I love old pickup trucks and old dogs. They are reliable. You can count on them. I have had the great pleasure in my life to receive love and devotion from old dogs and been able to rely on many old pickup trucks.
My love of pickup trucks began in 1952 when Jim McCune hired me to deliver prescriptions at night from his pharmacy in Metairie, Louisiana to his customers. Jim provided me with a brand new red Ford pickup to make the deliveries. This made this eighteen-year-old college kid feel like Cowboy Tom Mix out on the open range. I remember the light truck had a tendency to skid on wet streets after a rain, but I quickly became enamored of driving it. After the pharmacy closed each night and all deliveries of medicine had been accomplished, Jim required that I take the truck and go to Curley’s Bar just down the road and bring him a sixpack of cold Dixie Beer. This extra duty just allowed me to drive the sweet little red truck some more.
After acting out a few more years in this drama we call life, sometime in the mid sixties, I acquired my first very own pickup truck. An elderly gentleman with a heavy accent had driven his pristine blue 1954 Chevy pickup from California to Metairie to live with his daughter and son-in-law who lived next door. Since he was well beyond eighty at the time and in a strange new land that would require him to pass another driving test, he offered to sell me the truck at a good price. At the time we had a small spread across Lake Ponchartrain, so the truck would come in handy.
The little 54 Chevy was a beauty. The old German immigrant who sold me the truck had been the sole owner and maintained it in true German fashion.The original blue paint retained its luster and all things mechanical worked perfectly. I added a wooden stake body to handle duties of the farm.
Once, with my five year-old-son Sean next to me, I drove the 54 Chevy to his grandfather’s farm in West Point, Mississippi to pick up a load of hay for some mean, short-legged Welsh ponies grandaddy had bestowed upon us. On the way home, while traveling south on Highway 59 just below Hattiesburg, Sean fell asleep and laid on my lap. The little truck, brim full of hay that extended well above the cab, handled the chore well. As I cruised down the interstate, I noticed in the over-sized side view mirror a black Mustang coming up fast on my left side. It contained young males.
All of a sudden as they approached to pass me on my left side, I saw one of the young desperadoes stick a pistol out a right side window of their sporty little car. I assumed they were going to take target practice into the bails of hay. My concern was that they might miss and hit the gas tank located directly behind the bench seat of the truck, or worse, hit me or Sean. “Pop, pop, pop”–they shot three rounds into the hay as they sped past us. No one was hurt. Sean did not even wake up from his nap. I was furious but had no other recourse other than to wish that the callous young fellows broke down somewhere ahead of me.
Mack Olivares, the owner of a Conoco full-service filling station in Gretna where I did business or a regular basis, led me to the Green Monster. I first met Mack after he had been the victim of an armed robbery. As a reliable eye witness, Mack enabled me to prosecute and convict the two punk Texas bastards who threatened Mack with a gun and robbed him of hard-earned cash.
The Green Monster, a vehicle to behold, had about eighty-three thousand miles on it when Mack sold it to me. Having been owned and maintained by Mack all its existence, the Green Monster came to me in excellent condition. I knew I could trust Mack. He did not fail me. The Green Monster, a 1964 full sized Chevrolet pickup with an extended cab and long bed came with dual fuel tanks and batteries. Mack had used it in his work to haul huge truck tires and in his scarce free time to go camping with his family. My curiosity about the dual fuel tanks soon became satisfied when I discovered how much fuel the mammoth 450 horse power engine consumed. Since those were the days when gasoline had yet to reach a dollar a gallon, I felt I could enjoy the safe feeling and luxury of driving the Green Monster.
The Green Monster could haul most any load I called upon it to bear. When you have a truck such as this, you acquire new friends easily. From time to time, everyone has to transport stuff–big, heavy, dirty stuff. How can one do this in their petite, smooth-riding, underpowered sedans or sports cars? It has always been a mystery to me how a family can get by without a pickup. Not long ago, we almost convinced some recently retired friends they needed a pickup to pull an RV they had contemplated buying. They were almost sold until they discovered how big the truck would have to be to safely pull the RV they desired. After much anguish, they abandoned the idea of the pickup and the RV and bought a very comfortable, fuel efficient, sporty car they have used to travel far and wide.
Some where along the way as gas prices rose, I decided that I needed a small diesel powered pickup. Extensive research informed me that the oldest and most reliable manufacturers of diesel-powered engines were, Mercedes, Peugeot and Isuzu. I bought an Isuzu Pup with a long bed. I could load it with topsoil from the Mississippi River batture and walk it up the deeply rutted path across the levee in low gear with no strain. It did not even object when I required it to haul this excessive load across the steep bridge spanning the Intercoastal Canal. (For the non-Louisianan, the “batture” is the narrow strip of land between the Mississippi River and the levee.)
When I developed a program to teach delinquent kids how to scuba dive so they could get jobs in the marine industries of south Louisiana the little gray and black truck aided in the task by transporting scuba gear for ten people to Florida for checkout dives. The little Pup did not have a jackrabbit start, but could hold its own with eighteen wheelers on Interstate 10, once I got it up to speed.
All vehicles I have owned were passed down to children as they commenced driving. Daughter Paige received the Pup as she entered college. We took some test drives first to convince her that when stopped at an intersection she best not try beating an oncoming car across the street. The little Pup proved useful for many things, but it definitely would not win any drag races.
A compact sporty blue and silver Chevy pickup proved to be a delightful second choice. I had intended to buy a Dodge Dakota until the dealer tried a “bait and switch” on me. In disgust, I visited my high school friend whose family owned the local Chevrolet dealership. On the first drive I fell in love the compact Chevy S 10. It handled tautly and promised good gas mileage, which by now had become important. The first time I pulled up to Olivares Conoco to fill it up, in his south Tex-Mex drawl Mack exclaimed, “That thing is just too pretty to put to work.” It took about a year for the new to wear off to where I felt comfortable throwing lumber, fertilizer and heavy tools in the sturdy little truck’s bed.
Over a period of six months the Chevy S10 transported all our household goods from New Orleans to Seagrove Beach, Florida. I drove mostly at night with my faithful companion, Susie the border collie, asleep on my lap. I found it uncanny that she could sleep the whole trip, but somehow knew we had arrived at our destination when we turned off Hwy. 30A onto Lakewood drive. She immediately perked up, looked out the windows and commenced her urgent whining to signal she knew we had arrived.
Once, Susie and I tested the cute little truck to its limits. We borrowed a sixteen-foot, four wheel, six-thousand pound capacity trailer, stuffed it with furniture, appliances and yard tools, then hooked it to the hitch on the truck’s bumper. Susie and I had not yet acquired a frame hitch which could carry heavy loads. We made the trip that night and some how arrived without mishap. The next morning when I went to release the trailer from the truck, I discovered the excess load had twisted the hitch and bumper backward to a dangerous angle. Looking at the damage done to the dependable bumper, I could just imagine the trailer coming loose and strewing furniture all over Alabama.
The S10 aged gracefully, but my abuse had taken its toil on my old friend by the time it reached eight years old and turned over 180,000 miles. My wife, Karen, and I went to buy another S10 from our friend Jeff Shirley at the Chevrolet dealership in Panama City, only to be told the General Motors Company, in its wisdom, had discontinued this best-selling, reliable vehicle. They had replaced it with something they called a Colorado, which had a five-cylinder engine. Jeff half-heartedly tried to convince us we would be happy with the Colorado, but after a test drive, we knew Chevrolet’s innovation would not compete with other small trucks on the market.
So off we went to the Toyota dealership and came home with the pickup we have owned for the last five years–a fuel efficient, four-cylinder Toyota Tacoma. The little white Tacoma that I call my “baby truck” has four doors with seats in the back that can accommodate small grandkids or large dogs. P.J., our eight-year-old Golden Retriever, prefers to ride up front with me in the passenger seat. I crank down his window so he can sniff the air and commune with people when I stop at the Tom Thumb for a coffee break. P.J. rides proudly, sitting erect and looking very regal as we tool down the highway. Though the seat is a bit too small for his large butt, he has learned to compensate by putting his front paws on the center console to brace himself.
Over the years, various dogs have ridden with me in various old pickup trucks. Sassy, a small feisty mixed breed, didn’t care much for riding in a truck. She preferred hiding in the shadows at night beside my office on Huey P. Long Avenue in Gretna, Louisiana. The little vixen would then spring forth, barking as loudly as she could at unsuspecting pedestrians and scaring the daylights out of them, causing the terrified folks to flee down the street while calling out in horror.
Sampson, a large sturdy gentleman of a dog took up with Sassy and us, but she, being spayed, had little to do with the big oaf. Sampson did enjoy riding in the Pup with me down to the bayou country of Lafitte. Fences did not contain the traveling man, Sampson. He left home at will to share his gene pool freely with the female dogs of Jefferson Parish.
Lucky Dogg, named after hot dog vendors of the French Quarter, sported a lush golden coat and weighed over a hundred pounds. This good-natured fellow barely tolerated riding in any vehicle except a boat. He loved to swim and ride in boats, but he was just too big to comfortably fit in the front seat of a pickup.
I wonder how folks can get by without a pickup that can be trusted to do just about any thing they may ask of it. I also wonder how folks can get by with out the devotion of an old dog who will ask little of you and who will love you unconditionally until the day that they die.