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Farm Notes – A ghost in the gears? Nah!

It was just a truck, an assembly-line agglomeration of metals and rubber. It was inanimate. The yellow, 1980s vintage Ford Ranger had no feelings, especially for me, especially when I needed it most, like the time it stalled on the railway tracks and a locomotive hauling loaded coal cars came rumbling around the curve. My pleas for it to start went unheeded as the train approached. The truck only moved out of the way, at the last moment, of its own imperative.

Of course it didn’t heed me. It was inanimate. But I am not inanimate, and for the 16 years I had the yellow truck, as it was called, I had a curious one-way relationship that was as complex and confounding as the relationships I’ve had with many people.

I purchased the truck in 1994 from a landscaper. I had wanted but couldn’t afford a bigger truck. So I bought the smaller truck for cash but with the understanding that I’d face monthly teasing from friends with proper sized trucks. For as long as I owned the yellow truck, these friends would snicker and offer to move willow lawn furniture and empty beer bottles and other things that they said might overburden it.

Soon after I bought the yellow truck it developed problems: brakes, the timing belt, a difficult-to-identify fuel issue that kept me from visiting my ailing mother. I thought of selling the truck but I had so much invested in it I couldn’t get out. It was like a relationship with a partner that is not so bad that it has to end but not so good you want to keep on.

Eventually the worst of the mechanical problems got resolved and it turned into a semi-useful farm truck. It could easily carry 20 bales of hay and not so easily a half cord of wood. The body of the box must have been made out of recycled jet fighter or submarine metal for no matter how many loads of manure I put in it the box remained in near perfect condition. My friends’ trucks rusted away but the yellow truck was a constant.

The yellow truck had no power, so I learned to make do. I used to joke that to cross the Rockies I’d have to make a running start from Tofino to get up enough speed. If you pushed in the cigarette lighter while driving the truck slowed. If you rolled down the window while driving the truck slowed. I was once passed going up a hill by a loaded logging truck.

Nor was the truck pleasant to sit in. No doubt the cab was designed by a young engineer who went on to design the economy seating for discount airlines. There were seatbelts for three but the only way you could belt up three adults was if two of them were Kate Moss. The cab was so narrow that I could, while driving alone, lean across and roll the passenger window up or down. Or I could shut the glove box, which I often had to do. Whenever the truck went over a bump of a certain size, the glove box door fell open. I fiddled with the latch but never got it to work. It was like a seismograph for roads.

Eventually a hole wore through the floorboards, which made it easy to keep the truck clean. You just kicked dirt onto the road. One farm worker collected golf balls from a field at the end of a driving range, then to pass time as we drove dropped them through the hole onto the road below. You could see where we’d been by the golf balls at the side of the road.

When my daughter was young we were often together in that truck, getting goat manure for the garden or moving firewood. While waiting to pick her up from school I laid down on the bench seat with my feet out the window and snoozed. I guess we spent a lot of time in the truck because people would say, “I saw you and Lily in the yellow truck.” It wasn’t “you and Lily”, it was always “you and Lily in the yellow truck.” We were a threesome.

When family events strained relations with my daughter, a friend assured me that everything would be alright. “I always saw you two doing stuff together in the yellow truck. It will be fine.”

He was right.

A collision with a buck finished off the yellow truck. I was driving and had just enough time to get off the road before the radiator gave way with a sickish hiss. It sounded like the truck was dying. But that was just me reading too much life into the truck, wasn’t it? The yellow truck was inanimate.