Editor’s note: As a way to celebrate Father’s Day, we posted every story we received as part of our Collecting Cars, Collecting Memories contest. Thank you to all who submitted.
It’s hard to trace exactly where my love of classic cars came from. I can certainly draw a direct line to the first time I saw “Smokey and the Bandit.” I still love those Trans Ams.
However, I think it actually started much earlier than that.
As a kid, I grew up in the heart of Vermont. We lived three miles up the mountain from your quintessential New England village with a river flowing right through the middle of it with one waterfall, one store and one white steeple poking out of the trees marking the town’s position among the thick greenery.
You can see my house on Google Maps from above, but you can’t drive by it because the roads are all dirt. In the winter, the roads are slippery and, in the spring, you could bury a Prius in the ruts.
My father had a sawmill. I grew up running around the yard, smelling the freshly cut pine, cedar or whatever was on the mill. Sometimes, we would haul our own logs, and that was done with a 1946 Dodge Power Wagon that was stripped and modified.
It was no longer road-worthy, it was woods-worthy!
It had a typical truck, long-handled shifter mated to a manual transmission and straight six engine. It didn’t look much like a Power Wagon anymore, except for that tough front grill. It had dual rear wheels that wore chains year round.
There was no bed on the back. In its place was a wooden box large enough to cover the frame and, poking up through that, was a military winch routed over some kind of fork that looked like it came off a tow truck, but was clearly hand made.
There were no doors, no roof, no step plates and no rear fenders. It had old, faded green paint from when it was supposedly a military truck. It was loud, smelled like gasoline and exhaust and rode terrible.
That said, you could pull several logs out of the woods at a time and it plowed snow like a champ.
This is what is called a “Doodlebug” in New England. There are very few people that know what this is anymore.
I think, basically, it was when New Englanders would take old trucks and turn them into some kind of tractor. “Yankee ingenuity” as they used to say, and farmers would modify old vehicles to suite their needs.
I spent a lot of time in the Doodlebug. I rode in it and helped do some logging.
I spent a lot of time with my father when he plowed our long driveway and a few of the neighbor’s driveways. Later on, I learned to drive a stick shift in it through our fields. It didn’t go fast, so there was no way I could get out of control.
As a teenager, I learned how to back up a trailer with it. I’d spend several days with my father cutting logs into chunks, splitting them by hand and tossing the chunks into a trailer hitched to the Doodlebug. My job was to drive it up to the house, back the trailer up to the shed, unload the trailer, stack the firewood and do it all again.
Somewhere, there is a picture of when I roped one of my buddies into helping me. That happened once.
My fondest memory of that truck was when I was riding with my father plowing a neighbor’s yard. We had just started and the snow was deep on the ground and heavy on the trees.
As my father made his first pass, he backed up into a very tall spruce tree. We jerked to a stop and just about had a second to turn and make eye contact.
Did I mention this thing didn’t have a roof?
In that second, all the snow stuck high up in that tree came raining down on us and it was a total whiteout. I could not see my father, even though I was still staring in his direction. When it stopped, we were completely covered with snow. The floors were full of snow and it was spilling out the sides.
I was still staring at my father and I could now see he had snow all in his beard, and his glasses had been knocked all the way to the tip of his nose. His eyes were wide and his eyebrows were crusty with snow.
For a second, all we heard was the exhaust. Then, we both burst out laughing.
I think watching all the fixing, welding and repairing on that thing somehow affected me in ways that I am only now starting to realize. It is linked to memories of simpler times.
Even then, I realized that I was growing up in place much of the country had forgotten still existed. My father and his old Dodge Powerwagon had a big influence on me and continue influence me to this day.
-Nathan Smith from Phoenix, Arizona