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Driving a three-on-the-tree 1977-ish Dodge pickup: Car Spotter #28

by Tom Buss

Who remembers Fish Stories? I saw a Chrysler and it was THIS BIG!

In the next few articles, I’m going to tell you about Chrysler products for which I have no photographic proof. I’ll attach photos of vehicles similar to the ones I remember. I promise no Barracudas were harmed in the making of these fish stories—well, maybe a Marlin or two….

1978 Dodge D-150 Custom

Photos in this story come from Dodge press and brochure photos. Colors are very approximate. Dodge had special colors for fleet buyers, and many two-tone treatments as well.

I lived on the East Stroudsburg University campus from September 1984 until May 1987. The maintenance guys putt-putted around campus in Dodge pick-ups with large round headlights (1978 or earlier). They were dark green, rear wheel drive, had 8 ft beds, and you could hear their slant six engines as they cruised around at 10 mph.

I was a Mopar lover even then, but these trucks were just a passing glance for me until one particular day. I was in some plays in college, so the theatrics and some of my media classes took me to the Fine Arts Center almost daily. We were doing a Mad Max version of Electra in the spring of 1986. Imagine a thrust stage with Armageddon junk all over it, painted gray, but with bright costumes. A masters student in theater arts was asked to design the stage. He was going to bring junk back from a scrap yard just west of us in Stroudsburg.

1978 Dodge D-150 club cab

On this particular day, my girlfriend and I stopped by the scene shop to see how the set design was going. Phil, the shop professor said to me, “Hey Tom, since you’re a student employee, you’re ‘probably’ allowed to drive college vehicles, right? Come back in a few hours and we’ll have you drive an ESU truck on a few trips to the scrap yard.”

1977 D100 drivelines

At 20 years old, the chance to drive any vehicle was gladly welcome. I was a careful driver, but if they wanted to take the risk…. And maybe, just maybe, ESU had a cool truck stashed away that I’d never seen before.

We went back a few hours later and Phil handed me a Dodge key. Phil said the truck was parked out back. And oh, by the way, I’d need to give 6 college students a ride to the scrap yard in the bed of the pickup truck! I’m thinkin’ really? Is that safe? But it was 1986. We were young and dumb. So okay!

1977 truck prices

My girlfriend and I went outside and we were given one of the maintenance Dodges. We got in and surprise, the truck has a column shift manual! Well I almost died right there. I could see myself in an epic car crash, with six students and my girlfriend along for the ride!

This would be only the fourth time in my life that I’d attempted to drive stick and my first time for three-on-the-tree. My 1982 driver training included two horrible sessions in a tiny stick Subaru. I drove a friend’s Datsun pick-up around Peach Bottom, PA a bit in the summer of ’83. And I’d nearly crashed my stepfather’s Citation in ‘84. I grew up cutting grass on a lawn tractor, but that didn’t involve a gas pedal, so….

Luckily I remembered the shift pattern from when I watched my dad shift his ’64 Dart. Even at 20, as a Proud Car Guy, I just couldn’t let this defeat me and I was too stubborn to ask for help.

1978 Dodge pickup truck, recolored

Seat belts? We don’t need no stinkin’ seatbelts. The belts were hanging there, but the buckles were long gone. No self-respecting maintenance guy would be seen cruising around campus with a seat belt on….

So off we go, backing away from the loading dock and driving around front to pick up the six students. And how about those manual brakes? Just push hard and early! And now the million dollar question…. Drive to the scrap yard slowly, through East Stroudsburg and Stroudsburg? Or attempt a banzai blast down Route 80? Like I wanted to take an underpowered, manual-shift pick-up truck down Route 80 with eight people inside? Hmmm. This is going to be an interesting afternoon….

1977 225 slant six (Dodge)

Does anyone remember the car term “Mosquito Sprayer”? Ain’t nothing like the exhaust fog from a Leaning Tower of Power with worn piston rings. Editor’s note: the 225 slant six was standard power for the D100 and D200 full-size pickups; the 1978 models gained a two-barrel carburetor.

Of course that masters student was glad to see us at the scrap yard. But we only had a few hours til the scrap yard closed and we had a lot of junk to haul. So we worked out a routine…. The students would pick out the junk. I’d pull up to the “scrap yard drive-thru” and wouldn’t even get out. Students would fill the bed and I’d drive to campus through town. Another group of students would unload the bed and I’d blast down Rt 80 for another load, mosquito spraying all the way.

1977 Dodge pickup ad

I must have made ten trips to that scrap yard, including the trips to drop off and pick up the students. I don’t remember stalling that truck, but I do remember being very, very nervous! I was feeling brave on that final trip, so I took the students for a Hell Ride on Rt 80. It was very interesting to wind up that pick-up to 60 mph with six people under a mosquito spray and sunshine.

We pulled off our adventure without incident, thankfully. I laugh about it now, but I was both excited and terrified about the whole thing back then. Somewhere in a K-mart envelope is a photo of me with that pick-up truck. My ex-girlfriend might have it. For some reason I wasn’t asked to return all that scrap after our play was over. I don’t like to tempt fate, so fine with me. I finally learned stick on a used 5 speed car I bought in ’98. My college adventure was the only time in my life (so far) that I drove a column shift.

Other Car Spotter articles by Tom Buss

More fish stories of Mopar cars and trucks

Big Chrysler, Spooky Imperial: Car Spotter #29

Driving a three-on-the-tree 1977-ish Dodge pickup

1970-71 Dodge W300 Power Wagon

Vintage Dodge Bros, Plymouth, and Dinky models

1975 Dodge Charger SE: Comfy but slow cruiser

1957 Plymouth Belvedere Convertible

1940s Dodge pickup: Car Spotter #20

1949 DeSoto Custom: Car Spotter #19

1967 Dodge Coronet 440: Car Spotter #18

Car Spotter #17: 1966 Chrysler 300

Car Spotter: 1950 Plymouth

Car Spotter: Imperial Crown and Valiant

Car Spotter: Dodge D-200 Power Wagon

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