When you live where there’s no garbage pick-up, you have to haul it away yourself.

In the winter, it might be OK to defer the weekly trip to the township’s transfer station (although you risk missing important local news shared by neighbors as we unload trash and recyclables). But in the summer when smelly garbage attracts skunks, raccoons, and bears, you don’t want it sitting around any longer than necessary. And when you do haul it away, you really don’t want the bag with week-old butcher paper and fish guts to leak somewhere you can’t just hose out. You want a pickup truck.

It’s possible to live in the country and not have at least one pickup in the family fleet. But a truck makes many of the realities of rural life simpler. Here are some of the ways we’ve used ours in recent months:

  • Getting through snow too deep for the fuel-efficient low clearance on our car.
  • Picking up free salt/sand mix from the town garage to spread on our icy driveway.
  • Hauling lumber and plywood.
  • Transporting large boxes to the post office to ship instead of ordering a pick-up by our rural mail carrier, who can’t fit this size in their vehicle. 
  • Moving firewood.
  • Moving yard waste to our brush pile and mulch to the garden.
  • Hauling field stones to fill in a low spot where the old septic tank was.
  • Towing a utility trailer loaded with our 22-year-old riding mower to town for repairs.
  • Harvesting our Christmas tree and sap for making maple syrup
  • Transporting canoes and kayaks and hunting and fishing gear.
  • Standing in the bed to pick apples.
  • Standing in the bed to trim branches too high to reach from the ground. 
  • Pulling tension with a strap from the trailer hitch to a tree we were cutting to encourage it to fall the right way.
  • Pulling invasive shrubs out by the roots.
  • Hauling drinking water, Gatorade, ice, and other rehab supplies for volunteer fire department incidents and trainings.

Pickup trucks come in handy in lots of ways when you belong to a rural volunteer fire department. Fires are a dirty business, and hoses are expensive so we wash off the soot and grit and stretch out hoses to drain before repacking them on the engine. Whoever drove straight to the scene in their personal pickup truck generally gets volunteered to haul all that dirty hose back to the station for washing. If the hose is frozen, they may have to pull into a bay to let it thaw enough to straighten out first.

Luckily, no one seems to mind having their truck used that way. It might be different if any of us actually had shiny new pickups, which we don’t. 

Bill and I would like to get a shiny new pickup. The one we drive now is a 1994 Chevy S-10. It’s older than two of the officers in our fire department. We bought it used from my dad, who bought it used from somebody else. Six months ago we got on a waiting list just to place an order for a Ford Maverick (possibly within a few weeks). It may take another six to 12 months after ordering for that truck to be built and transported to us.

We’re willing to wait for an affordable compact pickup truck. We don’t tow heavy trailers or an RV. We don’t need all the cabin comforts and cosmetics that have raised the average price of new vehicles to more than $47,000 and used vehicles to more than $28,000. Even before pandemic-related supply chain issues and inflation, our income made buying a vehicle a stretch. The last time we did was in 2014, when we replaced our 1998 Ford Escort station wagon.

We bought lottery tickets last week, but even if we won we couldn’t go out and just buy a Maverick. We might consider a used truck, but the ones that might suit us were built more than a decade ago before manufacturers discontinued affordable regular-cab compact pickup models. We found a 2012 model with 90,000 miles on it that I could get in and out of easily with my 5-foot-zero frame, two bad hips, and a bum knee. But $18,000 for a used vehicle with that age and mileage? Only if we won the lottery. The 2022 edition of that model was a reasonable price but when I opened the door the seat was about chin-level on me. 

Most days I can haul myself into two of our fire department’s trucks, thanks to running boards, well-placed handrails, and a little adrenaline. For another department truck, we have a milk crate that I use for climbing up. I just have to remember to keep hold of the rope that’s attached so I can pull the crate up after me. 

I’ve been very clear with my husband that I do not wish to require a milk crate for getting in and out of our personal vehicle. I would consider a mid-size truck with full running boards, but not if it costs what you could buy a house for here a couple of decades ago (unless that lottery ticket is a winner). And those side steps some models offer instead of a running board? That’s like having to climb a ladder so you can hoist groceries in over your head then haul yourself up. Using them to get out when it’s icy sounds like broken hip territory. No thank you.

So that leaves us waiting for the truck we want, and we are in line behind a lot of other people who also seem to think an affordable compact pickup truck is worth the wait.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed that our 28-year-old truck keeps running a while longer. Theoretically, it should, because we had a bunch of work done on it last winter after one of our adventures.

I told part of the tale here about when my washer died, but we hadn’t picked up the new one yet when I filed that story. We had to pick it up, of course, because our rural address is outside of just about everyone’s delivery area. 

So we drove the 75 miles to the store that had the washer I wanted, had it loaded into the truck bed, tied it securely, and headed home. The route took us past a Culver’s. So we pulled in to get some celebratory frozen custard – which is just about romantic enough to figure into a country music song.

Until the truck died at the drive-up window and would not start again. Not romantic.

The very helpful restaurant manager and their maintenance guy helped us try to jump-start it. Apparently, we are not the first to have a vehicle die in the drive-up because they were prepared with a portable battery and cables. Nevertheless, our truck wouldn’t start. They helped us push it away from the window and around to the parking lot, where we ate our frozen custard and phoned a friend who recommended a nearby garage. The garage’s phone was busy so Bill walked there while I stood guard on the brand new washer in the bed.

While waiting for a tow truck I tried calling car rental options, hoping to locate one that a) had a pickup truck available and b) would pick us up at the garage. In a city with a population of more than 38,000, that turned up zero results. We briefly considered renting a U-Haul but had no way to get to the nearest dealer. So the garage agreed to keep the truck – with our new washer still tied in the bed – inside at night while they waited for a part. A friend came to the garage to drive us home, where I washed unmentionables in the sink and daydreamed about my new washer (bought and paid for and living 75 miles away) and ways to shorten the waiting list for a new pickup truck I could get in and out of without a milk crate. 

Eventually, the part arrived, they got our truck running again, we drove to get it (without a stop at Culver’s), the two of us moved our new washer into the house (just the way we had planned), and I caught up on laundry. 

Since then, we received a letter from a car dealership 75 miles away offering 10% over Blue Book for our 2014 Prius. We would consider the offer since I don’t travel long distances for work contracts like I did when we bought the car. But we need that one reliable (and paid-for) vehicle while we wait who-knows-how-long for an affordable compact pickup truck

In the meantime, we need our 28-year-old truck to make another trip to the appliance store 75 miles away. It’s time to replace our 40-year-old freezer, which needs to be done in the summer so we can pull up to the door it has to go in through without shoveling a lot of snow. And the store still doesn’t deliver this far.

Donna Kallner writes from northern Wisconsin, where she is a member of the Wolf River Volunteer Fire Department. If you’re looking for a good read from another Wisconsin author with rural roots she recommends Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry.

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