There is something about a truck.
In my growing up days, I was a frequent passenger in Pappaw’s 1930s model large cattle truck. It had a big on-the-floor gear shift with a green knob on top. The starter was on the floor, as was the light dimmer (which was the case with most vehicles of that era). I’m thinking the windshield was two panes of glass stretched across the dashboard, with black seals around the edges. It was a tall vehicle, and it took some climbing and struggling to get up in it by yourself when you were only four or five years old. It was really hard to reach those shiny chrome handles.
Pappaw would begin the trip by mashing the sour gnats that had collected on the window glass with his fingers. I tried to help, but there wasn’t any use. I couldn’t mash ’em before they would fly away.
With the part of his mouth that wasn’t filled with a chew of tobacco, Pappaw would grin and say “You ready to go, Cowboy?”
I would nod and sit up straight on the big seat, and look over the dash board as best I could. He’d hit the starter and the engine would grind, sputter and finally start. Smoke would come out of the exhaust and after a few minutes of running to let the engine even out, he would pull the gear shift into reverse and we would back out of the building. (The Building was our name for the garage. It wasn’t fancy enough to be called a garage, so “Building” sufficed.)
The engine might quit once or twice while backing out, but that didn’t cause anyone to worry. We were used to it. Slow and steady saves that day. Pappaw would start ‘er up again and with determination, and a few spits out the window, the truck would finally be ready to go. If we were going toward Gate City it could go a good piece without trouble. There wasn’t but one stop light that direction, and the hills was a low grade. But if we were headed to Kingsport, we had to go up Kyle Hill and that caused problems. Empty, and giving it everything it had, the old truck could make all of 30 or 35 miles per hour up that hill. It groaned and ground and muttered and sputtered the whole way. Then once it topped the hill, it went with gusto down to the first set of stop lights. Almost like a rodeo horse, it seemed to stomp and twitch at the stop lights, ready to show its power and speed upon getting green.
This old truck served as a way to haul supplies to our little farm. It also served as a coal truck for our trips to the coalfields for heating fuel for the furnaces of five or six houses we had to supply. People would sometimes call Pappaw to haul coal. They knew he had lost his job in the Press strike of 1963 and was needing the extra cash.
But most of the time this was our cattle truck. Pappaw would haul cattle for people all over the area, going to their pastures, rounding the animals up, figuring out which ones were to be sold and loading them, often getting kicked and having to twist their tails to get them to climb on board the back of the old truck. One time an old heifer, wild eyed and furious, kicked Pappaw right where his pocket watch was, putting a stop to my favorite activity at church, which was listening to the “tick,tick, tick” while the preacher was looking for an appropriate place to stop.
We drove the cattle to market in Kingsport most of the time, at the old stock yard near where they built Indian Path Hospital. Other times we drove to Abingdon, to one of two markets there, depending on the day of the week, there being two sales there, or even Rogersville or Gate City. Loaded with cattle, you had to drive into the line to wait until a loading chute would empty and you had to back the truck up to the gate, get out and force the cattle to move into the chute. All the while you were listening to “pinhookers” who were trying to buy your stock at a cheap price, telling you that you could avoid having to wait through the sale, and they would make a pretty good profit. Pappaw got skilled at holding them at bay. The “No Pinhooking” signs around the stock yards were of absolutely no effect whatsoever. Pinhookers can’s read apparently.
A loaded cattle truck, struggling to get up the hills on our way to market was not a thing of beauty. Cattle would shift in the truck, causing the driver to have to calculate turns and stops, trying to be gentle with the load so as not to lose value of the animals. You didn’t want to stand too close to the back of the truck as cattle just “let ‘er go” wherever they are. Excrement and urine were almost always flinging off the sides and rear of the truck. Hauling days had their particular smells. But you got used to it and just kept going.
When I was about 12 years old, my Pappaw decided to get rid of his truck and his 1957 Chevy. Both had seen better days. They were worn out. I was given my choice of which I’d rather have. I chose the truck. I had spent a lot of time in it. It was housed in the building beside our little house. I had played around it, caught naps on the big seat on the way back from the coal fields, and gone on numerous trips with Pappaw in it. I chose to take it, and a car dealer right next door, Mr Dishner, offered to buy it off me for $250. That was more money than I could imagine in 1976.
A dear old man, 90 some years old, from my church had gone to Kingsport Federal Savings and Loan in Kingsport and started a savings account for me, telling my mother that she needed to teach me to handle money. I think he put $25 in it to start it. He did this because I helped him get to his car after church every Sunday and opened the door on his old car for him and his wife.
When he handed me the passbook, I thought of that truck, and put my money in it. Over the years my mother put a little in it until I went to college. It didn’t last the first term at Emory & Henry, but it was used to advance my education. That old smelly truck, groaning and grunting up the hills around home, played a part in helping me become a college graduate.
I’ve had two trucks in my adult life. My dad had three or four. Trucks are such helpful things.
I will never forget that old, green truck, nor the memories of going places from the time I could sit up in a chair, with my hard-working Pappaw.