The Right Ice Auger for the Job

The Right Ice Auger for the Job – Part 1

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Head to any outdoors retailer in search of an ice auger, and you’re likely to be confused.  Colors of red, black, yellow, and green, each with several powerheads to drive a spinning bit, of which there are also several variations.  All of it just to cut a simple hole in the ice from which to fish.  For those that think this is overkill, I would agree, but also should point out that each of these features may directly impact the way you fish.  As part of a two-part series, I’ll deconstruct the powerhead, auger, and blade portions of your ice-cutter, then reassemble them in Part 2 to help you find an auger perfectly matched to your style of fishing.

Electric Powerhead – Electric is the rage, and for good reason.  No gas or exhaust fumes, and no carburetors to fuss with.  That said, be honest with yourself and how many holes you cut.  If the answer is more than 50 in thick ice, you’ll be needing either the latest and greatest Lithium-powered auger offered, or end up going straight to Gas and Propane models.  If you live in the northern portion of the ice belt, consider ultra-thick late-season ice should you fish during those times of the year and again, go right to the other powerhead option.

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Gas/Propane Powerhead – Gas powerheads are still the most common and longest running product lines out there, because they work well.  Longevity here is due to plenty of engine tinkering over the years, as well as the fact that gasoline does a great job of providing the appropriate compression to power a transmission that spins a large metal bit.  Propane offers many of the same attributes on the cutting end, with the benefit of low or no exhaust, yet is a less efficient means of achieving that same combustion.  That simply means you’ll use more propane to achieve the same results, though it may be worthwhile if you’re looking for gas-like power through thick ice with low exhaust. 

Auger – Nearly all auger bits are metal, mostly because it has proven difficult over the years to mount metal blades on a flexible surface while still maintaining their ability to cut ice.  This can work for blades that don’t require a specific pitch or angle of attack to cut efficiently, but most of the quick-cutting options out there these days are metal.  Of course metal is much heavier, so there’s a tradeoff between weight and speed that you’ll have to choose between.  Sizes can range from 4”es to 10”, but spinning more auger bit, moves more ice, and thus requires more horsepower.  

Blades – I’m of the opinion that blade styles should drive the largest portion of your purchasing decisions, and here’s why; of the 3 main blade styles out there, each does something far better than the other. 

The chipper style blade is a serrated, angled blade that’s been around for quite some time.  It actively crushes and breaks the ice as the ice auger rotates downward.  This design has a number of advantages because of that pulverizing action, first and foremost being that it re-drills old holes with ease.  There’s no bouncing or jarring break-through when going back into a permanent that’s had frozen-over holes for two weeks, but because of the torque and crushing force required for this blade to auger ice, they tend to have gas powerheads atop them.  Still, they have a dedicated following, as the blades can be easily filed for sharpening, and are nearly bullet-proof, even when hitting sand or other debris on the ice.

Flat-style blades have also been around for some time, though almost primarily on hand-augers.  While they are curved along the length of their cutting edge, they sit almost flat against the ice, hence their name.  As a general rule, they cut rather inefficiently, which is a real problem with thick ice when human-powered.  That said, when spun fast enough on a power auger, either electric or gas, they provide a medium cutting speed and can also redrill old holes, though not as well as a chipper style blade system.  This hybrid style of blade systems has come back and gained in popularity when paired with electric augers.

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

The last cutting system is a shaver-style blade.  It is curved, both along the long edge, and short edge of the blade, as if someone grabbed both ends of the blade and twisted in opposite directions.  They’re often serrated, and lazer-sharp, relying on cutting angle and a precise pitch to shave and slice in a true corkscrew fashion.  They are by far the fastest cutting system, whether as a single-piece end bit, or with replaceable blades that typically require professional sharpening.  Those blades are precision cutting instruments that shave the ice, but do so aggressively, allowing the auger to drive deeper with each successive turn.  That said, the edges carved out make re-drilling old-holes a bit trickier than with the other systems.  To re-drill old holes with a shaver-style blade, you need to only proceed until water appears.  At that point, stop turning the bit, and simply lift up.  Continuing down and under the ice makes the edges of the auger flighting catch on the way up, and can create difficulty in pulling it above ice.  They’re also a little bit touchy when it comes to hitting debris or sand on the ice, so carrying replacements is a good idea.

In part two, I’ll describe a handful of anglers and what pairings match best to specific situations on ice.  While no one auger can do it all, the goal is to best suit the majority of icescapes you encounter.          

The Right Ice Auger for the Job – Part 2

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Photo Credit - Ben Larson - In-Depth Media Productions

Now that you know not all augers are created equal, it’s time to provide some common ice fishing situations, and prescribe the right ice auger for the job.  Of course, there will always be variations to your fishing, in terms of everything from location and species, to ice thickness and the shelter you fish in.  If you’re going to settle on a single auger, you’ll likely need to put up with some of the inconveniences which certain powerhead, auger bit, and blade combinations create.  All of which we’ve been doing for years without even really knowing it.  That said, just as with different fishing rods, specialized tools can make any job more enjoyable.

Panfish-Only Anglers – It’s surprising to most anglers, but there’s few panfish, even exceptional trophy panfish that won’t fit through a 6” hole.  Most will fit through a 5” hole.  Why go so small?  Because it’s simply easier to drill more holes, faster, and with less effort than with larger auger bits.  For finicky gills and crappies, more holes can really make all the difference, such that have a large, heavy auger can not only require more time to drill the same amount of holes, it can prevent you from drilling more and finding more fish.  To me, the perfect panfish rig is a 6” shaver style blade and auger bit system, with a trusty electric power source of your choice on top of it. 

Southern Style – If you live in the southern portions of ice territory, consider a hand auger, but make sure it has the shaver or lazer-style blades.  You’d be amazed at how fast they’ll cut 4-8”es of ice, and chances are if you’re living here, you might not cut much ice in a season anyway.  This is a cheap way to make short work of ice, and step light while doing it.

Photo Credit - Ben Brettingen

Photo Credit - Ben Brettingen

Predator Chasers – If you chase big pike and lake trout, you’re somewhat committed to a 10” bit.  Also, because of the locations of these fish, you’re probably looking at thicker ice than usual, and a gas or propane powerhead will be required to turn those larger bits.  Some of the beefier electric units out there will spin such bits, but depending on how much ice and how many holes you’re cutting, you might be wishing you had more reserve run-time.  As far as blade-styles, you’re probably cutting a new hole each time, so the shaver styles will cut them faster and with less effort.

Wheelhouse Crowd – For anglers in a wheelhouse, fumeless is the way to go, as you’ll be occupying that same airspace for some-time after the holes have been drilled.  While there is the potential to re-drill old holes in the most extreme of circumstances, Wheelhouse anglers are typically pulling their house off the lake after each trip and relocating to a different lake or area each time.  In that respect, the advantage goes to a shaver-style system with a heavy-duty electric powerhead on top.  This allows you to move a few times per day even, as well as drill tip-up or extra scouting holes outside of your shelter without running out of battery power.  Consider the flat-style or hybrid blades should you keep coming back to the same wheelhouse day after day, weekend after weekend.  As for auger size, 8” or 10” is standard, with some anglers preferring a 10” hole because it freezes out slower, and other anglers preferring an 8” hole because fish have a harder time turning around inside of it and swimming down. 

Permanent Dwelling – If you re-located only a handful of times per year, your number one consideration should be re-drilling old holes.  While a chipper blade system will perform best here, few chipper systems exist on any platform but gas augers.  If the fumes bother you, go with an electric powerhead and flat-style blades.  If you’re split on the matter, utilize a propane powerhead with the chipper systems available for the easiest hole re-opening and relatively few fumes. 

Portable Patroller – For the angler that roams the open ice sheet, drilling to the ends of the horizon, the ultimate ice auger is gas-powered with shaver-style blades.  Nothing cuts easier, faster, or longer than this combination in a standard 8” size.  That covers almost all bases, and will serve you for about any ice situation without feeling like performance is a problem.  As I’ve written previously however, the new electric systems are seriously pushing the limits of what your mobile angler of today needs.  New Lithium powered models that punch hundreds of holes in a foot of ice will serve the vast majority of even the most auger-happy angler.  For the northern portion of the market however, you’ll be wanting gas from February forward, especially if you’ll be needing an auger extension as is common in that part of the ice belt. 

If you don’t fit any of these categories, I’m positive that by now you know enough about each feature and its attributes to build your own perfect machine.  What’s more likely is that you fit several of these categories at once.  At which point you’ll have to choose either what’s the most common type of fishing you do, or purchase another auger to serve the other end of your needs.  Yet another option is to buy additional auger bits that feature a different size or cutting system, such that one powerhead can turn both.  This is a great way to address a few situations at once, such that you’ll never be left needing more from your ice cutter.

Of course, the entire conversations demands the question, “Why does all this matter?”  The answer is that to any one individual, it may not.  To me however, each hole is a cast.  To the open water angler, recreating the exact same cast is only an option when it continues to produce.  Naturally, when that cast’s magic wears out, it’s time to cast elsewhere.  The same can be said for fishing on ice.  When I’m not catching where I’ve drilled, I drill more, and any impediment to me drilling more holes is a limit to the amount of fish I’ll catch.  Naturally, we make concessions for comfort, and employ a host of methods to make up for our unwillingness to move, yet even for the house-bound crowd, having the right auger for the job makes it far less of a “job.”

Success on Ice When You Can’t be Mobile

Tip-Ups offer a great way to cover ice-estate, even when you're hunkered down.

Tip-Ups offer a great way to cover ice-estate, even when you're hunkered down.

Much ink and article space has been given to the idea that mobility leads to more fish.  Yet even with lazer-fast augers, lightweight lithium-powered sonar, and warmer, form-fitting outwerwear the likes we’ve never seen before, we so often end up riding out a bite while sitting down, rather than kneeling or standing.  Though we may know the more productive play is to troll the open ice, weather among other things can make this difficult.  With that in mind, I’ve been told that 80% of our ice fishing brethren chooses shelter of some kind.  Increasingly, that’s in the form of a wheelhouse, where mobility is possible yet often impractical.  Still, even those in portable shelters avoid moving when at times it would likely be beneficial.  The challenge then becomes catching fish in whatever space you choose, knowing you won’t be venturing far from a home base.  Here’s a few methods I’ve used to put more fish on the floor when I’m hunkered down.

Location, Location, Location

It’s wise to consider “finding” before fishing.  This couldn’t be more true than for a wheelhouse weekend where you know you’ll be stationary for days on end.  At the very least, you want to locate yourself along some structural element that should attract fish even if not present at the moment.  Preferably, it’s a location that you’ve scouted, or at least drilled and dropped sonar on before committing to.  Though you’re likely anxious to drop down and fish, consider that just a few minutes scouting may determine the success of the entire fishing trip. 

Portable Strategies

With the advent of hub houses, the fact of the matter is that we’re often using these portable shelters more like permanent ones.  Still we know that these can be rather easily moved, so my approach is to put out a modest spread of baits, knowing full well that there’s the opportunity to easily move.  Most often, I’ll run one set-line – call it a bobber rod or deadstick – and do my best to run a jigging rod immediately nearby.  The setline usually is a plain hook or lightly dressed jig with active live-bait threaded on.  The jigging rod is a dinner bell.  Hard baits of all varieties work well here, especially loud baits with rattles that push vibrations throughout the water column to as many fish’s lateral lines as possible. 

The general idea is to draw fish into your spread so that you can show them your offerings, such that even if they don’t close on the really aggressive baits, they’re directly adjacent to a free-swimming minnow or more neutral enticement.  Keep in mind however that with a portable, you still have the option of moving throughout the day.  This means that bobber rods or deadsticks are more likely to come into play than tip-ups or rattle reels.  I find that keeping everything attached to a rod and reel allows for easier transport.

Permanent and Wheelhouse Approaches

I recoil from the thought that fishing out of a stationary shelter is limiting or otherwise lazy.  It certainly can be, but that would be like saying open water trolling is simply dragging crankbaits around until the dumb ones eat.  In the boat of a good troller, you might as well be in a science room with a lab-coat.  Variables abound, from depth, color, size, shape, bait-length, boat speed, line-distance, line-type, snap selection, location, etc., the opportunities for discovery are endless.  Soo too is it for an active wheelhouse or permanent.  Consider the house your personal lab, and a chance to really spread your wings and flex some muscles.

Tip-ups here come into play in a very big way, as you’re camping out for awhile or maybe the rest of the winter.  You can cover a sizeable distance in any direction, while offering various species at different depths, wholly different looks.  Rattle reels inside of the house become a big part of your strategy also in order to take advantage of the total number of lines you’re legally afforded given the number of people in your shelter.  On both looks I’m continually experimenting between different forms of live-bait and size, along with hook type (horizontal vs. vertical), line, weight, bobber vs. no-bobber, etc.  Like when trolling, let the fish tell you what the magic of the moment is and be ready to adapt immediately. 

Of course, ringing the dinner bell is just as important now, similar to the way that a fancy dinner spread is only possible if there are guests at the table.  Especially for long wheelhouses or permanent structures, consider people alternating holes, and fishing opposite ends to draw in fish from even greater distance surrounding.  I’ve personally seen on underwater camera the same fish identified by unique markings, a split fin, etc., directly seek-out an aggressive offering from either end of a 21-foot shelter.  That same fish won’t always commit to the fish-bell, but quite often you look down at the nearby bobber to see it buried beneath the ice. 

Stationary doesn’t have to mean sedentary, so keep working out there.  Of course, you can take a break and let the fact that just having lines down and fishing is better than sitting on the couch.  Especially during prime-times and low-light periods however, lockdown and be ready to tend a variable spread of differing bait options and delivery methods to make the most of your time on the water.     

Wheelhouse Buying Guide

Wheelhouse Buying Guide

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The wheelhouse market has exploded in recent years, giving way to some really comfortable fishing and even year-round fun.  That said, the options these days are endless, as can be the price tag, so it’s up to you to do the homework and get the most bang for your buck.  I recently put in an order for my own wheelhouse, and know from experience that settling in on a few key purchase points will help make the process go more smoothly.  Not only will you fish better, you’ll sleep easier knowing that no matter what part of the buying spectrum you bought in at you’ll be getting the most you can for the money.

Size– It’s easy to say that you’ll want the biggest house on the block, but think long and hard about how you fish.  While an smaller model may fit the budget better, my dealer tells me that there’s a good percentage of buyers that trade back in for bigger houses a year or two down the road.  If you’re already on the fence regarding how big you’ll go, you may want to err on the larger sizes.  Tandem axle trailers, though scary to some, offer a good degree of comfortable trailering on-the-road, and offer larger capacities in terms of weight and storage when in use. 

Structure - While you’re at it, what’s the frame made out of?  Steel and wood are cheaper, but they also rust and rot.  Aluminum frames and body make for a much lighter and potentially more rigid shell, while solving many of the ongoing maintenance concerns to the backbone of your trailer.  Speaking of ongoing, a 3-5 year warranty should be standard for any well-made wheelhouse, but all the warranty in the world won’t make much difference if the company folds.  That’s why I’d recommend going with an experienced manufacturer who’ll be around to answer the phone down the road if you have questions or issues.

Resale – This is confusing to many people, as the last thing on anyone’s mind when considering a big wheelhouse purchase is when or how they’ll be selling it.  That said, the longtime saying regarding the first and last day of a boat’s ownership is the best really also applies here.  Any big-ticket item like this will have a sunset date, and if you’re unsure as to when that may occur, it really behooves you to spend up on quality in the event you do own it for many, many years.  Just like any bit of modern technology, the better you buy at the outset, the less outdated you’ll be in years to come.  The good part is that Craigslist, Facebook ads, and dealership visits can give you a great picture of what resale may be 3 years, 5 years, or more down the road.

Quality - A good start is to look for fine craftsmanship inside and out.  Is the interior wood finished, the floor insulated, and wiring connections soldered and heat-shrunk?  Many wheelhouses offer what appear to be ample storage and cupboard space, but open the doors and you’ll find plumbing and heating equipment, pipes, and electrical runs.  Another place to look are the windows, of which any old Recreational Vehicle (RV) design is fine until it’s 20 below and condensation with re-freeze disallows you actually using them to vent.  Look for home-quality glass and substantially built offerings from all wall fixtures, shelves, cabinets, doors and windows.

Versatility – I’m a firm believer that with the cost of any wheelhouse these days, it better be just as good in the summer as it is in the winter.  To that end, you’re looking for many features found in the latest RV’s, which includes an installed Air Conditioning unit on top.  Many models come wired for it, but know that to make it truly flexible for all seasons you’ll likely want it cooled.  If you need to haul an ATV, UTV, or other items, consider a drop-door in the rear that’ll allow you to drive into your “toy-hauler.”

RV Certification - It's a little-known fact that summer use of a wheelhouse can be limited depending on whether or not your unit is RVIA (Recreational Vehicle Industry Association) certified.  Depending on the municipality, along with state and local regulations, some campgrounds may not permit the use of non-RV-certified wheelhouses.  This is because RV-certified house manufacturers are subject to random inspections, and adhere to codes that cover electric, plumbing, brake lights, heating and fire safety.  Ultimately, if you're interested in parking your fish-house on more than just ice, this could be a big part of your purchasing decision that is both convenient and protective.

Storage and Carrying Capacity – Storage is what really sets these wheelhouses apart, as you’ll often be packing for extended stays with multiple people.  Keeping organized on ice is a key to your fishing success when dodging all of the items your average hotel room contains, so well thought-out options that fully utilize the whole space are a premium.  So is the vehicle weight rating.  If you’ll be using this house in the summer as a “toy-hauler” you need to figure in the weight of the unit you’re hauling, plus gear, RV water and/or waste tanks.

DealershipShopping for the right dealer can be as important as the actual purchase of your wheelhouse, as working with someone local and trustworthy is both convenient and crucial to this process.  A good dealer works with product-lines that have a strong support network, with both dealer and brand supporting one another before AND after the sale.  Use common sense, and see how dealers react to the questions you pose.  If they’re defensive, have excuses, or otherwise don’t address your concerns, chances are they’re not someone you should consider doing business with.      

Price vs. Value – For most, this is where the rubber meets the road, and getting what you pay for is evident in a number of ways.  The trick is evaluating these options, and determining what you can and cannot do without.  In other words, I found that similar to a boat purchase, you get what you pay for.  Often, extra dollars invested in the front end reap rewards several-fold in terms of trouble-free service, longer-lasting products, and higher re-sale value when you eventually go to sell it.  Needs change constantly as our families, fishing, and lifestyles adapt, and it helps to go into this process knowing that you can always sell, upgrade, or trade-in to fit the needs of the future.  That is, provided you’re buying in a popular brand, model, and size such that you’ll always have the opportunity to get out from under it should anything change.  For that reason, I’m a strong proponent in buying reputable, well-built equipment with a strong warranty and track record.  Treat it well, and you’ll have a wheelhouse that serves you well and maintains value over time no matter how you use it.

Ice Augers - The Switch From Gas to Electric

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Electric ice augers have been the craze of the winter fishing market for the past decade or more, but recent advances in batteries have accelerated that surge.  Following national trends in everything from home and garden tools to our vehicles, there are definitely some things to like about electric-powered ice augers.  Gas, oil, and everything that goes along with carbureted small engines can be messy and troublesome, but electric is no silver bullet and can come with its own complications.  Like any tool, there are scenarios where it shines, and like any discipline, few products can serve all purposes equally well.  After running many models of both electric and gas-powered augers, here’s some rationale to what I plan to run and why.

Gas augers have longevity on their side.  The engineering concepts have been tested, tried, and re-created to serve about any interest an ice-angler would ever need, and more importantly, the mistakes attributed to poor design have been for the most part weeded-out.  De-compression valves make them easier to crank, pre-mixed gas and oil combinations make them easier to fuel, and laser-sharp curved blades make them cut faster by shaving ice rather than pulverizing it like the chipper models of old. 

Still, anything with gas can leak, flood, or otherwise create issues when subjected to the conditions we as ice-anglers put our augers through.  Not to mention, the burning of said gas, especially in confined areas like a fish-house is alone enough for many people to consider the switch to electric.  The upside to gas however, is that it’s a very efficient power source when compared to our current electric offerings, meaning if you’re drilling lots of holes through thick ice, electric batteries may not get you as many holes punched as your gas auger once did.  At the end of the day, that may or may not be a deal-breaker for anglers that fish well into the late-ice period when extensions are often needed for the northern portions of the ice-belt.  Though it’s a small percentage of ice anglers, for the dedicated hole-hopper who punches more than 100 holes in a sitting through thick ice, stick with gas for the time being.  

Lithium battery technology has carried electric augers much futher in recent years, with faster charging and more importantly, longer battery life that simply leads to more holes in thicker ice.  For the exclusive hard-house angler who punches a handful of holes in a shelter, then maybe a few tip-up holes outside, about any electric will do and I see few reasons to own a gas auger.  That’s a strong statement I never thought I’d utter, but after a few years of electric auger use under my belt, I’ve found the market to be full of great options to serve that need.

Decisions on gas vs. electric are much more difficult for ‘tweeners like myself.  For early ice, I’m roaming the shallows and punching lots of holes, which eventually gives way to more portable house fishing and then mid-winter drop-down or permanent shelter fishing.  As ice grows thicker and fishing gets tougher, especially on the big walleye and perch factories of the north, success is often predicated on drilling many holes and actively finding fish.  Then, the late-ice period hits with fewer holes needed, better fishing found, but thicker ice encountered. 

While it would be difficult to select one auger to excel in all of those scenarios, I’ve seen and tested enough to know that the top-end Lithium powered electric augers can serve nearly all of my ice fishing needs.  For that reason, I’m throwing in on the electric craze myself and running a 40V version as my primary auger for this ice season.  It’s been a long-time coming, yet I’ve been reticent to switch until now because of the sheer number of holes I drill in an average ice outing.  I’ll still tote a gas auger on the handful of occasions I’m ice trolling late season up on Mille Lacs, Lake of the Woods, Upper Red Lake, or Winnipeg, but those are relatively rare scenarios to the way most people fish on most lakes.

I’m not talking about cordless drills with adapter kits or the electric versions which utilize a 12V lead-acid battery.  These units have their place, but to truly cover all of your bases for an entire season on ice, I’m talking about a dedicated ice auger with an affixed high voltage, high amperage, Lithium power source.  The kind that’ll drill 100 holes per charge, be exhaust-free inside or out, and make ice chips fly with the push of a button.  These units are as light or lighter than the comparable gas version, and the cutting power doesn’t make you wish you had your old auger back. 

If you’ve been torn between the performance of gas and the many benefits of electric, a few new offerings on the electric side of the market may provide you the impetus to switch as well.  While I know that the technology will get better and better, allowing me to eventually have all of my cake and eat it too, the benefits of electric have now grown too great to sit it out another year.    

The Greatest Hunting and Fishing Buddies

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I’ve been blessed with some really great hunting and fishing buddies over the years.  Very few of them complain, all but a handful are typically better behaved than I am, and most are pretty talented outdoorsmen in their own right.  As I grow older, I’ve had to bear the occasional loss of one of them, and it’s always difficult to come to grips with the thought that you’ll never share another day in the boat, or a morning in the turkey blind.  Yet places in time and even material things can also have this affect on us, as a certain farmpond will never be as good as it was during a late-May of my youth, and no shotgun will ever hold the same importance as the Winchester 1300 pump my dad gave me. 

So it was when I dropped off my old 1998 Tacoma to its new owner last week.  Don’t laugh, trucks are as much a part of the experience as any one of your friends or family, and you’ll definitely end up spending more time with them.  271,000 miles worth of time to be exact in the case of this truck.  I got it used more than 15 years ago, and took abuse from the get-go.  Few people I knew drove a "foreign car," let alone a truck, and fewer yet used them like I did.  It was equal parts ATV, farm truck, and highway vehicle, at times heavily leaning more towards the side of off-road exhibition vehicle.  It was safer on ice due to its small size and lighter weight, and I drove it as carelessly as I could, less cautiously than I should.  After all those miles and memories, the same friends and family that once ribbed me have gone through 2 or 3 trucks in the same amount of time.

Neil Young wrote a song about his favorite vehicle, an old Buick of all things, singing: “With your chrome heart shining, in the sun, long may you run.”  Or was it about a girl?  Though likely an unknown metaphor, it’s easy to see why he thought of that old Roadmaster having a heart.  Though we know these are just bolted-together contraptions of steel, plastic, and carpet, they also both share and make memories.  Like the time chasing turkeys on some hill in the pan-handle of Nebraska that the old Tacoma climbed such a steep grade, I felt gravity not just pushing me deep into the seat, but almost up and out of it like an astronaut headed for the Moon.  Or the numerous times it skinnied its way through forest rails, field roads, and ditches after everything from mallards to morels. 

It worked harder than it played, like the time we were building our house when I hooked it up to a few strands of grass-buried barbed wire, only to pull out about 100 yards of old fence-line as that little engine groaned.  Or the time I snapped both leaf springs loading mulch for a spring landscaping session.  I was mean, and it was kind.  No matter how much abuse I applied, it only required some gas weekly, oil annually, and new tires occasionally. 

Much like our own friends and family members, we look back and have our regrets.  My Tacoma was parked outside the last 10 years of its life, and I wish now it would’ve been inside.  Weather-checked tires, peeled paint, and rust give it character, but that’s no way to treat an old friend.  Neither were all the bumps, deep gouges, dents, and dings I carelessly applied over its long-life.  We never made it to collector’s plates together, and I’m the sole reason why. 

Still, when we say goodbye, we realize that goodbye is not forever.  This is especially true in the case of my old truck, as it’s going to an old friend in hills and valleys of Pepin County Wisconsin.  Last I talked to him, he’d already taken it around to all of his coon and coyote-hunting buddies to brag about how little he’ll be getting stuck this winter.  By the time this goes to press, my old truck has become someone’s brand-new-used truck.  Parts of it won’t change, as I requested to have the turkey feathers and molded old turkey beard on the dash remain as permanent fixtures.  At the same time, everything changes, nothing stays the same.  I know it’ll have a new dog box installed in the bed for a good group of respectable hounds, and I’m thinking that the 4WD shifter might be strapped into place from September through April.  It’ll be at home on the dairy farm, hauling calves, feed, and logs whenever called upon. 

So as I say so-long to another old friend, I know again, farewells are never permanent.  Sometimes if we look hard enough, and even more-so when we’re not searching, memories well up all around us.  Those beloved people, the places of our childhood, and the things that have been with us the longest can never truly be forgotten.  They continue on, just as we do, becoming more a part of us than what they meant to us.  No matter where they end up or how they get there, we remember them because we are them. 

Long may you run.

Dedicated to my late parents and the Mike Hernke Family. 

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