I made a point to exit and then re-enter the freeway repeatedly to do full throttle pulls from ~25 to 70mph. It still tended to be a little backfire-y when letting off from high throttle demands. Given that the mechanic didn’t have a chance to properly tune and road test, I think something’s still a little whacky, but that is now an addressable problem.

Hello, Mr. Tesla. Get in my belly.

In the end, I concluded that there had to be a very specific series of events and misjudgements for the running condition to get this bad. Here is my assessment of what happened:

  • I replace the front fuel pump. Given that I had no lift and was working entirely on the ground without help, mostly in the dark, I didn’t drop the fuel tank fully and inspect it. I only lowered it enough on the straps to grab the fuel pump. Therefore, I didn’t see how much rust was inside.
  • When the front fuel pump went back in, I neglected to install an inline filter on the output side.
  • Filling of the fuel tank with new fuel, plus the force of the collision, likely washed a lot of loose debris into circulation, where it was picked up by the pump.
  • I specifically used the front tank around town and during the Motorama trip attempt to ensure the system was operational.
  • The carburetor began clogging with this rust slurry, causing me to abandon the Motorama trip as problems gently surfaced.
  • Gradually, with additional around-the-town usage, it became worse as more rust slurry blocked the caburetor inlet screen.
  • The particulate debris MAY have also affected the operation of the fuel tank selector valve – I am uncertain if it played a substantial role in the earlier problems.
  • The mechanic was able to test for proper fuel volume delivery because the valve problem was a some times thing, which incorrectly ruled out the fuel system as a source of trouble. The Ford official player’s guide makes you only time the delivery of 1 pint of fuel as the test. I was pumping into a 5-gallon gas can and was purposefully holding the pumps on for a while in case something caused them to lose power.
  • After the carburetor rebuild, I told him to continue testing using the front tank, because the rear tank was in an unknown state to me and had a non-functional fuel gauge sensor, whereas I said I had replaced the front fuel pump and fuel gauge sensor.
  • Furthermore, for debugging systems in isolation, they bypassed the fuel tank selector valve completely and directly piped the front fuel tank to the carburetor.
  • The carburetor began clogging with rust slurry again, leading to much the same symptoms and to the frustration of all involved.
  • This timed well with me electing to cut my expenses and asking them to stop work.

So there you have it. Once again, one of my vans is stymied by the uncertain nature of fuel delivery. You know what? Electrons don’t need fuel filters! What are you gonna catch, some neutrinos?

How bad is the front tank? Probably very. Before I turned anything on again post inspection, I went and bought the biggest clear inline filter Pep Boys had to sell and dropped it on the front fuel tank’s output line. That’s what it looked like afterwards. Delicious, delicious BROWN . I’m not likely to do any fancy fuel tank treatments to stop this. New replacements can be had for $100 or less, and as long as the bed has to come off, replacement will be easy. Plus, unlike Mikuvan’s filter, these two things are easy to reach, so I am likely just going to keep changing big plastic pubbles first and foremost.

Next time, the action starts for real:

 

Operation ENDURING BROWN: The Battle for VANTRUCK Rages On

May 16, 2017 in vantruck

Awww yeah, it’s getting warmer! Let’s go work on some vans! Aww, it’s raining. Okay, it’s dry now! Crap, I can’t lift this myself. WTF? Why is it 30 degrees tonight!?

-me for the past 2 months

After the skirmish with the insurance company, I spent several weeks scanning Ford Truck bro forums, Facebook groups, and Craigslists all up and down the east coast for 80s and 90s era F-350 dually long beds. This was a triple threat challenge. First, the year range meant the majority of them had long dissolved. Second, short bed trucks were (and are) more popular, so a long bed is already a harder find. And last, it had to be the dual rear wheel version with the built-in fender; while buying a single rear wheel bed and adding fenders was an option, I found that the fender flares were 1. about equally hard to find, and 2. about equally expensive.

I obviously passed up a whole bunch of really crappy ones; those which if I weren’t out to have something nice looking at the end, I would snap up in a hurry, weld patches over rust holes, and ship it. Other choices were simply too far away (i.e. rust-free desert states) to be economical to get. So I bided my time and reached out also to some of the area auto yards I went to previously. I even called one of the ones I frequented in high school back in Atlanta to ask them to keep an eye out in their network. If I’m not obsessive, at least I’m resourceful.

In the mean time, Vantruck’s runability problem worsened dramatically and for reasons I couldn’t easily determine at the time; I can’t be arsed to sit outside during the middle of winter at night and fix vans that often. While previously during the failed Motorama run it made it all the way past Framingham, MA (and back) with only minor hiccups, now it was beginning to fall asleep almost at random. Basically it felt like it would lose fuel feed, stall out, and then take a while to start back up again. Its confident usability radius was decreased to Home Depot runs and moving heavy objects to and from MITERS.

Well that’s no way to own a truckensteinian monster. In mid-March, I decided to send it to live with the same mechanic who performed the exhaust and fender repairs pre-accident, with the idea that he’d pick at it while I searched for a bed. I’d bring the bed to him afterwards and we’d carry on with the anticipated restoration. This plan almost worked:

Hurrrr

I made it about 3 miles out before it had trouble staying running. Being it was still several more to the mechanic, I decided to abandon the mission, turn around, and got maybe 1000 feet. No amount of sweet-talking or coercion could elicit more than a few seconds of running. Not wanting to dump the battery trying to start too often, I called for backup.

That’s one of my friends who has a diesel F-250 which at the time had half a lift kit installed (notice the front of the truck is higher than the back). And in between that truck and Vantruck is a yellow Harbor Freight tow strap. This unique assemblage slowly confused its way through four Boston-area towns. Now, if you guys have flat-towed your friend’s beater down the highway for the 5th time this year, this might not sound like a big deal. Here’s the path we had to take:

Several miles through ill-timed red lights, one-way tight (for something 21 feet long without power steering or power brakes) turns, and the occasional displeased taxi driver. Luckily, and somehow, no police. Needless to say this was a less-than-legal, literally fly-by-night operation!

Alright, well that was exciting. A week later, I got a lead on a great condition 1997 dually bed, which was awesome since it was the newest it could get. The seller was located in Kentucky, and the bed only had some surface rust and a dented tailgate. Among the ad photos was this gem:

 

Yeah, uhh, I’ll take that one. No, that one over in the middle. No, more middle!

I need to up my van game, man. This guy has me beat in a topological sense.

It so happened that the seller had a delivery to make in eastern Maryland in 2 weeks. I offered to meet him in Harrisburg PA (roughly halfway between us) and do the handoff, and he agreed! Well crap, now I had to figure out what to transport a 8 foot dually truck bed with! Gee, if only I had some kind of truck-like vehicle with an 8 foot bed and dual rear wheels. Now, at this time, the mechanic had yet to duplicate the same failure mode consistently, and I wasn’t about to risk rushed work to go 800 miles in its first mission. I’m only marginally smarter than that!

It was time to get Mikuvan a trailer hitch. So begins Operation ENDURING BROWN…

 

Fast forward a week, after I bothered the local U-Haul guys to call several of their hitch distributors, many of which responded with “What?” when presented with the year, make, and mode. I’m used to it. One of them said their computer system says they had one in stock, but he would have to wait until the following Monday to go verify because he’d “never recalled seeing it on that shelf”.

Well, good – Mikuvan itself, despite its local uniqueness, also hides in plain sight like that, since most people’s descriptions of it stop at “white van”. Your move, Cambridge police.

Fortunately, it was indeed in stock, and I had it rush delivered. The package exploded in a cloud of warehouse dust when I opened it up. Yes, I can tell you’ve never seen it on the shelf. It actually didn’t attach where I thought it would; Mikuvan has two structures at the end of the frame near the leaf spring shackles which I thought were tow hooks, but in fact this hitch mounted to them and not the more numerous thru-frame holes. Makes sense – they’re likely to be the single strongst parts of the frame.

U-Haul wouldn’t sell me a trailer without a lighting harness, so I had to pull out one of the tail lights to install one. The system they sell is quite well-packaged. It’s a little headcrab thing that splices into the turn signal, running light, and brake light circuits, derives power from any one of them, and at the same time senses which light is activated, piping this information to the trailer lights.  It took me about 45 minutes to install.

 

It’s a bright and early April! After making sure the seller wasn’t just a friend of a friend playing an elaborate April Fools joke, I set out with a 11′ U-Haul trailer. My, how the tables have turned.

They don’t have flatbed trailers, so I made sure the bed could fit over the roughly 4′ 6″ spaced side rails of their standard utility trailer. Worst case, I’ll throw some 2x4s on top of it.

This trailer weighed 900 pounds empty. I could feel that every bump when it would tug on the hitch and Mikuvan’s short wheelbase failed at not bobbing up and down. This was going to be exciting indeed. A couple of hours later, and I end up in….

 

….Upper Manhttan!? Wait, this isn’t Harrisburg!

I needed lifting (bro) help, and all of my friends are gainfully employed and couldn’t head out on short notice on a weekday for a mission with an unknown completion date (van missions NEVER have a competion date!)

I thus enlisted the help of Cassandra, fellow van connoisseur , with the only issue being I had to take that trailer into Manhattan to pick her up. I don’t know which was more painful, threading a trailer through 133rd St., or paying that much money to New York State for the privilege. (The observant would note that maybe I could have gotten a 1-way trailer from Harrisburg; this would have cost much more than a two-day local rental. There are no miles kept on trailers, and I also wanted to make sure I got a feel for it on the way down)

 

On site in our favorite Waffle House parking lot. This Waffle House is my gateway to the South; it’s been part of every Dragon Con trip so far, usually in both directions. Leaving the Harrisburg Waffle House is like exiting the Panama Canal, or rounding the Cape of Agulhas.

The seller showed up with the same red flatbed, just with less trucks on it. The transfer went quite smoothly – the U-haul trailer’s side rails were only a few inches taller than the flatbed, so less lifting than we both anticipated was needed, more sliding.

Here’s Cassandra and I posing for the glory shot.

Next, it was off to Lowes to pick up heavier-duty ratchet straps and a rubber floor mat to cut up and insert between the bed and the trailer’s side rails to prevent damaging the bed on the bottom.  I mostly rigged the bed straight down to hooks on the bottom of the trailer floor; this had the added advantage of looking like the bed is just hanging on for dear life to everyone else on the road, so hopefully they stay further away!

Not less than eleven hours later, I emerge on the other side of hyperspace in the warehouse parking lot. A typical Motorama return run takes 6.5 to maybe 7.

This was probably the single most stressful thing I’ve done in my life so far. The trailer itself was well behaved and did not wobble. Beyond that, I had zero rear vision. Day turned into night quickly after leaving Harrisburg, with a fucking rain front chasing me the whole way. Furthermore, the bed weighed a few hundred pounds on its own, and also presented a huge cross-section to the wind. It limited my speeds to generally 55-60mph just by being unable to power past it without hammering the engine the whole time, which put me square against all the 18-wheelers who wanted to go 75-80. And when they pass, the wind load would push the trailer a few inches sideways; Mikuvan of course lovingly and devotedly followed each time.

Then it came time to drop Cassandra off in Manhattan. So here I am, blindly driving a flying truck-ass through Manhattan and up the George Washington Bridge, at night, in the rain, with weeknight post-rush-hour traffic. People there don’t take kindly to that sort of thing. Are you fucking trying to kill both of us, or are you trying to make some kind of statement by buzzing me on the right? I have a flying truck-ass. You don’t.

I also couldn’t return through the Hutchinson and Merritt Parkways, which forbid trailers, so I had to fight it out on I-95 in Southern CT. By then, the rain had turned into sporadic mist and fog, so I was also working with reduced visibility; the only way I could tell there was an incoming semi was the soft yellow halo around the bed getting more intense, then getting shoved aside a foot. Let me tell you about when this happened on both sides at the same time as I was in the middle lane near Stamford.

Around 1AM east of Bridgeport, I decided to pull into a rest stop and regroup. Leaving there around 2AM, I got back into town at 4:30. I just sort of died mentally the day after. Sorry for not answering your calls about where your trailer is, U-Haul. You have my credit card info, now fuck off.

 

A day later, I drop the bed off at the mechanic’s! Things were gonna be AWESOME!

If only it were that simple. The next thing to hit me was tax season – let me tell you, the government is not pleased with me refusing to be a wage slave. Seriously, there’s not much love for the self-employed going on here. What it put me in was a situation where it was not adult-responsible to have a $6K project car build coming up. By the way, do you need something designed or prototyped? How about some Ragebridges?!

 

Not like they were having any more luck on their end. I asked them to prioritiz getting it running before any of the planned bodywork. After a carburetor rebuild did not resolve the sporadic running problem, I decided to cut my losses for the time being and asked them to stop work, and put it mostly back together so I could have it towed back to base. I didn’t want to run up more shop charges on something which hasn’t yet done anything consistently to diagnose. If it was going to become throwing parts at it, I’d rather take the time to do it myself.

 

I went over to help with the rigging of the replacement bed in preparation for a return tow. See, this is what I’d WANTED to do to get the bed in the place! Doing this at least made me feel better in one way: All the important exterior dimensions lined up. There might be some hope, then, that it is a drop-on replacement. Even if not, it 1. won’t be fugly, and 2. might only require some flat adapter plates.

The same night, I got a call from the truck driver that he was on the way over. I actually passed him going the other way:

Ah, nothing like watching your hopes and dreams pass by on a hook.

I spent the next few days pondering my priorities. Do I want a working vantruck, a white vantruck, or a Tesla-powered vantruck? These are almost 3 different goals. What if I just replaced each cylinder with a melon and a bevel gear?

I considered going to an aftermarket EFI conversion kit (like this!) first, as an intermediary step. You can’t begin to get me to trust carburetors, no matter what, even if it’s not the cause of the problem, which it looked increasingly like it wasn’t. At least that would bring it up to something in this millenium! However, I wanted to make sure I found the root of the problem before buying anything drastic.

Hell, I even considered the nuclear option of selling it as-is with the new bed attached (where-is?!). That would put me ahead financially and subtract a potential eternal project / rental liability from my life (as I’m not in a position or area where it’s easy to keep a non-running vehicle hanging around forever. Anyone have a front yard and some cinder blocks?)

but where is the fun in that

The great battle of the U.S.S. BROWN C. STENNIS continues. Stay tuned for more!

 

The Emotional Roller Coaster of Vantruck: Attack on the U.S.S. BROWN C.STENNIS, Motorama to Now

Mar 26, 2017 in vantruck

Now that the dust is settling and the cloud is condensing on the events of the past month and some, it’s time for me to recap what all happened before Motorama and after. By the sound of the title, you probably already know it doesn’t bode well, but it’s a great tell nevertheless!

We begin approximately two weeks prior to Motorama. Recall that I made it a soft goal to get everything in running order for the trip down to its natural habitat, the rural amateur racing event. Taking advantage of randomly-spaced unseasonably warm days where temperatures did get into the 40s and 50s range, I made a bunch of headway into repairing some of the interior lighting (very important, after all, because VAN) and fuel system.

 

It was easier for me to do interior work while it was cold outside, because the nice thing about working on vans is that some times you can sit inside and do things! I discovered one of the random cut wires was the power supply to the upfitter-installed CB radio on a console that’s ceiling-mounted. Well, that got fixed, but I’ve still got no reception. I didn’t take apart the thing enough to find where the antenna wire went, but given that there is not an obvious CB band antenna whip or rubber dongle, I suspect it was hacked off at some point.

The main radio antenna does not seem to go anywhere near the CB radio based on other dashboard crawling. This is a problem for later, as I did not intend to irritate truckers the whole way to Motorama.

I had to play a little puzzle hunt game to find out where the upper console buttons went. These ended up all being lighting features. The most obvious one was the rear cargo light … which is borderline useless, I might add, so it’ll get upgraded or changed to a CHMSL to free up a circuit for shenanigans, so I played around until I found the door lights (“Courtesy lights”) and the….

…sex lighting. There was a broken wire splice near the headliner where the wiring escapes into the body panel interstitials, and once that was reassembled, the old-school INCANDESCENT LED STRIP - think older incandescent Christmas lights – was working again.

Nobody gets to tell me this “mood lighting” was for any other purpose. Sorry, not buying it.

The “IDK relay” was traced to one of the wiring octopi under the hood. Since it was a relay that was connected to a small bank of intact 30A fuses that was connected to nothing much besides itself, I surmised it was some kind of forward lighting accessory. My guess is foglights, which would have been high-brightness halogen bulbs (I pulled a broken set off that had no wires attached) so it would demand a lot of current, necessitating a relay of its own. This was left intact for now, for future brodozer lighting mods or something.

So, that’s all for interior work. In one of these sessions, I also stuffed a new stereo head unit in place of the (also aftermarket) unit; it’s the same model as Mikuvans, so I can irritate general audiences in either vehicle with ease!

About a week before Motorama was when the next scheduled abnormally warm day was, but it was to be quickly followed by plunging temperatures and 12-18″ of snow. I, of course, in my wisdom, decided this was the best time to replumb the fuel system. If you recall, Vantruck has a dual fuel tank system with a switching valve between them. Only the rear tank was working when I received it – the front tank was disconnected completely and the valve was bypassed.

I’d decided the system was such an abject mess that I’d rather replumb everything from scratch so I knew where it all went. So I ordered 25 feet of 5/16″ and 3/8″ rubber fuel hosing the week before, as well as a new fuel pump and fuel level sender floaty-bob assembly for the rear tank (which had a non-functional sender, resulting in me never knowing how much fuel was in the tank).

I assumed at this point that the forward tank had been just sitting idle so probably still worked, hence I only ordered a rear pump. We will see that this didn’t quite go as planned.

Step 1: Just start hacking everything off. I knew based on the shop book where all the tubes were supposed to go, so I just undid every fitting I saw. I dropped the rear tank’s binding straps and it was……

…suspiciously heavy.

I ended up grabbing a transfer pump (which I’d bought with the fuel hoses as a JUST IN CASE measure…which turned out to be a lifesaver) and a gas can, and pumped no less than 10 gallons of varnishy-smelling gasoline out of the tank. Gasoline is a perishable product: it decomposes into a array of miscellaneous petrochemical substances, and gradually dries out to leave a sticky brown residue. If you know anyone who has a moped, you’ve heard them complain about it, trust me.

Luckily, the fuel wasn’t much discolored and just smelled a little funny. I split the goods 50/50 with Mikuvan, which was near empty at the time – half grunge-o-line, and half fresh premium. I may regret this later.

 

Here, I’m draining the rest of the fuel lines coming from the rear tank. Notice how it’s dark? It’s not actually late – the tank emptying began around 3PM (daylight) and by the time 5PM came around, it was dark.

After I emptied the forward tank to a manageable state, I decided to pull out the fuel pump to see how it’s doing.

 

It died in my hands. Check that rust out! The interior of the tank was “somewhat rusty” – clearly could use a good proper cleaning or replacement, but the Internet had shown me worse. (Due to not wanting to die in a fire, I did not take a photo of the inside of the tank)

Alright, now I have a situation. If I put everything together as-is, the front tank isn’t going to be hooked up anyway, and then I’d have to drop everything all over again later. I know the rear tank pump worked, just that the fuel gauge is inaccurate. So I decided to commandeer the new rear tank pump for the front.

Trouble is, the tubing was different lengths, as the two tanks are different dimensions.

No problem! I’m just going to unbend the rear tank pump tubing structure a bit. This made it sit nice and flush on the bottom of the front tank!

Cut forward a few hours, and here are the new hoses hooked up. I labeled everything with paint markers during the process so I could figure out where it’s all going later, uhh, down the road.

Additional labels and definitely-not-OEM-spec tubes on tubes splicing, but it worked!

Here is where I say the Ford truck dual-fuel system is simultaneously clever and WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU EVER DO THIS? designed. Both fuel pumps are powered through the valve, which seems to be a power door lock motor moving a little spool valve with electrical contacts attached to it. If this valve failed in any way – and it seems they do, quite often – you lose power to one or the other fuel pump, if not both.

People have bypassed it with both pumps being hardwired and pushing fuel through check valves (creating a flammable Diode-OR power supply!), wacky hacks with relays of their own, and so on. I had half a mind to do one of these things, but given that the valve seemed to toggle fine in an independent test, I was willing to give it a chance.

Everything seemed to work, though. I was able to blast around locally on either tank with no problems. A few pre-Motorama stuff-getting runs were made this way, to work the system in prior to leaving.

Alright, it’s time now for the big night! Now we go back to this spectacular, never to be topped epic load-out:

What’s in there? Sawblaze, Overhaul, the Doof Wagon (a Harbor Freight garden cart that several folks at MITERS motorized, because of course they did), Clocker, two lift table carts, several boxes and crates of parts, two suitcases, and a shipment of Nissan Leaf cells. And soon to be 5 people. No problem! Let’s get on the Mass Pike, YEEEEEEEEAH! Hair metal!

I get about 20 minutes out – just barely past Framingham, MA – when I suddenly start experiencing fuel feed loss symptoms, similar to the great misadventure of Mikuvan in 2014. Not knowing immediately what was the cause, we decided to not chance it in the middle of nowhere, at night, during winter. We announced to the other group leaving that we were turning back to swap vans.

I figure that since I never really had time to take the thing on the highway and flay it for an hour straight, that the higher fuel demand on the highway coupled with my one-shot smash service, had caused some systems to not play nice with each other. Nevertheless, we could still make it to Moto in time since we weren’t that far out.

Literally 1 block from the new shop, however, the night got much longer.

boop

Okay, right…. let’s see.

I just had the rear right quarter panel repaired to the tune of $900. I’m carrying probably close to 1000 pounds of equipment (two 240-250lb robots, another that in steel carts, 100lb of Leaf batteries, more robots, tools, and change) as well as 4 of my best friends onboard. I think we made out pretty well here, all things considered.

The gist of it is, I had slowed down to cut the tight one-lane right turn onto the street shown, when a black SUV wanked into the rear right corner most likely at speeds around 25-30mph.  The police report was quick, as the scene was fairly clear cut – the driver was distracted, and made no attempt to brake. The hit was on the bumper mostly (shown curled inwards)  and spun Vantruck with all of its load manifest around 30 degrees.

Now is, however, the perfect “You should actually see the other guy, though” moment:

That was a Nissan Rogue SUV, the front of which vaporized on contact, but whose crumple zones and airbags* worked perfectly.

We 100% had the mass of Vantruck and the robots on our side – I cannot imagine the level of damage and hurt that could have happened if Mikuvan were in its place. I would have had neither the mass advantage nor the 80s American Steel advantage, and probably would have had friends in the hospital and the entire loss of the ship. In the end, the driver and I walked it off a bit, made statements to the police, and exchanged information. The SUV was hoisted off by a tow truck, he called for a ride home, and I shuffled the < 1000ft remaining to the shop parking lot.

*Yes, I know. NOBODY is allowed to give me shit about my disdain for vehicles with crumple zones and airbags. Bugger off.

And so, around 4:45AM Friday, we set out again after having stuffed Mikuvan to the brim with robot gear and personal effects. I basically white-knuckled it all the way to Harrisburg. TRUST. NOBODY.

I had plenty of time on the way to reflect on the events. No matter how many Russian dashcam videos I watch before every road trip (a whole lot), and no matter how much of that actually translates into my daily defensive driving practice (a whole lot), it still caught me out of the blue. I passed the SUV in question more than 2 blocks prior at a recently-changed green light (the driver was stopped and I already carried speed) and didn’t even think about it.  It was quite a blow to my sense of immortality and penchant for determinism. I like to think I’m in charge of events when I’m driving, but this was a veritable slap in the ass that no man can account for all physical events.

Also, I carried no collision insurance for Vantruck, because why would I. I realized life was going to get very interesting when I returned.

It’s the Monday after Motorama, a nice and sunny and unseasonably warm day again. Let’s survey the damage.

 

Yup, shit’s fucked. Not only is the entire repair area ruined again, but the taillight housing was completely destroyed along with the mounting points.

The right one-piece fender is throughly cracked in multiple places.


As well as curled upwards – the bed side itself is curled slightly inwards at the corner, and the tailgate is significantly bowed (visible in photo prior to this).

So begins the most recent chapter of my life which has occurred steadily the past few weeks: Heading to picturesque, postcard-chic corners of New England…

…to stare at people’s ugly-ass, rusty, broken-down trucks….

So what was the battle plan? I joked around about replacing the made-by-Centurion bed with a real 80s-era Ford F350 dually bed. The Centurion bed is made in the image of one of those, with the squared-off fenders, but lower in height and with one-piece panels.  Like how Ford didn’t change the Econoline from 1979 through 1991, neither did they change the F-series from 1986 through 1997. Only minor cosmetic changes and other drivetrain changes happened – nothing generational like what seems to happen every 2 or 3 years nowadays. Through lots of reading and forum-hunting, I determined that a 8 foot dually bed from anywhere between 1980 and 1997 was going to be a reasonable transplant and shared the same critical dimension: Cab-to-Axle length. I’m pretty lucky that Centurion designed it with the same dimensions as an F-series bed, or there would either be some kind of unsightly gap or I’d just give up and weld my own flatbed or something.

With that said, do you know how many intact 80-97 F-350 long-bed dually trucks are left in New England? Negative three.

Pictured above: meh. If I were Full-Redneck repairing it on my own, with no help, I’d take it. It has some patchable rust holes, and a cracked right fender (What is it with old Ford trucks and breaking right fenders?) that was all there, so repairable. Rusted tailgate, missing lights. All liveable things, but I’m not yet this desperate.

Besides expanding my search radius for F350 long beds, I also had to find a 75-91 Econoline-compatible rear step bumper. Nobody has products for the 3rd-generation Econoline any more. Everything I could find new was for 1992 and up, when the frame changed (they’re not compatible without significant welding and fab work, to my knowldge. Please prove me wrong.)

Cue calling around to find junkyards which might still have products designed to be used up and thrown away 20 years ago, and visiting them during the MOST WRONGEST POSSIBLE SEASON TO GO TO A JUNKYARD:

I think there might be a car in here.

Scouring a regional yard (hint: Junkyards don’t exist in high property value locations, at least not in our postmodern Gig Economy world) for the last dregs of 3rd-gen Econolines. This one had a step bumper that was in the same mental filing cabinet with the F350 bed above: If I had nothing else to love in the world, maybe. I’d rather hunt on Craigslist or eBay.

A more complete Econoline 150 I considered robbing the front bumper from just to have in case (The fronts were the same through the year range).

I also came across gems like this:

This yard had a few Solectria Geo Metros! Ah, the smell of well-aged federal energy subsidies. No batteries or inverter in this one. The best part though?

It was named Harambe.

This tells me they were likely sitting in storage somewhere University of Massachusetts Lowell affiliated until the whole party finally got scrapped very recently, because why would anyone name anything Harambe before last year???

The interiors are actually in nice condition. It seems like if you wanted to, you could call Jack’s Used Auto Parts in Billerica and buy it off them, drop some batteries and a ~25kW induction motor driver in, and off you go. The whole fleet of 4 Solectrias I saw were in similar shape.

So where do I stand on this search as of now? Everything is closing in slowly – the coming week could see great successes or my continued descent into self-harm and substance abuse.

  • Vantruck is currently laid up at the van salon (c.f. my hair mechanic) with a fuel system & carburetor rehabilitation program in progress. “How old are you?” “28.” “Yeah you definitely wouldn’t know what carburetors are.” Yes, please fix my box of unicorns so I don’t ever have to think about it. Do they make carburetors for electrons?
  • I found exactly 1 website selling exactly 1 New Old Stock 75-91 Econoline Rear Chrome Step Bumper. I ordered it, my credit card was charged, and something appears to have been shipped. I will find out if it’s a bobcat.
  • I have 2 leads on beds – one from Kentucky, and one from southern Pennsylvania. Naturally, the farther one is in almost fabled condition based on seller-supplied photos, and the closer one is workable but would require body shop time. It seems like I might face the quandary of needing to get a truck to get parts for my truck later this week, unless everything gets put back together in time!

What an excellent adventure. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy – or maybe I would, provided they drive something old and obscure that is impossible to find easy parts for. This brings me to my concluding point, which is….

Some kind of massive insurance loophole exists for old but collectible vehicles.

At least in Massachusetts, and at least with our (the driver of the Nissan Rogue and my own) insurance companies. So here’s the deal: In Massachusetts, if your vehicle is over 10 years of age, you’re exempt from having a salvage-branded title, which would put the vehicle off the road potentially permanently unless you choose to repair it and have a special inspection performed. That means even if it IS written off, the title would not reflect it, and you could repair the vehicle at will and all it would have to do is pass a regular yearly inspection.

I had anticipated the driver’s insurance company trying to total me out, since it’s obvious that short of full-custom fiberglass layup, the bed will be very difficult to replace (and swapping bodies with some other vehicle is obviously not SOP for an insurance repair). In talks with my own insurance company, through whom I did NOT carry collision or comprehensive coverage (so basically: fuck off), I learned that being totaled out was possibly the best option for the reason stated above.

Through discussing this with my vanstylist, we also decided that this might as well be the path to push on – to get a fair value settlement that reflects what Vantruck is, which is a custom-built vehicle not made in great numbers. On its title, it’s a 1986 Ford Econoline cargo van. That’s worth like 3 cents nowdays, so we had to argue for the collectible/rare case, and hope to get enough to make reasonable repairs.

As expected, 2 weeks after the event, I received a detailed appraisal with the big red THIS VEHICLE IS A TOTAL LOSS stamp on it. Except there were some serious problems:

Now hang on just a minute. On top, you tell me the vehicle does not have parts available – which is true, short of finding an identical Centurion product in a yard already catalogged and ready – but on the bottom, there are several Ford Econoline body panels listed with hypothetical labor needed.

These body panels do not exist on Vantruck. Seriously, look up those Ford part numbers – they are literally the half of the van that is missing. So which one is it – parts not available, or parts are available? This appraisal was written by someone listed a bunch of irrelevant parts and tried to say it’s a writeoff.

I gave this spiel to the driver’s insurance company upon receiving it, and demanded that they at least total me out for a fair market value of a similar vehicle.  This ended up being the point of leverage used by my mechanic as well.

In response, I sent them archived eBay and Craiglist ads for what de jure is a “similar vehicle”: same year, same region, and same mileage. I was lucky that I was able to locate more of these things for sale for between 6-8K in good condition.

This is one example, and probably the one that pushed the case through. Same year, same mileage range (Vantruck has 76K), and very nearby. So basically, you’re buying me this if you decide to total me out, dammit!

In the end, through some more phone calls, they capitulated, and I received a nice Vantruck build fund as a result.

What I learned through that week was the following:

  1. If your vehicle is just old, but common – like a Toyota Camry or something – you’ll get boned because the vehicle will be very low value to begin with.
  2. If your vehicle is just weird, no matter what, parts will be expensive or impossible to find, and you’ll get boned because there is no easy comparable to appraise, or because it’s a custom kit car, or something. (In cases like these, I understand people some times carry declared-value coverage, where you set your own payout).
  3. If your vehicle is old and weird, you seemingly can find an exploitable niche where the vehicle is highly valuable in a limited circle, giving you ammunition for demonstrating comparable values. On top of that, someone correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like you can get the vehicle written off multiple times with no effect on title or registration provided it’s adequately repairable. Probably also can’t pull the same trick twice with the same insurance company.

So in a strange twist of fate, getting beaned by a Nissan Rogue might have been the best thing that’s happened to Vantruck in its recent operating life. With the settlement (it’s not for $6.5K – salvage value deductions and total-out thresholds come into play) I intend to fund the bed purchase as well as a full repaint.

Here is one of the concepts (generated by Cynthia!) that I’m considering.

Yup! I quite like the same window blackout treatment that Mikuvan has, so I’m going to match the two. I have another idea in mind which leaves the hood white, but there is not an easy body crease or line to follow near the windshield – this blackout job just follows and overwrites the 80s geometric brown-on-brown paint line. It helps that the candidate beds I’ve found have been white to begin with, meaning they will not need extensive recoating ($$$ and time) to hide another color.

Another idea lurking in the back of my mind is black on black on black… on black. It appeals to me through its simplicity and DIY-ability (as I’m prioritizing the payout for getting a bed in the first place and addressing running issues). However, I’m actually not that much a fan of blacked out cars, and think Vantruck would seriously be too much black, a rolling wall of black. It would be a visual black hole, like reality glitching when you look past it. Granted, the idea of a completely black out vehicle creeping silently on electric power is also appealing.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. Mission critical is getting a new bed and putting it on – modifications will be needed, maybe even some custom mounting brackets, as the E-series cutaway and F-series truck frames are seemingly not the same spacing between rails. In a few days I’ll know if I need to be journeying into DEEP TRUMP COUNTRY to get parts for my TRUMPMOBILE.