Judging by a few of my posts in recent weeks it would seem the big 5 0 is really kicking up the memories. This week as I was driving to work in Barney the wonder truck, down streets driven for more than a quarter century and east along Route 66, the thoughts turned to the trucks owned over the years. This in turn led to the revelation if my life was to have a common thread that tied it all together it would most likely be the truck.
The first association with a truck that I can remember was about 1962 or 1963. We lived in Port Huron, Michigan, at that time so you fill in the blanks as to how rusty my dads Ford was.
I don’t know the exact year of the truck but it was about a 1950 model, much like the one in this photo of a radiator flow test. Dad built a wooden camper for the back that always reminded me of the out house at my aunt’s house in Alabama.
Our first adventure in the truck was a weekend trip to Mammoth Cave Kentucky. We made it deep into Ohio before being brougt up short. Even a kid could tell something was big time wrong by the cussing, the steam, and the smoke.
So, we stayed in a motel for two days and ate World War II K rations, while Dad gathered used parts from the local wrecking yard. Riding in the back of the truck on the way home gave us kids a first rate view of a country side being sprayed for mosquito’s. I can only guess how many gallons of oil we used on the return trip.
The “Gypsy Wagon” was used on a number of trips down US 127 to Chattanooga and then in to north Alabama as the tin worm transfomed it into Swiss cheese. The truck was put out to pasture at Troltz Auto Wrecking in Jackson, Michigan, in about 1965.
The next adventure with trucks came in the summer of 1966. This epic trek, a post war Grapes of Wrath if you will, centered around a 1949 Chevy COE and a modified farm trailer.
We (mom, dad, my older sister, by baby sister, me, and a parakeet) piled in this rusty old truck on a delightfully muggy June day in Port Huron, Michigan, for our relocation to Arizona. The parakeet was the first casualty checking out before we arrived at grandmother’s house in Jackson, Michigan.
The trailer was the next casualty. Somewhere south of Indianapolis the tongue broke and it went ass end over tea kettle down into a ditch.
So, while we gathered the remains of our possessions from the ditch dad drove into town for a replacement trailer, one that had most recently been used for the transport of livestock.
For reasons unknown we drove through the mountains of Missouri, across the Kansas plains, down US 54, and picked up US 66 at Tucumcari. I do not know what speed we made but I do know there were a lot of unhappy folks behind us on the entire trip. I also know that with roadside repairs ranging from flats to a water pump replacement it seemed longer than the two weeks it took to reach our destination.
My dad had purchased Arizona property sight unseen. After our arrival in Kingman and a search for the property it still remained unseen so we rented a place in town.
Dad was undaunted in his quest to transform the family into desert rates and to this end bought an unfinished “model” home on the original alignment of Route 66 at the bottom of the Sacramento Valley in the shadow of the Black Mountains.
The next step in the families return to the glory days of the Great Depression was in trading the COE for a war surplus 2 1/2 ton Dodge truck that dad converted to a water truck as we would have to haul water. In addition, we added a 1949 Studebaker 3/4 ton stake bed to the family fleet for the hauling of lumber as well as supplies.
A short time later, after the Fairlane died a horrible death, the result of an accident near Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, a 1953 Chevy 1/2 ton was added.
All of these trucks would play pivotal roles in my life and would contribute to an association with old trucks that continues to this day.
In time hauling water became my job. As I was but a kid, and a short one at that, dad removed the doors and added blocks of wood to the pedals.
There were two roads to the water station, old Route 66 or a narrow dirt track that forded two sandy washes. My dad insisted I take the latter route though traffic was almost nonexistent on the old highway.
Getting water was always an adventure. If the truck had been sitting for more than a couple of days dad would have to crank start it. Once it was running I would slip it into low, pull out the throttle, and hang on for dear life as I pointed it across the desert.
One of my first real driving adventures involved the Studebaker. We were hauling hay back from Mohave Valley, up old Route 66 through Oatman and over the Black Mountains, in the middle of summer, when we lost the water pump in a cloud of steam and to the tune of a screaming fan belt between Oatman and Gold Road.
The long and short of the story is we walked and hitched our way home. The next day we drove into Kingman in the Chevy, dad got a water pump, we installed it along the highway, and then he said, “see you at home”, and drove off.
To this day I don’t know how I got that truck back to the house. I am not even sure if the trip was made with clean shorts. Suffice to say a few days later I received my first lesson in clutch installation.
As the years passed the Dodge and Studebaker fell by the way side. The old Chevy became a member of the family that served us well for many years and set in stone my conviction that the Advance Design Chevrolet trucks are some of the best ever built.
We used it when we moved to Silver City, New Mexico. We used it for my dad’s scrap metal business there hauling innumerable loads of old radiators and such to Tucson and Phoenix. We used it to move back to Michigan. We used it there for the delivery truck when dad opened an appliance and furniture store. We used it when we moved back to Arizona in 1976.
I acquired my first truck in late 1976. It was a very battered 1942 Chevy 1/2 ton. This thing had so many dents they overlapped. The crank open windshield was stuck in the open position. The entire truck suffered desert sun burn and showed no visible trace of paint. The back window was gone and the door latches had been replaced with household slide bolts. The rear fenders had been cut back in a crude manner and when I acquired it there was a family of field mice living in the seat.
In spite of these apparent shortcomings this truck ran and ran well. In the middle of an Arizona summer I hauled a pool table to Lake Havasu, Arizona. I hauled fence post to a ranch near Dolan Springs, a trip where I discovered that an open windshield and cloud of flying ants will lead to the worlds fastest strip tease.
On one trip I lost a front u-joint causing the drive shaft to dip into the pavement. This resulted in the rear end lifting off the ground and the truck being spun 180 degrees. This in turn led to a bizarre and foolish tow back into Kingman.
It was another foolish escapade that ended the adventures of the old Chevy. This time it was a roll over that smashed the cab and twisted the frame.
Next came a 1962 International with a slant four cylinder engine. This truck was as sturdy as a mule but not quite as fast.
My next truck was much faster, an attribute that proved to be its downfall, a one owner 1956 Ford. For this truck I traded a 1964 Pontiac Catalina, which I had acquired by trading a Winchester and ten speed bike.
This truck had the 292 c.i.d. V8, factory automatic transmission and the big back glass. I can only imagine its value today.
The truck served me well on a number of wild and woolly adventures into the Arizona back country. However, it too proved to be a poor match for youthful foolishness.
The next truck was a bit of a disappointment, largely because I was spoiled by the adventures with dads 1953 Chevy. This one was acquired from Busby Chevrolet in Silver City, New Mexico, for the princely sum of $2800.
This 1978 Chevy 1/2 ton was a pretty truck, yellow and white, lots of chrome and all the toys. Simply put, it was good for going down the highway at a pretty good clip, looking nice when parked, and sucking gas.
Shortly after the closing of the mine and the starting of new job near Drake, Arizona, this truck was traded for a 1946 GMC 1/2 that had been given a full mechanical restoration. This was a real truck in every sense of the word. Axle deep mud, deep snow, heavy loads, pulling trailers, Arizona heat, steep grades, rough roads – it handled them all and never once let me down.
This and another GMC were to figure prominently in the courting of my wife. This truck was used on our first dates. The other GMC was a 1949 3/4 stake bed that belonged to friend.
If it was just Judy and I on a date we used my truck or her 1970 Charger. If it was a double date with Helen and Wayne, such as a trip to the drive in or to the hot springs near Burro Creek we drove his stake bed and added furniture from his house to the back!
In time the GMC was replaced by a sturdy but slightly under powered 1964 Dodge with a slant six and three speed transmission. This was followed by a 1949 Chevy panel truck, a 1970 Chevy 1/2 ton, a 1950 Chevy 1/2 ton, a 1953 Chevy 1/2 ton, a 1951 Chevy 1/2 ton, 1983 Ford F150 4×4, and a 1975 Ford F100 that proved to be one of the best trucks I have ever owned. That takes us to the present day and Barney the Wonder Truck.
In retrospect it would seem the lowly pick up truck, a vehicle as American as apple pie, has been more than a common thread in my life.
It has been said you can tell a man by what he chooses to drive. On that note I will let my old trucks speak on my behalf.