My Blog

May 28, 2018

Texas Trucks

There is a commercial on TV just now about the battering that trucks take in the course of their lives. Dents from bulls running into them, scratches from barbed wire, gouges from hitting fences. Of course, I should specify, these are ranch trucks.

And we have one of those–a 1992 Dodge Ram with a big diesel Cummings engine. At 26 years of age, I just looked it up, that makes it officially an Antique. An Antique that one should treat with respect and awe. And there lies the difficulty.

Many years ago, when my sister and I moved out to Sweetwater, west of Abilene, I acquired a truck. It was West Texas, after all, and one should have a pick-up truck. My then boyfriend, Billy Ransberger (I’m sure he is still out there somewhere), decided that, since I was Mexican, I needed a “Mexican Cadillac.” I didn’t understand what he meant.

By his definition, it is a black pick-up with a plush, red velvet interior, and fuzzy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror, oh, and maybe a small metal statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe on the dashboard, or maybe a Saint Christopher medal glued to the rear view. That is considered the essence of luxury among the Mexican ranch hands. It is better than a Cadillac. It is far more useful. You can pile all your buddies into the bed and haul them to the local cantina on a Saturday night. And what good Mexican doesn’t like a splash of bright color on the interior? Like bull-fighter red. (See, if I wasn’t Mexican, I would be accused of being racist.)

So friend Billy went to the local junk yard and found a wrecked 1965 Ford pickup. The engine was still good, so he had a friend piece together an entire truck. The bed was from a 1970 junker, the front end from a 1963, and the doors from an old 1960. Somehow, like that country-western song about the Detroit auto worker who, over the years, brings home parts to a Cadillac in his lunch box, and his buddy’s RV, and puts them all together, it worked. The truck just looked a little unusual.

Once it was painted black, and the interior re-done in fake red leather, I had me a real, honest-to-goodness Mexican Cadillac. No, I didn’t hang any dice from the rear-view mirror, but I probably should have added the Saint Christopher’s medal. A few months later, I unwisely loaned it to Billy’s under-age daughter and her friend. They promptly ran it into a barbed wire fence and wrecked it while hot-rodding and speeding on a sandy road. Luckily for me, and for them, they weren’t hurt. The truck acquired a 1970 front end, and a new black paint job.

The truck proved very useful. I added a camper cab so that I could live in it with my little dog Puffin. When Sweetwater played out, I moved my small collection of personal items from Sweetwater to Lubbock for a Master’s in Architectural Preservation and then to Austin for the doctorate. When one owns a pick-up truck, one is a friend to the world. Everyone always needs to move something, or haul something, or tow something. But when it is an old truck, one also learns to fix things.

Fortunately, my beloved father had taught my brother and I how to change tires and the rudiments of mechanical fixings. So, when the truck broke down at a rest-stop outside of Tallahassee while I was on a research trip to South Florida, I just crawled underneath and replaced the leaking fuel pump. I can still remember lying underneath, looking down past my toes, at the collection of men’s feet standing around, distant voices offering suggestions. Men do like to “help” women. I noticed, however, that no one was under the truck with me.

While in Lubbock, I also learned a valuable lesson about automatic transmissions. One very hot Saturday in August, I had hurried to the surveying company where I worked to pick up something. As usual, I was in a rush, ran in, got what I needed and ran back out and jumped in the truck. Tried to start it and nothing. Again and again, I turned the key. Not even a click. Grimly determined, I lifted the hood and started checking. It had been running fine and now it wasn’t.

There was an auto parts store just up the street, so I pulled the battery and lugged it down to have it checked. Fine. No problem. Replaced it. Then pulled the alternator. Nothing. Screwed it back on. Then finally, got down underneath, on hot asphalt pavement, and pulled the starter motor. Nothing wrong with that either. Frustrated to tears, I reattached that, too. I finally crawled out from under the truck and went inside to ask one of the surveyors what could possibly be wrong. He came out, climbed into the cab and asked, “Did you know you had it in Drive? It won’t start if it’s in Drive.” Hmmm.

When I finally moved to Austin, I found a good mechanic. With my old truck, I had learned I needed a good, trustworthy mechanic. One Friday, he suggested I join him at Dirty’s for a burger. “It’s a great place,” he said. “All the locals go there. Trust me, you’ll love it.” You can see it coming, right? Great big danger signs.

But I was in Austin alone, it was Friday, so I went. It turns out that Dirty’s is truly a local institution. It sits on Guadalupe across from UT and is really called Martin’s Cum Back. For years and years, all the high school kids from Austin High had gone to Dirty’s for burgers after games, for shakes after swimming, and to get the head waitress to drive them to UT football games in her pick-up truck so they wouldn’t have to worry about parking. The owner, “Fatty” Pickens watched over the kids like they were his own. He supervised their years of growing up and made sure they were all good, upstanding citizens. A little drunk sometimes, perhaps, but good people overall.

To my surprise, I was welcomed into the warm, friendly, cozy family-style atmosphere. And met Flatbottom. He and a friend were coming back from playing softball and we were introduced. I admired him for his athletic ability on the softball field. He admired me for my pick-up truck. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think he wanted my pick-up and was willing to risk marriage to get it. Okay, that is a slight exaggeration, but we did get married, pick-up and all, and held the ceremony in the Dirty’s parking lot with “Fatty” Pickens giving me away.

Once we moved to Huntsville, we bought a small “ranch.” At Flatbottom’s insistence, we traded in my “Mexican Cadillac” for a beautiful, brand-new Dodge Ram in dark blue with champagne stripping. For me, it was just a truck. For Flatbottom, it was the joy of his life. I should mention that he is meticulous in the care of his things. I, on the other hand, tend to be a trifle slap-dash.

The “ranch” needed new fencing. Having learned, more or less, to build barbed wire fences in West Texas, I hired several of my students and we began ripping out the old fence. Do you know what piles of old, rusted barbed wire can do to the paint in the bed of a new pick-up? It never even occurred to me that Flatbottom might object to having his beautiful new baby scratched beyond saving. I’m surprised he didn’t divorce me on the spot.

Over the years, I have used the truck to haul Dutch Ovens, Civil War tents, racks of costumes, piles of students (sort of like hauling Mexicans to a Cantina), and bucket-loads of manure. Also furniture for a friend who wanted to move back to Tampa from Texas. I am the one who has put most of the 70,000 miles on the truck. Flatbottom uses it to go to Walmart every two weeks whether he needs to or not.

A short aside here. Mom wanted mushroom mulch for her garden and the local Monterrey mushroom place sells it by the bucket, $14 at last count. Mom got a bucket and insisted we go. Turns out the “bucket” is a giant 15 cubic foot front-end loader worth of mulch. It overwhelmed the truck. It is a ½ ton pick-up, true, but even so, the tires on the truck kinda squashed and the bed groaned as the mulch poured in. We couldn’t fit the whole load into the truck and had to leave some behind, but Mom got her bucket of mulch. And Flatbottom probably cringed at seeing his truck being so degraded. But he ought to be used to it by now.

I may know a little about the inside of the vehicle, but I had no appreciation for the value of this Antique. With only 70,000 miles on it, I learned it is a classic worth keeping. A little while back, it lost its rear-view mirror. And no, it wasn’t me who did it. The gardeners did, but the truck was in my care. Terrified that I had damaged the now scratched and dented family jewel, I snuck it over to the dealership to be repaired.

When I drove in, several of the mechanics gathered around, staring lovingly and longingly at its ancient engine. I didn’t realize that there are no more Cummings Diesel engines. The trucks now-a-days are wimps in comparison, even the great big Ford and GMC monsters. After much admiring, the mechanics asked if I would sell the truck. They offered $15,000, an amazing amount, I thought, for an old, beat-up pick-up truck.

But I knew better. There is no doubt in my mind, that dented, scratched and bunged up though it is, Flatbottom would sell me before he would ever sell his truck.

You think maybe I should get it re-painted now that it is a classic?

Naw. I would just scratch it up again. We do need new fencing.

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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