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January 4-10, 2006

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Car Culture

Good Old Trucks

I think of trucks as being the ultimate country vehicle because of what they say about the people driving. And that is: I can help.

By Novella Carpenter

SAW THE Johnny Cash biopic on Tuesday, then Brokeback Mountain on Wednesday. Both were love stories, both were about rural country people and both made me cry like a baby. I never loved Cash (all his songs sound the same), but after seeing Joaquin Phoenix play the Man in Black, I was willing to reconsider. As for gay cowboys, I never thought of them before, but hell, it just makes sense: men alone riding horses and looking fine, why not?

The other thing both movies featured was a lot of good ol' trucks. Now, I'm a sucker for a country pickup. I grew up riding in the back of a 1970 turquoise-and-white Ford F-100, leaning way out the side to catch thimbleberries that grew alongside the road up to our ranch in Idaho. We did the kinds of things that country people do: mowed hay and swung the dusty bales into the back of the truck and took the truck down to the Clearwater River to fish for trout—my daddy kept his rifle on the rack in the back, just in case.

In Walk the Line, the truck that the Carter family drives is testament to its dyed-in-the-wool country ways. In one scene, after a successful career traveling the world to sing and play, the Carter family arrives to Thanksgiving dinner at Johnny's Hendersonville ranch in a simple, beat-up white Ford. I'm sure June was sitting in the middle seat, not complaining about the cramped arrangement at all. I like pickups because they span time, like love.

Pickup trucks and rural people go hand in hand. Most country & western singers have at least one song about their trucks. Though Johnny was always singing about trains, old-time favorites like Jerry Jeff Walker loved trucks and the truck lifestyle. In "Pickup Song," he sings, "Yeah, I used to look forward to Saturdays when me and my grandpa'd get away/ I'd be in his pickup truck, and we'd go to town/ We had a couple chores that we had to do/ It didn't take long 'fore we were through/ then we let the pickup truck just wander around." Or Johnny Paycheck's "Ragged Old Truck"—classics sung by classic country crooners. Of course, the new guys like the one-hit wonder. Rhett Akins continues the tradition with his "That Ain't My Truck" song but while wearing headset microphones onstage.

I think of trucks as being the ultimate country vehicle because of what they say about the people driving. And that is: I can help. I love the way that old country singers all know each other and, in many ways, support one another. Of course, they drive trucks. Because can you move a sofa with a sedan? Haul hay in a convertible? Load your beehives in a station wagon? No.

Brokeback Mountain highlights 20 years of two men's love for each other and 20 years of country pickup trucks. Ang Lee did a great job making sure no prop was anachronistic. In the beginning, 1963, Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Jack Twist, is driving a piece-of-crap 1940s Chevy (a classic probably now worth thousands); and by the end of the movie, he's driving a brand-new Silverado (I think—I must confess I wasn't completely paying attention to the trucks, what with Gyllenhaal's eyes and such). Heath Ledger's Ennis Del Mar drives the same truck throughout the movie, as an indication of his impoverished ways. But by God, he could haul two horses in the back of that vehicle, and that was a beautiful thing.

Though I've never been much of a classic car gal (I usually snicker under my hand at those vintage-car-show guys with their suspenders and ZZ Top beards), but classic trucks ... that's where it's at. Sure, a 2005 Dodge Ram 2500 might be a good work truck, but if I bought a truck, it would have to be old. Give me a 1950 Chevy short-box, with that enormous hood and the split windows, or a 1958 Dodge D-100, which is more of a lady's truck. But please, don't lower it, and don't paint it some ridiculous color either. Primer's fine with me.

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Novella Carpenter is a women not only obsessed with cars, but with protecting the environment. Her weekly column balances these two polar-opposite loves while providing handy tips and car-related news items.