It wasn’t a collection. Not in the normal sense of collecting stamps or art or diamonds or glassware. Yet to look at it, one realized it was a collection of many old parts and pieces. I was in love with it. So in love that I traded my 1957 Chevy with only 65,000 miles even-up for it. Even in the spring of 1970, a ’57 Chevy with little rust, in great mechanical condition, and only one crunched rear fender to mar its lines, was still a beauty. Yet, I needed something to haul my ancient, 18’ wood and canvas Old Town sailing canoe on. Plus, carry my few relics of furniture and 4 years of college textbooks. And the ’57 couldn’t accommodate such valuable, worldly possessions. That’s why it seemed to fit the bill. At least that’s what I told myself back then.
It was a 1955 Ford truck. A pick-up. None of the windows were whole. Oh, there were no gaping holes in them, just cracks every which way. And the gas tank? Now that had holes. But just in the top half, which meant I could pump in 2 dollars worth of gas, about 6 to 7 gallons. Anymore, and the gas dripped out. And it liked oil, loved oil, about a quart per fill up, well, half fill up.
“The only thing it needs,” said the man excitedly swapping with me, “is spring shackles.”
I noticed the back-end set kind of low. Big deal, I thought, I can find some of them—whatever them were. After all, I was 21, almost ready to graduate college with 1 Bachelors and 2 Associates. The only thing certain regarding a career was a signed contract to spend 10 weeks as a counselor at a summer camp for disabled children. And after the summer? I wasn’t worried. Didn’t I have 3 degrees, a canvas covered canoe, all my text books, and a 1955 battered red Ford pick-up?
Dave, the husband/father of the family I roomed with my junior year of college was a jack of all trades and an excellent mechanic. He also made good homemade beer. He scratched his head when I proudly drove it into his drive.
“Spring shackles, huh?” He kept scratching as he sauntered around it.
“Yup. Figured I’d order some from the auto parts store. Right?”
He shook his head. “Doubt it. Doubt it. I think we best check the junk yards.” He didn’t look hopeful.
“You mean they don’t make these parts anymore? It’s only 15 years old.”
“Nah. Probably not, that’s how they keep selling new ones. Besides, if they still sell ‘em, they’ll set you back more than this thing is worth or what you can afford.” How did he know I was broke? I just sold my cameras, several collector models, to pay my tuition bill so I could graduate.
We checked area junkyards and finally located a truck of the same vintage. Then the work began. Did I note that my degrees were in journalism, advertising and business management? And my mechanical aptitude barely allowed me to change the oil, find the grease nipples, and keep the fluids up? Well, now you understand how I knew nothing about jacking up the rear end, wrenching the rusted springs and shackles off the junk-yard truck and installing them on it. Though, by the end of the process it was now called that *!@*##!!! beast. Beast became its lasting name. Good Lord! I never physically worked so hard on anything. Thank goodness for Dave’s homemade beer.
Beast was ready in time for my graduation, which my grandparents and 17-year old sister attended. They didn’t look too shocked at Beast in the parking lot surrounded by the cars of the rich kids’ parents. Others did. How often did you see a rusted old Ford pick-up with what looked like a beached whale strapped on top surrounded by shiny late model cars?
Grandmother packed us some food. Grandpa probably gave me a few bucks before Sis and I climbed in for our journey from their central Michigan home to the state of Wyoming where my parents and siblings lived. It was a long trip. Twelve-hundred miles at 45 -50 miles per hour. We stopped every 80 – 100 miles to insert gas and fill up the oil. There was no radio. I worried every time a policeman came into view. I didn’t want to get a ticket for not making the minimum speed on I-80, or driving with so many windshield cracks. We cat-napped in rest areas. Usually, in a normal car, the trip took 16 – 17 hours of straight driving time, or 2 days if you stopped overnight. Though Grandma and Grandpa, in their big Olds, usually made it in less time, but that’s another story. I think it took us 48 hours door to door.
I took Amtrak back to Illinois for my camp job. Beast spent the summer in LaGrange, Wyoming running errands with my folks. At the end of the summer, I flew out, installed a new battery and drove Beast to Illinois, minus the canoe. The canoe survived several years as my younger siblings and their friends used it for great entertainment whenever the creek flooded. I think it ended life as a hay manger to feed horses.
Beast was unable to be licensed in Illinois. “Too many defects to even list,” the secretary of state license man said.
The caretaker at the YMCA camp where I worked part time, said they might buy it to haul garbage around the camp. “How much you want for it?”
“Fifty-bucks. Firm,” I said. “I just put in a fifty-dollar battery.”
Two days later, he showed up at my house, one hand behind his back, a big smirk on his face. He handed me $35. “Here’s your money.”
“I said fifty!”
His hidden arm appeared with a tiny calico kitten in it. He placed it in my hand alongside the cash. “Here. This is a fifteen-dollar cat. That equals fifty.”
Ahh, yes. Graduating college with 3 degrees & a 1955 Ford Beast!