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Posted: 6/7/2008 11:40:25 AM EST
As faithful as any dog, and it gets good mileage
Posted by Mark DiIonno June 06, 2008 11:51PM

In the same week General Motors announced it was scaling back production of SUVs and trucks, my old Chevy truck hit two milestones. For the first time, it cost 85 bucks to fill up. And it also hit 285,000 miles.

So what follows is not a rant about gas prices; it's an ode to the American truck. Gas can go to $5, even $10 a gallon. It doesn't matter. My truck has earned its keep.

The truck is a bare-bones 1999 Chevy W/T, which stands for work truck. It's not a fat, fancy "crossover" truck, like the Cadillac Escalade EXT. There's no surround sound DVD players, or talking navigation systems or individual climate control. There is no leather.

It has a manual transmission, hand-crank windows - both a little stiff with age - and a fabric interior as worn, but durable, as a pair of old Carhart overalls.

I love it more than any inanimate object I've owned, and more than many animate objects I've known. So I'm not about to car-compact it just because gas is up a couple bucks. No more than you would put the old dog down when the arthritis medicine gets more expensive.

See, loyalty is a two-way street, and my truck is as faithful as any dog that ever rode shotgun. It is part of the family.

Two of my kids, now 22 and 24, learned to drive a stick shift on the truck back when it was almost new. Burned up the clutch a little, but not too bad. The original clutch still works fine, though I had to replace the cable once.

I have a kid who was 6 when I got the truck and, right from the start, wanted to drive it. This fall, she, too, will learn on it. In two winters, the way the old truck is humming, so will her younger brother.

The extended cab is roomier than most sedans, and, filled with kids, the truck has strode the Blue Ridge Mountains, shot up the Northway to Quebec, explored New England and New York, city and state, and done a couple of dozen one-day, round-trip marathons to Maryland to visit one of the gear-grinders in college.

The truck knows every corner of New Jersey. Just two weekends ago, it hauled us down every dirt road we could find in the Delaware Water Gap. It's two-wheel drive, but has conquered every four-wheel drive road put in front of it. In a hemlock glen off one gravel-and-pothole road, we all discovered a 100-foot waterfall spilling out of the Kittatinnys down to the river. We climbed to the observation decks, while the truck rested below, its suspension pinging in the misty air.

And like a good hunting dog, my truck is my partner. Whatever I write about, the truck gets me there. From the farms of West Jersey to the college campuses of Newark, through a Pinelands forest fire and to a multiple-homicide crime scene outside Atlantic City. It knows every bend, every back road, every tollbooth.

It is also a weekend work truck.

The truck has carried cords of firewood to the family hearth, and reams of newsprint to the town recycling center. It has hauled tons of mulch, topsoil and decorative stone, back when I young enough to see self-landscaping as a healthy exercise outlet, not joint-inflaming torture. It has been pack mule in four household moves, some happy, some sad.

The truck bed can hold more than 1,500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies, half a girls lacrosse team taking a break, two rolled sections of a regulation wrestling mat, and 32 pots and flats of flowers to be planted by a class of fifth-grade volunteers.

Since loyalty is a two-way street, I let nobody borrow my truck. We come as a package deal, so I can minimize the abuse while friends and family pile it with furniture or appliances or the limbs of fallen trees.

That's the least I could do for a truck that has never left me stranded, even when the clutch cable frayed in Delaware, even when the emergency brake froze in extreme Northwest Jersey. It has had one flat. Like those dogs who get lost on vacation in California and six weeks later turn up on the family doorstep in Iowa, my truck always knows the way home.

With all the dings and dents and rust spots, it still has the original exhaust system, and all the original electric fuses, although it outlived the original cassette player and the CD player that replaced it. The truck doesn't leak or burn oil, and has never blown a ring or a gasket. The computer chip that controls the ABS brakes fried at 150,000 miles, but the truck stops just fine. The hinges for the tailgate rusted, so I had it removed, a decision I call an aerodynamic improvement. Without a tailgate to fight the wind, it gets over 20 miles a gallon.

When the truck turned 250,000, I bought lunch for the guys at the D'Alessio (formerly Scerbo) dealership who have kept the old dog together and in fresh oil. They love the truck, too, because it is living evidence that, yes, America can build great cars. When the truck turns 300,000, probably in mid-August, I'll buy lunch again. And for the truck, a tank of premium.

Link Posted: 6/7/2008 11:45:07 AM EST

And I thought this was going to be a story about a horse.
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