Branded

The First

Parked in front of the bank with a telltale sign in the window, the little truck caught my eye.  I spun my mountain bike around to have a look. Put off by the color scheme I was not sure if this truck was a fit for me. Still, I went right home and called the number on the sign. I had to go home to make the call, or find a phone booth, because in 1989 nobody had heard of a cellphone.

Before long I met with Ron, the owner and an ex-ski patroller of certain reputation in town. I was a current ski patroller at the time and we had many mutual friends. After a brief test drive I bought it without haggling over the price. Ron griped about pricing it too low; I was the first caller. Many years later I rented an apartment downstairs from Ron. He snored so loud I had his number on speed dial and would call in the middle of the night when he began snoring to wake him and then hang up.

I fell in love with the 1981 Toyota SR5 Pickup. It had a 22R 4-cylinder engine, a real hi/low 4×4 transmission, a long bed with an aluminum shell and ate up dirt roads and deep snow. I explored the Eastern Sierra in-depth, stretching the adventures into the deserts of Death Valley, Nevada, Arizona and Utah, with road trips north to Oregon and Washington.

About a decade after acquiring it I decided to get a newer model and give the ’81 SR5 to my stepson Juan. Because it was old and fairly beat up we did some maintenance work before handing it over. One issue was a shorted wire in the headlight circuit. It required pulling the dashboard off and splicing a new wire in.

When we completed the splice we loosely tacked it all back together. I gave Juan the keys and told him to take it out to a dirt road on the edge of town and rattle it a bit to test if the soldering would hold before we bolted it all back together. He left with a friend; it should have taken them 15 minutes or less. Well over an hour later Juan and his friend came home.

It was a good news bad news story. The good news; the lights still worked. The bad news; while rounding a bend on the dirt road Juan met another vehicle rapidly approaching in the opposite direction in his lane. In an effort to avoid a head-on collision Juan drove off the road and beached the truck on a boulder. Nobody got hurt. Except for the truck. An extended attempt to rehabilitate it ended when we discovered the bent frame.

The Replacement

It was a 1996 Tacoma, V-6, regular cab, regular bed model that was miles above the ’81 in terms of comfort and power but paled comparing its off-road ability and gas consumption. I started a business with this truck in 1998 and eventually gave it to Juan when I needed something bigger to tow a trailer.

I came to enjoy this little truck almost as much as the first.  I did not test the limits like I did with the first but it was a great truck both on and off pavement.

 

The Company Car

The last day of March 2002 I drove the ’96 Tacoma to Bakersfield and test-drove a number of new trucks. I drove the Toyota Tundra, Dodge Ram, Ford F250 and GMC Sierra. The Tundra stole the show in my eyes and we made arrangements to pick it up the next morning.

The next morning Juan arrived with a friend from Santa Barbara where they were studying at UCSB. We went to the dealership, settled that transaction and I took them to lunch, me in the new truck, Juan in the old one and his friend in his car. Lunch and a transfer of ownership complete we said goodbye and went our separate ways.

About three months after buying the Tundra I went on a business trip that began in Reno to sign a contract for my first really big job. The next day I was planning to drive over to El Dorado Hills for a sales meeting. That night, at the Atlantis Casino in Reno, someone stole the Tundra. I discovered the empty parking spot, broken glass and tire tracks indicating a speedy departure after checking out of the hotel.

I fell to my knees and restrained myself from vomiting. Trying to regain my composure I wandering back to the casino where I ran into a security guard and told him my tale. He tried to put me off asking if I really knew where I had parked because they had multiple lots. I dragged him over to the scene of the crime.

Back at the security office we began some paper work, called the police, called my insurance agent, got a rental car reserved and called the folks in El Dorado Hills to let them know I would be late for the sales meeting that started at noon. I made it to the meeting just as it wrapped up and joined everyone for drinks and dinner later.

Two weeks later the police found my truck . It had been drive 1,300 miles and was found in the open desert outside Pahrump, NV near Las Vegas. Eventually it got back to me but had a broken window, the camper shell was gone, as were my laptop, digital camera, blueprints and all the paperwork associated with the contract I had signed the day before.

The thieves left a cell phone behind in the truck.  They arrested one of them in Reno – while driving another stolen vehicle! The police told me to stay away from the trial as the accused was a known gang member.

I drove that Tundra 100,000 miles in the next few years, then put it into the growing fleet of vehicles needed for my business and got something else. By the time the business closed it was the last of the trucks I sold off and became my everyday ride again. The odometer was nearing 200,000 when I sold it to Ian, another ex-ski patroller and one time neighbor. A few years later I started working in Mammoth Lakes again and carpooled with Ian’s his wife Sally, quite often all three of us would ride up the hill in the Tundra. It’s still going strong; last I heard it was over 285,000 miles.

The Fleet

In the mid 2000’s my business boomed. It all began with the ’96 Tacoma mentioned above. Then I bought a pair of work rigs from another electrical contractor in town, the GMC Smurf Van and Ford F250 Blue Thunder. By and by I sold the Smurf Van to an employee who later abandoned it and Blue Thunder went to my foreman.

My old landlord sold me an aging 1990 Toyota 2wd pickup with a utility bed that he had used for his carpeting business. I knew the engine wouldn’t last long but I bought it for the bed. Around the same time I purchased my friend Brian’s 1989 Toyota SR5 4wd pickup. This truck had been around the block more than once, deep scratches on the hood hinted of when a bear had messed with it. When the 2wd truck died we moved the utility bed to the ’89 SR5.

When I put the Tundra into the fleet I bought a 1999 Tacoma 4wd for my use. As time went on the ’89 SR5 blew a head gasket and we moved the utility bed to the ’99 Tacoma. That’s when I bought a 2002 Tacoma from my friend Kevin for my personal use. I really liked ‘02 Tacoma, possibly more than any other truck I have owned.

Unfortunately my ownership of the ’02 Tacoma was short-lived. Economic factors outside my control along with a pair of new hips left me unable to continue operating the business. I sold everything I could. The ’99 Tacoma with the utility bed went to a guy named Gabe who was working for my friend Pete. Gabe would eventually become my next-door neighbor.

As mentioned before, the last truck I kept was the ’02 Tundra and when I sold it my only means of transportation for the next 4-½ years was a motorcycle. That is how I came to carpool with Sally, occasionally in my old Tundra and every so often Gabe loaned my old ’99 Tacoma with the utility bed.

The Latest

I took a job in Mammoth Lakes few years ago working for a previous employer. This is where I met Brendan, whose father Ken I had known years before when he and my friend Pete were roommates. As soon as I saw Brendan’s 1995 Tacoma I asked him if he wanted to sell it. It became a running joke between us.

A couple of months ago Brendan called and offered the truck to me. I agreed to the price he asked and bought it without ever driving it. I could tell Brendan was sad to see it go. His dad had recently passed away and he was moving back to Oregon driving his dad’s old truck.

The truck felt so familiar I didn’t have to look for anything, all the switches and levers, the feel of the clutch, the tilt of the steering wheel; it felt totally natural to sit in the driver’s seat.

Since then I’ve taken it out on a few dirt drives and down one steep 4wd stretch. It could use some new tires and shocks. It’s old and a little dinged up. It’s been a road warrior and is rounding 315,000 miles. And it’s mine.

They say you should never sell a car to a friend.   Every single one of these vehicles was either bought or sold to or from friends and colleagues.  I have not felt or heard any regrets from any of these transactions.

Never sell a car to a friend, unless it’s a Toyota!

ALABAMA HILLS CAMP 01:02