Shrine to the Truck

6/15/98 OK, so it's one in the morning, and the kids keep waking each other up.  So now I can't sleep.  Who's the real victim?  Why, you of course.

It's time to do the shrine to the truck.

What can we say about the truck?  An International Harvester C1000 stepside pickup, powered by a V8 304 CI engine, which I later learned came from an Oldsmobile.  Vic had picked it up from the state at an auction for $150, one of several being auctioned off.  Billy deRosa had tipped him off as to which one had the new (relatively speaking) engine.  So with 210,000 on the odometer, it went cheap, but it went.

The cab was safety yellow on the inside, but for some reason the state had painted it metallic green on the outside, except for the bumpers and hubcaps, which had been dressed up in white house paint.  A real beauty.

For its first few years, it served dirt duty for Vic's gentleman farm in Springfield, during the Walker administration.  When Walker got out (of state government) Vic moved to a then-sleepy exurb called Long Grove, and married my Mom.  I was 13, about to turn 14.  The truck sat in its space by the garage, and I think we used it once in the intervening year.

When Dan got his license, we got a real winner of a car, a red '74 Vega GT, a spectacular bargain at $2,500 from Hertz.  The problem with Vegas was that, at the height of the Roger Smith era, these cars began to rust as they left the assembly line.  Combine that with Dan's driving skills (he has since given up) and the underengineered aluminum block on the Vega, and by the time I got to it, we were buying 20 weight in 5-quart jugs at Sears. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

To the pool and back was the first time I drove it alone.  I had my learner's permit, and nobody was home, and I was curious, so I started it up.  The clutch was something new, but we'd covered that in driver's ed that morning.  How hard could it be?  I started it up, and lurched out of the parking space between the dynamite bunker and the garage, and took off for the club.  Parked it in the driveway, 3.5 miles away.  Boy, this was a lot easier than the bicycle ride I was used to.  I swam for about 20 minutes, and was convinced I was getting caught.  At home, the driveway was still empty.  A while later, when I asked Mom to teach me how to drive the truck, I had to fake a few grinding noises.

After Nancy got her license, and showed her knack for losing gas and oil caps on the Vega, I got fed up, and with the help of Doc, we got it running again.  Doc?  Lee's first husband, named because he once expressed an interest in medical school.  Doc drove a Mustang Mach I fastback, and was the first person I met who knew about cars.  A little gumout, a jump start, and we were rolling.  Not legal, but rolling.

Hmm.  The kids seeem to be asleep at last.  I've really gotta talk to the neighbors about turning off that porch light.

Where were we?  Oh, yeah.  Running, not legal.  Bob M. went over the thing in his driveway, and we put in new wires, rotor, cap, oil, coolant, wiper blades, the works!  How could anything go wrong?  He had a timing light, and knew how to use it!  When Marc and I took the thing to old buckshotface at the state inspection, in line with the big rigs and tow trucks, we weren't particularly successful.  Over the din of the slamming 8 cylinders, he shouted "Gotta fix that exhaust!"  "What?"   "The EXHAUST!"  "WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE EXHAUST?"  $350 later, we knew.  Smelled better, too!

Marc tells me the thing would do more than 100, but he only told me after she was dead.  I wondered, though.  Perfectly happy at 80 going back & forth to Springfield (Lisa was in Springfield for a semester) and hauling that pig roaster that Billy deRosa welded together.  (He also threw in a freeze plug when it tossed one downstate.)

OK, I'll knock off at two.  Sure wish I could finish that chapter for the Brownfield book this easily.  Maybe I should be writing it in the middle of the night.

Here she is in her glory, Prom, 1980.  Lisa's mom, Adele, a sweet lady, took this in Lisa's driveway.  Around this time, we'd take 10-20 of us to the Rocky Horror at the Biograph, going down the Edens with 17 people in the back.  Or to the 53 Drive-in, backing in to the space and melting butter on the engine block.

Sophomore Summer Marc and I broke a bottle of Gancia on the bumper to celebrate her quarter million.  By this time she had a wild assortment of stereo components, a horn that played Beethoven's 5th (a gift from some well-meaning friend of Vic's - he couldni't bring himself to put it in the Buick 225) and new tires, thanks to the State Inspector.  We'd also put stakes on the sides to carry the ever-increasing pile of junk back and forth to Ann Arbor.

Somewhere along the line, she'd become officially mine.  Nobody but Marc and I could drive her, because it of her tricky shifter, that Dan always seemed to get stuck in first and second at the same time.  I'd come home for thanksgiving, and there she'd be at the bottom of the driveway, where he'd tried to make the shift.  We'd make a fuss under the hood, flinging tools and swearing, but in truth it was a two-second fix, and could have been avoided by tightening up the shift plates.  But it kept the truck ours, so we left 'em loose.

Every teen's first car should be a junker, something that requires and rewards attention.  Marc now has a 15-year-old Impala that he got from one of his widow brigade (the old lady customers all over Whidbey Island who need him to unstick the windows and fix the furnace.)  Savannah will probably get this car when she starts driving.  Sure, she wants a beetle, but when she packs 9 of her friends into it and goes into a ditch, she'll be glad.  And Marc will certainly make her change her own oil, plugs, and coolant.  I don't think it has a rotor.  Actually, it's perfect - a car should be one year younger than the driver.  I'm pretty sure Marc had an Impala in high school too.

In the end, it was a drunk with a plow that did it.  The fuel pump was acting up again, so I pulled it onto the shoulder around where Long Grove Road starts up again over by Bob's house.  Funny, the thing had always made it to Springfield, Madison, Ann Arbor, without a hitch, but it would die a mile from home.  Last time was in Wheeling,  Anyhow, I left it there and Jane and I walked home in the snow.  Next morning, I walked up to Mel's Standard and Wendell said "We got your truck out back."  "Thanks, I'm pretty sure it's the fuel pump again."  Randy and Wendell turned around slowly and looked at me, and it was Randy who finally said "I think you'd better go look at it."

If we'd ever got around to restoring it, we'd have seen that the frame was rusted through.  It was clear now, what with the headlights and tailgate stlcking in the air, and the truck resting on its belly.  He'd followed her taillights, doing about 70 in his plow, and she wasn't moving.  Her driveshaft punched through the back of the differential, and the engine went through the radiator.  The other guy?  His engine was in his passenger seat, but he walked away from it.

The next morning, 20 below, nothing in the driveway would start.  I walked Presto up to Mel's, closed because of the holiday, and looked her over.  We took a few things, a hubcap, the data plate, the horn.  I put the key in the dash, and turned it, and she started.  Broken back and all, she started.


Copyright 2000 by Noah Shlaes