We’ve been through several over the years. Each with equal counts of quirks and charisma. In the inventory of ranch equipment, the quintessential work truck is the one vehicle that gets the least respect, but it is also the one team member you pray will play forever, or at least through calving season.
Most of them start out as good trucks. The ones you go to church in, to town in, to the beach in. But they all eventually meet the same fate—relegated to hauling feed and baby calves and even baby girls as they play around a greasy trailer ball in the truck bed watching Daddy make his rounds in the hayfield. One could make the argument that the latter role is equally if not more significant than the former.
My earliest memories of the 1979 GMC Sierra are the feel of the tan vinyl seats under my sweaty bare feet, the buzzing noise of the ignition made when Daddy left the key in the wrong position, and the dusty dash full of tools, mail, receipts, ball point pens, notepads, and an old Texas Instruments calculator. I feel like my life began in that truck. From the story my mama tells, it almost did. I was to be born during calving season, and Daddy was intent on helping a heifer in labor that night. Knowing Daddy, he just told Mama I could wait. So I did.
A single cab 1983 flatbed F-250 was next in the prestigious pickup series. It took a family of four to the Gulf of Mexico several summers until it became the vehicle of choice for safely petting baby calves (Daddy would always catch them for us) and teaching children to drive a standard transmission. The flatbed made it easy to feed from and also easy to fall from (that one mischievous friend was never invited back to help feed).
Then came along another GMC Sierra, older (1977) than its predecessor. Dubbed “Hataway” after its former owner, this unit was the perfect dirt road rider when Daddy and his girls needed a forest break (to pick flowers for Mama, of course). Because it was two-wheel drive, we learned quickly which roads to avoid during the rainy season. We always kept plenty of water and coolant on hand for the much-deserved time-out that overheating-prone Hataway needed. The dubious honor of navigating fell to whoever could handle that hot cab. The payback was taking the curves too sharply for those riding in the bed.
Once the cows were done with Hataway, Daddy procured a 1985 F-250 from a buddy who swore that he could rig up a machine that no bovine could destroy. False. It took those crossbred Brahma mamas less than a month to demolish “The War Wagon,” and all of the reinforcements intended to preserve the pickup body, lights, and mirrors were either smashed or scattered across 1,000 acres.
Not long after, a 1998 Chevy Silverado rolled onto the place as the first four-wheel-drive vehicle to make the team. “Whitie” was and is still an MVP and the one beacon that all of our cows recognize as the ultimate source of feed. Regardless of who crosses the front cattle guard, they will start calling when they see a white vehicle. “Whitie” quickly became my sister’s premiere ride as she took the ranch reins and continues to roll despite multiple incidents of cow bashing and a junkyard-special driver’s side door. The single orange light my brother-in-law installed on the roof really sets this vehicle apart from the convoy, along with the red, repurposed women’s intimate apparel that now covers the taillights. No one is going to steal this truck because everyone in town knows who it belongs to and no one but my sister knows how to make it run.
The latest in the lineup is a 1994 F-250. Bought brand new, Mama put countless miles on that rig hauling us to school, and my sister and I racked up even more hauling cattle. Today, it still shines dimly under the weight of a large black automatic feeder, hauling happy blue heelers.
All of these beasts except Whitie and Red reside in the Bearden Ranch Truck Hall of Fame (which may count as folk art now and can be viewed near the pine-thicket-fenceline in the pasture next to the house). Like all members of the ranch family, nothing leaves the place. Too many memories live in these rusted frames to ever get rid of them. Plus, we never know when we might need a part. Something’s bound to fit Whitie or Red.