Friday, November 2, 2012

Driving the Dodge

Back when I was a kid (I know, that makes me sound ancient - but really I'm not), the legal driving age in my state was 14.  Due to the fact that we were very rural and a lot of families depended on their young children to be able to drive farm equipment, we climbed behind the wheel early.

Knowing that kids don't have the best depth perception or driving skills, my parents started both my brother and I out driving our firewood rig - a 1942 Dodge Power Wagon (military version, of course).  Now, this was  no ordinary power wagon.  It was a classic.  It had a massive winch on the front, perfect for dragging trees out of the woods, a wood plank covered flatbed and mammoth steel bumpers, front and rear.  It sat high off the ground, making it a scramble for little kids to climb into, and had a gear shift that must have been 2 1/2 feet long.  And best of all - it had no brakes.

Long before my brother and I were old enough to drive, we went on many wood cutting excursions in our power wagon.  My dad would find a likely place to fall a couple of trees, drive within striking distance (hopefully not within falling distance!) and begin an afternoon of sawing logs and loading the rounds into the back of the power wagon.  With careful stacking, we were able to load about a cord and a half of tamarack onto the flatbed and begin our descent off the hill.  This is where the fun began.

As I mentioned, our power wagon didn't have any brakes.  This was an interesting experience on the best of days, but when the truck was loaded down with a cord and a half of wood and headed down a hill that didn't boast so much as a dirt road, it was awe inspiring.

Necessity became the mother of invention (we really did need the firewood) and my dad came up with a working solution to his braking problem.  He ran over trees.  Well, not just trees, he also ran over stumps - really anything to slow his descent.  And he couldn't just choose any stump or tree, they had to be the right ones.  If the sapling was too small, it just bent and did nothing to slow the truck down, however, if it was too big, it shook the truck and upset our firewood in the back, spilling it all over the hillside.  Stumps were even trickier.  They had to be the right height and have the correct amount of decomposition.  If they were too rotten they just flew into microscopic pieces, but if they were too fresh or too tall - well, you get the picture.

After the first hair raising descent down the mountainside with our power wagon careening around full-grown Douglas Fir trees while mowing over the less fortunate saplings, my mother swore to never, ever step foot in that vehicle again - or at least until it had proper brakes.  From that day forward, we had a new system.  We would all go together to the hillside to cut wood.  Once the truck was loaded and we were ready to begin our descent, my mother and I would head down the hill - on foot - and my dad, with my brother beside him, would get into the cab.  As my dad steered (and hit all the right trees) my brother would man the emergency brake, pulling it at just the right time to avoid certain death.  Mom and I would always get a head start, but by the time we were nearing the bottom of the hill, we would have to duck and cover as the truck flew screaming past, so as not to be hit with flying firewood.  Oh, those were the days!

And so, when I was 12, my mom and dad decided it was time for me to learn the finer points of driving - in our 1942 Power Wagon - with no brakes!  Smart parents, they were.  No one ever noticed the little dings here and there that my brother and I put on that truck.  Heck, we probably could have crunched in an entire front panel and nobody would have noticed (no, I take that back - Dad definitely would have noticed!). It was the perfect starter rig.  It didn't go more than 40 miles an hour, was built like a tank and forced us to become very good at shifting (no brakes, remember?).  Oh, did I mention that it had the coolest paint job ever?  Woodland Camouflage.  Classic.

The other day, Maid Elizabeth said, "Mom, you've got to see this truck!".  She showed me an article featuring a beautifully restored power wagon.  It was built on an original chassis but had been updated with a new engine, fuel injection and all kinds of other gadgets.  For a moment, it made my heart go pitter-pat, but then I read the rest of the article - this new fangled power wagon just wasn't for me - someone had the gall to ruin the whole thing - they installed brakes.


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  2. You are so right those were THE DAYS. I have several such stories and reading yours brought back memories forgotten. I have just recently had heart surgery and been kinda feeling sorry for my self. You made me remember a time when I was a lot tougher and that I come from good tough stock. And there have been many close Calls Of dodging fling fire wood in my life to. Thanks again I loved it. You never Know what the good lord will use to put your thoughts back in order.

  3. I always wondered what that extra pedal was for. Brakes? What's that. We used to look for an "up" hill to help slow down. I really enjoy your blog. I especially liked the recent one regarding suffering. It fit perfectly with a Sunday School lesson I was teaching the following Sunday. Your observations are so "right on"!

  4. Yours is my favorite blog, and this entry is pretty much the reason why. Thanks!

  5. Enola,


    My jaw dropped when I first laid eyes on that Olive Drab Power Wagon. Its ironic that you have fond memories of a power wagon Enola, and I occasionally check Ebay for older Power Wagons. I never owned one, I never drove in one. I just want one with a heater.

    I have twelve years of memories with a 1991 Toyota regular cab pickup truck. Four cylinder engine, no four wheel drive and everything was manual except for the Air Conditioner which is mandatory in Texas. I never got stuck, if you drive fast enough, you can float over whatever is in the way (or plow right through it)

    I took one surf trip to California (yes' I was a surfer) I lived out of that truck for two weeks. It was a little truck with an aluminum camper shell with no windows. I strapped a 9'6 (9 foot, 6 inch) Longboard on the roof and drove all over Los Angelous California (Boy' did I get some strange looks)

    I drove down Sunset Blvd. and made a left turn down "Rodeo Drive" Did anyone ever see the Beverly Hillbillys, well it looked like the old Model A ford with a surfboard on the roof. All that was missing was the depression era water bags hanging on the fenders and a bucket and wash tub hanging off the back (I would have made a great Okie)

    A Redneck, Republican Texan on Rodeo Drive in a $5000 Toyota truck with a huge surfboard on the roof....

    I had people in $200.000 Mercedes roll there windows down to get better looks at me. I did not care. Im from Texas and we only fear God in Texas.

    I surfed Malibu, San Diego, Dume Point. I really liked hanging out in Malibu, California. If you want to see some sticker shocks, check out the main grocery store prices in Malibu. I really liked rubbing elbows with fun, loving and warm people of Malibu. They are just so down to earth and friendly, kinda reminds me of Berlin in 1933.

    I really miss that truck. I wish I never sold it. It was made in 1991. I bought it in 1995 and drove it until 2006 when I got a 2002 Toyota truck. If I get the cash later on down the road, I will buy another one just like it.

    (25 Miles to a Gallon of Gas at 55 Miles an hour)

    I could catch rubber in the first three gears and I could "whip around a deer in the road" at 70 MPH and not evan let off the gas and not lose control or role the truck.

  6. Looks like your Dad used the same method that we did when sledding to slow down. Just hit a small tree or some brush, and avoid the big trees. ;)

    That whole article gave me a much needed laugh. Thanks. :)

  7. This took me back, to those memories I though I had forgotten. It's pretty hilarious too and witty, as I may add. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  8. Enola,


    Hey Enola, I was just checking craigslist in New York. Its not media hype, people have been posting ads WTB; gas at $10.00 a gallon.

    93 octane gas here in South Texas is about $3.40 a gallon or so.

    "A Prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it". Proverbs 22:3

    Just like it says at the top of your Blog.....

  9. Enola,


    I just had to quickly comment I saw the article on survivalblog about the "Energy bars" I think thats great...

    Enola, your helping a lot of people out with your reciepes and everything else you do. We really value your blog and all the effort that goes into it.

  10. I had a military surplus 1958 Willys-Overland Jeep-that was the most fun vehicle I ever had.Slow(60 MPH max-and you did not want to go that fast in it!), but would go anywhere. Some years ago, while driving a ancient(1939) garbage truck-converted-to-flatbed stacked up with old toilets, the brakes went out. Compression braking works when there's compression left in the engine. I lost a couple porcelain ponies in a curve, but that was it.
    I think the driving age in Mississippi is still 14, but you may not be able to get insurance at that age(or it's astronomical if you can).

  11. Oh my gosh, this post made me grin ear-to-ear! Your descriptions are so vivid that I felt like I was careening along in that metal beast right along with you. :)

  12. I laughed when I read the story about the old Power Wagon. My first truck was a Power Wagon that we roamed the woods of the Ocala National Forest with when I was a kid. One kid would sit an each fender straddling the head light as we drove over anything that got in our way, looking for a Christmas tree, getting firewood or going to the swimming hole. The truck was always full of children looking for adventure and we could usually find it.
    My Father encouraged our interest in the old truck. Of course we didn’t know it at the time but he was a smart man. Better to be driving that slow indestructible Power Wagon through the woods then the faster cars our friends drove in town. I am sure he slept better at night when I wasn’t at home knowing the worst that would happen is that I would get stuck and need him to pull me out. “Better to learn to drive in something without brakes” he would say. “Any darn fool can drive a new car. It takes a better driver to handle something with some challenges.” The Power Wagon presented us plenty of challenges to sharpen our skills.
    The old Power Wagons never had brakes! I still have the truck and tell my kids that I have been working on the brakes since Nixon was President. I haven’t got them fixed yet but maybe someday.