That powder blue, 1975 Ford sported classic lines. It also told a classic tale in a roundabout way. Held together by a carefully crafted tangle of baling twine, it rarely rattled. A knot of barbed wire rested in the bed, fuel for the constant patching of fences. Empty jars of pipe dope, a handful of snuff cans and several blown-out, right-handed gloves littered the floor. The gun rack was always empty, the radio never worked, and the speedometer never crossed the 40 mph barrier.
When it was running, Roger Williams wore that truck like an old shirt, comfortable at the wheel and brimming over with pride. And he handled that car like a delicate lady, never too hard on the gas or brakes. Undeniably, the truck had seen many years and miles, and when it broke down, he gently nursed it back to health, much too attached to let it go.
As Roger puttered his 70-plus years around Norwood and the remote corners of the West End of Montrose County, people saw much more than that beater Ford. In many ways, that truck stood for the legacy that Roger and generations before him had given life to. They beheld a long-standing passion for the land, a century of ranching embodied in an old truck. And they saw yet another Williams pouring his life and soul into the high desert for small financial rewards.
I first met Roger at the beginning of my 15th year, when I joined Williams Ranches as a simple hand. He quickly dispelled any illusions of handling horses, roping cattle and dabbling in land management. Instead, he set me to work following 10-mile cattle drives on foot, gaining a mastery of fencing and bucking hay bales for a penny apiece.
I quickly learned to accept low pay and grunt work. After all, my days were spent beneath the Lone Cone under blue skies. I learned the high arts of ranching and living from the ablest of teachers. Roger's gentle but firm hand inspired respect and appreciation.
And from the beginning, I fell in love with that powder blue Ford.
Roger went both ways, however.
The first time, I brushed it off as mere coincidence. But gradually, I saw him trade one life for another. Shelving his jeans and work boots, he'd put on a clean pair of slacks and polished dress shoes. The brim of his cap often vanished, only to be replaced by a finely combed but thinning head of hair. And much to my dismay, that classic truck was exchanged for a two-door, two-tone Ford Maverick.
That green and white throwback was easy on the gas bill, an able grocery hauler and appropriately effeminate. Easy listening always poured from its tinny speakers, and like the Ford, its speedometer never passed the 40 mark. Behind that wheel, Roger had the look of traveling salesman at best, a man en route to a Tupperware party at worst.
After seeing a few trips, I called him out.
"You've got a perfectly good truck. What are you doing driving this hunk of … ."
Roger's laughter cut me short.
"I'd sooner show up to church with crap on my shoes than in that pickup."
Sure enough, the Maverick was Roger's town car, his road not only to church but to society at large. He drove it to school graduations, meetings of the Elks and trips to the big city. When he and his wife, Lila, went out for dinner, they took the Maverick, and the radio dial moved from Waylon Jennings to Karen Carpenter.
While no one in the West End could separate Roger from his work, he had drawn a very clear line. Born and raised and forever tied to the ranch, Roger frequently had to reach for relief. He found a breather in town life, taking the trip into a fresh reality. Out of respect for civilized life, he donned a different outfit and drove a different set of wheels into town. Those trips to town represented one small outlet for sanity in a time when the ranch was always on the edge of going under. The Maverick reflected bad taste but nothing more.
After a little time in the West End, this piece of cowboy culture became obvious. More than a handful of town cars dragged main, parked in front of churches and schools, and transported their drivers off the fenceline, while trucks rested at home.
Firing up the Maverick that afternoon, Roger grinned, looked my way and shouted, "By the way, it's only a truck."
Slowly he motored down the drive with a look of relief on his brow, knowing that he was leaving me to my fencing and taking the Maverick for a spin into town.