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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Alan Liere: Is Five Enough?

By Alan Liere For The Spokesman-Review

I didn’t really think much about it until recently when I contracted to have some landscaping done. I had to move all my vehicles and park them next to one-another in a small field above the house, and after doing so, the property looked rather like a used car lot. For someone who absolutely hates motorized vehicles, I certainly have a lot of them.

Okay, maybe five trucks is not a lot, but I went most of my life with just one vehicle, even for the first seven years of marriage when both of us had jobs. We did a lot of scrambling to make it work, but found anything is possible if you are motivated (broke) enough.

I’m pretty sure the fact I hate motor vehicles is the very reason I have so many. I know nothing about the innards of a vehicle; I do not change the oil myself, put in transmission fluid, antifreeze or even windshield wiper fluid. I have, in fact, never looked under the hood of two of my five trucks. I do gas them up myself, but I often leave the gas cap at the service station. However, I am overly worried that I will get up early some morning to meet a buddy for a fishing or hunting adventure, and my truck won’t start. With five, there is always a spare.

I must admit I am somewhat envious of friends who, if I show up with a recently-purchased vehicle, say “Let’s have a look under the hood of that baby.” It is a man thing, I’m sure, a type of male bonding that I am not privy to. They lift the hood (which I can’t do without a lot of searching and fumbling) and poke around and speak a secret language, and I inch away and kick the tires and mention projected miles per gallon and hope they don’t ask me about torque or other foreign terms like Hemi or power train.

Having five trucks is comforting to me. If the new Dodge won’t start, I can use the old Dodge or the Chevy with the camper. If they won’t start, I’ll take the Isuzu. In an extreme emergency, I could take the 1988 Ford Ranger that hasn’t been licensed for 12 years. It has no muffler, no side mirrors and bad tires but it began roughly running again once I got the mice nests out of the air filter. The Ranger is my wood truck. I bought it new in 1988 and drove it hard until 2003 – at least five trips to Alaska. I use it only on my own property now to haul firewood, and once in a while to yank out a defunct blueberry bush. It is the only rig I have without a canopy or a camper.

Besides my recently-purchased Dodge, my best looking truck is the 2003 Dodge Ram 1500 4x4. I have no idea what the 1500 stands for unless it’s the amount of money I spent every four months on gas. I bought it used off a lot in Spokane 12 years ago because I was impressed with its low mileage and how good it looked for an older truck. It had a very nice canopy, which was important to me in the winter when I was hauling my dogs to assorted hunting destinations. Now, I use it for plowing snow, and the canopy no longer has a back window because for some unknown reason it exploded in the Fred Meyer parking lot last fall.

I traded off a perfectly fine 1998 Ford Explorer when I got that truck, and I took a bath on the deal, practically giving it away. It was the first time in my life I had dealt with a used car salesman, and afterwards, I kicked myself for being so trusting. I still look forward to one day going back to the same used truck dealership, sitting down with the same salesman, smiling at his glad-handing and letting him fill out all the preliminary paperwork. When he goes into the back room to “consult the boss” about the amount I will get for my trade-in, I will leave.

I really like my “Clownmobile”–a tiny, 1994 Isuzu with a canopy that opens from three sides. It gets 25 miles to a gallon, which is double that of my Chevy or my old Dodge. It has a five speed manual shift, and it doesn’t beg to be washed – a task I abhor.

I call it “The Clownmobile” because every time I squeeze my 6-foot 4-inch frame from behind the wheel, I think about the tiny circus car I saw as a kid that disgorged an impossible number of red-nosed clowns when it came to a stop in front of the ringmaster.

Most men, I suspect, would not be caught dead in a beat-up 1994 Isuzu. When they pass me in their much larger and shinier trucks, they look down, and I am sure they are smirking. I don’t mind a bit, however, as I know I could be driving my new truck, and the Clownmobile doesn’t mind being dirty. It is perfect for hauling dogs to a swim in the river or bumping down a mountain road to go huckleberry picking. It has no air conditioner and no power steering, but the windows roll down, and when the “check engine” light comes on, I can ignore it without something bad happening. It’s my go-to vehicle for dirty work until the snow flies, and at the gas pump, I’m the one doing the smirking.

No, I really didn’t need the new vehicle. But I can never tell when I might. And I don’t want to keep my buddy waiting for me somewhere at four a.m. on a winter morning, when we should be setting out decoys on Long Lake.

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