Rosa Comes Home

Look who’s back!

When Jodi and I first moved to Minnesota, I wanted a pickup to help with the move. We had a couple thousand dollars to spend, which won’t get you much unless, it turns out, you go “classic” — then it will get you a project truck. I’m not particularly gifted as a mechanic, but with Dad’s help, I figured we could get into something basic and make it roadworthy.

We found a ’66 Ford F-100 with a 240 straight six and three-on-the-tree — a ranch truck, “farm fresh” from Texas. The back bumper is heavy steel stamped with the dealer name: Kozelski Mtrs. West, Texas. The chrome brush guard on the front reads Smash Hit, Waco, Texas (with a lightning bolt between the Hs), and in the back window is a sunbleached sticker for 99.5 KBMA “La Fabulosa” Bryan-College Station. It had originally come to Michigan as a project truck for a father and son who had never quite gotten to it. The body and engine were solid, the electrical system and gauges were marginal, and the shift lever was inserted through a wallowed-out hole in the steering column and “secured” by a filed-down mini screwdriver that served as a pin. As you drove, the makeshift pin would sometime vibrate out, which led to a momentary thrill when the lever came off in your hand mid-shift.

We fixed it up well enough to drive it to Minnesota with a chest freezer full of beef in the back. We hauled whatever needed hauling around here for a year or so, and parked it during the winter so as to avoid getting road salt on a 40-plus-year-old body that had only two tiny rust perforations. It was a three-season vehicle only I would drive; we couldn’t fit it in the garage, and couldn’t afford to store it — so finally, we put it on Craigslist. Dad urged me not to do it. “You’ll never find another one like, and you’ll wish you had it back some day — I know from experience.”

I was only trying to get my money back out of it, but there were no takers. I thought about dropping the price. Then one afternoon, Dad called to make me a deal. He wanted to buy the pickup. He would pay us in beef over the next few years. He would take the pickup back to Michigan, drive it only during the summers, and “someday when I’m gone,” he said, “you can have it back.”

I signed the title over to him, and we were well supplied with meat.

About a year ago, I saw the old pickup again and told Dad I was glad he hadn’t let me sell it. He mentioned that if I wanted it back, I could have it — but he’d only sign back over if I promised not to sell it. This winter we shook on that deal, and today, the old girl came back home to Minnesota.

The journey back was a father-son road trip for Gabe and me — we took two days, traveling north from my folks’ place, over the Mackinac Bridge, then west across the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin on US 2 and US 8. No more than we got on the highway, fellow motorists started rubbernecking as they passed. The old timers gave us thumbs-up or nods of approval. We stopped at a few antique shops and got a few compliments and one not-so-subtle hint that we should consider selling. We speculated that the big shiny pickups roaring past us on the highways would not still be running in 50 years. Our pickup ran like a champ the entire trip, with only three minor challenges and one momentary thrill:

  • The gauges don’t work. The gas gauge never registers more than half full, and may or may not register empty — that, coupled with an odometer that registers 7/10 to 8/10 of a mile for every actual mile traveled makes judging when to fill up a challenge. Solution? Fill up frequently. The speedometer doesn’t work — but wouldn’t you know, there’s an app for that, using your smartphone’s GPS to tell you exactly how fast your moving and in what direction.
  • The doors don’t lock — which meant I carried a backpack with me wherever we went rather than leave anything of value unattended.
  • The wipers seemed to have a mind of their own. During an Upper Peninsula downpour, they worked great — but a few hours later, when we were thinking of stopping for the night, they quit just as the rain started. Coincidentally, we had just spotted a likely looking motel, so we pulled in. This morning, they worked fine — maybe the old truck was ready to turn in, too?
  • Old-school drum brakes needed polishing? If you have driven an old vehicle, with drum brakes that aren’t somehow power-assisted, they take some getting used to, and you’re wise to give yourself a little more distance to come to a stop. When a line of cars in front of me came to a quick stop behind a vehicle turning left, I had to get on the brakes hard — and the truck pulled sharply toward the shoulder, causing the tires to howl angrily and me, Gabe, and driver in front of me a moment’s panic. Later I tried the same hard stop in a more controlled and traffic-free environment — it pulled hard to the left once, then began stopping more effectively. Little rusty, perhaps?

Dad sent us home with a wooden duck decoy he’s hoping one of the kids will repaint. The duck sat on the dash, and whenever one of us predicted something unfortunate about the truck or the trip, Gabe would knock on the only wood available — earning the decoy the moniker “Lucky Duck.” As for the old truck: she’s never had a name, but given her border town roots and faded red paint, I dubbed her Rosa. Gabe thought immediately of his sister (whom I sometimes call Rosa) and then of her patron saint, Rose of Lima — he began to call the truck “Santa Rosa de Lima” (or more accurately in Gabe-speak, “Santarosadelima!” But for me, she’ll always be La Fabulosa. Bienvenidos, chica.

Rosa La Fabulosa: Thanks for keeping her for me, Dad!

4 thoughts on “Rosa Comes Home

  1. When my dad had the service station we had many of the great legend pick ups come in. The farmers would run them forever. The hay left in the back, some manure scatter on the bottom side, hopefully not dropping onto my head as I changed the oil. Those are days that always come back to mind when I smell the winds of the farmers blowing by. She's a nice looking truck that I would bet will be handed down one day.

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  2. It occurs to me that people may wonder why Rosa is a “she” — for my part, she's completely stable, reliable, trustworthy; she keeps us grounded and heading in the right direction; she doesn't enjoy masculine tom-foolery, but is tolerant and forgiving nonetheless. And she's beautiful.

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