River Truck


(Luise Hille and I pose with my River Truck after kayaking on the Minnesota River. 

I can’t remember the color of my “original” River Truck. It still had some miles left in it when the heater died in the dead of winter. A repair of the heater edged the beater into what insurance adjusters call “totaled.” So I drove onto a used car lot just to see what was around.

You’ll occasionally see a car slowly meandering through a dealership as the driver rubber necks at those rows of discarded dreams. One of those was me. Nothing stood out, yet I parked and ventured inside to talk with the saleslady. This is a huge undertaking since I’ve long suffered a sense of trepidation after a car salesman at a St. Paul nightspot laughed and said people like him love it when people like me walk through the doors.

“We can spot guys like you a mile away,” he laughed, tipping his long-neck bottle against mine in a friendly gesture. “You’re easy. Guys like you we call ‘marks.’”

Unlike at the city lots, my saleslady friend has treated me with respect and fairness.

“You really, really loved that old Explorer, didn’t you?” she said, with honest concern.

Indeed. That kayak/canoe rack on the top looked and fit just right, and it was easy to lower half of the backseat down to lay out a pad and sleeping bag. A portable ice fishing shack fit easily in the back, too. Bluegill flies that drifted from the boxes weren’t blown away in that 60 mph draft. Gosh, I could go on and on about the pluses.

“Did you see that blue one out there?” she asked.

Somehow I’d passed it by.

“Just got it in. Owned by a woman banker down by Sacred Heart. She drove it to work on the bad snow days. Not a lot of miles on it. Want to take a look?”

“Does the heater work?” I asked.

It was only a year younger and had just under 50,000 on the odometer. I hadn’t realized we’d had that much snow. Mine was tickling 200,000. I’d driven all over western Minnesota, and made several trips down to the farm in Missouri. There were all those jaunts to the BWCA, too. She shot me a price. Fortunately what I’d already had transferred from savings for a decent down payment on a newer car or truck more than covered the price. For the first time ever I drove off the lot with a loan-free vehicle. Not just a vehicle, but a new River Truck! All the gauges and dashboard gizmo’s were exactly alike, and I now had a CD player. Plus, one of the mechanics had helped transfer the kayak racks and ice fishing gear.

That was a decade and some 100,000 miles ago. I still carry the kayaks up on the rack and my seasonal gear fits easily in the back. Missing is the radio antenna. The fellow at the car wash I ran it through at least annually showed me how to remove it with a crescent wrench so it wouldn’t catch in flappers, a trick that came in handy one day at an entry point near Ely. I took it off so it wouldn’t break taking the shotgun side kayak off the top, then laid it on the back bumper after it had rolled off the hood onto the ground. Must have happened a second time. That was about four years ago.

The cab doors used to be tighter, and the hatch door on the back won’t shut completely. By now I’ve replaced the shocks, tires and ball joints. The heater still works, and you can even take a snow drift at 50 without it breaking all apart like my delicate new little foreign car.

That’s the car I bought a couple years ago for better fuel economy. The fill ups actually arrive at about the same places. The kicker is that the River Truck holds just over 23 gallons of gas bone dry compared to not quite 11 for the little car. Same difference, but twice the cost for a fill up.

I was relying more and more on my little car until I tried plowing through a snow drift near the farm late last winter and tore off part of the plastic undercarriage near the bumper. My River Truck sputtered, as it does even in the heat of summer, but eventually started, and the little car was parked until the thaw.

This winter I’ve relied more heavily on my River Truck. I should have used it the other evening when I went to shoot pictures of the full moon rising over the prairie. The little car was warm and handy, plus I was just driving a mile or so down the road to an oak savanna. Unfortunately the trees were nowhere near the rising moon, so I quickly sped off down a lesser used road toward a nearby WMA. I saw the drift coming up, and frankly, it didn’t look all that solid. Darkness does that to a fellow, I guess. There wasn’t a whole lot of give to that icy, glazed-over drift. There was, however, a horrible crunching sound when I landed about 30 feet further down the gravel road. My seat belt no doubt saved a concussion. I’ll call the body shop after the melt.

After surveying the damage I realized the truth once again. Like I told Rebecca: “Should have taken the River Truck.”

Utility and a working heater help define a good River Truck. So does having dependable landing gear.

This entry was posted in He Said by John G. White. Bookmark the permalink.

About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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