Lucky Truck, so named for his clover green color - or what remains of it at least, waits patiently in our driveway for the next donation run, furniture acquisition, or trip to the dump. But he’s a couple of years into his eighth decade now and deserves his rest. So mostly he sits there for the general enjoyment of passers-by. Several times a week someone will stop to take a photo and offer a friendly wave to us through our dining room window.
If we are outside when someone pauses to admire Lucky we will inevitably have the old truck conversation - the one that starts with “what year?” (nineteen hundred and forty nine) and is followed by the story of the uncle or father or grandfather who once owned an old Studebaker pickup just like Lucky. “Best truck he ever had,” they say and we’ll nod and smile. We know.
Driving an old pickup truck is a lesson in patience and humility, beginning when you turn the key and fumble with your foot on the floorboard for the starting button. More often than not, the ancient six-volt starter will grind slowly, slowly, slower, and stop in grumpy silence. Carefully adjust the choke knob a fraction of an inch and try again, and then a third time. You may be rewarded with a hopeful rumble, but just as likely you will need to dig out the jumper cables.
Eventually though the flathead six cylinder motor will lurch to life and settle into a steady putt-putt-put-put-put. But don’t touch the gas pedal yet. Lucky needs a few minutes to get going in the morning just like you do. Sit for a moment while the engine warms up. Admire the sunrise. Watch the squirrels in the chestnut trees. Wave to the joggers and walkers out for their morning exercise. Then, once the putt-putt-putt settles to a firm putterputterputterputterputter, you can push in the heavy clutch pedal and slide the column-mounted shift lever down into first gear. You do know how to shift a three-on-the-tree don’t you? No? Well you are about to learn!
Let out the clutch, push down gently on the gas pedal and take a firm grip on the large, thin steering wheel, and Lucky bumps out of the driveway and into the street to the accompaniment of groans and squeaks from the old springs. Press harder on the pedal and the putterputterputter rises to a smooth roar and Lucky is off! At a pace that still leaves him being passed by the joggers though. First gear is what they used to call a “stump puller”. Good for hauling trailers of hay around the farm perhaps, but Lucky tops out at maybe ten miles an hour before it’s time to shift up.
Clutch in, lever forward and up, don’t rush it or the old gear box will give out a painful crunch. Slowly does it, and then clutch out again. That’s more like it. A comfortable twenty miles an hour in second gear sees you through the neighborhood and out to the main road. A fast and busy one in this case. Pull up to the stop sign and signal for the turn. Turn signal lever? No son, you have to do it the old fashioned way. Roll down your window and stick your arm out. Like that - yep.
After carefully waiting for a long gap (longer than that one… longer… longer… there - go!) swing the steering wheel and guide Lucky into traffic. First gear… second gear… time for third gear. Clutch, shift… nope, that’s first gear. Try again. Ok, got it that time. Accelerate. Twenty. Thirty. Thirty five. Forty… and that’s all he’s got. Push harder and you might get up to forty five but the engine will be bellowing, the steering wheel shaking and the bias ply tires will send you hunting from one side of the lane to the other with every bump.
Fourth gear? Don’t even hope. Sure, Lucky came from the factory with “overdrive” - a sort of high gear device that is operated with a pull knob next to the choke - but it hasn’t worked in this century. Settle down. Forty is what you get. Sit in the slow lane and admire the scenery while everyone else passes you by. Where do they need to get to so fast anyway? Everyone on earth ends up in the same place eventually. No need to rush things.
Pull into the lumberyard and the crew comes out to admire Lucky. “What year?” they ask. (Nineteen hundred and forty nine.) Lucky Truck isn’t pretty. He has a few dents and his paint is two different shades of dark green. His bed is rusty and his bumpers aren’t as straight as they once were. But he can still work for a living. He will haul a load of two by fours, a Christmas tree, or a few hundred pounds of soil for the garden. He won’t get you anywhere fast, but he will get you there as fast as you need to go. “Nice truck” the guys at the yard all say. We smile and nod. We know.
Best truck we’ll ever have.