I was able to walk past our modern stuff — the tractors, the combine, the semis — without a flinch. I made it past an assortment of rusted chisel plows, cultivators and hoes with a stiff upper lip.
Then came the old tan-and-black truck – a 1952 Chevy with an in-line six-cylinder engine, a four-speed transmission and two-speed gearing in its rear single axle. It had belonged to my maternal grandfather before it belonged to my dad. Until our family’s equipment auction in November, it for years had sat idle behind the old barn, serving no purpose other than giving shelter to mice. But on that cold, windy day at the county fairgrounds in Sullivan, Indiana, despite a busted engine, the old truck took me on one last ride, in reverse, through a string of memories that made the tears begin to well.
I held it in, at least for the moment. I didn’t want to crack at my parents’ auction. They deserved to be able to retire in good health and enjoy themselves. Selling the equipment but keeping the land was a good decision, and I supported it. So, as I walked past the old truck, I sucked it up. I decided to put off thinking about it so I wouldn’t have to cry in front of my parents and a bunch of guys wearing dirty overalls and muck boots.
Since then, my mind has run through a list of people with whom I shared that bench seat. I remembered Earl Ridgley, an old man who lived not far from us. He hauled corn to the elevator for my dad, and my dad sometimes picked his corn. Earl moved with a limp, the result of a war injury from the Battle of the Bulge according to those close to him. Earl seemed nervous all the time. He reminded me of Festus from the 1970s television series “Gunsmoke.” He was always nice to me even though I was probably a pest.
Clarence Ayon Dubree, my grandfather, was also a decorated World War II veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart. He was the truck’s previous owner and sometimes drove it for my dad, and he had the best middle name of anyone I’ve ever known. Aside from helping on the farm, he took me fishing and nurtured my love of the outdoors. He sat next to me in an emergency room waiting area while my 13-year-old big brother, Doug, was dying from a congenital heart defect. My parents were with doctors trying to decide what to do. Without my grandfather, I would have been alone.
My mother, Delora, drove farm trucks, too. Because my father was always running the combine, my mother handled hauling duties much of the time. A slight woman, she would muscle the big steering wheel with both hands, lack of power steering be damned, and put that truck exactly where she wanted it. She drove those old trucks pretty much the same way she does everything else in life, with lots of determination. If you want to lose a fight, pick it with her.
Because my dad, Bill, was always running the combine, my most vivid memory of him with our old trucks was of him working on them. Now, to be fair, I must tell you that my father has a lot of good traits, maybe even great traits, but back in the days when the old Chevy was a meaningful part of our farm, patience and good temperament were not always among them, especially when equipment was giving him trouble.
One particular day, he was working on a piece of equipment and had a bunch of wrenches resting on top of it. When something went wrong, perhaps a wrench slipped off a nut for the third or fourth time, he slammed down the tool in his hand, accidently hitting one of the other wrenches, which caused it to fly back at him and open a bloody cut on the top of his head.
The wound required stitches, and as we waited for the doctor to sew him up, he looked straight at me, knowing full well that I had inherited his hot temper, and uttered an immortal pearl of wisdom: “This is what temper will do for you.” My dad and I still laugh about this story. I wouldn’t have laughed back then. I wouldn’t have dared.
The truck also connected me to my brother. At eight or nine years old, we began “working the truck” during planting season, dragging bags of seed corn and granular fertilizer to the edge of the bed and cutting them open with a pocket knife. We would line up a specific number of each so my dad could refill the planter boxes with pitstop speed.
As the planter worked its way down the field, Mom or Dad would move the truck so we could be ready for the next stop.
Doug and I were also expected to use a screwdriver to dig into each row on every pass of the planter to make sure there was seed in each row. That old Oliver planter was notorious for getting stopped up, and we had the important job of defending against what we called “skipped rows.” My dad hated skipped rows!
Most of the time, though, Doug and I waited around, drank pop, listened to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio and threw dirt clods. The highlight for my brother was burning the bags after Dad and the planter had gone back to work. My brother loved fire!
So that’s it. I’ve now processed my feelings about the auction, thanks to an old farm truck.
It sold for $200.