“That’s my truck!” the street guy yelled as I was climbing into the cornbinder one day.
“How’d you get it?” he demanded, the big smile on his face belying his feigned indignation. He explained he’d seen my 1955 International Harvester R-112 pickup parked at Jay’s Service for years and had a love affair with old Internationals.
“Can I open ‘er up?” he asked, lifting the hood before I could think it over.
“See!” he exclaimed, “Hood opens from both sides!”
“Inline six,” I said, “220 cubic-inch Silver Diamond, overhead valves, 7.1 compression ratio, 94 horses, three on the tree.”
(I don’t know what most of that means, but people like to know so I tell them before they ask.)
I get firefighters giving me a thumbs up from their big red ladder truck, 12-year-olds
cheering and pumping their fists as I drive by, a small crowd standing around on the sidewalk as I exit the bank, discussing the merits of the L series vs. R series ‘50s-era IH light pickups.
Drivers honk, wave, even take pictures at intersections. The entire crew from the lumber yard suddenly finds urgent business in the parking lot when I pull up in front of a building-supply store.
And always, “I drove a truck just like this when I was a kid!” or “My grand-dad had one of these!”
The truck has become a celebrity. A former work colleague compares her to Mater, a rusty, glory-days-are-past cartoon character in the movie Cars that was inspired by a 1951 International tow truck. To look at my truck, you’d think somebody had taken a sledge hammer and a half dozen spray bombs of different colours to her.
What is it, I’ve asked myself, about this truck that makes people happy?
Old, worse-for-wear trucks are everywhere in a town that has adopted the pickup as its vehicle of choice. There are a lot of 10- and even 20-year-old trucks on the road. And at any vintage automobile event, you’ll find beautifully restored trucks from the ‘50s and ‘40s.
I think people like the International for the very fact her wrinkles and scars haven’t been covered up with putty and new paint. She’s genuine, and she’s a survivor.
People identify with a truck like that. She is, always was, a working truck, small in comparison to today’s fancy extended-cab longbox 4X4s but she hauled everything from barrels of gasoline to horses to groceries for the hunting lodge my dad and brother once ran.
That truck was abused, tortured, taken for granted, and just kept on going.
She was passed on to me after my dad drove her for 35 years.
She sat in my backyard, seized up and neglected, for a dozen years, and then at Jay’s for another seven years or so. Though they got her running a year ago, this is her first full summer on the road in decades.
People can read her stories just by looking at her, admiring the rust and the missing pieces, in the same way they admire Clint Eastwood because his craggy face is real, never botoxed or tucked or tightened.
In short, it’s about character, and about the memories stirred — memories of happy, crazy times, of experiences, adventures and, most of all, family.
No shiny new chromed-up big-engine 4X4 can do that.