Experience has taught my wife to be skeptical of my sudden needs for certain items, be it a truck, a tractor, or an 18th Century Dutch barn. But the price was right ($1500) and I think she got a kick out of the reactions we were getting as we tooled around in the old girl. Everywhere we went, especially in farm country, the smiles broke out and the hands shot up reflexively, as if welcoming home a long lost uncle. I turned to my wife and said, “You know what this truck gives us? Instant credibility!”
I know what you’re thinking. There are plenty of old trucks out there, what made this one impart ‘instant credibility?’ The wooden bed. It was definitely the wooden bed. It didn’t hurt that the truck was 20 years old (a 1979 Dodge Adventurer, formerly a camper, I figured out later). But its main asset had a lot more to do with carpentry than anything automotive. The previous owner had clearly been a master with pressure treated lumber and a screwgun.
I always said the termites would kill that truck before the rust did, but in fact the bed was probably the most solid thing on it. There was some rust bubbling up under the recent paint job, and the floor was suspiciously squishy under the passenger’s feet. But the real problem lay under the hood in the tangle of wires that made up the electrical system. (Electrical systems always have to go and ruin everything.) It looked like several transplants had taken place there, none successful. Which might explain why odd things started happening like lights suddenly flashing for no apparent reason, horns blaring when nothing was pressed, and, on one scary occasion, everything—lights, engine, forward progress—coming to a complete halt on a hairpin turn one dark night. Things looked bad when my next door neighbor, who rebuilds cars for a living, opened the hood and just stood there staring at that hairball of wires for a good fifteen minutes. I know about as much about auto mechanics as I do about quantum mechanics, but I do know this: when Larry stares like that, you’ve got trouble.
It was becoming clear that the previous owner, though a master carpenter, wasn’t much of an electrician. And paying Larry to replace everything made as much sense as giving my 15-year-old cat a heart transplant. Instead, halfway measures were instituted—a patch here, a work-around there. Just enough to keep her running. My behavior changed as well. I stopped driving her at night. I stopped driving her beyond a five mile radius. I avoided using the horn lest it short out the entire system. I started buying smaller batches of mulch and fertilizer from Agway and loading them into the Subaru.
The honeymoon was over, the bad marriage had begun. The truck and I started avoiding one another. Whenever I showed up somewhere in the car and people asked, “Where’s that wonderful truck of yours?” I made the usual excuses. Weeks, sometimes months, would go by where I wouldn’t drive it at all. This only hastened its decline of course since, as anyone will tell you, the worst thing you can do to a vehicle is let it sit. The truck sat. The axels froze. The mold moved in. The mice moved in. And pretty soon so did the For Sale signs.
Meanwhile, my wife bought a horse and the trailering bills were starting to kill us. We needed a dependable truck. The old Dodge had to go. But the For Sale signs weren’t working. Rustic charm wasn’t cutting it with the used truck market. Nobody wanted a project, they wanted a point-and-shoot pick-up. As the truck slowly melted into the landscape, it looked more and more like I was going to become a widower rather than a divorcee.
But then a mason who’d worked on a wall for me asked about the truck and we came to a quick agreement. He got a good deal and I was relieved of my guilt. He was also mechanically inclined, which meant that the old girl would get the kind of babying she needed (and that I sure couldn’t give her). So, The Grapes of Wrath had a happy ending after all.
I’m now in a very satisfying relationship with a ’93 GMC. It’s always there for me when I turn the key (or blow the horn). But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that old Dodge sure looked fine as she drove by the other day, fast enough to kick up a little dust, slow enough for me to see the word “masonry” now stencilled on her side. I’m happy for her. Honestly. Sure, I wish things had turned out differently. But then, we’ll always have Kingston.
A Chicken Murder Mystery