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HAMILTON - The thing is, Lewis Condon's 1960 Chevy Apache pickup is more than enough to get your attention.

It is lusciously restored, all sparkle and gloss, that weird green color that reminds you of sea foam in the tropics. You can see yourself in any piece of chrome, and if the angle is right, you can also see the gorillas.

The gorillas sit in the pickup bed. Condon won't let them sit up front because, he says, "they refuse to shave under their armpits."

Condon, who is 66, does not pretend to say this with a straight face. He is the sort of person who goes along in a 35-year career - in his case, agricultural services - and seems like a normal serious person, but on the inside is just a bit off kilter, in the best sort of way.

He is an obsessive, the sort of fellow who has 10 beautifully restored cars instead of one. His approach to life is best summarized by his approach to firewood. Which is this: Why gather up a couple of cords from the remains of a logging operation when you could get, oh, maybe 100 cords?

"Well, it was there," he said Friday. "Hated to see it go to waste."

The gorillas, well, that whole thing started with a Christmas present a decade or so ago. The world-renowned gorilla, Koko, who gained her fame by learning sign language and by having a kitten as a pet, was in the news back then. Condon' s wife, Betty, loves stuffed animals, so Lewis thought he'd get her a nearly life-size gorilla.

The gorilla took Betty "a bit by surprise" but was allowed to ride in Condon's gorgeous 1979 Mercedes. And then came Gorilla No. 2, which for some reason is nameless. Condon believes the smaller ape is a female, like Koko, but a name hasn't come to him.

For most of the past seven years, while Condon has had the Chevy pickup, the gorillas have taken to riding around town in the back. They draw a lot of "thumbs-ups," Condon said, and the occasional, "Hey, nice gorilla."

The Chevy was sold this week, to a man who "didn't have any qualms about paying what I thought it was worth." That meant the gorillas were back to the Mercedes for a while, though they also tool about town in a 1948 Jimmy that Condon has fixed up.

By now, you've probably noticed the contradiction in Condon's logic. Why, if the gorillas are banished to the pickup' s bed for not shaving, are they allowed to ride inside the Mercedes?

This is the sort of impertinent question Condon would rather not answer.

"You can't go looking for too much logic from a guy riding around with gorillas in his truck," he said.

He said this with a relatively straight face, which flashed in the Chevy's bright chrome, right alongside the mugs of two gorillas.

Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 370-3330 or by e-mail at mmoore@missoulian.com.

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