Once, those who loved the old West mourned the passing of the horse and the rise of the gasoline engine. But as time marches on, what used to be considered a travesty of modernization has been glossed with the blurred lens of nostalgia.  Now, as Ford mega-trucks haul five-horse trailers, tractors boast air-conditioned cabs, and agribusiness takes over the family farm, the cowboy pickup has become almost as much of a symbol of the West as a well-broke cowhorse.

 Today’s successful ranchers might drive hemi-powered, leather-seated, tinted-window duallies, but the modern truck is a prancing circus pony compared to the ranch pickup parked out back of the barn. That’s the real workhorse.

A cowboy pickup is a beast of  burden, its crooked headlights gazing out on the landscape with a blank gaze of resignation like an old rancher past his prime. It’s probably done time as a hay hauler, a hospital, and even a love nest. It’s been on the ranch so long it’s part of the landscape, weathered as a crooked fancepost and rusty as an old stock tank.

It might have been born a blue truck, but now the hood is red, the driver’s door white, and the tailgate yellow. Its unique color scheme doesn’t come from a flair for design; it’s due to the demands of the job. As lesser vehicles fall by the wayside, their vital organs are transplanted into the last survivor. The surgeon in these operations uses whatever’s handy–baling twine, duct tape, whatever. The truck rattles a little more, but it soldiers on.

A cowboy pickup makes a sound every bit as distinctive as that engine roar Harley Davidson took the trouble to trademark. Turn the key and it coughs and splutters like your asthmatic grandpa, but keep cranking and it’ll catch and rumble deep in its throat, shaking slightly with effort as it breaks out of its sunbaked stupor to rise to the occasion.

This truck might never ride a blacktop road, and there’s a good chance the speedometer has never seen sixty. It travels the dirt roads and traces the fence lines, and when necessary it’s willing to bounce cross-country, rocking over sagebrush and cactus and leaving a flattened two-track in the grass.

It might be missing a few parts, like a tailgate or a headlight, but it’s still got a heart. And when you drive a cowboy pickup, you don’t need bumper stickers. No words are necessary when your ride is a statement in itself.

I look for these survivors wherever I travel the west. You know them by their piebald hides, their crooked-bumper grins, and their inimitable patina of rust and faded paint. They turn up everywhere: at the curb by a small-town diner, in a sunlit field by the highway, beside a barn on a back road. If you find one, take a picture and send it to me! I’ll immortalize it in future posts. I’m making it my mission to give the cowboy truck the respect it deserves!