Death, Love, Garage Sales. The Story of Kent's Dodge.
It’s the kind of truck you’ve probably seen a thousand times before. A 1986 Dodge D100.
There is an Instagram account that features interesting and exotic cars spotted in and around Vancouver, British Columbia. There’s a Mercedes AMG GT. There’s a Viper ACR. There’s a 1968 Mercury Cougar decked out in red and white livery, complete with racing numbers and sponsors. Expensive cars. Rare cars. Vintage cars.
But keep scrolling through the feed and you’ll find an occasional photo of a truck. Not a particularly exotic or rare or expensive truck. It’s the kind of truck you’ve probably seen a thousand times before. A 1986 Dodge D100.
This is Kent’s truck. Kent is Kent Ratke, 26 years old and lives in Fort Langley with Brooke, his wife.
It’s not his only vehicle. I visited Vancouver in part to meet up with Kent for this story, and he picked me up in his 2014 Ford Fiesta ST. He bought it brand new, and it still looks that way. And though the Fiesta may not be as pricey as a Mercedes AMG GT or as maniacal as a Viper ACR, the car looks like the kind of thing you’d see on his Instagram feed, like the kind of car you’d see at any auto meetup: it’s got the racing seats that make you feel as if you’re sitting in a fighter jet, a six-speed manual transmission, gleaming orange paint split by bold, black racing stripes down the length of it.
Kent enjoys the Fiesta, that much is clear. But he got it in part because he’d originally had his eye on a Mustang, but he and Brooke decided it would be best to go for something slightly more practical.
And then there’s the ‘17 Mazda CX-3, also purchased new.
“The CX-3 is essentially an appliance to me, we just chose it for comfort and looks,” Kent explains. And as for the Ford Fiesta ST, he tells me, “I enjoy driving the Fiesta ST, a lot, but other than being engaging to drive, it doesn’t mean much to me.”
Kent sums up the Mazda and the Ford like this: “Emotionally, my other two cars, a Fiesta ST and a CX-3 really don’t mean much to me… Aesthetically and mechanically, they are both modern vehicles, tough to work on, and really just plastic shells over metal skeletons.”
Plastic shells over metal skeletons. It’s a description that sticks with me. Literally, he’s right. That’s what the Fiesta and the CX3 and so many other modern cars are. But in a figurative way, it gets right to the quick of how Kent feels about his Dodge.
That ‘86 D100, technically, that would be a metal shell over a metal skeleton. But there’s more to it. The guts of it. Where the Ford and Mazda are filled with sophisticated machinery all running according to the constant commands of computer modules and sensors, the D100 is all grease and grime and a Slant 6.
But for Kent, there’s more inside: time, memories, family—those who are passed; those who are present.
Kent’s grandparents—Patricia and Lorenz—didn’t have a lot of money. So, as Kent says, his grandpa was necessarily “frugal.” In 1986, Patricia needed a vehicle, one that wouldn’t guzzle too much gas but that had the capacity to carry small hauls. After all, Patricia, was big on garage sales. Very big.
Lorenz bought her the D100.
The six-cylinder was no massive powerplant, but it was economical and reliable. The six-foot bed wasn’t the longest configuration, but it was enough for a good-sized garage sale haul. And, as Kent says, “it was cheap for a new vehicle.”
The D100 was her daily driver—her only driver, and she put her marks on it between the bumper sticker that read “THIS TRUCK STOPS AT ALL GARAGE SALES” and the light damage to the body that manifested fairly quickly after she started driving it. “My dad likes to say that she ‘parked by feel’ and the damage on the truck reflected that,” Kent says.
Aside from garage sales, the Dodge frequented the grocery store. Not much else. “She didn’t drive it long, she had severe health issues that affected her driving,” he said.
Kent was extremely close with his grandparents. Not, so much geographically. “I loved my Grandma. So much. I remember always being there when I could,” he says. But with him growing up in Vancouver, and his grandparents living in a “working class neighborhood of Edmonton” without the means or health to travel, Kent says, “I didn’t get to see her much.”
Still, his family was sure to make a visit for at least one week every year. Kent made the best of each and every moment. “When I was at my grandparent’s, my time would be split between being in the kitchen with my grandma with her baking…or with my Grandpa in the garage, tinkering with everything he could lay his hands on.”
But his grandparents’ health problems were too severe to overcome. “They both passed away in their late 60’s or early 70’s due to health issues. I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked and have always been jealous of others who lived closer to their grandparents,” Kent tells me.
For better or worse, one of the things that defines us is our property. For Kent’s grandparents, they didn’t have much. Aside from his grandmother’s ‘86 Dodge truck, Kent says, “the only thing that they had was the house that they lived in.”
But the house was not something that would be passed on, lived in by younger generations. “It was renovated by my Dad and my two uncles and sold to pay for my Grandpa to go into assisted living,” Kent explains. He adds: “I don’t know of any estate outside the house and truck.”
Kent had just turned 13 years old a few days before Patricia died in 2005. He was heartbroken as he thought of his grandmother: her baking, her garage sales, and of course, her Dodge.
But it was his grandmother’s final truck, and it would be Kent’s first truck. And it would be the one tangible bond that linked him to his grandmother.
And that’s when he learned, that she had willed that old truck to him. He discussed it with his parents, and he says, “it was decided that it would be my first car.” But the car was in Edmonton, and according to Kent, “It had not been driven for probably a decade at that point, and had sat, uncovered, in the same spot during the entirety of my childhood. It was subjected to many Edmonton winters and summers without any care or protection whatsoever.”
But it was his grandmother’s final truck, and it would be Kent’s first truck. And it would be the one tangible bond that linked him to his grandmother. “Preparations would be made to get the truck roadworthy to bring it back to Vancouver from Edmonton,” he said.
With his family, he went to Edmonton to claim it. He can still remember removing the rusty running boards that had to be specially fitted on to the truck so that his once-ill grandmother could get herself into and out of it. They brought the truck to a lube shop to have all the fluids drained and replaced. Kent still has the paperwork, which indicates the mileage when she stopped driving it, and he started: 76,000 kilometers.
76,000 kilometers. The dividing line between death and life. The moment of passage, of rebirth.
Freshly filled with fluids, Kent and his father climbed into the old Dodge and drove it to its new home in Vancouver, adding 1,100 kilometers to the clock.
The 1986 Dodge D100 is not a complex machine. And before long, Kent and his father got the truck to where it was running as reliably as it ever had. Still, all that “parking by feel” that Kent’s grandmother had done had taken its toll on the body.
So, Kent says, “My Dad and I had spent the previous few years together getting the truck into near perfect condition, at least from an exterior standpoint.” It became an enjoyable father-son project as Kent and his dad visited wreckers and sourced parts from the web. With the body dent-free, that sprung on a fresh paint job. It wasn’t just for looks, though, Kent explains. It was about honoring the truck itself, treating it with the care and reverence it deserved.
“During high school, what kept me interested in the truck was its being a physical link to my grandparents,” he says. And as a bonus that any gearhead can appreciate, he added that “it was a unique vehicle compared to what my peers had.”
And sure enough, Kent says, “It seemed that everyone that rode in it thought that it was a pretty special experience.”
There was one person in particular who got to ride in the Dodge in those early days of Kent’s ownership of the it. In fact, she got to ride in it the first day Kent was legally allowed to drive the truck.
It took us on our first overnight trips away from our parents, on countless dates. And weeks before our wedding, [it] carried our Ikea furniture to our first home.
“My wife and I met when we were 17 at a local grocery store where she was a cashier and I was a stock boy,” Kent says. “When I got my license, we went for our first drive together in it that day.”
It was love at first sight for Kent and Brooke. The two had a feeling it was a relationship that would last, and they were destined to be together.
Their premonitions proved correct, and as their relationship progressed, the Dodge was right there with them. “All of our major relationship moments were in the truck,” Kent says. “It took us on our first overnight trips away from our parents, on countless dates. And weeks before our wedding, [it] carried our Ikea furniture to our first home.”
They were married at 21 years old. And even for that occasion, the truck was present. For their wedding photos, they chose the Dodge because, as Kent explains, they wanted to “capture its role in our lives and relationship.”
The Dodge had been Kent’s daily driver from the day he got his license until the day he got married. It had worked hard to serve him well. Knowing how much his son cherished the truck and relied on it, Kent’s father gave the new couple a 2006 Mazda6 as a wedding gift.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. Kent says he would have continued driving the truck everyday for the next couple of years if he had to. But he tells me, “My wife was going to university and I was working in a local vegetable shop in our village making minimum wage under the table.” Relying on the nearly 30-year old truck with its now-rusty Slant 6 was getting to be a risky proposition.
But just because Kent retired the Dodge as his daily driver doesn’t mean he’s parted ways with it. Quite the opposite. As his career has gained traction, and he and his wife have been able to save money, Kent has not only renewed his insurance on the truck, he’s renewed his energy toward refreshing it.
He’s slowly restoring it, inside and out. After all, there’s a lot of life left to live. A lot more milestones. A lot more moments. And he’d like that old Dodge to be there for them all.
David Obuchowski is a freelance writer whose long-read essays have regularly appeared in Jalopnik, The Awl, Deadspin, and others. He is the host, writer, and producer of the popular podcast TEMPEST, which documents people’s heartbreaking and heartwarming relationships with their cars. A musician as well, his bands include Publicist UK (Relapse Records), Goes Cube (Old Flame/Greenway Records), Distant Correspondent (Old Flame Records), and others. Follow him on Twitter @DavidOfromNJ and find him on the web at www.davidobuchowski.com
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