We bought a truck on eBay.
Like you buy a farm in Africa. Dangerous.
The truck was reminiscent of the pickup trucks in Bozeman when Kathryn was a pre-teener kickass cowgirl.
Could be almost useful on the ranch. Part of the lure was that it was in Paradise Valley, Arizona. And that we would drive through Death Valley (yea though I drive through the Valley of Death I shall fear no evil for my Truck is a Ford F250, 1969 Camper Special with the 390 V8, cherry, zero rust, 77,000 miles) to bring it home.
It also carried the risk of collapse, explosion and general feeble wobblies you expect from an old truck that sat under a car port in Arizona for twenty years with a camper on its back. Like nice lookin but could be heavy crap ready to ooze cripple over almost anything.
The owner was cool. Jim Howe made his millions selling native American crafts at the duty free in JFK. He sold us a good truck that his wife said, had to go. He was reluctant because he had been after it for twenty years. Loaded it with a case of water and a goody bag of treats to eat. Had his guy take out the tanks, have the 2 barrel rebuilt, a lot of stuff. Filled up the tanks. Plus an Indian hand made leather backed medalion made from porcupine quills.
The old red truck looked at home in Paradise Valley; a dry, high haven in the foothills above Phoenix. We loaded our suitcases in the back and left Paradise Valley. There were a few stumbles, a gas line notched by a fan belt, a nail in a back tire. But with so much spectacular country up ahead, you pause, fix it, and keep going.
Stopped with our great friends Bill and Mallory in Prescott: John Wayne and Joan Didion. We set off in the morning for the fish hatchery, and route 66. The sleek, cool, almost invisible explosion of the trout at the hatchery, spooked by some shadow, and the dank, dark scent of trout in fresh water brought me back to the streams in Chappaqua when I was a kid, full of trout that only my brother could see.
We headed out of Prescott, and what we remember, even more than the awesome valleys and high Sierras are the deep and craggy souls you meet.
Like the retired Army Colonel; call him Colonel Ballbreaker-Page, silver crew cut, steely blue eyes, a face that was losing the battle with time. Impatient with civilians. He saw I was about to wrap duct tape around a cut fuel hose. "For christs sake don’t do that. Gas’ll have that off in ten seconds." I told him I suspected he was right but what else to do out here in the middle of the desert. "You got any electrical tape?" I did. He wrapped it as carefully as a surgeon around the wounded rubber hose.
"OK, now gimme the duct tape." More wrapping and it held for thirty miles until we got to a town with a Ford dealer and 3/8s fuel hose.
A couple of days down the road, there was our breakfast waitress in Lone Pine. She was tall, maybe 35, had that tall, long legged curvy improbable elegance of a showgirl. Blonde ponytail, blue eyes. Nice smile. We asked directions to a local lake and she confessed she just got off the bus from Reno three days ago. "I started this end of the street and was going to knock on every door, but they hired me and here I am." Reno was a good town to get out of. She was living with her brother in Lone Pine. Which would explain why she was wearing men’s jeans way too big, and a man’s white shirt, also way too big. You imagined a hard life in Reno. Her getting off the bus without a suitcase. Kathryn left her a ten bucks tip and a nice note wishing her a good new life.
Out on Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona we ate steaks at the Roadkill Steakhouse.
In the morning the truck was drooling so we met Randy, ran a truck towing business and a garage. A block of a man with 50 years experience fixing trucks and a fondness for old F250s. "That sag in the right rear is a weak spring. Probably comes from sittin’ under a camper for twenty year. A helper spring’ll fix it. I got that lower radiator hose sorted out, filled up all the fluids. You’re set to go."
And Charley, built like a linebacker, light on his feet, with the grace of an athlete. Moved out to Truxton "four kids ago" from south LA. "Everything in that shop came out here in that (1969 Ford F250 sitting in the back lot) truck. Musta took sixty trips."
He looked out over that flat Arizona horizon for a while and grinned. "None at all."
He dove under the truck and emerged holding a long thin snake of a speedo cable. Wiped it clean, gave it a slick of lithium grease and slipped it back in. "You got a great truck."
On up the backside of the High Sierra. Lone Pine, the waitress/showgirl’s new home town, was Kathryn’s favorite. Where Kathryn met two fine old ranchers, their hands knarled as old oak branches at the boot store. One had a big red bull named Clifford, so big and strong his calves had a hard time making it out into the world. Calf weighs over a hundred pounds it's hard for his momma to give it up. Kathryn volunteered to help with the calf pulling. Walked out with a new pair of glove soft calfskin boots instead. Thinking maybe she'll name the truck Clifford.
On up to Mono Lake, and up and over several passes.
"There’s a three day blizzard coming," the clerk at the hotel said.
Turned back at one pass we headed over to Reno armed with chains. Into the open howl of the blizzard and the later, high up in the mountains at dusk, the great quiet beauty of a mountain forest under snow.
Stopped on the sunny side in Placerville, Ca ("it never snows in Placerville") and had a fine Kathryn's birthday dinner at a classy joint where we were the last and only diners and they acted like they wanted us to stay.
Rolled home in the morning, the old truck with an engine the size of a locomotive saying what else you got?