He isn't a truck, he's Ol Blue

August 27, 2001 12:00 am
Matt Sirrine has owned Ol Blue for 28 years but had admired the truck for years on the streets of La Grande. (Baker City Herald photograph by Jayson Jacoby).
Matt Sirrine has owned Ol Blue for 28 years but had admired the truck for years on the streets of La Grande. (Baker City Herald photograph by Jayson Jacoby).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

Matt Sirrines entry in the Memory Cruise wasnt the sleekest or the shiniest, and it was far from the fastest.

But Sirrines trophy-winner could have crushed the rest of the competitors into heaps of ruined sheetmetal and chrome,

And it could have wreaked all that havoc so quickly that the oil splashing its engines six cylinders wouldnt have had time to get more than lukewarm.

According to its registration, the rig is a 1947 Dodge Power Wagon.

But Sirrine just calls him Ol Blue.

In the 28 years since Sirrine, whos now 48, paid $350 for the truck, Ol Blue has carried him across rivers, over boulders bigger than a Volkswagen, and through snow drifts deep enough to strand a polar bear.

The one-ton truck also has pulled out of trouble probably every model of four-wheel drive every made.

Once, in deep snow, Sirrine said he had to push a Chevrolet pickup that was mired in the powder.

Not an unusual day, except that at the time Ol Blue was also towing a Jeep CJ-5.

Thats what he does best, said Sirrine, who never calls his truck a truck to him the Dodge is either he or Ol Blue.

You cant hurt him.

He wanted that truck

Sirrine, who lives in La Grande, was living there when he first became acquainted with Ol Blue about 35 years ago.

He used to walk past the truck on his way to junior high.

Sirrine doesnt know who Ol Blues original owner was, but he said one longtime La Grande resident told him the truck was in town at least as far back as 1953.

Everyone can remember it, he said. It had just been around La Grande forever.

In 1973, several years after he first pined for Ol Blue, Sirrine learned the owners of a mobile home dealership were using the truck to haul trailers.

Sirrine offered $350.

He wanted Ol Blue so badly he even volunteered to pull trailers himself until the dealership found a new tow rig.

Sirrine was 20 at the time, and his only plan for Ol Blue was to drive the truck in the mountains, fording streams and plowing through mudholes and hauling out deer and elk.

The old Dodge did it all with aplomb.

Sirrine kept the truck running, but he wasnt much for the fancy stuff.

Every year, after the previous months of tangling with roadside trees and the occasional close encounter with a rock, Sirrine would paint Ol Blue with house paint and a big brush.

In the scrapbook he takes to car shows like the Memory Cruise, there is a photo of Ol Blue parked on the street in front of Sirrines house.

The truck, standing taller than any of the air-conditioned, CD player-equipped sport-utility vehicles so popular today, is smeared with mud and has chains on all four of its intimidatingly tall tires. Ol Blue looks tired but tough, like a linebacker sitting on the bench with blood dripping from his nose and steam rising from his sweaty bald head. Its the sort of truck a mother might tell her children to stay a good distance away from.

Good times, bad times

Not all of Sirrines memories of Ol Blue are happy ones.

In 1977, while he was creeping across a section of road that tilted toward a dropoff, the truck slipped into a deep rut made by motorcycles.

Sirrines roommate died in the wreck.

A tragedy, he said.

About a decade after Sirrine bought the truck, he found a Power Wagon truck bed in a field near Hermiston. He decided to buy it and replace the wrecker bed that had been on Ol Blue since he bought it.

Then he figured hed paint the truck, except hed paint it the way you paint a car, not a house.

When I painted it it just turned out good, and people said I should show it, Sirrine said. People liked it, so I just started taking it to shows.

But not until he had spent a year and a half restoring Ol Blue to better-than-new shape.

In 1989 Sirrine drove Ol Blue to Iowa for a national Power Wagon convention. The round trip was 3,500 miles at a maximum of 45 mph.

It took me four days, driving almost the entire day, he said.

It was summer, of course. And air-conditioning was not an option on 1947 Power Wagons. (Although roll-down windows were.)

Sirrine has driven Ol Blue to shows across Eastern Oregon and Western Idaho, to Joseph and Burns and The Dalles and Payette. Hes won enough trophies to fill the trucks cab, including a couple of Best of Shows.

Hes always gone over real good, Sirrine said.

But Sirrine doesnt enter Ol Blue for the hardware.

His favorite part of the shows is listening to people as they examine the truck, hunkering down to look at axles as wide as a steers head, pausing for a few minutes to peruse the scrapbook he leaves on Ol Blues massive front fender, a heavy-gauge steel sculpture that more resembles some medieval battle weapon than an automotive accessory.

Some of these kids have never even seen one of these, and they just want to know what it is, Sirrine said. And all the old guys used to have one.

Ol Blue is retired from four-wheeling now, Sirrine said.

But sometimes its hard, he said, a struggle to not steer away from the pavement, ram the transfer case levers into four-wheel drive and low range and roll to wherever he wants to go.

Once, after he had restored Ol Blue, he decided to go four-wheeling up Ladd Canyon.

He was rattling down a goat path-like trail when he met another, newer rig.

Nice truck, the other driver said. What are you doing driving it out here?

How to explain the feelings he has for Ol Blue, the relationship theyve forged over almost three decades of slogging through Northeastern Oregons roughest country?

Thats what he likes to do, Sirrine says with a shrug. You cant hurt him.

When Sirrine four-wheels now he drives a 1954 Dodge military truck. He doesnt call this one by name or by pronoun, but it serves the purpose.

Ol Blue will stay a show truck, but Sirrine figures hes earned a few sunny Saturdays with cool green grass beneath his big tires instead of rubber-shredding granite.

I dont think I would ever get rid of him, Sirrine says, and as he rests a hand on one shiny black fender, there seems to be no doubt.