Saturday, 15 February 2014
Everyone's heard the old adage: When spring is in the air, a young man's heart turns to love, or something to that effect. It shows how inept this writer is when it comes to mushy things. All too many times the only things that get my heart racing are objects with wheels and at least one engine. Maybe that's why it took so many years for the likes of me to find that special person to want to spend eternity with. I might add that she likes cars too.
Anyways, it was in the spring of 1967 (May to be exact) and the region was still digging itself out of a disasterous spring blizzard that had dropped over six feet of snow on us and everyone else. Everywhere between Great Falls and Lethbridge had been severely crippled to totally shut down from the deluge and Milk River was no exception. People had been marooned in every community that had a hotel or motel and the situation in those places also got rather dicey, especially when the local taverns started to run low on booze. But the sun was finally shining and the snow was disappearing fast. Needless to say, JC, hopeless gearhead that he was, was out patrolling the alleys in town, looking to see if anything new (and unique) had showed up since the last time he'd scoured the area.
Back then the alleys could often be a treasure trove of neat and interesting stuff, as long as you were interested in rusting hulks of what once were the family car, pickup truck or even a tractor. All the dealers had some interesting stuff jammed off to the side of the dealership and just off the alley. Quinn's barn, at least the yard in front of the barn, was one of the most popular places as it always seemed to have the most rapid rotation of used cars, trucks and tractors, courtesy, Quinn Motors, in its inventory; one could spend hours there alone. I might add that it was also the choice place for boys (and some adventurous girls) to gather in the alley behind the barn and have a smoke. I know that because Ms. Dorothy, our second grade, seventh grade health class, and ninth grade home-economics teacher lived just to the east of the barn and she caught us on numerous occasions.
JC didn't venture out to the barn today because his find would be located elsewhere.
JC was exploring the alley behind the Motor and Implement Company, so called because at one time, possibly between the sinking of the Titanic and the outbreak of the Second World War, the dealership sold GMC trucks, Buick and Pontiac cars, and various brands of farm equipment. Sometime in the fifties the farm equipment franchise was dropped and the dealership became the place to buy all GM products, not to mention whatever used stuff showed up. It was there that the starry-eyed eighth-grader spotted that gem, a 1947 Ford pickup in typical dark green, with cream trim and patina livery. That truck had recently been traded in and was parked there, barely off the alley, just waiting for the right person to come alone and sweep it off its--wheels (or vice versa). It was love at first sight. Maybe it wasn't a '38 or a '40 Ford but it still kept with the prewar styling that JC loved so much.
He went inside and asked Dean (the dealership owner) how much he wanted for it. '$150.00,' was the reply. JC was somewhat disappointed because the asking price was well over his net worth. In addition to the work he did on the ranch during the summer, he'd still have to set a lot of pins at the local bowling alley to raise that kind of money. But undaunted, he asked Dean if he could take it for a test drive.
I guess that Dean wasn't all that concerned that JC was still a couple of years shy of legal driving age (at that time the local law enforcement didn't seem to be all that concerned either) because he let him take it out for a short spin. He even gave him a battery and a set of jumper cables to help get the animal started. Seated proudly behind the wheel, JC proceeded to drive the truck down the alley.
It didn't take long to find out that the brakes needed some work. The first push on the pedal and it went down to the floor. JC didn't panic as there was a truck at the ranch that did the same thing and all that needed to be done was to pump the pedal. He just managed to get the truck stopped before he emerged from the alley onto Center Avenue. A quick spin around town and JC was back at the dealership.
'How about $75.00?' JC asked with as much authority as an almost 14 year old could muster. Dean, looked thoughtful. He might have originally thought that JC would've just parked the truck and run off but this boy was genuinely interested. 'How about $100.00?' Dean countered. Well, they haggled for a few minutes and JC finally drove his new sweetheart home after finalizing the deal for the lofty sum of $90.00, about ninety percent of JC's entire net worth.
Like all teenagers, JC's first thoughts were to customize the truck and build a hot-rod out of it. He talked to his friends about what he was going to do with it and he looked at all the car magazines for ideas. Then one day, that all changed. A local farmer stopped by the house to buy some vet supplies (JC's father was a veterinarian as well as a rancher and always kept a good stock of livestock medicines). The man saw the old truck parked at the curb and told JC that he had bought that truck new almost exactly twenty years before. After sharing a few anecdotes, he asked JC what he planned to do with it.
Hot-rodding it was suddenly out the door as JC's mind was immediately made up to restore the truck back to its original glory, right down to that ugly dark green paint and calf-scour yellow grill and trim. He told him so.
'Let me know how you do with it,' Ed, the original owner (and the name that JC later applied to the truck) said encouragingly. 'Good luck. I'd like a ride when you get it done,'
JC got right to work. First things first, he fixed the brakes, finding out that the left rear drum was so worn out that the stress ribs on the outside had separated from the rest of the drum, just dangling and clanging, necessitating its replacement. The right rear side was also useless as a torn piston seal and the resultant leak had been fixed by removing the line, inserting a nail head-first into the cylinder and reinstalling the line to plug the passage of the fluid. JC fixed it properly. He did the front as well and finally he got it to stop without having to pump the pedal. A tune-up and Ed was ready to take on the world.
Of course the truck became more than a plaything. When JC's dad saw what was being done, the truck got adopted into the fleet of ranch vehicles. By summer the truck had been assigned to the hay fields. Unfortunately the ranch foreman was less enthusiastic about it as Ed's battery wasn't in the best condition. If it didn't start within the first couple of turns, one had to either resort to the old push and bump method of starting or else hook up that set of jumper cables. Well, JC managed to stall it in the front of the fuel tanks and it wasn't about to start on its own. The foreman drove the larger 1-ton truck around front and proceeded to push-start Ed in reverse.
Too bad the 1-ton truck's bumper was too high and, right at the last second, jumped over top of Ed's bumper and pushed into the (until now) pristine grill, bending it. Ed started but JC was ready to knock the foreman's head off. I might add that JC hasn't quite forgiven the foreman for that poorly thought out act of push-starting the truck backwards.
By the end of the Ninth Grade, JC had owned his truck for a year. During that time he'd gotten to know Ed so well that he knew what was about to break before it did so he knew what to carry with him. A fuel pump was mandatory, as was a set of points and condenser. One time the starter button just came apart so until JC could afford a new unit, he just let the wires dangle and stuck them together whenever he needed and it started just fine. The truck suffered from the Ford characteristic of jumping out of 2nd gear, but it stayed in high so that was OK for the time being. On a hot summer day Ed didn't like to be left idling unless it was at a high speed or it would tend to overheat.
Well, it's going on to forty-seven years since that first day and the truck is still one of JC's most prized treasures. It's been fixed, driven and parked, then fixed, driven and parked again. Some years ago JC decided to embark on a full restoration but that got delayed by moves, job changes and life. There were times when he was tempted to sell it and let someone else's dream come true but he never did. His first wife pressured him to sell it but he simply told her that Ed was probably the only thing besides his family that never let him down.
The truck stayed but the marriage didn't.
Through the years, other vehicles have been added to the collection: Chas, the '49 Chevrolet; June, the '42 Ford; Albert, the '54 Meteor; Hawg, the Harley Davidson; Randy, the '38 International; Dale, the '36 John Deere tractor; and Brownie, the '79 GMC. But there's always the first vehicle, and Ed was the first.
Now that life has started to slow down, JC is now able to devote some more time to Ed's restoration. Unfortunately the original owner passed away a couple of years ago so JC won't be able to give him that ride he wanted. But JC is certain that Ed stops in from time to time to have a look over his shoulder, and make sure that JC is doing it right.
JC has often said that Ed will be the one that takes him for his final ride. Of course JC plans to have a lot of fun years before that time comes.