On The Back Page With Daryl Gay, August 2018
The concrete floor in that old enclosed one-car garage is probably just as hard now as it was back on that cold December night so long ago. The day before, I’d driven off in, and started making payments on, my first car—a 1967 Dodge Coronet 440 that I wish was sitting in my garage now.
And it really, really needed a set of Hooker headers! Which is the way one thinks while turning 16 years of age in the very heart of the muscle car era.
So I’m flat of my back on that slab beside a veritable master of horsepower who’s wielding a torch, welding exhaust pipes and evidently attempting to set me afar with every spark.
Eventually, I learned to pretty much ignore the spark cloud unless an actual blaze popped up…
The finest man I ever knew, Doyle Dowdy, said once of automobiles: “All any of them can ever do is get you there and back.” Right, of course, as in everything else he ever told me. Alas, I’ve never been able to shake an ingrained passion for muscle and horsepower.
When it comes to getting you there and back, however, a few interesting instances DO come to mind…
A pair of passions that run deeper in me than speed are hunting and fishing. And yes, exactly in that order. With possibly perverse humor, I recall that I never had a girlfriend not scared half to death of that Dodge. All that was required was to come out of the hole and make the front tires come off the ground once; you couldn’t hire them to crank it, much less put it in gear.
Then came deer hunting.
You can believe this or not, but my first buck—a nice 8—rode to the processors tied down on the front of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Both of us are still embarrassed 43 years later…
OK, OK, so it was my brother-in-law’s Bug; still…
So I bought a pickup. 1964 Ford, 223-cubic inch 6-cylinder that would run 70 mph tops down a very long hill. While being pushed by a loaded log truck.
But—as opposed to a screaming Dodge or a buzzing Beetle—that truck would go anywhere. It didn’t have enough power to make a tire spin but was geared so low that pulling power was phenomenal.
Had my jonboat in the bed once and was forced by circumstances that are none of your business to drive quite legally around a locked gate and through the woods to get to a honeyhole. Seems the rear axle’s third member got hung up on a pine stump which had been cleared by the higher front axle.
Following a fairly frenetic session of first and reverse featuring some impressive clutch action, that little Ford rocked and ripped the stump right out of the ground. And a’fishing we went.
(I wouldn’t have told that story if Doyle hadn’t witnessed it…)
However, something deep down just never let me get past 223 cubic inches. So…
I went up a couple hundred. Plus five.
In a 1972 Ford Sport Custom that was more fun than mud wrasslin’ three red-headed women!
I will tell you only this concerning the largest of the FE blocks installed in a ‘72: the Dodge would clear the front tires, that Ford pickup all four. I discovered that little tidbit let’s just say somewhere on Highway 117 while attempting to chart the truck’s top end.
Which is as follows: We will never know! Too much power, too little weight.
That’s on the hard road. In the woods? Stick it in second gear, never touch the gas pedal, and it would chuk-a-luk all day—unless there happened to be two damp blades of grass too close together!
If you needed twin ditches dug…
Never had a vehicle I loved as much as that truck, but there were simply too many long walks to get to a tractor…
Then came Ol’ Blue. Yeah, you remember that big Bronco. Never got stuck. Got WEDGED pretty sporty once, requiring just a smidgen of chainsaw action, but it passed every bog hole test. Including several in the Okefenokee, which tends to sort the riders from the waders.
Drawbacks? Only one: never met a gas pump it didn’t like. Eight miles a gallon, and you could set your mph at 10 or 110.
The first time Doyle rode in the Bronc was to another (very) secluded pond lying at the base of a long hill. Which—despite the fact that it was fairly glazed with tar-black mud—I decided to back down. The better to launch the boat, you see.
Despite long being perfectly aware that I was a lunatic when it came to such matters, he tried to talk me out of it: “We’ll have to lift this thing out of here with a Huey helicopter…”
Four-wheel-drive, I’ve come to discover, is a wonderful thing. Don’t remember the tires even spinning on the way back up.
And the recently added poundage in the cooler surely helped.
And that brings us to the Toyota.
Bought it the day I first saw it. Seller wanted a new Jeep; now, several years later, he still wants my truck back. Lives a couple miles from one of my favorite deer-hunting spots and tries to buy it every time he sees it.
(I’m holding out for my retirement, which I’ve finally decided will come at age 100, ready or not.)
My favorite photo of the truck is on Trail Ridge, trying to get ahead of the bear dogs. It’s sitting with all four doors open, water flowing blissfully through the floorboards.
All any of them can ever do is get you there and back. But the going and coming is a lot more fun in some than others.
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