One of the best parts of this job is being able to spend time with George. Trucking families know how difficult it is to carve out quality time with their driver. If the wheels ain’t turnin’, they ain’t earnin’. So unless you go ham and get on the truck with them, you get 10 hours here and there and a reset once in a great while. It’s a difficult lifestyle, and I know how fortunate I am to be able to share it with the one I love most.
This being February and all, Valentine’s Day is in the forefront and I’m a little sentimental about how hard it is to keep a relationship intact and strong across the miles. There are hundreds of love stories involving truckers, but a particularly amazing one comes to mind immediately. True love spans the test of time, and it sometimes crosses the bonds of the mortal coil in a tangible way.
We met Michelle Cole way back in October. She was the organizer of the group we ran across in Texas that included Paul Kraak, who I wrote about for a Thanksgiving piece. She had mapped out old, abandoned truck stops along old route 290, they were doing a “Ghost Truck Stop” tour. The group was traveling in some of the coolest old trucks I had ever seen; it was what actually drew me to them. I had just started doing feature work, and I was certain the Ever Elusive and Sometimes Famous Max Heine would be positively thrilled if I got pictures and stories about the trucks. In the end, the trucks were the least awesome thing about the whole experience. The people were fantastic and turned out to have stories that far superseded the coolness of the trucks.
Michelle kind of hung back. Mr. Kraak was definitely the talker of the group. I think she realized I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about when he began telling me about the motor and chassis of his truck. I was dutifully writing down everything he told me, as I was certain it would be used in my piece about cool trucks. When he finished and turned the floor over to Michelle, she leaned over and quietly said, “Let me tell you a neat story about my truck.”
A hulking, red 1986 Ford LTL 9000 was her baby. She gave me a brief description of what was under the hood, and as she was talking about the truck, she kept touching it like she loved it. It was clear this piece of machinery was much more to her than just that.
She went on to tell me that she had lost her husband Alan to cancer in 1996, and that he had been a trucker. The last rig he drove was an 86′ Ford LTL 9000, and several years after he passed she decided she wanted to find and refurbish one just like it in his honor.
It bears to be noted here that Michelle is no ordinary lady. Her story alone could fill five pages. She’s a retired Air Force officer who knows the inside of a diesel (or any other) engine like the back of her hand. She has a passion for motors, Fords in particular. She didn’t tell me any of this herself, I pieced it together from what her friends told me and what I read later on her website. It’s a good bet if you have a question about a Ford motor, she can answer it.
She does about 90 percent of the work on her trucks herself, and her website includes tech pages with how-tos.
When she made the decision to clone her husband’s truck, she had a someone start looking for a wrecked one for parts. Her intention was to piece together a twin. A few weeks into the search she got a call from her parts guy. He told her he’d found one and to check her email and let him know if she wanted it, because it was in pretty rough shape.
When she opened the email and looked at the pictures, she realized the truck he found was her husband’s old truck. (Now if you didn’t just get a chill in your spine and tears in your eyes, you just ain’t right.) It was battered and beaten, but it was his and she bought it immediately.
“I truly believe he led me to that truck.”
The sleeper was too destroyed to save — they had to chop it and get another one. But the nose of the truck is original. She rebuilt the motor and had the interior remade and today she has a perfect replica of the last truck her beloved trucker drove.
“It gives me great comfort to have it. I miss him so much, it makes me feel closer to him to drive it again.”
Michelle is a woman of few words, but her facial expression and physical gestures toward the truck spoke volumes. I was a mess by the time she finished telling me her story. I’m a sucker for a love story anyway, and I can relate on such a personal level to being crazy in love with a trucker.
Fate is fickle and it can be cruel, but this time it turned out beautifully. Happy Valentine’s Day, Michelle. May you ride many happy miles in your true-love truck.