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Charlie's Truck

©02 The Media Desk

[by special request of a friend of the Desk]

         What can you say? A friend gave the Desk a free pick up truck.

         Free is good. Right? Of course right.

         So the Desk caught a ride an hour north of its home and spent the afternoon sorting the junk that had accumulated in the back of Charlie's truck. Then it headed south in its brand new.... well sorta, truck.

         The Desk's old truck had recently died. And it had died for keeps.

         The Old Truck was an early seventies Chevy One Ton. The thing was HUGE! The 6' 4" Desk could lay down and sleep on the seat. It would haul three tons of gravel, tow a building, or move a whole two bedroom apartment full of furniture in one shot. The Desk had done all that, repeatedly. On top of the Old Truck was a hand built wooden deck that extended from half over the bed to over the cab that could sit three guys at a football game or almost a dozen drunks at a NASCAR race's infield. Done that too. Split driveshaft, frame welded trailer hitch, extra capacity gas tank... It sat on four retreaded 9.5 x 16.5 tires with eight lug rims. The shocks were bigger around than the Desk's arm. Empty the thing weighed three and a half tons, full of junk, we won't talk about it. Under the hood a big block four bolt main 350 sucked gas in through a four barrel Rochester Quadrajet carburetor and blew it out twin 2 inch tailpipes like nobody's business. Needless to say, the Desk knew every gas station in Delawhere and the surrounding states very well. It was a Truck from when They Made Trucks!
         After a quarter of a million miles. It had called it quits for the last time five miles from something called Washington PA on Interstate 79. It had been running on a blown head gasket for awhile, and this last two thousand mile round trip was too much for it. It smoked and chugged and made God's Own Noise going up that last mountain, then simply called it quits.
         The Pennsylvania State Cop called a rollback and stood there and chatted pleasantly as somebody's idea of a dingbat tried to put the Truck on the rollback.
         Now remember, the Old Truck, by itself, without even a beered up aging Sportswriter in it, weighed on the high side of 6,500 pounds. Now it was full of all sorts of stuff, and an antique shotgun to boot. Full, as it were, of Junk.
         The rollback guy, seeing it as a pickup truck, simply tilted the bed of his truck up until the end hit the ground, unreeled a good length of cable, and started to winch it up like this huge green monster was some sort of Eastern European Putt-Mobile.
         The first thing he did was accuse the Desk of having it in park with the emergency brake on. No, it was in neutral and the parking brake hadn't worked in years, the cable had rusted through. The cop verified the gear selection. And the rollback man hit his winch lever again.
         Now the cable is screaming. The Cop and the Desk decide to go back behind the police car to watch the festivities. At one point the rollback's front tires came off the ground. The Old Truck had barely budged up the rollback's deck. The cop shook his head.
         Finally the guy realizes he's up against something unusual and he pulled the rollback up a dozen feet or so and ran the deck all the way out and down. Then he winched it up with no further drama. Until he fired up the hydraulics to bring it back up on the frame. The first time he did it, his truck died. Evidently a low idle wasn't going to do it. He started it back up and left it in high idle. The machinery protested, loudly, but it did it. In a minute the Old Truck was on top.
         The cop made a face at the duels under the rollback, but they didn't blow. Then he followed us to the exit from a discreet distance behind. Evidently expecting something else stupid to happen.
         The rollback man didn't say a word until the Old Truck was back on the ground in town.

         What had happened to it?
         Well, not trusting the rollback man's word the Desk wandered over to a Dodge Truck dealer and found a mechanic in there for a second opinion. In Pennsylvania Coal Country, when they say Dodge Truck Dealer, they mean TRUCK dealer. The lot was full of earthmovers and other serious hardware, big iron, and price tags to match. The old man mechanic with seven fingers and eight teeth agreed to walk over to the rollback place and check out the damage.
         He crawled under the truck from the back end. "Yer brake cyl'nder's blowed. Diff-rental is leak'n."
         The Desk knew that.
         "Train-ney rear seal is blowed..." He rattled off everything that had ever been wrong with it.
         Then he got under the engine. "Turnner Over." He called out. The Desk hit the key. It growled and sputtered, but the Old Truck actually started. And made noise like somebody had dropped a whole handful of railroad spikes into an industrial strength garbage disposal. "Turnner Off."
         He crawled out. "Yah drop'ed a valve into number sixt. She'd chewed up the cyl'nder wall. We can bore'r out and drop a sleev' in'er, and fix dat hed'gask't." He explained how all this could be done.
         Bottom line. It'd cost more than the Desk had paid for the Truck five years ago. And even if they worked this miracle, there were still all the other problems with it. Nope. It was done.
         The Desk made the calls and its wife drove a couple of hours to pick it, and the Junk up. They went out to dinner and did a little sight-seeing around the town. Then went to deal with the rollback man. The Truck took up residency in Pennsylvania. Where, as the desk understands it, somebody bought it, dropped another motor into it, and went on their way. More power to'em.
         The next morning the Desk signed over the Old Truck. State Farm picked up the towing bill. And the Desk and Mrs. Desk left town.

         Now the Desk had Charlie's Truck. It was a decade newer, a couple of sizes smaller, but... it was free.
         Free is good. Right? Of Course right.
         Charlie had pointed to the matching set of snow tires on rims in the back. The newish radio. And even the new seat cover that was going with it. Cool!
         The Desk set out for the trip home and played with the radio. It got about five stations, at once. No amount of fiddling would change anything. You either listened to every station within thirty miles, or you listened to road noise. He had said the tape player worked great... but there were no tapes at hand.
         Then the Desk made a right turn. And the driver's door flew open.
         Seems Charlie had neglected to mention that while the new door he had put on it fit fine, the little post on the truck that the lock catches to stay shut was too small for this lock.
         The Desk undid the seatbelt and wrapped it around the armrest to keep the door shut.
         About halfway home the Desk decided it needed a break from exhaust fumes, noise, and a flappy door.
         It stopped at a Stop and Rob and got a cold drink. As the Desk paid the lady, it wondered what other surprises this thing had in store for it for the last thirty miles.

         To avoid innumerable stoplights the Desk got on the brand new Toll Road Bypass and let its speed creep up a little.
         A new noise.
         A loud hiss followed by the sound of flapping rubber.
         It pulled over. The front passenger side tire was flat. No problem. Charlie had two new snow tires in the back, that were free.
         Free is good. Right? Of course right.

         The desk found the jack, a small bottle jack behind the seat, and set to changing the tire.
         The jack was too short to raise the truck up more than a couple of inches.
         The Desk found a board down in the ditch, and the old milk crate in the back of the truck, and a brick... and managed to get the thing off the ground and started to change the tire.
         A Lady Delaware State Cop stopped by. "Everything under control?"
         "Yes, ma'am. I'll be out of here in a few minutes." It smiled warmly. She was nice. Very pretty. And heavily armed.
         She left to attend to other Lady State Cop business.
         The Desk got the blown tire off.... Then it noticed something.
         The snow tires. Were SIX LUG FORD RIMS.
         They would not fit on a FIVE LUG CHEVY TRUCK.
         The Desk called Good Mister Charlie many things, none of them his name.
         As the Desk was putting the dead tire back on, it decided to nurse it to the next exit, to avoid having it towed, and call its wife to come get it and the tire, and sort it out later. See, the Desk's wife drives decent stuff, with heat, and doors that shut, and that doesn’t catch fire while you're driving it, the Desk usually drives junk nobody else wants.
         But now, with the tire back on and about half full of fix a flat, which didn't help a whole lot, but it inflated it some, the jack wouldn't go down far enough on the milk crate to get it out from under the truck.
         The Desk sang Charlie 'Happy Birthday', got in, and drove off the milk crate.
         Then it got out to retrieve the jack and other assorted pieces parts.
         While it was throwing the jack and mangled milk crate into the back it noticed something else which made its day.
         As soon as the full weight of the truck was on the tire, it went as flat as one of those fast food pancakes you can get at that 'you want fries with that?' place with fix a flat all over the tire and the road.
         The Desk started driving half in the grass, slower than Grandma Moses, to the next exit.
         There was no Next Exit.
         We had passed it about two miles ago.
         Three miles later it approached the Toll Plaza at the exit. The guy in the toll booth was laughing as the leaning truck with the flopping tire rolled up.
         "Yeah buddy, I know."
         They don't give a break on the toll to junk trucks with flat tires.
         There was nowhere to pull it over at the plaza.
         The Desk had driven it that far, why not go as far as it could?
         As it limped toward the intersection the flopping tire came completely off the rim and rolled out into the middle of the highway.
         Oh well, the Desk had a green light, it'd be darned if it was going to stop and retrieve a wayward tire.
         Spraying sparks and drawing looks and laughs it drove through the intersection and headed toward the nearest 'safe' place to pull off.
         The Wal Mart parking lot.

         Made it.
         The desk went inside and called home.
         Nobody there.
         As it was walking out it ran into one of the ladies from its church.
         The Desk explained the situation and she offered the Desk a ride home.

         Now the Desk did not want perfectly charming conversation with the Church Lady. It wanted strong drink, and a cigar, and a chance to call Mr. Charlie every name in every language it could think of, including Yiddish and Klingon.
         Maybe a certain Lady State Cop would come by. We could drive upstate and she could shoot Charlie.
         But instead. It had to ride with the Church Lady, and answer questions about the kids and why it was driving a truck with no front tire.
         The Desk replied politely, and thanked her for the ride. It beat walking and she smelled better than Charlie any day of the week.

         Once home the Desk wasn't up to going anywhere and doing anything. All the junkyards were closed anyway. No way to get a new rim and tire now until Monday. Besides... right about now it secretly wished Wal Mart had the truck towed and the bill sent to Charlie, who, by the way, wasn't home now.

         After a coffee mug full of cheap whisky the Desk called its boss and asked him if he was up to something stupid on the way to work the next morning. Jay said "Sure."

         So, at Oh, Dark Thirty the next morning before we went to the jail, he picked the Desk up and we drove to Wal Mart.
         The Desk. Still wishing Charlie a nice case of bedbugs, drove the truck halfway through town on the rim. Jay followed, laughing.
         Sparks flew! It made a hideous noise! The Desk ran two stoplights and crossed the median illegally to make its turn and get off the highway as soon as possible. But it made it!
         The rim left a trail of scratches for two and a half miles down the concrete highway that were visible for almost six months.
         Then we went to work. Jay laughed and told the story to everybody that would listen for about a year.
         The rim was ground down to nothing, the rotor had been damaged, but...
         The truck had been free.
         Free is good. Right? Of course right.

         Monday the Desk got a tire and sort of fixed the driver's door. It was now held shut with a bungee cord wrapped around the steering wheel. It never fixed the radio. It worked good enough, after a fashion, on AM and the Desk listened to tapes in the afternoon on the way home from work.
         The snow tires sat next to the garage until it sold them to another friend.
         The jack... The jack the Desk still has. As a souvenir. It still has it, someplace that is.

         Then a couple of weeks later, the Desk went to Ye Olde DMV type place to change over the paperwork.
         The title wasn't in Charlie's name.
         He had never transferred it.
         It was in some dead guy's name.

         The Desk, and one of the Desk's friends, drove that thing for two years, one of them, after the license sticker expired. Dead registration, 'borrowed' tags at one point, and all.
         It finally ended up so much junk after another misadventure and a lie about some missing keys...
         Oh well.
         It was free.
         Free is good. Right? Of course right.

         Later the Desk got an old Ford van. It used to be a plumbers wagon. The dashboard would catch fire while you were driving it. Things would fall off of it at odd times. It never had heat, and the headlights would blink when you used the turn signal. But... It ran. Usually.
         But that's another story.



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