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Ever Wonder About That 'Old Truck'? 2 Brothers Wrote Its Backstory

Feb 9, 2020

Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey have been "making stuff" together since they were kids. They grew up in a family of four brothers, and from a young age, Jarrett says, he and Jerome "just clicked."

Their latest project is a particularly special one, because it's the first time they've created a book that they both authored and illustrated. Inspiration for The Old Truck came when Jerome was driving through central Texas, on his way to visit Jarrett. As he passed farm after farm, he saw old, aging trucks sitting out in the fields.

"It's such an iconic image," Jerome says. "But it makes you wonder: What's the story that could be behind that truck or the family that lives there?"

Norton Young Readers

So the brothers decided to write and illustrate a story about a family and a farm — all centered around a pickup truck that more or less stays in one place throughout the book. Around the truck, seasons change, years pass, and before long, the little girl from the beginning of the story has taken over the family farm.

Making every spread feel different was "a bit challenging" Jerome says. But by placing the truck consistent across every page, he and Jarrett "were reinforcing the idea of the truck being a permanent part of life on the farm and in the girl's life."

The Pumphreys handmade more than 250 stamps to illustrate the book. "We wanted to create something that would feel timeless," Jerome says.
Norton Young Readers

The brothers handmade more than 250 stamps to create the artwork in the book. "We set up these rules like: We wouldn't use the same stamp on the same spread multiple times." Jarrett explains. The goal was to "make sure that each spread was unique and special."

They'd work together at Jarrett's house — he and Jerome now live five minutes apart in Austin, Texas. "We do have disagreements — obviously we're brothers and we don't see eye to eye on everything — but for the most part ... we can find a place where it just clicks," Jarrett says.

It helps that they've "been making stuff together for a really long time," Jarrett says — and that their family history offers them shared points of reference and inspiration.

"We had all these women in our lives growing up — our mom, our grandmothers, our great grandmother ... strong women who really showed us what it was like to persist," Jarrett explains.

Norton Young Readers

Both of their grandmothers worked for the U.S. Post Office in the segregated South. "They were black women working in a place that was dominated by males, so they were putting up with a lot," Jarrett says.

One of their great grandmothers picked cotton and saved and saved until she could finally purchase her own farm in Louisiana — and the family still owns it. "She said: Never sell that property because she picked a lot of cotton to pay for that. ..." Jerome recalls. "I really respect that and would like to accomplish some things in my life that I can look back on and be really proud of."

Jarrett says his great grandmother's tenacity is something he was lucky to have learned growing up, and he hopes to pass it on to his own children: "Stick to it, work hard, get what you want to get, and do what you want to do," he says.

Jarrett Pumphrey is now the proud owner of his own old truck — a 1956 Ford F100. You can follow his progress restoring it here.
Norton Young Readers

And speaking of getting what you want to get ... after the brothers finished working on the book, Jarrett was inspired to go out and get his own old truck. "It's a 1956 Ford F100," he says. "I started working on it right away — I stripped it down. It's all the way down to the frame now. ... It's a lot harder in real life to restore a truck than it was in the book."

Jarrett's hoping to get his truck up and running by the summer. He wants to drive it around to local schools, where he and Jerome will be sharing the story of The Old Truck — about family, farm life, hard work, and persistence — to a new generation of kids.

Norton Young Readers

Barrie Hardymon edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

On a small farm, an old truck worked hard. So begins "The Old Truck," a story about a trusty pickup truck that works alongside a family on a farm. After many years of service, it grows tired and sits rusting in the weeds until the family's young daughter grows up and decides to bring it back to life. It's written and illustrated by brothers Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey.

JARRETT PUMPHREY: We do (laughter).

JEROME PUMPHREY: Yeah, I think we get along (laughter).

JARRETT PUMPHREY: Yeah. There are actually four of us, four brothers. And we all do things together. But Jerome and I, for whatever reason, from a pretty young age, have just clicked and worked creatively together. So it's been pretty great.

JEROME PUMPHREY: It's actually pretty cool. We both live in the same neighborhood, actually. So Jarrett's about five minutes away from me. And we've sort of set up a studio at his house to work on this. So we really do it primarily from his house.

JARRETT PUMPHREY: I mean, we do have disagreements. Obviously, we're brothers. And we don't see eye-to-eye on everything. But for the most part, when we're working on the book, we both do both roles. And it's kind of like just one person. That's kind of the connection that we have.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We've been asking authors and illustrators how they work together or separately to bring stories to life. This isn't the brothers' first book together. They wrote a story called "Creepy Things Are Scaring Me" when they were teenagers. But it is the first time that they're illustrating a book together. And they decided to do it in a unique way.

JEROME PUMPHREY: We used stamps to create the illustrations in the book.

JARRETT PUMPHREY: When it was all said and done, we made just over 250 stamps.

JEROME PUMPHREY: It was really good for collaborating (laughter). You know, sitting, side by side, we can cut out the material together. Or I can make a stamp. Jared can create the print from it.

JARRETT PUMPHREY: You know, things like trees - there's a tree on probably every spread in the book. Every one of those trees had to have its own stamp. Every time the barn appeared, that was a stamp. There's tractors in the book. That was made with stamps. So it was a lot of stamps. And we set these rules for ourselves, you know? We wouldn't use the same stamp on the same spread multiple times. So if we had two or three trees on a spread, we'd have to make a new stamp for every single tree on that spread. And those stamps - you know, they add dozens and dozens of tiny, little leaves in them, pretty intricate. But we do it just to take that care with it and make sure that each spread was unique and special.

You know, now that I think about it, there were a lot of rules. We - you can also tell in the artwork there's a very limited color palette. There were like - what? - eight colors, I think.

JEROME PUMPHREY: We're using eight colors. And, you know, it's very easy to introduce new colors or introduce complexity. But we kept resetting to - let's just keep this simple.

JARRETT PUMPHREY: Yeah. One thing in this book that a lot of people recognized right away is the truck. It's in the same place on every spread. You get some pretty cool page-turn effects when you do that. And it also sort of reinforced this idea that we're seeing the world and all the changes in the world with this truck sort of being a constant. And I don't know. When did we land on on doing that? Though I think that was definitely Jerome's idea.

JEROME PUMPHREY: Yeah. I think, pretty early on, that's another one of these rules. We were like, if we could tell the story without moving this truck throughout the whole book, that'd be pretty impressive. I think, by doing that, we were reinforcing the idea of the truck being a permanent part of life on the farm and in the girl's life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The little girl who grows up to run the farm and restores the old truck to its former glory was based on the women who raised Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey.

JARRETT PUMPHREY: We had all these women in our lives growing up - our mom. Our grandmothers both worked for the post office. They put up with a lot of nonsense, you know (laughter)? They were, you know, black women working in a place that was dominated by males. So they were putting up with a lot. And one thing that relates to the farm - our great-grandmother - she used to pick cotton. And she worked a long time picking cotton - not making a lot of money - just so she could buy her own farm. They really showed us what it was like to persist. And they had some grit to them. And, really, they could do anything they wanted to do.

JEROME PUMPHREY: Our family actually still owns the property in Louisiana that she bought. You know, she said never sell that property because she picked a lot of cotton to pay for that. So we're going to have that in the family for, you know, the rest of our lives. Like, her accomplishments were important to her. I respect that and would like to accomplish some things in my life that I can look back on and be really proud of.

JARRETT PUMPHREY: This sort of passed through the generations, the spirit of hard work and determination and sticking to it once you decide to do something, overcoming the odds to make it happen. It's something that we learned growing up. And it's something I hope to pass on my kids.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey talking about their book "The Old Truck."

(SOUNDBITE OF 420'S "OLD TRUCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.