From the May 2017 issue
Every so often, a friend of mine will solicit my opinion on heavy-duty pickup trucks, thus launching me into the type of sermon normally associated with people who wear sandwich boards and really want you to know that an alien named Xinpuu is stealing the fiber out of your breakfast cereal. Personally, I think most heavy-duty-truck buyers are needlessly flagellating themselves with a clumsy ride and barbaric fuel economy when their actual towing and hauling needs could be met by a minibike pulling a Radio Flyer. I understand that we all like to be prepared, but there haven’t been too many times a neighbor has knocked on my door and asked if I could help tow 30,000 pounds over the Continental Divide.
So I advocate for the lesser trucks, a philosophy that took root during my formative years, when my father regularly towed a 4000-pound lobster boat with a woefully outmatched slant-six Dodge Ram 150. It would’ve had a hard time towing a lobster up a boat ramp, never mind a lobster boat. But with creative use of the clutch pedal and a healthy confidence in Lee Iacocca’s 7/70 warranty, my father proved that a tow rating is whatever you decide it is. If he’d bought a Ram with the 318 V-8, he probably would’ve taken freelance work pulling Arleigh Burke–class destroyers into dry dock at the Bath Iron Works.
Naturally, this leads me to the new Ford F-350 Super Duty diesel. With its 440 horsepower, an exhaust brake, and axles slightly thicker than the Doric columns of the Parthenon, I figured the Super Duty would prove my thesis that modern heavy-duty trucks have outgrown any practical application. Ford rates the fifth-wheel towing capacity of certain F-350s even higher than the 27,500 pounds the factory-option fifth-wheel hitch can handle. Case in point: I have a boat, and the F-350 could tow 10 of my boats at once.
Nonetheless, I decided to see what I could do to stress it. I rented a 3000-pound hydraulic dump trailer and filled it with 10,000 pounds of gravel. (Why do I need so much gravel? Mind your own business.) The tires on the trailer looked as if they might pop, but I didn’t even bother to put the F-350’s transmission in tow mode. When you’ve got 925 pound-feet of torque, every mode is tow mode. The F-350 was predictably unperturbed and, short of completing a course at Krazy Karl’s CDL Kollege, I didn’t see what else I could prove. But then I remembered the stump.
Whatever the F-350’s tow rating, its stump rating is exactly one.
During Hurricane Matthew, a tree came down across my driveway. I’d hacked away at it with my Stihl, but the stump remained in the ground. And aren’t we always talking about torque in terms of stumps and the pulling thereof? Surely the excision of this remnant root would be a foregone conclusion, but I figured I should tackle it while I had Bigfoot Jr. at my disposal.
I wrapped the stump with a tow strap rated for 20,000 pounds, hooked up the F-350, and inched away in low-range four-wheel drive. The strap tightened, I eased onto the accelerator and . . . three and a half tons of Ford strained the tether but went nowhere. So I gave it more right pedal and promptly snapped the strap.
Sensing that this could get dangerous, I gave up and hired a professional arborist. Kidding! I doubled up the tow straps and started making running starts. But even with the rear diff locked, the F-350 would hit the end of its leash, lurch to a halt, and start digging holes with all four tires while the stump, evidently through-bolted to the Earth’s mantle, refused to budge. As a crowd of neighbors gathered, I fetched my chain saw and severed any remaining bit of aboveground root structure. Chain saw, forestry, diesel 4×4—this whole situation was so manly that I spontaneously grew a mustache and mentally canceled the luxuriant bubble bath I’d planned for later.
Last-ditch prep work done, I backed up bumper-to-stump and gave it one last shot. The big red truck once again ran out of slack, but this time a sharp crack issued from back at the stump and the F-350 clawed forward another six inches, then a foot, and then suddenly I was off, dragging a 300-pound hardwood carcass. Now, instead of an ugly stump on my property, there was a handsome bomb crater surrounded by a crosshatch of deep tire ruts.
I suppose some people appreciate the assurance of knowing that their vehicle is operating within its intended design parameters. Not me. I like to push the envelope, skating the ragged edge of physics, metal fatigue, and common sense. It’s nice to know that there are still unwise challenges out there, even for the mighty F-350, which, come to think of it, could probably use a little more torque.“” ""