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.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

DSC In the Sky

Zebulon, NC

Long time readers of this blog know how reverently we talk about the Dismal Swamp Canal (DSC).   On the canal we experience senses of security, serenity, suspension of elapsed time, and the feeling of being transported two centuries into the past.   Sanctuary would be an appropriate word.

For example, in October 2012 I wrote:
My, the contrast is striking.  Just yesterday I wrote of being terrorized out in the harsh sea.  Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, we're surrounded by supreme tranquility, beauty and security of the Dismal Swamp Canal (DSC) and the Pasquotank River. 
And in June 2014, I wrote:
We spent Friday night at our favorite anchorage.  A place so beautiful that we marked the GPS waypoint "Pearly Gates"  It is a place guaranteed to calm the most agitated soul
Well, as the title suggests, we have come to view the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) as an equivalent sanctuary.  Up there, one feels that time is suspended, and that we can live the illusion that we are in the 19th century.  Of course, the DSC is genuine in the sense was dug by George Washington's slaves  in the 1700s whereas the BRP was created in the 1930s to preserve the feeling of an era past.  But contrast both with the manufactured illusions of Disney World which we find to be repulsive.    I can describe the experience as that of living as wealthy 19th century tourists did.  (Certainly not as 19th century farmers did, because they had to scrabble to provide enough to survive the winters.)

For sure, the BRP is more easily accessible and offers much more variety than the DSC.  I recommend it to all my friends.   Find the opportunity to spend time on the BRP.   If possible, spend more than one day, up there.  Best of all, travel the full 469 mile length.  You'll average only 30 mph,  because you'll want to stop at nearly every one of the hundreds of overlooks to enjoy the views.  So the full trip will take you 16 hours of driving.  3 days and 2 nights is ideal.   Be sure to stop and enjoy the BRP highlights along the way such as the Cone Mansion, and Mabry Mill.  A list of the highlights is here.    Just make sure that the weather is nice.  It is not fun being there during storms, fog, or cold.

Libby and I just came down after 2 days and 2 nights on the BRP.  It was wonderful.  We drove.  We hiked.  We paddled in a canoe.  We camped.  We relaxed.   We would still be up there if it were not for forecasted thunderstorms. 

Here is an album of pictures from those 2 days.   Here's one picture from the album that I snapped as we paddled in a rented canoe.

One of our favorite highlights on the BRP is the Cone Mansion; an example of 19th century life of the rich.  You can explore the mansion and the grounds.  Below are some pictures ofthat I found on Google Images.

View of the lake from the porch
View of the mansion from the lake in fall.
View in winter

Monday, May 07, 2018

A Scary Storm

Umatilla, FL

Wow, the storm in the picture below was taken in Williston, Vermont last week.  It is about 5 miles from Jen's house.  The storm is approaching from the direction of one of our favorite anchorages on Williston Bay.   It did a lot of wind damage on land. 

All I can say is that I'm glad we weren't there.  Especially glad that we weren't anchored there when that storm passed over.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

This is What I Would Really Like

Zebulon, NC

I enjoy a lot of things.  Sailing of course is one of them.  But the video below shows what I would love most of all.

When I flew gliders in Vermont, they were WWII era clunkers.  Even that was great fun. But a sophisticated modern gliders, with all that electronics, in the mountains of the West would be a very different experience.

What blocks me?

  • Not enough money.  You need a $250K investment and $50K annual budget to do that.
  • Don't live in the right region.
  • I couldn't pass the rigorous flight physical any more.
As a consolation, watching these videos is almost as much fun as doing it.