Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Since I was a very young man, I wanted one of these trucks. I’ll never forget the awe my brother and I felt watching a two-toned copper 1953 Chevy truck fly by one day when we were hauling hay in Plantersville. It was 1973. That truck was ancient... almost twenty years old! We agreed that was the coolist thing we had ever seen.
These old trucks are such solid reminders of the America that WAS. They were the result of the finest designing and engineering that this Country could muster, right after WWII. The first trucks like this rolled off the assembly line in 1948. Tank- tough steel, punched into whimsical bulbous forms that seem to float down the road like a mass of bubbles. The Ford competition was lame and artless. Soon Americans branded the old reliable FORD as an acronym for “Fix Or Repair Daily.” Chevy engineers took all that American innovation that stomped the Nazis and made the most beautiful, durable, economic and utilitarian pick-up trucks ever made. You can almost see the design from an Army Air Corp Mustang being adapted into one of these trucks. The people that could make trucks like these could one day land on the Moon… and live. When you lift the hood, it is so spacious and simple, you gaze and think, how can this thing run? Where is EVERYTHING?
The battery is under the passenger floorboard. The brake fluid is under the driver’s floorboard. The windshield wipers are not electrical, but powered by the engine, via a cute little vacuum motor. The vent for circulation is on the side of the vehicle, flowing into the cab under the dash on the driver’s side. The heater was just a fan fired by the hot water from the radiator. The ignition? Like on a farm tractor, it is a large button on the floorboard, right next to the accelerator. I’ve kept everything as original as possible, out of respect for this monument to American genius and frugality.
Every year, month by month, I have made gradual progress in restoring this wonderful relic of Americana, sometimes taking a step backwards, then forwards, my family good-naturedly tolerating the sacrifices we have made for… “Dad’s truck.” I would not paint it until it was running well, and even then I painted it too soon. Even recently, as of yesterday, a really good mechanic solved a long standing quirk. One headlight glowed much brighter than the other, no matter what I did. Of course, that only mattered at night. So, like Cinderella's carriage, I drove it only in the daylight hours, because at night it was no safer than a pumpkin.
Today I got the thing inspected, so it is street legal once more. You step up on a running board and climb into my truck like a pilot into a cockpit. I was gloating like Neil Armstrong until I noticed the obligatory egg stain covering my passenger window, as I took it down to the carwash. The old truck, my monument to American industrial superiority, has been a favorite target for neighborhood hoodlums for decades. Paintballs, eggs, and yes, you may remember the GUMMY BEARS. Thank goodness the old truck ducked out of sight when those Stoneham punks shot so many windshields out of our neighbor’s cars a couple of summers ago. Our police have gradually made that kind of mayhem much more scarce. Thank you Chief Myatt. It’s the little things that make life either a glory or a curse.
It’s a wonder to me that anyone would ever want to deface or insult the old truck. It’s 60 years old for Heaven’s sake. Would you push an old man down in the street? I guess there will always be those who do not appreciate classic design and craftsmanship. Those who have no respect for old things, good and true things. There will always be people who look at the grand and majestic and just scratch their ass. They will never understand or own, much less restore something like my old truck. They would look at it and say, ”there is no radio,” or “you can’t survive today without air- conditioning.” “It is very noisy.” “It is kind of slow.” “It has no seat belts or pollution controls. That can’t be legal.”
So I can’t explain why, when I get behind the wheel, and the thing actually starts and the engine roars and it takes off like a frisky colt, and I make a turn on a dime, and pull out on Washington Avenue, and somebody slows down to see the old truck actually moving and waves with a smile, I feel like I just walked on the moon.