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My vintage pickup has little pick-up

July 29, 1999

It was another great weekend with Old Copper, my new traveling companion and C.W. McCall poster truck that I've enlisted in my ongoing War on Horticulture this summer.

Old Copper is a 25-year-old Ford that is prototypical of its generation. It has cylinders the size of watermelons, a chassis with bridge-like steel girders, a bus-station waiting room-like cab (both in size and in the lavishness of appointments) and an exhaust note that must be something like Pliny the Elder heard outside Pompeii in 79 A.D.

It is remarkable in many ways. The truck doesn't distinguish much between oil and gas - it's all the same to Old Copper. It burns Quaker State as happily as it burns Amoco Supreme, and lubrication is just a state of mind.

It came standard with two-tone rust, which had to be puttied to satisfy the inspectors, a slab of sheetrock to cover the holes in the bed, large cracks in the dashboard padding and a tailgate that had to be opened with a special tool fashioned out of an old pitchfork tine.

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There was some question where it should be registered, here or on the West Virginia blueberry plantation. I called both motor vehicle agencies and truth be told, neither state really seemed eager to claim Old Copper as its own. One guy told me it depended on where the truck was to be "garaged."

But I like to think Old Copper is a winsome, nomadic truck that cannot be so easily cataloged. "How does one tether such a free spirit as Old Copper," I asked aloud, as I drove up a twisting West Virginia road. "How is it possible to encumber the wind with a fixed address? How do you nail the migratory light of Old Copper to the stationary rolls of vehicular registration? How can..." At this point we rounded a bend and Old Copper's driver's side door flew open.

I clung to the wheel to keep from being ejected, then pulled over to try to relatch the door. After about two minutes of experiments, I uncovered a pattern in which the door would latch after three hard slams followed by two softer slams. It may cause some people to frown in the parking lot of The Palm, but hey, it works.

I finally decided to register it in Maryland, at roughly the exact minute I discovered the truck was so old it was exempt from the state's vehicle emission testing program. Because, between you and me, Old Copper on the treadmill had the potential to suffocate a half-dozen VEIP technicians in about 30 seconds flat.

So all that railing I've done about the vehicle inspection program? All that whining and complaining that the cars that really need to be tested and taken off the road are unfairly exempted from the program because of their age?

Never mind.

But we have a good time. We were tooling down the interstate the other day when a van passed with a bumper sticker: "Caution, Show Dogs; Do Not Tailgate." Sometimes a thing will strike me wrong for no good reason and this was one of those times. What a show dog cares about tailgaters I'm sure I don't know, so I decided I would tailgate or die.

I poured the unleaded to Old Copper's mill and, thus challenged, she responded with an eruption of smoke, a thunderous shudder of loose-fitting metal, a primal roar for the ages from beneath her mighty hood - and a 1-mile-an-hour uptick in speed.

Old Copper's heart is willing, but her top speed sort of flattens out at about 3 miles an hour shy of most interstate highway speed limits. Then the door popped open again and I had to back her down to a more realistic speed. As the doggie van disappeared in the distance, I patted Old Copper's dash. "That's OK," I told her. "Dogs may prefer minivans, but chicks dig old pickups."




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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