Truck and driver are once again reunited after nearly 40 years. Retired Forest Service ranger Cecil Sims is behind the wheel of a 1925 Dodge truck that he helped rescue from the bottom of a desert canyon.
And although it is a pain to steer, constantly overheats and has more miles on it than anyone can remember, Sims likes driving it.
“I really enjoy it,” said Sims, 75. “You really have to muster it around.”
Sims has mustered the Dodge Brothers business car around the state, driving it in various events, including recent Payson Rodeo and Fiesta Bowl parades.
“That was a real honor,” Sims said of the Fiesta Bowl.
Sims and the old truck’s history goes back to 1965, when Sims rescued the truck from the bottom of Rattlesnake Canyon in the Galiuro Mountains, east of San Manuel, Ariz.
The Dodge went to work for the Forest Service in 1928, at the former Crook National Forest. It hauled supplies up and down the canyon for the construction of a telephone line to the Powers Garden Ranger Station.
When the Forest Service abandoned the ranger station in the 1930s, rangers left the truck to rot at the bottom of the canyon.
Twenty years later, three World War II veterans, Chuck Ames, Jack McCombs and Fred Galley, rode to the bottom of the canyon and discovered the truck.
When the Forest Service office in Albuquerque, N.M. learned the truck’s whereabouts, they demanded payment for all back use because the truck had never been sold and was overdue in payment, said Fire Prevention Officer Gary Roberts.
The Coronado National Forest received a bill from the Southwestern Regional Office and Norm Wesden and Ames paid off the bill with S&H green stamps collected to buy fuel for fleet vehicles.
After settling the debt, Ames and Sims rode into Rattlesnake Canyon in June of 1965 and began to dismantle to the truck.
Asked why they went down to get the truck, Sims said “for the historical value and just to get it.”
“We had to evict a skunk family out,” Sims said, but after that small hang up, the truck came apart easily.
“They went down there with tools ready to try and take it apart, but the nuts and bolts unscrewed by hand,” Roberts said. “It had been greased so well and the canyon was so dry that no moisture had rusted it.”
Looted over the years, the truck was missing many original details like the radiator and emblems, Sims said.
After two days of dismantling, the parts were airlifted out and reassembled in Albuquerque, N.M.
After a year of renovations, the truck began its new life as a parade vehicle and showroom showcase.
It was exhibited at the Continental Divide Training Center Museum until 1970 and spent time in the Sitgreaves and Coconino National Forests and Navajo Army Depot.
In 1981, the truck had further restoration completed and for two years, it was displayed at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott.
In 1991, the truck made its way to Cody, Wyo., where it was on display for two weeks at the National Forest System Centennial at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and Wapiti Ranger Station.
Later that year, it was on display at the National Forest Service Retirees’ reunion in Glenwood Springs, Colo.
The truck’s journey came full circle when it was returned to Region 3 in 1985 for use in parades and special events, Roberts said.
During the truck’s service throughout the Forest Service, Sims also traveled across the South as a ranger. He went from northern New Mexico, to both north and south ends of the Kaibab in Grand Canyon to Tucson, Wilcox and Safford.
In 2004, Sims was asked to drive the truck in the Fiesta Bowl, 39 years after rescuing it from the bottom of Rattlesnake Canyon.
The truck remains the oldest registered Working Capital Fund vehicle in the nation, Roberts said.
It famously overheats every time you drive it, Sims said.
Water and coolant are kept on board to combat the cooling problem.
Sims said he would continue driving the truck, overheating and all, “as long as they want me to.”
This article was originally published in the Payson Roundup, August 2008.