Adventures With U-Haul

By: Ed Colby

On our way back from dropping off a load of bees on the Colorado Flat Tops, Frank remarked, “This is a good old truck.”

He soon rued those words. You should have seen Frank and me, with 144 years of life experience between us, pushing that 1983 flatbed Ford one-ton up the gentlest of inclines to get it off the road.

Mine is not your everyday 1983 Ford, mind you. Rather, a converted E350 van with an aftermarket 20-foot wood plank bed. This truck is mostly aftermarket. Like the rebuilt 1978 460 engine, and an add-on four wheel drive. If you push the 4WD lever too far when you’re going from four wheel drive to two wheel drive, you’ll land in no-man’s land between high and low range. Now you can’t get back into two wheel drive without shutting off the engine. But you can’t use the key to shut off the engine, because in no-man’s land the automatic transmission won’t go into park. You have to pull the distributor wire.

BottomI learned a lot of this stuff out on the road.

I don’t own a cell phone, and Frank didn’t bring his, but I do carry tools. We pulled the engine cover inside the cab and right away figured out the engine wasn’t pumping gas. I could hear the main fuel pump on the frame hissing, or I thought I could, so I figured the problem must be a second, low-pressure fuel pump located inside the rear tank. The front tank has a hole in it, so I don’t use it.

We caught a ride to my gal Marilyn’s house a couple of miles down the road.  Her neighbor Tom mechanics out of his garage, and he has common sense and 40 years experience, if not all the latest diagnostic tools. Marilyn called AAA for a tow. They asked what kind of a vehicle is it, and as soon as the agent heard the word “flatbed,” she said no way. Marilyn explained this was a converted van, and they’d tow a van, right? Right. Finally Marilyn asked to speak to a supervisor. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

I had it all wrong. Tom replaced the main fuel pump. The beast doesn’t have an in-tank pump. Imagine that! Twelve years I’ve owned this truck, and I was so sure. I even found an old receipt that says I replaced one. That makes no sense at all. Now a lot of ancient E350s with a 460 engine do have the in-tank pump, but remember, there’s not much that’s original on my rig. Somewhere along my twisted path I got a wrong idea stuck inside my head. Not the first time.

Maybe I was too quick to call for a tow. Tom told me if your fuel pump quits, sometimes you can get it running again by tapping it with a hammer, just like you can a stuck starter motor.

Frank suggested I was lucky my fuel pump went out when it did, because I was set to drive over the Colorado Rockies to pick up 100-plus honey supers from yet another Tom, this one a beekeeper downsizing his operation. I could see myself holed up in a cheap motel in a some strange town, waiting on repairs. That image so haunted me that I ultimately decided to rent a U-Haul truck and leave the flatbed at home.

I figured I’d rent a 10-foot truck one-way from Boulder to my place, just shy of 200 miles. The friendly lady at the U-Haul 800 number told me her dad kept bees in Ohio, bless his heart, and she informed me I could rent a truck for $347, plus tax. I said I’d sleep on it.

When I called back to make a reservation, a different U-Haul agent told me forget it. There wasn’t an available 10-foot truck within 50 miles of Boulder. But this gentleman said he could rent me a nine-foot “cargo van” in Boulder for $168, for 24 hours. I told him that might be big enough, and I liked the price. The catch, he explained, was this had to be round-trip, so I’d have to first make it on my own to Boulder, then find my way home after the round-trip.

I was calculating if 116 medium supers would fit in that van, when I saw a bright light. If I could rent a van round-trip from Boulder, why not round trip from where I live near Glenwood?

Where did I get the idea that I ought to rent a truck one-way, rather than round-trip, in the first place? And why would anyone rent round-trip from the wrong end of a trip? And where was my guiding hand Marilyn when I was poised to make a really dumb move? I need all the help I can get.

I finally got my supers, but my adventures with U-Haul were just beginning . . .

Ed Colby practices beekeeping in Aspen Mountain, Colorado, where he lives with his partner, Marilyn.