Real Steel Autos
Many years ago, I bought Ray this little statue of Garfield the Cat, clutching a mouse in one paw, while holding another mouse with his other paw. The statue's base is emblazoned with the words, "It's not the having, it's the getting." That describes Ray's relationships with cars exactly. We'd be filthy rich if he had kept all of his cars to sell in today's market. Sadly, he had to sell one to buy the next one he wanted. But we had fun driving them. Oh, yes, we did!
in chronological order (that means I’ll keep adding onto the bottom of this posting).
Many of our friends are making lists of all the cars they have owned. I did that a long time ago — along with stories each car had to tell — but I stuck it in a file cabinet where it has been hibernating for several years. Now I’m bringing it out. Why? Just because. I regret we have no photos of our first cars because digital cameras hadn’t been invented and the cost of film and developing was expensive. I have always maintained that I am married to a man who wanted to buy every car he coveted in high school and couldn’t afford. I even wrote a long ago column about it entitled “Obsession hits the road.” If you'd like to read it, click HERE.
Ray’s first car
Let’s pretend this 1949 Mercury is bronze, not maroon, making it exactly like Ray’s first car, purchased when he was flush after working the summer before his senior year in high school on the fence crew when the Kansas Turnpike was being constructed. You’ll notice the metal visor (how cool is that?).
Ray and I happened to be broken up at the time (Neil Sedaka thought breakin’ up was hard to do but we practiced enough to prove it was really easy). Ray brought his new-to-him car over to show me and the rest is history: we did a lot of makin’ up in that car.
I didn’t have a job or a car, so Dad let me drive his green 1951 Buick 4-door sedan with an automatic transmission. It was in the Buick that Ray persuaded me to drag race his Mercury on Haskell Avenue (a broad street on the edge of town). It didn’t occur to me until years later that he had me racing on the wrong side of the road. I followed his instructions to start in low and rev it up as hard as I could, then shift it into drive. The automatic transmission didn’t like that and blew a seal . . . a very expensive seal to replace. Fortunately, Dad never knew what I was doing when I wrecked the transmission, but I'm pretty sure I was winning when the seal blew.
I once drove Dad's Buick out Highway 40 to Ray's family farm west of town (now the farm is home to the Reserve at Alvamar and a bunch of very expensive homes). No seat belts, no airbags and I pushed the Buick to 100 miles an hour on that hilly, two-lane highway just to see if I could do it. You have to understand that my action wasn't as foolhardy as it seems now, because at the time I was 17 and immortal.
Before the summer was over, Ray was driving to work on the still- uncompleted turnpike when a cement truck came into his lane. To avoid a head-on crash, Ray tried to get off the road and hung up on the concrete drop-off where there was no shoulder. The truck sheared off the driver’s side from just behind the front door where Ray was sitting. It was fixed up good as new and he was still driving that car when we married.
Coming next . . . I get a car!
suicrt.pdfOne day, during my senior year of high school, Dad brought home a midnight-blue 1941 Ford 2-door sedan. Technically, the car was Mom’s although she never drove it. I suspect that after paying for the Buick's transmission seal, Dad decided I needed a cheaper car to drive. Jerky (for so I named the car) had a manual transmission. With the Buick, I never had learned to shift for myself. I was worried about that; Dad wasn’t. “I’ll teach you,” he said. So he had me drive around the block twice, said I was a fast learner and pronounced me good to go.
The next morning, I set off for school with my sister Lesta and a classmate neighbor as passengers. In my pride of having my own car to drive, I promised my friend Rosa, who lived south of the University of Kansas campus, that I would pick her up and drive her to school. For those of you who do not know KU, it sits on a really high hill and the most direct route for me was to drive across the campus. As I reached the summit at Jayhawk Boulevard and stopped at the stop sign, I killed Jerky.
Restarting him (Jerky was a boy) proved a problem because it required three feet and I only had two. I needed one foot for the brake, another for the clutch and an extra foot for the starter button which some idiot engineer decided to place on the floor. Fortunately, four guys in a convertible stopped behind me and I was able to take my foot off the brake and gently roll back until I rested against their bumper. Sure, they were standing up in the convertible, waving their hands and yelling at me to stop, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Once started, Jerky jerked across Jayhawk Boulevard and down the other side of the hill to Rosa’s house.
I’m proud I never crashed Jerky, although a wrecker did have to pull me out of a ditch on the road leading to Ray’s farm house when I swerved to miss a bunny rabbit who dashed in front of the car. I wrote about that in a column decades later after I hit a chicken who didn’t gain altitude fast enough when he/she flew in front of my car. Click HERE if you'd like to read "Why, oh why, did that chicken cross the road?"
The next car is all mine (sort of)
I loved this little 1951 Nash Rambler, the first convertible I owned . . . even if the top did slide back on rails.
When Ray and I married, with school and work, we required two cars and I thought this sporty little model was the coolest car on the road. It was so much fun to drive!
A couple of years later, after its tie-rods broke, Ray declared it unsafe and even-traded it for a pink and white 1951 Mercury. I'm not even attempting to find a photo of that car which looked like it had been painted with house paint. All I remember about it is that we were driving it when Butch was a baby, thinking a ride would put him to sleep (it usually did), when we were stopped out in the country near Miller's Bar-B-Que by a couple of deputies. We weren't doing anything wrong and were shocked when they didn't approach the window, but stood back — with guns drawn — and yelled at Ray to get out of the car.
After checking us out and scaring me silly, they let us go, telling us someone had robbed the Sunset Drive-In movie theater in a car just like ours. I don't know about you, but I find that incredibly hard to believe!
Next: 1955 Studebaker Speedster
Sometime after the pink-and-white Mercury and before the Studebaker, we owned a baby-blue Ford Mainline. I only remember two things about that car before Ray traded it for the Studebaker: 1) baby-blue is a really pretty color, and 2) it had a manual transmission. Shifting manually was bad enough for me, but Ray, who is left-handed, flipped the gear-shift lever to the left side of the steering wheel. Handy for him, I guess, but not for right-handed me. By flipping the lever, it put low and high gears at the top, and second and neutral at the bottom. I had enough trouble remembering where gears were when the lever was in the correct position. Adding to that problem, he attached a suicide knob (remember those?) to the steering wheel. Easy for him to use, but back then I was a two and ten driver and I suffered many bruises from that *&#$@% knob.
I was stunned when Ray drove home a low-slung, two-tone avocado and mustard 1955 Studebaker Speedster for which he had traded the baby-blue Ford and the first of many Model-A Fords he owned. I thought that the green and yellow color combination was atrocious and loudly said so (my position on the color combination has since modified). Our Speedster had yellow leather diamond-tufted seats, an engine-turned stainless-steel dash, fog lights and a tachometer that I kept confusing with the speedometer.
When son Butch was 14 months old, we set out in the Speedster on our first long trip to California via Oklahoma. Back then, our routes were determined by how many relatives lived along the way with whom we could spend the night and avoid a motel bill. I remember loading my grandparents, then in their late 80s (Grandma was 45 when my mother, the last of 12 children, was born) into the front seat — Grandma Maude in the middle, Grandpa Jake at the passenger window — to take them for a ride in the country on a very hot day. As I was ready to pull out of the driveway, Aunt Vera leaned in my window and said, “Now if Mama passes out . . .” Thankfully, she did not.
The Studebaker lacked air conditioning which made driving through the desert miserable until the skies opened up and arroyos filled, dropping the temperature so much we had to turn on the heater. Ray remembers the car vapor-locked in New Mexico and a gas station attendant (remember those?) topped off our tank with diesel, saying it would keep it from happening again. Later in the trip, when Ray asked for a little diesel, the attendant at that station demanded to see our diesel card, which obviously we didn’t have.
We had a great week or so visiting my Great-uncle Lew and my parents’ friend Leo in Gardena, CA, during which time, Ray had the Speedster’s brakes repaired. Driving back to Kansas through the mountains, while Ray and Butch were asleep, I braked and the pedal went all the way to the floor without any slowing whatsoever. I frantically pumped the brake and when it finally caught, dozing Ray collided with the dash. He wasn’t happy, insisting that the brakes were fine when I told him that the brakes didn’t work. (For the record, just as the noise your car is making isn’t really there until the mechanic hears it, nothing I say about a car’s malperformance is there until it happens with Ray.) Ray took over driving the Speedster and the first time he applied the brake, it worked fine; it might even have worked fine a couple of times after that. But when he roared up behind a semi and applied the brakes, the pedal again went all the way to the floor without effect. After skillfully avoiding an accident, Ray said the mechanic must not have bled the brakes, leaving air in the lines, something he had corrected at the first opportunity.
On a later occasion, driving to visit Grams in Sabetha, we set a dry cornfield on fire when a brake was dragging and Ray pulled into the field to see what he could do about it. He grabbed the first thing handy — my Bobbie Brooks dyed-to-match skirt and sweater set hanging in the back seat — to beat it out. On another trip to Sabetha, cruising along Highway 75, the line that ran under the car to the heater located under the front passenger seat ruptured causing all the antifreeze and water to leak from the radiator. The car quickly overheated, blowing the top off a piston and denting the hood. One of Grams’ renters came and gave us a tow to Sabetha. My cousin Fred set out with Ray the next day to find parts to fix the car and Ray was stunned to walk into a farm store in Beatrice, Nebraska, and find the piston and rings to fix it.
Ray wants you to know that the Speedster was aptly named. The top speed on the speedometer was 160 mph and he says it did every bit of that.
Our friend Bob owns a car identical to our Speedster. It has been living in California while it is being restored to its former beauty. He's promised Ray a ride in it when he gets it back. I hope that means I can go along, too.
Goodbye Studebaker, hello to a gorgeous
1957 Ford Skyliner Retractable Convertible
Ah, the stories this car has to tell. Two involve son Butch and he was too young to remember either of them. The first was a steamy night when Ray and I decided to take him for a ride, hoping he’d go to sleep. Even the breeze blowing in the open windows was hot. We complained for quite a while before I remembered the car had an air conditioner. It rested between the dash and the floor between the driver and passenger. Primitive though it was, it worked.
One afternoon we drove around town with the top down and Butch, two and a half, standing in the front seat between us wearing his white terry hoodie with the hood up and tied under his chin to protect his ears from the wind. OK, I realize how idiotic it sounds to worry about his ears when he was standing in the front seat, but child car seats either weren’t invented or weren’t in use; for that matter, automobiles had no seatbelts and air bags were people who talked a lot. Small kids rode standing next to the driver so he or she (usually she) could throw a right arm in front of the child while braking. I have a friend who still throws an arm across the seat when she hits the brakes. And if you are a Seinfeld fan, you may remember the show where George’s father throws out an arm when he brakes and inappropriately touches a lady riding with him.
But I digress. Butch, wearing a cute little white hoodie, is standing in the convertible between us when a convertible containing two men and a midget dressed as Teddy Snow Crop, standing between them, pulls up beside us at a stop sign. Teddy Snow Crop sees Butch and waves. “That bear
. . . THAT BEAR WAVED AT ME!” exclaimed an astonished Butch. The next day, I took Butch to a grocery store to see the little bear perform. Click here for the newspaper announcement of Teddy’s appearance in Lawrence.
Those were the days when people had cute little descriptions of their cars tastefully painted on their respective cars. Ray, then a police officer, wanted to haveFlip-top Box painted on the side of the Retract and the police chief wouldn’t allow it. Those were also the days when police officers in Lawrence had to carry riders on their personal liability automobile insurance to cover the police car when they were driving it. Sounds as crazy as kids standing in the front seat, doesn’t it?
But the best story about the Retract is when Ray traded it for a brand new 1961 Ford Falcon. The daughter of Clarence Kelly — then police chief of Kansas City, Missouri, and later Director of the FBI succeeding J. Edgar Hoover — wanted to buy the Retract. Chief Kelly found out the previous owner was a police officer in Lawrence and called to ask Ray about the car. When he told Ray the mileage, Ray said, “It had twice that number of miles when I traded it in.” Oooops, busted! A classic case of a dealer illegally rolling back the odometer. We never knew whether Chief Kelly’s daughter purchased the car, but, if she did, we figure she got a really great deal!
Coming next: Our brief (6 months)
ownership of a 1961 Ford Falcon
Hard to believe we waited weeks on this new car because we wanted a black exterior and blue interior. All I can figure is we were sucked in by the brochure calling it the world’s most successful new car. It wasn’t a bad little car and it sure was tough. Visiting my grandmother in Sabetha, we were awakened early one morning by Grams bringing us her signature spearmint tea and announcing, “There’s a tree on your car.”
She had already called the town’s Ford dealer who looked at the car and suggested she call a wrecker. It was a really big tree which had broken off in a windstorm and fallen on our car in the driveway. Only the front and back bumpers and four tires squashed flat were visible. And yet, when the wrecker winched the tree off the car, the tires returned to normal and there were no scratches and only one little dent where a twig went between the driver’s window and the chrome trim. We drove it to the Ford dealer who was amazed at the lack of damage; he thought — as did we — that the top was crushed and the windshield and windows were broken.
The other good thing that came out of the accident was that Grams had the tree trunk, which measured about two feet in diameter, sawed off at the five-foot level. She drove a stake into the center of the ringed surface on which she impaled an ear of dried corn for the squirrels who rewarded her with hours of entertainment each day. “They are really nature’s acrobats,” she said happily.
So why did we keep such a sturdy little car only six months? Driving home from visiting Grams on another trip, a Volkswagen Beetle passed Ray when he was desperately trying to keep it from doing so. “I’m not going to own any car that a Volkswagen can pass when I’m trying to prevent it,” Ray said in disgust.
Frankly, I’m not sure that was the only reason. I suspect he missed having a convertible because the Falcon’s replacement was another convertible:
A turquoise and white 1956 Chevy Bel Air
with a continental kit (and we have a photo,
albeit black and white) of that one
The picture at left — a Poloroid — was taken early one Sunday morning when I was ready to go to church and Ray thought I looked good dressed up in heels with my hair in a French twist. You’ll think I looked even better than good when I tell you that son Greg was a 3-month-old fetus at the time. Ray was focused on me so he only got half of the car and that is too bad because the ’56 Chevy was a really pretty car. It is also regrettable the photo wasn’t in color, because my light aqua wool dyed-to-match outfit looked great with the dark turquoise of the car.
When Greg was three months old, we left him in Grams’ care and set off for North Carolina with 5-year-old Butch to see sister Lesta’s new baby, Debby. Even in those days of cheaper gasoline and food — forget motels, we planned to alternate sleeping and drive straight through from Aunt Vera’s in Oklahoma where we spent the first night — setting out, as we did, with the grand sum of $130 and no credit card was risky.
However, our plans changed when both motor mounts broke and we spent the second night at a gas station in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where the attendant/mechanic worked all night trying to replace the mount. Problem was, he could only get one out, breaking two easy-outs (whatever those are) trying to remove the second, so he put longer bolts in and pronounced us good to go. When the sun was dawning and it came time to settle up (the guy had sent out for coffee for himself and us), we figured we’d have to turn around and go home. And then he said, “How does $5 sound?” I could have kissed him. So, I think, could Ray.
Many hours later as we drove through the swampland of Western Tennessee, I heard a loud buzzing near me. “Stop,” I cried, “there’s a bee!” I’m scared of bees and wasps, but I should have been scared of a short in the radio speaker directly in front of me because that is what was causing the buzzing. Ray solved the problem by opening the hood and pulling out a bunch of wires, not all of which related to the radio.
Don’t ask me how, but we managed to miss the divided interstate that would have taken us to Raleigh and instead drove on some Depression Era WPA two-lane road I’d be remiss in calling a highway. It was our first trip through the Smoky Mountains (or any mountains for that matter) and the hairpin turns without guardrails where the road was falling away terrified we flatlanders. The road crossed the French Broad River multiple times and mountainsides were dotted with salvage yards full of wrecked cars we assumed fell off the road. Outside a tiny mountain hamlet, the long bolts in the motor mount gave up the ghost and the car made a growling noise all the way to Goldsboro where Lesta and Dick lived while he was stationed at Seymour-Johnson AFB. While there, Ray met Dick’s friend Jerry (later killed in a skydiving accident) who fixed the motor mount by welding it (no more worries about that unless some future owner needed to replace the engine). We had a great time and returned home with $1.
I interrupt our time with our ’56 Chevy convertible to tell you the story of another car Ray bought. That is the car, out of all the cool cars we have owned, that Ray says he would choose to have back . . .
A 1932 Ford 3-window Coupe
Simultaneously with our ownership of several previous cars, Ray also owned a couple of Model A Fords that I haven’t written about. However, he absolutely loved the little ’32 Ford so I must include it. I couldn’t afford to buy him one in today’s market, so I did the next best thing: I bought him a model.
Ray bought the ’32 in Sabetha and brought it home in pieces in his dad’s pickup. We creaked and squeaked the 90 miles home and when he drove up our Old West Lawrence brick street, it made quite a racket. Unfortunately, that was the day our neighbors were hosting their daughter’s wedding reception in their back yard. The bride’s father was Dean of the School of Fine Arts at KU and their home was in what was previously a beautiful church, so it was quite a fancy reception marred only by what appeared to be Jed Clampett and family moving into the neighborhood.
The ’32 decorated our driveway for many months as Ray worked to reassemble and restore it. I remember semi-apologizing about all the banging to an elderly neighbor once and I’ll never forget her answer: “That’s OK dear. He could be out chasing women.”
One day as I washed dishes, I saw the little coupe zip down the hill at the end of our driveway and into the back yard. For an instant I thought Ray was using a shortcut to a gas station a block or so behind us. But no, he was simply pushing the car to get it started as was his custom. Once started, he’d jump in the car and brake. That time he wasn’t fast enough and it took a wrecker to winch it up our sloping 8-foot hill.
Ray remembers that he paid $100 for the ’32 and sold it for $400. At the time, he thought he made out like a bandit . . . until several years ago when he saw one auctioned on TV for $125,000. I haven’t told him I recently saw one on a Classic Car website for $289,000.
And now, back to the 1956
Chevy Bel-Air Convertible
Ray mentioned that I forgot to tell about my truck-driver conquest while driving the ’56 Chevy. It occurred on our first trip to North Carolina. We had put a baby-bed mattress in the back seat where it filled the entire space. It was my turn to drive while Ray slept on the mattress with Butch. I was stopped at a stop light somewhere in Tennessee, when there was a loud honk from the semi behind me. In
a situation like that, I always presume something is wrong with the car . . . like a flat tire. So I leaned out the window, as did the trucker, and he asked, “What kind of car is that?”
“It’s a ’56 Chevrolet,” I replied.
“It’s really pretty,” he said.
At the next stoplight, he pulled up beside me on the left. “Where are you headed?” he asked.
“North Carolina.” At that point, I decided I had conversed enough with him and took off fairly fast when the light turned green. It took him a while to catch up behind me on the highway and when he did, he started honking and flashing his lights. By that time, I was getting scared (a tail-gating semi is really BIG in the rear-view mirror) and I called loudly, “Ray! Wake up! Wake up!”
And that is when Ray's voice from the back seat said, “You got him. You get rid of him.”
At last, Ray, tired of the honking, sat up from the mattress. As soon as the trucker saw Ray’s head, he fell way behind. Later, Ray chided me, “What kind of trucker wouldn’t know a Chevy when he saw one?”
I ran into trouble of a different kind on our second trip to North Carolina the next summer. Ray had driven all night after getting off duty from the PD at 10:30 p.m. and loading the car with luggage and kids. He drove through next morning’s rush hour traffic in St. Louis and turned the driving over to me while he sacked out in the back seat with both boys. I drove for several hours before realizing I was hopelessly lost. I was on a dirt road with a sign that said a town was being relocated for some big lake. Fortunately, I came to a gas station where a couple guys in bib-overalls without shirts were standing in front of it drinking Grapette sodas. I pulled up, “Can you tell me where I am?” I asked.
“Ma’am, you’re near Padukah,” said one.
“Will you tell me what state that is in?”
“Good grief, Ma’am, how long yew bin lost?”
For the record, Padukah is in Kentucky.
Our next trip to North Carolina was made
in our brand new white 1963 Chevy Impala
with a beautiful red interior
That trip was memorable because of our visit to the Outer Banks and the car ferry we took because they hadn’t completed a bridge connecting one part of Hatteras to the other. That was well before Kansas had completed large, flood control lakes that attract eagles, seagulls and other waterfowl. I don’t know how many cars besides ours were crowded onto that ferry, but I’d guess a hundred or more.
Ray was fascinated with the seagulls that flew over the ferry. Most passengers were outside their cars, as were we when Ray decided to feed the seagulls some of the crackers we had in the car for kid snacks. Soon, the ferry had a canopy of seagulls hoping for a bite of cracker. When one gull ventured close enough to take the cracker out of Ray’s hand, Ray grabbed its leg. For the record, seagulls don’t like you to grab their legs. Relinquishing the cracker, the gull took a bite out of Ray’s hand. If that wasn’t problem enough, the gulls flying over us started doing what gulls do . . . mainly poop . . . lots and lots of poop. Tourists ran for their cars, casting dirty looks at Ray. As we drove off the ferry, every car had their windshield wipers on. A car wash, had one been handy, would have made a fortune.
I had a wreck in the Impala only a half-block from our home when a teenager driving his dad’s car ran a stop sign and crashed into the side of my car. I was alone, but son Greg’s car seat was hooked over the seat beside me and the boy and his passenger were afraid there was a baby in the car. Had Greg been in the car seat — a flimsy canvas seat with a wire frame that hooked over the front seat — it wouldn’t have protected him. Perhaps it was better than having him stand in the seat beside me, but not by much. Still, its plastic steering wheel that squeaked when he pushed on the button in the center entertained him on long trips.
Later, when I filed a claim with the boy’s insurance company, the agent asked if my trip was for business or pleasure. I told him I was headed to my parents' home to tell my mother that her sister had suffered a heart attack. I watched in amazement as he wrote down “pleasure.”
Did I forget to mention that, during the time we owned the Impala, Ray also owned not just one, but two, Jaguars, a 1956 XK140 fixedhead coupe and a 1958 XK150 Roadster. The latter was a convertible, but the coupe was the car that Ray loved and drove daily. The front seats and two little jump seats in back were upholstered in dark red leather, but it was Ray who used my grandmother’s antique treadle sewing machine to make the white headliner.
As he drove to work each day, if I stood outside, I could hear him shifting through the gears for a good mile. Our suburban neighborhood was that far outside the city limits so there were few structures along the highway to muffle the sound.
I have this photo of the two cars quite by a serendipitous accident. I was actually taking a picture of the house and yard which sported a Snoopy sign I had helped kids (including my own) make in Bible School one summer. The sign was really cute, but I am so glad the cars were in the shot. Good of our previous house, too. A Super Target was built where our neighborhood was. I still know the exact spot in the parking lot where our house once stood. Not a single house was bulldozed. All were moved to new locations and ours now lives in Kansas City near the Speedway.
As much as we liked the Impala, we
traded it for a 1967 Buick Wildcat
Two stories about our silver and black wildcat stand out in my memory. We had driven it several years when Ray restored it to its showroom-new beauty. A few weeks later as we drove through an icy intersection, another car slid through a red light and t-boned us in the rear passenger door, spinning us around 180 degrees. I had glass in my hair from the broken rear window, but otherwise we were fine, albeit shaken up.
The police came, worked the wreck and we were able to drive the caved-in car home. The insurance adjuster said the fact that Ray had restored the Wildcat was the only reason he didn’t total it. Our car was repaired and paid for by the insurance company of the man who hit us.
The second story is a lulu. Shortly before the wreck, we had decided to switch insurance companies. When the would-be new company’s agent called to tell me they couldn’t accept us because of Ray’s driving record, I was stunned. At that time in his life, Ray had exactly one very old speeding ticket (pretty good for a guy who grew up in the 1950s). I immediately called our state motor vehicle department and was connected with a female bureaucRAT from hell.
Somewhere I have a near-verbatim transcript of our phone conversation, but several things she said are embedded in my memory all these years later. She said Ray had a wreck. I said yes, but it was the other driver’s fault. But she was talking about a different wreck in a type of car we never owned. She said, “We’ve had a pickup on his license for over a year.” I replied, “Then that should tell you he’s a pretty good driver.” At some point I told her he was an excellent driver and had been a police officer. She said, “My son is a police officer and he is a terrible driver.”
It went downhill from there. I told her they should have notified us. She said they did, that they sent notification to our Eudora address. When I told her we didn’t live in Eudora, she said, “You DID live in Eudora.” That assertion pushed a button and I retorted, “Trust me on this. I would remember if we had lived in Eudora.”
I told her I knew it was the law that we had to be notified of an action of such magnitude. She responded, “The legislature makes all these dumb laws that we have to follow.” At that point I asked her who her supervisor was and she said, “Mr. Smith.” When I asked to speak to Mr. Smith, she said, “I speak for Mr. Smith.”
I heard someone pick up a receiver and asked if Mr. Smith was on the line. She denied it; said no one was listening to our conversation. I told her we would come to Topeka the next day to see the file. I called John, a legislator friend, and described the incident. He said he’d go with us, but I wanted to see what we could do about it on our own. He said if we weren’t in his office by a certain time, he’d come over to the motor vehicle department.
The next day we drove to Topeka, met the bureaucRAT and looked at the file which contained the notification letter sent to Eudora which had been returned to them by the post office. Guess what? It wasn’t Ray’s driver’s license number! When I pointed out that Ray’s license began with an R and the one in the file began with a Q, she said, “Doesn’t the tail on the Q kind of make it look like an R?” By then she was trembling and Ray was feeling sorry for her. Say WHAT? This woman had basically called me a liar several times.
We were on our way downstairs with the bureaucRAT to have Ray’s record cleared when John appeared and said to the woman, “I heard the comment about dumb laws.” Suddenly, Mr. Smith (for whom she spoke) made an appearance. “Were you on the phone during our conversation?” I asked. He answered in the affirmative and added, “You have to understand, most of the people we deal with are liars.”
“And that’s exactly the way I was treated,” I said, “and I was telling the truth.” I didn’t add “unlike this lying bureaucRAT,” but, oh, how I wanted to.
Our Wildcat was a great car. We eventually replaced it with a . . .
1971 Buick Electra but first read about the car Ray coveted most in high school: a 1957 Chevrolet convertible.
OK, if you decided the above car is not a Buick, you know your cars. Here’s where recounting our cars becomes difficult because our family (with three and soon to be four drivers) owned a lot of cars during this particular time. The 1957 tomato-red Chevy convertible Butch drove to high school made him the envy of his classmates. Ray coveted that particular car during his high school days and finally acquired one, although he rarely drove it.
When my mother gave Butch my late father’s 1966 Chrysler to drive, Ray decided to sell the ’57 Chevy (remember, it’s not the having, it’s the getting). He painted the car a lovely turquoise and white, advertised it in our local paper for $1,000 and didn’t get a single call. I told him people thought it was junk and it needed to be priced higher so he advertised it for $2,000 in the Kansas City Star and could have sold that car a dozen times over. It’s a sinking feeling when you realize you priced something way too low.
The 1967 Wildcat sold us on the brand so
we sold it and bought a 1971 Buick Electra
I still remember the name of the man — Dale Honey — from whom we purchased our year-old Electra. He was accustomed to trading his vehicles at the two-year mark and was irritated that the brand was down-sizing its cars. He decided to buy a Lincoln while he could still get a big car and advertised the Electra in the Kansas City Star. I also remember, for no good reason, that they had a brand new soft-yellow living room carpet.
On a grand loop to and from the West Coast in the Electra, we visited the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, the Custer Battleground, Yellow Stone National Park, my sister and her family in California and Disneyland. Coming into Yellowstone from the north across the Beartooth Mountains, we noticed as we ascended that government vehicles were pulled over to the side of the road. When we asked a driver of one the the vehicles why he was stopped, he said he was from Connecticut working there for the summer and he didn't know. We found out why while driving to the top of the mountain, encountering snow, sleet and fog, afraid to stop because we knew there was a vehicle behind us (with occupants as dumb as we were) and we didn't want them to run into us in the fog.
On top of the mountain, we were relieved to just have rain . . . until, with a deafening crash, lightning hit our car and long purple fingers played across the hood of the Electra. "It's a good thing I was seat-belted in," Ray said, "or I would have been out the door and this car would have been driverless." At the base of the mountain, we stopped at a general store selling gas to replenish our tank which had been full going up and ended up on the downhill side with only aquarter of a tank.
Driving back to Kansas from California, the air conditioner quit working in the desert. "Think cool," said Ray as we rolled down the windows. For the record, thinking cool doesn't work in the desert with temperatures in the hundred and teens. Turned out to be a fuse which we replaced as quickly as possible (Ray bought extras in case it happened again).
That trip was remarkable for another reason: Ray hit a deer on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. To be perfectly accurate, the deer hit him when it jumped into us while trying to avoid a car in the other lane. Our Buick had a clear plastic wind deflector mounted on the hood over the grille. The deer hit that and broke it. That damage to the car was insignificant to the car. Sadly, not so for the deer. You can read about that incident and a similar collision with a chicken, if you wish, by clicking here.
We drove the Electra until we purchased a . . .
1978 Buick Regal, smaller, but it had a sunroof
This is the Buick Regal that replaced the
Electra. My friend Erma had a car almost identical to ours but a year younger that she called the Beagel. That was such a cute name we couldn’t improve on it and just called ours The Regal.
One day Mom and I were shopping, carried our Fads ‘n Fashions purchases across the street to our car and noticed it wasn’t locked. Very unusual for me not to lock my car. Then Mom noticed that someone had put a package in the back seat. We sat down in the front seat and I said to Mom, “I don’t remember the 55 on the speedometer being in red. Wait a minute, this car doesn’t have a sunroof. IT’S NOT OUR CAR!”
We hastily exited the car and found ours four cars down the street. Just as we entered the right car, Mom said, “I left my package in that car. Go get it.”
“Oh, no,” I said, “you go. They won’t think you’re trying to steal the car.”
Mom hustled to the car and returned with her package. By the time she was in the car and I pulled out from the parking spot and drove by the three parking spaces to where the car like ours had been, it was gone! It didn’t occur to me at the time that the car was Erma’s, but turned out it was.
The other thing about the Regal that was memorable was that the speedometer read lower than the actual speed. I should have realized that when my friend Jean and I were returning from Oklahoma. She was driving my car when we pulled up behind a turnpike trooper. By our speedometer, he was going about 10 miles under the limit.Finally, I told Jean to go ahead and pass him. She did and just as she pulled in front of him, he held up one hand with five digits up, closed his hand and did it again.
We decided his speedometer was reading faster than the speed limit, but reduced our speed to match his. Later that year, son Greg and his family followed us to Colorado. We took the shortcut from outside Limon to Castle Rock. It was a paved two-lane highway with little traffic and we normally drove about 10 miles over the 60 mile speed limit. Greg's van in our rearview mirror became smaller and smaller. Until we couldn’t see him at all. Thinking he might have had car trouble, we stopped alongside the road until he caught up with us. “Hey, Dad,” he said, “I was going almost 80 and you were still pulling away from me!”
The amazing thing is that, as long as we owned that car, neither Ray nor I received a speeding ticket. We maintain our cars and keep them a long time. Before I tell you what car replaced The Regal, you need to know about the car son Greg drove to school:
A 1967 cherry-red Camaro convertible
Greater love hath no man than for his restored to showroom perfect 1967 cherry red Camaro convertible. Or so I thought. Ray and I were in Arizona when we got word that Greg, then a freshman at the University of Kansas, had wrecked the Camaro he had driven to school for a couple of years. He topped a rise near his former junior high and found a long line of cars stopped while waiting for a car to turn left onto a side street. Greg braked but rear-ended the car in front of him.
The lap belt kept him in his seat, but his mouth hit the steering wheel. A bloodied Greg handled his first accident like a pro. Later, he said he wasn’t worried about his injury until he arrived home, looked in a mirror and could see his teeth . . . with his mouth closed.
Big brother came to the rescue. Butch drove Greg to the emergency room at our local hospital and after waiting a long time in triage, the kid who was born in that hospital was informed that, because he was a KU student, he had to go to the campus hospital. I was irritated when I learned the hospital had refused to treat him, but it turned out to be a good thing because of the doctor he was fortunate to see at KU.
“Usually,” Dr. Dahl explained, “I’d just sew up the outer cut, but I’m going to stitch both inside and out cuts.” Because of his excellent decision, you’d have to look very close to see the fine white scar at the base of Greg’s lower lip.
We knew that Greg was injured, although not seriously enough to be hospitalized, and we made it home in record time, stopping only once in Western Colorado to grab a few hours sleep. Ray didn’t relax until he saw that Greg was OK. Only then, did he look at the Camaro. Greg got quite a chewing out, but by then he realized Ray loved him much more than the car.
Greg drove the Camaro, once again restored to showroom newness, all through his junior year of college when Ray bought and restored a 1964 Chevy El Camino for an early graduation gift. Greg drove that vehicle to Canyon City, Colorado, for a 6-week geology course the summer between his junior and senior year. And Ray traded his beloved 1967 Camaro convertible for a . . .
1980 4-wheel drive Toyota pickup
I was shocked when Ray traded the Camaro convertible for the pickup. The pickup, a yellow-tan color, which caused Ray to christen it Guppy, had big lights mounted on a roll bar just behind the cab. Climbing in was a big step up for my 28-inch inseam, but — once inside — it felt like I was on top of e world. The four-wheel drive made sense for Ray who commuted about 20 miles to work in all sorts of weather.
My favorite story about the pickup was related in a column entitled “Husband maintains lifelong relationship with cars.” If you’d like to read it, click here. That column was actually more about Guppy’s successor, Guppy Rojo, but I’ll never forget the night we were driving Guppy around Clinton Lake with the lights on the roll bar ablaze. Clearly, the kid, blinded by the lights, who flagged us down in a picnic area and asked, “Are you guys looking for a party? We’ve got a keg,” was astounded when he could see well enough to realize we were the age of his parents.
Guppy was burglarized one night, but all the thief received for his efforts were Ray's ski gloves and classical piano tapes (don't you just know the thief expected country or rock?). Ray said the tapes were likely thrown in a ditch when the thief realized what he had stolen. I hope he was a skier, otherwise the burglary was a total loss for him.
While Guppy was traded for a brand new 1994 Toyota pickup, we have lots of cars to go before that happened.
For instance, a 1967 Pontiac Firebird named Tarbaby . . .
When Tarbaby, a 1967 Pontiac Firebird, came into Ray’s life, he (the car was a boy) was orange in color and was said to be one of 3,000 or so cars of that special model manufactured. I have no idea what made this Firebird more special than other 1967 Firebirds, except that Ray loved him, but he was soon sported a shiny black coat of paint and was given the name Tarbaby.
Ray drove the little, but very fast, Firebird to work for a long time, proudly flaunting TARBABY on a vanity license plate. Driving home one day on K-10 Highway, the driver of a Volkswagen Rabbit kept pulling even with Tarbaby and honking. When he finally passed Tarbaby — only because Ray allowed it — Ray noted the vanity plate on the VW: WABBIT.
You’ll get the TARBABY/WABBIT joke only if you are familiar with the movie Song of the South, still available online. If you don’t know that movie, you likely know one of the movie’s songs: Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah!
Our Regal never got a vanity plate and was traded for a 1983 Cadillac Seville because Ray liked its shape . . .
Our Caddy had a pretty shape. Don't you agree? The problem was, as I once wrote in a long ago column, it had the ability to detect estrogen behind the wheel. I no longer remember how many times I was towed into the dealer's garage, but it was exactly as many times as the service manager called me the next morning to say there was nothing wrong with the car.
Actually, we still have the car, refusing to part with it even after it was totaled in a hailstorm while I was sitting in it. It might have made it safely into the garage had Ray not returned the garage door opener I bought him for his birthday. I remember his exact words: "We don't need that. It is good exercise for us to get out of the car and manually open the door."
Just as I drove up to the garage, the hail storm began. Had the hail been pea- or dime-size, perhaps even quarter-size, I would have hopped out of the car, lifted the door, jumped back into the car and driven it into the garage. But those hailstones were huge and jagged and sent many people caught out in the storm to the hospital for stitches. I did the next best thing, I thought, by backing the car to the entrance of our driveway where it could be sheltered by big trees. I remember pulling back the cover on the sunroof and watching the hail hit the glass.
End result? Tail lights broken out, entire car pocked. Insurance totaled it. It sits behind a shed on our acreage and has ever since we moved to the house we build in 1995. I'm either going to open the sunroof and plant flowers in it or part it out on eBay.
If you'd like to read "Car woes keep driver guessing," in which I describe being towed in from Topeka squeezed between Big Bob, the cigar-smoking tow truck driver unfamiliar with deodorant, and my friend Estel, click HERE.
After the Caddy was totaled, we bought and drove for less than a dozen months a small Chevy Blazer so unremarkable that neither Ray nor I can remember the year of its manufacture. It had a black exterior and gray interior. The first day we bought it, I went out at night to drive it to a meeting. Bad news. I couldn't find the headlight switch in the dark. Worse news. I couldn't find the door handle to get out of the vehicle, go into the house and ask Ray where the location of the @%$#&* headlight switch. Fortunately, I could find the horn and after laying on it for 30 seconds, Ray hurried out the door to tell me how to turn on the headlights.
The Blazer was replaced by a beautiful white 1992 Chrysler Imperial because our neighbor and good friend, a Chrysler dealer, parked it in our driveway with the keys in the ignition and said, "Drive it" . . . so we did until we decided to buy it
Did we ever think we'd buy a Chrysler? No we did not even though Dad had a pretty navy blue 1961 Chrysler that Mom gave to our son Butch after Dad died. Dad liked his Chrysler so much that he kept it even when it was replaced by a new Oldsmobile.
But back to our Chrysler. It had red plush seats, but the passenger seat felt like it was tilting to the left. It didn't look like it, but it felt like it. Junior (the dealer) did everything in an effort to fix it, even sending us to an upholstery shop for extra stuffing, but it still felt like it was tilting left. When our car was about a year old, he called and said, "Marsha, I just got in a Chrysler with seats exactly like yours and I'll exchange your seat with it." He did and the problem was solved.
I had a couple of very close calls with the Chrysler. One bright spring day, I was driving my friend Jean to a cafe/antique store in a nearby small town. I was cruising down a two-lane highway when a semi-sans-trailer truck heading in the other direction came into my lane. I avoided a head-on collision by swerving sharply into his lane all the while knowing if a car was following him, we'd be toast.
I was just moving back into my lane when I saw two huge tires connected to a long Y-shaped frame bouncing toward the side of my car. How those tires missed me, I still don't know, but my legs were shaking so badly that I pulled off the highway to recover. In the rearview mirror, I saw the driver of the semi, which had plowed into the ditch on my side of the road, standing with his passenger in the middle of the road looking at the tires with the leg of the heavy frame pointing to the sky. The apparatus dwarfed them. I regret to this day that I didn't walk back and ask them what the heck happened.
The second close call occurred in Kansas City with my daughter-in-law Val as my passenger carrying, as a fetus, my granddaughter Sammi. We were on I-35, a four-lane highway with traffic moving faster than the speed limit. Let's just say I was good at keeping up with traffic. I was in the right-hand lane when a monstrous orange highway truck (what was it with the Chrysler and trucks?) pulled right in front of me. When I related the incident to Junior, he said if I had been in the Cadillac, I couldn't have simultaneously slammed on the brakes and swerved into the other lane. In that case, I owe the Chrysler because it saved three lives that day.
However, it might have taken our lives on a couple of occasions when the brakes failed. The first time, I approached a T-intersection and when I tried to stop, it was as if I were driving on ice (it was summer, so I wasn't). The car only had a couple thousand miles on it so I drove it to the dealer and Junior immediately had the braking system replaced. But that didn't fix it because a few months later when Ray approached a busy highway, he, too, had no brakes. Turns out, Chrysler had a problem with that braking system. I don't know if they ever entirely worked it out, but over time, Junior managed to fix our car.
We drove the Chrysler until we bought . . .
. . . a beautiful dark blue 1998 Lincoln Town Car (Not solely because we liked the grille, but that was part of the decision to buy the car)
The posts that follow were written about our second Lincoln Town Car, a Lemon if ever there was one. Our first Town Car was amazing and we expected the second would also be. Alas, the cars are as different as Cain and Able. Why we didn't rid ourselves of the second Town Car as soon as its troubles became apparent is a mystery to us. However, if we had done so, I would have missed the opportunity to take Ford to court in what was my first, and likely last, visit to small claims court.
CLICK is not the sound you want to hear when you try to start your car. You really don’t want to hear it when you’ve just finished a 1.6 mile walk so far in the boondocks that phone signals are iffy. Did I mention that the temperature was 90 degrees and climbing? And that husband Ray and I had just downed all our Gatorade? (Click on photo for larger image.)
What to do . . . wait, isn’t this why we have Triple A? While Ray checks the battery and questions its parentage, I revolve in a circle trying to get a bar or two on the phone. I stand on a rise, face south and call the 800 number for road service. Ah, success. AAA voice mail wants to tell me where their office is and give me its hours of operation. What that company doesn’t understand is . . . I . . . don’t . . . care. I’m calling for road service, not trip-tiks. After waiting on a free agent for three minutes, I get a good one.
He wants to know the name of the road where we are. Problem is, I haven’t a clue. GPS doesn’t work when the car won’t start. The road is all but deserted. Then a young couple in a shiny black Toyota Prius drive by, stop and back up to see if they can help. The man removes jumper cables from his trunk and the woman informs me we are on Wild Horse Road. I don’t know how that road got its name, but Ray — who grew up riding a horse sans saddle — would have welcomed a wild horse to ride for help had one been handy.
Although the young man tries valiantly, the Prius doesn’t have sufficient power to jump start our Lincoln Town Car. Meanwhile, I lose the cell phone signal and am disconnected from AAA. As I try to retrieve a signal and redial, the couple decide to get another vehicle and bring it back to jump start our car. Watching them drive off, I bless both of them as well as the sainted mothers who birthed them.
They don’t drive far when one of their friends approaches. They ask her to use her Honda SUV to start our car. After a couple of minutes of revving her engine, our car starts. Cheering (all of us) and profuse thanks (ours) follow.
Epilogue: We exchanged names and, although they are the world’s three nicest people who were in the area to tend their community gardens at the University of Kansas field station, I have already forgotten their names. On the way to town to buy a new battery, I remembered we had a couple of Applebee’s gift cards in the car that we could have — make that should have — given them.
World’s three nicest people: You know who you are and I will recognize your names as soon as I hear them again. Contact me through this website and the Applebee’s gift cards are yours!
You know you are in the boondocks when Wild Horse Road
is intersected by Snake Farm Road.
Someone recently asked my husband if our beautiful 2005 Lincoln Town Car was "hundred-dollaring us to death."
"I wish!" Ray said, "It’s thousand-dollaring us to death."
Indeed, we have put enough money into this @%#&*! car to build a Stealth bomber.
Our practice of buying late model, low mileage autos and driving them a long time worked well until we purchased our latest Lincoln, which I would bet cold hard cash weathered at least one hurricane. That is because — when our car was showroom new — it lived in Florida and during that time the state was hit with FOUR hurricanes (Cindy, Dennis, Katrina and Wilma).
Oh, sure, when we purchased our car it was certified to be in absolutely fantastic, like-new shape with only 13,000 miles on its odometer. But I no longer trust any car’s history report and I suspect that, as I write this, the cars we saw floating down the streets during last summer's flooding in Colorado are hitting the market to break the hearts (and bank accounts) of unsuspecting buyers. Caveat emptor!
Because our shiny new car was covered with a 100,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, we were confident that everything that could go wrong with it would occur under warranty. Well, everything that could possibly go wrong with a car — Can you spell LEMON? — went wrong under warranty and kept right on going wrong after the extended warranty ended.
Electrical problems? Oh, yes, including static that would move from one of eight speakers to another when neither the radio nor CD were playing. Sometimes the static would come from several speakers simultaneously. CDs became permanently stuck in the player and had to be sent to Ford for removal. The GPS quit working twice. The lock on the driver’s door wouldn’t unlock. The alternator quit working, as did the switch that controlled the front passenger window and something else that rendered the seat heater on the passenger side useless.
Did I mention the handle on the driver’s door stuck in the open position? To fix that, the entire inside door had to be replaced at a cost of $450.93. Something went wrong with the driver’s seat belt and it had to be replaced. Then the pretensioner (don’t ask) on my seat belt needed to be replaced ($682.35). But wait, there’s more . . . a lot more. The accumulator on the air conditioner rusted out and had to be replaced ($446.15).
A few months later, the air conditioner compressor required replacing ($1089.66) and after it was replaced, every time we started the car, it made a noise (sometimes a moderate "brrrrrrpppt," but occasionally an explosion that sounds like a shotgun blast at close quarters). A second and third compressor did the same and the explanation I have in writing from Ford pretty much says IT HAPPENS, just live with it. What Ford actually wrote is: "This noise will not cause an issue with component durability and does in no way affect how the system performs." Same thing, don’t you agree? Tomato. Tomahto.
While the car was still under warranty, the left rear axle bearing required replacement. Ray said, "I have never, ever had to replace an axle bearing in any of the cars I have owned." That number of cars is considerable since, in addition to our family vehicles, Ray also collected antique and classic cars, including every car he coveted — but couldn’t afford — in high school. He asked the dealership to also replace the right axle bearing, believing if one was defective, so was the other. They said Ford wouldn’t allow it.
Ray continued to worry about the rumble he heard from the right rear axle and even took the car back to have it checked before our trip to Georgia last spring. Assured it was okay, Ray was still skeptical enough to repeat multiple times on the way to Georgia, "I sure hope he’s right, but it really sounds to me like it is that right axle bearing."
Turns out that Ray was right but he wishes he wasn’t. So our most recent expenditure ($736.71) on our @%#&*! Lincoln was the replacement of the right rear axle bearing . . . plus the axle . . . plus the seal . . . plus the parking brake because the grease leaking from the blown seal messed it up.
The service manager and our service adviser at the dealership are knowledgeable, professional and fair. I’m not mad at them. It is Ford Motor Company that I am furious with for two reasons: One, if they could manufacture an AC compressor that didn’t make a noise on start-up when the car was new, why can’t they make a replacement compressor that doesn’t? Two, I’m thinking Ford owes us $736.71.
Pay up or our next car may be a Lexus.
Since I last wrote, we have spent an additional $2,587.45 on repairs to our Bad Luck Lincoln (aka LEMON). We thought long and hard about having airbags replaced (not the safety kind, the air ride kind) along with ball joints, stabilizer bar and other steering parts (not including the recall on the steering sector which didn’t cost us). I ask you: What’s wrong with us? Why didn’t we trade this car while it was still under warranty?
I’ll tell you why. When you have as many repairs done under warranty as this @#$!%&* car required, you have a tendency to think that everything that can go wrong already has gone wrong. Now we know that there are a bazillion other things that can go wrong as we are busy proving daily.
What may have been the last straw occurred in Spirit Lake, Iowa — after a couple of golden hours snapping pics of pelicans and a fisherman catching bullheads — when the car stalled at a stop light on a six-lane highway through town. The car was as dead as the parrot on the old Monty Python TV show.
Nothing would work, not even the hazard lights. Ray put the transmission in park and instantly regretted it when it stayed stuck in park. The Menard’s truck behind us beeped gently to alert us that the light had changed to green.
Ray walked back and told the driver that our car was dead. The driver (bless his sainted mother) immediately turned on his hazard lights and told Ray he’d block for us until the sheriff arrived. However, Ray didn’t tell me that and all I saw was Ray standing in front of an open hood while I imagined a vehicle rear-ending us and running over Ray with his own dead Lincoln. The sheriff arrived, turned on his red-and-blues and called a wrecker (the sheriff wanted to get us off the road pronto).
Meanwhile, I called our dealer to ask for a diagnosis. I expect our service manager to be correct most of the time and he called it right, saying, "It sounds like the alternator" (which had already been replaced once). Bruce has received many calls from me during the time we’ve owned this @#$!%&* car, but never one as panicky as this call which was interrupted several times by me sticking my head out the window and yelling at Ray, "Get away from the front of the car!"
As we waited, Karen and Brenda, friends staying at our resort, recognized our car and stopped to see if they could help. "Move along, move along," said the sheriff, "nothing to see here."
"But they’re our friends," said Karen, "We’re trying to help." They offered to take me back to the resort, but I told them I’d stick with Ray.
Car trouble in an unfamiliar town is dicey. Thinking of outrageous wrecker bills in my own city worried me that we were at the mercy of any nefarious individual who might decide to gouge a sitting duck. That worry was unfounded and bad luck changed to good the minute Rick arrived and took us to his three-generation family business that sold gas, auto parts and repaired cars. His dad drove to another town to pick up an alternator for our car (make that most Lincoln Town Cars), but when he returned, the part didn’t fit. Who knew our car required a limousine or Highway Patrol alternator? It was too late to return the part to the warehouse which had to have the right part over-nighted. Rick drove us back to our resort and said the alternator would be installed in the morning.
Ray and I felt good about the business, even though we had yet to receive a bill, because a local investment banker was waiting to have u-joints installed on his car. We had a great hour-and-a-half visit with him and with Sylvia (the mom) who shared our politics and views on life, as well as several retirees who came in for donuts and coffee. We figured those who lived there knew best that they could trust the business.
The next morning Karen’s husband, Steve, transported us to pick up our car which Rick had washed. We gladly paid $446.19 and the car ran great all the way home. Best of all, we made new friends and — if we ever again have car trouble in Spirit Lake — we know who to call.
(Click on photos for larger images.)
Car woes continue
After spending close to $3,000 fixing potential problems with our Lemon’s suspension, while driving home the other day I noticed that my posterior was feeling every tiny imperfection in the pavement. Not chuckholes, mind you, but every little pebble and seam in the highway. In short, our car rode like a lumber wagon. And that wasn’t all — I could see the entire hood ornament, only the very top of which was customarily visible from my position behind the wheel. Clearly, something was wrong . . . AGAIN!
"I think something’s wrong with the car," I told Ray when I arrived home. My poor, long-suffering guy has heard this before — many, many times — from me, so he didn’t ask any questions, just headed for the garage. A quick look told him all he needed to know. "Call Roger," he said, "and tell him we’re bringing it in."
Back in the days of "Real Steel" autos, fender skirts and lowering blocks were highly coveted by high school and college kids. Don’t know what a lowering block is? Neither do I, but what it did was make the back of the car so low to the ground that some bumpers (then real chrome) would scrape the pavement and throw up sparks when hitting dips in the road. Our Lemon looked like it had heavy-duty lowering blocks. Either that or like we were smugglers smuggling God knows what . . . or who.
Once at the dealer, we settled into the waiting room with our books while the mechanics inspected our Lemon. About an hour later, Roger, our service adviser, showed up and asked if we were up to walking to where our car was hoisted high on a lift. Bruce, our service manager, Ray and I stood under the car and gazed at the underside. "What’s wrong with it?" I asked.
"I wish I knew," said Bruce. "A pneumatics code showed up, but we already knew that. The compressor [it fills the air bags] checks out. All the mechanic did was disconnect the sensor and when he reconnected it, the bags inflated, lifting the rear end back up."
He counted off on his fingers which of the expen$ive problems it might be, but advised us to wait and see what happens since fixing it would be a guess at best. Sooooo, that was eight days ago and the back end is still up where it should be. However, driving into Kansas City that day to have our Lemon’s lowered rear end checked out, a truck threw up a big rock which hit our windshield with a loud bang. "We’re lucky," I said to Ray, "that that rock didn’t break our windshield."
The next day as I returned from Topeka with my friend Martha sitting in the passenger seat, she said, "You’ve got a crack in your windshield."
"No, I don’t," I replied. But, oh, I did! A couple days later, we took our Lemon in to our favorite local glass company to have the windshield replaced. About an hour before closing, the owner called to say that they had broken the new windshield as they installed it and would have to order another one. We drove around with a windshield boasting TWO cracks for a couple days and yesterday they installed a third windshield sans cracks.
Turns out that — even when we can’t blame Ford — our Lemon is bad luck!
That's a question we ask each other every time we have another expen$ive repair. Most recently, the question came up after we spent around $700 to have another axle bearing and axle replaced. This is the second time on the left rear axle according to Ray.However, according to our Lemon dealer, the right rear axle bearing has been replaced twice.
Whichever, we think Ford must be getting its bearings from China because as many cars as we have owned (and we've owned a lot) we have never had to replace an axle bearing on any of them once, let alone three times on the same car.
So why haven't we traded this Lemon? If we had it to do over, we'd have traded it before the warranty ran out because now we know if a car requires a lot of repairs under warranty, those repairs are going to keep right on occurring when the money is coming out of our pockets. Problem is, we reached a point (actually many points) where we thought that every thing that could go wrong had gone wrong. We believed we had almost rebuilt the car one part at a time.WRONG!
Here's the thing: Ray and I like big cars but they're not making them anymore. What they call a full-size now was once a mid-size. An SUV is out of the question because of my 28-inch inseam. I learned that short people have no business buying an SUV when we rented one and, while I could climb into it, I had trouble getting out of it because my foot couldn't reach the ground. I had to turn sideways, let my posterior slide off the edge of the seat and freefall until my feet touched the ground.
We've driven lots of different rental cars lately when ours was being repaired. We also rented a car for our trip to Pittsburgh, PA last summer. We didn't trust our Lemon and decided to drive a Ford Taurus with all the bells and whistles because we were told it has the same body as a Lincoln MKX or MKS (I forget which is bigger). The Taurus was a perfectly nice car and while I could see me driving it around town or to nearby cities, Ray and I love long driving trips and that car just didn't cut it when compared to the size, comfort and great ride of our Lemon. Plus our Lemon averages 27 miles per gallon on the highway. I have friends with much smaller cars who don't get mileage that good.
Perhaps we'll luck onto a car like ours with fewer miles or maybe manufacturers will start making big cars again. We're thinking if our Lemon breaks down hundreds of miles from home (it's happened before), we'll kiss it goodbye and fly back.
Yesterday was a red letter, lucky, happy day for us! Why? Because we walked out of our Lemon dealer’s garage with a bill under $100 . . . 43 dollars and 52 cents under, to be exact. Even better, we used our credit of $18.58 (since we require so many repairs, we always have on the books a credit that Ford bestows based on the money we spent on previous repairs) giving us a final total of $37.90.
This time the problem was the cruise control. It worked driving to Topeka on Friday, but didn’t work driving home. I honestly thought once the car was parked in the garage overnight and restarted the next morning that the cruise control would function. (I blame our IT son who has finally convinced me that the best thing I can do with my computer when it’s on the fritz is to reboot. You’d be surprised how many times that works.)
However, blaming him doesn’t explain the large and small appliances stored in the basement that are awaiting self-healing . . . especially the broken TV that we moved to the "new" house we built 19 years ago. All these years later, it’s still broken. I didn’t even have any takers when I offered to give it away in a newspaper column: I have always believed that, if left to their own devices in a darkened basement, appliances will fix themselves. But I’ve given up on that television set. Anyone who wants a TV which quit working after smoke started coming out of the back of it, may have it for hauling it away. If you’d like to read that entire column, entitled "Appliances are designed to rile," click HERE.
But back to the cruise control. When I drove the car the next morning it was obvious that rebooting hadn’t worked, so I began to worry that the remedy would be to replace the steering wheel where you punch the buttons that turn on the cruise control and set its speed. You’ll remember that fixing the broken driver’s door handle required replacing the inside door at a cost of $450.93. I can’t imagine what replacing a steering wheel containing an airbag would cost.
Turns out the brake pedal position switch (I didn’t even know it had one) was out of adjustment, making the cruise control think the brake pedal was depressed the entire time we were driving (like we’d be so dumb). Since depressing the brake pedal turns off the cruise control, it now makes perfect sense why it wasn’t working.
I hope all the future repairs on our Lemon will be such simple and inexpensive fixes. And I also hope that the TV in our basement will fix itself one of these years.
Last June, our Lemon's cruise control quit working. The mechanic said the cruise control thought the brake was on so it shut off. He adjusted the brake, charged us $56+ and it was fixed
. . . until last week when it again stopped working.
Ray and I frequently use the cruise control as a governor to keep us from exceeding the speed limit, at least from exceeding it by more than five miles an hour. I figure it has saved me a bundle in speeding tickets. It is surprising how quickly one gets used to setting the speed and not worrying about it. When you are used to it and don't have it, it's hard to keep the car at an even speed and especially hard to not exceed the speed limit.
Well, we took the car back to our Lemon dealer and Ray suggested that the mechanic might want to superglue the brake. I don't know if he did that during the two hours we waited, but the cruise control worked when we drove it home.
However, driving home on the highway after this evening's dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, the cruise control refused to set. My cure when anything stops working is to reboot, so I suggested we pull over to the side of the road, turn the ignition off and see if the cruise control would work when we started the car. It DID! Whether it will keep working is anyone's guess. As for me, I'm keeping everything crossed that will cross!
Beauty is only skin deep
Grams had a saying: Beauty is only skin deep, ugly is to the bone, beauty fades and dies, but ugly holds its own. She was talking about people, but we have learned it can also apply to cars.
Oh, sure our Lincoln looks good and is painted a pretty color. We call it cream or ivory. Ford calls it cashmere. Apparently the person at Ford in charge of naming its cars’ colors doesn’t understand that cashmere is a fiber, not a hue. But do not let the color — whatever you choose to call it — fool you. Our car should be painted bright yellow because it has the heart and soul of a LEMON.
For almost a week now, our Lemon has been sitting at a garage waiting on a rear end. After replacing three right axles and bearings (and one left axle and bearing), we opted not to replace the right axle a fourth time and see if we could start afresh. We must be NUTS!
We’ve replaced the alternator twice (the last time in Spirit Lake, Iowa), the air conditioner compressor three times, the GPS has been out of the dash for repairs at least twice . . . and so much more. About everything electric that can go blooey has done so.
The car spent its first 13,000 miles of its life in Florida and during that time there were five hurricanes. I’m betting that this car was like one of the many cars we watched floating down the streets when Ray and I were trapped in Estes Park during the last big Colorado flood. As we watched cars bobbing along, a man next to me observed, “Those cars will be on the market in the next few months.” He identified himself as a car dealer so I presume he knew that of which he spoke.
Our practice of buying gently used cars served us well until this Lemon came into our lives. Its predecessor (Old Blue) — also a Lincoln Town Car — had 198,000 miles on its odometer when we traded it in and all we had done to it, other than regular maintenance, was to replace the air suspension bags (we’ve done that on the Lemon, too) and the intake manifold which cracked.
We’ve learned a valuable lesson we’re glad to share: If you buy a car and have a lot of repairs under warranty, get rid of it as fast as you can. There is a tendency to think that everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. Trust me, it hasn’t. And you can rely that what has gone wrong will keep going wrong . . . over and over again!
Even though my father was a lawyer, I have never been litigious. However, replacing five axles on our Lincoln Town Car (well, actually four axles and a rear end when we decided replacing the axle wasn’t getting us anywhere) made me just litigious enough to file a claim in small claims court. Oh, I tried to work with Ford. Even informed them I would file a case. I guess they didn’t believe me.
It cost $85 and a bit of effort to file a case. Entering our county courthouse is like boarding a plane. You have to place your purse and anything metal on a conveyor belt where it is x-rayed, then walk through one of those doorways that beeps if it detects metal. The good news is that you don’t have to take off your shoes. Ray went with me the day I filed and didn’t make it through security with his Swiss Army pocket knife. He opted to return to the car rather than toss his knife (those were his only options) and I proceeded alone to the basement where I paid my money and filed the case. I paid extra to use a credit card because when I opened my checkbook to write a check, I discovered I had written the last one in the book. Clearly, “always prepared” is the Boy Scouts’ motto, not mine.
Shortly after Ford was served in Dearborn, Michigan, I received a call from the company requesting information in the hope we could come to some accord. I scanned and emailed them all the invoices for the axle repairs and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. In the meantime, I secured letters from a former car dealer and owners of two car repair shops, all of whom stated how rare it was to replace that many axles.
I had to prepare three thick packets of evidence: one for the judge, one for the defendant and one for me. It is a lot of work if you do it right. When my day in court arrived, Ray (sans Swiss Army knife) and I arrived early. “You can go in the courtroom if the door is unlocked,” the deputy said. We entered the dimly-lit courtroom and sat down. After about 20 minutes, the judge came out of his office to unlock the door, which he sternly told us was locked. Could have fooled me. I always figured a locked door wouldn’t open. How did we get in, I wonder, if the door was locked?
“Oh great!” I said to Ray. “We’ve ticked off the judge.” Slowly other people entered the courtroom. Was one of them representing Ford? One by one, cases were called. The judge assigned the first plaintiff and defendant to leave with a mediator. The defendant was a no show for the next case. The judge called my case. Ford wasn’t there. “Sit down and wait,” the judge said, “if they don’t show up by the time the other cases are finished, I’ll give you a default judgment.”
Ford turned out to be a no show making my first, and likely only, venture into small claims court anti-climactic. I was both relieved and disappointed and, when I had time to think about it, irritated that Ford put me through that exercise when they didn’t intend to show up. The judge awarded me a default judgment, saying, “This is the easy part. Now you have to collect it.” So I wrote the CEO of Ford apprising him of the default judgment that gave Ford 15 days to pay and including this statement: I am instructed that if I do not receive payment by August 12, 2016, I am required to send you a Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets form. In the event I must do that, I am amused by Line 8: List of automobiles, other vehicles, and boats owned . . .
As it turned out, I did have to mail the Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets form because Ford didn’t pay within 15 days. I was instructed to find out the address of the appropriate sheriff’s office in Michigan in the event Ford did not return the Judgment Debtor’s Statement of Assets form to the court within 30 days. The next step, I was told, was to have Ford’s CEO cited by the judge for contempt of court which would be served by said sheriff.
Five days later, I received an email from the woman who had requested the information from me earlier, saying she was responding to my letter of August 2 informing them of the judgment. She wrote: I have processed the check request for your small claims award this morning. You should be receiving the entire award in the mail within 3-4 weeks.
It didn’t take that long. I received the check via FedEx Express within a matter of days. Vindicated? Yes, but a smarter move would have been to invoke the Lemon Law early in our ownership of this car because the money we were reimbursed for the multiple axle repairs was a pittance compared to the money we have expended on our lemon. As I ended my comment when I returned the invoices: I know Ford can build excellent cars. This just isn’t one of them.
If you have been taken advantage of by an individual or a company, filing a case in small claims court is something to consider. It isn’t easy, but we had money returned —$3,185.13 — we thought was gone forever. Even so, our lemon experience has left us with a sour taste.
Our next car? We’re thinking Lexus 350 or Suburu Outback. We’ll be happy . . . and so, I assume, will Ford.