Back to Stories

A Vehicle I've Had a Relationship With...
Part 1

(New rule: It is preferable to end a sentence with a preposition...)


I believe our first car was an old Studebaker, which we had when we were at Wanaparty and Nagerkurnool. Our family would go out on tour in it, and I remember we would often get stuck, and had to get the old trustworthy oxen to pull us out. We camped in tents under banyan trees--three tents: one for sleeping, one for cooking and one for bathroom. After dad had visited the villages in that area, about every four or five days, we moved on to a new camp. Later dad built a house trailer which was often pulled by oxen.

Another car was the black Plymouth that dad took to India about 1938. It was a delivery van, but dad had windows cut into it and put benches in the back. It too was often stuck in the mud, but we did drive that one alot. That was the one we had on the Japanese freight ship tied down on an upper deck, but which did not get damaged during the typhoon we went through because it was on the lee side of the ship. The car on the other side was destroyed. This is the car that Phyl drew that was stuck in the mud with us all standing in the water.

In 1947 dad brought out the large Chevrolet utility van with the big rack on the top and the ladder on the side. That was brand new, but being built right after the war it kept breaking down, including the time dad made a side trip to the Grand Canyon and it broke down on the way back to the major highway. We slept the night, with the older girls on the rack, mother and the younger girls in the car, and dad and I on the ground on a tarp. A semi stopped in the early morning and the driver knew how to fix it so it could drive to the next town. Another problem was that when we traveled cross country on old highway 66, it blew tires about every two days. They were brand new, but right after the war the synthetic materials for tires were very poor.

One of my favorite memories is our traveling late in the night, and dad leading us all in singing in his good tenor voice. We sang hymns, choruses, and all sorts of songs--including some secular ones. One that has stuck in my mind was the old folk song: "I'm going home on the morning train, forevermore with Him to reign. All my sins are taken away, taken away." Other verses were "When Silas and Paul began to pray, God shook the jail and they could say, "All my sins are taken away, taken away." And "The devil, he wears a hypocrite shoe, if you don't watch out, he'll slip it on you, All my sins are taken away,taken away." I sang that with Fran when she was in hospice and she loved it.


I had a Honda Civic that I bought used from my older brother in 1977 (for $240) that I drove until the fall of 1992, when I sold it for $200 to someone else. I last saw the car driving around this area about 5 years ago, but for all I know it's still in use.

The car was the last Civic model before they introduced the CVCC engine, and it was tiny, but it was a very nice car for one or two people. It was very uncomfortable in the backseat, so we never could have kept it after Katie was born in any event.

I learned car repair on that car, and over time I repaired, rebuilt, or replaced everything in the car except the brake master cylinder. There was "something wrong" with the carburetor on the car that resulted in it getting 48+ MPG on the highway, and over 30 MPG in town. Eventually the carburetor really went bad and I had to replace it, and the mileage dropped to what the car was rated for. I was quite sad about that, since it became much more expensive to drive (the mileage dropped to 32 MPG on the highway and about 25 MPG in town, although the car did get somewhat better acceleration with the normal carburetor).

In the end I got a new car because the Civic was becoming a little unreliable (it would occasionally die when you hit the gas after a stoplight went green), and I was getting a new job that meant I'd have to drive to work on the freeway every day. But it was the cheapest car I ever had, and I doubt that I'll ever own another car as long.



You always remember your first car--the good, bad and ugly. In my case this came a bit later than for some, shortly after college graduation in 1960. It actually was Jo's first car too as we were to be married in August, and we jointly paid it off.

The car was a big eight-cylinder 1957 Pontiac Chieftain, a beautiful two-tone green brute. I bought if from a recently-widowed distant relative who did not drive herself. We named our new possession "George" after its previous owner--not sure what his widow would have thought about that. The $750 price tag was a fortune at the time but such a deal--and it included a big trailer hitch that we would need to tow our first home, a 30-foot housetrailer, down to Ft. SIll, Oklahoma the following winter.

George served us well for many years with a few minor annoyances: it never knew a gas station it didn't like (it got about 8 miles per gallon--premium, no less--but with gas at about 25 cents a gallon at that time, we could make it), the gas gauge could never quite be trusted and the same with the speedometer (at least that's what I still claim), and the headlights mysteriously would go out unexpectedly. But we did pull that old mobile home all the 900 miles to Oklahoma from Illinois. The trailer brakes gave out somewhere in the Ozark hills of Missouri, but George's brakes managed to control the trailer the rest of the way.

So for our first years together, the big green machine served us well.


I haven't been attached to many cars in my life but there have been a few. The first was Plumatoot, our Plymouth in Kansas when I was about 4. Like all 40s cars it had a large comfy back seat - not that I got to sit on the seat as my place was in the back window ledge or on others' laps. Sometimes I would lie down across several laps instead of picking on just one older sister. Or I would sit on Mom's lap in the front - or on the floor in the back. Despite the lack of room for me I loved that car - probably because of its name and the fact that we could all be squished in together.

The next car I loved was my Vanagon - the volkswagen bus with a popup tent on top. Underpowered and somewhat unwieldy, it was the perfect funky car....until I got my Element, which is what is getting me around Montana these days. I'll probably stick with the Element for quite awhile - it reminds me of India, is perfect for camping, holds all the weeds I pick off the side of the road and I can hose it down, both inside and out.


My most memorable vehicle was my first--an ugly little maroon Chevette. It worked fine for three days or so. After that, I couldn't drive it without it heating up. I could replace the coolant, replace the radiator hoses but still it would start overheating and soon I'd be at the side of the road somewhere with the hood up. Once it happened on the highway halfway between Monmouth and Chicago. Once it happened in a Chicago suburb right next to a courthouse where inmates were tending the yard. A policeman hadn't seen me break down and thought I might be a convict trying to get away. I was frisked before he noticed my Chevette. He laughed and said he understood, his sister had a Chevette. Hopefully it is rusting away in some quiet field--and it is still probably overheating.


1. Most memorable vehicular moment: Many loooong years ago, when Don and I were living on a shoestring budget and Michael was about 10 years old, my antique Datsun's carburetor gave out. I couldn't afford the $70 to have it repaired, so I determined to give it a go myself. For $19.95 I got a carburetor repair kit and set to. Using standard tools to remove a metric system carburetor, I wrestled it out of the car. Then I disassembled it carefully, laying each piece out on a large piece of paper, drawing an outline around the item and numbering it in order of removal. Then the old parts got soaked in "gunk" and cleaned. Then I reassembled the carburetor, moving in reverse order from the numbered parts, replacing items as shown on the diagram. Then the carburetor got wrestled back into place (again using wrong tools). The moment of truth came. Don and Michael stood off to the side, arms crossed across their chests, skeptical and amused expressions on their faces. "Please start please start please please please" I prayed, and turned the key. Vroooom!!!! And I got a round of applause from my audience. P.S. I still have that grease-stained paper with outlined carburetor parts.

2. Another story: Michael had a big old vintage Chevrolet clunker that tangled with another car, pushing in the front. Repair people wanted hundreds, of course, to fix it. Nope. We were going to do-it-yourself. So we had the frame pulled straight and headed for Copher Brothers You-Pull salvage yard with my toolkit. The deal is, you wander through the junk cars looking for the right make and model, then use your tools to remove the desired replacement part. After about 2 months of weekends, much to the growing amusement and curiosity of the junkyard employees, Michael and I hauled off fenders, hood, and assorted other stuff. The hood was the toughest, since the frame straightening was less than perfect. We tied a rope to the front of his car and pulled with my truck, just long enough to pop the hood into place and bolt it down. I couldn't leave well enough alone, and decided to replace a whole door. Many frustrating hours were spent figuring out how to remove a door, wires hanging everywhere, and bolts hidden in impossible to reach places. YES! Got it home. Only to discover I had removed a door from a 2-door car, while Michael's was a 4-door car. Door got returned, and the dent remained in old door. A repaint job, and voila!

3. First experience with "bondo." This came before adventures described above, and I should have taken a clue from this first adventure into car repair. Had a hole and dents in an old car and was advised that it was easy to fix with "bondo" and touch up paint. So off to auto supply store. Not being very good at reading instructions (or manuals), I mixed the 2 key ingredients together and stirred it up. Went inside for lunch or whatever. When I came back to apply the bondo mixture, the mixing tool was firmly cemented into the can - the bondo having hardened almost instantly. Back to supply store, where my story left the whole sales crew snickering snidely. This time I applied it immediately....and generously. After bondo dries, you are to sand down the blob to match car surface. Well, I discovered bondo dries harder than diamonds or steel, and several hours of sanding left the car fender with a huge unsightly lump. Which is probably still there to this day, wherever that old Mercury got to.

4. I now have a fine and long-standing relationship with Schembri's Big A Quality Auto repair guys, who have fixed our cars for the past 15 years...all without my help.


Steve told his story through a combination of photos and text.

Click here to see them:


When we were dating in Hillsboro, Carl used to pick me up in his old black '39 Ford. It wasn't put together very well and leaked a lot of air. That was an advantage in the winter since it gave me an excuse to cuddle up close to Carl. He liked to take sharp corners which he'd call COD's: "Come Over, Darlin'" corners, since they'd throw me over against him.

Carl says that when he'd come to get me, there were usually several cars parked in front since a number of us were dating. We had a snoopy neighbor lady who lived across the street and kept a close eye on us. At night we'd see her front curtains pulled aside just a bit so she could see what was going on out on our front porch and in the cars parked in front of our house. Mom would occasionally get a call from her complaining about what we were doing (or she thought we were doing), saying we were to be the models for the other Mennonite Brethren girls.

If it got to be what Mom considered was "too late" to be out, she would switch the front light on and off several times, the signal to us that we'd better come in. She would say it was because she wanted us to get a full night's sleep. We think it was so we wouldn't do anything the neighbors would report to the whole church.


Little Red

I thought of it as my big, tough, rugged work truck. The boys called it "Little Red". This really hurt its self-esteem, and mine.

Little Red was a 1989 Toyota pickup truck that I bought it 1994. It was used but for me seemed brand new since it was in much better condition than any vehicle I had previously had. I think Little Red was special to me because from the time I purchased it until the time I sold it in 2005 it had seen many of Kristin and my major life changes. Some of these are:

- we moved from our apartment into our first house in Springfield
- we had Gentry, John and Noah
- we got our dog Shelby and our cats Spot and Ziggy
- Kristin left work as a school teacher (to raise the boys) and I left work at the Illinois EPA
- we moved to Monmouth
- we got into the Subway business
- Kristin began her job at Monmouth College and I began my MBA degree

Little Red was involved in many of these events. It helped move most of our items when we moved twice. It moved countless loads of household improvement materials from Lowes and Menards. When Gentry was a baby he would get up early and almost every Saturday morning he and I would be at Lowe's at 7:00 opening time. This was Krisin's one day to sleep in. John later liked the truck I think just because he is the kind of guy who just likes trucks. One time I took John to the Springfield airport to watch airplanes take-off and land and somebody who was late for their plane came speeding through the parking lot and nailed us right next to John's seat. It gave us both a scare. Noah liked climbing in the back of the truck when it was sitting in our drive-way and climbing into it and pushing buttons. Kristin didn't want to me sell it because she said it looked cute. Another term that should not be used when describing a truck. I guess I liked Little Red the most when it was hauling a big load of materials to help build something and when it was pulling our camper going out for a good time.

Over the years we used (and probably abused) Little Red. When I would go get a load of bricks or sand the workers would load the amount that they thought the truck could handle. I would then usually have them double the amount making this one-half ton truck a one-ton truck. It would ride low but make the delivery just fine. It also was in several accidents. It was hit on its front-right side, its front-left side, its back-right side, its back-left side and its back end. I think its bright red color made it a target. Whenever it got in an accident I would order new body parts, paint them and put them back on and Little Red would just keep going. Over the eleven years I had the truck it never once didn't start or have any engine problems at all.

A few months ago I sold Little Red with around 170,000 miles on it. I really do believe that it probably had another 100,000 left in it. The boys miss it but the guy that bought the truck also has a little boy. Maybe it is now beginning its life as part of another family's life cycle.


I remember the bus rides down the ghat going home at the end of October. We must have packed suitcases, how else did I get the sewing stand I made for Mom in manual training home to the plains; but I remember nothing about this. What I do remember is the absolute necessity of preparing for the bus ride by manufacturing two items: first, a tin disc on a rubber band which one could twist and twirl; and second, a pinwheel on a stick which one could stick out the open bus window and whirl in the wind. I don't recall using them much, but one had to have them. The bus itself was tinny, dusty, open windows, lurched around many curves before hitting the straightaway where the trees and monkeys were, and finally the railroad station.


Phyllis and I were married August 24, 1956 and took off on our honeymoon in a brand new red (bottom half) and white (top half) Plymouth Savoy 1956 model. But we had a tough get-away!

I had purchased the car in Winnipeg, Canada and took delivery of it (after a bus ride) in Fargo, North Dakota. Never can I forget the feeling that I had when I drove it off the dealer's lot. When I got to Mountain Lake to surprise Phyllis with this honeymoon car, I could not find her. The family had gone off to a lake, but, though I tore about on those country roads, I could not find her at any one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes.

On the wedding day my sneaky brother-in-laws (Paul, Carl, Ed and Ricardo too, I think), got hold of the key by having me take them for a ride and stopping at the Jungas Hardware. While goofing off in the store they deceived by "needing" something from the trunk of the car. Foolishly I gave them the keys which they promptly duplicated, but without my knowledge, in the hardware store, no less! So after the wedding, the reception, and the program in the church basement, Phyl and I as newlyweds were about to leave for that honeymoon. But the car was not where I had parked it. With a grand entourage of family folk, Uncle John Jungas among them, I was ushered into the forest (or someone's back yard) in the dark. Phyl and I got into the car. Many and loud were the farewells. But when I started the car and put it in gear, it did not move. I had not noticed that the rascals had put the car on blocks. Eventually the blocks were removed among guffaws a plenty. We were off at last! Now I found it in my heart to forgive these new relatives of mine because very neatly in white (on the red part of the car) were the words: JUST MARRIED. LETTUCE ALONE.

The car attracted large attention all the way to Saskatchewan, not least at the US-Canadian border!


My story is about Greyhound.

What I remember about Greyhound are waits in the waiting room until the bus arrives. Time is spent eating something, playing video games, or calling mom/relatives on the phone.

Greyhound is noted for their slogan: "Leave the driving to us."

Some of the highlights of Greyhound are the bus drivers and the comments they make over the intercom. Some are typical of any route, but some are very creative.

Things I wish to forget about riding greyhound are the sleeping condtions. It is hard to sleep when someone is next to you and the person behind you beocmes annoyed when you move your seat down. Crying babies are definitely something to wake one up.

The people you see riding the bus are interesting too. My experiences with Greyhound led me to making a video called "Riding the Dog" for my Into to Video course I took at the University of Tampa.



Go to Vehicles, Part 2