I started this post thinking it would be interesting to do, but did not see it becoming a kind of “mini-memoir.” As I went from car to car and looked at why I bought any particular vehicle, I also remembered; this one had a wheel fall off on my way to the high school graduation I never made, this was the car my two-year-old daughter sat under the dashboard for hundreds of miles on way to the east coast, or this was the vehicle that got us back safely from Pocatello one scary night in an ice storm.
This is one of the most fun blogs posts I have written. I encourage each of you to give it a try as well. Then send in (under comments) the most meaningful one.
Vehicle: 1958 Chevy Stepside Pickup
Life Marker: To a 16 year old who had just gotten his driver’s license, this was an absolute treasure.
Comment: Others might have wished for a sedan to cruise the streets looking to be cool and attract girls, but this was exactly right for me. A vehicle to roam the back roads searching for deer or trout and also capable of hauling a bunch of friends off school grounds at lunch time in the bed of the truck. First add on was a gun rack. Had it painted a God-awful (by my standards today) turquoise by Earl Scheib for $29.95. Got me to my first real job as a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service at Crown King, AZ https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/prescott/recarea/?recid=80063.
While headed to my high school graduation, a bad wheel bearing caused the axle to heat up which melted the rear wheel lug holes. Halfway home (absolutely in the middle of nowhere) the wheel just fell off. On one hand, I missed graduation (much to he chagrin of my parents). On the other hand, I did not go over the edge of the road and down a 100-foot plus embankment.
Vehicle: 1956 Chevy Sedan
Comments: Pretty classy car, but not a very acceptable off-road rig. Short lived when I found I couldn’t drive off the pavement (not a revelation but a definite annoyance) and was almost happy when an unfixable (money-wise) electrical problem killed it. A fun car for awhile.
Vehicle:1962 Chevy Fleetside Pickup
Life Marker: Back in business. A truck for adventure. New gun rack.
Comments: Took me to Glacier National Park https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm in the summer and started my career with the National Park Service (NPS) https://www.nps.gov/index.htm. If a vehicle would run forever, I would still have this truck. It is the most loved (maybe because I drove my wife, Lorraine [now of 50 years], on our first date in this truck).
Vehicle: 1966 Oldsmobile Jetstar 88
Life Marker: When I finished college, it was my turn for a tour with the U.S. Navy (Vietnam era). After bootcamp and school, I headed to the Naval Post Graduate School https://www.usno.navy.mil/FNMOC in Monterey, California to be an Aerographer https://www.navy.com/careers/aerographers-mate .
Comments: At 13-feet long, the Oldsmobile was a virtual yacht of a car. Since we needed a better vehicle to move us to California and my dad was looking to trade this car in, he gave it to me and used my truck to trade instead. The engine in this vehicle was a V8 the size of a washing machine and an absolute gas hog. First of several of bad decisions.
Vehicle: 1966 Triumph Spitfire
Life Marker: Navy pay was around $200 a month (the Navy didn’t want you to have a wife or live off base) and so Lorraine had to get a job. Although she had been a teacher, she didn’t have certification in California and so she took a job in a doctor’s office. We needed two cars and so…
Comments: I bought a Triumph Spitfire (the car you buy for your middle age crisis). Moved like a cat on fire and was fun driving on the curvaceous roads of Carmel Valley and the Coast Highway https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/road-trips/california-pacific-coast-road-trip/, but when a semi-truck came up behind you, all you saw in the rearview mirror was tires (unnerving). My choice of this auto probably had a lot to deal with working 12-hour shifts, 5-days a week (the Navy also didn’t believe in days off). With 2-inches of clearance off the ground, not a great off-road vehicle. Second bad decision.
Lorraine never got to drive this car and only rode in it twice. It is apparently a permanent bone of contention (never let you wife edit your work).
Vehicle: 1973 Jeep
Life Marker: Tired quickly of the Triumph and besides had to get ready for my life after the Navy when I would head back to my real life. Sold it just before we left Monterey. Needed to switch back to something that could go anywhere.
Comment: Always wanted a true off-road vehicle so traded the Oldsmobile for a Jeep. Found it was not the rugged Jeep of olden days, but a cheap knock off by the newest brand owner, American Motors. A vehicle good enough for pursuing midget blacktail deer https://fthunter.isportsman.net/, mallard ducks, and the channel bass of California, but incapable of traveling the more rugged backroads. It was uncomfortable and a horrible highway vehicle as well. On a streak—third bad decision.
Vehicle: 1973 Capri
Life Marker: On a trip in 1973, we drove the Jeep on a rutted road just outside of Yuma (wife’s family)where we hit a bump and the fan went into the radiator destroying it. We got it fixed, but enough was enough. We decided we wanted a economic car that got good milage (the Oil Crisis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis was going full force). We ended up in Phoenix (my family), where I went into a car dealer who I told “Trade this jeep in on anything that is good on gas and feel free to commit highway (pun) robbery.”
Comment: After four years, we left the Navy and headed back to a job with NPS. We ended up at Cedar Breaks National Monument https://www.nps.gov/cebr/index.htm in Utah. Much of my time for the next three years involved cross-country trips for training. I went to Georgia for law enforcement training at FLETC https://www.fletc.gov/ (3 months) and to the Grand Canyon https://www.nps.gov/training/hoal/ (2 months) for a Ranger Skills course. The Capri was a great car for these trips. After putting 35,000 miles on it, I traded it in and got just $300 less than I bought it for.
On the trip to Georgia, the car was jammed packed with a car seat crammed into the back seat for my daughter to ride in. She would do fine until about noon when she would suddenly revolt and refuse to ride in the seat any longer. Our only choice was to leave her on the side of the road or let her ride in the small space on the passenger side under the dash. It was a split vote, but baby Becka made much the the journey in close quarters.
Vehicle: 1970 Toyota Land Cruiser
Life Marker: Just before we left Cedar City, Utah three years later, we were driving the Capri down a washboard road outside of town. The ride was so rough, we had to turn back. The very same day, we traded this car for a Toyota Land Cruiser; “Gets you there—Gets you back!” This is the vehicle we packed up (now with two kids) and drove 500 miles north to our next park at Craters of the Moon National Monument https://www.nps.gov/crmo/index.htm in Idaho.
Comments: Best off-road vehicle I ever owned except on icy highways. After having it swap ends a couple of times on bad roads, I knew we needed something else to take us on the 150 miles route we had to drive for groceries, medical services, and just about anything else. Idaho was snow bound (in those days) for six months a year and we needed a safer vehicle.
Next: Part 2