Destination Unknown - a 1997 F350 build


Sometimes we overthink things. Not saying you are. But maybe a little? My truck weighs 9,000lbs on the money with me in it. That's 35" tires, all aftermarket springs and suspension components, warn winch and winch bumper with steel cable, a Ranch-Hand rear bumper, a full set of hand tools/wrenches, all the standard recovery gear (3/8x30' gold link chain, tow strap, snatch block, highlift jack, shovel, axe, tire chains) full size spare, Titan 40 gallon tank in the front position, and standard rear tank. My shell is a fiberglass flat top with a set of home made bars. The interior is more or less stock. I'm a little heavy (the truck- not me....well a little. 6'3" and 250lbs). My 460 powered flatbed truck (identical in nearly every way other than the engine) also weighs 9,000lbs. I've towed 20,000 with these trucks....bunches. They can handle the weight. But- that doesn't make it smart. I'd hate to think I got in a wreck and hurt someone. That sticker on the door is a problem for you. Not for the truck, it's strong. There are, however trucks that are much heavier. Maybe lighten up with an aluminum bed and a light camper. Scrap everything you don't need. It's so easy to pack more than we really will ever use. I do think a dually rear axel will bolt right on. The brakes are different, it tracks wider- I don't think it's really much different than the single rear. It just allows you to bolt on duals without hitting the springs. But you can swap to a dually setup- but that sticker won't change. So looks like to me you need to: truck up, lighten up, or ignore that sticker. Good luck man. I wish you well with it, and look forward to seeing what you decide.


EDIT: hit enter too soon....

Hope you all had a great Christmas and are planning for some adventurous New Year's trips!

I have been quite busy with fixing some things and of course more research! Here's an update of what has transpired since towing back 'home' and finishing a few things prior to moving permanently:

  • Oil leaking
    • from the HPOP Adrenline pump has not been reproduced even with dye. It has been determined the leak does exist but likely is due to excess pressures only while towing max loads up steep passes consistently for a hundred miles or so.... Basically, no cause for concern unless it starts dumping oil. However, a sizeable fuel leak was found, so the filter housing has been replaced. E-fuel may be in the future to clean up the engine area some if I can find a solution to ensure fuel is heated and doesn't clog up the remote filters during super cold weather. I need to remain operational at temps below -20F
  • Some suspension noise was found.
    • ALL suspension components were loose. The places I took the truck on toward the end of August/early September would have left even my Jeep (mostly due to wheelbase) stuck. This road was chosen by a map from a BLM employee at a ghost town, and was listed as a good traveling dirt road (since my parents were with me, and mom does not like unpaved roads :rolleyes: or adventures. It turned into a very very bad road with no chance to turn around. I was nervous. Given I had a camper, I would have been sweating bullets! Needless to say the truck preforms amazingly, and the suspension is near perfect. But with so much flex going on, all the components were loose and tightened. I really really hope this is not a consistent thing. Locktite has been put on all the nuts/bolts, so some massive stress was occurring for them to loosen up.
    • This I do have a rattle/clunk somewhere still that cannot be found. Felt on the floorboard as if a plastic box is banging against the underside of the body. But where it is I have no clue!
    • In the process, I have found a need to replace the gearbox and steering shaft with Red Head products.
  • Front springs
    • I have also attempted to reseat the front springs as discussed on page 7? Anyway, the axle as thought was not actually 'pressed' to the right side. For some reason it just sits there and likes it. After re-centering the front springs, and driving, they again pressed themselves on the right side of the shackles. Why, I really don't know. After talking with some people it would seem there is no concern over it. It does feel wrong to me still...but I suppose I will just run it until something bad happens. I may opt to throw in washers as suggested before moving again.
  • Found some awesome information that you all may or may not have seen that could be very informative to read!!
  • Airbags
    • I have been considering the realistic abilities to run airbags. Considering airbags with daystar cups would not 'touch' with the extra suspension travel, it would require the suspension to droop before providing any amount of support. Maybe there is something I don't know, but unless I find it, or find a longer bag that allows for more compression length, I will likely be considering some dual stage atlas springs instead, and compromising on the desire to have a 'two stage' or 'variable' suspension
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  • Running some numbers
    • Seabass, I have taken your advice to heart and will be 'ignoring' the sticker while remaining within a safe spec. After all, if I did everything I wanted, it simply wouldn't work, as the weight problem alone would require a dually 550 series weight rated truck, with the actual weights/dimensions of the 350 series. And that's not possible - I suppose one could build a frame out of titanium or aircraft composites haha, if you were a billionare
    • Also after considering something someone mentioned a few pages back, that the dual version of these trucks are rated at a higher spec, while basically only adding wheel spacers to the front and the rear, it is quite apparent that these trucks can in fact handle a lot more than advertised.
    • Using an arbitrary 'reserve' capacity of 500#'s, and knowing my tires are rated at 3750 each, with rims being at 3420, and being willing to overload the rims to the max tire capacity, I think I can assume safe operations with a max front end weight of 5,000#'s and rear weight of 7,000#'s. This is higher than the wheel weight, so I will keep a very sharp eye on them for signs of stress. But knowing many people out there load these trucks up way over, I think this will be safe to run on and off highway with frequent inspection and maintenance. It does; however, require some close calculations as it pushes the build idea to the very limit and teeters on the edge. I do hope though that I can fit most of my desires within this weight restriction. Less weight is better, but with the things I regularly carry equipment wise, I'm not sure I will be reasonably able to stay under 10K#'s
    • With this in mind, I want to certainly design the bed around the ability to transfer to a different truck IF I do find the weight to be simply too much to be safe/capable
    • If nothing else, it will be a awesome truck that can be used for 'work' purposes, or even sold (unlikely) with that cash put toward a bigger truck
  • The Plan
  • The Bed (from link above)
    • 8.5' bed to accommodate an 8.5' Alaskan
      • I believe these to be of better quality after reading more about other companies. After speaking with Bryan, he was also very welcoming to be willing to work with me on 'custom' options - within reason of course. These also will likely work much better than other pop-up styles with soft sides
    • Some details
      • On the bed itself, placing a insulated 25-30 gal water tank under the bed with 12v heat pad for cold temps
        • also keeps center of gravity lower
      • also have water pump and diesel heater mounted in one of the boxes for use to clean things when camper is not attached (also to be able to 'use now' in terms of more comfortable camping until the camper is constructed
      • allows for ability to have a water draft pump with filtration system
      • have 1 battery in a box (to run 'bed' accessories and allows camper to only have 1 battery to reduce weight but still operate independently from truck bed if necessary)
      • update the gooseneck/5th on the truck, but with a 'hidden' system
      • rear box compartments to only extend 6.5' (not the full 8.5' length) to allow for gooseneck/5th use on uneven terrain and allow for a 'truck/flatbed' style camper to accommodate a shower
      • Other 'normal' stuff like air compressor mounted to the bed, dedicated locations for tools/gear/parts
      • spring or 3/4point mounting to allow stress free flexing
        • also considering adding springs to the rear cab mounts as well
      • design to allow for bed to be able to transfer to a more modern/different truck (anyone know if the wheel wells will align properly????)
  • Of course, the reset of the truck needs to be finished first - and almost is
    • front/rear bumper w/winch needed
    • Fuel tanks
      • still deciding on just how much, but considering at least a 45 gal rear tank, possibly 2 front 30 gal tanks
    • I have also repaired a vacuum leak (going to the low vacuum switch to turn on the brake light) which was causing a hard pedal. But the light still does not come on, and brakes are left to be desired with all this extra weight. So this needs to be addressed
      • One way to help is to install an exhaust brake with a torque converter lockup clutch override to force lockup. It will really only help going on hardpack speeds and likely not much on unpaved roads due to such low speeds. But is at least one step in the right direction
      • Likely will also be adding some new rotors up front, even though the assistance is minimal, it is better than nothing. It would be nice if there were solutions for larger calipers and an easier way to get rear disc brakes other than SD axles and drilling for that terrible bolt pattern
    • I have yet to figure a solution for the cab interior and could use some community input
    • Fabing up a good power distribution/relay/fuse box for all accessories
    • heavy duty cables from
    • 200a alternator
    • Lights
      • Places I go are dark. Very dark. Wildlife impacts are also a very very real threat. At least 3-4 newly dead deer seen DAILY! It would be big shame to destroy the truck (reason for a stout bumper). So though many disagree, I will be going way overboard so that a miniature sun turns on at the flip of a switch. I do not want this time and money invested wasted from a impact that can be prevented with lights, even though I think many consider it to be excessive.
      • I have picked up (Merry Christmas to me!) some BD lights (XL80 driving series) to 'test' on the Jeep before spending dough for a good set for the truck to make sure they perform as advertised
      • I must say, yes, YES they do! Much more impressed than anticipated. Much brighter than my friends 50' bar from Rigid! It's amazing. And at more than 10 amps less draw than my halogen spot lights. Heck, with these things on I cannot even SEE my halogen spot lights! The pictures are terrible, as pictures never reveal the true difference seen in real life. But they give an idea at least. Money very well spent. I will be getting more
      • The first two are just the stock headlights with stock fog lights on
      • The 3rd and 4th are the stock lights/fog lights on with the BD XL80 driving/combo lights on. Note the difference is hard to see through photographs. But its a HUGE difference, and enough of a difference to allow the phone camera to actually focus properly
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So some things have happened. Some expected, some kinda but not really expected (this soon anyway).

The expected: mean green 200a alternator, heavy duty cables (battery+, battery-battery, grounds, starter), RedHead steering gear and column.

200a alternator.jpg

RedHead Steering Gear and Column.jpg

Exhaust Brake.jpg


The un-expected (and un-desired for this particular time):

The low vacuum switch is bad. No replacements - unobtanium. So it has been bypassed for now, but needs to be replaced soon. I will have to find out if the service manual says at what vacuum reading the switch closes (or opens) to see if I can find a generic switch to wire in manually. In addition, I want to add a second vacuum canister - braking abilities (in terms of vacuum available) is a major concern for me considering this is a automatic trans, and swapping to a ZF6-spd would be pretty intense.

Anywhoo. The real unexpected... hut the pocket pretty bad, hopefully nothing else fails for a while.

BD Diesel Performance 400whp trans with BD Torque Conv. and Cast Alum. pan.jpg

After 20 years of hard use, and working like a champ pulling some insanely heavy loads, the good ol' weak link of these trucks (E40D) decided to retire. Fortunately he went into retirement before giving up the ghost whilst on a back road somewheres. So, out with the old, and in with the new. Considering my moving situation, instead of doing a rebuild I decided on a already built unit to take advantage of a nice 3 year 150K warranty (which I will likely use the mileage before the timeframe). Just simpler considering abilities to do major repairs from now and until the next 5 years will be quite difficult. And, its a solid product with a good reputation, from everything I know anyway. All the normal goodies one would expect and already know about, better/more clutches, steel parts, cast alum pan (super strong!!), strong T/Q, external filter, etc... So this hit the pocket, but I knew it was coming, was only hoping for it to hold out a few years. But better now, whilst able to replace, than in the middle of moving, or way out in the middle of nowhere somewhere.

Additionally, some good news. The ever annoying clunk I have been chasing for the better part of 6 months has been solved. In fact it was the shackle mounts all along. There was an ever slight gap between the mounts and the frame - but had ZERO signs of wear or movement, thus making this overlooked before. Hopefully the situation is resolved, but I do fear in tightening, the frame is now overly stressed and/or that the bolts come loose. But I am hopeful! :)

What is happening next? Honestly, not exactly sure since some balls are up in the air for some things. But I really need to get my radios installed (still in their boxes after a year), REALLY need some lights for where I will be going, and front/rear bumpers with front/rear winch, and to decide on getting the tires on a tire carrier, or some other solution. Also need to get the rust on the drip rail fixed, but I'm just not sure what to do about that just yet.


Active member
So some things have happened. Some expected, some kinda but not really expected (this soon anyway).

The expected: mean green 200a alternator, heavy duty cables (battery+, battery-battery, grounds, starter), RedHead steering gear and column.

View attachment 502174

View attachment 502175

View attachment 502176
Where did you find the red head steering column? I can't seem to find it on their site and mine is needing replacement in the next couple of months. Epic build keep up the documentation!


Where did you find the red head steering column? I can't seem to find it on their site and mine is needing replacement in the next couple of months. Epic build keep up the documentation!
The column is actually a Bourgeson. The original one was rapidly deteriorating at the crush sleeve/washer deal so I would highly recommend replacing yours ASAP. That could cause a major problem if it failed on the move.. Thanks for the motivation to keep building! It will slow down soon due to moving but I'll certainly keep on sharing.


osity is this the
Correct. Sorry should have posted that earlier. Just verified the part number is in fact 000981 It uses set-screws on both ends so not quite sure how I feel about that. But it seems to hold up so far. Haven't bene on any really rough roads yet since though so time will tell but they are held in with a lock nut and blue locktite. Install is easy. Slides right in. Might want to use a little bit of dry silicon spray, and the plastic outer cover on the firewall probably won't be reused.


I think I am going to do this at the same time as installing a new steering shaft as I have some play in my steering wheel/ column:

Any updates on your set up?
Update regarding the steering? Sure thing! So before the steering shaft/gear all the suspension components, ball joints, steering linkage, etc.. all of it was replaced. Nothing was necessarily bad....but more of a preventative and 'renewing' thing. Steering was much better, mostly due to the linkage...but still sloppy. This year is when the gearbox and shaft got replaced. I new last year the box needed replacement. Again, not bad, but certainly worn. I went from about 2.3" of steering wheel play, to about 2/3's of an inch..which is more normal and back to 'factory' if you will. These old trucks to wonder some, but it is 100 times better! The gearbox and column really made a difference. Come to find out, the column sleeve was worn, causing play, the bearings worn, causing play, and of course the gearbox. So all together, there was a lot of play. I was concerned the original column could have a critical failure, and naturally that would be really really bad. And of course once that suspension clunk was finally figured out, that ended up resolving some of the wonky feeling as well....I'm really hoping the suspension stuff doesn't rear its ugly head in a worse way. Always worry about frame issues....

As for that bearing. it might not be a bad idea since your already there. But it is a lot more work than just doing the column. I had considered it myself also, but my bearing has no play. Its a simple test by just trying to rock the wheel side to side (not the same as turning). If it moves at all for sure replace it. I dont think its as important as the column and gearbox though. Those bearings really only fail if one uses the steering wheel as a grab handle to climb into the trucks (typical of lifted trucks without step bars, like mine haha).

Is that the update your looking for?


Sorting out a temporary solution to a longer term problem. Pretty satisfied thus far. Not perfect, but relatively simple to accomplish and works for now especially with time constraints to create something nicer.

Looks to be hanging, but it's actually bolted to the side with two brackets and a total of 8 bolts. Heavier than the standard hi-lift but confident it is secure enough and out of the way

Between the two tires is the pick. The shovel bracket was made using a series of wood pieces to hold the shovel portion on 4 areas, as well as the handle situated to pull the shovel into the bracket for security. The plywood has 2 layers to provide a mounting location as well as extra support for the canopy side box. The side box has other existing stuff like chain saw, gas/oil, parts, rope, tie-downs, straps, etc... In front of the right side wheel well are 4 tire chains, and 2 jack stands. They fit perfectly actually, and leave room for an extended shelf for light weight stuff if desired. One issue though is how the tires are secured to d-rings on the inside of the bed. Sometimes they get loose, and the tires fall over. Not quite sure what to do to resolve this bit yet. Also on the back is a splitting ax, chopping (foresters) ax, and hatchet. the two water jugs fit perfectly and leave room for......

Camping gear storage. Currently there is the rollout table, camp chair, smaller camp table, tarp, and 4 poles for the tarp. I'm willing to bet rearrangement would allow for the tent to go here as well - although the idea for all this is to sleep in the bed of the truck. At the back of this pocket is a fully boxed frame, so make no mistake this wood is secured very well, and very strong without adding a whole lot of weight and still allowing the bed to flex mostly as normal.

Other things still need to happen, but its a start - after screwing up my back really bad just in time to start work...


I like it!!!!! That’s optimal use of space! Working things out is the fun part to me. I enjoy setting up a particular layout, trying it out, and then completely starting over. I’m strange. But I eventually end up with something that works well. I currently have a great setup to use my truck for boon-docking and sleeping that works very good for me (if I ever get time to do it- work has been rough the last three years or so). I also like that In an hour I can take it all out/off the truck. I can also put it back on in about the same amount of time. That’s nice. But it took lots of variations to get one that worked. Currently the truck is not carrying anything but a tool box at the front of the bed. I need it to do some truck stuff for a while, and that means pulling a gooseneck. So off with the top! But it’s nice to know that if time and circumstances permit I can quickly go back to camping mode. I’m taking notes on what you got going....I need a top like yours and use my stuff in it. That’d be sweet for me. My old fiberglass shell is getting weaker every year. At some point it’ll be nothing but pieces. Keep up the thread Chorky, your doing great, and keeping the entertainment real.


I like it!!!!! That’s optimal use of space! Working things out is the fun part to me.
Thanks seabass. Usually I do like setting up layouts as well but this was a bit hasty. As well as just needing to resolve a camping/sleeping problem. Tenting it is old to me now, and many places are no longer allowing it due to animal conflicts. It still works well though and is mostly what I envisioned. I had considered at one point just sleeping on the back seat, but the combination of not wanting wood to damage the interior, a tight space, and no heating ability kinda killed that. So I'm considering the idea of removing the rear bench, installing two front seats in the rear, and a storage box between the two. That would be pretty functional I think. Anyway, the two yellow boxes are a combination of tools/parts that will be used as a bed base as theyre always in the truck. So I still need to cut some more plywood. The bed will be a simple sheet of plywood with some supports so it can lean up on the left side rail and hook to the top of the canopy to be out of the way in the event tools need to be accessed. Plenty of floor room is left for other camping gear, work related boxes, and various stuff one typically uses a truck for.

The longer term plan is a flatbed with side boxes that are more or less permanent. All this gear can then be stored neatly with room to spare for electrical and water systems (although tire storage is questionable at the moment). A canopy can be fitted to the top to still provide a dry storage area, and the bed can still be used as a normal bed for various purposes. Likely a combination of ATV storage and camping while towing a custom Alaskan fitted to a flatbed trailer.

But as is it will work, for now. I have been contemplating getting a little buddy heater for cool evenings in the bed but I'm not sure if it has sufficient air gaps for safety. Also considering making my own camp kitchen with a sink and water pump and dedicated areas for all typical camp kitchen stuff except food, which is in an old army sealed box for bear safety.