ULTIMATE BRUSH TRUCK

Making a Fire & Rescue Rig Capable of Tackling any Terrain

They’re big. They’re four-wheel-drive. And, they fight fires where their bigger brothers can’t. They’re known as wildland engines, patrol pumpers, grass rigs, and Type 3-7 engines, but to firefighters and civilians alike, they’re best known as “brush trucks.” Because fires don’t exclusively occur along paved streets, these heavily accessorized and customized rigs are born from the necessity of being able to access fires out in fields, timber, and in other remote landscapes. Since they have to be capable of traversing all types of terrain, the fire departments that spec them out often find themselves making the trucks even more versatile after the initial purchase.

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Buckstop Truckware’s suspension lift for the ’11-16 F-450 and F-550 Super Duty was designed to improve off-road functionality and traction without compromising weight-carrying capacity. The system adds 3.5 inches of height up front courtesy of taller coil springs, raises the rear 4 inches by way of lift blocks, and allows for up to a 41-inch tire to be used. The Buckstop system also comes with new shocks, U-bolts, drop-down bracketry, and all appropriate hardware.

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After positioning the truck on a 15,000-pound, two-post lift, Chad Flynn of Flynn’s Shop started by removing the wheels and tires. After that, he unplugged the ABS sensors and detached the brake lines from the factory radius arms. Then, the front sway bar bolts were broken loose at the frame and the sway bar was dropped down out-of-the-way.

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Flynn positioned a jack under the truck’s tie rod assembly before continuing with the teardown process. The steering stabilizer, shown here being loosened at the frame, would be retained and reinstalled later.

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Grabbing a ½-inch impact and a 15/16-inch socket and wrench, Flynn began removing the factory hardware from the radius arms. With each nut unthreaded, a hammer and punch would be needed to coax the bolts out of the radius arms.

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On both sides of the truck, Flynn opted to break the radius arms free at the frame first, then detach them from the axle. Luckily he was working with a ’16 model year truck with just 1,700 miles on the clock, so most fasteners put up minimal fight during their extraction.

Even though the rural fire district of Murrayville, Illinois, had already treated its ’16 F-550 to a super single conversion and Mickey Thompson Baja MTZs, they set about improving the brush truck’s off-road performance even further. After the late-model Super Duty was dropped off at nearby Flynn’s Shop, it was fitted with a suspension lift from BuckstopTruckware that included 3.5-inch-taller coil springs, a burly set of radius arms, application-specific shocks, and 4-inch rear blocks. When the installation was complete, lock-to-lock turns were no longer an issue with larger tires installed. The truck’s off-road performance was enhanced substantially, and—most importantly—none of the truck’s weight-carrying capacity (i.e., water) was sacrificed.

Read on for an in-depth look at Buckstop Truckware’s severe-duty lift kit for ’11-16 F-450 and F-550 model Fords.

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The replacement radius arms Buckstop supplies in its kit are burly to say the least. Made of 1/4-inch wall tubular steel (and with welded gussets) they’re twice as thick as the 1/8-inch wall OEM radius arms.

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After first attaching the new radius arms to the axle and sliding both mounting bolts into place, Flynn used his jack to alter the pitch of the axle in order to line up the radius arms’ mounting holes at the frame. Once in place, none of the fasteners were tightened at this time.

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During the install, all factory radius arm bolts and nuts were reused with the exception of the nut that’s integrated into the OEM radius arm via weld. Instead of incorporating a nut into one of the radius arms, Buckstop simply provides a lock nut, which is used in conjunction with the factory bolt.

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Until Flynn could remove the factory shocks, the bottom radius arm bolts were the only fasteners he was able to tighten at the axle. The radius arm bolts at the frame wouldn’t be fully cinched down (to 221 ft-lb) until the truck was back on the ground at the end of the install, assuring no bushing binding would occur.

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Next, the bolt that secures the track bar to its respective bracket was broken loose to make way for the impending drop bracket installation. Because this bolt receives more than 300 ft-lb of torque on the assembly line, Flynn used a lengthy breaker bar to get the 1 3/16-inch bolt head turning.

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With the new radius arms secure, Flynn turned his attention to replacing the coil springs. After removing the bottom shock mounting bolts (hardware that would also be reused later), he was able to drop the front axle down via the jack he’d positioned under it. From there, the OEM coil springs were easily removed.

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The taller coil spring on the right is how the Buckstop Truckware suspension system adds 3.5 inches of front ride height to F-450s and F-550s. Both factory coil spring rubber isolators would be transferred over to the new coil springs before their installation.

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After both factory coil springs had been removed, Flynn moved on to pulling the shocks. Once the shocks were gone, he had ample access to the top axle mounting bolts for the radius arms—which he torqued to the aforementioned 221 ft-lb specification recommended by Buckstop.

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To finagle the new coil springs into position, the front axle had to be dropped several inches. When setting the springs in place on the lower spring bucket, Flynn took care that the spring end at the bottom of the spring touched the stop on the bucket. Before the new shocks could be installed, the axle was raised to effectively trap the new coil springs in place.

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All the necessary hardware is included the Buckstop kit, including newer, longer, and more durable shocks. Here, Flynn presses a supplied rubber bushing into one of the bottom eyelets. A steel sleeve would follow. The shocks themselves are built by RevTek Suspension, and are specifically valved for this severe-duty application.

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After installing the new shocks, the ABS sensors were plugged back into their connectors and their respective lines strung along the top of the new radius arms. Because the Buckstop radius arms don’t incorporate clips like the factory arms do, Flynn secured the ABS lines via zip ties. It’s important to note that these lines were secured in place with the front suspension at full droop. The lines will never see this much tension with the truck sitting on the ground.

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Another requirement to compensate for the added lift, Buckstop provides drop-down tabs for the brake line brackets at the frame. Once these brackets were bolted in place, Flynn reattached the vacuum lines for the four-wheel-drive system.

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The next order of business entailed replacing the factory track bar bracket with the drop bracket from Buckstop Truckware. After the five mounting bolts and nuts that hold the factory bracket to the engine cradle were removed, the bracket was discarded and the drop bracket was installed using the same hardware. Interestingly, the Buckstop drop bracket mounts to the backside of the engine cross member rather than to the front of it.

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With things shifting slightly during all the front suspension work, Flynn utilized a come-along to align the track bar’s mounting hole at the drop bracket. Once the truck was back on the ground, the 30mm track bar bolt would be treated to 406 ft-lb of torque.

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Achieving the appropriate front sway bar geometry with the additional suspension height in the mix called for a pair of drop-down brackets. The brackets were secured to the frame via the factory bolts, but new 10mm hardware was used to secure the sway bar to the drop brackets.

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Prior to reinstalling the sway bar, the factory steering stabilizer was bolted back in place. For it to function correctly in conjunction with the lift, Buckstop supplies a drop spacer (a 2 1/4-inch sleeve), which installs between the upper cross member bracket and the steering stabilizer itself. A longer-than-factory, 12mm x 100mm bolt is supplied to make everything work.

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Tackling the rear suspension work, Flynn positioned a jack under the axle’s differential housing and disconnected the sway bar ends from the frame. Then he began installing the supplied sway bar relocation brackets shown here.

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Attaching the sway bar relocation brackets to the frame called for two holes to be drilled (one per side) to make use of the top rearmost mounting points of each bracket. With the sway bar attached to the brackets and the brackets tightened to the frame (using the two available mounting holes out of three), Flynn knew exactly where to drill each 3/8-inch hole in the frame.

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Once the rear sway bar was done, Flynn got to work by removing the rear shocks, U-bolts, and anchor plates. Then the axle was carefully lowered and the supplied 4-inch lift blocks were positioned between the axle and the factory leaf spring pack (an 11-spring stack, plus an overload). The fabricated lift blocks measure 4 inches tall, 3 inches wide, and 6 inches long.

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With the lift blocks in place, the rear axle was slowly raised while Flynn made sure the leaf spring center pins were properly realigned. From there, the supplied extended-length, ¾-inch diameter U-bolts were installed using the factory anchor plates, new nuts, and new washers. The nuts were torqued to 140 ft-lb.

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As for the rear shocks, they too had to be fitted with the supplied bushings and sleeves before being installed. To install them, Flynn set the top mounting bolt in place first and then collapsed the shock just enough to get the lower bolt in its axle mount.

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The last component to be installed was the included carrier bearing spacer. The 2×8-inch piece of steel drops the carrier bearing ¾ inches to maintain the proper driveline angle with the added lift. Following the install of the carrier bearing spacer, Flynn bolted the wheels and tires back on, lowered the truck to the ground, checked all his work, and torqued the fasteners he’d purposely left loose during the install (namely the radius arm bolts at the frame).

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Thanks to the added suspension height, the truck’s 305/55R20 Mickey Thompson Baja MTZs clear the fender flares with room to spare—making the Murrayville Fire Protection District’s brush truck even more effective when it’s forced off the beaten path. Additionally, the Buckstop lift offers this particular department room to grow, as a considerably larger tire can (and likely will) be run in the future with no fear of clearance issues.


SOURCES:

Buckstop Truckware
800.431.6978
BuckstopInc.com

Flynn’s Shop
217.478.3811

Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels
330.928.9092
Mickeythompsontires.com

RevTek Suspension
503.659.1650
RevTek.com