Loading the old Bell truck in Quebec
After our old Ford pick-up died I spotted the used Bell Telephone line truck pictured above and beside, at our local used car dealer. It was well maintained and had low mileage, and was equipped with dual wheels, 350 Chevy engine, solid rack above with ladder, and a directional spot light that I knew would come in handy when looking for house numbers while on delivery, . It had lousy seats, but I could replaced those. My dealer pal Ozzie gave me a good deal on it, and thus it became my second home. Back and forth, back and forth to Quebec. On the plus side it was easy to load, reliable, and reasonably comfortable with the Volvo seats I had found. On the negative side it was quite noisy, and my bagged lunches would sometimes freeze in Quebec in the winter, in spite of the heater being on full blast. I wore layers of long johns, and pants just to sustain. I was a lot younger then.
So back and forth, back and forth, for about five years until one day early in September, just before school was going to start I left solo for a three day trip to Quebec, planning to return the night before our daughter Cassandra’s first day of school. I believe that it was her last year, and I had managed to take a photo of her standing by the mailbox waiting for the bus every year since she had started Kindergarten. “See you Sunday night”, “Safe trip”.
Everything went well in Quebec. I bought a nice load, the weather was great, and it was a lovely Saturday morning as I started the ten hour trek home. Everything was going along tickity-boo, until suddenly just before Gananoque, Ontario the engine started to overheat. Damn. Not good, but at least I was able to get off soon and get into town where I pulled up in front of a rad shop. They said they could put in a new rad for $400, and have me on my way pronto. I was suspicious that I may have bigger problems than just an overheating rad, but they assured me that the old one was shot and the engine seemed fine otherwise. ‘Okay, go for it, I’ll grab some lunch and be back in an hour.” So a nice sandwich at a nearby cafe, and I return to find it ready. I had a bad feeling in my gut that I knew wasn’t my lunch , but I paid, and was doing my best to feel positive about still making it home as I jumped back on the 401. Well, wouldn’t you know it. Not fifty miles down the road, RATS there it goes again. This time I knew I was in trouble because it was a good ten miles to the next garage which would be in Kingston.
I drove on. I knew in my heart that the engine was toast so all I was hoping was to make it to a garage where it could be pronounced dead and I could arranged for a proper burial. If I made it without a tow it would be great, and I may even be able to rent a truck and still make it home. Ever optimistic. Pressing on. So, it’s getting worse quickly. The cab is full of steam, it’s starting to chug and lurch, putting out a plume of black smoke, in spite of my slow speed. But at least I can see Kingston ahead, and there just on the other side of the tall bridge which I am about to climb I spot an Esso station with a big parking lot. Yes, I think I can. I think I can. I’m going to make it because if I can only get over the hump I can glide down with the help of gravity if necessary. Then it happened.
There goes the damn warning bell, and the lights start flashing, and to my horror the gates are coming down and the bridge span is going up to allow the oncoming sailboat to pass. A final backfire that sounded like a shotgun blast, and she dies. Right there, ten feet from the apex. A classic so close, and yet so far. I close my eyes and think about happier places, and when I open them the gates are up, the bridge span is back down, and the traffic oncoming is moving . Meanwhile everybody who is behind me starts blowing their horn and swearing at me. I mean I couldn’t hear them swearing but I could feel the burn. I sat there for a couple of minutes to compose myself, and then slowly got out and went to the car behind me, where the guy was frantically rolling up his window and locking his doors. “Listen, I’m terribly sorry about this, but you can either sit there and blow your horn which accomplishes nothing, or you can get out of your car and help me push it over the hump, so I will be able to coast down to that parking lot”. “Oh, O.K. buddy, we’ll give it a try” . Happily, the guy behind him was also a sport and so we soon had it over the hump and I was rolling madly down the steep decline, hoping to God that I didn’t have to stop for anyone while pulling into the parking lot. I got lucky, and soon found myself harboured safely in the parking lot, and I was on my way by foot to the phone booth I spotted by the Esso station.
“Hi Jeanine, listen I’m sorry to tell you that you are going to have to take that shot of Cassandra tomorrow morning, because the truck has died here in Kingston, and I will have to stay overnight to make arrangements, and rent a truck etc.” “I’m so sorry. Tell me how did this happen. Are you O.K.? ” Just then I spot a pick up truck stopped at the lights, which I recognized as Cellar Door Antiques with my friend Gary Dawdy at the wheel. “Oh, gotta go, I’m fine. I’ll call you later.” Click, and I’m off on a sprint to catch up to Gary before the lights change. This was in the days when I could sprint. Gary was noticeably surprised to see me banging on his passenger side window, and immediately opened the door. “Hey, how’s it going Gary. Listen I’m just wondering if you might be able to drop me at a truck rental place. You see my truck just died.” “Sure, hop in but first I have to to pick up my daughter at school because I just dropped Gale at the hospital as she’s gone into labour.” “Oh wow, Gary you’ve got bigger things on your mind. Don’t worry about it, I’ll walk” “No, no it’s fine, ride along with me and after I can take you to the rental. This is planned and I am not needed back there for a little while.” “Great, as long as I’m not stopping you from doing what you need to do.”
We road along happily, while I told him my tale of woe which suddenly seemed quite small in the overall scheme of things. “So what’s next, repair it or get a new truck?” “Oh, a new truck for sure. It’s been good to me but I’m tired freezing in the winter. I want to get something like this actually. A pick up with a crew cab” ” Really, well that’s interesting because I just ordered a new truck and so I guess I’ll be getting rid of this one.” “Hmm, well I guess I’m interested if you decide.” “I’ve decided already and I’ll sell it to you for what they offered me as trade in. It’s been a great truck so I don’t mind selling it to you. Just let me call Gale to make sure she agrees”. “”Oh, I wouldn’t…” Too late. I could hear Gale expressing quite clearly that she didn’t give a hoot what he did, and didn’t he realize that she had more important things happening right then, etc.. I paraphrase to protect the innocent. Big smile. “Well, she’s fine with it, so why don’t we pick up my daughter and then we can go to your truck, and if you like we can transfer the load to this truck and you can drive it home, and try it out for a few days. Next week is the Kelso show, so you can either bring it back to me if you choose not to buy it, or bring me the $4,000 and keep it. I’ll be fine, I’m taking my cube van anyways.”
Gary’s old truck, which became my new truck. The rack came later which is another story.
This is one of the strongest examples of serendipity I have experienced in my life, and a true testimony to just how decent people can be. Within two hours we had picked up Gary and Gale’s daughter, gone back to my truck, and after selling a couple of things to Gary we were able to load the rest on my “new” truck”, and he had called the tow truck to have the old girl towed away to it’s final resting place. What a guy. I was so grateful for his kindness, and to be on my way again. I called Jeanine and lied that I was resting at the hotel and not to worry. I would be home sometime later the next day, so she was really surprised when I walked through the door five hours later. Here’s the picture I took of Cassandra on her final first day of school.
Of course I loved the truck, and was happy to bring the money to Gary the following week. My first experience with cruise control. What an invention. I swear that if I had had this earlier I wouldn’t have screwed up my right leg, which I always said was due not to the driving ten hours in a stretch, and then loading heavy objects, but rather the result of pushing on that dastardly stiff accelerator all that time. And boy, once you’ve have a truck which is warm and cozy no matter what the weather; you question just how daft you had to be to put up with freezing all those winters. I never looked back.
My favourite truck came with this topper.