High mileage, some rust, still running

op beckmanBy John Beckman • Columnist

I’ve had quite a few cars on the road in the past 40 years, and I’ve noticed that they all start to fall apart when the odometer begins showing nervously higher figures. The breakdowns that happen depend largely on how hard the operator has been on the pedals and buttons and how diligent they have been in preventative maintenance and regular upkeep. 


When my current truck started growling strangely last week, and my back and bad elbow did the same, I paused to ask: aren’t human beings a lot like cars and trucks? They run fine without a care for a while, but then ...

I came off the assembly line in 1958, the same year Ford introduced the Edsel, the “Chipmunk Song” hit No. 1, Lego patented the Lego Block, President Eisenhower ordered the National Guard out of Little Rock High School and Elvis joined the Army. When viewed in that context, I should consider myself a “classic, having come from a half century back and still moving forward.

I’m thinking that every one of the vehicles built back then probably has a few problems and needs a little work, so why should I be any different? That might explain — and maybe help me justify — the expenses middle age seems to supply in abundance for regular maintenance to keep this older model roadworthy, headed straight between the lines and out of the ditches.

I’m not sure where my own odometer is currently reading, but I have to confess to being less than perfect at timely maintenance during the last 100,000 miles or so. Like the times I skipped the dentist after college for several years, or forgot to get a regular doctor check up for a couple decades. Hey, everything was clicking along, gauges were fine, no indicator lights flashing, not burning oil, lights come on. Heck, drive on, right? Sure, my 20s, 30s and 40s were a great time to be a fairly new model, but something must have rolled that mileage counter over when I wasn’t looking.

Since my debut on the showroom floor, I’ve had to get my share of repairs. This buggy has needed a couple knee surgeries to repack my ball-joints, a broken leg required some axle work, and stabs and jabs from rough roads have left the tires of my hands and feet in need of patches and repairs from time to time. Working in construction and agriculture for most of those miles, the regular abuse on this daily driver has caused parts to “show wear patterns,” so to speak. 

My body has spent a good share of time “off-road,” much of that time in the equivalent of two-wheel drive when greater traction would have saved physical overheating and walking for water while my fluids boiled over.

Since turning 50, corrective lenses for my headlights have become more a standard feature than an accessory in the option package, and the wear on my bushings and gaskets are evidenced by creaky joints and slower turns. My dermatologist is tasked with keeping the paint job looking as best it can given its age and always being left out in the rain, snow and hail, while my dentists and periodontist have stayed busy keeping my grill shiny and minimizing rust and corrosion. It’s probably true that there is some sludge in the system somewhere that could uses a little Gum-out or Magical Mystery Oil for smoother operation, or maybe if I just rich-up the fuel mix and take it out for a fast run those problems will clear up. 

My wife, along with other health nuts, has suggested a juice fast to improve overall performance, but somehow no coffee or bread, no alcohol or dairy, no cooked foods, meats or sweets for a month sounds to me like a great way to end up in a wreck somewhere. I rely on French roast starter fluid in my carburetor each morning to get the motor started and think a glass of thick kale and carrot juice would have me running on two cylinders, if I got out of the driveway at all.

I thank my lucky stars that I haven’t had to call 911 for a wrecker due to a head-on with any telephone poles or a dead battery, or to have a pacemaker installed to keep my en-gine’s firing pattern right, or a new titanium driveshaft put in my hip. 

But with all the hazards out there on the roads it make me sometimes wonder how far this jalopy will make it. The local auto repair shops don’t stock replacement parts for the human body style, so I’m stuck with what I got and just have to keep rolling on. When I start doubting this rig’s ability to plow ahead, I sometimes play the Grateful Dead’s classic tune “Truckin’” and it’s enough of a spark to make me plug onward and remember “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

So if you pass me out there on the road moving a little slow or with a lame turn signal or cracked windshield, remember that there have been a lot of miles put on this puppy, and hoping for more if I can get her started again tomorrow. I’m probably just trying to get where I’m going, or at least to the next service station along life’s highway.

(John Beckman is a builder and farmer who lives in Jackson County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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