Today I sat down and signed away my old friend, Iron Jack. How do you
sign away an old friend? Well, the “old friend” is a truck. That’s right, Iron Jack
is a ’66 International pickup. And so, you might ask, why do I call a truck
an old friend?
Easy. A friend, defined is this: a person attached to another by feelings of
affection or personal regard. 2. a person who gives assistance;
A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.
In translation, a friend, defined as a person attached to a truck by feelings of
affection or personal regard; a truck that gives assistance; a truck whom one
know, likes, and trusts.
I have known Iron Jack since 2006, when I saved him from a rusty extinction.
Roger Williams told me there was an old truck down in Laurin, MT, which the
owner wanted to get rid of. We checked it out, and Iron Jack was given to me
with the agreement that I remove it from the owner’s property. The humiliating
aspect of this agreement was that the owner wanted Jack out of there to make
room for a bigger croquet course. After having known Jack for 11 years, I
choose to think he was grateful to me for saving him from having to rust quietly
beside an old barn and watch croquet on warm Montana afternoons, especially
when he had so much life left in him. Yes, his windshield was cracked in a half
dozen places and the passenger door didn’t open from the inside, but under
the hood beat a heart of gold that not even a cranky, temperamental tranny
could hold back.
Iron Jack has had a rough, but well-documented history. He was bought brand
new in Tonopah, Nevada, in 1966, driven up to Bozeman, MT and engaged as
a farm vehicle for the next 38 years on a Bozeman ranch. The guy who bought
him in Laurin used him to knock around in the high country for a few years, as
Jack was tough, and had 4-wheel drive. He was given the name Iron Jack by
Christy Jones, as we sat around her boyfriend’s kitchen table one evening,
sipping some fine Jameson’s and contemplating farm trucks in general.
When I signed him away today, Iron Jack had 77, 741 miles on him…
actual miles, hard miles. Jack never saw much pavement, as he wasn’t geared
for highway speeds. Most of the miles we shared were on dirt roads and
high country trails.
Iron Jack needed a little help when I first got him, but not a lot. Roger and I
towed him about 2 miles to a mechanic who went through him with grease job,
oil change, new plugs, new points; timing, radiator flush, replaced vital fluids.
$300 and one day later I drove Iron Jack 9 miles home and we began our new
After several trips up into the high country, I realized that Jack’s steering was
a bit loose and sloppy. A few of the trails up in there were steep enough and
dangerous enough that a steering malfunction would have probably meant
the end of us. So I drove him to Bozeman and had a whole new front end
installed, $3K. He drove so much better after that, and I felt so much better
whenever we got into a sticky spot, which we did from time to time.
Some days I’d take Iron Jack up into the hills with a thermos of coffee, to find
steep trails and new country. But as time passed and my trust for the old
truck grew, we mostly went out, chainsawed a truckload of wood and came
We made 4 or 5 trips to Whitehall ( 100 miles round trip ) for wood,
but it became evident that Iron Jack didn’t care for highway travel, or any
pavement, for that matter. So we went back to getting all our wood up in
Jack became the go-to guy to pull my trailer, L’il Debbie, up Alder Gulch
to park her beside Alder Creek in the summertime. He also towed my two
snowmobiles and 4-wheelers down to West Yellowstone several times
to go riding with friends. He was always a pleasure to drive, as long as you
didn’t have to go over 60. On a mountain trail in low or second, Iron Jack
was at his hefty best, purring up through the trees with low-end torque
at the ready.
Iron Jack’s heater worked, to a degree (pun intended) but was set
permanently to defrost, since all it was capable of was barely keeping
the frost off the windshield on a cold winter’s ride. And Jack’s ride? Rough
and noisy, naturally, but once you got used to it, you were reminded every
minute that you were doing something special, going somewhere special,
because you were driving Iron Jack, that he would get you there, and home!
Trust is always important to a lasting relationship, and I had plenty of
opportunities to build trust with Jack. His one weakness was his braking
system, and even that never failed me. His gearbox would get stuck between
reverse and 3rd gear once in awhile, then I’d have to remove the floor
shifter, stick a big screwdriver down into the transmission and unlock the
faulty gears. Don’t tell me you don’t build intimacy and trust when you have
to do surgery on your good friend several times!
Many guys around the county called Iron Jack The Corn Binder.
Corn binder – a nickname given by farmers and ranchers to any of the many
self-powered products, E.G., trucks, tractors, tractor/farming implements
& attachments, refrigerators created by International Harvester Company
or better known as IHC or IH.
Many’s the time a guy has come up to me somewhere and said, “So how’s
the old Cornbinder runnin’… they’re tough as nails, ain’t they?” Or, “I knew
you were in town because I saw your old Binder parked in front of the bar…”
Am I a rotten turn-coat bastard because I’m ending a long and rewarding
relationship now? Well sure, it probably looks like it. But I have left Montana
and see it as allowing Iron Jack a longer, happier life by leaving him in
Montana, in the stomping grounds he is so right for, with a new owner who
already knows him and appreciates him and his unique abilities.
I will miss Iron Jack… a lot. In many respects I’m a totally normal American
male, one who partially defines himself by what he drives. I’ve spent so many
happy hours behind the wheel of the truck I love, bouncing along through the
Southwest Montana that I dearly love… making this parting of the trails bitter
sweet at best. But I know it’s for the best… for both of us.
One Reply to “Bitter Sweet”
I still remember that summer Saturday afternoon when you drove Iron Jack down main street in Bozeman and every tourist pulled out a camera to take a picture of what Montana used to look like.
I’m going to miss that old truck and consider myself fortunate to have joined you both for a couple of those adventures bouncing around the old fire roads high up in the Gravellys and Tabacco Roots, and pulling Little Debbie into Alder Gulch for a night or two around the campfire. Good times.