Highway calls for 1951 Ford F-7 big rig
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A workhorse like Barry Rittenhouse's 1951 Ford F-7 Big Job is capable of accomplishing mighty tasks. Despite its strong potential, this rolling tool of the truck-driving trade never was given a chance to be put to the max.
The rough-and-ready Ford was pulled from the fleet before ever beginning a life of service.
"The vehicle has always been in the family's possession but was stored and forgotten about for 50 years," said Rittenhouse, a Mount Morris resident.
Rittenhouse is a retired truck driver who carried on the family occupation. His father, Nelson Rittenhouse, owned Kable Brothers Transport, a Mount Morris trucking company that operated from 1937 to 1975.
"My dad purchased the F-7 in the early part of 1951 with intentions of using it full time. He never liked how it pulled a trailer so, after putting just 2,300 miles on it, he parked it," Rittenhouse said.
"The trucking company had six of these F-7 units during the '50s and this is number 6. It had nearly every option and was the newest one we had for many years."
The Big Job sat parked and unused until 2001 when Rittenhouse's father passed away. His death prompted Barry to get serious about getting the rig back on the road. Because it had sat inside a company warehouse, the condition was better than most decades-old vehicles.
"It was really quite excellent overall. The chrome needed polishing, new tires were installed -- the old ones were square in shape -- and a bunch of little things."
Some other mechanical areas that received attention were new air lines and brakes. "My father's shop had an overabundance of F-7 parts so if I needed anything, I just went to the stockroom," Rittenhouse said.
From the factory, Ford installed a 127 horsepower, 337-cubic-inch Lincoln flathead V-8, which was the largest available powerplant for the F-7. All those years of sitting unused had caused the rig's engine to seize. A second engine with just 15,000 miles on it was sourced from a '51 F-7 Big Job fire engine.
The exterior metalwork was in pristine condition other than a small ding on a front fender, which was left as is for nostalgia's sake. The original Meadow Green paint was wet-sanded while the bumper, running boards and exposed parts of the frame and wheels received a new coat of black paint.
"The truck is original inside and out. The cabin was just cleaned up and left alone, including the factory bench seat that had no signs of wear."
With the Ford's minor needs remedied, Rittenhouse has kept the rig in its natural habitat -- out on the open highway. "I drive it as much as possible. The odometer is approaching the 10,000 mile mark but it still feels brand new."
Those recent miles provide a clue as to why the truck went into long-term storage.
"Occasionally, I'll pull my 1948, 32-foot Fruehauf van trailer, or my '44 flatbed," Rittenhouse said. The truck's factory transmission makes it a difficult load-pulling unit. "That's why I think my father parked it so long ago."
Yet Rittenhouse saw the project not merely as an exercise in mechanics, but as a rolling tribute to honor loved ones. "I wanted this truck back together in memory of my dad, the family's shipping company and my best friend, Bill Fletcher. He helped me get it out of storage but passed soon after. He never got to run the truck under it's own power, but he's with me every time it goes down the road."
The old truck and retired trucker are now making up for lost miles. Rittenhouse is a member of the Northwest Illinois chapter of the American Truck Historical Society and can be regularly seen motoring down area highways.
"I'll head down I-39, I-90, I-88, traveling across the state, southern Wisconsin and even parts of Iowa, making runs to the Iowa 80 truck stop. Even after all this time, I'm still driving the old girl and having a ball."
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