The first vehicle I remember in my life was a 1958 Ford station wagon. Through the fog of time of my half century, and counting years of existence, I can still remember that it was an ugly monstrosity. Contrary to popular opinion LSD did not originate with Timothy Leery in the 1960’s. The Illuminati, in their attempts to overthrow the government with a massive trucker strike in 1979, attempted to alter people’s perception of reality by warping the minds of the parents of the 1950’s. In attempt to undermine the aesthetic senses of Americans a select control group of Detroit engineers were given Acid and a drafting board and told, “Draw us the first thing that pops into your mind.” In the middle of an exceptionally bad trip one of them excreted the prototype of the first station wagon. At the moment when half the board room vomited into the trash can, they knew they had a winner.
The thing had some sort of experimental rocket engine for a power plant. It was heavier than the tailings dump at a Uranium mine. It was painted some sort of a brownish sandy tan color to hide the vehicle if it were ever driven off into a sewage plant. The seats were configured in some arrangement with a couple of the back seats facing South when the vehicle was Northbound. This was to allow the back passengers to feel the same level of car-sickness and nausea backing out of the driveway. The bumpers on the thing were vestigial appendages (not necessary). The ugly of that vehicle could repel a stalled concrete truck to forty miles an hour by parallel parking too close behind it.
One day mom wrecked it driving out to the ranch. I can still remember the splintered paint on the front of it sticking out kind of like eyelashes. After a trip to the body shop Dad had the beast back to factory ugly in no time. Parked in our driveway the thing was the quintessential immovable object.
Arizona has a strange concept of rivers. We affectionately referred to the channel of strew boulders and sand across the road from our house as a wash. It doesn’t rain for months at a time. A desert thunderstorm can appear out of nowhere and dump an incredible amount of rain in a short period of time. The mountains behind our house were 7800 feet tall. A good rainstorm several miles away can send a torrent of water down a dry riverbed, literally blowing dust ahead of itself.
During one of these events my mother had us downtown for one of those painful excursions to the beauty shop. It seems like over half my childhood was spent in purgatory waiting on her under a hair dryer, or picking out a dress. Then the rains came! During a dry spell the local version of Captain Planet pushed several old car bodies off into the dry wash bed to make them disappear. When the torrent of water inundated the town the car bodies washed into the concrete culverts that were supposed to divert the water from the city streets. Just a few days before we were outbound on Dad’s Cajun dream, we watched from the beauty shop as the river rose several feet running through the streets of town. One of my early experiences with the concept of mortality was that during this storm a lady was carrying a baby that was swept out of her hands during this storm. The thought still gives me cold shivers on the back of my neck today.
From the beauty shop window we watched helplessly as the irresistible force of the river picked up that ugly Ford and washed it through the plate glass window of the dealership where we bought it. This was nature’s way of getting even with the malicious engineers that designed that piece of junk. What a fitting end. The balance of nature was finally restored.
They towed the beast back to our yard. I remember Dad opening the engine compartment and my seeing it full of sticks and mud. We were free. The old beast died in Arizona and was no more.
Dad drove the 1958 Diamond REO bus, our only vehicle, to Louisiana while Mom, Tim and I took a short vacation to Kentucky. As part of setting up our life in our new surroundings he brought a brand new 1968 Plymouth Fury III four door sedan. Next to a 1979 Little Red Truck that car was one of the coolest vehicles I have ever seen. It was sky blue and sleek. It had a back deck that seemed to be so deep that it hung over the bumper. Mom could wrap you up in a blanket, and you could stretch out on that back deck and sleep like you were snuggled in your bed. Yes, we weren’t buckled in an eight point aerobatic harness of a child seat, but the luxury of sunning yourself on that deck approached art. Somewhere in the spacious dashboard it had the coolest windshield washer button. I just loved to create my own personal rainstorm with that button. It was the closest thing to controlling the weather I had ever seen. I now realize that I am old, when I fondly remember a 1968 car with new car smell. It was heaven!
It was powered by a 318 V-8. I have had that engine in nine of our family’s vehicles. At the tender age of nine, I also had one of my fondest memories of my childhood. Dad was over the top cool on the day I spent with my new SK Wayne socket set sitting in the engine compartment of that car taking the heads off the 318 doing a top end overhaul. Somewhere in the smell of the gasoline and grease he allowed me to explore what would become a lifelong fascination with taking things apart to see how they worked.
My brother Tim often said that he was glad he made it to adulthood without me taking him apart to see how he worked. Somehow in the midst of that time I also learned how to put things together, and sometimes they worked again. Once in a while they worked better when I was done with them. Kudos to a Dad who was patient enough to see my natural gift, and then encourage me on to a skill set that became my life.
I went on to drive, ride, and work on that same (318/360) engine in a:
1968 Plymouth Fury III,
1970 Dodge Tradesman 200 Van,
1974 Dodge Dart,
1976 Dodge Sportsvan,
1979 Dodge D 150 pickup,
1989 Dodge D 150 pickup,
1994 Dodge 350 Van,
1994 Dodge 1500 pickup,
1997 Dodge 3500 Custom Van.
In 2009 I fell from grace and bought a Chevrolet 2500 Express Van. I towed the sad hulk of a Purple Dodge Van with a cracked block to the crusher. It closed a chapter in my life where I learned about, mechanics, my dad, and my sons. Sometimes love smells like gasoline and grease.