Memories Of A 9,000-Mile Odyssey With A 1950 Ford F-3 And A 27-Foot Travel Trailer

How many of us wish we had quit our job, packed our bags, and toured the lower 48 states when we were younger? That’s exactly what I did back in 1976.

In 1975, I was 33 years old, single, and making good money working behind the parts counter at a Ford dealership in Los Angeles. Very early in the year I decided it would be a good idea to celebrate the upcoming 200th anniversary of our country’s independence by taking off and seeing the United States of America, and so I spent the next twelve months preparing for my big trip.

Cars have always been a big part of my life. After being discharged from the Army in 1966, I purchased a new Austin-Healey that I could not afford. From there things went downhill, fast. After selling the Austin-Healey—at a loss—my second big mistake was picking up a 1958 Chevy Impala that also put me into the poorhouse, though I admit it was a gorgeous automobile.

In 1970, I leapt into the California hot rod scene by procuring a 1932 Ford roadster. I’d purchased the roadster as a complete basket case without a floor, which indicated to me that it had probably been channeled in the past. To get it back on the road, I purchased a same-year Ford five-window coupe parts car that had an acceptable floor. To help complete the transformation of my Ford, a “HiPo” 289- V-8, C4 automatic transmission, and 9-inch differential were installed, along with a set of wire wheels and new tires. I painted it yellow—my recurring car color theme—and enjoyed it until 1975 when I sold the Ford to Andy Cohen, who was part owner of Beverly Hills Car Cover.

During 1972, I added a black-and-gold ’66 Shelby Hertz G.T. 350 (serial number 6S2111) to my now-growing collection in exchange for a ’63 Ford Ranchero and $1,000. The Shelby’s original owner was a woman who apparently got in a fight with her boyfriend. Shortly thereafter, the boyfriend broke all her windows with a golf club. She later sold the car to the guy that made necessary repairs, and he’s the person who sold it to me. I didn’t want to take my Shelby on my cross-country trek, or my 1950 Ford coupe (of which I am the second owner), so I purchased a ‘50 Ford F-3 one-ton truck and 27-foot travel trailer.

The truck had a straight-six engine, which obviously wasn’t adequate to haul my camper, so I purchased a totaled ’68 Ford Thunderbird and transplanted the low mileage engine and C6 automatic transmission into the F-3 truck. Aside from transplanting the power team, new upholstery was installed, as well as power steering and brakes, air conditioning, and an auxiliary gas tank. Naturally, I also had the one-ton truck painted yellow, at which point we were all set. Except that there was only one hitch: The drive shaft was a hair too short. Oh well, after one trip around the block as a shakedown run, my girlfriend and I took off the following day

We primarily stayed in campgrounds throughout the odyssey, and we hit just about all the lower 48 states except for a few in the central mid-West. The coastline from Maine down to the Florida Keys was particularly interesting, though I have to say Utah was probably my favorite state to sightsee. To be honest, every state we went through had something interesting to visit. One city that really impressed me was Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the Ozarks. I’d always dreamed of owning a two-story Victorian home, and there were plenty there, at prices shockingly less than those in California.

We only had one problem on our nine-month, 9,000-mile odyssey across America: The drive shaft came loose, twice, early on. We were near a junkyard in Arizona after the second failure, and wouldn’t you know it, I located a drive shaft that was the perfect length and with the correct yokes. My problem was solved. I should have kept a diary, for it could have made for a best-selling book.

The houses in Fort Smith, Arkansas, left an indelible impression like no other. Two years after our trek, I sold my home in Burbank, California, for a tidy profit and hauled my ’66 Shelby, ’50 Ford coupe, and F-3 truck to my new abode: a two-story 1895 Victorian. My girlfriend opted out of the move, but things happen for a reason. Since then, I’ve married, have restored the ’50 Ford coupe a second time, and parted with the Shelby and the ’50 Ford F-3. I still happily live in Fort Smith, but it would not have been possible were it not for my Bicentennial Tour of America.