Thursday, June 21, 2018

Our Life Story Told By Our Cars #14-16

South Burlington, VT

I don't remember how or why we got this old Dodge. 
It was a pretty beat up car, but it was dependable.  It sat in the garage unused most of the time.  But I do remember two stories about it.
First, I was towing our sailboat to Maine for a family vacation.   While driving down the Massachusetts Turnpike, I felt a breeze.  I looked down and saw that the floor had fallen out and that I was looking down at the pavement.   I just covered the hole with something and drove it for several more years.

Another story had to do with the 2nd oil crisis in 1977 when for the first time, gasoline prices went over $1/gallon.  Horrors!  That seems so quaint now.   I went to fill up the Dodge and it took nearly $20!   I recall saying, "Soon we'll have to bring the Brinks money truck when we go to the gas station."

the Saab died, we needed a family car.  My father once again helped us to find this station wagon.   It was a very nice car.  Everyone in the family liked it. Of course the phony wood on the side was plastic, but we didn't care.  When we left for Sweden the 2nd time in 1982, I think we left this car and the Doge to my sister Nancy, but I'm not sure.

In Sweden
for the 2nd time in the 1980s, we bought this Toyota Corolla wagon.  I don't remember if it was new or used.   But it was a very pleasant, fun, and dependable car.  We liked that car as much as we hated the Volvo wagon we had before.    When we left Sweden in 1987, we sold the Corolla.

One funny story.   Nancy and Karl came to visit us in Sweden.  While they were there, they borrowed this car to get around.  One day they came back looking sheepish.  They admitted that they drove it off the road into a ditch and had to get towed out.   No damage though.

OMG the
stories about this van.  Buying this van was not my proudest moment.  In 1985, we returned to the USA for the summer as a family vacation.  John's girlfriend Helena came with us.   We visited my Dad in upstate NY, and helped him to host a wedding for Nancy and Karl.  Then, we wanted to go to Florida, and also to tow our sailboat there and put it up for sale.  What to do for transportation?

El cheapo me, found a van for sale in Syracuse.  The price was only $300 which suited me fine, because it ran.  I test drove it.  So, off we went, 6 of us in the van, a sailboat behind off toward Florida.

What a piece of junk that turned out to be.  The floor in the back had rusted out and it was covered with and Bricks.  There were also no seats in the back, so the kids had to lay on the floor.  So for the entire trip, they couldn't see out the windows, and they complained of headaches which turned out to be due to carbon monoxide.  OMG, what a bad parent I was.

But it got us to Florida and back.  It even got us to the tops of some mountains in West Virginia.  I recall pulling into a mountain top campground towing that sailboat.  An old mountain man was reclining near the entrance and chewing a blade of grass.  He said, "Who do you think you are, Noah?"

Another story with that van was the most shameful moment of my entire life.  I wrote about it before on this blog --- here.
In Saint Augustine, we anchored for the night just south of the Bridge of Lions. That bridge reminded me of one of the most ignoble and most embarrassing moments in my life. In 1985, we were living in Sweden but on vacation back in the states. We bought an old junker van to use for the vacation, and we drove from New York to Florida. We had a lot of trouble with the van during the trip. One problem was with the fuel line. It leaked. I did a temporary repair with duct tape, but the glue from the tape partially blocked the fuel line. The only way I could prevent the van from stalling at low speeds was to keep my foot full on the throttle.
One day, I crossed the Bridge of Lions in Saint Augustine. I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of people walking on the bridge. Some of them were walking on the roadway. I would have slowed or stopped for them, but the van would have stalled. Therefore, instead of stopping I leaned on the horn and made the people jump out of the way to avoid being run over as I barreled through at 40 mph. When we were nearly over the bridge I suddenly realized that the people were doing the Special Olympics. Well, I felt one inch high as I drove away, thoroughly ashamed of myself, but there was nothing I could do to undo the damage or to apologize.
But a second most shameful day was at the end of the summer when we were to return to Sweden.  We needed to fly out of JFK.  How to get there?   I had the idea of donating the van to Nancy and Karl.  We would drive to JFK, sign the van over to them, and leave.  Good plan.   But as we learned later, the van died within 5 miles of the airport, leaving Nancy and Karl stranded in the road waving their fists at the SAS plane flying over their heads taking us away in luxury. Shame on me.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Our Life Story Told By Our Cars #12-13

Continued from cars 1-3, 4-7, 8-10.

The first time we went to Sweden (1973-74),  my friend Kenneth Randen took me shopping for a car.  I bought this Volvo 145 station wagon.   It was the worst car I ever owned.  I hated it because it was so under-powered that it took 50 miles to accelerate to 60mph with the pedal to the metal.  I kept wishing that it would die, so I could get a different car, but the damn thing was reliable.  It never did die.

When we returned from Sweden, we bought a Saab to drive in the USA (see below).  But I didn't sell the Volvo.  I knew I would need a car for trips to Sweden (I had 50 two-week trips to Sweden in the next few years.)  So I loaned to an Englishman with the understanding that he could drive it free while I was away and that he would deliver and pick up the car from the Airport when I came back to Sweden.

Eventually, the Englishman went back to England.  I didn't know where to leave the Volvo, so I drove it to Arlanda Airport, parked it on the sidewalk in front of the entrance, took the licence plates off, abandoned it and got on a plane to the USA.  Ha ha on them.  Tsk tsk for me; that was the second time I abandoned a car.   (After 911 I could never get away with that trick again.)

When we left Sweden in 74, we did something special.  1974 Saab Combi Coupe  as an "export car."   That meant that we took delivery of the car in Sweden, but within 30 days we delivered it to Saab's shipping center in Gothenburg for shipping to the USA.   It was a really fun car to own and to drive.   The kids loved it because on one particular road I used to drive over a hump fast enough to pull air and they had one second of zero G.
We bought a brand new

The bad part was that Saab didn't start marketing that car in the USA until the following year (and they renamed it Saab 99), so I had the one and only car of that model in America.  Not only that, it was the first year for that radical new model, version 1,0.    The Saab mechanics in the USA never saw that model before, nor did they read the service bulletins.  Well, I owned that car for one year.  It burned out 7 clutches in that year.  Some of the clutches burned out before I could drive it 6 miles home from the dealer.   The air intake scoop was installed backward.  A service bulletin in Sweden told the mechanics to turn it around, but the USA mechanics never saw the bulletin.  As a result, I drove through a puddle (2 days after the 1 year warranty expired), the scoop scooped up water and put it in the engine.  All the piston rods got bent like pretzels.

I was disgusted, and I sold that year old Saab for $500.  My friend Ian bought the car, put a new engine in it, and his wife Joan drove it for many years.  Ian told me that he found there were no retaining rings on the piston wrist pins and that those pins were wearing holes in the engine block.  If I had not driven into the puddle, the engine would have exploded some day when I was driving down the highway.  I call this my Saab Story.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Our Life Story Told By Our Cars #8-11

Continued from cars 1-3, and 4-7

I worked summers at Syracuse Chemical Company, with my buddy Jim Carncross.  We were exterminators.   In that job, I drove a Volkswagon Microbus like the one in the picture.  Those things had terrible reputations, but mine just worked well mile after mile, year after year.

Jim an I got called to the Catholic Cathederal in Syracuse.  The cardinal was visiting.  As he said mass and bowed with his big conical hat, a bat in the church buzzed him.   All the people were laughing, but the priest was horrified and the cardinal had no idea what was going on.   Jim looked around in the vestry behind the pulpit. 

He saw a tennis racquet. 
He took the racquet and waved it in the doorway.  The bat came flying through and WHAM, the bad was history.  The cardinal never found out.  The priest was very thankful.

Here is Gert again.  Libby bought it from Emmy,  We took Gert on our Honeymoon.  We used Gert the year we live in Potsdam, NY. 

After graduation, we moved to Colonie, NY. 
I worked at GE in Schenectady.  My dad helped us to find this 63 Plymouth, with a slant 6 engine.   It was a pretty good car, and tough.  On slippery days in winter I used to bounce it off the snow banks beside the road to control the speed.   Cars were strong back then and the snow banks never caused a dent. 

Our house in Colonie was on a corner with a diagonal driveway.   After a big snowstorm, I could hit that driveway at 20 mph with the Plymouth and bazing, the driveway was plowed.  

This 66 Plymouth Fury belonged to William Lowber, Libby's dad.
When he died we inherited it.   That was the best car we ever owned.   It was reliable, quiet, comfortable, and amazing on snow.  It had positraction (limited slip differential, and that's why it was so good on snow.

Once on Christmas Eve, we left my parents house with baby John Mills.  Our destination was Libby's parents house.  There was a wicked snow storm.  The Oran-Delphi road was blocked with a snow drift 3 feet deep and 1/4 mile long.   That Plymouth got us all the way through.  Snow went up over the windshield, so I had to lean out the drivers window to see.  At the far end, it overheated and stalled.  I opened the hood.  The whole engine was packed with snow.  I cleaned it out (especially the radiator).  I opened the air cleaner and found a perfect air cleaner mold of packed snow inside.  Then it started again and drove us home.  Great car.   I think 66 was about the pinnacle of Detroit's car design skills.

The first time we went to Sweden in 1973, we left that green Plymouth in Oran.  I think my brother Ed drove it.  Anyhow, before we returned the car caught fire in Jerry's driveway and burned up.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Our Life Story Told By Our Cars #4-7

Continued from cars 1-3

I got a summer job at a soda factory on Thompson Road, East Syracuse.   I needed transportation to get to work.  My dad helped my find this 52 Chevy.  It was stick shift from 1st to 2nd but automatic 2nd to third.   It was a horrible unsafe car.   The brakes didn't stop it well.  The steering was so bad that I had trouble staying on the right side of the road.

On the last day of summer, the car died while waiting for a red light at the busy corner of Rt 5 and Rt 92 in Fayetteville.  I did something bad.  I got out, took off the license plate, and abandoned that car in the middle of traffic.  Tsk tsk.

William Lowber, Libby's father owned a series of Pontiac Bonnevilles.   Those were hot cars, and very sexy.  Libby got a ticket for speeding on Erie Boulevard in Syracuse in that car.

The following year I needed summer transportation once again.   My dad again helped me to find this 58 Chevy, 3 speed stick on the column.  It was basic, but a pretty good car.  I remember driving it in winter once on a snowy day.  I was passing a truck that was throwing up a big cloud of snow.  Suddenly, headlights appeared right in front of me.  I jerked the wheel.  The car did a 360.  Then it straightened out in the middle of my lane with the truck and the other car behind me.  Whew.

Helen Mills, my mother, got this 61 Valiant
I used to borrow it to go see Libby.  It was a pretty boring car with a cheesy floor stick shift.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Our Life Story Told By Our Cars #1-3

Zebulon, NC

Can you tell your life story just by the cars you owned?  Almost.   Even if the story is not complete, it is fun.  Not all of these cars were ours, but they all figure into our life story.   I'll do a few at a time.

Gert:  Libby's BFF Emily had a 1960 Ford Falcon wagon she called Gert.   
The very first date I went on with Libby, we double dated with Emmy and Baden in Gert.  Later, Libby bought Gert from Emmy.  We drove Gert on our honeymoon, and we used her when we lived in Potsdam.

I could and did do all necessary repairs and replacements on Gert using only a crescent wrench and a screwdriver.  I put in a new clutch and new universal joints.   When the voltage regulator got stuck, I would open the hood and bash it with a tire iron.

The Grey Ghost:
My mother, Helen Mills owned this 1956 Chrysler.   I used to borrow it to go out with Libby.   My mom complained because I would return the car with an empty gas tank, even though gas was as little as $0.15 per gallon.

My dad, Jerry Mills:  

1960 Plymouth Fury Convertible with a 413 hemi engine, 2x4 barrel carbs.  Jerry worked for Chrysler.  Part of his job was to demo all the makes and models to the dealers.  Therefore he brought home 2 new cars per week, 100 new cars per year.   Most were not memorable.  But this one he let me take out for a drive when I was only 16.  I took it to a country road, then at 60mph I stomped on the pedal and it burned rubber.  OMG it scared the daylights out of me.