I got the call. You know, the call. When someone asks you to help move stuff with your truck. If you own a pickup, sooner or later you always get the call. But this wasn’t the usual, "I need help moving," or, "Can you help me take some junk to the dump?" This was a desperate plea from the most beautiful woman I've ever seen asking me to help save Bambi.
See, my wife took the lead coordinating volunteers to build a new feed garden at the California Wildlife Center (CWC) near Los Angeles. The noble folks at the CWC selflessly give their time and skills 365-days a year to rescue and rehabilitate injured animals for release back into the wild. And my kids and their classmates were in on this too because this was a community service project for the younger grades at their school.
Love, guilt, and helpless baby animals, there was no escaping this request.
The mission was to haul two cubic-yards of donated topsoil from a nursery in Simi Valley to the animal sanctuary, about 40-miles away. It might not sound like it, but that's a lot of dirt. A cubic-yard is 27 cubic-feet and weighs about 2,250-lb. Carbon footprint counting moms and dads with visions of using their Prius to adventurously haul a bag or two of mulch cruelly found they couldn't complete the circle of life with their alt-powertrain sedans. Not unless they wanted to make ten or twenty trips.
Even half-ton trucks are challenged by loads like this. The most capable 2008 Toyota Tundra (Regular Cab 5.7-liter V8 4x2) has a max payload rating of only 1,925-lb. And most three-quarter-ton and one-ton pickups won’t work either. A Chevrolet Silverado 3500 Crew Cab Long Bed Dual Rear Wheel (DRW) 6.6-liter Duramax V8 diesel 4x4 can only manage up to 4,029-lb. (4,706-lb. with the 6.0-liter gas V8).
No, this called for serious hauling capability. If we were going to save Bambi, it was going to be done as efficiently as possible using the biggest pickup we could find - because I was sure I was going to get a call from my wife when we were loading up asking for 'just one more' cubic-yard of soil, which I figured I could negotiate down to a half cubic-yard extra.
The only truck that fit the task was Ford's one-and-one-half-ton 2008 F-450 Super Duty Crew Cab 6.4-liter Power Stroke Diesel V8.
The last time we drove the "Big Dog Daddy" of pickups was during the 2007 Heavy Duty Shootout. We used it to tow a 20,000-lb. trailer up an insanely steep 25% grade, but we didn’t drive it unloaded or hauling cargo. Helping out the CWC was all the excuse needed to test the F-450’s astounding 5,720-lb. payload rating (the 4x2 F-450 has an even higher 6,120-lb. max payload). That's 1,000-lb. more than either a Dodge Ram 3500 Quad Cab Long Bed DRW 4x4 or the Silverado 3500.
We borrowed the optional 4.88 rear axle version (4.30 is standard), geared for pulling the biggest loads. It's detuned, to 325-horsepower / 600 lb-ft of torque, compared to the standard 4.30 truck rated at 350-hp / 650 lb-ft., to reduce driveline wear.
The F-450 is Ford's Class 4 chassis cab truck with a factory pickup box. It's commercial grade but Ford has civilized this beast so it looks normal, almost. The tell is the widetrack monobeam front suspension and extended axle that adds big front wheel cutouts and bulging arches to the truck. The radius-arm suspension gives the F-450 its bulldog stance but it also shrinks the truck's turning radius to 50-feet, versus 56-ft for a conventional narrow track F-350. The F-450 is surprisingly agile maneuvering at low speeds even though its length is just shy of 22-ft. But it's agile like an NFL linebacker instead of a ballet dancer because the truck is 95.5-in. wide – enough to require side and roof marker lamps.