I’ve always been an idea guy. When I was a kid, and maybe in early adulthood, or later….I always had no problem coming up with an idea. Personally, I looked at it as creative genius.
Now when I say ‘idea’, I don’t necessarily mean, like, …I’ve got an idea, let’s grab a six pack and go fishing. Yeah, that was a pretty frequent idea but there’s a lot more depth to this creativity. Some of it brought me right up to the very edge of incredible financial gain. Maybe one of the earlier examples came shortly after my current wife and I got married.
In the Beginning
I was working at a job which was about 5 miles from our apartment. My wife worked at a hospital about a mile in the other direction. Our schedules didn’t coincide and she was working second shift. After complaining about having to walk home in the dark, in the winter, in the rain, she finally made a good argument to get her a car. The quest began.
A friend had asked me over to help him work on his truck one Saturday. He and his wife were having a get together later on and he asked if I’d consider picking up a case of Boone’s Farm Apple Wine on the way. Not a problem.
The start of the downfall
It was a hot day. We worked hard. As a reward for my help, we cracked open a bottle of BF and relaxed a bit. On around the 5th bottle, I mentioned I needed to find a car for my wife. It just so happened he had a friend that was parting with a ‘nice’ older Rambler Station Wagon. So off we went.
Now the ‘nice’ older Rambler did have a few issues but for $75, you couldn’t expect perfection. The idea was the wife would have a car, I might be able to patch it up a bit and maybe sell it in a year or two at a profit. That of course would lead to an upgrade. I’m not going to say the Boone’s Farm clouded my judgement but in hindsight, it may have.
One of the big problems was the power steering pump had quit working. As long as you were on a relatively straight stretch of road it really didn’t cause any issues. My wife’s main complaint was in the winter time she had to grab the steering wheel with both hands and throw all of her weight into making a turn. I didn’t notice it too much unless you were trying to make a turn from a dead stop. To make the point it wasn’t a big issue, I drove it for several weeks until my shoulder went out. I ended up selling it to a friend for $65. You know, now that I think about it, we haven’t seen him since.
The first step up
There were a couple more vehicles that didn’t prove out, but again, the price was right. The second gem was a 60’s era Dodge Dart. This was something of a gift from her dad. We inherited it with the understanding it may have some minor issues but nothing of any consequence.
The first problem was the parking brake. Or lack thereof. Being a straight stick the parking brake was kind of essential if you were parking on a hill or slope. I really didn’t want to invest a lot of money in this vehicle so we (I) opted to put a piece of firewood on the floor in the back seat. If you needed a parking brake, you grabbed the stick of firewood and slipped it behind the front wheel. Problem solved and no big deal.
When summer rolled around, we discovered the second issue. This was a pre-fuel injection vehicle. The gas line to the carburetor was situated such that it ran over the manifold which got pretty hot. In really hot weather the gas line had a tendency to vapor lock. In simple terms, an air bubble formed in the gas line and shut off the flow of gas. So you might be cruising down the street, step on the accelerator to pass a car only to have the Dart suddenly die. Damn, not only inconvenient but embarrassing. You’re gonna blast past some old dude checking out the storefronts and suddenly, you’re dead in the water rolling to a stop in the passing lane.
Now I was smart enough to know the secret to getting rid of that vapor lock was to cool the gas line. Simple solution. I put a plastic gallon jug of water in the back seat next to the stick of firewood. When the old girl stalled, all you had to do was put the stick of firewood behind the tire, pop the hood and pour a little water on the gas line. Close the hood, throw the emergency brake in the back with the water jug and off you’d go! For whatever reason my wife said she felt humiliated pouring water on the engine in the middle of traffic on a Saturday afternoon. She had no idea what humiliation really was.
I lose a little ground
To prove it, I found a package deal on an OLD Jeep Wagoneer and some sort of conversion van. I know the package came in at under $100 for the pair. It was a lucrative proposition. Unfortunately, that still proved to be a little too much.
The conversion van was one of those DIY, home conversion jobs. Lots of cup holders like you put in a boat. About 30 yards of shag carpeting on the floors, walls and ceiling and a do it yourself surround sound stereo system with an 8 track. Stick on tinted glass and privacy curtains in the back. It was class.
When I came rolling home in it my wife made me change my clothes before she’d let me in the house. She claimed there were some unpleasant odors emanating from the back and swore she saw something moving under the carpet. I didn’t think it was that bad and was pretty sure I could get the stereo working again.
From bad to worse
The bigger letdown was the Jeep. I hadn’t taken it on an extended test drive before I bought it. When I did drive it around the parking lot I’d noticed a minor vibration but figured it was just a tire issue. Driving home I found out if you got much over 40 mph you ran the risk of that vibration throwing you off the road. Now I’m not talking about a little vibration in the steering wheel, I’m talking about the whole damned vehicle feeling like it was going into launch mode. Seriously!!!
When I got home, I looked it over and didn’t really see any issues with the tires. Looked it over from top to bottom and finally figured it out when I got underneath. At some point, the drive shaft had broken in two. NOT cracked, but broke in half. Now rather than replace the drive shaft, the previous owner welded the shaft together on his own. He didn’t get it exactly true when he lined it up so you ended up with a pretty serious wobble at any sort of reasonable velocity. Keep her under 30 and you were good to go!
The short story is both vehicles had to be put down the road at a minor loss. At the time junk cars were only worth about $25. Our friendly scrap yard did me a solid and gave me $70 for the pair.
Bingo!! Home Run!
One gem that did pay off was a really nice older Ford Bronco I found. Cheap. The motor was getting pretty tired but I had a friend that could rebuild the motor and we would have years of reliable transportation.
The first project I took on after the engine rebuild was constructing a center console. Yes, constructing. The Bronco had bucket seats but at some point the center console had gotten pretty badly busted up. I spent a weekend building a really nice wood box out of ¾” plywood. The lid off the old console was salvaged for a lid to the storage area. I even built a ledge on the front of the console to hold your
We used that truck to make many trips up the North Shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marais. That old truck went down many a fire road with no worry about getting back to civilization.
One problem with it was a lack of a convenient way to carry our canoe. If you’ve ever been around one of the older full size Bronco’s or Blazer’s you know the cabs were really high. Once you got the canoe on the top you didn’t have anything to tie the it down to. But not to worry, I’ve got this!!!
After my experience building the console, I put my carpentry skills back to work. Just a couple of 2×4’s stacked 3 high gave me clearance above the cab for the canoe. On each end of the 2×4’s I installed a 3” eye bolt to tie to. The 2×4’s lay across the cab and supported anything you could get up there. The problem came figuring out how to attach the contraption to the truck. Back to the hardware store and four 6” bolts later, problem solved! I drilled holes through the 2×4’s and the roof and bolted it down. My main concern was if we ever rolled the Bronco, we ran the risk of the bolts sticking through the roof into the cab going through our skull. But playing the odds, what were the chances?
Time to move on
We finally had to retire the Bronco when we started having some engine problems. There were well over 100, 000 miles on the overhaul but it was getting tired. Another concern was brought to my attention by my nephew. We were getting in the truck and he looked down and asked me what my seat belt was anchored to. It seems the end of the seat belt that should have been bolted to the frame of the truck had completely rusted through. The end of the seat belt just kind of dangled under the truck. I wondered what would have happened had that end snagged on a rock or limb when we were cruising the backroads. Most likely I’d be 2 ½’ shorter today.
My experiences buying and selling cars didn’t pan out very well over the years. Actually, I did pretty good buying them, I just didn’t make any money selling them! Junkyards didn’t pay well. It was best it happened early on in life giving me plenty of time to find my niche.