How I came to love pick up trucks so much probably lies in the way in which I learned to drive. I grew up in eastern Iowa amongst some of the richest soil that God blessed Earth with. Mile upon mile of mostly flat prairie that had been plowed under and replaced with hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of acres of corn and soybean fields interrupted by occasional rolling hills, all connected by gravel roads. One afternoon while riding with my father on those gravel roads he stopped our truck, asked me to sit on his lap and while he controlled the accelerator pedal and brake, I steered. It was a simpler time to be sure…in the late 1970’s and I was probably around eleven or twelve at the time. At first I was terrified, not wanting this responsibility nor wanting to crash. I learned how to counter-steer when the truck started to fishtail. How to keep the tires in the “path” and not in the loose gravel along the sides of the road…and how to get over when you met a big old John Deere hauling a disk towards you. While all of these lessons were unnerving I grew to love driving trucks.
“Truck One” was my Dad’s truck. Fairly basic. It had an AM/FM radio and shifter on the floor. I drove this truck on my very first romantic encounter with a young lady from a neighboring town named Becky (the girl…not the town). I won the girls affection and attention for a few short-lived months. Truck 1. Car 0.
“Truck Two”. I had turned sixteen years old and the first car of my own to drive was a pick up truck. If I’m remembering it correctly it was a 1972 Chevy LUV. Basic transportation. Rusty. Needed new brakes. Manual stick shift and no power steering. AM radio. Would hold exactly three high school sophomores. Dad and I bought it for $800 as a “project” for him and I to work on, grinding out the rust, filling the holes with Bondo putty or cutting sheet metal and riveting it to the body then spraying with gray primer. After a $99 Earl Scheib paint job it was sold. It was a safe and reliable means of transportation. Truck Two was tough to drive and ride in and a pleasure to get rid of.
“Truck Three” came in 1987. I had my first full-time job. I was making $300 a week and was rolling in money. Literally…rolling in dough. Single and wanting a new, more reliable vehicle (one that would start when I wanted it to start) I traded in my 1975 Ford Maverick and bought a brand-spanking new Madza B2000 pick-up. Small four cylinder engine, stick shift, heat, bench seat and no radio (though I added one in the months to come). A short time later I took out the future honorable Constance Sue Ripley in this truck. After the vows were spoken (and not to be taken back) the Mrs. admitted that she wasn’t exactly beholden to me at first glance. “You showed up wearing cowboy boots and driving a truck…”. Its a good thing that I still had a full head of brown wavy hair back then or else I still might be single. Dead serious. Anyway…romance won out. Truck 2. Car 0. I also took Connie to the hospital in this truck when Jordan was born. Cold, dark and windy in the predawn hours of a December morn…bucking snowdrifts along the way. Sturdy and reliable we eventually traded in Truck Three on a minivan for a growing family once Kid Two came along.
Truck Four was my Dad’s truck…again. This time around it was for a drastically different reason. My folks were moving off of the farm and didn’t need their truck. A 1999 Ford F250 three-quarter ton with a V10 engine. I bought it because we needed a another vehicle at our household. Dad had kept it in awesome condition and it gave me considerable consolation after his death. At times, while driving it, I could hear him speak. I know that sounds stupid, but that truck helped me some days when I missed him a great deal. I eventually sold that truck to my brother who still drives it to this day.
Truck Five was my nicest truck. Purchased brand new in 2007. It had many nice things that I didn’t have in most of my early trucks. Air conditioning. AM/FM radio with CD player. Crew cab so that we could fit the whole family and go on vacations. ABS brakes, power windows and door locks….all pretty standard stuff but for a guy who remembers using the hand crank to roll down his windows on a hot summer day it’s almost an extravagance to have something like power windows. We moved all three daughters out of our house and to college in these last two trucks. I started officiating basketball and baseball games in these two trucks. I’ll tell you something….a truck makes a great umpire vehicle. Just park it, drop down the tailgate, sit down and get your equipment on for the game. I really loved Truck Five and didn’t see an end to its service to our family but things change. We’re empty-nesters now. No kids to ferry about (and no grand-kids on the foreseeable horizon…). Warranties expire and things are going to need fixed or replaced eventually. We usually keep our cars and trucks until they die or cost us too much to keep up. I debated for several months on what I should do, if anything. It seems to me that you’re either making a monthly payment on a new vehicle or paying to have the older one fixed. This is why I reluctantly traded in Truck Five on a new car.
Our new car has so many features in it that I may have to hire an eight year old to show me how to use them all correctly. A six speaker music system that’s pared through Bluetooth with the ITunes on my phone (good-bye multiple CD’s in my armrest!!). It has Sirius radio for several months! Instead of a gear shifter it has a dial near my arm rest that I turn to select a gear. It has a back up camera. I can call folks while driving. It doesn’t have keys and I push a button to start it. While the engine is half the size that I’m used too its turbo-charged and very responsive. I actually have to “think” to use this car because its so simple to drive. I’m not saying that its idiot-proof…but its a big step in that direction. It’s also a really sharp looking blue. Electric Blue….to be sure.
I’m going to be honest…I got a little misty when I turned my truck in. While most folks view their cars and trucks as purely utilitarian objects I’ve come to love each and every one of my trucks. Each time that I’ve driven them they take me back to a time in my life. A first date. Going to basketball practice. A time in our garage working with Dad on a repair. My last date as a charming single guy. A trip to the hospital with a very pregnant and uncomfortable spouse. Moving our kids around. Road trips and vacations. A time when I could still sit on my Father’s lap and steer his truck around those winding gravel roads of my childhood. I miss many things in my life that shiny new buttons and whistles will never, ever replace. I guess I’m still just that farm kid at heart.