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Old Copper meets her fishy fate

March 18, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

After writing about some not entirely positive mechanical experiences I had with Old Copper a couple of years ago, a gentleman from Hagerstown Ford faxed me a trade-in offer that if I remember right was a thousand dollars or two toward a new truck.

Looks as if I should have taken him up on it.

The big Ford was losing gears recently, at the rate of about one every other week. I lost reverse first, which was no big deal, since I usually could park parallel, and if for some reason I found myself nose-in, I could always get underneath the truck and jam the transmission into reverse by hand.

First was no big deal either, since the pickup is geared so low that starting up in second was never much of an issue unless I had a load, in which case you could smell a little clutch frying, but I didn't view that as any terribly big deal.

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The loss of third gear was annoying though, because it meant I could go no faster than 23 mph without the engine revving so high that the mill would produce a spray of fine metal shavings and an array of burning smells - oil, paint, asbestos, grease and if there has been any lube left in the differential, I probably would have smelled that burning, too.

And second gear was getting increasingly hard to find. The gearshift was spinning 360 degrees around the steering column without engaging in anything, except occasionally when second would jolt its way into the transmission's consciousness and with a lurch that would have awakened King Tut, I'd go speeding off.

So I finally took it into the shop, where I learned that it would cost me twice as much to repair it as what I'd paid for the truck in the first place. It was a tough call, but I decided to spend the $100 and get it back on the street.

There were parts that had to be ordered and then more parts and then I was walking into the lobby and the man behind the desk sees me coming in and he quickly comes over and in a hushed tone full of concern he says, "Has anyone talked to you about - (swallowing hard) about the truck?"

I said, "No, doc, it's nothing bad is it, nothing that can't be fixed, right?" and he said, "I think you'd better talk to Jason."

Jason, as kindly as he possibly could, gave me the bad news that the entire steering had, for lack of a better word, rotted away.

I frowned. "Yes," I said, "I suppose that would explain those loud popping noises I'd hear every time I turned the wheel. Funny, I'd sort of gotten used to them and forgotten all about it."

Remember the old advertising slogan, "Ford has a better idea?" Well, apparently the steering columns in the old three-speed manuals wasn't one of them, and despite Jason's and my best attempts at dialing up salvage yards, no replacement could be found.

So now when you see the ad that 92 percent of all Ford trucks still are on the road, you can ratchet it down to 91.999 percent.

I feel really sad. So many memories - the hole in the gas tank that never let me fill it with more than 5 gallons at a time. The sheet of plywood I had to throw in the bed to cover all the rusted-out spots. The time I was driving up Virginia Avenue and looked out the window to see the air filter rolling along beside the cab. When I'd turn the steering wheel, that cute little way it had of interpreting the move as only a "suggested" course, and would quite often fetch up an entirely new direction altogether. The skeptical look I'd always get at Britner's or Steffey & Findlay confidently asking for a full load of mulch or stone.

That time I got it up to 50 mph.

And now it's off to become the can for someone's tuna. Old Copper should have had a better ending. But then, so should my columns.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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