Timelessness of an Old Pickup

February 25th, 2012

Our society is one that is pretty well defined by timeliness. TV programs start at a precise time, down to the second. Schools have elaborate timekeeping systems. Even church services are carefully timed. We know how fast we’re going, and our GPS or phones tell us when we’ll get there. And we’re pretty confident that we will, in fact, get there.

Somehow this doesn’t apply to our pickup.

This pickup, in case you’re wondering, is a thing of… stories, shall we say. After a particularly frustrating experience with it one week (oh yes, the battle extended several days), I likened it to the Greek gods. And Terah had a good laughing fit when I began a sentence with “The reason there’s a towel connecting the brake pedal to the steering wheel…”

But I guess the thrifty side of me won out, and somewhere along the line, I relented. My brother fixed up the carburetor. I got it a new battery. The flat tire is repaired. The starter broke, and I got it replaced. And I even got an oil change. Fancy, I know.

So today, when I needed to take some backbreaking junk off the yard, I was hoping the pickup would work. I hadn’t driven it in months, and any manner of catastrophe could have struck it in that time. So I was mildly relieved when it started on the 6th try. That is, quite seriously, quite the improvement, and shows how skilled a mechanic my brother is.

The speedometer, of course, isn’t working. The odometer stupidly reads “21531″ or something like that (it was only a 5-digit odometer, broke long ago, so who knows how many miles it really has.) And I like to keep things like grease and heavy ancient air conditioners (one of the things I was hauling) away from my watch, so I wasn’t wearing it.

The result: I have no idea what time it is, how fast I’m going, when I’ll get there, IF I’ll get there, or all those things.

I set out, and made it a good half mile before it died as I was rounding a corner at the bottom of the hill. Always a great place for a finicky old stick-shift vehicle to die, right? Anyhow, a few random adjustments to the choke later, and the thing sputtered then roared (and I do mean roared) back to life. A little lurching up the hill and I was back on my way. Now, I was stuck there in the middle of the road, but it was a country road, so I’d have probably had a good hour to get it fixed before worrying about blocking anybody’s way.

My first stop: my great uncle’s place. He has a “scrap metal for charity” project going on. He is looking for old motors, air conditioners, dehumidifiers, etc. He takes them apart, separates out the metals, sells them, and donates the result to MCC, a world relief agency. I knew I had an old dehumidifier in the basement, and thought I remembered seeing an old window air conditioner in the elevator. That thing is probably the single heaviest object I have ever moved without help. I have a bandaid to prove it. It was way too heavy to carry, so I kind of rolled it, side to side, from the side of the elevator on to the pickup. If you were watching, you’d have heard me making struggling noises, followed by “BANG rattle rattle rattle… pause… struggling noises…. BANG rattle rattle rattle” as I “rolled” it along the ground, and waited for the internal bits to settle after each quarter turn. So anyway, eventually I got it to the pickup, and then had the sickening realization: I have no way to get this thing up there. Oops.

I eventually placed it on top of an old tire rim, balanced it there as I knelt down, and somehow — still not quite sure how — managed to lift the entire thing a few feet until I could get some leverage to shove it onto the pickup. I later commented to my dad that it was a Chrysler brand air conditioner, somewhat to my surprise, and he said that it was probably my great-grandpa’s. That was a surprise.

Anyhow, back to the pickup. I drove down the few miles to my great grandpa’s place, not really knowing how fast I was going. I smelled the familiar smells of the old pickup: exhaust fumes, oil on hot surfaces it shouldn’t be on, a touch of hot antifreeze. You never have any doubt about whether the engine is running.

It was sort of nice to not know, or particularly care, how fast I was going, or what time it was. Sometimes I’d idly wonder, but you know, it didn’t really matter and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it anyhow.

I got to uncle’s place, unloaded the junk — sorta dropped the air conditioner off the back of the pickup with a terrific BANG, then rolled it all the way to his trailer — and got back in. On to town. I hadn’t put gas in the pickup in a few years, and I suspected it was getting low. (The gas gauge, you guessed it, doesn’t work right either.) Plus we had some large recyclables built up and it was time to get rid of them. And for that, I had to drive on the highway a ways. The speed limit there is 65MPH. I have no idea how fast I was going, but it wasn’t 65. Maybe it was 45. I got passed a lot, but nobody looked particularly surprised that a pickup that looks like mine wasn’t going 65.

Partway there, I smelled a different smoke smell. Not an oil smoke, but more of a grassy or wood smoke. Hmm, I thought. That’s odd. Hope it’s not coming from the pickup. I didn’t really see smoke anywhere else, so I just drove on until I couldn’t smell it anymore.

I unloaded the recyclables, then went to the gas station. As the pump readout neared $50, I decided: 1) the gas tank really was pretty empty, and 2) I just can’t put more gas in it anymore. That would be more than the truck’s worth. So I drove home.

The drive home was into the wind. My face got pretty cold – I always drive with the windows open to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning (remember the fumes?) I got home and prepared to pack up the pickup – close the windows, replace the bungee cord holding the brake pedal up, etc. I then thought I’d have a look under the hood to see if there was anything, well, on fire. Nope, but there was a packrat nest that fell down as soon as the wind hit it. Source of grassy-smelling smoke identified.

It’s amazing what difference simple lack of knowledge makes sometimes. Not knowing what time it is or how fast I’m going means I don’t have to worry about those things. I wonder how society has changed simply because accurate and cheap watches are available. I kind of like driving the old truck. It’s a bit of an adventure, a bit of a challenge, a bit of randomness, and a bit of an escape from the normal and predictable. Not a bad deal for a $75 vehicle.

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  1. Dan

    Not knowing the time sounds do peaceful :)

    Reply

  2. Philipp Kern

    Interesting that you’re allowed to actually drive such a car on public roads… that wouldn’t be possible in other countries. USA, land of the free… ;-)

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Heh, indeed ;-) There’s quite an antique car culture here. I should note that this pickup isn’t part of it, but something of its sort, while uncommon, isn’t unheard-of either.

    My tax on it each year is less than $0.10 ;-)

    Reply

  3. Nate N0NB

    So you have one of *those*, eh, John?

    What a classic! We had a couple of slightly older vintage (1976) Chevy pickups at the farm that we finally sold for scrap last year. I was a bit sad to see them go, but there was little hope of actually keeping either in worthwhile condition or I would have done so.

    Reply

  4. Colin

    Hi, great story…

    But, doesn’t a vehicle require some sort of test before it’s allowed on public roads?

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Some areas require an emissions test. That’s about it. This area doesn’t. I’m sure it’s illegal to drive something that poses an active safety hazard to others. There’s nothing about this pickup that is particularly unsafe. There are, I’m sure, quite a few people out there driving vehicles with problems with their exhaust systems they don’t even know about. At least I know about mine ;-)

    Reply

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