Book Excerpt: ‘Pickups, A Love Story’

Americans are passionate about their pickups. In his new book, photographer Howard Zehr let’s Virginia pickup owners tell their “love stories” about this iconic, rural American vehicle.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Photographer Howard Zehr lives in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  His work usually deals with weighty subjects such as victims of violent crime, life-sentenced prisoners and other topics related to his efforts as co-leader of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice & Peacebuilding. His most recent book, Pickups: A Love Story (2013, Good Books), focuses on what he calls “lighter fare”: interviews and photos of Virginia pickup truck owners. In this excerpt, Virginian Steven “Cody” Dean describes what he looks for in a truck and what owning a truck means to him.

As told by Steven “Cody” Dean to Howard Zehr:

It’s my baby, oh yeah. I got this one because I’ve always wanted a bigger truck. As soon as I looked at this truck, I was like, “This is my truck.” I got a job, and I can afford it now. I’ve wanted to spoil myself a little bit, give myself some incentives, so I just got rid of my old truck. I think a week ago it settled in, “You don’t have your red truck no more.” And I was like, “Ah, man. That was my first truck.”

It’s an ’07, a Chevrolet. I think one of the reasons why I went Chevy is—you know Justin Moore, the country artist? He sings a song called “Bed of my Chevy.” And that truck, that same body style, was in Kip Moore’s music video for “Somethin ’Bout a Truck.”

I pulled stuff with my old truck: cattle trailers, horse trailers, and trailers with hay on them. I made it do the job. I trusted it, I believed in it, and it did it. But it wasn’t enough. This one here, I can pull trailers, and I can go anywhere I need to go. I can drive in a truck and feel like it looks good. I have a very big problem with driving a vehicle that doesn’t look good. I want it to stick out, and this one sticks out.

I don’t know if it looks like a redneck truck or not. What it says about me is this is my taste, and you can either like it or you can’t—plain and simple. There’s stuff I wanta put on that truck that people don’t agree with. It’s my truck to express myself—a statement, to be honest with you, to rub in everybody’s faces. When I was in high school, there were people who didn’t think I could make it, didn’t think I would be anybody. It just feels good, drivin’ around and seeing all the people I went to high school with, the ones that doubted me. They see my truck, and they’re like, “Oh boy, he’s doing good for himself.” I have to sit back and just smile. It makes you feel good. Especially because it’s a truck!

Around these areas, we love our trucks. I mean you have not experienced anything until you hop in a truck and drive through the mountains with no idea where you’re goin’. I can do that with this truck. It’s me with my truck, me with the people I’m with, and I’m just cruising. I have not a worry in the world. I’m graspin’ nature. It’s the best feeling in the world. I don’t know why he keeps coming up, but Justin Moore sings another song, “Flyin’ Down A Back Road.” It by far defines the feeling that I get when I’m driving down a back road.

A vehicle that goes off road, like a Jeep—if it doesn’t have a bed, it doesn’t make sense. What happens if I need to help someone move? What happens if I want to take a girl for ride and we get up and we wanta star-gaze if I don’t have a bed to lay in? A truck is everything you want.

So far I’ve changed the headlights, revamped the interior, and put in the Mossy Oak floor mats, windshield visor, and the sunscreen, and I got stickers. All trucks need to have stickers. And every piece of chrome you see on that truck will disappear. I do not like chrome. To me, it’s a different generation. Back in the day, they loved chrome. So many people overuse chrome. Those rims on that truck, they’re gonna be black. With a white truck, black and white looks amazing!

Photo © Howard Zehr
Jeffery Walker with his 1977 Ford F-100. Howard Zehr profiled 42 different sets of owners and their trucks for his book.

When someone has a truck, they have to make it look good. I don’t know how much I can stress that. That is my incentive. Okay, this may sound weird, or wrong—but I’m only 19 years old. That truck out there is my kid, and I’m gonna do everything to make it the biggest and best, the strongest kid on the playground.

It also has to sound good, it does. When you’re driving down the road, people are going to look at your truck. This happens to me all the time and makes me feel good. “Ah, I love your truck. That’s one badass Chevrolet.” I love it. They’re saying stuff when they see it, and I want them to continue saying stuff when I’m driving away. It makes me feel good that the people who have put me down in the past are sitting there talking about me.

Text and photos are from Pickups: A Love Story by Howard Zehr. © by Good Books ( All rights reserved. Used by permission.


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