My Old Truck

Illustration by Ryan Miller.


Maybe I’ve been listening to too much Neil Young lately. One particular tune has been banging around in my head like a bowling ball and it’s accomplishing the opposite of what the title suggests, “Don’t Let it Bring You Down.” It’s a depressing acoustic ballad played on one of Neil’s old moody Martin guitars. Double drop D tuning. It’s not what I need to be listening to right now, in my state.

I’m laying on my back, staring up at the oily old transmission pan of my 1962 Dodge pickup. I don’t know how many times I’ve been here in the past 24 years, but I’m wishing I had a dollar for every time.

You see, I’m old and unemployed right now, so a few extra bucks would be pretty nice. And that’s part of the reason I’m laying on my back, staring at an oil-soaked piece of steel. It’s a control thing, I guess. A man has to be in control of something. Right now, I feel like the bolt spinning on the end of my socket wrench is about all I have control of.

Working on the truck takes my mind off of the bills that need to be paid. It goes beyond that though. Past the mere repair of an old piece of iron. There’s something I always think about when I’m around this old truck.

I know things made out of steel and glass and rubber don’t have souls. My rational mind tells me this, but deep down, when I’m sitting behind the wheel, with the big V-8 engine thumping, I think that maybe, just maybe this old truck has a heart and a soul. And we know that anything with a heart and soul has a life. Has a story to tell. What would this truck tell me if she could speak?

I think she’d tell me she’s had a hard life. At least until I bought her 24 years ago and began to resurrect her.

I know there are so many stories. And I find evidence of them all over her. Like a doctor examining a patient before surgery, I’ve often peered up at a gash on her frame rail, or a bent-over bolt head. One time I found the bone of some creature wedged between the frame and the rear leaf spring perch. How did that get there?

What intrigues me the most, lately as I’m rebuilding the front end of the truck, is all the caked-on dirt I find clinging to her various parts. I’m a geology major, you see, and I can’t help but examine the dirt. Some is sandy. Some is fine, like clay. And some is a mixture of both. Of course now it’s all infused with the lifeblood of any old truck: grease and oil.

The truck came from Wisconsin originally. That’s where I lived too, for a good, long time. But I moved down here to Florida a while back and brought her with me. So, this is Wisconsin dirt. Glacial dirt. She must have spent a good part of her life trudging through muddy farmer’s fields and old wood lots, hauling hay and firewood and probably dragging trees and pulling stumps. It was hard work for sure.

But I bet it wasn’t all too bad. I have no way of knowing, but maybe she also brought her owner and his wife to town for a date every once in a while. She probably delivered wife and husband safely to the hospital for the birth of a baby or two. Or maybe she pulled the Christmas or Thanksgiving float in one of the parades in some small town in Wisconsin. She’d have been treated to a wash and wax for one of those events. I’m sure of it.

If only she could talk. And here I go again, getting a little weird and sentimental about a piece of Detroit iron. Neil sure ain’t helping. I better go shut off the music. But I don’t. I keep thinking and wishing I could just touch that gash on her frame rail and somehow, magically, like in some of those sci-fi movies, images would flash through my head and expose the true story.

I touch the gash. Nothing. I shake my head and roll my eyes. But my hand goes back to it. My finger traces the depths of it. I close my eyes. I squeeze them shut, hard.

I begin to see a light creeping into the periphery of the blackness. It’s slow at first, like some animal hunting its prey, not yet ready to reveal itself. And, like someone just flicked on an old reel-to-reel projector, I see the blurry image of a boy of maybe 12 or 13. I recognize the surroundings. It’s the cab of my pickup truck, only it’s a different color. The original color. The boy is behind the wheel and he’s looking over at the passenger side… Where his father is sitting. His father is gesturing to the blonde boy, showing him how to work the transmission shift.

The image skips and now I can tell the truck is moving. Boy and father are bouncing up and down in the seat. The boy is gripping the steering wheel with both hands turning it right and left. Doing his best to keep it on the road, I’d guess. No power steering in the old days. His father is glancing back and forth, between the road ahead and his son. He wears the look of every father taking his son for his first driving lesson. Time doesn’t change things like this.

The image skips again and now I see the father flailing his hands in the air, gesturing with both to the left. To the left. I can see him mouthing it. There’s no audio to this film, but I can see his face getting beat red. The blonde boy is grasping the wheel with both hands and hauling it over to the left as his father dives across the seat to assist. The image jumps, and then goes black.

I’m aware that I’ve been squeezing my eyes shut so tightly, sweat has begun to bead on my forehead. Neil drifts back into my consciousness, only now he’s singing another song. This one about packing it in, buying a pickup and moving to L.A.

I can’t bring myself to open my eyes yet. I have to know. My hand drifts back to the frame gash. I press my index finger deep into that canyon carved in the past.

The black on the backs of my eyelids doesn’t yield to any creeping light this time, but I keep my finger pressed deep into that gouge and I can almost feel the steel get warm to my touch. Is that my own heat I’m feeling or is the truck generating it somehow? I don’t have much time to think about it because my mind is suddenly occupied by a clean, steady image of a father embracing his son. They are both standing beside my old Dodge truck, somewhere back in the late sixties, along an old, rutted road. The truck is buried frame-deep in the ditch.

As I watch, father and son part and both step back and look at the truck. The father glances back at the son. The son looks up at his father, tentatively. The father throws his head back and starts to laugh. He’s laughing so hard he now stoops over and slaps his knees, tears glistening on his cheeks in the late afternoon sunlight. He reaches out to the boy and ruffles his hair. He scoops his son close to him with a big, strong hand and both stand there gazing at the buried truck. The boy shakes his head and kicks at a stone on the road. The father crouches down and faces the boy. He points at the truck and then the father shrugs his shoulders and smiles. The boy laughs.

My last images of that long gone summer day are of a father and son walking side-by-side down an old country road. The truck, my truck, is behind them and, just as the image fades away again for the last time, the sunlight catches the chrome rear bumper of the truck at just the right angle and, I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but it’s almost as if the truck winks at me.

I pull my finger out of the gash, but I let it hover just below it, not quite wanting to relinquish the past and that memory somehow stored away in the bones of my old truck. There are more of these gashes and scrapes on her frame rails. There are dents and scratches. All of them hold a story of some sort. Some good. Some probably bad, but the truck has survived. It’s found a good home and some fellow to care for it.

My old truck had a hard life by the looks of it. Maybe she’s a lot like me in those respects. I’ve had a hard life too, but I don’t think I’d change a single day of it if I could. I’ve got my scrapes and my scars and I’ve ridden into a ditch or two from time-to-time. I’ve had flat tires and busted headlights and I’ve seen a lot of miles fly by. Some mornings I think my frame is bent, but I get up and soldier on.

I slide out from under the truck, stand up on old, creaky knees and run my hand down her side. She’s almost ready. I’m going to fire her up and take her for the first ride in many years. As I walk out of the garage and towards the house, I steal a glance back over my shoulder and, I know you’ll think I’ve lost it, but the sun kisses the chrome on her bumper just right, and I’d swear it looks like she’s winking at me.

I was born and raised in Appleton, Wisconsin and was lucky enough to live in Door County from 1998 to 2004 working for Roen Salvage Company. I discovered my love for reading at an early age when my mom let me read her Stephen King novels. Thanks, Mom!