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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Road tripping in a 1977 GMC Sierra Grande crew cab

t’s been known to smoke, and catch fire. When both twenty-gallon fuel tanks are full, gasoline leaks out the passenger side nozzle. The oil to fuel consumption ratio is locked at one quart per tank. Unloaded or with over a ton of cargo in tow, it’s impossible not to get 8mpg. It’s greenish, and brownish. We call it the Wonder Truck. 

Retired from the Washington State Forest Service several decades ago, she now sits proudly in front of my father’s four-story residential farmhouse as a visible reminder that the man who built the envy of the neighborhood still has blue-collar blood coursing through his veins. 

Yes, Dad has a penchant for purchasing $800-$1,000 1970’s pickup trucks and driving the remaining miles out of them. The man has taste, and the sense to exercise caution with the Wonder Truck’s fiery temper by limiting his excursions in it. Besides short jaunts to the local dump several days out of the year, it remains in its trophy mantel just off the front driveway, parked atop four separate strips of wood to keep the tires off the grass. 

As terrible fate would have it, I’ll be calling the Wonder Truck out of retirement tomorrow for one last mission, longer and more dangerous than she’s faced in years. This time tomorrow, I’ll be clenching the seat covers all the way from Seattle to Olympia and back to retrieve all of my new roommate’s worldly belongings from a storage unit. 

Let’s pause, pretend the Wonder Truck is fit for extended freeway travel, and focus solely on the cost behind such an endeavor. At 8mpg, factoring in the oil consumption:

122 miles round trip divided by 8mpg = 15.25 gallons, multiplied by roughly $3/gallon = $45.75 for fuel + approximately two quarts of oil brings the grand total to around $51.75. 

Not bad, considering the cost of renting a U-Haul and paying by the mile, but then there’s the speed issue; the Wonder Truck rolls on a three-speed manual transmission with a third gear sweet spot of about 54mph. Now that we’re beginning to touch on the darker side of the scenario, it’s time to mention the fire issue. 

Outside of a bad valve or two, the Wonder Truck’s 350ci V8 runs fair. Except when coming down from highway speeds to stop and go residential areas. Around this time, all the oil that leaks from worn-out gaskets under the valve covers is no longer being kept relatively cool by sufficient airflow, resulting in oil seeping out from under the valve covers and pooling on top of the engine, which when hot enough, ignites the oil. 

In years’ past, the best way to deal with such an incident was to park the truck on the side of the road (keeping the hood closed to prevent an explosion) and let the excess oil burn off while the engine cooled. Simple enough, only around town we always knew that if the Wonder Truck burnt up in a blaze of its own regurgitated glory, we’d only be out a $1,000 pickup truck and some yard waste we would have preferred to burn anyhow. 

Tomorrow the stakes will be higher. Unbeknownst to her just yet, my new roommate is going to pile everything she owns in a rusty truck bed and trust I’ll get us back to Seattle without burning the sum of her material possessions to a smoldering pile of devastation alongside I-5 North. 

I told her I have two surprises for her when she arrives in the morning. The first: One wall in her new room is a mirror. The Second: The Wonder Truck. 

I’m wondering how she’ll react when she sees the calculations for gas money/oil money. 

Stay Tuned.


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