My Autobiography by Automobile

I was born near the end of September 1947 in Vancouver, Washington. I’m sure an automobile was involved in transporting my mother and I to our home twenty miles away from the hospital, but I can’t seem to find where my infant recollections are stored in my brain.

The first automobile I do recollect was a 1948 gray four-door Ford, the family car of my early childhood. Its memory is cemented on a drive home from church one sunny sabbath day. The driveline’s universal joint broke with a considerable “bang.” My only interest was to get out of the car as quickly as possible and I opened the back door and exited while the car was still rolling. This became fodder for family heckling that has lasted my entire life.

1957 Ford two-door hardtop
Actually, my high school sweetheart’s car that I drove whenever we were together, which was always. This, much to the disapproval of her parents (since I didn’t bother to get a driver’s license).

1954 Ford two-door
A metallic-green six-cylinder three-speed with overdrive, the glass pack muffler really sounded cool when I got up to sixty miles an hour in second overdrive and let off the gas. I was eventually forced, by the practice, to purchase every ‘54 Ford three-speed overdrive transmission from every junkyard in Clark County. The car was totaled coming home from work at International Paper’s Chelatchie Prairie plywood mill in a head-on collision. The worst automobile accident of my life, to date.

1954 Chevy half-ton pickup
My first pickup and the subject of a bet. It had a $25 price tag unless I could drive it the 12-miles to my home without a breakdown. It had no brakes, and rust debris in the gas tank. I didn’t make it, stalling out a few hundred yards from home. I grabbed the tractor and pulled it in the driveway, never admitting my failure to the seller. So technically I still owe $25 on it.

1962 Ford Fairlane Sports Coupe
My friends were driving muscle cars, souped-up Mustangs, 427 Chevy Chevelles, GTOs or at least a Charger or Barracuda. In something of a harbinger that I can now recognize, I was the almost-cool kid who drove a Fairlane. I cruised the streets of Vancouver on weekends with my friend Floyd in a relentless effort to pick up girls. We were never even remotely successful.

1972 Toyota Celica
My brother’s brand new, very nice sports car that I borrowed to impress a girl on our first date. I locked the keys in the car which truly did impress her. She married me anyway and the relationship has held for nearly fifty years.

1968 Volkswagen Bug
A car my wife, Sue, brought into our marriage that I drove up the Alcan Highway with all our worldly possessions including an Old English Sheep Dog named Barney. That’s a 2,500-mile drive, 1,500 of which was gravel. I’d been invited to Alaska to work, come spring. Note to self: Spring comes a month or two later to Alaska than it does to Vancouver.

1972 Volkswagen Bus
The car my wife, daughter and I exited Alaska in with all our worldly possessions (we had a lot more stuff going than coming) and Barney. You know, they’re not really designed, the engine being air-cooled and all, to drive much faster than 50 mph. A fact I could not get through my head. I insisted on driving 70 like everyone else and would replace the engine seven times during the years we owned the car.

1977 Chevy Malibu Station Wagon
My first brand new car. A growing family and being tired of rebuilding the VW buses’ engine seemed like good reasons. I have to admit one motivation was that our children could ride in the back seat facing out the back window like I got to do as a kid.

1978 Chevy dual-cab pickup
My first contractor truck, affectionately named “Old Blue.” Due to the nature of my work, building storage buildings all over the west coast, I slept in the truck as much as my own bed for a few years. I drove Old Blue into Yosemite Valley for my first project there, loaded down like the Beverly Hillbillies going to Hollywood.

1980 four-wheel drive Suburban
Two weeks after moving the family onto the hill in Hockinson, I put our station wagon in the ditch trying to avoid two sidewise cars on the icy hill below our driveway. The next day, we bought our first four-wheel-drive family car. (We would learn buying a four-wheel-drive was a rite of passage for newcomers moving on the hill.)

1988 nine-passenger, four-wheel drive, very tricked out Suburban
Brand new, the fanciest car I have ever bought and the closest I ever came to being the cool kid because of my ride. Motivating reason: Seven kids and a Great Dane named Bob.

1968 Rambler
It served as a second family car. The vacuum advance wiper system didn’t pull the windshield wipers back when accelerating, a real problem in rainy weather. And where I live we do have us some rainy weather. I rigged a thin nylon rope out the side window allowing the passenger to be the “return” activator for the wiper strokes. My children have never recovered from the embarrassment of other people noticing them jerking the wipers back. It was a true Rambler. We once “lost” the car when it fell out of gear and rolled out of the garage and down the hill disappearing into the lush natural landscape (see “rainy weather” above) found in SW Washington.

1988 Ford extended cab four-wheel drive
I drove “Big Red” back and forth from SW Washington to Yosemite so many times, I could snooze in the backseat while someone else drove and wake up to tell our current mile marker on I-5 from a glimpse at the scenery. On one trip, my nephew drove the rig from Shasta to Redding at 80 mph in second gear while I caught some Zs in the backseat. The tranny was never quite the same after that.

2001 Toyota Tacoma dual-cab four-wheel drive
“Little Red” is hands down my favorite vehicle. I was driving a lot. Running the Campground at Midpines, CA and contracting in Yosemite National Park. I was constantly going somewhere for something. I lived in a tent for a full year with Lil’ Red parked out front. The tent thing began as a way of taking advantage of the much cooler summer night temperatures outside and became a self-dare to see if I could survive the winter there. I did, barely. Even taking into account my Alaska adventures it was the coldest I’ve ever been.

1988 Ford Ranger
The truck I wasn’t looking for, but too good of a deal to pass up. A niece’s husband obtained the vehicle when his grandfather passed, unfortunately he already had several cars too many for his driveway. The grandfather had meticulously maintained the vehicle and it had only a little over 100,000 miles on it. My bicycle fits nicely in the bed and my black lab, Turbo, is quite comfortable on the front seat in the extended cab.

2018 Subaru Outback
Our present family car. It pulls on the steering wheel and dings when I try to drift out of my lane, automatically slows down and speeds back up for traffic in cruise control and notifies me when the person in front of me pulls forward in the drive-thru lane. All in all, it makes me a much better driver.

I’m grateful for the automobiles in my life. Many fond remembrances are attached to each of them, the many ups and some downs flood into my mind as I consider them. They also serve as benchmarks in our family’s story. As our children are now off making their own way, I don’t expect another chapter in this autobiography but who among us knows for sure?

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