A Truck like Dad

Aim­ing to honor the fam­ily Dodge, he paid trib­ute to his fa­ther in­stead.


IT IS IM­POS­SI­BLE TO OVER­STATE the role my dad’s 1947 Dodge truck has played in my life. It’s held an out­size place in my fam­ily longer than I have. Two years longer, to be pre­cise.

Since the truck rolled off the line in Detroit 70 years ago, made up of post­war op­ti­mism and steel, it has known only two own­ers, but just one of con­se­quence—my fa­ther, Melvin Long. And in ev­ery way the truck is an ex­ten­sion of him: tough and ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing sur­pris­ingly heavy loads, but bet­ter de­fined by a gen­tle ex­pres­sion, ev­i­dent in the de­sign of its head­lamp “eyes.”

When I was small, I’d sit on the floor­board next to the heater and fire an end­less string of ques­tions at my dad as he and I rat­tled down the ru­ral roads near our Ore­gon home. At a top speed of 40 mph, we had time to talk about ev­ery­thing twice—some­times three times. Through those con­ver­sa­tions, he wired into me two char­ac­ter­is­tics that still drive my life: an abid­ing love of trees, birds, moun­tains and sci­en­tific truth, and a love of spir­i­tual truth, al­tru­ism and a de­sire to be kind.

When I was a lit­tle older, I learned to drive on the truck,

though I’m not sure “driv­ing” is the right word for it. With a dou­blepump clutch and bi­cep-pow­ered steer­ing, sit­ting be­hind the steer­ing wheel feels more like ne­go­ti­at­ing a com­mon di­rec­tion.

The starter but­ton lives in the floor­board. To bring the Dodge to life, the driver has to squash it with the rage of war while work­ing the throt­tle like a paci­fist. This is done with the trans­mis­sion in neu­tral, so the driver needs to be ready to work the emer­gency brake if grav­ity takes over. To the pas­sen­ger, it looks like magic or yoga.

As I grew, I learned to work hard in and around the truck, toss­ing hay bales on and off its bed and, with my broth­ers, driv­ing it through al­falfa fields on an end­less mis­sion to move ir­ri­gation lines.

Re­cently I part­nered with my dad to have the truck re­stored. When I flew home for Christ­mas, I had my first chance to drive it around again. Al­most im­me­di­ately, I started to craft this story in my head, a trib­ute to our beloved truck. But as I read it now, I can see it’s more of a trib­ute to my dad—and that feels right to me, since I’ve never been able to sep­a­rate the two, and never will.

Michael Shane Long grew up with his fa­ther’s Dodge; as an adult, he helped have it re­stored.

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