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Firing Order: Frigid 4x4s and Frozen Water Pipes

Posted in Features on December 1, 2018
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It’s hot and humid outside as I’m writing this. From my office window I can see our ’05 Power Wagon baking in the sun, heat waves shimmering off the paint. Today, the red truck looks like a giant blister, which is what I would get if I rested my hand on the truck’s body.

But I’m thinking about winter because this column is going to be in Four Wheeler’s January issue, which contains a collection of winter content. My mind has drifted back to the days when my northern Illinois house didn’t have a garage for my 4x4, or any insulation for that matter. This made winter lots of fun on many levels.

It was the early ’80s, and my wife and I lived in a stone schoolhouse that was constructed in the early 1860s. It had been converted from one-room schoolhouse to a private residence in the 1950s, but insulation apparently wasn’t part of the conversion process. When it got cold, we got cold. I vividly remember the many air leaks that house had, and we could watch the drapes in the living room sway to and fro on windy days. Couple that with sub-zero winter temps, and sitting around in shorts and a T-shirt was invigorating. The water to the house often froze for days on end. In the coldest weather, combined with a brutal wind that raced across the open pastures and empty fields, we could see our breath in the house as we exhaled, even though the heating system was running almost nonstop.

Sometimes it was a challenge to keep my old Scout running in frigid temps, but overall it was a reliable ’binder that hauled me through all kinds of snow and ice.

Outside, things were more entertaining. I moved snow with my father-in-law’s old Ford 800 tractor that was outfitted with a bucket and blade. Cab? Nope. Having no garage meant my 4x4 had to sit in the elements, and since I had to drive to work early each morning, I had many uneasy nights wondering if my junk would start on frigid mornings.

Through most of my time living in the garage-less schoolhouse I owned a ’77 Scout II. On sub-zero mornings the old 345ci V-8 would crank slowly as I watched my breath hang in the frigid air. It was a great engine, but extreme cold challenges everything, and when the engine started it sounded like it was coming apart. For what seemed like an eternity it rattled like someone was shaking a tin can half full of marbles.

Money was severely limited (most of my paycheck was used to buy propane for the home’s heating system), but I needed a way to ensure the Scout would start, and I really wanted to lessen the wear of the cold starts on the engine. My friends were full of ideas. One guy told me he got up every few hours, started his old 4x4, let it run for a bit, then returned to bed. Yet another gent said he pointed a bullet heater at the nose of his truck and let it blow hot air for 15-20 minutes to warm the engine compartment prior to firing it up.

I had an aversion to trudging outside in the middle of a frigid night, and I didn’t have money for a bullet heater, so my low-buck solution was a used magnetic electric heater ($10). I stuck it to the 345’s oil pan the night before and utilized a used timer (free) to kick power on a couple hours before I had to leave for work. The improvement was remarkable, effective, and downright magical.

Even with a cold house (often with no running water) and no garage, winter was a blast. I spent hours exploring the fields and pastures in the snow behind the wheel of my Scout. That rig spent a lot of time in four-wheel drive, and I was always kind of sad when spring arrived to chase away the cold and snow.

Do you live in an environment where it gets frigid? Have you had to keep a 4x4 running in cold temps? If so, please email your story, tips, and tricks to the address below. I’d love to hear ’em! And please include a high-res photo of your rig!

—Ken Brubaker

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