Diesel Addict: Now This Is A Work Truck

Blaine Lippai's Ford gets punished in the oil fields

Published in the August 2009 Issue August 2009 PowerStroke, Spotlight Lane Lindstrom

a Work TruckYeah, there are those out there who say their diesel truck is a daily driver . but those trucks mostly encounter smooth, paved highways and are carefully tucked away each night in the garage. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But we found a real daily driver which endures some of the harshest driving conditions you'll find anywhere. Paved highways? Not hardly. They're usually more than an hour away so this truck endures a brutal drive on dirt roads. A nice warm garage at night? Yea, if you count the stars overhead as covering. Now throw in bone-chilling cold in the winter along with snow and ice, rain and mud other months of the year and some nice sunny days thrown in for good measure, enough to bake the dirt roads into a rock-hard dust bowl.

That's what Blaine Lippai's Ford F350 Harley Davidson Edition endures when he goes to and from work in the oil fields of Alberta and British Columbia.

We found Lippai and his 2006 Ford Super Duty F350 6.0L Power Stroke deep in the bush of northern Alberta, more than an hour drive off the paved highway in a heavily forested area not really close to a town or city or, well, anything, for that matter. Call it what you want-the sticks, the boonies, middle-of-nowhere-they all fit. We are talking remote with a capital R.

It's the kind of place where you don't just hope your truck works in the harsh conditions, it's a place where it has to work. Period. It's not like there are tow trucks that regularly pass by the nether reaches of the bush. And if you did break down and somehow convince a tow truck driver to make the trek to tow you out (which is pretty unlikely), it would probably take a year's pay to cover the cost of the tow.

Chilled To The Bone

Yea, the truck has to work and endure punishing conditions, especially in the winter when the snow stacks deep and the nighttime temps are in the neighborhood of minus 5-10 degrees F on average while the average daytime high is somewhere between 10-15 degrees F.

Having worked in the oil fields for the past 10 years and also having owned a performance shop, Lippai has a pretty good handle on what works and doesn't work in western Canada's tough conditions.

A Ford man through and through, Lippai is a long-time owner of that brand. "I have always owned Ford diesels, F350 crew cab short boxes-all of them," he said. "I have four Fords in my driveway right now so I think I might just love Ford vehicles. Although only one of them is a diesel, they are all still, in my opinion, the nicest models Ford has made."

Ford tough isn't just a hollow marketing line to Lippai, who takes his diesel through some of the toughest conditions any truck sees. He said, "The main reason I choose Fords, I think, is because of their toughness when stacked up against similar brand models. They have proven to be very durable vehicles in the past for me and this still holds true. My truck is a very good example of durability and strength as it spends more than 90 percent of its time on some of the harshest roads Alberta has to offer."

Lippai might sound like a partisan Ford guy, but his preferences come from years of experience working around trucks. He's seen a lot of trucks over the years in the oil fields as well as during the time he owned a 4x4 and diesel performance shop in Medicine Hat, AB, which is located in the southeast corner of the province near the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. He owned and ran the shop-Superior Offroad-for three years before moving on to another business opportunity. During his time of running Superior Offroad, Lippai built more than 100 trucks. That gave him the chance to see a lot of aftermarket parts, many of which he tried on his own trucks.

Hearing Lippai talk about his time in his performance shop, it was evident some guys had plenty of money to spend on hopping up their trucks. He said, "There were a lot of people who had and spent some crazy amounts of money on vehicles there. They would come in and buy everything but the kitchen sink, so to speak."

What Works, What Doesn't

With the background and knowledge he gained from owning his own performance shop and just generally being a motorhead who likes to work on his own truck, Lippai figured out what worked and what didn't, what parts hold up well and which ones don't. Because of the harsh conditions Lippai's truck is subjected to, he used that knowledge to scour the aftermarket industry to find the best products that hold up in the bush.

Although he's seen semi loads of aftermarket parts over the years, it didn't take the Canadian long to name his favorite aftermarket feature on his current F350. "The 7-inch stacks," he said, when asked about his favorite. "They `make' the truck."

The stacks are just part of the aftermarket picture on the Lippai Super Duty. Before we jump into the Lippai list, we should mention one thing we learned about his truck and the products on it. It's obvious Lippai loves to modify and that includes aftermarket parts and accessories. By the time Lippai has a part installed, it might or might not resemble the original piece, which is what makes his truck so unique. It has Lippai's custom touch.

Other truck highlights include a 10.5-inch custom lift kit he made from a Rize Industries' 8-inch kit. As soon as he can find some time, he would like to modify the lift kit. No word on what he has planned yet. Interestingly enough, it's that same lift kit Lippai wants to perhaps change or swap out that he says was the most difficult product to install on his truck. "It was very hard to make the 10.5-inch lift out of a lift kit that was designed for only an 8-inch," he explained. "We had to do a lot of pre-planning and changing along the way due to the change in driveline angles, cast and camber angles and drop down bracketry. It took plus/minus 18 hours to make and install that lift on the truck."

The work he did on the lift kit was indeed a labor of love and one that has proven to be very durable over the bush roads. Lippai said, "The lift has gotten me in and out of some sticky situations and it is definitely the integral part of the truck. Without it, navigating the roads and terrain would be very difficult, if not impossible at times."

Lippai's List

The truck rides on 41x14.5-20-inch Super Swamper Irok radial tires with 20x10 black KMC Rockstar Wheels. Adding a cool look to the tire/wheel section of the truck are Bushwacker cutout fender flares which have been painted black to match the truck.

Helping get the power to the wheels is a TorqShift automatic tranny and 3.73 gears. Other features include a polished Accufab intake elbow, aFe drop-in air filter, SCT programmer with custom tunes from Elite, 4-inch MBRP downpipe to a 5-inch Flo-Pro Muffler and the aforementioned 7-inch mitre-cut stacks that are teflon coated black, custom-mounted Firestone airbags in the back, Bilstein 5150 reservoir shocks on all four corners, ARP head studs and a 600-litre slip tank.

The stock truck tips the scales at about 8,000 lbs. but when you add the fuel tank, tool box and all the other goodies Lippai has put on his diesel, the number balloons to about 11,500 lbs. Speaking of the tool box, Lippai said he has enough tools in there to rebuild the truck at any time, "should it break down in a remote area." Forget about the tow truck in the bush, just hope Lippai comes along when you need him. He's certainly got his own butt covered.

While this doesn't really have anything to do with how his Ford diesel performs, it's a sweet feature, nonetheless. He has 2-3 watt boosters in the truck for remote communications-one for the cell phone and one for the Internet. For being so far out in the middle of nowhere, the man stays connected.

Even the best of trucks take a pounding as they travel into the bush to the oil fields or wherever they might be headed into the woods. Imagine driving an hour or longer over dirt roads multiple times every month, encountering roads in various conditions from wet, slippery and muddy to rock hard with ruts to loose gravel to snow covered and everything conceivable in between. When we made the trip to visit Lippai in northern Alberta last summer and drove those same dirt roads into the bush, we could tell a road grader is used to help keep the road somewhat smooth but it doesn't take long for the heavy trucks and semis to wreak havoc on the roads. That's what Lippai and others who work the oil fields or do business with the companies working in the oil fields constantly face. Punishing would be the best word to describe the conditions vehicles face on those roads.

We asked Lippai what toll that has taken on his truck. "My traction bars keep coming loose due to the roughness of the roads so I'm probably just going to take them off," he said. The airbags also take a pounding. "The airbags have not held up very well," he said. "They have been changed out three times already but they just don't last with the rough roads and over time they just start to leak. And eventually they just give out or explode."

Having to travel from his home south of Edmonton to the oil fields all over Alberta and British Columbia, Lippai knows the definition of a daily driver. So when Lippai says his truck is a daily driver, you can believe it . sort of. It's not a daily driver in the traditional sense of that phrase where it gets driven every day. Once Lippai is on the job site, the truck usually sits while its owner logs an average of 14-16 hours of work each day. Sometimes those hours go longer, depending on what's going on at the well site.

On The Job

When on the job, Lippai is in the oil fields 28 days and then he heads home for seven days off. After that it's back on the road to the oil fields for another 28 days. Most of the time he lives in a very nice trailer that sits at the job site but sometimes he has to drive back and forth from the nearest town to the job site. He explained, "There's not usually too much driving after we arrive on site, unless we are staying in the nearest town which is usually more than one hour away on the bush roads."

He piles up the kilometers in a bunch when he drives to the oil fields. "I put on roughly 30-50,000 kilometers (19-31,000 miles) per year," he said. "Some years it's a lot more, some a lot less. That explains the 82,000 kms (51,000 miles) on the truck."

The conditions at the wells in the oil fields reflect the time of the year. Hot and dusty in the summer, cold and wet in the winter and conditions all over the spectrum in the shoulder seasons. The 28-year-old Lippai works in the oil fields year-round. He owns Tigercat Consulting Services, LTD, and is an oil field well site supervisor. He explained what he does on the job. "I take care of everyone and everything on my site from equipment to people," he said. "I am the boss on/site representative for the oil company. They need to get specific operations done on their well and I plan, carry out and ensure that the operations are accomplished in a safe, cost-effective and timely manner."

More specifically, he said, "I do all aspects of the completions and shut downs of oil wells on different sites. When you came to see me, we were shutting down that site. However, we only usually do a couple shut downs per year; the rest are completing the well so they produce either oil or gas." He explained that shut downs are done to wells that are no longer productive.

While Lippai spends a lot of time in the oil fields at well sites he sees a lot of trucks come and go. We asked him what trucks seem to hold up better (and why) than others in the bush. "Most of the trucks I see have some sort of lift on them and oversized tires just to make it through the rough terrain, etc.," he said. "Fords seem to be the vehicle of choice, but there are several Dodges out there that if they have been built up right they are doing well. I know that the key to making a truck last in these conditions is planning your build around functionality, not looks. Don't get me wrong: it can look good at the same time but it needs to function out here or you will be walking."

Obviously those builds Lippai is talking about involve a number of aftermarket parts-ones that, by necessity, have to be durable and functional. When it comes to the diesel business, Lippai said that's where most of the change has come-from the aftermarket. "The best/biggest improvement in the industry has, in my opinion, been the aftermarket products," he said. "You can buy anything you can dream of these days. There is so much to choose from and the combinations are endless as long as you are willing to put out the dollars for it."

Okay, so what's Lippai's next move on his own Ford? He was a little elusive about that but finally admitted, "That is tough to say. Probably a bigger lift and bigger tires to start out with."

Whatever Lippai decides on, you can just about bet it will be tested to the absolute limit in the bush country of Alberta and British Columbia. After all, Lippai expects it to work because it has to.

"The biggest thing is that my truck is a work only truck. When it's not working it's generally parked awaiting the next trip."

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