I felt odd, watching no-longer-my truck be driven away. Today I donated my venerable Chevy pickup to a local charity. Whidbey Island has an impressive organic farm school appropriately named the Organic Farm School. (Fancy, eh? At least it isn’t as confusing as Greenbank Farm Management Group, which sounds correct but also a lot more corporate.) Friends were literally shaking their heads when I said I wasn’t going to put a For Sale sign on it. Value isn’t always measured in money.
‘Chuck the Truck’ came into my life several years ago. At the time I had a mostly-reliable Jeep Cherokee, the Classic, the Cherokee that was designed for a balance between back-country ruggedness and suburban comfort and utility. Car folks can appreciate the in-line six. Anyone can appreciate the fact that one faulty sensor could undermine all of that heavy metal. And yet, I could think of no vehicle that better suited my life. And then my Dad’s wife died. (‘Dad’s wife’ was a specific word choice and is a hint of her family dynamics, but so it was.) My Dad loved Pittsburgh but was willing to move to her ranchland in the foothills between Sacramento and Reno because of her. While I was there for the funeral he turned to me and asked, “Do you want a truck?”. One of my brothers sidled up beside me and softly said, “At a time like this the answer is ‘yes’.” I said, “Yes.” My Dad’s logic, he was only on the ranch because of her, so without her he wasn’t going to stay on the ranch, and therefore didn’t need a ranch truck.
I got a truck – and a half of a round-trip ticket that was useless because I had an 18-hour drive ahead of me to deliver the truck and me back home. That was when money was tighter than now, so, no hotel. Drive straight through. Only started to fall asleep three times. No accidents, remarkably. And with a deadline of catching the last ferry. (Something islanders can appreciate.) I made it to the ferry, and capped the trip by not being familiar with how wide the truck was. I bumped the ferry. It didn’t notice. I dented the running board. It was years before I told my Dad, the ex-trucker.
I could’ve kept the Jeep and sold the truck, but that wasn’t the intent of the gift. And the truck was a gift, all right and proper. The Jeep was sold to a local entrepreneur who had just started a business (which continues, today – congratulations.) The price must have been reasonable because there were three backup offers.
Chuck the Truck had been handy, very utilitarian, but not suited for my life. The suspension was wrong for mountain roads. The turning radius was comical for showing properties to real estate clients as I tried to turn around at the end of narrow driveways. But, it worked, mostly.
Skip ahead to earlier this year and I’ll simply point to the posts that chronicled a weekend of events that “starts out like a country song”. The short version: the truck broke down and I bought a new used Jeep. Little Red is cute (a consequence, not a criterion), and nicely suited for maneuvering backroads and narrow drives – and getting 30 mpg, much better than the truck’s 13 mpg.
Even before the truck broke down I wanted to donate or sell it to an entrepreneur, or to a non-profit like I did with the Jeep that preceded the Jeep that preceded the Jeep. (I like Jeeps.)
Arguably, my Jeep Renegade is no longer a Jeep Jeep. (AMC – Chrysler – Fiat?) But I digress.
Which brings this back to the Organic Farm School, here on Whidbey. I’m familiar with the place because it happens to use land that was a racetrack from back in the days when there wasn’t much else to do on the island. Browse some satellite photos of the Maxwelton Valley and there’s the oval, flat, surrounded by acres of farmland/wetlands that disconnect it from the paved roads. It hasn’t been a race track for decades, but it was just right for quiet walks under open skies.
I like food. I believe I need it to live, but maybe I should research that. Nah, I’ll just accept that as fact. I like community. I like people who are working on sustainability and learning basic skills that are overlooked. I’m old enough that I don’t intend to become a farmer, but I can help support those who do. I also wondered if they’d want the truck. (Not taking anything for granted.)
They said, “Yes.” I said, ‘Good.’ (massively paraphrased)
The State said, “Yes, but…” the truck was already gifted once (from my Dad to me) so it couldn’t be gifted again. (?) OK. As a group, we found a way. Whew.
Being charitable isn’t always easy.
But, why? Why not sell it, take the proceeds, and donate the money? A price can be put on the truck. At a glance, it looked relatively new – as long as you look at it from the driver’s side. The dents on the passenger’s side are more dramatic. But a faulty sensor or subcomponent of the California (the site of the ranch) emission system triggered a perpetual “Service Engine Soon” light. Three mechanics worked on it. Three thought they solved it. In each case the light came back on. There was no discernible performance change, odor, or mileage impact. That light and the almost 200,000 miles on it meant the Jeep dealership would only give me a trade-in value of $1,000, and I think they thought they were being generous to a person in need.
That little sensor effectively devalued the vehicle. That little sensor designed with the intent of improving the environment, or not damaging it as much, meant over two tons of materials could arguably be sent to the junk yard. Using a For Sale sign would get a higher price, but as long as the light was lit for one message, there is no way to tell if it is trying to display a second or third message. A flaw in their design does not mean I have to work within their values.
There’s a term familiar in the area: ‘Island Truck’, a truck that may be perfectly fine, but that is best used at island speeds and used for island tasks – like being rural in a rural area, like maybe not spending much time off the farm, frequently spending a day not doing much more than 10 mph, and testing out the suspension and tow package as heavy things get moved around. It’s an island thing.
A truck that was recently able to complete a thousand-mile road trip along the Pacific coast, across the mountains, and through remote areas of central Washington is more than an island truck, but it was getting older, did break a fuel pump, and was maybe ready to spend less time on the freeway.
Because of mileage, its market value falls. Because of a sensor, my confidence in selling it to a stranger fell, too. The folks on the Farm are effectively neighbors, resourceful, and pragmatic. They have work to do. Does the truck help them do the work? If so, then it has a value that may have nothing to do with ‘market value.’ Them having it and using it has a value to me, too. It is only because some people try to cheat the tax system that the rest of us have to work harder at helping each other.
It took about a month to figure this stuff out. The money is easier to understand. Time is more valuable, and yet I was willing to spend the time because the value of the contribution of the truck to education and community would be difficult to duplicate with a check. Besides, until recently, my financial situation means I haven’t been able to donate much money to any charity for about a decade. I hope this helps me give back at least some.
It is easy to see everything as monetary exchanges. Money isn’t the only measure. Time is more precious, and even it isn’t always the ultimate. Sometimes there are values that can be planted like seeds, sprouted, grown, distributed – and the cycle repeated.
My Dad died about six years ago. The last words he said to me were, “Make sure you do good work.” I hope he approves.
Tom, I love this! As the recipient of the truck, we promise to give it a good Farm Life…to use its attributes to haul manure, straw, livestock feed, and sometimes even livestock, oh, and a few students on the way to field trips. We promise to honor your father’s wife, and your father’s instruction to “make sure you do good work.” We do think people need to eat, and we’ll use this beautiful new-to-us Farm Truck to help with the process of growing not only food, but also farmers. Thank you for your vision and your heart.
Ah, manure – now there’s value!