Big Red Now Steers Like a Dream

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Tater stretched, yawned and meowed when I went outside, safe in his perch on top of our 1965 Ford F100 truck. I keep the truck covered when not in use, and Tater has decided it makes a nice spot for surveying his domain. There’s no doubt that our little piece of this cul-de-sac is his empire. The only cat that ever messes with him is his brother, Tot, and that usually doesn’t end well. Tater has a few pounds on his brother; his gut is close to dragging the floor. Since Tater and Tot have become adult cats, the intrusion of neighborhood cats seeking dominance has ended. Tater is fearless, ready to take on all comers. Even Godiva, the lovable old chocolate lab next door, steers clear of Tater.

Although he can’t articulate it, being a cat, Tater seems happy to see the truck’s return. It has been on a five-month hiatus in Upshur County, where, thanks to my brother-in-law, we found an honest and highly skilled mechanic. Alan added power steering to this beast, which immensely improves the driving experience. And now, my Beautiful Mystery Companion can actually drive Big Red when Tater isn’t using it for a perch.

The truck (which is still officially for sale in case anyone is interested) before it acquired power steering was the most difficult vehicle to maneuver that I’ve ever encountered. Backing out of our driveway without hitting our brick mailbox was equivalent to a CrossFit upper-body workout. I have driven tractors with flat tires that were easier to steer. There was no way my skinny spouse — tough as she is — could safely drive this beast. We bought the truck four years ago because she had a hankering for an old truck. Then we proceeded to spend several thousand dollars having the engine rebuilt, plus a new clutch and power brakes. It is mechanically perfect, except for no air-conditioning or power steering. I bought a $12 fan that plugs into the cigarette lighter, which makes it bearable.

Well, sort of. But the difficulty in steering made it simply not fun to drive, and somewhat dangerous, even for me. This latest investment might be throwing good money after bad, but I think not. Driving it home from Pritchett the other day was actually enjoyable.

Adding power steering to

a 54-year-old truck apparently is not simple. It required scavenging parts from different vehicles, bolting them onto the engine, replacing the original steering columns, and other mechanical magic.

It should be clear from the preceding paragraph that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Automotive repair has never even vaguely interested me. The last time I changed the oil in a vehicle was in 1980 while living in Austin and going to UT. I mistakenly drained the transmission fluid and couldn’t figure out why the oil reservoir filled up so quickly. Heading back to East Texas the next day, the transmission imploded in downtown Taylor. I realized my mistake and immediately swore off vehicle maintenance. It was a wise decision.

Alan, the mechanic, does not get into a hurry but does fine work. I popped the hood open after getting home, which took about 10 minutes because I couldn’t remember where the hood latch was located. I had to get a flashlight to find it. As I said, vehicle maintenance and repair are not my strong suit. The only time in nearly five years that I have ever raised the hood of my daily vehicle, a Toyota Rav4, is when I ran the battery down listening to “Car Talk” while planting a garden and had to get a jump.

Once the hood was up on the truck, I saw that Alan had painted the power steering stuff (I don’t know what it is actually called) black to match the engine’s paint job. It looks as if it had always been there. The wait was worth it.

When summer arrives, the truck is headed back to Alan’s for some body work to repair some rust areas. That is, unless someone makes an offer I can’t refuse. In the meantime, most days the truck provides Tater a nice spot from which to guard the yard against unwanted intruders. He is just trying to earn his keep. That cat can put away the groceries.


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