Can the past be relived today, even tomorrow?

Jun 9, 2011

Way back in the past millennium — the mid 1980s — my dear friend Woody had again stopped in Denver on his and wife Lynne’s westbound return to their hand-built cabin home in Oregon. They had come to see how my wife, kids and I were faring before they took a much-needed R&R from being on the road for months on end.

Woody and I had been friends since college. He was always building, rebuilding or otherwise outfitting something mechanical, like that “convertible-top” International Scout 4×4 pickup he used at his backcountry place in Oregon, or his two-seater MG (or was it a Triumph Spitfire?) that he and his blonde Lynne road around in while they worked in SoCal, or the AMF-built Harley he’d redone, getting rid of just about everything AMF and turning it into a showpiece bike.

When I first met him he was installing his newly fashioned fuel tank on his suicide-green, ’60s-era, chopped Panhead Harley. (I still don’t know understand the “suicide-green” tag, but it was a very cool color.)

On this particular Colorado stopover, Woody took an especial interest in the ’64 GMC pickup I’d picked up almost a year earlier. Except for a small dent in the rear bumper and just a bit of a twist in the front bumper, the body was in great shape; no rust from the semi-arid Colorado climate the truck had been in since it sold new. Even the original aqua blue paint and most of the chrome trim looked OK; indeed, the original owner had taken good care of it.

Woody liked the looks of the truck so much he had to run out to the nearest Harley dealer for a little window decal that he affixed to the driver’s-side wing window. I reminded him that I didn’t ride a motorcycle much anymore — and that was offroad only — let alone ride a hawg. No matter. The decal went on.

Now, the wood slats that lined the bed were another matter. Even though there was just a spot or two or three where road surface was visible through those gaps, I thought the bed was of sufficient utility to support a water heater, kitchen sink or some lengths of cast iron pipe plus my couple hundred pounds of plumbing tools I’d used for work back then. Besides, I could always line the bed with some 3/4” plywood scraps from the construction sites I worked on.

That revelation was too much for Woody. He soundly reproached me for using this classic pickup as a construction truck for hauling fixtures associated with bathrooms: Get a beat-up little Chevy S-10 or Toyota, he said; but the ’64 GMC should be restored to its original luster, and then some.

We didn’t have time enough during his short stay to begin the transformation from work truck to show truck. I continued to use the truck for work and for hauling half-loads of dirt or manure for the garden. One day, though, Woody would be back and have some real time to whip that truck and me into shape.

Well, Woody and I never got back together long enough in Colorado to turn that ’64 Jimmy into the show truck he wanted to see it become. He died several years later after a decade of fighting cancer.

I eventually sold the truck, Harley sticker and all. I had only recovered the seats, installed seat belts and kept the truck running. I had lost interest in doing anything else to it — guess it was because I’d lost my longtime friend and mechanical maven mentor who would have urged me on.

I do think, though, from time to time, that I’d like to have another chance at that truck, especially having seen how much the aftermarket has to offer these days, so much more than in the mid ’80s. Maybe I’ll find it … could happen. Or another like it. Then, I’ll just have to channel Woody’s spirit to urge me on. I think I can make some room in the garage.