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The last vehicle Dad ever bought:

Derelict Dodge Pickup

1978 Dodge, unused for a while

He bought it new off the dealer’s lot in late ’77 and drove it until he died in ’82. For the first two years of that he drove it every day to work, nineteen miles along Texas back roads from the farm to the steel plant. During that time it picked up the only damage it ever suffered, a slightly crumpled right front fender courtesy his beté noire, a particular farmer who always pulled out into the road without regarding the traffic. There were several along the way who sometimes did that, but this one was hereditary — either he or his father had been road hazards since 1952, when Dad first started making the trip daily. Dad often took a longer and twistier alternate route that had the advantage of not passing that particular driveway, but on that day he’d had trouble sleeping and was late getting off… he replaced the flimsy aluminum grille and pounded/pulled the fender back into shape, but it was still a little lumpy because he had no talent for what the Australians call “panel beating” and didn’t consider a truck worthy of professional attention.

We were living in San Antonio at the time he died, and Mother and Dad had already been planning a trip down there to bring me a bunch of stuff we’d left at the farm for storage. Dad had built a camper shell out of two-bys and 3/8″ plywood and loaded everything up, so everything just stayed in the truck for a while after his death. Sometime in late ’82 we went up there to visit Mother and drove the truck back, and I’ve had it ever since. The homebuilt shell came off in the mid-Eighties. Sometime in the Nineties I had to have some work done, and the shop fouled up. After that it was hard to shift and didn’t want to stay in second gear without the driver applying pressure to the gear lever. More important, the rear main seal leaked, coating the clutch with oil. Sometime around 1998 or 1999 it became undriveable; I didn’t have the money to get it fixed and had several alternative vehicles to drive, so it got parked. When we moved in 2000 we towed it here, twenty miles through town on a nylon tow strap, and it’s been sitting where you see it since then.

It’s a 1978, a D50 if I recall, anyway a half-ton stepside with the Slant Six and three-on-the-tree standard transmission, wood-strip bed floor and low-end cloth upholstery. During that period Dodge built factory custom vehicles with big engines and special trim under the name “Li’l Red Truck”, and that body style was the starting point. One of my son’s older contemporaries took it in his mind to reproduce the Li’l Red Truck on a 4WD chassis, and was casting about for a suitable donor. Another guy about the same age (I shouldn’t call them “kids” any more, but that’s how I think of them) recalled Dad’s truck and offered me $500 for it. That’s low — on the collector market it would go for twice that, and I suspect that this particular fellow took a substantial cut; it’s a known part of his personality — but I’m far away from cities and moneyed collectors, and I’ve reached the point in my life when I need to get rid of projects I’ll never complete, so I took him up on it. It’s a good deal for the buyer. The truck has no serious rust, and the only real deficiencies are the crumpled fender and the plastic pod surrounding the dash instruments, which has crumbled to shards in the Texas sun.

The driver showed up on Saturday to take it away. I’d intended to get more pictures when it got loaded on the flatbed, but my camera battery was flat and my phone tells me taking pictures is “Forbidden”, I don’t know why. None of the wheels turned when it was winched onto the transport, which surprised me a little. It isn’t astonishing that the transmission was locked up, but I hadn’t really expected the front brakes to be seized as well. Never mind — the tow cable and winch were plenty strong. I handed the driver the title and went inside, because one of the traits I share with Mother is not wanting to watch as people (or sentimental things) ride off into the sunset.

I’d wanted to fix it up and drive it again, but that was no longer anything resembling a reasonable prospect. Goodbye, old truck.That leaves me with only three derelict vehicles in the yard, and one of them belongs to somebody else and isn’t my fault. Anybody need a ’94 Buick Century that’s been T-boned?

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When I Posted

February 2011