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.