I love my truck. It’s a 1993 Chevy Silverado with 105,000 miles on it. Someone in town had his license revoked for five years so it was going cheap.
When I first bought it, I was so enchanted by the fulfillment of a lifelong pickup dream that I rarely drove it without feeling dramatic, as if I were performing on stage. “There she goes in her truck, shirtsleeves rolled up, ever prepared to tackle the next tough farm task!” Now I never think twice, but I’m still as happy. I depend on my truck in countless ways, for hauling sheep or lumber, for pulling tree stumps, for moving boulders or livestock shelters, even at one point for setting a ladder in so I could paint the apex of the cabin’s high gable. Most of the year between jobs down at the farm I park it with one door open so Tess can snooze on the seat at her leisure, out of the sun and rain.
The problem is that in snow country, winter miles are hard miles. The roads are salted so thoroughly that not only the roadside trees are killed, but also the vehicles. The under-carriage of my truck is rusted almost to cobwebs. The sides of the 8′ bed have disintegrated so much underneath that they’re wobbly, practically floating in air. The tailgate hinges I replaced three years ago have already rusted away, and I was relieved this winter when snow filled the crevices: for now the gate is frozen on. The transmission is going; it takes two hands to pull the gear shift into park.
For the last couple of years I’ve joked that I would be driving along some day and the truck would collapse — poof! — in a cartoon cloud of dust, as wheels rolled away in all directions.
It hasn’t happened yet, but almost. In December I woke up to a flat tire. I called AAA but, as I had to meet workmen at the farm, I propped the spare against the truck and left. When I returned, the tire had been replaced. No paperwork was to be found, but there is only one AAA garage in town, so I didn’t pursue it. A few weeks later I was driving in the school driveway when the truck suddenly began to shudder, its front end wallowing from side to side. I wondered wildly if the front axle had finally collapsed. When I jumped out, a wheel was canted drunkenly at a 45° angle.
My friend Mike took one look and said mildly, “Good thing you weren’t still on the highway. Only two lug nuts.” The AAA folks had not tightened the nuts properly after changing the tire and four had slipped off. The tire was within minutes of falling off entirely. All the lug bolts were destroyed.
When I called the local garage that had made the change, the owner said, “I’m sure I left you a note about that tire, didn’t I?” When I said, no, there had been no note, and now my truck was inoperable and needed repairs, he became even more sure he had left a note. The downside of small town living is that you have to choose your battles very carefully. I dropped it, and hired Mike to make the repairs after work.
Snowstorms, temperatures of 20° below zero, and darkness at 4:00 PM meant progress was slow. I was without my truck for two weeks. I felt as bereft as any grounded teenager. The crowning indignity was getting the minivan stuck in a snowbank at the barn and having to call for a tow.
The truck’s return in mid-January was a relief.
It was very warm yesterday morning — 40° — but a severe cold front was moving in fast. I was halfway through milking when the wind hit the barn with a roar like a train. The two bales of hay I’d spread in flakes in the paddock took to the air, only snagging briefly on the fence before blowing away. The sheep scattered in fright. Lucy’s horse Birch trotted nervously in a circle, his tail arched and his mane streaming in the wind. Trees thrashed. The noise was incredible.
By the time I finished milking, the wind seemed to have blown itself out. I spread more hay and the animals were grazing peacefully. On carrying the milk to the truck, however, I found the driver’s door hanging askew. As usual I’d left it slightly ajar for Tess. The wind had caught it and bent it almost off its hinges. Now the door would only open about six inches. I had to squirm into the cab sideways to get behind the wheel.
“Gosh,” Mike said later when I showed him. Mike is rarely surprised by my disasters, automotive and otherwise. “Sure is bent up.”
“I was thinking of hitting it with a sledgehammer?”
Mike pinched his lower lip. “Couldn’t hurt.”
Last night after chores I took the sledgehammer from the tack room. Aiming carefully, I slammed the hammer into the hinge side of the door up and down its length. The metal quickly sported a new dimpled pattern. But when I tried the catch, the door now opened perfectly.
I have no money for a new truck. It’s touch and go whether Mike and I can nurse this dear rust-bucket through another year — or even another six months. (Though Mike has ideas of pulling off the bed and decking the frame with wood.) These days I never take the truck any distance longer than the seven miles into town for gas.
But somehow, despite all the uncertainty, there is something almost comforting about having a vehicle that even hitting with a sledgehammer “couldn’t hurt.”