Jul 032017

I don’t recall exactly when they moved in, but for about a decade (give or take) Nick and Carol and their boys lived just up the road from us, at the junction of J and Z just inside the city limits of Hurdland. Mom reminded me that it was in 1983 that they moved away, leaving me with two things to remember them by: my first car, which I had bought from them in ’82 (or maybe late ’81, I’m not sure, probably need to ask Mom about that one too) and a yellow tomcat.  He arrived from their house half-grown and unnamed, and so for reasons that are probably evident (and indicate a distinct lack of imagination) we called him Nick.

Nick was a pretty sweet guy, for a farm cat.  He loved attention, and would follow me out when I went to water the hogs.  He’d sit on top of one or another fencepost, and after I had the water running I’d pet him and talk to him.  When the job was done I’d turn off the water and he’d follow me back to the house. He got pretty big, and was a good-looking cat with an intelligent face.

The car was a 1969 Ford XL.  I tell people that and they look at me funny… XL what?  I only just learned the answer recently (via Wikipedia, of course): for the 1969 model year, Ford dropped the Galaxie name from that product line. The 1968 model was the Ford Galaxie XL. Makes more sense, doesn’t it?

The car had been used as a college vehicle.  I don’t remember how many miles it had, but it was a lot.  It had quite a bit of underbody rust; before I could get it inspected, I had to get the exhaust system replaced.  I had Glen, a local mechanic with a shop conveniently located on the nearest edge of town, put all new pipes on it, with a glasspack replacing the stock muffler. You’d think that would have made the 390 cubic inch engine really loud, but actually it wasn’t bad at all.

Not long after that I discovered a gas tank leak; I patched it repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, using a fuel tank patching compound that was kind of like JB Weld.  Finally I had to have Glen replace the tank with one from the junkyard.

Then there was the issue of the rear bumper.  It sagged on the left (driver’s) side.  When I crawled under to fix the tank the first time I discovered the frame had rusted clear through a few inches forward from where it attached to the bumper.  After some consideration, I went out to the machine shed, found some number 9 wire and a metal bar of some sort cast off from some piece of farm equipment, and fixed the problem by running the wire under the stub of the frame still attached to the bumper and through a rust hole in the trunk, then wrapped it around the metal bar and twisted it tight.  From time to time after that I’d discover that the bumper was sagging, probably because the wire had stretched, and I’d twist it tighter until everything was okay again.

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?  Bah.  I loved that car.  It went like its butt was on fire.  It was an automatic with 15″ rims, and I could spin the tires; in fact, sometimes it was hard to get the car rolling without squealing a little.  Given that the statute of limitations has surely run out, I will tell you that I often drove the car quite a bit above the speed limit, and yet somehow, despite driving the XL for almost three years, I never got a ticket in that car.

I’m pretty sure it was in the summer of ’83, the summer after I graduated high school, when this next bit happened.  Remember that due to the particular placement of my birthday, I was still 17 when I graduated… I wouldn’t turn 18 until September 1983.  I had intended 1982 to be my last year in 4-H, but as fate would have it, at the fair that year I won the calf.  The rule was, if you won the calf, you had to show it at the next fair; so I stayed in 4-H for one more year to do just that.

But I had never showed a cow before; I had only shown pigs in the past.  My friend Kevin, though, was quite experienced at showing cattle, and he promised to help me.

So again, it was the summer of ’83, and I was going to show my cow, who had arrived with the name Cloverine Cherry Blossom (thanks to my brother Adam for remembering this bit).  To get her ready for the show, Cloverine needed a bath and a trim.  I went out to Kevin’s house, where he was going to show me about trimming a cow’s hair, but his trimmers were dull.  He sent them off to be sharpened, but they didn’t come back improved enough to do the job.

The fair was getting pretty close, and we needed shears.  Kevin called on the vet used by both our fathers, and arranged to borrow a set from him; I just needed to drive us down to La Plata, Missouri to pick them up, which I did.  We got home, got our cattle all trimmed up neatly, and the next day took them back.

On the return trip up highway 63, my car just died.

I rolled off the side of the road, planting both feet firmly on the manual brake (as I always did to get that car stopped).  I had no idea what to do.  Remember, this was before cell phones, folks, and we were some distance from any visible houses.  I figured we’d have to flag someone down, but Kevin said no, he knew what the problem was.

I have no idea how he knew what he was doing, except to say that the truck he had been driving made my XL look like a brand new car, and he kept that heap running by sheer force of will as far as I could see.  But he pulled the vice grips out of my glovebox, opened the hood and took a look, muttering as he did.  “It’s the fuel filter,” he said, and without hesitation he removed the offending part.  Then he stuck the end in his mouth and blew, like he was trying to blow up a balloon… his face turned red and his eyes bugged out.  “It’ll get us home now,” he said, as he reinstalled it.  “Just need to get a new one in there.”

The car started, and got us home just fine.

I think I mentioned before about my summer sleeping habits.  As in, ten AM was “early” for me.  So by the time I got up the next morning, Dad was already up and out, of course.  I stumbled out of my room and glanced out the back window, and saw that my car was gone.

So I asked Mom where it was, and she said Dad had borrowed it to go to town to get parts for some piece of equipment.  I think I may have mumbled a four-letter word… I had not had a chance to tell Dad about the fuel filter.

Yes, it did, in fact, strand him on the road halfway between Hurdland and Edina, and he was not terribly happy when he got home.  But he couldn’t chew me out, however badly he might have wanted to, as it was not my fault he didn’t know about the car’s problem when he borrowed it, and we both knew that.

I think he actually paid for the repair.

Funny thing is, that’s not the only time Dad borrowed one of my vehicles and was stranded by a fueling issue.  He borrowed my Honda XL125 motorcycle just to run up to Hurdland and back, and I had done as the manual indicated by turning off the fuel petcock when I parked it.  The fuel in the carb got him the short hop into town, but he ended up pushing the bike home.  I think I did get chewed out for that one.  I probably deserved it.