My first car was a truck (being from Texas, I’m sure that’s no shocker). Actually, it wasnt my truck exactly but close enough. A 1979 GMC Heavy Half, long bed, two tone, honest to God pick-em up truck with a 350ci powerhouse, redish-orange paint, a 12″ cream colored strip running down the sides from front to back, cream colored cab and a “Heavy Half” decal on the side of the bed written in a hippie dippie font that could only come from the Woodstock era. It got its name because it was a “heavy” version of the standard half-ton pick up. The heavy part was the 3/4 ton rear end that GM added in order to avoid EPA regulations. It was practically indestructible. At that time, American sports cars had already switched to unibody construction which is a bunch of stamped parts welded together (much less sturdy than the steel frame construction the pickups used). I inherited mine from my dad on weekends. My buddy Clint had bought practically the same truck for $2,000.00 except that his was a ’78 and instead of red-orange, he had baby blue. The body style was real blocky as these were marketed as work trucks when they rolled off the assembly line. Due to the style, they were known in our circle as Tonka Trucks. Also, because they were rugged as hell.
The first time I wrecked in the Heavy Half, I was coming from the bank. I was probably 16, sophomore year. Driving along, I looked up from the deposit slip that I held in one hand, I realized (too late) that I was approaching a curve in the road. I let loose a mild expletive, dropped the slip, quickly grabbed the wheel with both hands and pulled hard left, but in the 70’s, the steering was so loose that to make any significant correction, you had to turn hand over hand all the way around. In my current situation there was no time. All I could do is brace myself as I sped toward epic disaster! I felt a horendous jolt from the impact, the tire blew out and the hub cap went flying off down the road at a steady 35mph. The truck rode along the curb until it came to a stop. I was certain there would be major damage. No way out of this one, so I called my dad and told him what happened. He was pretty angry as he arranged to have the truck towed to a mechanic and scheduled the call to the insurance agent. Turns out, we only had to replace the tires. The frame, axles, and even the front wheel that took a sizable chunk of concrete out of the curb was, unbelievably, unharmed.
The second incident was a little later that same year. Marcus, an acquaintance of mine, had rebuilt an old Jeep (also super rugged). It was jacked up with big tires and had a cattle guard with a winch on the front. The Jeep had broken down and he asked if I could tow him home. I was a very friendly and hospitable person in my youth and was happy to help. So, I met him at the scene of the breakdown where he had a chain on the cattle guard, ready to go. We hooked the other end around the rear axle of the Heavy Half, had a quick meeting about how to avoid any fender benders, then fired up the Tonka Truck, me at the wheel and Marcus in the Jeep working the brakes. Towing cars this way is actually legal. But, neither of us had ever done it before and so the logistics of stopping and going were something we had to figure out. It seemed like simple common sense but proved to be more complicated. We got most of the way down Broadway Avenue, traveling slowly and safely in the right hand lane with hazard lights on. Having gone through several red lights with no incident, things were going pretty well. Then, as we’re cruzing along, someone pulls out in front of me and I tap the brakes to signal I’m slowing down. This time Marcus wasnt isn’t paying attention and as I came to a near stop, the chain goes slack and the ten or fifteen feet between us turned into inches in no time. The giant cattle guard slams into the heavy half bumper at a good thirty to fourty miles an hour. The truck jolts forward with such force that, as the chain tightens it jerks us back together and we slam into each other again, and again, and again like two cue balls connected with a giant rubber band. This happened several times until the chain finally broke. I coasted down the road trying to process what happened while Marcus coasts into the nearest business drive. I circled around and went back to get him. I get out and exclaimed, “What the hell man? Didn’t you see me hit the brakes!”. We were both Ok and he kind of chuckled at the situation and said, “no dude, I didnt see it”. In hindsight, it was kind of absurd. Because of the first incident earlier that year, I already knew I was driving a veritable battering ram on wheels. But even so, I was certain that this day, my rear bumper would be bent all to hell. Come to find out there wasnt even a dent. The cattle guard was equally unaffected.
The third and last time something like this happened was the following summer. The crew had just started hanging out at the cabin in the ghost town down by the river. The first trip had happend a few months earlier and I had not been invited. It was kind of my fault though because I was sulking and acting anti-social (in one of my depressed moods that creeped up on occasion). But a month later, I was out of the funk and back to being my regular extroverted, proactive, social self. When I heard about the first trip, I was dejected since I missed it but ultimately, the snub just made me more gung ho to make the future ones. The cabin was on land owned by Mike and Matt’s family. It was right in between the river and a small pond that was fed by the river, so you could go swimming and fishing if you wanted. The entrance was fairly secret. It was kind of like the Shangri La hang out in that it was right there off the main road, but if you didnt know it was there, you would never suspect that back in the woods was one of the all time legendary teenage party hangouts of East Texas. It was also similar because there were obstacles to getting back to the cabin. The road was narrow; so narrow that only one car could pass. Once you traveled far enough down the dirt road hidden in plain sight to arrive at the gate, you had to find passage accross a revine via a narrow bridge with no guard rails. Then, navigate a small winding path, that could hardly be called a road, through the woods, back about fifty yards or more. If another car was coming from the other direction, somebody had to backup and let the other pass. It was the only way to get through. This particular weekend, it was around noon and only three of us were there. Me, Ray and Mike had rode out there together in the Heavy Half after stopping by the grandparents house (which was on the way to the river) to pick up supplies. More of the crew would be there later in the evening but somebody had to go early to prep. There was something we had forgotten and decided to head to a convenience store in a small town nearby. This was the first time I had been to the cabin, so I wasn’t familiar with the treacherous manner of egress. I was driving the pickup while Ray rode shotgun and Mike chilled in the truck bed. Even though this was an old truck, I had to have my tunes. A few months earlier I had spent my own money at the local car audio place to have a modern CD player installed in the dash with speaker boxes behind the seat (the installers had to take a hack saw to the dash to make the tuner fit). As we drove through the gate, closing in on the bridge that crosses the revine, we were rocking to GNR, Pearl Jam, or Stone Temple Pilots (cant remember which). Before the bridge, the path followed a fairly steep, yet short incline. It was steep enough that I couldnt see the bridge behind the truck hood. Being unfamiliar with the area, all I had to go off of was instructions shouted by Mike from the truck bed through an window. Over the sounds coming from the stereo he yelled out to take a right. Apparently he meant after the bridge that was completely obscured from view. I didn’t realize where we were, so just following instructions, swung the wheel right. Mike yelled out, “NO, NOT HERE!” as the entire truck tipped forward like it was going over a cliff adjacent to a slippery mountain pass. That same expletive from the first incident found its way out of my mouth (and Ray’s) again but this time with more emphasis. As we went over the edge, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Mike bailing out just in time. His butt cleared the tailgate just as the bed went vertical. We slid down the concrete embankment and slammed into the bottom coming to rest on the front bumper in a Heavy Half hand-stand. Ray and I were just hanging there by our seatbelts in shock. We looked at each other and Ray started laughing in his characteristic subdued hyenaesque way. I met his ridicule with something along the lines of “F you dude”.
The tow truck showed up later that night and with another chain attached to the rear axle, the driver yelled down at me to put it in neutral. I was a little slow on the draw and still had it in park when the he floored it and yanked us out backwards in one swift full throttle pump of the gas. The truck?…Yup, you guessed it. No damage…except to my pride. I had no money so Mike’s dad paid the bill and at the next party, I paid him back with five cases of Keystone Light. Despite the fact that I was 17 and the legal age to buy alcohol in our neck of the woods was 21 (unless you went to the boats over in Louisiana), it was easy to do because of a tradition called “going to the line”. But that’s another story for another day.