The Beast

In 1989, having already survived a quadruple bypass and surgery for colon cancer, my grandpa decided that he would buy a new truck. It couldn’t be just any truck. He would buy the one he wanted to drive during his retirement and he would not settle.

Back in the day, Grandpa was a Dodge man, but he’d settled into Ford vans and trucks as he’d gotten older. The new truck needed to be powerful enough to tow the Mallard travel trailer he planned to buy. The new truck also needed to be red.

(Grandpa loved the color red, much to Grandma’s consternation. The ’70s must have injected more gender equality into household decisions because Grandpa flexed his decorating muscles. He outfitted the family room in heavy blood-red curtains and bought a red and black velour sofa for the living room. In every other way, the house was Grandma’s: dark cherry wood, creams and light blues. “And that damn red couch,” she’d say.)

There was a Ford dealership near Grandpa’s house, but they didn’t specialize in trucks. Things were different then. So, Grandpa had to go to a different dealership that felt very far away when I was 9. I remember the trip fondly though, because there was a monster truck parked out front. My brother was delighted and Grandpa was pleased. And even though I didn’t care about monster trucks, I loved when Grandpa was excited to show us something.

(Often, while working on cars or fixing something around the house, Grandpa would call my brother and me over to show us what he was doing. He never talked down to us and always explained things.

Once, when doing an evening oil change on my mom’s car, Grandpa called us out to watch and help him. My brother and I stood shoulder to shoulder in the cool air, watching and listening while he worked under a single-bulb portable light. My brother said, “Grandpa, this is a boy job. Why is she out here?” Grandpa told him, “A job is a job and it has to get done. And it’s even more important for her to know these things than it is for you.” Even at that young age, I knew what he meant.)

Sometime later, Grandpa came home with his new truck, a Ford F-350 quad cab. It was huge and had four wheels in the back instead of two. In addition to having it outfitted with a special in-bed trailer hitch and a folding bed cover, Grandpa had other customizations done as well: a second fuel tank, running boards along both sides, the interior was red velour, power windows on the front doors and power locks all around (both of which required custom work in 1989!), a CB radio, and a custom two-tone red and cream paint job. One of my aunts nicknamed the new truck The Beast.

Grandpa was feeling great and he was determined to travel with Grandma. I know they took some short trips, but he never got to take that one last major road trip he really wanted. The cancer returned, and this time it stayed, eventually finishing the job. The truck was basically still new.

For years, The Beast sat in Grandma’s driveway. My brother and I would occasionally wash and wax it by hand, a ludicrous job for even grown men. But we needed to restore The Beast to its proper glory, if only to see Grandma’s slight smile. (Plus, she gave us $50 each to do the job.)

Sometimes, Mom’s car would break down or need work and she’d end up driving the truck.

Once, before heading to school, I’d smoked a bowl of pot and left my pipe in the running board crevice. After I left, Mom drove The Beast to work that day for some reason. When I got home from school the truck was gone – along with my pipe. Panicked, my brother and I walked the route my mom drove to work to see if it had flown off the running board along the way. We found nothing. That evening, after my mom was home, I found a reason to go outside and check the truck. My pipe was still there, nestled and safe.

Another time, my mom was getting gas at a QuikTrip and a man offered her $10,000 cash for The Beast. She said no. She knew Grandma would never sell it. Even after the trailer was sold, Grandma would never entertain selling it.

So, mostly The Beast just sat. It made for an easy target when my high school friends started turning on me. Someone put shaving cream on the paint, permanently dulling and mottling the surface. Another person dumped sugar into one of the fuel tanks. And while the sugar did mess up that tank, they stupidly didn’t notice the other tank. For years, the sugar tank went unused, but stayed full of gasoline. One day, years later, Mom decided to use it. Other than the fuel gauge not working on that tank, it was fine. It still is.

I drove The Beast on I-270 only once, when I was preparing for my driver’s license exam. I think my mom was testing me: if I could handle that truck, I could handle anything. She was probably right. I was nervous, but more than a little impressed with how well I drove it. I also never, ever wanted to drive it again. I never did.

For awhile, my cousin had the truck. Little things started going wrong with it, and he jury-rigged problems instead of fixing them. A window had an issue so he opened the door up and strapped the window into a closed position. He ripped off the running boards, but not the brackets. the custom folding mirrors no longer folded because he welded them into place. (Because they could no longer move, cars and trucks often clipped those mirrors when the truck was parked. The mirror itself would break, but the frames never budged out of place. Once, on Kingshighway, a stretch Hummer limo hit one of the mirrors, which scraped along the length of the Hummer. The limo driver just kept going.) Things like that. And that’s the condition The Beast was in when Josh bought it for his masonry business.

We’ve had the truck since 2008. Josh did all but the major  work himself to save money, even though it cost him days and days of his life. We’ve had engine parts re-machined. Almost 2 years ago, we put in a new transmission – which just now has only 10,000 miles on it. (The original engine hasn’t even cracked 100,000 miles!) We’ve slowly lost everything from the radio to the front power windows, to the air conditioning. One of the back doors will no longer open, and one has been jury-rigged to open with a vice grip and good timing. We’ve gone through 13 tires and many hundreds of gallons of gas. Usually loaded with a steel toolbox, a sand box, gravel, bricks and scaffolding, The Beast averaged 7 miles per gallon. On the highway.

People marvel at this shitty truck. A few have even offered to buy it, but until Josh was done with masonry, he couldn’t let it go.

Today, finally, Josh took the truck to his dealership. The wholesalers will come get it and auction it off to whoever wants to take the transmission or part it out, or to some crazy bastard who falls in love with it. In my wildest dream we get a thousand dollars for it, though obviously there’s no amount that’ll ever be quite right. It has been a hell of a ride, one Grandpa certainly never imagined. But I hope it’s one he’d get a kick out of.

RIP The Beast. Long live The Beast.