- All Photos, Text and Errors by: Chris Breeden

While I was on my way home, early last Friday morning, I noticed the rear differential in my daily driver, 1996 Chevrolet 1500, truck starting to make a noise. One that sounded something like drywall screws in a garbage disposal. Since it was about 0130 in the morning all I could really do was hope the thing would last long enough to get home and spare me the $450 tow bill. It did, thankfully, and the next morning I set about locating another rear diff for a 22 year old truck.

One used up rear differential.

One used up rear differential.

The one weak point in this year of GM truck is the rear differential. I had to replace the one that was in the truck when I got it, about a year and a half ago. Since then, I've put about 25,000 miles on it, including towing somethings that were probably heavier than what the truck is rated for. When the first rear end went out I was able to find one at a small local junkyard for about $150. On Friday morning I called them again and arranged picking up another one on Monday afternoon, while I was on my way to work. On Monday, when I arrived to the junkyard, I was shown a 8 lug disk brake rear end that obviously went to a 1 ton truck, not a 1/2 ton pickup like mine. The man behind the counter insisted this was what I needed. I, of course left, without a replacement rear differential. It turns out the junkyard had been sold since the last time I was there and I'm afraid the quality of the new owners leaves something to be desired.

454 cubic inches of POWER!

454 cubic inches of POWER!

I would have to find alternate transportation to work for the upcoming week. I live in a rural part of middle Tennessee. There are no buses, trains, Uber or Lyfts available for any portion of my 65 mile one way commute. I was going to be driving my 1954 Ford F100 truck to work until I got the Chevy fixed. What the '54 F100 has: A torsion bar front suspension from a '70s Dodge with disk brakes and power steering, a 454 C.I. (7.4L) carbureted engine, a 4 speed automatic transmission, a Ford 9 inch rear differential and air conditioning. What it lacks: GPS, radio, traction control, ABS, arm rests, a computer of any kind, plugs to charge or power anything, cruise control, shoulder seat belts, airbags, power windows or door locks... You get the idea. It's basic transportation. The final drive on the rear wheels is such that when you are cruising on the interstate at 75 MPH the engine is only turning about 1,800 RPMS. That's great for fuel mileage on long trips, but it's still a Big Block Chevy engine and only gets about 8 MPG in town. None of my driving is interstate, so no prime cruising speeds. The speed limit is 55 MPH on about 85% of the roads I travel and a speed of 60 MPH, doesn't usually attract the attention of the police. I was able to average about 17 MPG this week, 7 MPG worse than the Chevys 24 MPG average.

Wide open stretch of speed limited road.

Wide open stretch of speed limited road.

I don't normally drive my old truck to work. I've had the same employer for the last 6 years and can say I've driven the thing to work only a handful of times. This is mainly because of the gas thing, but really it's because the truck is only for weekend fun stuff. Car shows and cruise ins, not something so mundane as driving to work.

What a increasingly strange sight! An old car on a weekday.

What a increasingly strange sight! An old car on a weekday.

The first day I hopped into the truck at the correct time to leave, turned the key to ON, pumped the gas pedal one time to set the electric choke on the Edelbrock 650 CFM carb, then twisted the key to start. The starter engaged, turned the engine over a couple of times, hit a good stroke and fired to life. It was a strange experience to be having on a weekday at the time I normally head to work.

Driving a old car/truck in the modern world, on a weekday, is becoming a increasingly weird experience. Most people, 50 %, still ignore you. They will pull out in front of you and cut you off, but that's to be expected. These are the same people that start fights after they cause a traffic accident and then get mad at the cops when they get arrested. Another 25% of people see and acknowledge you with a wave or a head nod. These people are cool and I wish there were more of them. The last 25%? Upon seeing you and your car they tend to look at you like they have never seen a old car before. It's as if they can not make out the wizardry that has appeared before their eyes. Some of them actually look terrified. I pay especially close attention to these people. They are the sort of mouth breathers that are susceptible to target fixation and will probably run into you.

The highway doesn't care about what you want... Neither does the Department of Transportation's Traffic Light Division!

The highway doesn't care about what you want... Neither does the Department of Transportation's Traffic Light Division!

The roads are the same: pot holes are holey, grooves are groovy, traffic lights are purposely incorrectly timed and no one knows how to act at a 4 way stop. The same old problems. I did noticed something weird on my first trip. It took just as much time to do as usual, but it seemed to go by a lot faster. I guess time does fly and all that.

Once my shift at the mine was over (figure of speech, I work at a trucking company) at 0100 I got back in the old timer. I fired it up and headed out into the night. I can not explain how surreal driving an old hot rod down the road in the early morning is. The only sound was the rumble from under the hood and the occasional hum of radial tires on asphalt. For 65 miles the only thing I really had to worry about was wildlife: deers, possums, skunks & increasingly armadillos. Like every place else on the planet, the local day time temps here have been very high, but every night I was treated to a cool 70(F) trip. It was rare to even see another car and all the red lights were green. I was truly in a state of transcendental gearhead nirvana. It was beautiful!

The beginning of a nice long ride home.

The beginning of a nice long ride home.

Just like miles, the days began rolling one after the other and before I knew it the week was over. I found another rear diff for my Chevy and I spent Saturday putting it in. On Monday, it'll be back to the same old grind, but now every weekday when it comes time to leave for work, I'll think about jumping in that old gas guzzler and escaping the rat race for 90 minutes.

One of many feedings!

One of many feedings!

This turned out to be one of the best commute weeks I've ever had! You see, I took my own advice: Keep on Cruisin'!

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