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An old truck, an artist and a new North Fork icon: the story of ‘that flag truck’

This 1944 Dodge flatbed, painted with an American Flag by North Fork artist and carpenter Mike Widener, has become a roadside icon. Photo: Katharine Schroeder

If you’ve driven eastbound on Route 48 in Southold you’ve most likely seen the old truck painted with a large American flag parked on the side of the road. And if you’re like thousands of others you’ve probably stopped to take photos.

The 1944 Dodge flatbed, which was originally used to haul Long Island potatoes to market, is a recent North Fork landmark and has become something of an icon. It even has its own page in Greenport artist Kara Hoblin’s coloring book.

But who painted the truck and why?

The answer lies with Mike Widener, a carpenter who rented the property for over 20 years. Widener saw the truck for sale at a Riverhead farm 15 years ago and purchased it with the intention of restoring it.

“Well, one thing led to another,” said Widener, “and I didn’t have time for it. At one point I needed some storage so I built a box on the back of it with some old boards I’d taken off a house. I used it for storage for several years and one day I was standing out there and I counted the boards and noticed that there were 13, which would make 13 stripes. I looked at the length of the truck and saw that it was a perfect proportion for a flag.”

So Widener headed down to the local hardware store and with the help of a clerk he picked out the red, white and blue paint and proceeded to transform the old truck.

Mike Widener in front of his truck. Facebook
Mike Widener in front of his truck. Facebook

“I believe it was 2014 that I put it out there and from day one people would stop and take photos. It’s become a real landmark in Southold.”

When the present owner bought the property, Widener offered to sell him the truck.

“The new owner didn’t know if he’d want it,” said Widener. “I told him about its popularity and he promptly bought it.”

Although Widener doesn’t live in Southold anymore, he spends three or four days a week on the North Fork working as a carpenter and, more recently and at the request of the present owner, finishing up the wooden sunburst design on the side of a barn just behind the flag truck.

“I started that on a whim years ago,” he said. “I worked on it in my spare time and never finished it. Now I will.”

Katharine is a writer and photographer who has lived on the North Fork for nearly 40 years, except for three-plus years in Hong Kong a decade ago, working for the actor Jackie Chan. She lives in Cutchogue. Email Katharine