A 4.3L Vortec V6, crank windows, rubber floor mats, bench seat, tough as nails. This is in honor of my truck, my 1996 Chevrolet C1500.
For the countless moves this truck has provided to my friends and family, the rock solid reliability any time and every time I summoned the Vortec V6 to duty and for the catalyst of adventure the eight foot bed has provided, I think it’s time this truck received a little credit.
“I will work harder.”
Never does it take more than one crank of the starter, from -50F winter morning cold starts to 110F summer days, to ignite the mini small block engine. The plastic grille and glass headlights make the truck look ten years older than what the actual build year really is. The dirt tan color of the paint can go years unwashed and still look somewhat presentable.
One oxygen sensor, six spark plugs, a distributor cap, brakes and regular fluid changes. This has been the only maintenance required in our six years and counting of ownership.
I found this truck for sale during my last two years in college. It was the winter of 2009. I wanted something able to deal with unplowed streets in the winter and the massive potholes the next season brings. I was looking for something simple and durable.
This truck was for sale at a small independent used car dealer in my hometown. I was initially there to take a look at a Grand Marquis but I noticed this truck hidden in the back corner of the lot. For some reason it caught my interest so I decided to take a look. The price for the truck was $3,500. What surprised me the most was the odometer. This work truck, built in 1996, only had 67,000 miles on it.
This was the no nonsense sledgehammer type vehicle I was looking for. The only problem I had was my limited income because of the expense of college. But I was able to convince my dad to purchase the truck due to the following reasons: My older brother would be graduating and moving in spring. I would be moving to another house near campus in fall. My younger sister would be graduating high school in spring and going to college in fall. And this was just the next year. I also mentioned how many times he has needed to borrow a truck to help with his never ending landscaping projects around the house.
I gave my dad a glimpse of his future. And his future was showing he would be moving his kids a lot. My convincing worked. January 2009, my family bought its first truck. We were now, undeniably, true Midwesterners. After the purchase and researching more about the 1996 C1500, I realized what a decent find this was.
As a 1996 model year, the truck has OBDII, more thorough galvanization of the bodywork, and equipped with the updated Vortec V6 which makes roughly the same power as the old five liter V8. This model year is also before passenger airbags were implemented so there is a nifty storage space where the airbag would be.
It feels so right driving a truck in Indiana. Bounding up and down lumpy tar packed roads in-between the endless patchworked sea of corn and soybean fields. The high upright one way adjustable bench seat position and jittery ride over bumps. This is such an honest truck. No tricks or illusions to feel more ‘car like’. You haul stuff with it, get the job done and go home.
In every season this truck feels right. Winter, spring, summer, fall, I feel this truck could be placed in any Midwest scenery and look right at home, anywhere anytime of the year. A necessary complement to any country background.
One time I let my friend and his wife borrow the truck to move their stuff out of an apartment and into their new home. The wife was from a small farming community with deep multi-generation family roots in that town. So a lot of her friends and family helped them move. Of all the farmers from that community who drove their trucks to help with the move, all of the crew cab Silverados, 4×4 lifted F-150s and anything with ‘2500’ on the door, my truck was the only one with an eight foot bed. So my truck, the one with the base V6, was the one that hauled the largest stuff. The couches, the bed, the desk, anything the puny 6.5 ft. beds on the other trucks couldn’t handle. ‘Jim’s truck’, ‘the ford’, ‘the red truck’, each truck was delegated a nickname for fast reference to help with the chaos of moving. The nickname the farmers gave to mine? ‘The real truck’
I’m not sure of the previous owner(s) or their history but I did find an old registration tag and a receipt from a tire shop in the glove box. From what I can gather the previous owner actually lived in the town where I was attending school. I am pretty sure this truck has spent its entire life in Indiana. This C1500 was born at the GM assembly plant in Ft. Wayne, which is less than 100 miles from my parents’ house where the truck resides today. This truck is a purebred Indiana truck.
The vehicle I spent most of my early childhood in was a 1987 Chevrolet Astro which had the same 4.3L engine the truck has. For whatever reason we were the type of family who didn’t fly, we always drove. We packed the van full and drove to vacation, to see extended family and everything else a family does with their van. This was our primary hauler and it served us faithfully for over 200,000 miles until an unfortunate head gasket issue seized the motor.
I remember as a child the countless long nights driving back from whatever event we were doing that day. The drone of the highway as the miles passed, lulling me to sleep. I would always wake up as we were getting off the highway. The change in vibration from the constant highway hum to a near silent idle at stoplights was enough disruption to rouse me. Usually this was late at night, the family weary, ready to get back home and crawl into bed for a sound sleep. But a few stop lights were still in the way. The Astro burbling along from stop light to stop light with a confidant hum, all of us staring out the windows in distant directions with weary eyes ready to sleep. This was a very dreamy feeling, just barely conscious, the Astro’s captain chair cradling me to sleep. A comforting feeling, like a newborn baby cradled by a firefighter. Or the classic image of a cowboy atop his horse, dozing off to sleep. His head down and shoulders hunched low, his body passively oscillating from the slow pace of the horse, continuing along steady, keeping the rider on a safe path.
When I am in this truck and the day has been long. A day full of moving appliances, furniture, lumber, dirt…everything heavy, every muscle sore. My face crusted with dried sweat, sunscreen and dirt, my hands cracked and raw, dirt under my fingernails, calluses swollen and feet sore, driving home, the sun long gone. I get that same fatigued yet comforted feeling I did when I was a child in my parents’ Astro.
The truck’s V6 burbling along as solid and faithful as ever, the darkness of night and the empty roads surround me. My eyes bleary, my body completely exhausted, ready for sleep, ready to end the day.
The truck simply thinks, “What’s next?”