“Fiddling Around” On An Ol’ Pickup


 Heck, if’n it starts up and runs, no problem, right!? (DMT photo)             


By Dan Bodine

Yeah, the sky has fallen upon my beloved ol’ Ford garden pickup. And I’m fit to be tied. Kinda. I’ve been accused of not fiddling around on it enough, while driving it some, too. And now I’ve burned the transmission out! Is there anyone or anything else we can hang for it? Fiddling around with ignorance, maybe?

This is my defense. Kinda. Generally, there are two kinds of truck owners in the world: Those who know. And those who think they know.

Park me in the latter category. But with a caveat — e.g., expand this traditional “don’t know” drawer with an effectual “Mama Tried” sub-category. That lessens the malevolency of my irresponsibility. (Yeah, this thing is wearing on me, you’ve figured out!)

For once upon a time…Oh, say, just 5-6 short decades ago on pickups with the much older V-6 and V-8 engines, the dipstick for transmission fluid was a long-sheathed metal tube running along and downward on the left side of the motor. That’s how I remember it. Jokers wild, though!

I say this because generally, boys fiddled around with autos. And I did, too. A little. I can remember. Worked 18-20 hrs. weekly at a plant nursery. But I jazzed up Mom and dad’s family auto some, too. Same ol’ same ol’! Teens had to have wheels for their dates!

But… I can’t remember ever checking a transmission dipstick in the past 50-60 years, though. May not have checked any. I mean, if’n the auto’s wheels moving fine, transmission’s in line, right?!

Wait, there’s an exception to that, of course! Did I check this ol’ white Ford? On the left side, I did! Definitely checked what I thought was a transmission dipstick! Good shape, the transmission was!

So I’m attempting a jailbreak here thru this esoteric, soapy Days of Our Lives change window! Was that actually a transmission dipstick I checked, though? Wheeuu!

Words now, on the other hand, I’ve fiddled around with seemingly all the time back thru those decades — e.g., squeezed in when I wasn’t attending university or studying, or working for a living at some job other than writing.

Who had time to fiddle around with autos then?! It’s a fielder’s choice answer, of course. (Even my late Grandmother in the ’70s used to scold me for fiddling around too much on other less important things during those years! She came to Texas as a kid from Arkansas in a covered wagon! She knew how important autos were!)

Bless her heart!!! She just didn’t understand compacting college classes with play time and 50-hr. work weeks; or, after that, my favorite whiskey with 60-70 hrs. newspaper weeks!

But compressed lifestyles (be that they may) change in retirement! Fiddling around not only is normalized, but often, too, it becomes a larger reason for someone’s living!

That gardening had become a significant hobby for me became especially obvious 5-6 years ago when cut tree limbs and such began piling up in the backyard.

One day Noemi and I realized we needed an old pickup truck just to haul this stuff at times out to a city dump — aka, friendly, neighborhood Citizens Collection Stations (CCCs), they are in El Paso.

So we bought a salvaged vehicle, and old Ford pickup, from a reputable trucker and his son. And ignored the small noises. It’d been in a wreck, after all.

Ignored mostly until last year, and especially this year, that is. Hardly ever used the old truck, no. But noticed the transmission was “stalling out” more though in forward drive. Reverse worked fine. No crisis, it was. Yet.

Seems like the middle of Spring, I got someone off of Craig’s List to come check it, though. Even took him down to the auto parts store and bought new oil and new transmission fluid, plus filters and such. End of the day he said everything was fine, and asked for his $130 fee.

Noemi didn’t like him at all. From the get-go! But I paid him. Heck, he’d worked even during a brief rain shower. Appeared to, anyway. Couldn’t tell any difference later in the transmission stall, though.

Kept ol’ pickup parked in the driveway. Didn’t worry about it. I’m an ol’ “If’n it ain’t broke, don’t fix the damn thing!” guy, remember! Or, Jethro is, excuse me. He’s my dearly beloved alter-ego. Easy to blame!

Made another trip sometime months later to the far east side CCC — loaded down, of course — and then returned, somewhat uneasy. The transmission seemed to be stalling out more and more at every stop and turn.

Soldiering on, I backed it up in the driveway again, and then forgot all about it.

Until a few weeks ago. Went out to run down to a convenience store for something and noticed (for the first time) a bunch of fluid beneath it.

“Now who poured that crap ‘neath my truck?!” was my first thought. Stared at it for a few seconds, yes. Seems like you must make a decision today every time you turn around!

“Aw… Leave it alone! We’ll clean it up when we get back,” I told Jethro.

So we got in, rolled slowly down the driveway, and when I hit the gas pedal to turn into the street…The sky fell! “Rrrrrrrrr!!!”

That fluid back in the driveway took on another suspicious meaning. Whoa!

I put the truck in “reverse,” gently backed it up into the driveway, and parked it again. And wiped up the fluid.

“Jethro, we’re in a heap of trouble!” I said. “Ain’t fiddling around with this truck any longer. We need to get a good mechanic out here!”

Saturday week or so ago, after contacting a mobile auto maestro on the “NextDoor” app, young guy came out, lifted the hood, and checked the transmission dip stick. Or something, e.g., on the right side!

Immediately I wanted to correct him; then thought better of it. Jethro was in the midst of lassoing my tongue anyway, I think!

But this tall, lanky young mechanic pulled out that long, thin transmission dipstick, and damn if’n it wasn’t bare to the bone! Left a thin dust trail on the end, as he softly ran his finger up and down it!

Then he turned and held it up to me — e.g., close, to really see it. Staring impassively at my face all the time, he was.

“What?!” I started to ask him. “You think I know somethin’ ’bout autos?!!”

It became one of those instantly frozen reality moments, like General Sherman in Georgia I heard once had, i.e., long ago, when three Indian arrows pierced the top of his hat while he was sitting at the campfire, nonchalantly eating his dinner!

Uh…You don’t say?!!!

More so, the transmission dipstick’s metal tubing itself somehow had been knocked loose from the motor (involving a bad auto accident years earlier?), it appeared. And loosely was waving back-and-forth, from the transmission up between the motor block itself and the front cab-and-windshield section.

Sheesh!!! I thought. Gimme a break!!!

Then the young guy, too, attempted to drive the truck out onto the street. “Rrrrr…Rrrrrrrrrr…” for several minutes. Wouldn’t go! All while neighbors to the left of us on our little cul-de-sac street, drove around him to pass while staring at us for the inconvenience of it.

Their looks told it: “You can’t find a better place to park that wreck!??”

The young maestro then backed the truck back into the driveway, and with a flashlight crawled up under it for a better look-see. The banal motions of an auto mechanic who felt this ‘un should be in a deep six somewhere, I sensed!

Crawling back out, he dusted himself off, and proceeded to tell us what he could do for us.

Including an estimated cost of replacing the old burnt-out transmission — e.g., if’n he could find one in good condition on the salvage market. On average, they ranged from a thousand to 12 hundred bucks, he said.

Ouch! I thought. These old trucks! We have no other options for our offshoot lifestyles?

Maybe a conservatism not only for thing’s financial skin and health, but adopting a conservative, inclusive treatment for all moving parts inside the vehicle as well. Universal Healthcare de Todo!

And yeah, sometimes I can be all hat and no cattle on this topic as well. I remember as a journalist, i.e., in early ’80s once interviewing Mr. Conservative himself, then 6th District Congressman Phil Gramm in North Central Texas, about planet conservation, a political topic becoming hotter by the year, it is. 

His reply was something like, “Dan, don’t worry about things like that! In a hundred years or so we’ll be bringing stuff back from Mars or some other outer space planet to use in our economy!”

I don’t think he was thinking about old things like pickups.

In El Paso, we’ve learned, one is lucky to even find an old, old one anymore for less than six-seven thousand dollars! We paid three for ol’ White Boy initially. Thus, we told this mechanic to go for it!

Maybe a week later he called to tell us he’d located one for $1,075. Did we want it?

Yep, we told him. Get it and bring it on out!

Friday Noemi and I withdrew a little money from our bank account to get him started on it.

Hopefully, all will end well.

With me a renewed lesson learned in life: Learn a little about your stuff and take care of it! ALL of it!

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