Hardbody

by | Mar 1, 2020 | 7 comments

I was driving a small Nissan pickup, halfway down a steep and rocky logging road, somewhere in the Pennsylvania backcountry. The truck crept down a small boulder field of mixed slate and sandstone. And the frame held solid while the suspension complained against larger obstacles.

It was a utility-blue truck that Nissan referred to simply as the “hardbody.” This was before every auto manufacturer created clever names or escalating numbers to slap over the paint of a rear quarter panel. The truck was an ‘89. So it probably started with a clear coat finish, and it surely shined in the showroom long ago. But by the time I bought it, my pickup had an aged, workhorse patina. It looked nice enough washed up, but it seemed kind of silly waxed and shined. And it always looked best with a little mud in the wheel wells.

The truck was basic. No amenities: a standard short cab 4×4 with an underpowered engine and a five speed manual transmission, hand locks, hand-crank windows, no air and a limited AM/FM dial radio without a tape deck. Some kid had replaced that with the cheapest tape unit he could find in a Crutchfield catalog. It didn’t fit the dash, but he wired it in anyway, sending the signal to two sub-woofers that he’d built into a custom plywood cabinet to fit behind the seats. He forgot to pair the speakers with a proper amp, though. So the bass cracked and farted at any volume which might overcome the heavy road noise in the cab. I removed the bass box in my first few days with the truck because I needed to maximize the limited storage area for fishing gear.

I’d paid four grand for the truck. It was a good deal. Someone had fiddled with the odometer on this pre-digital relic, so I argued the price down and purchased a rugged truck that I used for hauling ladders and buckets of paint for a construction business I owned. I liked it.

By the time the summer work-rush faded into fall, I’d learned I could trust the hardbody. Because, after six months of a day-to-day grind around work sites, mixed in with a handful of weekend jaunts on dirt roads and no-destination cruises that usually ended with a small grill on the tailgate at dusk, I knew it was reliable. What I had was the perfect backcountry beater — cheap enough that I didn’t care about scraping through a boxed-in mountain laurel trail, but tough and resilient enough to reasonably block out any worries about getting stranded fifteen miles away from paved roads and halfway down a mountain track.

And that’s exactly where I was in the hills of PA . . .

I followed an unnamed line found on a faded, mint-green topo map — page 48 in the Pennsylvania Atlas and Gazetteer — that I’d marked and highlighted with various colors and pencil indicators through the years: orange for any stream where I’d caught wild brown trout and red for brook trout. Pencil slashes crossed some of the highlighted rivers on the map, indicating that the PA Fish Commission had classified these river miles as Wilderness Trout Streams. These waters were never packed with trout, but they were indeed wild places, with the true silence of nature and a peace found only in the isolated forests.

Photo by Bill Dell

Fields Run flowed parallel to the unnamed tram road that we descended. And now, about halfway down the path, my dog smelled the water first.

With the windows rolled down, Dylan enjoyed these places more than anything. He knew the truck stopped most often around flowing water, and when the scent of a brook trout stream in the valley hit his twitching nose, he looked back to me, excited. Border Collies are smart — uncanny, really — in their ability to perceive thoughts and communicate with someone whom they trust. I smiled and reached over to pat him on the ribs. Dylan turned back into the cab and stepped across the bench seat, nudging me with enthusiasm and a few guttural, eager whines. He tried to sit for a moment, but the truck rocked hard as the tires grabbed and climbed over the next minor ledge. So Dylan dashed back over to his secure perch against the passenger door, bracing himself against the hardbody door jam, with his head back into the mixed scent of early fall and flowing trout water.

That perfect, hour-long slow climb down into Fields Run was the beginning of a wonderful adventure . . .

Fish hard, friends.

 

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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7 Comments

  1. I can relate to your love for the old rig. Mine is a 76 Chevy van. It’s been to both coasts, and many river put-ins and take-outs in between. “Old Brown” has seen nearly 400K miles pass her underbelly exploring the Rockies of Colorado and Idaho. She sits still most of the year these days, with battery removed for winter. She was wearing a white top coat of snow last week, about 24″. She will start at 20 below, but prefers the warmth of spring to have her battery reinstalled.
    Many great memories of adventures with Old Brown as the beast of burden to the rivers ramps. Love Old Brown. For sale.

    Reply
  2. Gotta love your fish truck. Mine was a 96 Ranger 2×4 5 speed, 4cyl. Never left me stranded and with a long bed had no problem hauling gear for a day trip or a week long road trip. Its gone now, 286K miles with PA’s salted roads did it in, making the frame look like swiss cheese. Replaced it with a 2001 Ranger 4×4, 5speed, 6 cyl. It works, but I miss the 96.

    Reply
  3. My business truck 1984 Nissan basic truck. Old brownie. 40 or 50k miles after odometer died.
    35 mpg or better.
    Nothing left but ziebart.
    Moving to Texas heat made me trade.
    Good fishing trips, too.

    Reply
  4. Dom,
    I bought a blue 1986.5 Hardbody in 1995 for $2,200 and sold it 5 years later for $2500! That truck made many runs from Maryland up to my In-law’s home in Shinglehouse, PA (Potter County) for deer seasons, etc. What a great little truck!

    Now an old high school buddy and I are getting ready to build a house on the Rio Simpson, just South of Coyhaique, Chile in Patagonia, and I have my eye on one of the 4 Cylinder diesel trucks available down there; either a Mitsubishi L200 or the more expensive, but bullet proof Toyota Hilux.

    So when you’re circumstances allow for a Patagonian fishing adventure, please get in touch and be our guest.

    Reply
  5. Nice…..made me smile!

    Reply
  6. Wonderful refreshing writing. You made my Sunday on this 100 degree day in the midwest

    Reply
    • Cheers. Thanks for the compliment. Glad you enjoyed this short story.

      Dom

      Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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