The truck I bought with my DRIVETRIBE earnings is back on the road and it's ugly

After many hours of work, many dollars spent, this is what I ended up with... maybe I should have thought this one out a bit better?!

MT Blake posted in USA News
7w ago

I have a problem: I am a car-coholic. There, I said it. A weight was just lifted off my shoulders. Of course, you're here for probably the same reason. We all love cars to the point of stupidity. They're our escape. Our joy and, often, pain. The masochism behind some of my most infamous moves is on display once again. Why did I buy this sulking wreck of metal? The reason: you already know.

This needs to go in there. Easy. Right? Right?!!

This needs to go in there. Easy. Right? Right?!!

I am a slumming-Craigslist-coholic too

When I saw this 1994 Dodge Ram 1500 4x4 for sale, I couldn't help myself. It was cheap. It was stock. It was a tiny truck with a big arse engine. I love tiny vehicles with gobs of POWAAAR. This standard cab, short bed truck has the 5.9L Magnum V8 neatly packed in the front. It's something unusual, a bit uncommon (dare I say rare?). It's a truck that fits as neatly into parking stalls as the engine does under the hood.

The cheapness came at a cost. Far more common than the wheelbase for this Dodge was the fact it had a transmission failure. The 46RH (a less common automatic) was displaying symptoms of rigor mortis: once it began to warm up something would swell or stick with the result being a stall when shifted to drive. The reverse gear still worked somehow.

After the thorough, forensics style cleaning (remember the handcuff key, prophylactic, and Kenny Roger's cassette tape?) I forced myself to do nothing else to this truck until the offending transmission was sourced. At a minimum, if no replacement unit could be found, I could part the truck out and get my money back. By an extreme stroke of luck, I found a used transmission with a recent rebuild for pennies when compared to a fresh rebuild (~$2000).

BUT, the replacement transmission was located approximately four hours from my château. A down and back trip to Fresno, California resulted in the acquisition of a transmission to get this project sheep back on the top of my priorities. As I lifted the unit out of my Tacoma (transmission issues here too) I realized something: this sucker is heavy. When I say "I" lifted it, I mean "I had assistance lifting." The thing has to weigh around 200lbs (90kg). It's too long and awkward to be lifted by anyone without a serious penchant for deadlifts, squats, or CrossFit--I am of which none of those.

The next issue was less obvious than the first: how to get it into the truck? Any hamfisted human or tweaker can remove a transmission from a vehicle. Getting it back in, in an operable condition is where the boxing gloves and stimulants fall short. I don't have a lift and I surely didn't want to buy a $250 transmission jack for a job I chalked up to "I probably won't be doing this again." Harbor Freight came to the rescue (last word used lightly). They had ONE (last word used heavily) left in stock. The clerk shrugged and said something about 'covid' when I couldn't find any 6-ton jack stands.

Two large jack stands in front. Two small jack stands in the rear. The front end was raked a bit higher than the rear because of it. This 2-1/2 foot gap between the vehicle and terra firma would be my home for the next dozen hours. It was cold and dark down there--lonely too. I began calling friends to assist with dropping the transmission out of the truck. One had a covid outbreak at home. Another threw out his back. The last friend (three is enough) said they'd come help out, but it never panned out.

Down to Gehenna or up to the throne...

Alone, I turned my wrenches until at last, a stillborn birth of a dejected 46RH came out on a budget scissor jack. It was greasy and muddy. At no point could I NOT wear eye protection. Every clash of metal on metal dislodged dirt and grime onto my face. This truck was submerged like a muddy submarine at some point. The grease on the transmission was determined to be from a previously mended oil leak.

The new (used) unit required assistance. Twice my wife donned gloves and helped me lift a beefy slushbox onto the Harbor Freight transmission jack. Strapping it down and lifting it into place, the angle was horribly insufficient. A block of wood was required to increase the angle of attack. Attack I did. Laying on your back and trying to wheel around an object of similar body weight and elevated two feet higher than your plain of strength is no Herculean feat--it is however annoying and I do not enjoy straining muscles to get it done.

The transmission landed home. Reversing the steps always sounds easier than it is. (How did the shift linkage attach again?) At this point, my Craftsman 1/2" impact wrench decided it had enough of my malarky and promptly told its charger it no longer wanted electric juice. The wrench, batteries (plural), and charger were thrown into the trash with enough force to receive a question from the Misses: "You okay out there?" No. No I am not.

Not yet, at least. I grudgingly struggled on, with hand tools now, no less. Fun fact: you never have enough extensions (or electric impacts at that). Somehow, by the grace of masochism and hatred--possibly some beer too--the transmission came together with all its accouterments. The trash transmission jack was retired in favor of pure horsepower; I lifted the transfer case onto my chest, rolled the creeper under the Ram, and pressed it unheroically into place. This vestibule I called home for the last dozen hours was nearing a close. Not a tear was shed, I hated every minute of it.

My typically unused muscles now thoroughly aggravated, I filled the old sheep up with fresh fluids. She came off the mismatched jack stands and then came back to life. Without hesitation, she began smoking. Was something wrong? Was this transmission junk?! Nah, it was just the baptismal oils and fluids cooking off the exhaust.

Not only does it work. It works well enough to be "reliable." I actually mended this old horned goat! On its inaugural journey into town, it passed California's notorious smog inspection. It was then registered for two hundred dollars (another notorious 'California Problem') It's a legal truck now and twenty-seven years young. Many more hours later, it's now a "clean" truck too. I did not find any additional prophylactics inside it.

I don't consider this truck done by any means. It is, however, done for me. As it is now legal, it is now considered saleable. Sure, the stereo sounds like a garage band through a tin can speaker; yes, the clock spring in the steering wheel is on the fritz, leading to an intermittent airbag light; the fuel gauge float is stuck on empty, which I believe is due to being left empty on an incline for over a year. Many other things aren't perfect. Some of which are classic Dodge: the dash is fractured more than a mudflat scorched by the Sahara, and the seat has a crater of foam missing that might best be described as 'Chicxulub-ist."

These problems, won't be my problems, the next owner can figure them out. As it always happens, my next car is my favorite car. The freshly acquired 1972 Ford F100 4x4 is the new eye of my masochism. It's better and so much worse in many ways, and it MUST be saved (cue the Sarah McLachlan tunes).

This Dodge Ram gave me neck pains, wallet pains, and mental pains. It was painful but so satisfying. It had been a while since my last 'on my back transmission flop'. I don't plan on doing another anytime soon... who am I kidding the F100 is leaking like a sieve..!

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Comments (61)

  • You are crazy!

      1 month ago
  • I like this old Dodge a lot. I like all of them, but I’m a sucker for a single cab. If it was a 5 speed like mine then you’d see me flying out to Cali tomorrow.

      1 month ago
    • It might not be a manual, but it does have a good auto transmission!

        1 month ago
    • Respect for the salesmanship, but I’m going to have to decline anyway. I’m excited to see what you do with the F100 though, apart from the constant questioning of why Ford engineers do what they do.

        1 month ago
  • DRIVETRIBE earnings?? What’s that?

      1 month ago
  • Awesome! Have fun with that 2nd Gen beauty

      1 month ago
  • Do I recall that the rap on the Gen1 Rams was excessive front tire wear?

      1 month ago
    • Gen 1? I dunno. I’ve never had one. I wish I could find a clean Cummins powered example, but I fear they’re all out of my budget at this point.

        1 month ago