Vail Daily column: The big red truck |

Vail Daily column: The big red truck

Warren Miller
Valley Voices

In the spring of 1950, I was surfing at San Onofre when a friend named Burrhead drove up in a shiny brand-new Chevrolet panel delivery truck. It was the perfect surfing wagon and he had already converted the inside into what I thought was the perfect apartment on wheels.

I had 37 rolls of exposed Kodachrome film that I was somehow going to convert into a feature-length ski film. Once I did that I knew I would be traveling a lot, and if I got a truck like this I could live in it while I was traveling and showing this brand-new ski film about Squaw Valley the first winter.

I quickly sold my worn-out Ford business coupe, got a short-term small loan from my grandmother and proudly drove away in a fire engine red, 1950 Chevy panel delivery truck. This was the first new automobile of my life, and for an extra $150 added onto the $1,300 purchase price I was able to buy all the bells and whistles in my new apartment on wheels.

I drove the truck and lived in it at ski resort parking lots from Southern California to British Columbia and as far east as Stowe, Vermont.

I had a nice bed in it, a stove to cook on, ample storage space for skis plus my projector and camera equipment, and my horizon was as far as 18 cents a gallon gasoline could take me.

During the winter of 1950-51 while I was just getting the film business underway, I pounded nails Mondays through Fridays, then picked up three or four people and we drove to Mammoth Mountain for a weekend of filming. They bought the gas for the 700-mile round trip and a 1,000 mile oil change and I had enough left over gas to get to my job site during the week.

I have a photograph of the truck buried under 6 or 8 inches of snow, icicles hanging everywhere and parked right next to the lodge at Squaw Valley over the Thanksgiving weekend of 1951.

In 1953 while sleeping in the parking lot at Aspen, I met a fellow who lived in an exclusive suburb north of Chicago and wanted me to show my film to his son’s private school.

Since I was driving to New York City anyway, why not?

I did feel a little awkward, however, when he had me park in the alley behind his three-car garage so the neighbors wouldn’t see my truck, but the trash truck woke me up at 5:30 the next morning.

I got up, cooked breakfast and began the rest of the trip to New York City.

The over-3,000-mile trip from Los Angeles to New York City took two or three days less than I had planned on so I took a side trip north to Stowe, Vermont, to film and was able to include an Eastern ski resort in my third ski film.

Fortunately for me Vermont was not its usual below zero temperature.

My overhead to travel to a show was just the 16 to 18 cent a gallon gasoline and food that I cooked on my Coleman stove in the kitchen of the truck.

One night I did a free show for a famous movie star who lived on the beach in Santa Monica.

After I unloaded all of my equipment — projector, screen, etc. — her butler had me park a block or so away from where she lived, for the same reason as the guy in Chicago. As soon as they finished dinner we started the show.

Did I care? Absolutely not, because every night I slept in that truck I saved enough money on dinner, motel and breakfast to buy yet another roll of Kodachrome for my already planned next feature film.

I finally unloaded the big red truck after the speedometer registered 25,000 miles for the second time around, or a total of 125,000 miles.

I can’t understand why more young people don’t take into consideration the economic difference between a big red truck and the latest and greatest sports car from Detroit that might even have a convertible top.

One Friday night after pounding nails all day I drove north, got as far as Klamath Falls, Oregon, and ran into a blizzard. I parked the van in the bus parking lot and rode the bus to Eugene, Oregon, to show and narrate the film. Then I got back on the bus rode back to Klamath Falls, got in my truck and only missed one day of pounding nails. My only overhead was gasoline and the drive time.

In today’s truck market you can spend almost as much money tricking out your basic panel delivery truck as you can for the truck itself. If your lady friend doesn’t like riding in a truck with a bed in the back, that’s tough.

My wife, Laurie, kids me about being perfectly content to be living in a truck, a small motor-home or a trailer. I see nothing wrong with that attitude because the more stuff you have the more time it takes to take care of it and move it from Point A to Point B.

The big red truck had twice the amount of space that I was given when I went aboard my first Navy ship at Guadalcanal.

For some reason my three children never owned or lived in a truck, but then why should they? They grew up living on the beach in Southern California and enjoyed free ski trips all their early years. They still act like the ski areas should put them up for free. That’s the unfortunate entitlement attitude of Southern California.

If you want to give your children a great graduation from college present, buy them a truck to live in and give them a gasoline credit card and tell them you’ll see them in a year to take back the credit card and they’ll have to start making payments on the truck. Why not?

Some of the most enjoyable moments of my life have been when I woke up in the morning in that big red truck and it was buried in 18 inches of powder snow, under a cobalt blue sky and I had plenty of film to capture that beauty instead of having spent the money for room and board.

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to

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