Old Copper's cranky cruise

December 12, 2000

Old Copper's cranky cruise

All right, what time of year is it? Christmas trees, bagged leaves, firewood - that's right, it's haulin' season, and if there's haulin' to do it must be time for an appearance by Old Copper, the truck that time forgot, and to be honest so did I.

Old Copper, built Ford Tough back in the year of our nation's bicentennial, had been sitting out at the farm without any particular mission statement for the better part of six months and loneliness had apparently set in.

The weeds had sprouted, grown to magnificent heights, then receded, leaving Old Copper looking dejected and forlorn. I tend to think of vehicles in the same way you would view perhaps an electric fan or a carving knife - even if it's been in the drawer since last Thanksgiving, you expect to be able to plug it in and have it work.


But then, who ever heard of a carving knife having any personality?

I put the nail in the slot, pumped the throttle 36 times exactly and expected Old Copper to roar to life. Instead, what I got was a grunt, much like the one I give off when someone tries to wake me at my desk.

Then a few clicks, like chattering teeth, then silence. For the entire summer, I'd been ignoring her and Old Copper felt jilted. This was her way of letting me know.

Fortunately, like women respond to roses, old trucks respond to jumper cables.

Old Copper surged to life, although not without a truly impressive cloud of blue smoke. Whatever percentage of the ozone layer had been left by coal-fired electric generators, it's gone now by half. Solved the world's lingering mosquito problem though, no doubt.

I floored it to give the battery a good charge, with a result that sounded like a Saranac Lake tuberculosis asylum on a foggy morning, then shoved her into gear. We did a full lurch down the driveway, then I ran the truck up to the Duckwall church and back as Old Copper's mill began to smooth out, smooth being a relative term, you understand.

We got back home and, drunk on the power of mechanical genius and starting-fluid fumes, I went into the kitchen for coffee.

Ready to head home, I reinserted the 10-penny nail and - nothing. She was running fine a few minutes ago and now she is in one of her snits again.

Forty hundred thousand trucks in the world, and I get the manic depressive. Another jump-start and I made it to the Texaco station, where I said to the attendant: 'Five gallons of unleaded Prozac, please.''

I can't fill it up, because there is this mysterious leak in the gas tank and if you fill it to the top, the petroleum will somehow work its way to the carburetor from the outside and things can get a little scary.

Believe me, if you're about to launch into a lecture about the potentially dangerous combustibility of uncontained fossil fuels, I'm way ahead of you.

So I get home, stupidly thinking by now the battery HAS to be good and charged up, but once again Ford's answer to Greta Garbo gets in the driveway and decides it wants to be alone.

But by now I was determined. I wielded the jumper cables like an attendant at an insane asylum wields a straight jacket and said "Look, it's either you or me."

This time it was worse than if I had forgotten her birthday. She would not warm to the 20-degree night. I opened the glove box to get a fresh can of starting fluid (only mildly registering the fact that a mouse had apparently gained entrance and built a nest out of the owner's manual).

Running again, I pointed Old Copper straight for Burger's Texaco just before closing time. Larry looked at Old Copper like you would look at a renewed case of athlete's foot that you thought you had gotten out of your life once and for all, but kind person that he is, he accepted the job.

So now me and Old Copper are back on the road. Be very afraid.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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