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OPINION: The Old Gray Gal

by Devin Houston | July 28, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

Most everyone agrees that today's economy is bonkers. Houses are selling above asking price and fast-food joints are handing out hundreds of dollars in signing bonuses. Lumber prices are still high, and with wildfires in the northwest United States decimating the pine, timber may go higher. Realtors, airlines and car dealers can't keep up with consumer demand, which will remain high for months to come. A hysteria of materialistic consumption has spread across the country as we emerge from pandemic doldrums, desperate to buy anything before someone else gets it. Nothing boosts morale better than spending money!

I must admit, I feel the same urge. My 2001 Chevrolet Duramax is again my daily driver, having loaned out my 2015 Canyon on an indefinite basis. I miss the satellite radio, backup camera, steering wheel controls and other niceties of the newer truck but don't miss making monthly payments. Used vehicle prices are increasing due to lack of supply of new vehicles, due to a shortage of electronic components. If you can find a vehicle for sale, expect no mercy from the seller. As I write this, I'm viewing the listing of a 2021 jet-black, fully loaded Denali Duramax driven less than 3,500 miles. It can be had for the price of $91,750. My first house cost less.

I bought my Duramax in 2003 from an online auction site for $25,000. The first owner was a retired gentleman in Dallas who hooked it up to an RV, drove around the country for two years and 15,000 miles, then commissioned a dealer to sell it. It looked brand new, ran great and had the gooseneck hitch I needed for hauling.

I drove it for a few years, until diesel prices went above $4 a gallon. When I bought a 2005 Pontiac GTO (actually, a Holden Commodore, made in Australia for General Motors) in 2009, I reasoned that I could use the Duramax only for hauling and "farm work" and save on fuel costs by driving the GTO but, honestly, I was just a sucker for the hood scoops and 400 foot-pounds of horsepower. Back then, dealer inventory was high and sales were low, so I was able to get a good price on my mid-life crisis. So, the old Duramax sat idle except for occasional hauls of firewood and hay.

I eventually sold the Aussie GTO and all the other muscle car projects I had gathered over the years. The Canyon I bought in 2015 was great but, as it was new, I was careful with it. The only thing I hauled with it was recycling materials and small items that fit under the bed cover. All the heavy truck use was relegated to the old Duramax, which inevitably resulted in scratches and dents. I creased the Dura's rear fender when backing up a small trailer too sharply. Bumpers were dented by trees and concrete light pole fixtures in various parking lots (no backup camera). The Gray Gal was always dirty because I rarely washed it; she's got sort of a gold sheen to her metallic grey now. Some rust showed up in the rocker panels, nothing a little foam and bondo can't fix. The air conditioning compressor went out twice; that's the largest expense incurred to date. The seats are littered with tools, receipts, work gloves and dog fur from vet trips, but they aren't torn or worn out. Every other year I shell out some money to fix the items that wear out over time, but the cost outlay doesn't near approach what I would have made in loan payments.

The old gal's engine is strong and pulls like a beast and has hauled round bales and heavy equipment with no problems. With only 98,000 miles on it, the diesel engine is barely broken in. I am regularly asked if I want to sell it. Apparently, that generation of Duramax engine, the LB7, is highly sought after as it has far fewer emission controls and is more easily modified.

The truck doesn't have the fancy tailgate that folds down seven different ways for easy access to the back, but I did bolt on a "step-up" platform to the back bumper that lets me get into the truck bed more easily. I can drive it through the woods and not flinch when tree branches scrape the sides, put it in 4-wheel drive to push through muddy gravel and boulders without worrying about scraping the fancy wheels of a new truck. The gauges are old-fashioned analog versions, but they don't burn out like digital gauges.

No, I'll pass on the current buying frenzies. At least until those new electric trucks come around in a couple of years!

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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