Motormouth – A tale of two bakkies by Gordon Hall

Seeing that ‘the girls’ are going farming we decided on an agricultural theme for this month’s farewell column. Motormouth hopes to be back in April when the Chronicle passes into new ownership.

A tale of two bakkies

Gather around and let me tell you a tale of two very similar, yet quite different, elderly pickup trucks. So you can remember which is which, let’s call them Deecie (double cab) and Essie (single cab). They entered the equipment shed on Mark Pistorius’ Midlands farm at different times and for different reasons.

Deecie was first. An early-1997 runout model of the now-iconic ribbed tailgate Isuzu, she is a KB260 LE 4×4 double cab and was bought for use in Mark’s then-day job as a mechanical engineer with the Department of Transport. Her specifications make today’s youngsters shake their heads in disbelief.

Isuzu-1990-1995-Tailgate

Its petrol engine is fed by carburettor; power output is a humble 80 kilowatts coupled with maximum torque of 205 Nm; a second, stubby, gear lever selects 2High, 4High and 4Low and, before engaging in off-road roughhousing, you need to stop and lock the front wheel hubs by hand. Rear differential locking is by means of a lever on the transmission tunnel.
The first, work-related, accessory was a fibreglass canopy. This was later supplemented by gear for his family’s favourite holiday activity, touring the Republic and surrounding countries. Kit included a long-range fuel tank, roof rack with two rooftop tents, mini safe for securing travel documents, dual battery setup, three-way (gas, 12-volt and 220-volt) refrigerator and high lift jacking points. A water storage tank came later. As Mark says, “The best places to see can only be reached the hard way.”

A shakedown weekend at Albert Falls (the dam was full back then) saw the heavens open to drench their campsite. The children’s tent on the ground was flooded, leaving them floating on their air mattresses, but canopy and vehicle were declared weatherproof.

Having established that the basics were right the clan took off on its first major adventure in mid-1998; a four-week, 5038-km tour of Botswana. Apart from previously mentioned camping gear they carried every scrap and drop of food and water, needed for the trip.

Critics could suggest that this possibly exceeded the vehicle’s payload capacity of 830 kg, but perhaps we might turn a deaf ear… Mark, being an engineer, recorded every detail meticulously. Despite being heavily loaded and travelling mainly on gravel roads, where there were any, average fuel consumption worked out at 15.23 l/100 km.

Later tours included Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, a second trip through “Bots” and the length and breadth of South Africa. Mark admits to getting stuck once – in sand during the Mozambique trip. They were towing a trailer and he forgot to deflate its tyres. Although it makes sense with hindsight, few might realise that skinny trailer tyres can dig in too. We learn something every day.

“Brag” stories (every off-roader has a few) include recovering his brother-in-law’s highly rated Japanese 4×4 SUV on two occasions. Once was out of sand and the second time was from a river.

Despite being underpowered by today’s standards and punished beyond the dictates of reasonable duty, Deecie’s odo currently registers 261 000 km. Subsequent new Isuzus did day-job work over the intervening years but the old workhorse soldiers on, still touring occasionally but mostly helping out on the farm.
Essie, a long wheelbase single cab 4×4, was bought purely for agricultural use at a Provincial vehicle auction in 2010. It, too, is a 1997 KB260 petrol 4×4 with the ribbed tailgate. Her specification sheet is much simpler than Deecie’s. For example, most modern must-haves like air conditioning and powered windows simply aren’t there. The front seat is a vinyl-covered bench and floor mats are rubbery plastic. A CD-compatible radio and tape unit was optional but a cell phone cradle was standard. It was, however, one of only two Isuzus available at the time with a standard, galvanised chassis; something shared with Deecie.

Its work consists of farm patrols, securing fences, fighting fires, tending to cattle and transporting livestock. Her first long trip, towing a double-deck trailer, was to the far end of the Free State to collect 72 juvenile goats. Retired teacher Stefan (Stef) Marran, to whom farming activities have now been outsourced, quips: “If you’re in a hurry, use something else.” But it gets the job done.

Essie’s winter kit consists of a 500-litre water tank, pump and hoses and a quick and cheap plastic mesh filter over the grille. That’s to prevent wind-borne grass seeds from blocking the radiator. Fire season, says Stef, is when the real excitement happens. They don’t break out in convenient places and the quickest way to them is usually via the least-hospitable route – across dongas, up steep and rocky hills, fording streams or crashing through bushes. Nothing has stopped Essie yet and she wears her scars proudly.

Some bakkies are built for heroics with qualifications to make it so. Others have victory thrust upon them despite apparently lacking the necessary qualities. Deecie and Essie are that kind of heroine.