Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Truck Norris

I gave in to the non-stop pleading from Dara that began long before she turned 16 to have an old truck for her car. I really tried to talk her out of it. I know all-too-well how frustrating it can be to be a kid wanting to go somewhere and your vehicle not start. And having an old truck is great if you're a guy (typically) who uses the bed, regularly tows stuff, and doesn't mind fixing it frequently. Her mother was a harder person to convince than me that this was a good idea! A truck is the LAST thing Darla would drive. But in the end, Dara persisted, playing her cards well, giving us little choice other than to allow it.

Here's the way it works at the Sparks house:

Driving's a privilege not a right. Therefore it is only granted when the driver is well-trained and other priorities are accomplished. Things like honesty (an important first), respecting authorities, and making wise choices in other areas (grades, phone, chores, showing kindness, etc.) are non-negotiable.

Financial responsibility is important. That means we ask our kids to buy their car, unless they are involved in athletics or other good activities that prevents them from being able to save to afford a car (in which case, we will help them). All three of ours were able to buy their cars, despite them being involved in other things. Once they have a car, they must have "skin in the game" regarding gas and insurance. Regarding insurance, parents will pay for the lowest rate (including discounts for good grades, etc.) but additional costs due to tickets or accidents or grades are the driver's responsibility.

Freedom doesn't increase when you get a car, responsibilities do. With driving comes the necessity of MORE communication, more devotion to following the rules, more maturity...not less. Mistakes have higher consequences than before. And when foolish mistakes are made or responsibility isn't shown, keys are taken away.

There are others, of course, but those are the main principles. Drew found and bought himself a Jeep Cherokee that he improved quite a bit over his time in high school. Duncan got a little help from us to first buy a 12-year-old Chevy Malibu, but later was able to buy a 1981 Fiat Spider herself (that she LOVES). Dara (as usual) was adamant that we allow her plenty of training throughout her 15th year, and was on-the-ball regarding the other requirements, including saving money to buy a truck. And she didn't just want any truck. She preferred an old Jeep J10. So when she found one in West Knoxville off Sutherland, we were in pursuit. See the whole story here.

Well, here's the rest of the story. Despite my initial remorse for allowing her to buy it, and thanks to lots of help from a mechanically-inclined friend, Truck Norris (as Dara calls it) is, quite frankly, pretty awesome. We've had to fix stuff like speedometer, carburetor, plugs & wires, most gauges, lights & lenses, paint the hood, replace & paint a fender, new tires, choke, fuel & air filters, battery, starter, alternator, breaks, fuel sending unit, mirrors, and various other wires, vacuum tubes, gaskets, knobs, and parts.

This is before we were finished loading. The
trailer's tires were near bursting, and Truck's
bed couldn't hold another piece of oak. The
picture definitely doesn't do this task justice!
That may sound like a lot—but it has been done a little at a time as needed—and nothing was really expensive. It's now reasonably reliable and safe. To improve the truck's worn interior we replaced the seat and door panel fabric with a colorful western fabric that Dara found online, and replaced the interior carpet. We replaced the old 1980s cassette-deck radio with a new unit and installed new speakers (important!). And we've raised the seats and installed a 4" lift kit (with new springs and shocks). The drivetrain (especially the 4-wheel-drive system) has been bullet-proof (Lord, thank you, and please let it continue to be so!). It still has some issues (transmission fluid leak, still hard to start due to needed carb-adjustment, some electronic mysteries), but it's not bad.

I've also enjoyed having a truck around again. The Wagoneer is great, but it's hard to replace the handiness of a pickup. We put Truck Norris to the test a couple of weeks ago when my dad had two oak trees in his yard in Jefferson City that needed to be cut and removed. We loaded Truck Norris' bed "cab-high" in green (meaning not dried or cured, read: "heavy") red and white oak firewood and loaded up a trailer for Truck Norris to pull back to Knoxville. Test passed.

Today we had our first significant snow since Truck Norris came to the Sparks family. Dara and I went to an abandoned parking lot and let her learn how to drive in the snow. Then we ran errands and went to Dara's friend's house, driving on snow-covered roads the whole way. Again, pass! Truck Norris did very well. The only minor problem was keeping the windows clean. It wasn't bad, but the wipers are weak and sometimes randomly stop for a few seconds, and the defrost barely blows. But Truck is rock solid in the snow. I'm going to take it to elders meeting tonight. Hope I don't wreck it. Dara will kill me!

So, all things considered, Truck Norris was a good buy. All told we've got around $5k in it. Dara still loves it (despite the usual challenges to owning an old vehicle) and I am certain she could get her money out of it and then some. But the problem is I'm kind of attached to it! When Dara is over the truck stage, I'm hoping she'll sell it to me for a reasonable price!

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