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Work Trucks Can Be as Cool as Hot Rods

Just Sayin’: It’s not always about loud pipes and burning rubber

Brian Lohnes Nov 16, 2015
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I’ll never know 100 percent why, but I have a special place in my heart for slow stuff. I don’t mean cars or trucks that are supposed to be fast and aren’t, but more like stuff that was never intended to be swift in the first place. One reason for this affinity may be the fact that a mid ’70s medium-duty flatbed truck was just about the first vehicle I ever fell in love with. This affair kicked off well before my 10th birthday.

My dad and grandfather have been operating a small, successful pallet and box business since the early ’70s. They build and deliver all types of pallets and boxes for an array of customers located around the area. When I was a little kid, they were still operating an older flatbed as their primary delivery vehicle (not the truck in the photo). On a semi-regular basis, I’d wake up to a smiling mom telling me that I was going to go out “on deliveries” with my grandfather that day. It was heaven.

The truck was a gear-jammer with a two-speed rearend. The little red push-pull button mounted to the mile-long shifter always seemed to be calling my name. When the time came to operate it, if we were going to be hitting the highway or something of that nature, my granddad would let me do the honors of operating the button. It was heavenly stuff.

This was a truck devoid of options. Honestly, I think if the manufacturer didn’t include the seat, we may have been riding on milk crates. Its one true creature comfort was the radio – an AM unit that introduced my ears to the wonders of jazz music. The truck was powered by an odd-displacement truck big-block gas engine.

Our trips were mostly local jaunts to customers that had ordered pallets or boxes. Each stop brought us to someone who had been dealing with my dad and grandfather for years. The guys on the loading docks knew my grandfather and he introduced them to me. My job would be to take the chock blocks out of the side-mounted toolbox, which was under the wood deck flatbed and place them behind the rear wheels to prevent the truck from moving when the forklift drove on to pull the load off the truck

On at least two occasions I remember taking a couple of long drives to the holy grail of coolness for a kid: a saw mill. I cannot pinpoint why we were picking up lumber, as the majority of the stock gets delivered to the shop, but I can remember huge forklifts moving bundles of wood around and getting some kind of tour of the place. The huge saws and deafening noise sold me on the fact that this was the neatest place ever.

My grandfather was a very good driver, a true pro. As a kid I’d think about all these cars passing and whizzing by, kind of wondering if it was bugging him as he drove. It was the world saying in a not-so-subtle voice, “HURRY UP!” I know now that it never did bug him, nor should it have. The truck was doing its job and that was fine with us. I came to really appreciate the yeoman vibe that the truck threw off and it opened my eyes to the fact that not everything needs chrome, loud pipes, or even the ability to roast the tires at the drop of a hat. All that stuff is nice, but there’s something about a machine with its purpose focused on grunt-force trauma that’s cool.

As it turns out, my grandfather drove for decades more after my fun trips with him as a kid. He might have driven newer and newer trucks, but it’s that old 1970s flatbed that will forever have my heart.

The epilogue to this story is that three days a week or so while he was still driving, I’d be taking the kids to school or somewhere else in town and see, without fail, a flatbed truck stacked with what seemed to be 400 feet of pallets, lettered with “Lohnes Pallet” on the door. Grandpa always had his eyes straight ahead on the road, and short of shooting flares at him, he never sees me, but I see him, lumbering along in that big truck. It reminded me every time that slow and cool are not mutually exclusive.



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