Wednesday, June 8, 2011

World's Worst First Vehicle

I get a little teary eyed thinking about my first vehicle. Not because it was a classic car or a hot rod or anything like that, but because I start thinking about the smoke seeping into the cab caused by the oil burning off the transmission after the transmission blew up while I was driving down the road.

The vehicle was a 1977 Chevy Scottsdale truck, and I eventually pulled over to the side of the road, eyes burning and lungs filling with filth; both myself, and sadly the truck, survived. The truck had one gas tank on each side, ensuring that no matter which side someone hit me on, I would be reduced to a pork rind while the truck rolled on. The Scottsdale was like a touchy grenade with a clip at each end. It didn't help that the beast got what felt like 5 miles per gallon and almost went through one tank on the way to school and the other one on the way back, ensuring that I never had any money, even with gas costing about $1.30 in 1997. The gaping hole in the floorboard where I could see straight through to the road wasn't really a feature I appreciated, and there was really no good way to cover it up. If it was snowing outside the truck it would seem like it was snowing inside the truck, and turning on the heater or air conditioner often did nothing more than fog up the windows, giving me just one more obstacle to get past.

All in all, if that truck was a racehorse, it would have been put down long before it got to me. It started out with my grandfather who lived on a farm and used it as a work truck. When grandpa passed away, the truck wound up with my mom and dad on our farm. My dad, ever the innovator, ripped the traditional truck bed off and put a flatbed on it. He went on to put a giant water tank on the flatbed that was connected to two 6-foot booms (extensions with spray nozzles hooked up) so he could load the water tank up with random chemicals and apply those chemicals to fields. I'm not so sure that the nozzles didn't leak, which may have resulted in us dripping contagion and killing everything wherever we went. To control and monitor all of the spray equipment, he wired up the cab of the truck so it looked like the inside of an airplane cockpit or the Bat mobile. As a 7 year old, I was impressed, and it wasn't uncommon for me to spend a Saturday afternoon with dad in the spray truck, happily inhaling whatever poison we were spreading for hours on end. I'm fairly certain there were times when I got out and walked in an area where we'd sprayed and the bottoms of my shoes would start to sizzle. If the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had gotten wind of this, I'm pretty sure my parents would still be in jail.

Eventually, the truck was decommissioned and parked in one of the barns, seemingly never to be heard from again. As time wore on I razzed my parents about getting me a vehicle. They warned me, "You're getting the spray truck," but I didn't believe them. I figured I'd finagle some kind of deal and weasel my way into something a little more comfortable than the rolling gas chamber they were offering. However, my parents stuck to their guns and not long after I turned 16 my dad and I walked out to the truck to see if we could get it running.

The entire truck was covered in dirt, the seats were severely cracked and the residue from the chemical cocktail that had been stewing in the truck for the better part of seven years had left the inside of the cab stained a pee-colored yellow. There were bird nests and cobwebs, and at some point probably squirrels and racoons among a whole slew of bugs that even Rainforest scientists would stare in disbelief at. I would say that it looked like a homeless person had been living there, but I'm fairly certain that if you pulled someone straight off of Skid Row and offered him a night's stay in that truck in that condition, he would pee one of the tires, throw a Jack Daniels bottle through the window, laugh at you and walk away. After dad replaced some of the primary components that were in questionable shape, he put the key in the ignition and fired it up -- literally. After a few minutes where it literally sounded like rocks were being rattled around in a tin can and an explosion that nearly ripped the hood right off the beast, the truck started running with some form of consistency. It sounded more like we were at a Civil War re-enactment than starting a vehicle, partially because not all of the cylinders were hitting and partially because dad had taken the liberty of installing a muffler system that made it sound like a Howitzer was being fired from the back of the truck every 10 seconds. Needless to say, I never recall being tailgated. I suspect that was because any prospective tailgaters either choked on the fumes and ran into the ditch, or were frightened by the Howitzer shots and ran into the ditch. For good measure, dad gave the accelerator a healthy push and there was a squeak just before a mouse nest was launched from the exhaust pipe. In retrospect the mice were probably the lucky ones, as we moved them away from the chemicals.

Outside of my initial shock and disappointment, the 1977 Scottsdale and I had a good run. It shuttled me to and from school, various practices and other randomness for the next year, and absorbed punishment like no vehicle I would own after it without showing a scratch. After a year, I upgraded to a more comfortable used vehicle that didn't smell like Roundup. In retrospect, it's a wonder I made it to where I am in life after sniffing stale farm chemicals for 40 minutes per day going to and from school during that time. The good thing is that the truck is still alive, and I'm armed with an answer for my daughter when she asks what type of vehicle she's getting when she turns 16: "You're getting the spray truck."


  1. "Needless to say, I never recall being tailgated. ...into a ditch"
    HAHA! I kept my amusement to a a mostly quiet smile until that bit cracked me up!

    And by the way...

    Some time approaching the turn of the century, I was on my way back from visiting Grandma in Florida. The transmission on a truck blew out in front of me on I-75. It destroyed one tire, and thanks to Murphy's Law, the alternator went out too. After a battery charge at a local gas station, I drove the last several hundred miles home in the pouring rain with no lights, no wipers, and tailgating a Semi for saftey - praying to the heavens not to let the spare fly off sending me back into a ditch.

    WAS THAT YOU?!?!? If so, it's Time for payback, buddy. ;)

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Cbeck. That sounds downright brutal. Ironically, I have another story where the wheel fell off, and another one where I almost hit a cow on a bridge, but I'll probably break those out at a later date.

  3. And now people expect twelve airbags, a velvet padded seatbelt and OnStar to dial 911 FOR them when they crash.

  4. Haha. I read this hoping the truck would have a happy ending, and it has.
    Guess they just don't make 'em like that anymore.

  5. great story, but I feel a little sorry for your daughter when she turns 16... but I bet you she won't end up with the spray truck.

  6. Great story cant wait for the new ones you come out with =]