Downhill Racer II
Jun 25, 2008 | 6580 views | 0 0 comments | 1100 1100 recommendations | email to a friend | print
by Leo Platero

An old Navajo idiom is: “You ain’t much of a Navajo unless you own an old truck to haul water, firewood, hay and even sheep.”

One day, on my way home to Borrego Pass, NM, my weary eyes rested upon an old bluegreen 1978 Ford truck with a broken windshield. It was for sale on an old car lot in Farmington, NM.

Immediately my heart started to thump, thump, thump, thump, and my throat became dry and a chill ran down my spine. Before you could say, “You ain’t much of a Navajo unless you have an old truck,” I bought the Ford truck less $200 for the broken windshield. It had 153,000 miles.

If trucks could have birthdays, my Downhill Racer II would be five years old. I remember clearly the day I went to Farmington to pick up my ‘Fix Or Repair Daily.’

It was on Whitehorse Raiders homecoming Friday. I talked to my good friend Calvin Joe, “Let’s go to Farmington and get my new Ford truck,”

After twisting his arm, he agreed. After a new windshield and new tires, I found four shiny hubcaps off an old Mercury. I was looking nice as I cruised slow and low through town and headed back to Montezuma Creek.

Downhill Racer had air conditioning in the winter and a heater in the summer. One time, I loaned it to a friend, who took it to Salt Lake City.

I forgot to tell him that if you keep the high beam on, the headlights will flicker and eventually turn off. I also forgot to tell him about the dimmer switch, which is located on the floor by the clutch.

So he drove to Salt Lake City and home without using the dimmer switch. The person who owned it use it to haul snowmobiles. He also put in a stick shift; before that, the gear shift was on the steering column.

Another time, my dear wife wanted to drive to work in Bluff, where she was the sixth grade teacher. I was in Borrego Pass, but I left step by step instructions to put a little bit of gasoline in the carburetor.

Since it didn’t start, she put in more. With the neighbor’s help, she almost managed to burn up my Ford truck. She eventually managed to get it started and drove to work. After it starts, it is no problem, but after her scary experience, she swore to never drive it again.

One of the things I like about my truck is the six cylinder engine. It has lots of room. I can open the hood and stand inside and change the spark plugs.

Another tricky thing is the radio. It only works if you close the door carefully. Only one setting for volume: loud.

Borrego Pass is 190 miles from Montezuma Creek. Drive east toward Aneth, then into Colorado. At the Four Corners junction, turn east 18 miles and then south to Shiprock, NM. Turn east at Shiprock and drive 30 miles to Farmington. Take the truck route, cross the San Juan River and drive 85 miles to Crownpoint, NM.

From Crownpoint, drive 14 miles southeast and through the Continental Divide. Get on top of the plateau and there is Borrego Pass. Borrego means lamb. Long ago, Navajos would herd their lambs to market through the pass to Prewitt, NM, where lambs are shipped by train.

Borrego Pass Trading Post was owned by Don and Fern Smouse of Kirtland, NM. They were lifetime traders to the Navajos in the area. The Smouses are Latter-Saints and have a love for the people. They said they feel at home isolated among the Navajos. Both have since passed away and the trading post is run by another couple.

About a half a mile away is the community school. It was built by BIA and the elementary went up to 4th grade. In 1972, the name of the elementary school was Dibe Yazhi Habitiin Olta - meaning Borrego Pass School. Now it has other buildings, including a gymnasium and the school goes up to eighth grade. Borrego Pass is a small community. Our three children, Mario, Ann Marie and Jamie, attended school there.

Inside the fence by the school, you can sometimes see a sheepherder carring a number 9 golf club and herding 30 head of sheep and three goats. Further down the road is Downhill Racer II, waiting patiently. One time, the old Ford had a new paint job; beautiful bluegreen without a scratch on it.

Since then it has gone through some rough times. Now there is a long scratch - made by a fence post with barbed wire. It happened about a year ago.

I was impatient. The gate was locked and I opened the side barbed wire fence and drove the truck through. When I checked, the mirror was ripped off and a long scratch, the length of the truck, was made by the fence post.

My heart went thump, thump, thump, thump, my throat became dry and a chill ran down my spine. I managed to yell a silent sheepherder yell, the one you use when you want to get the sheep’s attention.

Now you can see the rust and the scratches and it looks like a “Rez truck.” I still haul water, firewood, hay and sheep with it. It likes to race downhill; otherwise it stays under the speed limit.

I can go to sleep knowing that this Navajo has an old Ford truck.
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