It was a warm Saturday morning in late spring or early summer. My ten year-old self was outside helping my father collect yard debris from an overnight storm. Knowing we would collect a fair amount, he had pulled his yellow 1970 Ford F-100 down to where we were, saving us multiple trips to the ravine at the edge of my family’s seven acre property. After collecting all the debris in that section of the yard, my father nonchalantly made a statement that forever changed my life.
“Jason, start the pickup and move it down to that oak tree.”
Dad had purchased his pickup new in 1970, a few years prior to his only son arriving and forever improving his life. Pickups could be rather spartan back in 1970 and his definitely seemed to be that way at the time. Equipped with the 240 cubic inch straight-six and a three-speed on the column, little did I realize he had actually sprang for an AM radio and a heater.
At the time this monumental day finally happened – yes, I was only ten but had been waiting for it since about the time I could talk – I knew this was a pickup that had been used as a pickup and never been spared from (ab)use.
Exploiting the product of Google Earth allows actual pictures of things; such a concept would have been complete science fiction when we moved to this house in 1976 when I was three. Soon after moving in my parents decided to build an addition, predominantly the area pointing to the right, doubling the size of the house.
It was a common occurrence to see the pickup parked where the white car is, its rear-end hunkered down from the weight in the bed. It was nothing for my father to get 4,000 pounds of gravel or sand and then stop for reinforcing steel, portland cement, or other building materials. My initial joy at bouncing on a rear bumper that was only five inches from the ground was profoundly ruined when I was so rudely yanked off and told to stop.
At this monumental turning point in my young life, the pickup was parked where the circular plot is toward the bottom of the picture. I hoisted myself into the drivers seat. Intending to go no further than the garden area in the lower left corner, I began re-envisioning all the exploits I knew it had been on.
There had been the trip to Minnesota prior to my first birthday when I rode in the middle of the seat for the entirety of the trip, unencumbered by any irksome child seat. While I don’t remember it, I began walking on that trip. Planted in the grass next to the pickup while the tent was erected, I was nowhere to be found upon completion. It seems my first steps were more of a hike as I had journeyed a couple hundred feet away. Being subjected to novice parents is the only downside of being the firstborn.
Later that night thunderstorms dumped rain in the area, causing a flash flood in the nearby river and a late night blast to safer lodging. As always, the F-100 fulfilled its end of the bargain.
My father had several uncles who lived nearby our home. One, a life-long bachelor who never possessed a valid driver’s license, farmed some property he rented from the railroad. Keeping his house in town, he would periodically need Dad to haul various items to the property. The road to get there was up a steep, grossly eroded affair made entirely of semi-graded dirt and forever in the shade so it was always wet. Frankly, most people currently would fear to tread there in a four-wheel drive, let alone a two-wheel drive.
Not my father.
With three of us aboard and the pickup loaded just light enough to keep the tires from blowing out, we would cross the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill and my father’s foot would go to the floor. We slipped, slid, bounced, and wobbled our way to the top, with his foot unceasingly on the floor and the old straight-six screaming in first gear. We always got there. Getting back was a cake walk.
With all these visions rushing around my then unpolluted head, I figured moving the old Ford should be a snap. Easing my left foot onto the clutch, and my right foot onto the brake, I hit the starter.
Sliding it into first gear, I carefully and slowly let off on the clutch.
Okay, Jason, I told myself, yes, you are worried about rolling but you should take your foot off the brake this time. I hit the starter again.
Again easing off the clutch, with my foot now off the brake, I could feel the clutch engaging.
It died. Again.
“Jason, just give it a little more gas this time.” My father can be a man of profound patience at times.
I hit the starter. The old straight-six didn’t seem too fazed, nor much care, what input you gave it as long as it received input.
I did not provide enough input. I killed it a third time.
“Jason, you almost had it. Here, let me get in with you.” Was this pressure or reassurance? It didn’t matter as I was getting aggravated and wasn’t about to let a twelve year old pickup get the better of me.
Hitting the starter yet again, the coordination of my feet was much improved – but not perfect. I dumped the clutch and fire-walled the accelerator. We took off quite nicely, and I sheared off the right half of a forsythia bush.
We did. I put my left foot on the brake and killed the engine instantaneously. We had travelled about thirty feet.
Ever since then I have had a soft spot for the 1970 Ford F-100. Later that day, I would sit on my father’s lap and steer it around the nearby cemetery since the residents didn’t care how I drove. Several times later I would do similar while traveling down the five to six miles of gravel going to my grandmother’s house, never leaving first gear and my not caring we were barely above idle speed. To me, it was driving and that’s all that counted.
The old F-100 would stick around until the Summer of ’85. Coming back home one Saturday morning from having spent the night at a friend’s house, the pickup was parked at a strange angle in the yard, next to the lane leading to the house. Walking into the house I learned the cancer on the old Ford had become terminal. The body had fallen in on the frame, putting the shift linkage in a bind and making it impossible to shift out of first gear.
So that afternoon dad did some backyard repairs involving a floor jack and some 2×4 shims before foisting it off on the Toyota dealer the following weekend. The one year old ’84 F-150 he purchased paled in comparison to the ’70 F-100.
Just yesterday I learned of a white ’70 F-100 for sale. I don’t need another vehicle nor a second pickup, but it sure made me pause to consider the possibilities.