The Yellow Pickup: The Life of a Pasture Truck
Learning to Drive
Some people think they've owned a truck for a long time if they've had it for five or six years. I grew up thinking if a vehicle was newer than me, it was "new".
Such was the case with our pasture truck, a yellow 1974 Chevy pickup.
This truck was used for everything off-road - building and fixing fences, hauling sick calves, hauling mineral and salt blocks, checking pregnant cows, and anything else that required driving in the pastures and fields.
My siblings and I all learned to drive in this truck, while checking cows. Sometimes, while Dad drove, we held sick newborn calves on our laps, cuddling the snot-nosed darlings all the way to the house or barn, and never minding the "guacamole" they left on our jeans. We learned to read the signs of a calving first-calf heifer, and the more serious signs of a cow who needed help. And as I said, we learned to drive.
We learned how to deal with the truck's starting idiosyncrasies, how to drive in a corn field without shaking our teeth out (you angle, dropping diagonal tires, and so rock along instead of wrenching your guts out with an all-four-tires slam into each row), and how to hear when the engine wasn't running right. We learned about estimating how much fuel was left without the aid of a working gauge. We learned how to change tires, and check the oil frequently. The pickup's tires were designated by how many patches they'd had...fewer than five was still "new".
The first time I got in a car that worked right, I felt overwhelmed by having nothing to do, nothing to watch...no secret ignition ritual (hold the shifting lever a particular way, pump the accelerator so many times so hard, being careful not to overdo and flood it...). We learned to feel, not see, when we had found reverse or a different gear, as the indicator was usually too dusty to read, if it worked at all.
But, for these reasons, we learned to appreciate the truck. True, it was not cushy. True, it smelled like too many miles of dust and cattle, sage brush and sunsets, held memories of cuss words and burnt oil. True, it was not reliable, and we rarely pushed it over 30 miles an hour (what need was there, in a winter corn field?). But it had personality. And I'm convinced it liked it's job.
It doesn't go out so often now, and has certainly earned a long rest. But I'm convinced it will continue to watch over the fencing equipment and cattle as long as it's allowed.
It continues to gain personality. The starting ritual is even more intricate now, involving an extra button, and requiring an excellent ear for pitch.
Now That's a Work Truck!
A Wish for Others, January 2010
As soon as I get the chance, I'll be adding some cute pictures of this year's calves, faithfully checked by and possibly hauled in this old yellow truck. The first few are being born this month, though the majority usually don't calve until February.
'Til then, here's to hoping more kids get to drive something with personality. On-the-job training, you might say.