Monday, March 05, 2007


What is it about a truck? Why do men like Tonka Toys as little boys? And why do we love trucks when we get older?
The connection between little boys and trucks was never clearer to me than the day I announced that we were going to buy a used truck for the farm. When I made my little proclamation, “We are going to buy a truck!” Dawson’s eyes lit up as if I said Santa Claus was coming to dinner. His eyes widened, and he started jumping up and down in his seat.

I might as well have said I was buying it for him.

From that moment on, Dawson’s laser mind was now focused on only one thing—the truck!
What kind? What color? How big? Bigger than that one? Bigger than this one? Smaller? About that size? I like that one! We should get one of those. How many wheels?
One with four-wheel anti-lock brakes? We should get the cool black tinted windows. What kind of mud flaps are we going to buy? When you do, will the truck be mine?

However, Dawson was a little taken aback when I explained to him that we were indeed buying a used pick-up. Not a new one.

Dominique and I had discussed buying it some time before. Between our need for a truck to haul things around the farm itself, and something to haul wine in, and other basic necessities, a truck would do us a lot of good—especially with the upcoming planting of the vineyards.
I had budgeted around $3,000 for a truck. So that tells you, right there, how little money we had and what low expectations I had for my vehicle.

Dawson’s enthusiasm was greatly tempered a little, but his devotion to the subject never wavered. So keen was he that when I mistakenly told him, on a Tuesday night, that the coming Saturday, I would take him truck shopping with me. I instantly regretted it. From that second forward, Dawson must have asked a million times, “Is it time to go truck shopping yet?”

I had been shopping via the newspaper and several price shopping websites, looking for the best possible deal. As I have said from the beginning, we had a finite, and modest, sum of money to start the winery. I wanted to make sure I spent my money on the grapes and the wine. Small quantities, high quality.

I found several trucks I had called about. A few had already been sold.

“No, that one is not for you, my friend,” said the salesman. We were at a used car dealership Most of the cars being sold there were the automobiles people gave away to the blind or for charity. They were old, beat up. Scarred. Broken. The selection ranged from well worn to wrecks. I was drawn to the lower middle of the range.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” the salesman said, shaking his head.

I disregarded him, and approached the truck. All the while, Dawson was pulling on my hand, smartly trying to drag me to the better trucks. I ignored him too. I opened the door. It reeked of oil and the cloth hung low as if it had been ripped.

“How much?” I asked the horrified salesman.

“This? This is $850 . . . but it doesn’t even start, the battery’s dead. I’ll have to jump it,” he said, waving me toward a more expensive option.

“Get the jumper cables. Let’s try it,” I said with great bonhomie.

“You sure?” he asked.

“I’m sure!” He shrugged, disappeared, and then reappeared with a jumper battery and cable. The engine failed to turn over.

“Maybe your battery is not charged enough,” I offered. He grumbled, and walked back to the dealer’s showroom, and brought back another battery, and cables. This time the engine choked and gagged and eventually rumbled to life. It gave out a queer sort of sound, and a cloud of smoke billowed up into the air. But it began to rumble, and eventually settled into a loud gurgling like a loud motor boat. I pressed the accelerator, and the engine jumped, roaring to life, and I revved it to see if it was sound after it had a chance to warm up.

“Can I take it out for a test drive?”

“I’ll go get some plates,” the crest-fallen salesman shrugged. The plates were put on the truck, and Dawson bounced up and down in the seat next to me in sheer excitement. We were going to ride in a truck. Maybe this wasn’t the truck he wanted, but the love of driving in a truck aroused in him an excitement that was sheer exuberance.

The first thing they told me when I started looking at the deal was that they guaranteed nothing. The cars, trucks, vans all needed work. The more expensive the car, the better the shape and value. Regardless, we soldiered on. One of the tail lights was shattered, and it was filthy. It had only two major flaws, as far as I could tell—it had no emergency brake, and it needed a new exhaust system.

We chugged into the driveway of our house with all the fanfare of a docking tug boat. My wife and other son, Dylan, came out to the front, wondering what all the noise was about. Their faces were a mixture of humor and incredulity.

“Is that it?” Dominique asked in as if she was about to throw up.
“Is this our truck, daddy?” echoed Dylan.
“No, Dylan. We just borrowed it,” Dawson shot back authoritatively.
“Is this the one you saw on the computer?” my wife asked me.
“No, this one’s better.”
“How so?” she asked in shock.
“It’s half of what we intended to spend!” I announced proudly.
“How much is it?”
“Did you buy it?” she asked.
“Test drive,” I assured her.
She smiled. “Do you like it? Are you sure it’s trustworthy?”
“Seems to be OK. I drove it all the way here from the dealership.”
“They didn’t have anything better?”
“For this price? Absolutely not,” I said cheerfully.
“So, you’re going to buy this thing? Are you sure it’ll make it up to Hudson?”
I shrugged gleefully. “Dom, I figure, even if it costs another $850 to fix up, we’re still way ahead of what we said we were going to spend.”

She shook her head, and batted her eyes. “All right. If that’s what you want.” She held up her hands.
“We’re buying it, dad?” asked Dawson excitedly. I shook my head.
“Dylan—this is our new truck!” he screamed to his brother excitedly.

I went back, bought the truck, and picked it up later that night with my father in law, who was both horrified and amused. It did indeed end up costing another $900, for a new exhaust, a tune up, a new battery and battery cable, and some other minor repairs. It leaks when it rains, but the heat works (even if the air conditioning also blows hot air), and it has a serviceable radio.

Since then, it has made a dozens of trips up and back between New Jersey and upstate New York. It has hauled scores of felled trees, a couple hundred rocks from the fields, two full payloads of mulch, dozens of vineyard supplies, three full loads of lumber, a set of kitchen cabinets for the blending room, paint, caulk, plumbing, a toilet, and enough used furniture to fill a four bedroom house.

I got my money's worth...and the boys love it.


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