Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kept On Truckin

Back in 1968, in the first issue of Zap Comix, there was a one page comic strip of many different men strutting confidently (i.e. about 25 degrees vertical from the ground with a distorted view of the bottom of their lead shoe) across different landscapes.  The drawings became iconic images of optimism of that era.

Even today there are many men over 60 years old that, to their embarrassment, still have a "Keep On Truckin" tattoo on their upper arm.

Well the other day during my stop at the staging area for sugar cane deliveries at the Kumphawapi Sugar Company, I came upon what I felt was Isaan's response to the proverb to "Keep On Truckin".

Parked amongst all the various models and ages of trucks heavily laden with freshly harvested sugar cane was an Isuzu lorry.  Lorry?  Lorry is a British term for "truck".  Upon close inspection of the vehicle, I could not in any good faith refer to it as a "truck".  Fred Sanford, the television character, drove a truck.  Jedd Clampett, another television character, drove a truck.  This vehicle was unlike any thing that I had seen before.

Riveted Bodywork - A Long Lost Practise
After some Internet research, I determined that Isuzu commenced manufacturing "lorries" in Thailand in 1957.  I strongly suspect that this was a lorry from 1957.  Why?  First of all the lorry did not have a sheet metal body. It had a STEEL body.  I saw portions of the fender that had RUST thicker than the sheet metal used in today's vehicles.  Secondly, portions of the bodywork were RIVETED construction.  I looked closely to ensure that the rivets were not for decorative effect.  Thirdly, the vehicle did not have doors on it.

No Need for Doors ... or Upholstery!
Closer inspection of the driver's compartment revealed a wood bench seat with no upholstery or cushioning other than a folded saht that the driver had placed himself.  There were no side windows either.  With no doors or windows there was no need for air conditioning.  There was no radio or GPS.  This lorry added a new meaning to "bare bones".

This lorry was obviously over 50 years old and still running.  This in itself adds a totally new aspect to the adage that they do not build them like they used to.  Given the lack of the Lao Loum "preventative maintenance" practises in regards to mechanical equipment, the fact that this lorry is still able to perform is a testament to the design and durability of its construction.  Here in Isaan, when something is broken it is typically repaired by shade tree mechanics.  With thick steel construction, dents are minimized, rust through is reduced, and repairs are easy to make when necessary.

The trailer portion of the lorry was constructed of wood and with a unique color scheme - definitely not original and most likely not even "lead free".  As I photographed the lorry I kept thinking of all the repairs that were made to keep this lorry... to keep this lorry truckin.

It appeared that the  windshield had been replaced.  The windshield seemed to fit properly but had a unique mechanism to keep it in place. Three ropes were strung across the face of the windshield to fasten it to the steel frame of the cab.

Yes this lorry has been kept on truckin long after comparable vehicles in the USA have been scrapped.

Once again I had witnessed how important it is that things be fit for purpose rather than "looking good".  Once again I had seen that planned obsolescence once could be resisted.  Once again I marvelled at the persistence and ingenuity of the Lao Loum people to make do with what is available ... for much longer than you might expect.

"Keep On Truckin"


  1. "Fit for Purpose" a very relevant concept in countries with scarce resources...

    Great blog, Allen

  2. "Fit for purpose" a concept that unfortunately has become less relevent in countries with what they believe have bountiful resources. "Shock and Awe" be it a military strategy or a way of life wastes resources ... people, money, materials and time.