My dad with the 51 Dodge on the old ranch
Daughter Kate helps load the truck – 1970’s
Brook drove the old Dodge through high school years
Hope and her grandpa pull the truck out of storage
Hearing the old engine run again reminded me how this old truck had faithfully serving family for four generations – Brook & Kate late 70’s
Nancy and I were married in 1970 after graduating from the College of Idaho. We remained in Idaho for our first year of marriage before moving the first load of our modest household to my family’s old homestead in the mountains of Southern California. It was then that we purchased our first bona fide pickup; a 1951 half-ton Dodge with a flathead six engine. One of our first really memorable adventures as a young married couple was driving our newly acquired pickup back to Idaho. It was a journey of eight hundred miles across the deserts of Eastern California, Nevada and Oregon. We took it for the purpose of gathering the remainder of our meager belongings and transporting them back to our small rural cabin in California. Top speed on the old Dodge was forty-five MPH and as I recall, the trip took three days each direction traveling in temperatures that exceeded one-hundred degrees.
The Dodge served all of us well for many years on the ranch. My dad and I used it for many years hauling firewood to keep us warm in the winter, carrying rocks and sand for construction, and transporting animals such as pigs, sheep, calves, our kid’s pet ponies, and once even a pair of full grown donkeys. In addition to a ranch truck I used the old truck for many years as a commuting vehicle between our home in the mountains and my work in town; a journey that took me an hour each way.
When we moved off of the California ranch and returned to Idaho some twenty years later the old Dodge was left behind, worn out and forgotten after having serviced our family for nearly twenty years. Leaving the ranch the old truck was parked and abandoned in what could have been its final resting place among the sage brush had it not been for Brook our son. After being settled in Boise for several years Brook had turned fifteen years old and started dreaming about reclaiming the old Dodge and using it as his first vehicle. With a lot of persuasion he eventually convinced me to return to California to retrieve the 51’ Dodge with the intention of restoring it. He had visions of driving it through his high school years. With the help of a friend who volunteered to transport it back to Idaho on a trailer, we once again headed back to the family homestead. I’ll never forget seeing that lonely looking old pickup after so many years of abandonment sitting in the sagebrush with flattened tires and a cab and engine compartment filled with mouse and rat nests. It really was a sad sight for a truck that had served our family so well for so many years. We checked the fluids and added what was necessary, aired the tires, cleaned out the nests and with the help of another truck pulled it to the driveway and started it rolling on down the mountain. After gaining some speed I popped the clutch and to all of our surprise the engine kicked and sputtered, belched a cloud of black smoke and in a matter of a few minutes took off running down the old county road.
Back in Idaho it took Brook and I nearly a year of work to complete our restoration project in order to make the old ranch truck road worthy once again. For the next couple of years Brook drove it every day to school and took it on many adventures until he eventually graduated and headed off to the University of Alaska. Once again the old truck became forgotten, and retired to a field at the back of our Idaho property. We moved several times after that, each time airing up the Dodge’s tires just enough to load it onto a trailer and transport it to its next out of the way spot; that is until the summer of 2012.
Hope is our thirteen year old granddaughter. For years she had been hearing the legendary stories of the life and times of the old 51 Dodge as if it had been a part of the family. She heard it from her mother and her uncle who had both grown up with the pickup. She had heard of how it had served our family on the original homestead as well as of her uncle’s excursions during his teen years. And so it was; Hope announced to us all her desire and intention to restore the famous old truck to serve her as well though her teen years. She commissioned me, her grandfather, to begin the next restoration project as soon as possible so that it might be completed before her sixteenth birthday. What could I say? So this is where my story now stands or maybe I should say, begins once again.
This past summer, Hope, Nancy and I cleaned out the mouse and rat nests, replaced the rotted tires and towed the truck to the workshop next to the barn. After power washing the engine and I might say the inside of the cab as well, we replaced the six volt battery, poured five gallons of gas in the dry fuel tank, changed the oil, cleaned out the oil bath air filter and primed the carburetor. We were just about ready to see if the engine would turn over when Brook and his wife Andrea pulled up the lane. Now, the entire family was present, Brook and Andrea, Kate our daughter, Nancy and I and of course Hope (who is the fourth generation of the family to use the truck) gathered once again around that old Dodge truck to see if it had one more season left. I rapidly pumped the gas pedal, pulled the chock out as far as it would go and pressed the large silver starter button on the dash. The engine slowly cranked over complaining and protesting for several rotations of the tired old pistons until, to all of our amazement and joy, it kicked over and started to run. It spewed black smoke blowing out the cobwebs of neglect as it had done so many years before, but soon it began to smooth out with the familiar old sounds of a sixty year old pickup truck stirring our memories of past adventures and giving promise of things that yet could come.
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