Author’s Note: First published in Overland Journal, Summer 2014, this article reflects a number of updates that have been made or installed since then. I’ve added current pictures, and the captions will catalog these changes and improvements.
My name is Bruce Dorn. I’m a professional photographer, cinematographer, director, producer and this is my 2000 Ford F-250 Super Duty pickup truck.
You might recognize my name from photo and story bylines in the Overland Journal. I’ve ridden shotgun with Scott Brady across four continents as the Expeditions 7 team’s primary cinematographer, but if you read mainstream magazines or watch TV, you’ve seen my work more or less continuously for the last 40 years.
Here I am, preparing for a photo flight in the Outback on Expeditions 7 in Australia. Photo by Josh Miller.
I’ve shot editorial spreads for all the major magazines and produced print and television campaigns for an alphabet soup of Fortune 500 companies. I’m a bit of a rarity in the world of commercial image-making in that I’m a “specialist” in a broad spectrum of seemingly unrelated styles. One day I might be shooting fashion or cosmetics, the next day I might be directing comedy or capturing a stunt sequence for a television commercial.
The Asp Kicker and Bruce brave the California dunes to shoot a “Bohemian Chic” swimwear editorial for Luca Magazine.
A tricky little ultralight and removable rooftop platform built by AT Overland serves as a good foundation for high-angle photography. In this illustration, I’m using it to create an element for a Photoshop composite on the theme, “Barnstormers.” Client: Canon USA.
On the job, directing an ARCA Racing television commercial for General Tires.
After becoming blasé about narrative, commercial filmmaking about 10 years ago, I set off in pursuit of adventure and documentary work. Canon, ARRI, Sandisk, Corel, and Western Digital corporations have all decided they like my work and have sponsored me as both a spokesman and educator. As interesting as my career has been, I’ve realized that I needed something more exciting to get the ol’ juices flowing once again. Life had become too predictable, and I needed something—challenging.
This led me to take up poisonous snake milking. While I don’t have any formal training in snake milking, I’ve spent the past six weeks lurking on a bunch of snake-milking forums, and I think it looks pretty easy. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. More on my exciting career turn as this truck build story unfolds.
Let’s get back to the real focus of this article, Overland Journal’s first full-size Ford truck project vehicle. I bought this 4WD Ford F-250 Super Duty brand spanking new in 2000. A Northstar pop-up camper was added mere days after purchase, and this stout truck has served as a mobile makeup room, grip truck, and backcountry camera car ever since. It has also taken me out on the occasional camping and fishing trip over the years.
Now that the Northstar slide-in camper is long gone, I use a 17-foot Casita trailer as my mobile makeup room. High-quality fashion photography requires a truckload of specialized equipment. My banks of batteries, sine wave inverters, and onboard 3000-watt Honda generator can power my ARRI LED SkyPanels anywhere. These are the same lights they used to illuminate Blade Runner 2049.
ARRI (makers of cinema cameras and lighting instruments for over 100 years) engaged me to show off their LED SkyPanels. In this scene, my truck provided 100 percent of the SkyPanels’ power for a 4K demo-reel production entitled Moon Dance.
Fitted with the legendary 7.3-liter Power Stroke diesel and 4R100 transmission, this truck produces an unstressed 200 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. Shortly after purchase, I installed a larger Transfer Flow stock-replacement fuel tank, and it now hauls a whopping 46 gallons of diesel fuel. Now that the engine has finally been broken in (it just turned 99,000 miles), the mileage computer indicates I am achieving over 22 mpg, which gives me a theoretical range in excess of 1,000 miles.
The OEM tire was way too small, so I bumped the original 235/85R16 tires up to 285/75R16. The current set not only looks great, but the truck rides better and has longer “legs” on the highway. I currently run Falken Wildpeak AT3 all-terrain tires for their trail worthiness, load rating, and excellent ride quality. To keep my sensitive snakes sedate and my cameras from being reduced to a confetti of tiny and unrecognizable parts, I installed a set of Old Man Emu springs and Nitrocharger shocks. The Nitrochargers were developed for the endless washboard of the Australian Outback and my experience with them has been very good. I’ve not added a suspension lift, and I don’t expect one will be required. For me, parking garage clearance is just as important as ground clearance.
AV needs are accommodated by a mix of Apple and Eclipse media devices. A Yaesu ham radio base station and multiple handheld units keep my crew connected while STL emergency strobes warn others of sudden stops or snakes.
Other modifications to the truck have included an OEM Ford snorkel (sourced through Ford Australia), a K&N air filter kit, a Bully Dog tuner and gauge module, and a 5-inch custom exhaust system designed and installed by Jerry Jardine of Dubois, Wyoming.
In its early days, the truck rarely saw a dirt road. It was mostly relegated to the tasks of mobile dressing room (for location fashion shoots), towing my 28-foot race car trailer, and periodic photo excursions into the American West. Fast-forward to today and things have changed considerably. I spend less time on Hollywood film sets and much more time in the backcountry, both here and abroad.
The Asp Kicker is no longer a highway queen. These days we cover a lot of off-road miles together, both for work and pleasure. A couple of summers ago we tagged along with the CAL FIRE Hotshot crews as they battled the Soberanes Fire in Monterey, California. The big Ford went everywhere the Forest Service dozers did as we covered the action with 4K video. The fire was devastating and the experience sobering. I’ve never seen my tax dollars put to better use.
Left: Camera traps in the Arizona/New Mexico/Mexico border area have captured images that indicate multiple jaguars are returning to the area. Working with the University of Arizona Science Journalism PhD students as they conducted interviews with ranchers and looked for signs of jaguar migratory routes, my big Ford covered many miles of the US/Mexico border. Right: The Asp Kicker and my Flycraft inflatable boat have been great for occasional fishing trips to Wyoming, but check out the 2019 Summer Issue of Overland Journal to meet ClkBait, my purpose-built Ram 1500 EcoDiesel to see my latest thoughts on the fishing vehicle theme.
When considering these changes, I initially figured I needed a new truck. But after looking at new truck options (and prices), I realized that I already had the truck I needed—I just needed to modify it.
I have long used a plastic milk crate system to organize my gear in a logical and modular manner. This is a common approach for Hollywood’s grips and gaffers. Both jobs require a lot of tricky little mechanical and electrical bits, so a simple organizational system like my stackable milk crates offers a perfect solution. In my office studio, I probably have 60 or more crates of camera and lighting gear organized on an extensive Metro Shelving-style system.
Back to the Asp Kickin’ Ford: I was able to design a lockable rack mounting system that securely accommodates nine crates in the area originally occupied by my rear seat. This has proven to be very effective for carrying fragile camera gear and will, hopefully, be equally accommodating of my more temperamental snakes. As I drive down a washboard road, both my camera equipment and my snakes tend to rattle, so I’ve tackled the problem head-on by wrapping my rack with a perfectly-tailored layer of quilted sound-dampening blankets. The milk crates are available through Filmtools in Burbank, California, and will easily carry camping, recovery, and general overlanding gear. They have the sound blankets too.
Bruce Dorn’s pristine Ford F250 Crew Cab gingerly picks its way across the snake-infested landscape of the Central Arizona Plateau. The Crew Cab’s rear bench seat has been replaced by an owner-fabricated steel rack and milk crate storage system.
Since the interior rearview mirror was rendered useless, it was removed to improve forward visibility. To address rearward visibility, an Eclipse entertainment system featuring a 1080p CMOS sensor rearview camera was installed by the good folks at Audio Adrenaline in Prescott Valley, Arizona. While they were at it, they also added Dynamat and upgraded the speakers throughout the cab.
After trying out the seats in Editor Chris Cordes’ Ford Excursion, I replaced my factory 60/40 split-bench front with a pair of black leather Scheel-Mann Vario XL seats. My interior was born tan but has always identified as black. It is currently undergoing aerosol dye transition therapy.
With the bench seat gone, I needed a console. I shopped for a used OEM Ford console but decided upon a steel Tuffy Security Products universal-fitment version instead. This thing is built like a bank vault.
I frankly don’t see any reason to go with anything other than a smart device for my navigational needs (and I’m an Apple guy to the core), which means I generally own the latest iPhone and iPad. I looked at a lot of different mounting hardware options but ended up choosing the ubiquitous and rugged RAM mount system. I use this exact mounting system for my on-camera HD video monitors and GoPros, so I always have plenty of RAM hardware on hand.
To help maintain safety in sudden-stop snake-snatching situations, I also have an emergency strobe-light system. These programmable flash units were professionally installed within the OEM backup and headlight housings by the can-do guys at AT Overland, as mentioned above, I’m a huge fan of LED lighting sources for my fashion and beauty work so selecting the ARB Intensity LED spot and fog lights for the front of the truck was a no-brainer. LEDs are super tough and have seriously long lives. The foglight’s beam pattern, in particular, seems like it will be sensational for scanning the shoulders for small scaly suspects.
I wanted side-facing campsite illumination but found permanently mounted LED units to be too limited in their utility. By adding RAM 1-inch balls to the bases of my rechargeable, color-correct, dimmable, waterproof, Light & Motion Stella Pro 1000 LED lights I now have light sources that can be mounted at several locations around the truck yet quickly detached for use anywhere—land or sea, and they are positively brilliant.
While my Venomous Snakes Onboard warning stickers might dissuade literate thieves from breaking into my vehicle, I also have a sophisticated pager-style alarm system from a company named Python. Appropriate, I thought, for keeping my slippery subjects safe and secure.
Meet my head of security. He’s an outgoing fella who simply loves giving long hugs to strangers.