Not Trusting New Cars

Every since I first found the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival it has been my habit to write a short story based on the chosen word. Last week I wrote about an experience I had, and today I’m writing a few reflections based on family history rather than a work of fiction. Of course, if these stories were passed around at a family reunion, I’m sure we’d find enough versions to make one think they were fiction. The word for this carnival is “new.”

Both my dad and my Uncle Don (Neufeld) had a suspicion of new cars. I recall a couple of times when we had a new or nearly new car, but generally we got something that was substantially used. I’ve inherited enough of that suspicion that my preference is to buy a car that has 20,000 miles or so on it. I lose the new car high price, and still have a reasonably recent vehicle for maintenance purposes.

That wasn’t the way my dad looked at it. For him, a car was not so much a means of transportation as an occasional hobby. He could take it apart and work on it. Whenever anyone wanted to go somewhere, he could complain about the various problems the car was having, thus providing an excellent reason not to drive the car at all. There were many times we thought we might go somewhere when my dad would say that the car needed work, and so it sat in the carport or garage as the case may be.

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When we were in Guyana, South America, a number of folks at the hospital where he worked were quite unhappy with his choice of vehicle. (He was a doctor and medical director of Davis Memorial Hospital in Georgetown, Guyana.) A number of people in the administration thought his car didn’t look respectable for a doctor, especially a hospital’s medical director. But he stuck with his purchase of a Morris Minor. I don’t know the year, but it looked a great deal like the 1960 model shown at the left. It was about that old as well—this was 1971.

It did run from time to time. I recall a few trips across country and it ran fairly well. There was a joke amongst our friends about needing to feed the hamsters well, but that was an exaggeration.

Nonetheless, people thought the car just didn’t look like a doctor’s car.

My dad didn’t care. He spent many hours tinkering with that car. I don’t know whether he was keeping it running or making sure it stayed up on the jacks.

He wasn’t always unwilling to use his cars. When we lived in Chiapas, Mexico, we drove a Mercury station wagon. I could tell a few stories about that little vehicle. It went any number of places it was not designed to go. For one thing, it’s 14 inch wheels made it pretty low, and we lived close to 90 miles from the nearest paved road.

One of the forms of mulch we used for gardening at the little mission station we had there was coffee hulls. We’d haul these in by the van load. One day the folks who had driven their van to get the coffee hulls hiked back in. The van had broken down. They were going to take the four wheel drive vehicle we normally had available and tow the van in, but it wasn’t working. Dad had purchased a new tow cable on his last trip to the U. S. and had never used it. This was his opportunity.

Everybody said the Mercury station wagon wouldn’t tow the van, especially with a full load of coffee hulls. But he was undeterred. I was only 8 or 9 years old, but I got to go along to see how this would work.

We drove out to where the van was stranded, hooked up the cable, and eased that little station wagon off and believe it or not, that van came right along. We managed to tow it all the way back to the top of the hill where it could just coast on in to home.

My first year in college I lived near my Uncle Don, and I discovered that he was no fan of new cars either. He had an old Chevy station wagon that had more than 200,000 miles on it. It ran quite well. He had a newer station wagon as well. My aunt Maxine told me that he bought the new station wagon just before making a trip across the continent. He chose to make the trip in the old vehicle because he didn’t trust the new one yet.

She also told another story about that older car. My uncle was fairly high up in his church organization. Once he was the main speaker for a camp meeting. He was turned away from the pastor’s parking lot because they didn’t think his car looked like a pastor’s car.

I conclude that perhaps there’s a reason to have fun with older cars!