Ugly Old Trucks
Sure, I like new trucks as well. Trucks these days are just passenger cars with a bed. They have every comfort of home. They have slick paint jobs, fancy wheels, and trick sound systems. What I look for are character dents, mangled mirrors, and lots of dirt. These are the things that show that these trucks are tools for work, and that’s what a truck should do.
My grandfather, (I called him Papa,) had some great old, ugly, work trucks when I was growing up. The one I remember most was an old International Harvester. He bought it brand new in the early seventies. It was light blue, (even the color said "ugly truck,") a long wheel base, ¾ ton truck. It looked like a tank, squared off with sharp, strong lines. They don’t even make Internationals anymore, too bad. In a world where Hummers and Land Rovers are status symbols, an International Scout or Travel-all could definitely fit in. It did not take Papa long to scratch up and give his new truck character. It was a work truck, and Papa worked hard. He hauled a lot of firewood to people in town. He expected his truck to go where he wanted to go. If a bush or small tree was in his way, he ran over them. If a large tree was in his way, he still ran over them. If he couldn’t run over the tree, he would cut it down, saw it up and haul it for firewood. He was always trying to squeeze through tight fits in the woods, so rearview mirrors were his first casualties. Bumpers were there to bump things, (hence the name,) so they quickly gathered dents and small scratches. The longer he drove it, the larger dents he acquired.
The hood had a large dent in the middle where a calf jumped on it. I know that sounds strange, so I will attempt to explain the situation. Papa hauled cows or calves whenever he felt the time was right, and he used the bed of his pick-up with tall sideboards to haul them. Sideboards were like panels, and when you placed them on the sides, the front, and a gate on the back they created a whole pen to carry animals. You don’t see them much anymore, but pick-up beds still have the holes on the top of the beds to put sideboards in. If Papa had several head of cattle to haul, he contracted someone with a stock trailer to haul them. If he was going to just haul one or two cows, or maybe some hogs, he used his truck.
The heifer in question was a large, yearling calf, which for some reason had fallen out of favor with Papa. He put the sideboards on the sides, and put his gate piece over the tailgate, but not one in the front of the bed. He figured that the cab of the pick-up was tall enough to keep the calf inside. My grandmother told him he was making a mistake, this calf was big enough to jump over the cab. That settled the issue, no woman was going to tell him how to run his business. The animal loaded without any problems, and Papa was on his way to the sale-barn. After he had gone a few miles up the road it happened. Papa heard a noise on the top of the cab and before he could stop, the heifer calf landed on top of his hood and bailed out. Papa was astonished to look over and see the calf bounce off the moving truck and land in the ditch. He slammed on the brakes and feared the worst. The calf wasn’t dead, far from it. She sprang to her feet and ran into the woods like a deer, startled but not stunned. Papa turned and headed home, dreading two things. He figured he would never see that calf again and have to mark her down as a loss. Worse was that he would have to explain what had happened to his wife, admit that she was right and he was wrong, and listen to her chastise him. Only one of those things happened. The calf showed up at the farm the next morning, he loaded her and hauled her to the sale barn the next week, with sideboards on the front. His wife never forgave or forgot, and she reminded him of this incident for years to come.
While living in Austin, Texas during the mid 1980’s, I always went to the "ugly truck" contest sponsored by the local paper. This contest was held for my kind of trucks. The one I remember the most was an old, white Dodge. It was a mid sixties model, and those were some ugly trucks. It was a long wheel base stepside, a rarity, and had a little rust. It had so much rust that one of the rear fenders was held together with Lone Star Beer bumper stickers. The interior may have been worse. The bench seats were torn and tattered, the driver sat on a piece of plywood he put over the springs. They had replaced the original standard transmission with an automatic, and used vice grips attached to the side of the transmission to shift gears. The owners had cut a hole in the floorboard for this purpose. This truck was so ugly that it was beautiful.
I really wanted to have an entry in the contest. The opportunity came when my friend John, who lived close by in Taylor, Texas, and I attended a farm equipment auction and bought a 1952 Ford 1 ½ ton work truck. The truck was very bare; it had no motor, no transmission, no bed, and no seat. We found a working six cylinder motor and "granny"four speed transmission that would fit. I worked on the brakes, and after several trips to the junkyard for parts, got the front brakes to work. John found an old wicker love seat, and after sawing off part of the legs, it worked as a seat. Since the truck had no bed, we used some old plywood that a friend of John’s had used that board up an old hotel in downtown Taylor. We put the grafitti side up, and it added a special touch. Any really great old work truck needs a name, so we named her "the beast."
I drove out to Taylor one Friday evening to visit John and do some work on "the beast," but it wasn’t in its usual parking spot. I couldn’t see it anywhere, so I went to John’s house to find out where he had moved her. After I asked him where "the beast" was he couldn’t make eye contact with me. He looked down at the ground and shoved some bills in my hand. He had driven "the beast" in a parade earlier that day and a spectator had fallen in love with the truck, and made John an offer he couldn’t refuse. I looked at the money he had handed me, it was blood money. It was a lot of blood money however, so John and I went out for a night on the town instead of staying at his house working on some old truck. Old trucks are just things, and things can be bought, sold or traded. I know I sound fickle, how can you sell something that you find beautiful? It’s because I think it’s beautiful that I can sell it, beauty is something I can put a value on. By some other sap paying me a lot of cash, he re-enforced my belief in that truck’s beauty.
I don’t expect everyone to see old work trucks the same way I do. For most they are old, ugly eyesores. To me they show character and strength. They show that we Texans are tough and we want out trucks to be tough too. I don’t particularly like Picasso’s paintings, but some people will pay a lot of money to acquire them. Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.