It was about 22 years ago when my wife Lisa called me at work and said, "I'm up at Saint Joseph's cemetery walking the dog, and there's an old Ford truck up here, and I think it's the kind you like."
I took a ride up there that night and looked at it. I knocked on the door of the caretaker's building and asked if it was for sale. The fellow who answered said, "I don't know, but if you want to take it for a ride, go ahead." I knew right then and there it was my truck, even though it took 12 years to get it.
I drove it around the cemetery and told the man I wanted that truck. He gave me a name and a phone number to call. Saint Joseph's was a huge Catholic diocese cemetery with a lot of bureaucracy to work through. I finally got a hold of the right guy, but he wanted me to give him the VIN number and the mileage so he'd know what vehicle I was talking about. He called me later and said that the truck was not for sale. The game was on.
I called him in about three months and again in six months—still not for sale. That went on for 12 years. I had my name on every piece of paper in the glove box in case it ever came up for sale. Somehow I heard about a change in management at the cemetery, and I thought I'd better call. "Yes," the new person said. "Come and get it." I went over and paid for it and then waited a year. They would not release it until their new truck showed up.
We drove by one day and saw it sitting out with the body off. When I called, the person I talked to said, "Oh yeah, we're done with it. You can come and get it now." I had gone religiously about once a month to make sure the truck was complete and had not been vandalized. There was no problem until the night before I picked it up when the spare tire and the headliner disappeared. I brought the Ford home, and it sat for about a year and a half before I did anything with it.
The cemetery personnel had modified the truck to do whatever job they had bought it for. I'm not sure just what they did with it. The frame was reinforced from the front of the rear spring perch to the rear of the front perch with a 1/2-inch steel plate that hung down really low. They had mounted a crane right behind the cab. The crane was heavier on the passenger side, so they had moved the leaf springs around to make the truck sit level. They added about a foot and a half to the end of the frame and put on a huge landscape body that dumped off the side. They had done some other things that I didn't find out about until later.
After I had the truck, I bought a sawsall and cut the frame extension off right at the welds. The fishplate didn't look right—it was a really crude job—so I took it off. When the cemetery workers took the crane and body off, the truck looked like it had been stepped on. I had to move the springs back to where they belonged to make the truck sit level again.
I stripped off three or four layers of white paint using oven cleaner and started wet sanding the original blue. A friend owed me a paint job's worth of favors, and I asked him to look at the truck. When he saw me wet sanding the original blue paint, he told me to stop. He would take it down to bare metal for me and start over.
While working on the truck, we made some interesting discoveries. After all these years and several paint jobs, we found no bondo in the truck at all. Behind the battery we found "4X4" written upside down in chalk. Above the missing headliner, I could see where clearance lights had been installed in the roof, but the holes had been filled. I had wanted to install clearance lights and had bought a set of stock units even before I bought the truck. I didn't want to drill holes in the roof, but with holes already there, I was free to install my clearance lights. I also wanted West Coast mirrors, and as we stripped the doors, we found the holes where mirrors had been installed, too. I added a set of Ford mirror arms with generic mirror heads for now. I have a set of NOS Ford mirrors to install as soon as I get around to it.
We repainted the truck the original blue with a white top and finished it in November 2006. I power-washed and spray-painted the chassis, but left the area behind the battery unpainted where "4X4" was still written in chalk by the factory. At first, I left the truck as a cab and chassis, just as I bought it, but my insurance company was giving me some trouble about that, so I had a bed made. Kim Stewart at Premier Metal Crafters in Utah built the body, and I get a lot of compliments on it.
The Ford was ordered with weird options. It didn't have a custom cab, but it had a shiny aluminum grille that came only with the custom cab. A dump truck had backed into the grille, and it had been replaced with a painted steel one. The truck has a chrome bumper. Although the truck has the heavy-duty front differential, it has a reduced GVW. It has a big Leece-Neville 70-amp alternator.
The truck has a radio delete plate but no indication of ever having had an antenna, which dealers installed in those days. Apparently, when the truck was delivered, the cemetery boss said, "OK, it's a nice truck. But we want the clearance lights gone, the mirrors gone, the radio taken out, and we want it painted white."
My friends give me grief about the spare tire carrier, but I put it on the front for a reason. It's a nostalgia thing. Where I grew up, a lot of farmers followed all the fairs in New England. They used 3/4-ton trucks with slide-in campers to stay at the fairs, and most of them put the spare tire on a carrier in the front. It was common around here. While I was cleaning up the warehouse for an RV dealer, I came across an NOS front tire carrier in a box. It was a universal kit that fit Dodge, Ford, IHC, and Chevrolet. I bought it for $10, and I like it. It's my truck, so…
I started collecting parts for this truck even before I bought it. For instance, the "Mickey Mouse" ears, officially called Class 1 turn signals, were an option. Anticipating that I would get this truck, I bought a set for a '63, thinking these models were the same, but the signals didn't fit the '65 so I had to go hunting for another set.
People go kind of pale when they see the two-speed axle switch on the shifter. A two-speed rear axle in a 4X4? Well, I've always had a fascination with how things worked in trucks and buses. As a kid I watched with amazement as our bus driver worked the two-speed axle on the bus. My dad had a 1968 Jeep that he bought brand new. He parked it on the street, and I would play in it at night. One day, I found a two-speed axle switch in the basement, and I taped it to the shifter. Then I sat in that Jeep for hours, split shifting it like my bus driver. Since then I've put a two-speed axle switch on the shifter of every truck I've had. Again, it's my truck.
I like my Ford. It's not a show truck, but it's mine, and it's the way I want it. Anyone who would like to talk to me about the 1965 Ford can reach me by mail at 253 Weaver Hill Road, West Greenwich, RI 02817, or by phone at 401-397-6285.
Patrick Ertel's interview with Steve Lopes