CONFESSIONS OF A RUST ADDICT
My ’68 Galaxie was a pretty dependable old car and even the bottle green paint still had a deep shine. I really think that was the problem, I am quite sure that is what led me to sell it and use the proceeds to purchase and breathe new life into the 1954 Dodge truck.
See, I seem to have an addiction for rust. The idea of spending a valuable day off washing and waxing seems unnatural. The near constant worry about scratches and parking lot dings just seems so unnecessary.
It all started on a quiet, warm summer evening. My buddy was diligently minding the steaks on the grill, the smoke wafted on a gentle breeze, and the gunfighter ballads by Marty Robbins served as back ground music for a near perfect night.
With my back against the porch rail, I sipped a cold beer and watched the sun sink into the west behind the buttes and mesas that make Kingman’s skyline one of the most unique in the country. Picking up the paper and turning toward the classified advertisement section was one of those actions we do without thought.
The light was fast fading but enough remained for me to see the ad that began with, “Rusty, trusty 1954 Dodge for sale.” In an instant my lethargic mind went crystal clear and I flipped on the porch light to read more.
“6 cylinder engine, 4 speed transmission, most glass good, $50.00.” There was no phone number, just an end note that read, “Stop at the Valentine post office and ask for directions to the Copper Giant mine.”
Now, I knew where Valentine was and I even knew the post mistress. I knew the country fairly well in that part of Arizona having worked for the Cedar Springs Ranch, the X Bar 1, and the Crozier Canyon spread but I had never heard of the Copper Giant mine.
My buddy was always a sucker for adventure and before the last of the steak dinner had left his plate, I had him convinced we needed a small road trip the following morning. Without prompting the deal got even sweeter when he offered to split the cost of fuel.
Well, as was our custom, we tossed an ice chest with assorted drinks and sandwiches into the back of his ’56 Ford, added his black lab, and were headed east on Route 66 as the faint pink light of morning began to chase the shadows across the valley. I wasn’t really worried about the post office being open as the post mistress lived on site and often had coffee ready to go by sunrise.
Over a cup of thick black coffee she sketched out some directions and as an after thought, told us to be careful in a worried sort of voice. We topped off the gas tank and backtracked to Hackberry before turning south on the road to Wickieup that runs past the X Bar 1.
After about ten miles we realized we must have missed the turn so we retraced our tracks until we found the landmark scrub oak that shaded the small pyramid of beer cans, and headed into the mountains. Somewhere around mile post six the road became a goat trail and at some point around mile post twenty, after the third stop to roll rocks out of the way or to build a stone ramp to clear a washout, we began to rethink our plans.
Serious discussion about heading home commenced when we got stuck in the sand wash but there was nowhere to turn around so we pressed on to the top of the ridge. Before turning tail and heading back, I climbed a rock and with my binoculars followed the road/trail down the mountain, across the little valley up into the canyon on the far side where I caught the hint of mine tailing’s, then spotted a stone cabin on the ridge above, and that was when I noticed a fellow was watching me – through the scope of a rifle.
Now an orderly retreat back down the mountain would have been the prudent, sensible thing to do but sensible was just not something I was familiar with at that point in my life. So, with fists clenched white knuckle tight on the steering wheel, Doug bounced over the rocks on the descent into the valley.
Well, we had just rounded a slight bend into the canyon when we first encountered the mine caretaker and owner of the aforementioned Dodge truck. It was painfully obvious that he and his clothes were strangers to soap and water, and just as obvious he really didn’t take kindly to visitors.
I am quite certain that failure to provide the correct answer to questions asked could have resulted in a case of high velocity lead poisoning and a long nap in a mine shaft. The look in those crazy eyes told me we caught him by surprise when I stepped from the Ford, stretched my hand toward him, and said with a smile, “we are here about the Dodge.” I then ensured our safety with the offer of a cold beer even though it was only around noon.
I really wasn’t surprised to hear we were the first ones to respond to his advertisement. However, I was a bit surprised to hear him say that he was giving second thought to selling even though he had purchased it new in 1954.
Well, we walked up to the cabin and as we started down into the hollow on the other side, I spotted the Dodge nestled under a towering old cottonwood tree. A big ram with full curl was perched proudly on the top of the badly dented cab, the front fender was as shiny as a new quarter from years of horses rubbing on it, and it seemed to have a big chrome smile, courtesy of the Studebaker Lark grill transplant.
The tires had gone from flat to rotten at least a decade before I got there. The passenger side door was in the back of the bed, something that made it easier for the dog to get in and out of the cab but not something that was conducive to preserving the interior.
Some people bring home battered old stray cats and dogs. I bring home battered old stray trucks. However, sometimes it is more humane to put the animal down and on occasion old trucks are just about as far gone.
This old Dodge seemed to fit nicely in the latter category and as the owner talked, I began forming a plan of retreat. Then things took a very serious turn toward the land of Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone (cue the music).
The owner looked right at me and said, “You can’t sell a truck if it don’t run. If it don’t run people will think its just a pile of junk.”
Then he pulled the drivers door open, drug the mangy dog off the seat, and slid into the cab. With a deft move his claw like hand with the nicotine yellow nails dipped into his shirt pocket and pulled out a rusty nail. “I lost the key but she will start with a nail.”
Without hesitation or another word he slipped the nail into the ignition, turned it on, pumped the gas a couple of times, pulled on the choke knob, and planted his foot on the starter pedal. The tell tale tick of a flat head six and the faintest hint of blue smoke that emanated from the various holes in the exhaust pipe were the only sign that the truck was running.
Now if Dolly Parton, naked as a jaybird, had come dancing over the hill with an equally naked President Carter on her arm to the tune of bagpipes we couldn’t have have more surprised. I bet the look on our face was worth a million dollars.
The owner told us he had bought a new battery, cleaned out the gas tank, added about ten gallons of fuel, rebuilt the master cylinder and wheel cylinders, and rebuilt the carburetor when he ran the ad. “You just can’t sell something if it don’t run.”
Our surreal little adventure didn’t end there. As it turned out he had four good used tires and tubes back at the cabin that were also part of the deal.
Well the old dog had risen in status from a three legged mutt with one eye, heart worms, and mange, to a three legged dog with mange. In my book that was a keeper.
So, we whiled away the rest of the afternoon by digging out enough room to get a jack under the axle at each wheel, and replacing the petrified tires with the new used tires and tubes. As it turned out he had a big compressor mounted in an old Ford frame that was powered by a Model A engine.
With the worn, tattered, and greasy title in my pocket, and the wallet fifty dollars lighter, we shook hands and started on the journey home. As it turned out there was another road to the mine so the journey back to the pavement and the real world was little more than a twenty five mile journey through a sand wash and over a rocky ridge.
Well, I couldn’t afford the luxury of insuring two vehicles and didn’t have the money to resurrect the Dodge, so the Ford and I parted ways. As it turned out that old Dodge proved to be a pretty dependable work horse, after an investment of a fun hundred dollars and some skinned knuckles.
On occasion the old Dodge still turns up on the streets of Kingman. A succession of owners, and a succession of colors mask its identity but the Studebaker grill remains its trademark.