Car Adventures – Episode Three (the Chuck Wagon)

I spent two years on my mission in Germany, most of that time riding buses, street cars, and bikes.  But I was assigned to the mission office in Duesseldorf for a few months, and was responsible for the several mission cars, ranging from the president’s Mercedes, to the zone leaders’ Opels, to the office staff’s VW bus:


It took nerves of steel to drive a car in Germany.  Roads were narrower and cars drove faster than I was used to in the USA.  But I loved it.  I felt a lot of responsibility driving the VW Bus on mission errands, picking up and dropping off missionaries at the airport, for instance.  I also enjoyed taking delivery of brand new mission cars.  

After my mission I took the family1966 Impala station wagon back with me to BYU, and it was essentially mine from then until 1984.


I recall sliding down an icy street in Provo with this car.  Fortunately, I didn’t strike anything except the curb.  A memorable adventure with this car was getting a high speed tire blowout with a full car driving home from BYU in the California desert late at night.  Somebody had a dim flashlight as we struggled to change the tire.  

We moved from Provo to China Lake, CA, for my first engineering job, hauling all our belongings behind in a U-Haul trailer.  We hauled two large loads of lumber from Riverside back to Ridgecrest, CA, to build a back patio for our new home.  This was our only car when we moved to Meridian, ID, in 1978, locking our keys in the car in Bishop, CA, during the trip.  The locked door was opened easily by sliding a bar inside the door (can’t do that with modern cars, I don’t think).  

That first winter in Idaho was a cold, snowy one.  More than once I had to put those bulky chains on to get to work.  Worse, some mornings I had great trouble getting the car started.  I resorted to using that “explosive” ether spray into the carburator to get it going.  Another time I was stranded somewhere and resorted to sticking some metal gum wrapper into the shifter connector to permit the car to start.  One time we turned a corner on a quiet city street and the rear door flew open, spilling one of our tiny children out onto the icy street.  We once hauled a big load of manure for our garden in the back of the “Chuck Wagon”, as we called it (named after my father, Charles).  Suzanne says more than once she couldn’t start the car, until after a small child said a prayer, then it started right up.  One time I discovered our full tank of gas vanished, and I assumed somebody had siphoned our tank, but then discovered a small hole in the tank.  I fixed it with a metal screw and rubber washer.

One time I drove some coworkers and my boss to a dinner in this car.  Shortly after I got a nice raise at work.  I wonder if my boss felt pity, figuring I needed to buy a new car.  He was right, and in the summer of 1979 we splurged on a new VW Rabbit.  It was a very fun car to drive, with a 5-speed manual transmission, and used regular leaded gas, which was a big thing back in the days of OPEC and gas shortages.  It wasn’t quite so fun when our son Daniel applied some house paint to the car.

In late 1981 we traded for a new diesel Rabbit.


Suzanne accused me of going through a crisis turning 30 years old, but, while this diesel did get excellent mileage, it was a dog to drive.  0 to 60 in 3 minutes flat.  We made more than one trip from Idaho to California with three kids in the back seat and a luggage rack on top, driving through the night.  Near Hawthorne, NV, in the middle of the night our tank was near empty, and we crossed our fingers and kept driving.  We were fortunate to find an open station with diesel.  Another time we were just driving along not paying attention to the gas gauge, and approaching Lovelock, NV, we were shocked to notice we were empty, and pulled into a station as the engine coughed.  It was also in this car driving with the family to church on an icy winter morning we carefully approached a stop sign, and just slid right through the busy intersection, avoiding all the cross traffic.  Yikes!

The Chuck Wagon and these Rabbits were staples for our growing, young family, and they bring back numerous memories.


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