Adventure Car Saga

I don’t think you can consider buying up cheap old weird cars as a hobby. However I’ve spent an extreme amount of time pursuing this endeavor. So with some examination I’ve been coming to terms with the possibility that I don’t actually enjoy restoring old cars. I enjoy driving them and I enjoy occasionally working on them because old cars always need work. I’ve been trying to ask myself a few questions about my car…obsession. In a journal I once wrote, ‘Where will the adventure begin?’ and I think that might be the clue about what it is that I have truly enjoyed about these cars. Looking back through the years this is my attempt to chronicle the history and experiences with each one. Maybe by identifying a common thread that connects them all I can work to extract that from such an expensive hobby and weave into something else.

My first car was a 1981 Mustang with a straight six that we called Big Bird because it was bright yellow. No A/C, the gas gauge only worked down to the 1/2 way mark, and a muffler that constantly came unjoined from the pipe underneath (I carried a glove just to reconnect it when that happened). We looked and looked for mustangs; passed up a 79 Cobra, an 8x LX with sunroof, tried to talk a lady in town out of her convertible and found this one parked out under a tree on the West side of Springfield. I bought it and a family of mice under the back seat for 500 dollars and it cleaned up pretty well. Over the next few years this car was a second home. Any weekend you’d either see me cruising in it or preparing for a big Toliet Paper escapade. Jason Gilkey and I cruised from dusk till dawn in it, the carburetor burped and caught fire once, I drove it all around Mt. Vernon one night going only in reverse. It got around well enough in the snow that we’d pop the hatch and hold onto the back and sorta ski behind it. Basically though it was a piece of crap.

My second car and the first automobile to haunt my dreams was a 1985 5.0 Mustang GT. We bought it from a guy in town who had bought it brand new and smoked every day of his life in it. The dash was so soaked with tar that no amount of cleaning would remove it and anytime it got damp it would get sticky. I tried to nickname her “The Enterprise”, but it never really stuck. This car should have technically killed a young man. I exceeded 100+ mph on McCanse street in an escalating car challenge between Curtis, Josh and I. This was the first car I have ever been airborne in. The speedometer only went to 85, but there’s a good chance I hit 135mph, it’s top speed, in this bad boy trying to get to my grandmother’s funeral in Kansas. It handled notoriously poorly in rain, snow and ice. I goosed it once sliding around a corner only to send it careening into the solid metal bumper of a pickup truck. I was driving on I-44 once when a Viper started to come up on me in the passing lane. I thought hey this could be fun so I down shifted to hammer on the gas. When the other driver saw what I was attempting I’m sure he chuckled to himself a bit as he mashed the gas pedal down and left me far behind in his dust. I used to routinely shut off my lights while driving home on interstate to see how long I could go in the dark before needing to turn them back on. On the way home from college during the pouring rain, the back end of the car lifted up and shimmied left, shimmied right and the flipped around 180 degrees. Going 65mph backwards into the median I eventually came to a stop completely unharmed. I kinda looked around thinking ‘what the heck happened’ or  a slightly delayed ‘that was awesome’ and then pulled back out onto the road. This car suffered quite a bit from my youthful rage; smashing the old radio trying to get it out, smashing through the dash while trying to hit my speakers to get them working. The thing that haunted my dreams though was the sound. I’d never heard a more beautiful exhaust note and I even mic’d it and recorded it years ago. After multiple failed water pumps I had to move on. I had neither the cash or the know how to continue to maintain it at that time in my life. I sold it and heard it was resold to someone in Stotts City and I used to even cruise through country roads keeping an eye out for it years later. Just recently I was passed information on it’s current whereabouts…so it sits there in the back of my mind waiting.

From there I abandoned the domestic market and picked up my first import a 99 Honda Civic SI in gorgeous electron blue. There used to be a guy in Siloam Springs that specialized in theft recovery cars. The SI models were notorious for being stolen for their engines. Tragically I had it for only a month or two before running it up a telephone pole after a light dusting of snow. I blame my first real experience with a front wheel drive car. The Civic was my first expensive car and after this disaster I thought maybe I should go back to the route of a less expensive more practical Toyota Camry. What a sore mistake. Looking back I think this may have been the time frame that my Fiat obsession came to the forefront. While driving the Camry I bought the shell of an old Fiat Spider for 50$ somewhere south of Roaring River. It had no engine, no interior, no dents, absolutely no rust and a clean title. Sadly this was very early on in my mechanical experience and it sat in two different garages before being sold off. During this time I also discovered the Fiat 128 through an enthusiast forum. When I found one for sale on ebay out in Philadelphia I bid and won. My dad and I cannonballed our way to Philly in his “new to him” pickup with a u-haul dolly in tow. When we got on scene we found a sad, sad, little rust bucket of a car and though it ran I opted not to go through with the purchase. We dropped the dolly off and drove straight back home. What a long two days.

After having the Camry for maybe a couple years I sought out another Civic SI this time a 2000 in Flamenco Black Pearl and without a huge spoiler on the back. To date this has been the car I’ve owned the longest and has been the most reliable. I got it with under 25K miles on it and sold it a few years ago with close to 300K miles. It was a fast little car and I extracted every bit of enjoyment I could from it. Having it such a long time I had surprisingly few incidents in the car. I hit a deer only 5 miles from where we now live going 40mph and the only damage you could immediately notice was the flat spot I ground on a brand new set of tires(no ABS). In 2009 I started becoming interested in rally racing and played a lot of Rally Sport Challenge 2 on the Xbox. Some would say too much, in fact I would say too much because I would get all amped up and go driving rather aggressively. So again out in the country not far from my future home I pushed it hard up a right hand bank over a hill. Somewhere during the turn at 55+mph the back tires lost grip and the trees that were once on my right hand side suddenly appeared on my left hand side. Miraculously the car did a 180, but never left the road. I remained completely unharmed and hopefully wiser for the experience. I went through some rough time working on the suspension and while it was up on jacks with the door open it got tweaked and wouldn’t shut. So I had to take it into the dealer…doorless to have it reattached by someone who knew how to do it.

Somewhere during the Civic years is when the Fiat bug bit again. Through Chris Keen @ Rusty but Trusty I found a really great 72 Fiat 128 out in Denver that a guy had for sale. He had dreams of setting it up to do hill climbs and it had a real bad ass set of Hella fog lights installed. I quickly called him up, told him I wanted it, got some cash from savings and got a one-way flight out. Up to this point I had no real skills to help ensure that a 37 year old car could make an 800 mile journey in one straight shot. So I’m kinda surprised it made it all the way home and honestly did so completely trouble free. The Toyota Prius malfunction has nothing on this thing; the “cruise control” option in 72 was a mechanism to lock in the throttle cable at a certain position. It was basically great though. I drove that car around Springfield, in the snow, and almost to Atlanta for a New Years Eve concert. Fortunately for me I hesitated, because the next day one of the valve-spring shim buckets split and rendered her un-drivable. I pulled the engine with dreams of taking it somewhere and having it rebuilt. The problem is that when you show up to a machine shop with a milk crate full of engine parts and no idea what to ask for they tend not to do anything with your stuff. I had stored the body shell in a friends barn while I moved and after about 6 months of waiting on any engine progress I picked up the parts. Somewhere during this time I bought a friends VW Jetta that was having transmission problems in an attempt to “help them out of it”. It was having problems going forward unless you were on absolutely flat land or going downhill, but once you could creep up to 45 or 55 the overdrive would kick in and you could drive it. I somehow limped it towards Mt. Vernon, but someone came to a complete stop at the exit in front of me and I couldn’t get it going forward again…so I drove it from the I-44 exit through the country at about 10 at night only going in reverse. I had to stop from time to time to let it cool down. When I finally got it to my folks house I couldn’t loose the final bolt to free up the transmission from the engine. I was stuck. It sat for a few weeks at mom and dad’s house while I regretted buying it instead of just gifting some money to my friends. And then a Yugo came up for sale on E-bay in Topeka that the winning bidder didn’t follow through on. I contacted the seller(a salvage yard) and we worked out a trade; the Yugo for the Jetta. I loaded it up and headed towards the Kansas capital. This was one of the best trades ever. The Yugo was a reddish orange and the previous owner had put a big General Lee style 01 on the side and about a hundred stickers on the windows. They fork trucked the car onto my trailer and I headed back home. The Yugo shares the same guts as my Fiat so my hopes were very high that I could trade out the engines and get Sweet Pea back on the road. Once I got home I was able to hot wire it and she started right up. Greg and I went for a drive and there must have been a broken motor mount because it pulled wicked hard to either the right or left whenever you braked or accelerated. My dad suggested this was twice the car my Fiat was and that I should just get it road worthy and abandon the Fiat. However I just couldn’t leave Sweet Pea as a rusting heap and I decided to try my first engine swap. Dad’s confidence was not high and I only had a weekend to do it inside the climate controlled comfort of his Co-op’s shop. I managed to get everything switched over and about 90% re-plumbed before we had to trailer it back home to continue there. Much to dad’s amazement…and probably my own I managed to get her running and driving over the next few days. Sweet Pea LIVES!!! Now what to do with the shell of a Yugo… January 29, 2012 I made the brave decision to drive her down to a MuteMath show in Tulsa. I painted up the windows and had an amazing drive during a very tumultuous time of life. Little did I know this would be her last major trip. Later that year when backing down mom and dad’s driveway the sway bar ripped away from it’s mounts and the wheels jammed up into the wheel well. For the first time exposing the true extent of the rust that had been covered up with primer by the previous owner.

In February of 2011 a sweet little 1967 Fiat 850 coupe was featured on BringaTrailer. It came from an estate sale in Texas and the new owners must have been smoking crack because they were asking $3500 for it. In March Chris K featured it on his site for 3k and then I watched the price drop slowly over the next few months. Once it hit 1300 in early May I decided I better pull the trigger or someone else would…if only I had known. I borrowed dad’s truck and trailer without being quite straight forward that I was headed out of state with it for another car. Somewhere along the way the truck started missing and pulling really rough uphill. An initial check just off the turnpike resulted in accidentally popping the cable out of the connector on a plug wire, but I was able to reinsert  it and figured maybe I just got some bad gas so back onto the road. I slept for a few hours somewhere near the Oklahoma/Texas state line and arrived in Houston around mid-day. Yuck Houston gets wicked hot even in May. I loaded up the car and was able to talk them into letting me have it for 1100 because I had to spend so much on gas to get down there. They handed over the original title and some estate sale affidavits and papers. Looking through them as I got into the truck I found out they only paid 300 dollars for it at auction. I might as well have sucker tattooed on my forehead when I’m buying an old car. I stopped at the local auto-parts store and tried changing out plug wires. I had them almost all changed when I found out one of the plugs had backed out and had just come loose. I tightened it up and the truck was back to running smooth as silk again. I was now a slimy grease ball after crawling around in the engine bay and loading up the car, but we have an office in Dallas where I could get access to a shower. Having the chance to clean up before doing the last leg of the trip was amazing. I got home without incident and rented a storage bay on the west side of town. For the next 3 years she sat in storage and then out on my property without receiving much attention. The engine wouldn’t turn over so I tried liberally spraying it down with PB Blaster to see if I could coax it free. The body and especially the floors are in amazingly good condition. The rockers and front hood are garbage, but it came with an extra engine. At some point she was towed into town and I decided to finally swap out the engines. Currently she’s in my basement and I’ve deemed her my long term project.

In my continuing Fiat mania, as if I couldn’t get enough, I found another 128 for sale in Utah. A yellow 1974 2 door in Salt Lake city that looked in decent shape, but had a seized engine and had been sitting since the early 80s. At the time I was still considering rally racing my 128 and I thought having a spare parts car would be handy. This time I checked with dad and let him know I would be heading far west and we made sure the truck was ready to handle the trip. I slept under the stars in the bed of the pickup outside of Kansas City and then again in Wyoming. All along the way I stopped and read about the mormon travels west from Missouri. I listened to the Hitch Hikers guide to the galaxy audiobook on the way out and I can’t remember laughing so much as when Agrodag(?) the giant spider monster confronts Arthur Dent. This is also the trip where while driving through Nebraska I realized I hadn’t read any scripture yet. I sat my iPad in front of the speedo and began reading in Romans 12 or 13. Shortly thereafter I was pulled over by the NHP because I was reportedly swerving all over the road (untrue). An off duty cop had called me in, but I remember being very wary and was even driving well under the speed limit to conserve gas. The Lord knew I needed a nudge to curtail this bad habit of reading and driving. I had just been reading in Romans about ‘obeying the government authority setup over you’ at exactly the moment when I was going to be pulled over and ticketed for doing something really stupid. It was a good lesson and this time it stuck. Anyways I got to see prairie dogs, great wonderful expanses and hours and hours of road ahead and behind me. I met the seller in town just blocks away from where I would unbeknownst to me be revisiting in just a few months. He was shocked to see another big bearded guy in Mormon town. We figured out a way to attach a flat tow hitch to the car and grabbed a couple of 3% beers before I headed out. I had this sort of uncomfortable feeling like I needed to get out of the city so rather than stay at a hostel like I’d originally planned I headed out of town and slept just across the Wyoming state line. She towed really well the next day and I made it as far as Wakini Kansas and pulled off near a beautiful grove of trees and a wheat field for the night. I woke up to birds chattering in the trees, well more like screaming, but I got to see some deer scamper off into the wheat fields. I stripped down and took a tailgate shower with my remaining water and got back on the road. I arrived home with my new treasure and dropped it off at mom and dad’s to start tinkering with it. Later that year when SweetPea died I did an afternoon engine swap, but it never quite ran right. I’d reached the end of my current frustration level and parked it out at the property. I eventually gave it away to a friend and she stayed away for another year or so before coming back. I got her running good again and replaced some brake lines before selling to a real nice guy who’d transplanted into the area from California. We keep in contact and I know she’s in a good home now and will receive plenty of attention.

In the late fall of 2012 I was hankering for something different than the Civic and a co-worker clued me into the old Subaru wagons of the 80s. Wow. Talk about the perfect mix of quirky and 80s utilitarian awesomeness. Flip up center headlight under the emblem, plaid seats, part-time 4×4 hi/lo. A beautiful sky blue with a hint of pearl to the paint. You can’t dream up this sort of perfection. So I sent supplies out to our office in Seattle; tool bag, gas gan, winter weather supplies, etc. That December flights with Frontier to Seattle were dirt cheap so I booked the travel, stayed the first night in a hostel and took a train out to Bellingham the next morning. Theresa the current owner picked me up from there and we made the drive out towards Mt. Baker to take a look. It was as glorious as I had hoped…minus a cracked windshield, a couple spots of rust here and one kinda big problem – no lights. Getting those working was my first concern before heading back to the big city, so stopping off at a Napa I crossed my fingers that it was simply a fuse. Fortunately it was, but the next disconcerting thing to find was that the oil pressure was shockingly low. So much so that I spent the rest of the evening at the office trying to find a local O’Reilly’s store with an oil pump in their warehouse. I parked the car across the street from our office in downtown Seattle and sailed off to dreamland in the office in view of the car. The next morning I found my pleasant dreams had drifted into coastal crags when I discovered the rear passenger window broken. The would be thief was foiled by a broken door latch and when the glass broke he dropped his pry knife and fled. Good for me because he didn’t touch the cash I had stored in the glove compartment or take my tool stash. I kept the knife with the car for the longest time. Unfortunately now I needed to replace not only the windshield, but the side window too. In the meantime I found an oil pump and changed it out in the cold before heading east. She chugged over the mountains with quite a bit of snow coming down though none really sticking to the road. I spent the first night in what has become one of my favorite towns, Coeur d’Alene Idaho. The hotel had one of those 25 cent magic fingers bed vibration units. Curiosity demanded I try it though after a few minutes you just feel nauseous. I explored town a bit the next morning before getting back onto the road. My first truly remote stretch of road was from Bozeman through West Yellowstone. I stopped at the Yellowstone Park sign to take a picture and while snapping the shot she sputtered and died. No big deal I’ll start it back up and get on the road…is what should have happened. I cranked a dozen times with not much change and started to worry because this was the first really extreme cold I’d encountered and thus far I had been the only car on the road. I was exceedingly grateful that a couple from Nebraska stopped and the gentleman helped troubleshoot. Without him manually operating the carb while I tried to start it up I would have been at a loss for what to do and probably stuck with a dead battery. The cold was apparently extreme enough that the venturis were stuck in full choke. I stretched my 4×4 legs for the next hour or two as the road became increasingly covered and headed towards Grand Targhee. These cars may as well be part goat for how well they handle in the snow. Glad to have stopped in Butte to replace a couple of balding tires I found that RubySu was born to scamper about through the winter wonderlands. Passing through Driggs I spotted a couple of potential Subaru donor cars, but the owners weren’t interested in parting with a door or a window or anything. (Full circle, I happened to see one of these very cars up for sale in early 2017.) Climbing the mountain to the ski area I became more and more impressed with how well she handled the snow. Just outside the ski area I towed someone out of a snow drift and at this point I’m convinced this is the little engine that could. Somewhere in western Wyoming the oil pressure indicator that’d I’d been having problems keeping above 20lbs dropped below. Up to that point I’d been taking it pretty slow to baby her along, but I talked with my dad and under his advice I put the hammer down to make it as close as I could before it gave up. Fortunately it was a faulty sensor, but talk about added stress. On the east side of Denver I was pulled over by the Hi-Po; apparently a bushy bearded guy in an 80s wagon from Washington state going through Colorado fits the profile of a drug runner. He was friendly enough after confirming I wasn’t one. Once I made it to Kansas I began to feel home-free and kept pushing on. On the last leg of the trip knowing I had an extra can of gas I decided to see how much past empty I could take it. Almost to the 400 mile mark and a block away from my parents house she ran dry. The next day heading home I only made it two blocks from their house when the throttle cable broke. To this day I’m amazed at how much of a lurch I would have been in had that happened anywhere else. The summer of 2013 RubySu and I drove up Pikes Peak to watch Sebastian Loeb break the hill climb record. She smoked pretty heavily up/down the mountains and I seriously thought I might have to stop in Colorado Springs to get a new car. In light of that I started contemplating a replacement engine. I found the heart of a BRAT in Wichita that was being sold by a dude originally from my hometown. He’d been planning to upgrade his VW bus, but stalled out on his project. I took the guts of an EA81 to a race shop in Billings and thus begun the YEAR long process of an engine rebuild. In the meantime I found a couple of parts wagons in Arkansas that I towed back up to Missouri. Later under the influence of post surgery medication I promised Ashlee we could have as many kids as I had cars which at this point the count was at 8. Not the proudest moment in my life to have two 128s, an 850, a yugo, 2 suby wagon parts cars, rubysu, and the Audi, but only have 2 of them on the road. Finally the new engine was ready and with some help from mom and dad I got RubySu road ready. Planning to honeymoon in Wyoming in the snowy season I prepped everything that I could for a long haul trip across the country. The 75/80mph speed limit in Nebraska proved too much though and she breathed her last on I-80 near a Sapp Bros 15 minutes west of Kearney Nebraska. The freshly rebuilt engine slipped a bearing and the oil pressure plummeted. I had already been thinking about selling it when we got home, but this was the nail in the coffin. My mom came up to give us a ride home and bring the title for Sheldon the soon to be new owner. I’m not sure why this car was different; maybe it was the plaid or the light hidden under the emblem or some intangible quality, but after selling I just wasn’t able to move on. I’ve let go of other cars with comparative ease; Big Bird, Sweet Pea, my Civic, even the 85 Mustang which I dreamed about often. However I spent the next three years on again, off again looking for a replacement. Even going so far as to fly out to Reno to get one back up and running, but then deciding against it. I’ve contacted Sheldon 2 or 3 times in varying states of acceptance to check in on RubySu. However at this point it is safe to say the odds of seeing her again are pretty low.

While RubySu was off the road getting a new engine I found a cheap set of wheels to have as a backup daily driver. An 86 Audi 4000 that had been previously owned by a local VW enthusiast, but the current owner’s daughter didn’t want anything to do with it. It was in surprisingly good shape and a very sporty drive when compared to an early 80s wagon. It has vacuum actuated automatic locking doors, a full compliment of additional gauges under the radio, a trunk light that could be unwound and presumably extended out to help when changing a tire, and a suspect though working sunroof that would slowly creep open or close when activated. The interior really was perfect and her stout little motor allowed me to make the trip to Arkansas to talk with Ashlee’s dad for his blessing for marriage and then later to meet up with her to propose. I spent the coldest winter I can remember driving her and vividly recall a dial based thermometer I had on the floorboard spun around backwards to -15 degrees. I had to put a piece of cardboard in front of the radiator to keep the interior warm in the frigid cold. We encountered a family racing team from Dixon that used an 85 4000 quattro as their platform for rally racing in the 100Acre woods. Theirs was equipped with 4×4, a 5cyl engine(yes 5) and a turbo; woohoo! She eventually began to have problems with one of two oil idiot lights and I was never able to figure out anything other than their system is really weird. Pressure monitored by a gauge then separate low and high pressure idiot lights and buzzers. It ends up being this spiffy dynamic oil pressure warning system, but being completely in the dark about it you can imagine the mischief and the rabbit trails that can lead down. Eventually the Audi outwore its welcome and I sold it on ebay for 200 bucks less than I paid for it. WIN.

8 months into being newly married I came across a Fiat 131 in San Diego for sale on ebay. I contacted the seller and found out he was an old Mirafiori member. The car sounded great; garage kept for the last 10 years and only minor work required to get it back on the road. Did I mention she was lime green?? Excuse me I mean Verde Chiaro. Lured in by the low price tag I won the auction and worked out my first cross country car shipment. When “greenbean” rolled into the driveway at our little rental property the transport driver was all too eager to talk about these cars from his home country Poland. I’d asked the previous owner to send the title in the mail, but we were gone Thanksgiving weekend when it “arrived” or rather didn’t arrive. Investigation into the tracking number with the post office yielded nothing and as far as we know to this day it simply blew off the porch with a gust of wind. While I worked on getting a replacement title issued the parts began to pour into our house. I replaced hoses, brake lines, tires, gas tank, seat belts, seats, fuel lines and amazingly it started up and ran. Well not very well, but enough to get it inspected. Later I found out it had suffered a head gasket failure. I put everything back together, but hesitated to fire it up or fill it with coolant. I’m in the midst of trying to decide if I want to drive it for a few months and then sell it or keep it longer term. The adventure that’s happened with this one thus far has mainly been the adventure of discovering the delays that can happen with rebuilding an engine in the midst of having a child and building a house. The promise of the dual carb symphony is what’s keeping me going at the moment. I can’t wait to throw her into a sharp turn and put the pedal down. As a recent update, the complications continue to present themselves and this car has been delayed further and further. The new race quality multi-layer head gasket had issues and my patience and available time continues to run thinner. It’s officially on the market for sale.

The less than practical nature of always needing to work on a car led me to a 2003 Outback. I found it on CL near Columbia and bought it from a Greek used car dealer. We talked about racing and toasted a couple of drinks of Ouzo, a greek liqueur, over the sale. Much to my dismay almost immediately the check engine light came on after money changed hands. I thought I’d heard a miss earlier and this left me crest fallen. Going back to his garage he attributed it to the fact that he’d just washed out the engine bay. I’d actually had this exact problem with my Civic so I trusted a little too much and accepted his lie. Months later I found out it was low compression in cylinder 3…lame. Surprisingly however it’s driven really almost without issue for close to 2 years now. I’ve finally got another car close enough to being a backup driver to take it off the road and fix it…just before I plan to sell it.

Being in perpetual frustration with every car I currently own and still having a hole in my heart for RubySu led to my most recent adventure. I found a 1982 Subaru GL Wagon 4×4 for sale in the San Bernadino mountains that finally checked all the boxes and was worth the blowback I’d get from Ashlee to go get. Low mileage, A/C, plaid interior, very minimal rust, four spoke steering wheel, the cyclops light and the right price. Actually there’s one more crucial item that belongs in that list; a pleasant, reliable and trustworthy seller. In the matter of 48 hours after finding this car I broke the news to Ashlee, booked a flight and found myself in LA. The previous owner Daniel met me at the airport and let me stay in their spare apartment overnight. He and his girlfriend treated me to breakfast and all the local history that I had an ear to hear about. They were in the process of emptying out the home that they’d lived together in for 5 or 10 years to move back to Oregon. Daniel was a collector; surfboards, knick-knacks for the yard, walking sticks, etc. He had literally 1000 walking sticks that he was in the process of preparing to either give away or sell. I had hoped to wake up early and be on the road by 9 or 10, but the morning didn’t line up quite as neatly as I had hoped and before long it was past noon. The car was in good shape and fell just short of being great due to some “fixes” that had been applied. Surely everyone can remember to flip a switch to manually turn on the radiator fan every time they drive the car ever… Or this beer tap would make a good shifter…or cat5 cable would make a great harness to hang a fuel pump with…All in all though these were all acceptable and should be pretty easy to rectify. So I got onto the road and headed to TeePee motel #7 and the start of my trip home paralleling some really fun spots on route 66. She had a tendency of burping up coolant and then running hot so I had to stop quite a few times on the way home to let her cool down or fill it up. My second RT66 destination was Cool Springs AZ which involved a really remote through the back country and the opportunity to share the road wild donkeys and rattlesnakes. I pressed on past that for a few more hours and slept in the car. I covered a little less than 300 miles the first day and barely made it into my second state. With 1200 miles still to go I really needed to pick up the pace to make it back by mother’s day. The second day I stopped at the largest and best preserved meteorite crater impact site in the world. The Barringer crater and wow talk about your big hole in the ground. I picked up the pace a little and got some cool shots of the car both on and off the trail. It was an hour or so past the crater that I decided to go roadkill on the car and remove the hood to see if I could keep it running a little cooler. On the edge of New Mexico I stopped to snap some pictures and tried out the 4×4 on a decent little dirt mound. I made a few attempts to jump up to the top of it, but gave up the efforts after recognizing how quickly I’d be screwed if I got high centered and stuck. I made it to Albuquerque for a bite to eat at the Route 66 Dinner. I successfully resisted the urge to go play on the sand dunes where I would have almost certainly gotten in over my head. Pressing ahead I stopped at the Big Blue hole in Santa Rosa, NM and was thoroughly underwhelmed by it. Much later that night I was actually more amazed at the random Indian restaurant/grocery/gas station combo that was in the middle of nowhere. I was able to push past Amarillo and slept in the car on a side road in the midst of a slew of windmills. Within striking distance of home I set off the next morning to finish the last leg through Texas and Oklahoma. When I finally made it home I took her for a dip in the creek behind the house to “baptize” her into the Barb family. Again bad luck seems to loom over me and rather than it being an air bubble in the radiator it ended up being a head gasket on it’s way to failing. This is surprisingly rare on these old EA81s especially with such low mileage, but so it goes. So Butterscotch as we’re calling her sits downstairs in the john deere room awaiting my time and attention. Fortunately I think the worst of the failure happened here in town in the last 50 miles and I don’t think there’ll be any lasting damage. Now I face my nemesis and bane…fixing the head gasket. It wouldn’t be so daunting if I had ever been able to get a car back up and working after either doing this work myself or having it done by someone else. It really should be easy, but I seem to encounter either the limit of my tools, space and knowhow or find I need to strip everything off so I can deck the block to entirely rebuild the engine. This accounts for my hesitancy to begin the job. I’ll have to get her fixed, but it may need to wait until I can recoup some costs from the other two cars currently up for sale. I expect this to be a life long car and adventure companion so I want to do it right.

Big Bird, SweetPea, and RubySu sit at the top as my all time favorite top three. But it’s so hard to limit this TOP category when each has come with its own brand of fun and experiences. I’ve gone up Pikes Peak, volunteered at rally races, traveled cross country for concerts, had endless amounts of fun drifting in the snow and learned a ton about life with these old cars. I’ve faced trials and difficulties too numerous and in these cars I’ve been deep in prayer and confrontation with the Lord, dealt with my heartache by the need to just drive, and in complete abandoned bliss blasted the stereo up loud to just be. So what is it about these cars? Maybe it’s that everything I’ve encountered in my adulthood has included them in someway; trouble, heartache, joy, adventure, the unusual, the sublime. I think the part to recognize is that these cars in no way constitute my life, they’ve simply been included. Life will continue to be exciting and amazing, but these cars don’t deserve the importance or the emphasis that I’ve allowed them to have. Sure they can be fun and they can be a part, but they can no longer be a primary focus. I’ve allowed them so much space and time that I’m not even sure I know how to effectively change this, but I’d like to try. 

For those keeping track the number is 18, with 12 of them being in the last 10 years.


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