Tom Clyde: The difference between an old truck and a cool old truck
The relationship between a man and his truck is unique. There have been several trucks in my life (at this point, cue up the Willie Nelson tunes), and they have all been, well, trucks. I’ve always wanted to have a really cool old truck. I had a ’53 Studebaker, that qualified as a cool old truck, but also was a certified death trap. I couldn’t keep it running long enough to make a round trip to the auto parts store to fix what broke the day before. I sold it, and it’s always been the one that got away.
There were a couple of Toyotas along the way, the small, tinny ones before they built them with springs and started calling them Tacomas. They were trouble-free and reliable even under pretty awful conditions on the ranch. And boring. I drove one of them right into the ground before turning it into the farm truck. It did what it needed to do, but it didn’t spark joy.
I plowed snow for about 25 years with a Dodge Power Wagon that was junk when I bought it and didn’t improve over the years. Pack rats in the barn ate the wiring so I had to disconnect the battery when it was parked. It never left the ranch. It was stuck in the low gear range in 4-wheel drive, and when I drove it on dry pavement to get it across the street to plow the other road, it bucked and complained. It got the job done for a long time at almost no cost. When I sold it, the floor had been replaced with a sheet of plywood, and there where big holes rotted clear through the corners of the doors—hence the rodents in the dashboard.
If it could leave the property under its own power, it was an asset, barely. If anything broke, it would have been expensive to have it towed away. I got $1,800 out of it, including the snowplow. The guy who bought it said he would have paid $1,900 for the plow alone. He took it to Pocatello and plowed a big parking lot with it, confident that none of his employees would be remotely interested it taking it for a joy ride.
You can’t run a ranch without a truck. That seems obvious, though I have clear memories of my father driving around the ranch in a top-of-the-line Mercedes with a bale of hay in the trunk and irrigation dams rolled up and sticking out the back. I’ve been unwilling to do that to any of my cars. So there’s always been a truck.
The most recent was a 1999 Ford that I bought from Summit County. It had been a Sheriff’s cruiser pickup (those were the days), then the building inspectors drove it for a year, and finally it was delivered to Search & Rescue to finish it off. I didn’t know about that last assignment when I bought it, but some of the local guys who are on the S&R crew recognized it and told me stories about where and how they had driven it that I would have been better off not knowing. Still, I’ve had it for 15 years or so, and it’s mostly done what it needed to do despite being a bucket of rust. It got about 10 mpg going downhill with a fully loaded trailer.
Which brings us back to the idea of owning a cool, old truck. This 1999 Ford, from the jelly bean design era, was never going to be a cool truck. It became an old truck, but the only thing cool about it was the air rushing in around the rotten door gaskets. All four corners of the bed were rotted out. The seats were good, and $99 Walmart stereo worked perfectly. Bluetooth and everything. But it was not a candidate for restoration. It was time for it to go to old truck heaven.
Shopping for a replacement was a shock. For the use it gets, I needed something several years old. What I wanted was a basic, stripped down work truck. They exist. You see them all the time. But they get driven into the ground in fleets. Everything on the market was larded up with every imaginable option and power feature. Spending $50,000 on a new truck appears to be very easy. Spending only a third of that on a used truck was surprisingly hard. I found one that will work, but it has supple leather seats and a concert hall sound system. The little sliding rear window is electric. It’s a full four door set up with a limo-sized back seat. It’s going to take some courage to throw a couple of spools of barbed wire and fence posts into the 10-year-old, but completely un-scratched, bed.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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“It was just the heads of the animal characters of the zodiac brought to life. It was dizzying to look up and see them all and to meander between the animals.”