Updated: Jan 30, 2022
I think the more articulate and beautiful Huber should tell the story, but first a little background. A buddy of mine is a Toyota Master Mechanic and has owned his own shop for nearly 30 years. He’s the guy who reads service manuals on new cars and sends corrections to Toyota. He is absolutely meticulous, so when he called and told me there was a cheap, CHEAP, FJ40 going up for sale I listened. He said the truck would need a LOT of work, but that he’d rebuilt the engine and drive-train to the tune of nearly $15,000 back in the early 1990's. Now it’s been sitting for years and the owner only wants a fraction of that long ago repair bill to sell it.
This certainly seemed like a good deal, but I wasn’t so sure. How bad was it, how many tens of thousands of dirt miles had it covered since the 90's!? The owner used the truck exclusively to get him from Tucson the 100 or so dirt miles to his ranch complete with a dirt airstrip and hangar.
Now he lived back east and so I was going to be looking at, buying and removing a truck from someone’s property without them there and without ever having so much as met them. It all seemed a bit scary, but something drew me to it. Maybe it was just my buddy. Anyone who get’s flown all over the country to work on others vehicles has a certain mojo when it comes to the vehicles they’ve laid hands on.
On with the story:
Story by Kelsey:
Is it normal to want to turn half your house into a garage? Maybe we have a problem... We got another vehicle last weekend. Did we need another vehicle? Did we need another project? Did we run out of ways to use all of our free time?! Were we bored?! NO! But sometimes opportunities present themselves and you just cannot say no.
So we welcome “Tonto Rockford” (still working on the name...we have to get to know him a little better) to the family! We first met TR the weekend before last, after we had heard through a friend about a rough little FJ40 whose longtime owner was ready to part with him. We were warned it was in rough condition, and given its location, so we both tried to temper our expectations and not get too excited (impossible!).
Off we went to take a look at this 1976 FJ40. I think both of us were trying not to build the truck up in our minds so we didn’t talk much about it on the drive there. Passing the last teeny tiny town, I realized this truck was way out there. We eventually hit dirt and I began to think this is exactly where I would love the story of this old truck to begin, way out in the most Arizona landscape I could think of - beautiful remote and wild. As the road was getting progressively rougher we were glad we had taken Goose for this outing.
We topped the hill and saw an airplane hangar...he was supposed to be somewhere near it. We hadn’t seen any pictures but we knew we were looking for some variation of the color red and tan. Sure enough he was sitting there, to our excitement under cover. It felt shady being on someone’s property without them there, checking out their vehicle...but we had heard secondhand that we could be there and look at him so here we were hoping none of the neighbors would try to exercise their second amendment rights.
My first thought when stepping out of Goose was there are for sure RATTLESNAKES around (turns out cascabel means rattle in Spanish...the town was named after rattlesnakes) but I didn’t see any, I would not have been surprised though and took every step with caution.
As we hopped out, my second thought was, “What is that noise?” It was one of those electronic noise things to scare off birds, bugs, mice..all of them? not sure? But the hangar had a big noise maker and we found that the FJ40 also had a smaller machine placed in it. I was ready for snakes bugs mice anything to jump out at us as we opened up the doors and had a look.
The mice had left many many presents all over the inside and out….and everywhere in between (which didn’t give me much hope for the wiring). I discovered several large wasp nests forming within the hangar and was REALLY hoping they had not found their way inside the 40, that would not have been a fun surprise. After looking all around inside and out at the physical appearance I can’t say it was a yes for me yet, it was about what I expected in terms of appearance.
The key was on the dash (gotta love rural trust) so Tim turned the key and there was very little juice, certainly not enough to get it to turn over. So we pulled trusty Goose up and jumped the little truck. (reassuring Goose that he was still very much loved) and to all of our surprise the 40 started up right away. (Amazing!) I have to say I did not expect that. I also fully expected him to sputter to a stop shortly after the lucky start, but he kept purring away like a little sewing machine. Amazed we just listened. We revved, the oddly strong sounding engine, making sure we didn’t hear or see anything that was off. Nothing….so after debating whether or not it was overstepping our bounds on this guy’s property to take it for a drive, we came to the conclusion that we had come all this way and if we were even considering buying it we needed to drive it. So pushing in the clutch Tim shifted him smoothly into reverse and to my amazement the reverse lights worked (this cannot be!). I watched Tim put the truck into first and putt putt out to the end of the driveway and that is when I thought there is no way we can leave this one behind. He seemed to be trying so hard as if to say, don’t leave me here! I am worthy! See! look how well I run! I want so bad to go on adventures and not just sit here rotting with the mice! Love me! As soon as Tim got back we looked at each other and both said “I think we have to”.
With heavy hearts and anxiety we closed him back up making sure to plug in the electronic noise maker and open up the glove box so as to make it less appealing to the tenants. We drove off hoping it would not be long until we would be back. We kept checking to see if we had service so we could let the owner know we were indeed interested. Once we finally hit pavement again we had a little service and left a voicemail informing the owner of our interest. As we drove back we compiled a list of all the things we would need to have/take with us to get the little guy home. We literally made a list as we drove (we are nerds!)
We had to wait another day until we heard back from the owner. He loved the little truck and said he felt bad that it was just sitting there. He had only driven it “1 or maybe 2?” years ago to recover someone who had been stuck in a wash near his property in Cascabel. He said the truck was just amazing it would ALWAYS start up.
He left us with that we could go pick it up whenever we wanted. Sadly it was Sunday evening when we got that news, so it wouldn’t be until next weekend that we could recover our new friend. In the meantime we kept adding to our list, ordering filters and fluids that we would need.
We both had trouble sleeping the night before we were to head out. Wondering if this was going to be the dumbest thing we had ever decided to do. We were going to make a weekend of the trip and stay in Tucson on Friday night then head to rescue TR in the AM. We met up with friends that night and had a great dinner while we enjoyed some wonderful company, who assured us that “It’s a Toyota it will make it” there was also mention of getting a flat. With that we headed off to one more restless nights sleep.
We had masks we had gloves we had Clorox wipes. We were ready to wage war on the mouse infested interior. Tim went through the mechanical items greasing and checking fluids etc. I was in charge of the interior (We didn’t want to die of hantavirus).
I put on my mask and gloves and after fighting off many spiders I got the vacuum that was sitting there in the hangar, looking
a little worse for the wear, (it was also a popular mouse hangout) working and started in on the many droppings, nests, and general hantavirus causing items. (If we both randomly die soon we had hantavirus, but we died happy).
I wiped and wiped and cringed and finally got rid of most of the nastiest stuff. We were prepared (it’s because of the list) and had brought a Mexican blanket to put on the
hantavirus seat. (Am I saying Hantavirus too much?) We then pulled the truck out to change the oil and upon pulling it back Tim said “Do mice really squeak?” I said “Yeah, did you hear a squeak? Was it super high pitched?! Babies have high pitched squeaks!” He didn’t think too much of it and went to start bleeding brake fluid, I crawled in to pump the brakes and as I was about to pull myself in right there below the clutch pedal were too pink little baby mice crying in there high pitched mouse squeaks. I said, “Tim, there are baby mice! He said “OK…” as if we had already established that fact, to which I replied “No, I mean literally there are baby mice right here! Come look!”
I am not saying we killed them but let’s just say we threw them to the Cascabels.
We were finally ready, we had completed our list. It was time to see how far we could get. Tim would drive the 40 and I would follow in goose. Down the rough hill we went, we made it onto the more major dirt road and started putting, about 5 miles in we had our first set-back. The tires were very old but we decided to risk it. And we had our first flat. Hoping this wasn’t a sign of what’s to come, we made quick work of changing the tire. A rock had actually penetrated through the tire and was now sitting out of site within it. We’d never seen that happen. Now our spare was gone…
Off we went again - still optimistic.
We made it to pavement and decided to take a break for lunch. We then decided to keep on keepin on, taking it easy and seeing how far we could make it.
Next stop was about 100 miles in, we had pulled off to take a break. I told Tim I was amazed at how quick the little old truck was, He was hitting 65 even! (The speedo doesn’t work so my speed in Goose was his speedo). We were in disbelief that we had made it this far and we were making MUCH better time than expected too. So we sat and cooled down relaxing before pushing on again to see how far we could make it.
We had finally made it back to civilization and to gas, barely. Every Time we would turn off the engine I would think this is it, it won’t start again, the battery has to be toast anyway...it would just come right back to life. OK it cannot start again we are tempting fate now - and just like that it would purr to life. I almost didn’t believe it when we pulled into our driveway. I never expected the dirty old truck to make it all the way back let alone so well. Our tough little truck had proved himself and made us even bigger fans of him.
I got to hop in and drive him for the first time (now that we had made it safely home). The steering takes some muscle but it shifts like a dream! I was amazed at how notchy the gears were.
The following day we decided it was time for his first bath in over 10 years. We took him to the mud bay at the local car wash and Tim began spraying as I soaped and monitored inserting quarters as needed. $9 later we were satisfied and we both held our breath as Tim turned the key and like always it started right up (crazy!). Now it was home to do a more detailed clean. Tim worked on putting the missing bezel on the front and waxing the long forgotten paint. I spent my time cleaning out the inside (hosing out a vehicle just feels wrong) but it was about the only way to handle the mess that was the interior. The layers of gunk on the windows alone took about 1 roll of paper towels and half a bottle of window cleaner before they looked even decent. Scrubbing and still cringing a lot, it was MUCH better than before.
We finally decided to take a break and crawled in to enjoy our hard work. We went to run some errands and grab lunch. Approximately 4 hours later, and a good bit of driving, we arrived back to the house and to my surprise momma mouse decided to make an appearance next to my seat (HANTAVIRUS!) She slowly crawled under the seat leaving her tail still exposed (I think the hot drive had slowed her down a bit) Tim was able to grab her with pliers and remove her (Tim is a rampant mouse killer now). So 4 mice down….hopefully 0 to go! (Don’t google how many babies mice usually have in a litter) So we are working to bring our new buddy, and older brother to Goose, back to life. He has heart that is for sure. We will keep you updated on his progress as well as his name….What a great adventure he has been so far!