So long, Ol’ Blue

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

I try not to let possessions rule my life. It seems the older we get, the more crap we haul around with us. It used to be I could fit everything I owned in my car. The rest was just junk that could be dispatched without a sentimental feeling in the least.

Ol’ Blue.

This was not the case last month when I sold my beloved pickup truck, Ol’ Blue.

The period of time I owned and drove Ol’ Blue was one of the favorites of my life. It was 2011, and I had just returned to Sandpoint after living and writing in an RV for the better part of two years around the West. I’d only returned home to Sandpoint to connect with old friends for a weekend, but I met a girl, and we fell in love. A week later, I was signing the lease for an apartment and hanging up the itinerant life I’d been living since my college days.

I listed the RV for sale, asking twice what I paid for it after improving its condition considerably.

I still remember the day when a gravel-voiced man named Dan called and said he’d like to take a look at the RV. Dan roared around the corner at our set meeting time in a blue 1980 Chevy Scottsdale short box. I always wanted an old bench seat pickup to tool around the back roads and take camping. That old Chevy was perfect: square and utilitarian – what a third grader would draw if you asked them to draw a pickup.

Dan must’ve weighed 350 pounds. He opened the door to Ol’ Blue, and a half dozen spent beer cans clattered to the pavement. He alternated smoking a cigarette and hitting a plastic hose from an oxygen tank he wheeled around with him.

In the passenger seat was a man as thin as Dan was fat. He was jittery and shy and never told me his name. Dan explained his thin friend had recently suffered some type of calamity and needed a place to live, so he was loaning him the money to get set up in an RV.

“If you’re interested in that pickup there, I’d consider trading,” Dan told me. He and the thin man drove off to test drive the RV, leaving me with the keys to the blue Chevy. When I turned over the engine, that American-made steel and oil roared to life and purred like a cat. An outdoor cat, mind you, not one of those that piddles in a box.

I drove it around the block and quickly returned, knowing that I wanted this truck. Oh, I wanted it badly.

When Dan and the thin man returned, he said he’d pay me just over half of my asking price and throw in the Chevy. Since I had asked double what I paid for the RV, this actually meant I would be coming out $200 ahead and have a free truck. We shook hands, and I never even looked back as he drove off in my motorhome.

My relationship with Cadie was only weeks old at this time. We were still feeling each other out, getting to know each other’s quirks and virtues. When I roared into her driveway in this blue pickup older than I was, with a black hood and four bald tires, lots of women would have widened their eyes, clicked their tongue and shaken their head. But Cadie came running out with a big smile on her face and said, “What is this!?” and demanded that we go for a ride. She fell in love with Ol’ Blue just as I had.

Over the next four or five years, we did everything in that old truck. We drove back roads and stopped in unknown places, making a bed in the back of Ol’ Blue so we could sleep under the stars. We strapped our canoe on the top and headed for the waters of Montana, Washington, Canada, Idaho – anywhere we damn well wanted. If it rained, we’d stretch a tarp over the bed and listen to it fall all night from our cocoon.

One of the reasons Cadie and I fell in love was that truck and the amazing memories we shared in it. Swerving and narrowly missing a black bear in the heart of Glacier National Park. Driving down some godforsaken road between Priest River and Priest Lake to find one of the most tucked away camping spots ever (it was perfect, except for the mosquitoes). Lazy drives around the backcountry, stopping to drink beer and build a fire, then realizing we were too drunk to drive home so we’d just sleep in the back.

Like any sentient being, Ol’ Blue was prone to unexpected bouts of temperament. Occasionally, like a stubborn mule, he wouldn’t start. Or he would die and you’d have to wait a few hours before he’d be ready again. One time he left us stuck on a mountain road halfway to Lunch Peak. Another time we were left high and dry on a drive back from Green Bay. Still another, the front tire almost fell off because the lug nuts were somehow loosening. But there are silver linings to these calamities. On the way to Lunch Peak we just camped in a beautiful spot and started Ol’ Blue later that night. In Sagle, we walked around the Sagle Elementary School baseball diamond where I remember playing Little League as a kid, then hitchhiked into town and got picked up by a childhood friend I hadn’t seen in years.

In the days before I was running the Reader, I was working odd jobs, trying to figure out a way to live in my hometown again. I worked for Ted Bowers pulling nails out of reclaimed lumber and helping him construct outbuildings and horse barns. I spent countless days in the woods, listening to books on tape I’d rented from the Library and searching for downed wood to buck up and haul home. I managed to live one winter on the money I’d made selling cords of wood, each one gained through backbreaking work.

The work was doubly hard on Ol’ Blue. He wasn’t a spry young truck anymore. One season I used him as a yarder, hooking up a chain and pulley to tow tons of big logs that fell after the blowdown. That was the beginning of his decline.

I started to notice he was having more and more trouble getting up the hills. Sometimes he would die mid-hill and I’d have to wrangle the steering wheel with no power steering until I either got him in the ditch, or safely to the bottom of the hill. Once, delivering two cords in a trailer, he refused to navigate up a hill, and I ended up jackknifing and losing the load.

Once, while pulling our band trailer out to a gig at SummerFest, it became evident that he wouldn’t be able to pull the trailer home up the hills we’d come down. I had to detach the trailer and come back to pick it up with another rig.

Then I bought a newer truck. Still 20 years old, but this one was reliable and trustworthy – and didn’t burn eight miles to the gallon.

I began driving Ol’ Blue less and less, thinking that I was saving the end of his life as a truck I’d keep on a farm, or my future land, that I could ramble about gathering brush with, just like my old days gathering firewood.

But time keeps flying by. As the years pile up, I realize that maybe I won’t ever be able to own a house here, or land or anything other than the things that clutter my rented apartment. Maybe Ol’ Blue would just waste away, parked in the back alley, covered with snow, baked by the sun, blanketed with leaves, and repeat. 

I decided that I’d rather see my old truck go to someone who could give him another life than greedily hold onto this connection to my past. I listed him for sale on Craiglist, asking a ridiculously high number because I knew nobody would buy it for that. And nobody did. And another winter went by.

But this spring, a man left a note on the windshield of Ol’ Blue saying he’d be interested. He had a friend who liked to rod out these old trucks, drop huge engines in them and make them roar with a youth they never had before. He made a fair offer and, as if I was watching myself from afar, I heard the words come out of my mouth, “OK, deal.”

He said he’d be there in an hour with a flatbed trailer. I changed out of my work clothes into my firewood-gathering Miller High Life shirt and got to work. I jacked up Ol’ Blue and filled two flat tires. I jumped the old battery in the hopes it still had life left (it didn’t). The man showed up with a new battery and after a bit of fussing, Ol’ Blue fired right up for the first time in over a year, just as loud and bossy as he was the day I met him. I took position on that old bench seat and clicked him into gear one last time, swung him out into the street and onto the man’s trailer. 

We completed the sale and I gave the man the title and the key, and stood in the street to watch him take Ol’ Blue away. I couldn’t help crying like I’d lost an old friend. Because I did.

In the end, just like love, sometimes you have to let things go. Ol’ Blue has a chance at a new life in Montana. Maybe he’ll feel the wind in his grill again as a hot rod. Maybe he’ll roam new back roads looking for firewood, a fishing hole, or just a good place to pull off by the river to have a beer. Maybe someone else will find love, as I did, thanks to that beautiful old blue pickup.

Here’s to your next life, Ol’ Blue.

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