Our old reliables, still rolling on across the years | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Our old reliables, still rolling on across the years

Whether they are yet hauling hay and Little Leaguers, or have been retired from duty, vintage pickups have won America's heart

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"For years," says photographer William Bennett Seitz, "I loved the way old trucks looked: they're actually pieces of classic American sculpture — on wheels." In 1995, Seitz took his affection for these vehicles, as sturdy as they are handsome, on the road. Over the course of a year, he crisscrossed the country, traveling interstates and gravel lanes, in search of vintage Dodges, Reos, Chevies, and Studebakers, like the gleaming 1946 M5 at left. Meanwhile, his collaborator, writer Harry Moses, followed up on Seitz's discoveries, recording the far-flung owners' stories of how they acquired and restored their most precious possession.

The result is Pickups: Classic American Trucks, an homage to these icons of our back roads, published this month by Random House. Pickup trucks have emerged, in this country, as a wildly popular mode of transport; last year we snapped up 2.7 million new ones. Seitz and Moses, however, wanted to focus on yesteryear's beauties, the trusty models built between 1913 and 1960, before standardized design eclipsed distinctive lines and authentic personality.

Their owners constitute a motley corps of aficionados — innkeepers and actors, doctors and plumbers and musicians. Some drive these pickups every day; others ease their lovingly restored trucks into traffic on rare occasions. But all of them share one experience. "Whenever they take their pickups out for a spin," writes Moses, "people stop and tell them that truck of theirs is the most beautiful thing they ever laid eyes on."

Kathleen Burke

Pickups: Classic American Trucks, by William Bennett Seitz and Harry Moses, published by Random House is available at local area bookstores. For locations near you, dial 1-800-793-BOOK.

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