Vagneur:The unforgettable truck

No sooner did the school bus drop me off than I spotted it, a new-to-us pickup truck sitting in the driveway behind the house. For a 10-year-old kid this was a grand development, particularly since no one was home but me. Taking liberties with my thought processes, I figured it must belong to my dad, somehow, and therefore I was empowered to give it a test drive.

Every kid has a dream machine, the perfect car that will make him the envy of his friends and have all the pretty girls clamoring for a ride. I never really had an auto like that, but in 1960s Aspen, a student’s car of any kind was usually a head-turner.

My first teenage fantasy carriage was a 1954 black two-door Ford sedan, with a white top, that I bought from M.J. Elisha. That car served me well in every regard, including its ability to keep me from driving way too fast. Castle Creek was my favored parking area, although others preferred Difficult Campground or McLain Flats, and a six-pack of beer and a good-looking girl made for some steamed-up windows on a snowy after-school afternoon.

But back to the pickup sitting in our driveway that long-ago afternoon as I disembarked the yellow ride home. A 1952 Chevrolet it was, a faded orange color, with wooden sideboards jutting up the length of the bed on both sides, giving it a utilitarian look. The floor of the bed consisted of wooden planks, a collector’s wet dream today but a simple reality back then.

I took to that truck like a Woody Creeker takes to potato vodka but soon I learned that my dad had bought it for himself, mostly. He’d let me take it on missions around the ranch as the years went by, but it was always loaded with work, it seemed. Fence-fixing tools, posts, stays and barbed wire occupied the bed during spring forays to boundaries either along ranch perimeters or to far-flung fences on Larkspur Mountain that kept cattle out of areas containing the poisonous Larkspur plant. We’d also use it to stash about 30 blocks of livestock salt around Kobey Park, to be distributed further by horseback later. The truck was indispensable during haying season, when it carried rolls of baling wire, grease, spare parts, water and anything else we thought we might need.

There are things about that old truck I’ll never forget, like the running boards that seldom got used but were indispensable to its character and the steel sun visor (same faded orange) that gave it a distinct outside appearance just as the over-sized, red-and-white, candy-striped knob on the four-speed gearshift lever, totally out of place and right at home at the same time, enhanced the interior.

Maybe most special were those days before I got too independent when my dad would ask me to go irrigating with him. We’d head to the west mesa, a long way from home and out of sight of civilization, and he’d park the truck with the key on, letting the sounds of the radio fill the cab. There was a mystery-theater show that came on at 4 p.m., and he’d let me stay in the truck and enjoy the entertainment. Sometimes I’d get scared, sitting there in that old truck, listening to creepy sounds and terrifying predicaments, but I knew my dad would soon be back. On the way home, he’d listen patiently as I replayed the entire story, seeming to enjoy my version of events.

He and I spent a lot of time together in years after that, working the land and the livestock, but I don’t think I ever felt much closer to him than I did on those days when he coordinated his afternoon irrigation rounds to coincide with the mystery-theater-radio times.

The year we sold the ranch, we had a big sale, dispersing all the livestock and equipment. My cousin Howard bought the old pickup truck, and when he tried to leave with it, the engine blew up on the way out of the yard, and it had to be towed away. It’d be hard to prove, but I think that old, faded-orange, well-worn truck died of a broken heart that day.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at