I spent a good part of my life growing up in the little town of Davis, West Virginia -- a small hamlet inside Canaan Valley, a now extemely popular spot on the east coast for downhill and cross country skiing, mountain biking, camping and hiking, and all sorts of other outdoor sporting pursuits.
But back when my dad had a small cabin built in 1972 on a parcel of land he bought from local farmer Hank Mallow (one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet), coal and cattle formed the backbone of Davis' small economy -- and little else. The gigantic Mount Storm power plant 10 miles down the road (a smoking concrete behemoth straight out of Blade Runner) steadily employed some of the town's hardworking souls, but most worked in the mines and on farms, along with a lucky few in the then-new tourist industry.
Over the summers and winters I spent in Davis, I really learned about how deeply woven trucks are into our fabric of life. Only one railroad line runs up into the mountains around Canaan and it just carries coal to feed the big power generating beast at the other end of the valley. Tractor trailers hauling fuel, food, and everything else from soap to band aids ply the narrow, twisting roads up Scheer Mountain into the valley almost every day, giving Davis the necessities it needs to keep functioning.
Trucks also provide the only surefooted means of getting around, too. Every household has a four-wheel drive pickup -- most with a snowplow attachment mounted on the front bumper -- for Old Man Winter always gives the valley a few wicked storms when he comes through. We got snowed in one year for a week, unable to get my family's bulky rear-wheel drive Plymouth station wagon out over four foot drifts.
Once, in college, I drove up there in my old Honda Civic (my sister later killed it ... but that's another story) and went skidding off the ice-slicked road in the middle of the night like a hockey puck. Fortunately, the shift was changing at the plant, so the pickups emptied out and I found myself and my Honda literally picked up and put back on the road. (By the way, folks in Canaan are some of the best in the world. I never even had to ask for help that night -- everyone just came over, got me back on the road, and went on to work).
Trucks were a fact of life in Davis -- and still are. I've witnessed more than a few would-be mountain bikers and their AWD Subarus being winched out of ditches and other tough spots along the muddy back roads in Canaan. Our former neighbors, the Martins (they moved back into town) still have a big GMC Jimmy circa 1977 they use to get around in the snow and muck. Might not get the best gas mileage, but it completes the journey. Every time.
I don't get up to Davis and Canaan as much as I'd like anymore, but the memories are never far away. The countless miles up and down those narrow country roads passing logging trucks, dump trucks, tractor trailers, snow plows, you name it, painted vivid images in brain that always remind me just how important those vehicles are to have around. So while we keep seeking for ways to make them cleaner and sip less fuel , let's always remember why we have them in the first place. Because without them, daily life would get an awful lot harder.