Aaron Kaufman's Road to Restoration
If you’re a gearhead, chances are the line “a friend sent me a Craigslist ad” sparks more than a couple stories in your mind. This particular ad had Aaron Kaufman jumping on a plane to NorCal to purchase a sight unseen 1975 F-350 service truck. Most sane people would ship a car home which had sat for an unknown number of years, or at least spend a few days getting it up to speed before driving it 2,200 miles home to Texas. But I’m sure you already know that’s not what Aaron, along with his partner-in-crime Jonathan Mansour, did. Itching for an adventure and with just five days to get it home, these two showed up, “with our backpacks — no tools, no nothing — just vision and stupidity,” as Aaron put it.
The two have been working on launching a new business venture, Arclight Fabrication, after Aaron’s recent exit from Fast N’ Loud’s Gas Monkey Garage. Having a long history with and affinity for old Ford trucks, Arclight Fab will specialize in building aftermarket support for ’57 to ‘79 F-100s. The stars aligned for them in this ’75 F-350 as it makes the perfect canvas for an Arclight shop truck.
The Adventure Starts Before It Begins
Their adventure started before even leaving Texas. Standby plane tickets had them jockeying flights, figuring out how to get to California by morning. They ended up on a late night skip to San Francisco where they hopped in a rental car and jetted north toward Oroville where the truck was.
“We get up to this dude's house, and the truck looks how it’s supposed to look," Aaron recounted. "It does run, it’s got some rough spots, but all-in-all it’s generally as described.” $3,700 and 20 minutes later, they were driving away in it.
“We knew it had no rear brakes, we knew the carb was falling," he said. "The rest we’d figure out.” They weren’t completely crazy, though; they weren’t planning to head to Texas just yet. Seventy-five miles sat between them and a shop that Nor Cal Rock Racing’s John Goodby had secured to help out. The plan was to spend a few hours getting the ol’ truck road-going while they awaited a fresh set of Nitto tires to arrive for the ride home.
What should have taken under two hours took more than eight, but eventually the F-350, now dubbed “Charlie Brown,” made it under its own power. A fuel issue had already reared its head, and they couldn't pull a grade. Without a single tool, Aaron considered calling it quits.
“The money was already stacking up," he explained, "and I was thinking how much worse it could get.” Forging ahead and diligently coaxing the truck along to keep it on the road, salvation was finally found in the form of a shop with some tools, extra hands and resources.
Checklist to Road Trip Roadworthiness
Making quick work of repairs to the carburetor, axle, rear brakes, wheel cylinders, fuel system and the normal checklist of consumables like fluids, belts, hoses and radiator cap — it looked like the new tires might not arrive in time.
“I was willing to drive on the old ones; Jonathan was pretty pertinent about waiting for the new ones," Aaron notes. "The old ones were really old, but they had enough tread on them.” Safety was the prime concern for waiting for the Nitto Dura Grappler replacement tires, but Aaron had also chosen them for “getting the largest roll out circumference."
"Besides," he said, "I have a real affinity for really big tires.” Unable to confirm if their brakes would fit behind new 16-inch steel wheels replacing the old 16.5-inch ones, they were hoping the clean sidewall of the Dura Grappler would fit under the fender as well.
In the nick of time, the new tires arrived and fit under the car perfectly. Just over 24 hours from the time the truck was purchased, the team was “ready” to head off. Next matter of business? Booking miles toward home while stopping off at a National Park they’d always wanted to visit... on a holiday weekend.
“We’re just morons packed into this yellow and brown truck,” Aaron laughed.
A Fool’s Errand?
“This truck hasn’t made it more than a mile unlabored so far," he said. "We have one vehicle, a fraction of the tools needed to do anything with, and we said, ‘Here we come, Yosemite.’” The trek from Folsom to Yosemite is under 200 miles, but that consists of plenty of elevation changes and twisty, mountainous roads with no cell reception.
They took it slowly and made a few stops along the way for minor fixes — meaning they didn’t pull into the park until about midnight.
“Luckily nothing’s fallen off the truck on the way,” Aaron remembered. Thankful that they weren’t stranded somewhere in the dark, they checked into one of Yosemite’s over-priced hotels.
If you’ve ever arrived at a strange place at night, you know the feeling of waking up to uncovering your surroundings in the morning. Up at the crack of dawn for Day 3 of their journey and wanting to make the most of the limited time in Yosemite, they were surprised by their first sight out the window.
“That noise that I thought was an air conditioner was Upper Falls,” Aaron said. “By 11 a.m. the park was packed to the gills.”
After seeing El Capitan and doing a little early hiking, the crew waved farewell to Yosemite and was ready to book it on home. With a route that would take them 26 hours (according to Google), these guys didn't have much time to spare in order to make it home in their two-and-a-half days of remaining time. Being late would mean missing flights booked and meetings scheduled.
“We stopped in Fresno and made a few little repairs and then hopped on the highway to Bakersfield where we were sidelined again," Aaron said. "I had some minor problems condensing into major ones.” With pressure to get home and a still incomplete toolbox, many solutions had to be MacGyvered. Anyone who has had to get somewhere in a classic car knows the feeling. One problem they were having was their belts. Of course, they’d changed all those back in Folsom.
“Since the pulleys were so rusty, as the load and temperature kept coming up, we kept having to re-tighten and re-tighten the belts... So I got a wire brush and sandpaper, fired the motor up and used it as its own lathe. That way I cleaned up the pulleys, then put new belts on it again to ensure they would bite," Aaron remembered.
“I start to regard this tour as a ‘Road to Restoration’ — it’s really what it is.” With some issues being fixed, they were uncertain if any major ones would strand them roadside in the middle of nowhere. Still, they pushed onward.
“We weren’t so confident in the truck that we wanted to get into LA traffic," Aaron said, "so we went over the hill to the desert and avoided it altogether.” Their day ended in the dark once more, with the crew pulling into Blythe and catching a few winks sleeping in the back of the truck.
Back on the road at the crack of dawn again, they made it to Chandler, Arizona, just in time for breakfast with local firefighters — a pit stop arranged by a C-10 buddy of Aaron’s living in the area. When you’re given the keys to a firetruck and shown how to run the ladder up 93 feet, even if you’re in a hurry, you stop.
Band Aids and Finding the Right Parts
Not taking too long, half of their 2,000+ miles were still in front of them.
“In Safford, Arizona, our fuel delivery had deteriorated,” Aaron said. “The fuel line routing was such that we were getting some vapor locking issues, plus the mechanical pump was in sad shape. I had band-aided it with an electrical ticker pump, and I think that — combined with ambient road temperature and this relentless 'go-go-go' — we were starting to find the edge of it and have problems maintaining operating speeds from Globe on down into Safford.”
Lacking cell phone service again, they were sure they’d be hitchhiking. Nevertheless, they were able to limp the truck into the next town, where for a second time the local parts store didn’t have the fuel pump they were asking for.
“There’s no way two states don’t have a fuel pump for a big block Ford," Aaron said. "I knew we were asking for the wrong pump.” Finding the correct pump by looking up the part for a car rather than a truck, they hoped this fix would get them across the big state of Texas and home to Dallas.
“Some of these stretches, we were pulling an eight percent grade for miles, and it never really got hot. The AC even worked intermittently,” Aaron said, surprised. Another late night into Van Horn, Texas, and the next day they were pulling into Dallas with a mere 11 hours before catching a flight to Detroit.
Home, Safe and Sound
Sounding almost disappointed that they “didn’t get chased through the desert by cannibal zombies or have to jump a river or anything,” Aaron was eager to say he wouldn’t think twice about doing it over again. “I wasn’t home a week, and someone sends me a crew cab bumpside from Oregon... so another possibility is doing the same damn trip again," he said.
“Ultimately it turns itself into a road to restoration. The truck hadn’t been on the road in years, and it made a 2,200-mile trip — with a lot of coaxing — and now I’m running errands around town in it, and it’s running fine.”
One Last Surprise
As the movie credits rolled on this epic adventure, one last surprise popped up when Aaron returned home from Detroit.
“One of the original tires, which had been sitting in the back of the truck for the ride home, was literally blown apart,” Aaron exclaimed. “It blew up just sitting in the back of the truck. It certainly would have blown up on us if we had run it.” The old tires had conspired against them all along. With so many things that could have gone wrong, and didn’t, it’s almost like they bamboozled fate. “Of course safety is a concern, but we would have damaged the exterior of the truck if that would’ve happened.”
Old tire blowout avoided, and with no major driveline issues, the crew successfully piloted the Charlie Brown F-350 home to Texas. “We got to slow down, stop and spend time in these little towns that we never would have looked twice at, because we were forced to.”
The cartoon Charlie Brown once said, “In the book of life, the answers aren’t in the back.” You can’t fast-forward a good story; you’ve got to journey through it. While many would see car problems as a delay, in this instance it was an excuse to slow down and experience.
“For us, it was going to these great American destinations," Aaron said. "We got to go very Chevy Chase-style — a 2,200-mile trip with the windows down — smell it all, take it in and truly experience it.” Continuing with a token of advice for others, “If you ever want a car restored, but are afraid of the time it’ll take you, drive it across country.”
All photos by Brandon LaJoie.
|YEAR/MAKE/MODEL||1975 Ford F-350 Ranger XLT Trailer Special|
|ENGINE||Ford 460 V8|
|EXTERIOR||Original paint, Reading service box|
|TIRES||Nitto Dura Grappler 285/75/16 tires|