OPERATION OLD SCHOOL TOW RIG: PART 3

Class V Hitch, Trailer Brake Controller & 5-inch Exhaust

With fresh leaf springs and an air spring system in place under our ’97 F-350 (installed in Parts 1 and 2 of this series), the old school crew cab is well on its way to becoming a born again and formidable tow rig. However, thanks to age, rust and outdated equipment, several issues need to be addressed before we can even think about hooking it to a trailer. For starters, the factory-installed receiver hitch is practically being held to the frame via rust, the 20-year-old trailer brake controller is obviously behind the times, and the truck’s exhaust system is long overdue for replacement. After reaching out to the likes of Draw-Tite, Tekonsha and Diamond Eye Performance, we’re solving each of these problems with top-of-the-line components this month.

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After positioning the truck on a two-post lift and getting it airborne, Flynn’s Shop’s lead technician, Jake Bosie, got started with the removal of the rusted factory receiver hitch. The shop’s air compressor roared to life in short order as he used a half-inch impact and a 19 millimeter socket to break the 21-year-old nuts loose.

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The process of removing corroded, dilapidated hardware can be frustrating, but it’s made even more time-consuming when the fasteners have been covered with a thick layer of over-coating like ours were. After hammering the 19 mm socket onto each nut, the nut itself would have to be dislodged from the socket once it has been removed.

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For insurance against the receiver hitch falling on him, Bosie left each mounting nut on the passenger side threaded onto the end of its respective bolt. Then, he used a pry bar to break the driver side of the hitch free from the frame.

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Once we could see what was lurking beneath the black over-coating, it was apparent how much damage had been done to the factory receiver hitch. Towing with a hitch having this much deterioration at its mounting points could’ve spelled disaster, had we chosen to run it as-is. When towing with any older vehicle it’s important to never overlook the condition of your hitch.

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Following several minutes of prying along with a bit of hammering, the factory receiver hitch was completely free from the frame. Then, with all nuts unthreaded from the mounting bolts, Bosie lowered it off the truck. From there, the receiver hitch’s rusted mounting bolts were hammered up and out of the bottom of the frame rails.

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When the factory receiver hitch was removed, it was placed next to its replacement. Bosie also compared measurements between the two to make certain the Draw-Tite unit would fit. And although the Draw-Tite hitch measured slightly wider (40 inches) and taller (7 inches), it was nothing a drill bit and longer mounting bolts couldn’t take care of. Note the Draw-Tite unit’s all-welded construction for maximum strength and safety.

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The Draw-Tite Class V Ultra Frame 2-inch receiver hitch (PN 41904) is built from 5/16-inch steel, was designed for full-size, long-wheelbase trucks, and is ideal for high tongue weight applications. Its maximum weight carrying capacity is 10,000 pounds, and 12,000 pounds with a weight-distributing hitch. For protection against the elements, the Draw-Tite unit features an E-coat base with a black powdercoat finish.

To ensure the safest possible bumper tow experience we’re installing Draw-Tite’s Class V Ultra Frame 2-inch receiver hitch. For optimum braking control, we’re upgrading to a proportional Tekonsha P2 trailer brake controller. And for a fresh start, a throaty sound, and reduced EGT, we’re helping the truck exhale with a 5-inch exhaust system from Diamond Eye Performance. Additionally, we’re bolting on a direct replacement bumper from LMC Truck, as well as adding several new towing accessories from Draw-Tite and Bolt Lock to our arsenal. Following another nine-hour day spent removing, replacing, and upgrading parts at Flynn’s Shop in Alexander, Illinois, Project Old School Tow Rig is one step closer to hauling anything we need it to. Stay tuned for Part 4, where we’ll prep the E4OD transmission for heavy hauling.

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While replacing the receiver hitch, we decided it would be an opportune time to replace the truck’s dented OEM rear bumper as well. Using a 21 mm socket connected to his impact, Bosie removed the inner bumper bracket nuts and then loosened the rearmost nuts enough to allow the bumper to droop downward.

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From there, the trailer brake wire harness was unplugged, the license plate light bulbs were removed, and the bumper was pulled off the frame. Although it’s not visible here, the passenger-side bumper bracket had been twisted upward when the damage was inflicted on the bumper.

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Before going any further, Bosie cleaned up the exposed rusted areas behind the bumper brackets and receiver hitch with a die grinder and paddle wheel. Once the rust spots were down to bare metal, he treated them to compressed air followed by a coat of flat black paint.

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Turning to one of the most trusted names in restoration truck parts, we sourced our OEM replacement bumper and mounting brackets from LMC Truck. After determining which holes we needed to use in the mounting brackets supplied by LMC (PN 30-2098F), they were anchored to the frame but not yet fully tightened.

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LMC Truck’s premium chrome step bumper with top pad (PN 38-9736F) is the closest reproduction piece to factory currently on the market for the ’94.5-97 Fords. And although the supplied bumper brackets brought the bumper closer to the bottom of the tailgate than the OEM unit had, we simply made incremental adjustments until we had the bumper positioned to our liking.

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After a quick test-fit of the Draw-Tite receiver hitch, Bosie realized that the six existing mounting holes in the frame would have to be opened up a little more to accommodate the new hardware. Starting with the rearmost mounting hole in the frame and working his way forward, he used a 9/16-inch drill bit to enlarge each one.

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When it came time to install the Draw-Tite receiver hitch, it was first held in place at the innermost mounting points via the loosely installed 9/16-inch bolt, lock washer and nut. From there, the front of the receiver hitch was held in place along the frame while the remaining bolts, lock washers and nuts were installed.

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Once the Draw-Tite receiver hitch was secured and then torqued to spec, Bosie fabbed up a new trailer wire harness mounting bracket and attached it to the bottom of the freshly installed rear bumper. The wire harness itself, which appeared to be in decent condition given its age, was zip-tied up and out of the way behind the receiver hitch.

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Nothing says you’re serious about towing quite like a solid shank ball mount. This Draw-Tite unit fits 2-inch-square tube openings and features a 11/4-inch ball hole, a 5-inch rise and a 6-inch drop. It’s rated for 12,000 pounds (1,200 pounds of tongue weight) and zinc-coated to prevent rust. The 2-5/16-inch ball shown, also from Draw-Tite, is rated for 14,000 pounds.

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Building on the legendary Prodigy units, the Prodigy P2 from Tekonsha (PN 90885) is a highly advanced proportional (inertia sensing) trailer brake controller designed for use with one to four braking axles. It is self-leveling, which means it will automatically adjust as you travel up or down hills, features three boost levels to vary your initial braking power and braking aggressiveness for heavier trailers, and reduces the power being sent to your trailer brakes during prolonged stops to keep them from overheating.

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The Prodigy P2 trailer brake controller can be installed by either utilizing the pigtail wiring harness it comes with or plugging in your vehicle-specific wiring harness (which is common on trucks with tow package options from the factory). To get around hard-wiring your trailer brake controller, Tekonsha offers application-specific adapter harnesses like this (PN 3035-P), which plug directly into the back of the trailer brake controller and the tow vehicle’s factory plug under the dash.

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Our F-350 was equipped with a tow package straight from the factory, which made installing the Prodigy P2 a plug-and-play affair. Using the supplied traditional mounting bracket, we had the unit in place under the center of the dash (and the Phillips screws tightened up) in less than five minutes. The digital display features blue LED lighting and the controller draws just 3.6 mA (milliamperes) when not in use.

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To free up exhaust flow and cool down EGT, we contacted Diamond Eye Performance for one of their aluminized exhaust systems to replace the rusted existing system on our F-350. For ultimate curb appeal, we opted for a al5-inch-diameter kit, and for that signature straight-piped 7.3 L whistle we ordered the system void of a muffler (PN K5315A-RP). It’s worth noting that Diamond Eye is the only manufacturer still offering a 5-inch-diameter system (in aluminized or stainless) for the ’94.5-97 Fords.

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If you’ve never seen a factory downpipe on a ’94.5-97 7.3-Liter Power Stroke, you might not believe this was actually pulled out of the exhaust system. Nevertheless, this crimped down, highly restrictive piece serves as the downpipe on OBS Fords. At the stock power level it might suffice, but in the age of adding horsepower it becomes a performance-hindering, heat-generating problem as soon as you add a programmer—hence the reason we opted for the aforementioned two-piece, 3-inch downpipe from Diamond Eye.

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Installing the upper portion of the Diamond Eye downpipe (or any downpipe other than stock) on a ’94.5-97 Ford requires considerable firewall massaging near the transmission bell housing, and most installers either use a port-a-power or pry bar. With the top section of the Diamond Eye downpipe attached at the turbo, the lower piece can be connected via the supplied band clamp. After that, the transitional section that expands the exhaust from a 3-5 inch diameter can be attached.

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Once the downpipe was in place, the rest of the exhaust installation boiled down to piecing everything together. For added clamping where band clamps were employed, Bosie cut four slits into the slip joints. Later on (after everything had been tightened and the system checked for leaks), Bosie would also cut off the excess threads on the U-bolt exhaust clamps for a clean, finished look.

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Not unlike any other type of project, any time you’re installing a cut-to-fit exhaust system it pays to measure twice and cut once. Throughout installation of the Diamond Eye kit Bosie took special care to take into account the measurements of the slip joints, the locations of the factory exhaust hanger mounting points (so as not to accidentally position a U-bolt clamp at a seam), and the location of the tailpipe sections before making any one cut. In total, seven inches of material would be removed from the overall length of the system.

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The exhaust system’s exclamation point comes in the form of a logo-embossed 304 stainless steel tip. Measuring 7 inches in diameter at its outlet and 18 inches in length, the bolt-on, rolled angle tip (PN 5718BRA-DE) adds a bold new look to our old Ford.

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Security is a big part of the towing experience, and the Bolt Lock line of products makes life easier for working class folks and weekend warriors alike. They not only make your trailer and its corresponding accessories virtually theft-proof, but they can be unlocked using your truck’s ignition key and feature a weather-proof, stainless steel lock shutter to keep out moisture and debris. From left to right, we’ll be relying on Bolt Lock’s 5/8-inch receiver lock to keep our ball mount affixed to the new receiver hitch, a coupler pin lock to ensure our trailer is never stolen, and a 6-foot cable lock to secure valuable cargo in the bed.

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To free up exhaust flow and cool down EGT, we contacted Diamond Eye Performance for one of their aluminized exhaust systems to replace the rusted existing system on our F-350. For ultimate curb appeal, we opted for a 5-inch-diameter kit, and for that signature straight-piped 7.3L whistle we ordered the system void of a muffler (PN K5315A-RP). It’s worth noting that Diamond Eye is the only manufacturer still offering a 5-inch-diameter system (in aluminized or stainless) for the ’94.5-97 Fords.


SOURCES

Bolt Lock
844.972.7547
BoltLock.com

Diamond Eye Performance
800.635.9950
DiamondEyePerformance.com

Draw-Tite
800.632.3290
Draw-Tite.com

LMC Truck
800.562.8782
LMCTruck.com

Tekonsha
800.632.3290
Tekonsha.com