JEFF ELL: The Gospel of Old Trucks

Jeff El
Jeff Ell

An old truck is essential equipment for the outdoorsman. Along with lame dogs, broken tipped fishing poles, and twisted tree stands, a dented and dirty truck is part of the paraphernalia and detritus of those who wander the backcountry.

Driving a beat-up old truck has its benefits. You don’t have to worry about it getting scratched when hauling mulch, or dented when you let a friend borrow it to move a refrigerator. You don’t run to the dealership every time it makes a strange new noise, and best of all, you don’t have a monthly payment. Another benefit, which is not as obvious, is that driving one helps one get closer to nature.

They are the true vessels of wilderness pilgrims, because driving one is an act of earnest contrition. They afflict the flesh, and carry the soul into closer communion with the natural world. The pelvis and spine are the only functioning shock absorbers, so every boulder and gully sends bolts of pain shooting through the nervous system. Wash-boarded backroads buffet the body, and shake the toxic amalgam from their cavities. Every unpaved mile becomes a painful reminder of the true nature of nature.

In the summer the cab becomes a medicinal sweat lodge, where impurities are boiled from the heart, because the AC probably died back when republicans were presidents. Rolled down windows are the only relief from the heat, but the breeze is a mixed blessing. It brings with it the choking dust and biting bugs that pain the flesh like a vermin infected hair shirt.

In winter the cab becomes a frigid monastic cell. It’s a frosty place where frozen fingers are held in vain in front of feeble heaters, and a perpetually fogged and iced windshield requires the driver to navigate more by faith than sight, and so they crawl their way home from the forest of exiles in the shallow light of ancient headlights.

But the body is not the only thing that is bruised by an old truck. The ego is also assaulted, and must come on bended knee and prostrate itself behind the wheel. Like the walls of monasteries, chastity is more readily embraced behind broken doors. The wife of the guy who drives a battered truck does not have to worry about her man being the object of the trout stream advances of skinny dipping hippies, or the prey of tree hugging cougars. Peeling paint and duck taped body parts are the tonsure of a holy man, a dirt road leper and pariah, from whom the opposite sex steer a wide berth.

But perhaps the greatest benefit of having an old truck is the status it bequeaths. Like stripes on uniforms or badges on sashes, the old truck is a four wheeled evidence of being part of a select number of outdoorsmen. If you’re tooling about the back country and see a well-groomed beard behind the wheel of a tricked out ride that costs more than your house, it’s difficult to take him seriously.  Heck, his fly rod alone is probably worth more than your truck.

As you’ve probably already guessed, I drive a beat-up old truck. Over the years my truck, just like yours, has become like an old man’s staff; each gash and scrape telling a tale. It has a salvage title pedigree, and its scrapes and dents tell my stories of following ever narrower roads to nowhere, and hauling deer from the woods long after the sun had set. The front left corner panel has a big dent from the day a young man asked to marry my 18 year old daughter; and no, it’s not from him being slammed against it, but when in my fatherly fog I drove into a stump with watery eyes.

Understand that a twenty year old truck and a sixty year old man have many things in common,  perhaps this is why they seem to pair off so often. The glossy paint and bulging tires of youth, have given way to knobby knees and bent frames. Both are past their prime, and past worrying about it. With age, both men and trucks become more about function than form, and getting the job done is way more important than how they look while getting it done.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a nice truck someday, one with working AC would be really sweet. I also know that someday, my mechanic will lay his hand upon my shoulder and sympathetically shake his head while I choke back the tears. But until then I’ll sweat, shiver, and rattle my way down the road.

Jeff Ell is pretty good at catching, killing, picking, and growing things to eat. He regularly finds bemusement in the outdoors and enjoys telling his stories to anyone who will listen. Jeff’s the author of Ruth Uncensored, blogs at and can be contacted via Facebook or smoke signal.

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