Ever since I was a boy I’ve had a fascination for old trucks. Not sure why exactly. It may have something to do with having been in farming for the younger side of my years, when it seemed that the older the rig, the more you could really rely on it getting the job done.
Unlike cars, even old cars, old trucks had to deliver. Expectations were high and they seldom let you down, be it hauling hay, cattle, farm machinery, what have you.
One Special Old Truck
My favorite old truck of all time was a 1942 flatbed Ford that was the mainstay of Folly Farm, the dairy farm that my wife, Betty Ann, grew up on. This old rig was solid metal through and through, constructed of the kind of steel gauge that allowed you to load hay twelve tiers high and then be able to jump down from the very top onto the cab roof, drop to the hood and leap to the ground without fear of denting or scratching the paint job. (Of course I was sixteen at the time, which may have provided for a lighter landing, for sure!)
Ralph, the resident farm worker who hailed from Vermont, used to load his pipe with fresh tobacco and strike his wooden match across the “Ford” insignia in the middle of the dashboard. He’d done this so many times that there were scrapes and sulfur marks the entire length of the embossed nameplate. She had five gears, low-low and four higher ones, though I hardly ever got to drive it in any gear beyond third. Starting the old beast cold required some coordination. The choke and throttle knobs were side-by-side on the dash next to the ignition “button,” which was just that, a big round, black button instead of a key that most people are familiar with. You pulled the choke out “two fingers”, step on the gas pedal, and with the top part of your “gas foot,” you had to also bear down on the starter button with the top of your foot that was mounted on the floor. Once it cranked over three or four times you pushed the choke back in and off she’d go….usually.
Today’s vehicles, even larger trucks, wear their muscle on the outside by design, as if that ever matters when it really counts. But that old Ford couldn’t care less about looking tough or sitting pretty. There was no chrome, no shiny paint job, nothing. The factory issue standard gray paint of the day didn’t chip or wear off. Instead it developed its own patina, turning greenish-brown over the years. With a full load of hay the bed and cab creaked coming over a rise in the hayfield and the motor always let you know when it was time to down-shift or gas up to keep her from bucking under a load.
Other farm machinery, including tractors, had an assigned home in various sheds near the barnyard. But the Old Truck didn’t fit very well anywhere inside so it spent most of its time parked ready to go adjacent to the milk house, always pointing towards the road and nearby pastures. In the early morning, especially in spring when the pasture land was lush with new growth, we had to go fetch the herd for morning milking at 4:30 when it was still mostly dark. Knowing that the cows were usually far-off in the corner of the large pasture, we set the barn up and jumped in the truck. She was outfitted with an honest-to-goodness, genuine “Ahooga-horn, and when it was sounded the cows were trained to come when they heard the distinctive low-pitched howl.
One morning as we were finishing up with milking, Ralph looked out into the barnyard and said to no one in particular, “Where’s the Truck?” Suddenly Ralph had his own answer to his question as he retraced his steps from the afternoon before. Seems Ralph had been working in the back pasture where the dry and bred cows were kept when he noticed one was very close to calving. He walked her up to the calving barn so she wouldn’t head off come nightfall for the woods to avoid detection by man or beast. On his way up Ralph yelled to Jack, our boss (and my future father-in-law) who was working nearby, to bring the truck up him when he came. However, Jack never heard Ralph’s request.
So Jack told me to go down and bring the truck back up into the barnyard. It was about 5:30 in the morning when I headed down to the pasture. There she was, sitting along the fence line, quiet and still. But as I approached I noticed what seemed like heat or steam rising from the hood, which seemed odd given that the windshield, fenders and running board were dew covered from sitting in the field all night. The barely risen sunrise was glistening off the rounded fenders and headlight casings which made the whole scene look like a painting on canvas.
To my amazement I suddenly realized that the truck was running! It had been sitting there since four the day before, all night and into the early morning. Who knows how much gas was in the tank to begin with, but it didn’t stall and didn’t run out of gas even after sitting there running for more than thirteen hours all by itself. The windows were open, so the seat too was wet with dew as I got in, slipped her in gear and drove on up the hill. Even back then in 1969, which meant that the truck was almost thirty years old at the time, it ran all night long, waiting patiently for someone to come and bring ‘er back home.
Post note: The image of the 1942 Ford truck is from the Internet. Unfortunately, I wasn’t into photography in the ’60’s! While researching for this article I did come across an amazing site by artist Jean Vincent, who, paints old trucks in their natural outdoor settings. Her work is extraordinary. If you enjoy “old beauty” her site is at http://jeanvincent.com/. Sorry I can’t link you to it right now though as it seems she has an issue on her site and it won’t go through as if linked. But try copying and pasting it in your browser, maybe it will be working again when you try. My Old Truck story will conclude in my next post. Thanks for reading.
Text by K. Lee | Photo from the Internet