January 23, 2012

Okie  -  Okay, this isn't exactly Irish in nature, but it's got a nice story behind it.  Karen and I were hiking up near our Echo Lake cottage in October of 2010 and came across this rusted 1950 Ford truck parked in the woods.  The word "FARM" on the license really spoke to me... and I took several photos of it.  Last summer I did this painting.

A few days ago I entered it in a juried art show at "Studio B" a hip little gallery in Boyertown, PA, a few miles from the family farm that I'd been going to since I was a small child. The show was entitled "Farm" so I knew I had to enter "Okie."  Well, at the opening last Friday I found out that the painting had won "Best in Show." 

John Buck, our friend at Echo Lake who had owned the truck, told me some stories about this truck, which they had named "Okie," and I asked him to write down his recollections.  Read on...

John Buck's memories of Okie

I think Okie was a 1950 Ford F-600 with a gray steel van body when I first saw her in about 1978. The main chassis was quite sound for such an old vehicle -- she had never seen a NY road-salt winter -- and she ran well. The engine was a flathead straight-six displacing 300 cubic inches and the transmission was a 5-speed with no synchromesh. There were no power steering or brakes, so driving was work. 
     A friend at work told me he knew of a woman who had driven non-stop from Oklahoma to Dryden, NY, with all the family's worldly possessions in a truck, the whole fatherless family riding in the cab. The woman needed cash badly and sold the truck to me for $235 cash. 

     I drove it to Echo Lake with the Oklahoma plates still on it and learned what a non-synchromesh transmission meant (you have to double clutch every time you change a gear and it was a heavy, strong clutch). I immediately informed my brother-in-law, John Buchholz, that he had become half owner of Okie for a contribution of $117.50. He didn’t seem unhappy.

      The first project I remember was using Okie to pickup firewood blocks on our land across the Lake near the log cabin hunting lodge. It was a Thanksgiving Holiday weekend with sloppy snow on the ground. Okie immediately got stuck and I walked back through the woods to get some help. Larry Buchholz (maybe 12-13 years old?) and some number of his younger brothers (and probably Andy Shaffner too) came over and we used the 8-N tractor, a cumalong, chains, and back power to get Okie out of the roadside ditch. I learned that Okie was too grand a lady to do mundane chores like a pickup truck would do.   

     Another of Okie’s early projects was to pickup some rough-cut lumber down at Beardsley Brothers’ Sawmill by the Genegantslet Creek. John B. and I and his young sons went down and loaded the very heavy hemlock lumber that Raymond Beardsley had sawn for us. It was very hard work getting it loaded, but the van body was large and easily accommodated the load. The trip up the hill to Echo Lake was another matter. I had difficulty learning the double-clutching required to shift and the truck was under-powered for that load. (it was a very heavy load) Somewhere between Burr Harrington’s farm and Miss Nettie Clark’s farm, Okie ran out of gears and power and stopped on a small grade. I coasted backward to a less steep grade, found the lowest gear, and restarted with the engine wound up. The transmission whined, but she made it. 

     After that episode I removed the big heavy steel van body and installed a homemade flatbed to lighten the truck. The flatbed was made from some old military trusses that Tom Griffin had, that had been left in his camp by Dr. Wood. When the van body was removed, the section that had been directly behind the cab (and thus concealed), said “Sooners” in faint outline that is still visible today. 
     With the new flatbed, the truck started a new life at Echo Lake. I dug an earth landing ramp in the side of the field at Echo Lake and Okie proceeded to take many loads of logs down to Beardsley sawmill. Logs were rolled on sideways by hand and rolled off (with some care and apprehension) at Beardsleys’. When I logged off the red pine from the Echo Lake East Hill farm, Okie drove right into the red pine woods and took the logs down to Beardsleys. Tom Griffin’s walls in his cottage are all red pine from those logs that were taken to the mill on Okie. 

     When I was teaching I had summers off and my friend Pat Hartigan and I made a deal. He would help me build a chimney in our house in Cortland from the basement, through the living room, through a second story closet, through a third story loft apartment with 12’ ceiling and up on the high hip roof. (chimney blocks are very heavy) In return, I promised to bring Okie and her companion 1949 Ford 8-N Ford tractor over to his house near Newark Valley to log his back woods. (I never determined who got the best of that deal…). I loaded the 8-N up on two railroad ties on Okie and chained it down tightly and drove the whole assembly to Newark Valley trying to stay on the back roads. All went well and she made several log trips to a local sawmill over that way.
      One adventure that Chris and I still talk about was when I went to Les Strong’s auction at the Whitney Point gravel pit. I bought a lot of stuff including a 1948 Ford F-600 with a fuel tank (like a home heating oil truck) for $15. It did not run and did not have brakes, but the engine turned over (i.e., was not seized). I talked Chris and Phil Shaffner into coming with me to Les Strong’s. Chris drove her Pontiac GTO and Phil and I drove Okie. Okie had no exhaust system past the header pipe and roared very loudly. We chained up the two similar trucks, Chris followed behind with flashing lights and we started down the road. Phil drove Okie and I sat in the fuel truck to steer (no brakes). I kept the transmission in 3rd gear and whenever we had to slow up, I would let the clutch out to get the braking effect from turning the engine over. If you are an optimist, you could say that it worked to some extent, but there were a few bumped bumpers and jarred spinal columns by the time we made it to Echo Lake. As we came up South Street hill from Rt 79, Okie was roaring in a deafening cacophony with occasional bursts of flame and particulate blowing out from underneath as she pulled both trucks up the hill. We passed an older woman a few feet off the road who was stooped over tending her flowers. I thought she was sure to die from fright or have her ear drums burst, but she never moved or looked up as the parade of 3 vehicles moved slowly past! Chris and I recall that story every time we go by her house.
      There are other stories, and certainly she had a grand old life before coming to Echo Lake.
      Eventually Okie began to sit longer and longer and had a little trouble getting started (6 volt battery). Eventually, she just stayed at her loading area above Buck Pond and seemed comfortable resting in her well-earned retirement. Okie was a good old girl!

                                                                       John H. Buck, June 2011