Trapline Trucks
"Lucy needs some exercise, you should take her with you in the morning." We've been married for over 20 years now, and when my wife Nicole says something like that, it's usually for a reason.

'Lucy' is the matriarch of our family dog clan, and is fairly spoiled. We got her as a pup the first summer we moved to Wyoming, so she's almost six years old now. A good looking blonde variation of Mountain Cur, she is the mother of two litters of calling and trapline dogs that have found homes across the western states.

I take my dogs to work with me virtually every day through the summer months, but not nearly as often in the fall and winter. Nicole and the kids walk them almost every night, but it's not the same as a good run of several miles, and Lucy was apparently overdue.

I loaded her up the next morning in the dark, and headed out to my first stop of the day. At this ranch I had to go through a swinging gate right along a county road, before heading back in a few miles to my first sets. After closing the gate behind me, I let Lucy out to jog in front of the pickup. It was a 2-track road that got very little traffic this time of year, and a quick look confirmed that my tire tracks were the last ones coming both in and out of there.

Lucy was excited, and anxious to get going. She knows the drill well, and stays out ahead of me about 25 yards. This gives her enough space to stop and smell anything along the road that might interest her, and still allow her to get moving along again before I get anywhere near close to catching up with her. I usually travel about 9-10 mph, and that allows her to maintain a nice easy gait for several miles.

As soon as she got moving I remembered to re-set the 'trip' meter on my pickup, so I could see how much exercise she was actually going to get, mainly so I could report back to Nicole. Then I noticed something that made me stop and think for a minute. The odometer read 249,967 miles. I was going to hit 250,000 before I got home! I hadn't been paying close attention, and since my instrument panel had collected a fair amount of dust this fall in the dry conditions, I hadn't noticed.

For a vehicle used primarily on the highway, that amount of miles isn't unheard of, especially today. But this was my 'work' pickup, the one I drive for predator control over 300 days a year. It has spent most of its life on anything but highway. Two friends of mine from Michigan had ridden along with me for several days just the week before, and one had commented how few squeaks and rattles the pickup had, especially considering the terrain I worked in. They'd both ridden in it several times in years previous, and they took turns riding in the front seat, since it's just an extended cab, not a 4-door, and leg room is not great in the back.

As Lucy got her legs limbered up and settled into a nice long lope in front of the pickup, I tried to do a little math in my head, and think of any road trips I'd taken with the pickup since I bought it in 2008. I'd taken it out of state a few times to trap when I was filming a bobcat DVD, and on a family trip to a 4-H shooting sports event in Bozeman, Montana. I'd also taken it to western Montana a few times to get loads of bobcat urine from my supplier, as well as to a convention or two. If my math was right, I had put maybe 10,000 miles on it in true highway miles. To be fair I doubled it, to make it an even 20,000.

That left about 230,000 miles of 'work' (trapping) miles, which, when divided by just short of 8 years, came out to about 30,000 miles per year. I knew from the records I keep for tax purposes that my mental figuring was right on the mark. I kept driving along, watching Lucy enjoy herself, and wished I knew someone at Ford Motor Company who I could call and brag on their product a bit.

I had ordered this pickup when I bought it from my favorite dealer in Montana. I wanted the least problems and gadgets that I could get, considering what I'd be putting it through in the years to come. I had gone with windows that rolled up by hand, and I didn't take the power seat option either. Much to my family's dismay, I only went with a radio and not a CD player, since they seem to get so dirty that they don't want to play right anyway.

I also went with a manual transmission, and lock out-hubs. Yes, I'm a dinosaur. I wasn't trying to cut initial cost of the pickup as much as to prevent problems down the road.

I switched my headache rack and siren speaker to the new pickup. The heavy expanded metal of the headache rack covers and protects my rear window in the event that my 4-wheeler wants to move forward unexpectedly on an overly bumpy road. I mounted the control box for the siren under the passenger side rear seat. The grill guard on the previous pickup had been custom made for it, and the new buyer wanted it left on, so I had to buy a new one. Grill guards are a big thing here in the West, and I've found them to be good insurance in deer country.

Doing contract predator control work has various expenses, but vehicle costs are by far the largest. I've told people many times that years ago I came to the realization that sometimes the harder I worked, the less money I actually made. I've gotten some strange looks when I've made that statement, and then watched their expression change when I explain the mileage factor in doing a large scale predator control effort. I don't let the extra expense involved stop me from doing my job, though. It comes with the territory.

Vehicle costs are way more than just the original purchase price. Depreciation takes its toll before the vehicle even leaves the driveway. And actual use means wear and tear on some things that have to be replaced eventually. Like tires.

Thirty years ago I ran heavy 'lug' type tires, usually with tubes. They had good side walls, and withstood the cactus, greasewood, and rocky terrain I trapped in. But, they didn't wear very well, at least to my finding, so I switched to radials in the late 1980s.

I started running 10-ply radial tires of various brands, and never switched back. That is, of course, after I got all the miles I could out of the tires that came on the pickup when I bought it new.

Tire pressure is easily neglected, but I learned a long time ago to watch it. Our cactus sometimes causes a very slow leak, and over time that can lower pressure dramatically. It not only increase tire wear, it decreases performance.

Usually in the fall, about the first of November, I put a new set of 'aggressive' tires on, and I prefer them studded, if possible. Call me crazy for running studded tires in the winter, but I have come to rely on them for getting around on the sometimes icy and slick roads I travel. Many, many times I've felt that they've helped me cling to a side hill or icy slope. I know for a fact that they help me stop when needed. I'm not a mechanic by any means, but I have to think that the less spinning, grinding, and 'clawing' you do, the easier it has to be on a vehicle, so I run studded tires in the winter months.

Of course I have tire chains too, and I might put them on a dozen times in the course of our long winter. But if it gets bad enough to need them every day, there's usually enough snow to let you find a hole and get yourself in real trouble. Drifts are a major concern, and I've dug myself out of many over the years. Two long handled scoop shovels are with me 6 months of the year for that reason.

I know regular oil changes and service of the pickup has helped me to get this amount of miles out a gas engine, too.

I've run synthetic oil in it since the first oil change, and keep it to a maximum of 6,000 miles, usually less, before it's changed. I keep a spare air filter around too, and change it between oil changes in really dusty conditions. In my opinion preventive maintenance is a good investment.

I was lucky to find a good local mechanic when we moved to Wyoming, after leaving a friend behind in Montana who had kept me 'rolling' for so many years. My new mechanic friend knew a lot about the 5.4 liter engine, and he recommended that we change the plugs before 100,000 miles, since they tend to break at times if they're left longer than that. I've had him change them twice now, and so far it has kept the pickup moving and still getting roughly 15 mpg.

The quality of gasoline seems to have diminished a lot the last few years, and I hear about it all the time from my mechanic. I have to be honest, at the risk of offending some of my farmer friends, but I'm not a fan of ethanol in gasoline. I find myself adding a fuel treatment in my gas about every third fill-up these days, which greatly adds to my fuel operating expense.

A lot of things were running through my mind by the time Lucy and I covered the 2 miles to my first sets. Thousands of coyotes have been taken with the help of this pickup, and a few more went home with me that day, too. I remembered the dents in the door, and the whitetail that had caused them. I also remembered my mechanic shaking his head when he had told me that he had just replaced all four shock absorbers, after discovering all four of the previous ones were broken.

Lucy was just getting warmed up, but I loaded her back in the pickup for awhile, after she got a quick drink of water. The bed of the pickup has been a place of security for her, as well as the place that she was 'boss' on so many occasions. Our aluminum dog box has been taken out for the winter, and she enjoys hanging her head over the side, catching the wind and the smells it carries. She's been with me a lot of the hard miles that the pickup has been through. I let her out several times that day, and she was pushing 9 miles when we got done for the day. She was tired, but ready to go again if I asked, just like my faithful pickup has been.

I ordered another pickup in July, and expect it any day now. About the only thing I couldn't order special was a manual transmission, since they don't offer it in a 3/4-ton model. Our family pickup has an automatic one, and I kind of like it. I did get a CD player, although the kids think it's getting outdated.

I guess I'll continue to be a dinosaur.