A Man and His Truck

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

OK, OK, let’s get this over with, Cam owns a truck. I know what I’m going to hear, “Cam, the off-grid guy with the solar-powered electric bike owns a truck? What a hypocrite!” There — we got that out of the way. Hope we all feel better.

Yes, I own a truck. I’m an environmentalist, but I live in the woods, have a market garden and heat with wood, and a truck comes in handy. I use it to haul manure to the garden and firewood back in from the bush. I probably use it once a week, sometimes less, but it is a truck. Every one has an impact on the planet, and my truck is my “Achilles Heel.” I haven’t been on a plane in 20 years, but I do own a truck.

I bought a truck when we moved to our off-grid home 12 years ago. It was a Ford Ranger, their smallest truck, so as close to a “green” truck as you can get I guess. It was a 1993 model, and it was 5 years old when I bought it. It was an amazing truck and unbelievably helpful around the place, but in the last few years it was starting to show its age. So after 17 years of service I don’t think it owed me anything. When I began having to use the service of the local mechanic a little too often, I decided it was time to replace it. The truck still worked, but it was at the point where I was lucky if it started on two out of three attempts, and when you’re in the bush in a snowstorm, that can be a little disconcerting.

I had looked around for a replacement truck for a few years and was always appalled by how expensive vehicles are. I saw one that I liked in an Autotrader magazine. It was still for sale three months later, which would have scared off most people, but it sounded like a challenge to me. It was a 2000 model, so I was moving up seven model years, and it was high mileage, 250,000 kms (155,000 miles) but it was only $4,000! The catch was that it was being sold as is. In Ontario I would have to get it certified, and if there were major problems with it, I’d be on the hook. The high mileage was not a concern because I didn’t intend to drive it very often or very far, and the body was in good shape.

I went to take a look at it and I really liked it. It’s a four-wheel drive. It has always been my dream to own a four-wheel drive vehicle. I know what you’re saying … “Yeah, you and all the yuppies in the suburbs.” Point taken. But unlike urban dwellers who only need four-wheel drive to get them over the pile of snow the plow leaves at the end of their driveways (which they could just shovel), I get stuck — a lot. My wonderful neighbor Alyce gives me a trailer full of horse manure on a regular basis, year round. And I spread it all over the property, year round. I hate to think of the amount of time I have spent trying to get my rear-wheel-drive Ranger unstuck. It had snow tires, I loaded it up with fresh lengths of poplar for weight, and I tried to follow ruts from previous runs in the bush, but if I’d put all those hours of getting that truck unstuck into earning an income, I’d be a rich man today.

So I decided to gamble and take a risk that the new truck wouldn’t cost too much to certify. I was hoping for $1,000, and my mechanic Steve is a really fair guy. My other attitude is that it’s better to spend the money in my community than sending it to Detroit to pay for a new truck. And considering the way I abuse trucks, buying a brand new one would be stupid. Luckily it cost me just $1,500 to get it certified. So I gambled and won!

It’s just an awesome truck, and I can’t believe that I’ve lived here for 12 years driving the sorts of roads and trails I drive without four-wheel drive. When I’ve got a full load of manure in the trailer and I’m trying to get up a hill and the grass is wet and the rear tires are spinning, I just put it into four-wheel drive and off I go! It really is a dream. Sorry, Greenpeace, but I love my truck. It gets abysmal gas mileage so I don’t drive it much, but when I need it, it’s awesome. This spring I used Ken’s trailer to haul 50 rotten round hay bales from a farmer down the road. I was able to get 10 on his huge trailer and it hauled them no problem. At first I used his smaller trailer and put one in the back of the truck. On a warm day with the tires on the truck under inflated, I was unloading the round bales and smelled this funny smell. Then I noticed that the back tires of the truck were … well … smoking a bit. I think that’s okay in NASCAR, but not recommended that you do it at home. So I stopped putting one in the back and put more air in the tires. They don’t call us “citiots” for nothing.

The truck makes other smells. It has a manual (standard) transmission, and when I’m maneuvering the trailer of manure into position, if there’s a bit too much back and forth, it makes another funny smell. I believe this is the clutch, so I’m learning to stop riding it. But really, a four-wheel drive truck with a manual transmission, can you get more manly than this? All I need now is a gun rack and to train Morgan the Wonder Dog to ride around in the back with his tongue hanging out and I may finally begin to fit into this town. Actually, that wouldn’t work with a Ranger. It’s way too small a truck for a real man.

The one extravagance I did indulge in was to put a proper trailer hitch on. Well, I bought the hitch, but the day my friend, Dave, had time to install it I was busy, so Michelle took it over to be installed. How emasculating is that?

The old ball I used was on the rear bumper and quite honestly, I was amazed the whole damn thing didn’t fall off under the load with the amount of rust on it. When you look at the back of the old Ranger, you can see by the way the tailgate and license are pounded in, that there was the odd time when backing into the manure trailer, that I might have hit it a little too hard. I could say, “Well, I had to back uphill in the snow and ice into the trailer, and it was slippery much of the time,” which is true. But at a certain point I just have to admit I’m not the best “backer upper” and once you hit and dent the tailgate, from there on in it’s damn the torpedoes, you know you’re in the right place when you feel the bump.

The new hitch is out further from the truck, and I’m determined to be a better person and not trash this tailgate. So far, so good.

So there you have it, the home schooling, granola eating, off-grid-dwelling environmentalist owns a truck. And worst of all, not only does he own a four-wheel drive truck with big honkin’ tires, he loves it! I’ll expect the abusive comments right away. Greenpeace, no need to contact me, I’ll return my membership card immediately.