1996 Ford F-350 Pickup Bonds Son With His Father

WATERBURY, CT – Jermaine B. Atkinson of Waterbury was 17 years old and attending Kaynor Technical High School when his father, Clarence B. Atkinson, purchased a new 1996 Ford F-350 XLT in December 1995. The pickup was soon nicknamed “Black Beauty” for its exterior looks.

“He’s always been a Ford guy. He was a self-employed contractor. He would drive different vehicles. We didn’t have a lot of money so what he did is he made things. Instead of buying a ladder rack, he made one. I remember watching him make things for trucks,” Atkinson recalled on a morning in early November.

“He worked really hard to take care of us as a family, and he saved up money to buy this one. And I would remember all the jobs that he would do. I would go with him on some of these side jobs as a kid, and I saw how hard he worked, so I remember the day he bought it.”

Jermaine B. Atkinson and his 1996 Ford F-350 XLT

Over the years, his father and the F-350 produced memories and provided lessons for Atkinson. 

“He taught me how to drive on this. The cool thing was I watched him take an idea to go from all these little bomb trucks that he had, or little beater trucks that he had, to purchase a brand new one;  to order it, to spec it out, to go through the whole process, and all the stuff that he did to work hard for a down payment,” he said.

“It impressed upon me the value of working. My dad always pushed us as kids to work. I was cutting grass and shoveling snow; always kind of putting a goal in front of you, so when he bought the truck I was able to see the goal to fruition.”

See the 1996 Ford F-350 XLT in action in this YouTube video..

Learning to drive on a full-size pickup with a 7.3-liter Power Stroke Diesel engine with automatic transmission followed a routine. “My dad trusted me to do it, but he definitely had an interesting way about it,” Atkinson said.

“I wanted to drive since I was a little kid. I always played with cars and things like that, and to get in a truck, a Powerstroke diesel that made all this noise and all this power that the truck had, that’s what I think the big goal was. I wanted to drive. I had to keep my grades up in order to do it.”

Time got set aside at 5 a.m. on Sundays for Atkinson to get behind the wheel. They’d head to Bill & Sam’s Diner in Wolcott for breakfast.

“There’s was nobody on the road and I could only go 25 miles an hour, too. He wouldn’t let me go fast or anything like that. Since it was brand new, he wanted the least amount of people on the road,” Atkinson said.

“It allowed me to spend time with him and it allowed him to teach me how to drive, which is really cool, and I learned how to drive a truck early-on.”

During the week, the F-350 was used for work. Eventually, maybe eight years ago, it got parked after being replaced. It had been used rigorously and showed its age. About six years ago, Atkinson bought it from his father and set out to get it restored.

“It was a rot box,” he said, explaining that he canvassed restoration shops to get an idea of the job would take and searched out parts. 

“It took forever for it to get done. There were some shops that I took it from. I said, ‘You’re taking too long on it. You’re spending money and you’re not getting any result on it’ because people were taking it on as a project because of the sentimental value. They knew they had me hooked. But then when it came time to deliver, it wasn’t happening. The work was going really slow on it.”

Atkinson finally took it to Hillside Auto in Beacon Falls. The body was restored and the drive train rebuilt. “It was a long process but it was really exciting,” he said.

The job was completed about a little less than a year ago and, of course, Atkinson had to show if off to his father.

“It was unbelievable. I wound up going to his house and he happened to be outside. He heard it coming up the hill,” Atkinson said, “and then I pulled into the driveway and he was speechless. He could not believe  seeing the truck from being brand new, how he had used it all these years, and (how) it sat and was all rusty and rotted to what it had turned into.”

It was only natural that they’d go for a ride. “I just handed him the keys for him to drive and we went back down memory lane – all the places he went; the side jobs; we passed Home Depot, he’d always be down there. It really brought a lot of memories to him. It was a really, really unbelievable experience cause I was in the passenger seat again and he was driving.”

The F-350 has been driven 220,000 miles but it looks fresh now. Atkinson has lifted it and added larger tires, and its license plate is the original one that his father got. While he won’t take it out in the rain, Atkinson does use it for the purpose that it was intended. “It’s just a pleasure truck, but I still go to Home Depot with it,” he said.

The 7.3-liter Power Stroke diesel engine in the Ford F-350

(A version of this story originally ran in the “Republican-American” newspaper on March 10, 2024.)

About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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