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The 1992 Ford Ranger John Deere edition. Also known as the "Danger Ranger," it got me around in style for several of my formative years.

The best first car? A 1992 John Deere Ford Ranger

When I see newly-licensed young people with fancy cars, my blood boils — not because they’re undeserving of such a ride or that they won’t take care of it. In fact, I’ve found the pride of a first car means it is the best maintained vehicle a person may ever have. No, my anger stems from the said young person never knowing the lessons and freedom an old beater has under its rusty hood.

This is the story of my first automobile and why it still holds a place in my heart as the perfect first car.

I must confess I have already lied to you as in fact this car was not a car at all, but rather a truck. Well some would call it a truck, others would call it a glorified golf cart. My first vehicle was 1992 Ford Ranger.

When it was time for me to find a first car, I delved into my years of money saved from selling livestock through 4-H and FFA. Upon seeing the balance, I immediately humbled my dreams from a Corvette to something a bit more practical.

The ol’ gal came to me in the fall of 2009 with already having put 17 years on her powerful 4-cylinder 2.3L engine and shiny body (but not THAT shiny).

The Ranger could do nearly any task you threw at it, and do it with ease.
The Ranger could do nearly any task you threw at it, and do it with ease. Note the two indents above the front left tire about elbow-width apart.

She was not your run-of-the-mill Ranger, having spent her career before coming to me as a service truck for a local John Deere dealership. My brother worked for the company at the time and attained the trusty truck for a pretty reasonable price upon its retirement. Though the business’ logo was removed from the doors, the signature green and yellow striping on white paint remained alongside some great mud flaps emblazoned with the unforgettable John Deere logo of the 1980s and early 90s.

It was ahead of my sixteenth birthday when my oldest brother came by this glorious machine. The only problem for him was he already had a little Ford Ranger, which was notably newer, mind you. He gave me the choice between the two and for a few hundred dollars more, I could have the truck that was seemingly a better ‘mechanical’ choice, albeit one major drawback — it was painted purple. Besides, having a John Deere truck as my first vehicle? The choice, and the deal, were made. I went with the crappier of the two.

She had a little rust in the bed and a four speed (plus overdrive) on the floor, making her strangely akin to the opening lyrics of the Kenny Chesney song ‘Never wanted nothing more:’

Couldn’t wait to turn 16 and drive all the boy’s around
Foot on the gas and hands on the wheel was all I could think about
A little rust in the bed of that truck and a four speed on the floor
Five-hundred dollars it was mine, all mine and I never wanted nothin’ more

Heck, even the price was the same.

The bright red interior was also notable (which I always thought was out of place on a John Deere truck).

And like the pieces of hardened asphalt that grace car fenders in the summertime, this truck likewise came adorned with stories from its already exciting life.

On the top of the front left quarter panel were two dents. If you were to stand in front of them facing away from the truck, their width seemed to correlate miraculously with two elbows as you came back to lean into it. I’m told they were scars from a skirmish that took place near the truck and the dents were the result of somebody being forced into it backwards, catching themselves with their elbows digging into the side. It was a fun talking point for sure (as if a John Deere Ranger wasn’t enough already).

Also on the front left side was a slightly bigger dent, about the size of small deer (another miraculous coincidence…). Shortly before I had attained my driver’s license, my middle brother took the initiative to drive the Ranger to work, only to encounter a resident of the forest that just couldn’t resist running into another of its own kind — a Deere. Suddenly my perfectly good little truck had been in an accident and I hadn’t even gotten to pull out of the driveway.

The Ranger even followed me to college, coming in particularly handy on moving days (don't try this at home).
The Ranger even followed me to college, coming in particularly handy on moving days (don’t try this at home).

Speaking of driving, the time had come to get my license and finally be on my own on the roads. While some of my friends couldn’t care less about this moment in their lives, it was a moment in the Penhorwood family that seemed to reside just above birthdays and slightly below getting married!

The truck drove beautifully from my perspective and nobody could tell me differently. Though she rocked like a boat from side to side and shuddered like a street sign in a hurricane when you put the pedal to the metal, I couldn’t see any real issues.

Mechanically, she stayed fairly sound other than the need to replace a starter one day and a rear windshield one night (still not sure how that happened). Grandpa even purchased me some studded tires for when wintertime hit. Combine that with a semi tire and rim in the bed and you’ve got a bonafide snow machine. Plus she’s a good one to string Christmas lights around, but that’s a story for another time (see photo).

Speed demon? Let’s just say it got you where you needed to go with no mind to the calendar, let alone clock. My cousin and I jumped in the Ranger one time and clocked its 0-60 time at a whopping 32 seconds. The slugs watching from the field nearby were laughing at us.

The Danger Ranger adorned with Christmas lights for a more festive approach to the holidays.
The Danger Ranger adorned with Christmas lights for a more festive approach to the holidays.

And you better believe she found a way to help on the farm, whether it be with hauling a load of hay or transporting a few bags of feed (I think we managed 25 50-pound bags once. I never did that again), but she got the job done. Not fast, but she got it done.

The fact of the matter was this truck could do anything I wanted. I wasn’t afraid of running through a corn field, nor was I afraid of throwing a goat in the passenger seat. I didn’t care if we stacked 20 people in the bed to watch fireworks or found a way for it to hold all of my worldly possessions at one time. And with it hanging around 22 miles per gallon, it was 16-year-old rural freedom in its finest form.

That truck even followed me from high school to college where it served me as a cheap transport my freshman year at Ohio State.

But just as Carmen Ohio tells us:

The seasons pass the years will roll
Time and change will surely show…

My time for the truck came to an end and it was replaced by bigger and better things. Here recently though, I have come by another Ford Ranger. She’s a bit newer and fancier, but reminds me of those times in the Danger Ranger and I just had to write about it.

So why is a 1992 four cylinder, two-wheel drive, manual John Deere Ford Ranger the perfect first vehicle? It’s reliable, cheap, fun, useful, freeing, and it gets the girls (debatable). What it really boils down to is I have stories to tell for days about my first car, and none come without a smile to my face.

Maybe everybody’s first vehicle is the perfect first vehicle for their own reasons, but I have no reason to think mine shouldn’t top the list.

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One comment

  1. Loved your article on your first car. It sure brought back some great memories of 50 years ago. It is amazing when we stop and think about that part of our life how things we took for granted, positive and negative, helped shape the next 50 or so. Keep up the good work!! Reading Digital is the first thing I do every morning. Jim Braddock

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