One for the Haul of Fame
2004 Ford F250 Lariat King Ranch

I call it the Fairfax Dump. But its real name is much longer, its real purpose much larger.

Officially it's the Covanta Fairfax Inc. Energy Resource Recovery Facility, off Exit 161 of Interstate 95.

People from Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia bring loads of trash there. The refuse, up to 3,000 tons a day, is burned and turned into electricity, which flows to 75,000 area homes via Dominion Virginia Power Co.

It's a habitat for environmentalists and trucks, including this week's test vehicle, the 2004 Ford F250 Lariat King Ranch pickup.

Dump culture is inherently truck culture. People who arrive in cars, minivans and station wagons get funny looks from gatekeepers who collect fees for solid-waste disposal. Fellow trash truckers look askance at the car crowd, too. They look, laugh and smirk. "Rookie!" You can hear it in their eyes.

But when you show up in the King Ranch version of the F250 Lariat, with its 325-horsepower turbo diesel V-8 growling beneath the hood, people show respect. They smile at you at the weigh station and tell you to have a nice day.

My wife, Mary Anne, and I got much positive reinforcement on a recent weekend spent hauling truckloads of construction debris. "Nice truck!" one gatekeeper said. "Wow!" said another. "You got a bed liner in that thing, dontcha? Truck that nice gotta have a bed liner."

The F250 Lariat had an optional cargo-bed liner. I shudder to think about damage that could have been done to the finish of an unprotected cargo bed by our loads of broken drywall, jagged timber and metal framing. But there was no need to repair, repaint or touch up any part of the bed after our last run. We simply swept and washed the thing and called it a day.

After driving the diesel-powered F250 Lariat, and a comparable GMC Sierra 2500 Heavy Duty with a 6.6-liter Duramax Turbo Diesel, I vowed that the next truck I buy will be a diesel, too. Diesel is seductive. It's more fuel-efficient than gasoline. But that virtue is more one of convenience -- you spend less time worrying about whether you have enough fuel -- than it is economical.

Big diesel engines are expensive. For example, the 6-liter Powerstroke V-8 installed in the test truck is a $5,085 option. You'd have to save a lot of fuel to make up that money, and your chances of recouping that amount are minimal in a U.S. marketplace where gas stations routinely charge more for diesel fuel than they do for gasoline.

But if you can afford the extra cost, diesel is the way to go if you want to haul heavy trash or tow big trailers. There wasn't the least amount of strain, not even a hint of groan, in the F250 Lariat's engine on our up-and-down trips along I-95. In fact, I worked hard to stay within reasonable proximity of posted highway speed limits.

The test t ruck came with four-wheel drive. It cleared the ground by 8.3 inches. Curb weight -- the weight of the vehicle with all of its fluids and original equipment, minus driver and passengers -- was 6,410 pounds. With me and Mary Anne and all the junk in the cargo bed, we were tipping the dump's weight scales by as much as 7,200 pounds. Yet, the F250 Lariat, at speeds up to 60 mph, remained remarkably stable.

Stability, of course, doesn't mean comfort. The F250 Lariat is plush -- Castano Brown leather seating surfaces and cabin inserts, captain's chairs up front, lots of stretch room for three rear passengers, premium stereo and power sunroof. But it's still a no-foolin' truck fixed with non-independent live axles with leaf springs, shock absorbers, and stabilizer bars in the front and rear suspensions. Translation: It rides like a truck.

We marveled over how the things left at the "resource recovery facility" were reduced to ashes in the waste incinerators, which bu n at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Years of working, shopping, buying, adding on, tearing out and financing were gone in minutes. The residue was buried in an adjacent landfill.

Mary Anne suggested that perhaps we should shop less and "live more." We'll see.

Nuts & Bolts

Complaints: Interior is plush, but instrument panel is dated. Though the diesel in the 2004 F250 Lariat is far quieter than predecessor diesels, it's still quite noisy.

Praise: The power, the glory, the feeling that you can haul anything anywhere. The joy of being taken seriously by fellow trash truckers. I like that.

Ride, acceleration and handling: If you're looking for a sedan ride in a pickup, shop elsewhere. This is no wimpmobile. Excellent acceleration loaded and unloaded. Excellent braking under both conditions. Remarkably good handling.

Head-turning quotient: Truly high and mighty -- and loved for being that way.

Capacities: The truck sits five people. Maximum payload is 2,390 pounds. F250 models, depending on equipment and vehicle type (regular or crew cab, two- or four-wheel drive) can tow up to 14,200 pounds. Fuel capacity is 38 gallons. Use 1D or 2D diesel.

Mileage: We averaged 19 miles per gallon of diesel.

Safety: Standard four-wheel anti-lock brakes, child safety-seat anchors, dual front air bags, high intimidation factor. It's good to be King.

Price: Big bucks. Base F250 Lariat price is $35,750. Dealer invoice on base model is $31,326. The King Ranch version with the 6-liter turbo diesel is $46,625 (including $5,085 for the diesel engine, $2,995 for the King Ranch trim package and a $795 transportation charge).

Purse-strings note: Hey, you pay the cost to be the boss. Compare with Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra 2500 HD with Duramax and the Dodge Ram Pickup 2500.