Herald Outdoors Columnist
In 1962 my maternal grandfather, Daddy Buck, purchased an old two-door Dodge with a shiny ram’s-head hood ornament. Someone in the family, I’m not certain who, christened the ill-used pile of rolling iron “Smokey Joe.”
Appropriately well named, Smokey Joe was what anglers back then referred to as a “fishing car.” Non-fishermen (my grandmother, for instance), usually between giggles, preferred such derogatory titles as “jalopy,” “heap,” “clunker,” or “wore-out piece ‘a…..” Well, you get the idea.
Fishing cars were common where I grew up. Few families could afford more than one automobile in reliable running condition and rare was the fisherman who would risk driving the family sedan to a remote backwoods fishing locale. The solution, thus, was the fishing car, normally costing less than a couple hundred hard-earned dollars and making the term “reliable running condition” the joke of the century.
A fishing car in those days was just that, a car. At that time, only farmers drove pickup trucks and the only “sport utility” vehicle then in production was manufactured for the sole benefit of the U.S. Government and found only on battlefields and military bases.
Daddy Buck’s Smokey Joe superbly upheld the accepted and time-honored fishing-car tradition and fit the fishing-car description to a tee. It was old, beat-up and totally untrustworthy. If the engine belched into life at all, we were happy. If the car made it past the city limits sign, we were ecstatic. If it carried us fishing and home again without completely breaking down, we rejoiced like Lazarus’ sisters.
Daddy Buck loved Smokey Joe and so did I. We both, I suppose, viewed it as something of a kindred spirit. At 10 years, the car and I were roughly the same age and Buck reluctantly admitted that he, too, sometimes felt a bit old, worn out and unreliable himself.
Smokey Joe was a somewhat washed-out blue in color, a shade that contrasted quite tastefully with the brown rust patches that dotted the entire exterior. How that eye-catching chrome ram’s head on the hood remained shiny is a mystery forever left unsolved. The pungent, oily smoke that poured from the muffler in a steady stream was blue as well, a phenomenon, along with the accompanying noxious gasoline fumes, with which we were not overly concerned. Remember, if you will, it was 1962. The term “eco-friendly” had yet to be coined.
Whatever its degree of operability at any given time, old Smokey Joe always had ample room for one grandfather, one grandson, and a complete arsenal of fishing tackle. Buck’s 5hp Firestone outboard (also old, worn out, and unreliable) traveled inside the trunk with the battered metal tackle boxes, the non-functioning jack, and the airless spare tire. Our Zebco 33 combos rode on the back seat with the worms and crickets. The cane poles, with their tangled lines and rusty hooks, were hauled log-truck fashion in clamps bolted onto the edge of the driver’s-side roof panel. We never, thankfully, required Smokey Joe to tow a boat. In that era, fishing boats were for renting, not buying.
When Buck died in 1985, Smokey Joe was but a distant memory for both of us. I can’t even remember exactly how long the fishing car remained a member of the family or who eventually bought it and hauled it away. It’s a certainty, though; it was attached to a chain when that happened. Driving it was not an option.
What I do vividly recall are the pleasure and the laughs I’ve had over the years thinking about that old piece of junk. And as I age, I think about such things more and more often. Still, I harbor no desire to relive the past and am certainly not nostalgic to the point that I might one day like to own a Smokey Joe of my own. I much prefer my pickup truck, which (knock on wood) consistently gets me there and back.
But, wait. That’s not quite true. I’ve fished a lot of waters since 1962, some in places exotic and far away. Having fished these waters, and in spite of my sense of practicality, I really have to wonder might it not once again be sorta fun to do nothing more than drive a few miles to a local pond in a smoking, belching, maybe-maybe-not fishing car whose days are drastically numbered?
You bet it would. If only I could bring old Buck back to do the driving.