A Man, a Plan, and a 1994 F-350 Jambulance

At around 3:35 a.m. on September 15, 2018, I got a flat tire on the Dempster Highway about 10 miles past Eagle Plains. I was headed north to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Canada, an Inuit hamlet on the coast of the Arctic Sea known to the locals as “Tuk.” In a whiff of butterfly effect chicanery, that flat tire is the reason I am today trying to get a rig called the Jambulance up and running for a 10,000-mile round-trip to Jiggle City.

But let’s start with the flat.

I deserved it. I was driving the then-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler along the two-lane berm that tracked 417 miles through Canadian tundra. The Dempster Highway’s billed as a gravel road, but it’s actually composed of gizzard stones and igneous shrapnel. All the guidebooks advise slow, patient going to lessen the chance of a flat. The Dempster is also trafficked by heavy trucks that get the right of way, and they turn those stones and shrapnel into projectiles that crack windshields and blow holes in radiators. They should be dodged, too.

I ignored the guidebooks. I couldn’t ignore the one-inch piece of what looked like obsidian that shanked the left rear 33-inch tire.

I bolted on the spare. Since it was Saturday during elk hunting season, anyone who could hold a gun, which included anyone who owned a tire repair facility along the route, was out trying to bag winter meat. I made it to Tuk at about 6 p.m. on my four good tires. I didn’t want to dally in Tuk until Monday hoping someone there could patch a large hole. But I didn’t want to try to cross the Dempster again without backup rubber, even if I was now ready to try slow, patient going.

At the first open place I saw in Tuk, the woman behind the counter recommended I try the house across the road because the man who lived there repaired tires, or that I visit John Steen, who ran a grub joint called Grandma’s Kitchen not far away and had his own shop. I walked outside and looked at the house. I wasn’t ready to ask a man to give up his Saturday evening to play AAA because I’d been an idiot. That left Mr. Steen. I figured I’d get a burger even if I couldn’t get immediate help.

Grandma’s Kitchen turned out to be a trailer parked behind a house at the end of a tiny road, the trailer sitting on a wide gravel beach between the house and the Arctic Sea. Grandma’s Kitchen was boarded up. Ugh. A sign said to come around to the patio on the back side of the house. That’s where I met John Steen and spent a preposterous night. I learned about the people and the town. I ate whale. I wore the most amazing homemade Inuit coat filled with snow goose down and lined with wolverine fur. I held forth with various citizens over Kokanee beer until 3 a.m., and I slept in John’s man cave. The Jeep tire was too big for John’s repair rig, but John asked a friend—one who’d arrived at the party in a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops in 10-degree weather—if his friend’s larger rig could handle it. The friend said yes and that he’d have the tire fixed for me the next morning.

That is a cool jacket. Or a warm one. It looks very warm.

Courtesy of Jonathon RamseyCar and Driver

That honorable man had the BFG All-Terrain patched tight on Sunday and showed me the offending geology. With five good tires, I made it back through the tundra, and eventually home.

Ever since, I’ve occasionally received comic and cryptic messages from John. Last October, an early evening spate of messages turned into a phone call. “Jonny,” he said, “you should come up here and we can hop on the snowmobiles and I’ll take you jiggling.”

“When should I come?”

“May is the best time.”

“I’ll be there.”

I had no idea what jiggling was, and I told him not to tell me. When the Inuit invite you on a 10,000-mile round trip to do something called “jiggling,” you say yes and prepare.

My prep included needing some kind of rig to make the journey to Tuk, which I’d now taken to calling Jiggle City. I own a 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser that would be perfect. Yet I wasn’t satisfied with that option.

I remembered an episode of Window Shop where we had to choose the best off-road vehicles for $10,000. One of my options was to buy an old Ford E-Series van, throw on a 4WD conversion kit from Ujoint Offroad, and spend the rest on dressing up the interior. I’d already bought one of my Window Shop finds. This one would be even better.

I began looking for old vans, my search pulling up E-Series ambulances. If I could find a decent one for under $5000, that would blow the Window Shop budget, but the upsides were too good to ignore: heavy-duty frames, high roofs, plentiful storage, and copious amounts of preinstalled electric wiring.

Three months went by and I couldn’t find anything—any ambulance costing less than $5000 is either a screaming steal and disappears immediately, or junk. It was now 2021 and I had less than four months to buy a rig, convert it to an RV, and head for Tuktoyaktuk. I got in touch with Brandon Alsept, who runs BA Motorsports, turning Mustangs into hi-po dragsters and doing all the supercharger installs for Beechmont Ford Performance. Less than an hour after I told him what I wanted, he sent me a link to a Facebook marketplace posting. That posting was for the Jambulance.

the ambulance

Jonathon RamseyCar and Driver

Now, anyone who’s bought a shelter animal, or knows someone who has, or watched those ridiculously heartbreaking videos on The Dodo, is familiar with a certain kind of adoption story. You go to the shelter knowing what kind of dog you want. You know you would never want an astigmatic, incontinent, geriatric cur named Rufus. But you lock eyes with Rufus and there’s no getting away. You go home with an astigmatic, incontinent, geriatric cur named Rufus. And you love him.

The Jambulance is my Rufus.

A DJ not far from me—DJ Kevy Kev—needed to get rid of his 1994 Ford F-350 ambulance. He had named it the Jambulance, and it was covered in lettering for his DJ services, including its name. It also listed the DJ’s phone number, the last four numbers of which formed the word “PISS.”

“To remember the number, I tell my clients, ‘772 I piss on you,'” he told me. “They never forget.”

Under the hood, the Jambulance hides Ford’s nonturbocharged 7.3-liter IDI (indirect-injection) diesel V-8. It would only start with a healthy hosing of starter fluid, but once it was running it sounded smooth. Kev told me the only thing the truck needed was the rear brakes bled. He wanted $2000. This was a screaming steal.

John Pearley Huffman, a fellow Window Shopper, often mentions shopping the vehicle owner more than the vehicle. I ignored his advice like I ignored those guidebooks. And just like on the Dempster, I’m paying for it.

On January 5, I gave Kev $2000, called a tow truck, and sent my dog to the vet—being Beechmont Ford—for a full diagnosis. I had a little more than three months to get everything ready for the haul.

It only took two days to find out my Rufus, my Jambulance, needed a lot more than its brakes bled.

This is the first in an occasional series as Jonathon Ramsey works to get the Jambulance ready for the road.

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button