The Rockwood Files: The Dump Truck Daddy

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

In 1977, when I was about 5 years old, my father bought a new Ford dump truck for his one-man landscaping business. It was big, green, and loud. My 11-year-old brother Greg and I thought this was the greatest thing that could have ever happened to us.

We were young and easily impressed with large machinery. Our dad buying a dump truck meant we were a sure bet to win the neighborhood “My dad is better than your dad” contest. After all, we were the only kids we knew whose dad got paid to play in the dirt.

On the Fourth of July, just days after the dump truck came to live at our house, we had a backyard cookout. Mom and Dad invited some of their friends over, and Greg and I invited every kid on our block with instructions to wear swimsuits.

While the parents grilled hot dogs, the kids fought over who was next in line to run through the water sprinkler. Suddenly, Dad disappeared, and minutes later, we heard the roar of the dump truck’s engine starting up in the lot beside our house. The sound grew louder and soon we saw the truck rounding the corner, heading right for us. Everyone cleared the path as Dad backed the new truck into the center of the yard.

He got out and didn’t say anything but grabbed the water hose and tossed it over the side of the truck’s bed. Then he went about crafting a makeshift water seal out of an old rubber inner tube from a tractor tire, and he shoved it in the crack of the tailgate so the water wouldn’t leak out. My mother thought he was nuts, of course, but it wasn’t the strangest thing she’d ever known him to do, so she resumed cooking hot dogs while her friends stood around murmuring, “What in the world…”

Soon, the dump truck’s bed began to fill with cool water, and Dad gave us the go-ahead. We climbed onto the top of the truck’s cab and jumped in. I was little enough so that the water at the deepest end was over my head. Soon, about 10 kids were swimming in that truck bed, splashing, diving for pennies, and thoroughly happy to have gone from sharing one wimpy water sprinkler to doing the backstroke in a dump truck.

The parents took pictures, knowing it was perhaps the only time they’d see their kid jumping into a dump truck swimming pool. After that day, the truck went on work duty, hauling topsoil, tree limbs, and pea gravel from job to job.

Sometimes, Dad would bring home some “extra dirt.” He’d let my brother pull the levers that made the hydraulic steel cylinders tilt the truck bed to a high angle until the dirt cascaded into a heap in our yard. This kind of dramatic event attracted every kid within a two-mile radius of our house. We all played “King of the Mountain” and other games on this dirt pile until it was trampled down, almost even with the yard, or until the next load of “extra dirt” got brought home.

The dump truck put in years of service in our family landscaping business, suffering through cracked windshields, dented sides, worn-out engine parts, and well over a hundred thousand miles. The green interior turned dark gray from years of accumulated dirt and oil, and the black rubber floor mats grew large holes.

And to this day, so many years after that Fourth of July “pool party,” I still have a soft spot for dump trucks. And I can’t help but smile when I see them chugging toward construction sites around town. They remind me of home and of dad, and of good times.

And they always make me want to go for a swim.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at Her book is available on Amazon.

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