“Apocalypse Now” had the famous line, “Never leave the boat.”
With me, it was “never leave the truck.”
If you left the truck with Daddy on a bear hunt, there was literally no telling where you’d wind up. You might be miles deep in the woods with no rendezvous set up. You might be near exhaustion with many miles already under your belt when he finally turned on a bear, and there was no turning back once that started.
Staying in the truck meant you’d at least have a ride home.
That option, though, also had its downsides.
Daddy was hard on trucks. More to the point, the country he took his trucks into was hard on trucks.
A broken axle was pretty much his signature pitch. Most of the time, though, the trucks were running – albeit with the rearview mirrors broken off and an electrical short or two.
In more extreme versions, he’d turn a truck into a National Transportation Safety Board exhibit. One year, we almost lost my friend, Geoff Cantrell, when the passenger door popped open on Rufus Ray curve.
Quite often the dashboard lights would short out. We’d be weaving through the Nantahala Gorge in predawn darkness and he’d pick up a flashlight to see how fast he was going.
He’s not checking to see if he was speeding. He knew good and well he was speeding. He was just mildly curious to see by how much.
“How much” makes an … exhilarating … difference in the Gorge.
Now, Daddy was a law-abiding man. But like most mountain people of his generation, he had little tolerance for rules that didn’t make any sense. If the speed limit sign said 25 and if you could go 45, you went 45. There were places to go and bears to kill.
It wasn’t his skirting the rules of the road that made him stand out, though.
It was his contempt for the rules of physics.
In his later years, there were stories of hunters needing a ride after a long day in the woods who would hide in the bushes when they heard him coming. As he’d power-slide past their position, they’d reemerge, more than happy to just keep walking.
He had the size of a sapling he could run over on an overgrown trail without stalling the truck down to a science. He’d take a truck around, or over, any obstacle between himself and a bear.
Many times, he’d hit an old logging road that had been long abandoned and washed out to the point no one else would even consider giving it a try. From time to time the truck would be pretty much vertical. One time, I recall we’d gone so far over the right he was driving from the passenger seat, which was disturbing because:
a) I was still in it, and
b) He was only able to reach the pedals with his left foot, which is not an ideal operating plan when driving a straight shift.
Still, he always pulled it off. He’d go up a skid trail. He’d go up where someone had considered a skid trail and decided no, that’s too steep.
Actually, saying he always pulled it off is a bit of stretch.
When he didn’t … well, at least he helped keep America’s axle industry healthy.
(Next time: I leave truck. Life-choice questioning ensues.)
Jim Buchanan is special projects editor for The Sylva Herald.