“Big Blue Whale” was his full name; we all called him “Big Blue” for short.   A pale blue-green, 1965 Ford pick-up, ¾ ton sporting a 351 engine (coveted by mechanics knowing the value of this type of engine), Big Blue was “born and bred” in Georgia and made his way up to Alaska in the early 80’s driven by the original owner, an airplane mechanic who kept this babe in great shape.  Big Blue was happiest humming down the highway at 85mph best with a ton of gravel – his engine “purred!”   I bought Big Blue in July 1985 for my landscape company when he was just 20 years old.    It was love at first sight!

Firefighters put out the last remaining life of "Big Blue" - photo by Ursala Hudson

27 years later, Big Blue passed away today on April Fool’s Day.  When my son-in-law was going up the hill towards home, suddenly the truck died and when he jumped out to check what happened, suddenly the engine began to smoke and burst into flames – luckily Chris had not had the chance to open the hood!!!  911 came to the rescue and put out the last life of Big Blue.  When all had died down, the fire chief examined the engine and showed us the broken fuel line figuring this was what started the fire.

The passing of Big Blue was very sad; for me it was the completion of an era allowed to live only once.  As I mentioned earlier, when I first saw this truck many years ago, it was “love at first sight.”  My personal experience of “love at first sight” is a feeling of deep gratitude upon the sight of something, or someone, or somewhere.  This feeling has nothing to do with want, lust, desire, must have; it is full body experience of being in awe, feeling a deep appreciation of what is before me.  I loved this machine at first sight in 1985.

I was a landscape gardener; boss of my “Kahtahah Landscape Gardeners”, every season I’d hire a new group of adventurous young folk who didn’t mind working hard in the Southeastern Alaskan weather from April 1st through October 31st in wind, sleet, snow flurries, rain (of course!), and yet any fine, rare sunny day, we were out and about, we soaked up the shine, all of it!  Kept in lean shape sportin’ mighty fine tans, we did, yessirreee!

Instead of buying a company truck, I rented one from June Dawson’s vehicle rental company.  (And if any of you living in Juneau remember June, she was a hoot – one of the happiest redheads I’ve ever known – a generous woman who implored me to dig up the best peatmossy loamy soil on this side of the planet! (which happened to be located in what is now the Lemon Creek Industrial area where COSTCO and all those other brand names hang out together…we hand-dug truckloads and truckloads to the Sealaska Corporation plaza’s garden beds – there were nights I couldn’t sleep cuz I had threats by passer-bys who were coveting the soil – I was never sure if I’d return to work the next day and find the piles gone, so we quickly worked the soil into the poor soil already existing at Sealaska.

(Why did I rent a truck instead of buying one?  I was waiting for the right one to come around.  I didn’t want just any ole truck; I wanted a specific type.  And the moment I wished for it out loud, not even 5 minutes later, there he was at the garbage dump in all his fine glory!  Hallelujiah!)

My 1985 crew members included 5 neighbors.  They had just moved to Juneau from Nebraska and Kansas, looking for the “Alaskan experience” and were out looking for a job.  Being the kind of neighbor that I am, I asked them if they were interested in working for me.  They jumped for it.  One day, the five of us were jammed packed into the cab of the truck heading to the garbage dump to look for an old refigerator to use as a smokehouse.  One crew member asked:  “Hey Clarissa, when are you going to buy your own truck?”  They all chimed in:  “Yeah, you’ve got to get your own truck, how come you gotta be so picky, like what kind of truck do you want?”

I replied:  “I want an old truck, one from the 60’s, can’t be older than ’69.  I want a Chevy or Ford pick-up, you know, the kind with the rounded fronts with a big bed, not one of those ½ ton, but ¾ ton.  I want him in excellent condition…I’m waiting for the right one!”

Everyone’s reply:  “oh golly, that’s wishful thinking, where you gonna find one in Juneau, those types are rare, especially those without any rust in excellent shape…!?”

Within 5 minutes of the conversation, as we had come around the corner, there at the dump, was “Big Blue!” – the owners were visiting the dump too!  My crew members and I gawked “Clarissa!  There’s YOUR truck!” — and sure enough, there was a “For Sale” sign on the rear window!

The rest is 27 years of history and fantastic memories.