No Termites in this Wood

Dad generally bought vehicles based upon low-cost then utility.

Some consider low-cost as merely being cheap but those who knew him were diplomatic, saying he was actually frugal.

Well, I knew him better than those others and he was cheap, but that was okay. More money for other things such as weed killer. You know, the really important things in a young fellow’s life.

I even convinced the frugal one to toss aside the boring yet useful and more practical push-type reel lawnmower with the inexpensive, used, Briggs & Stratton-powered 3.5 rompin’ stompin’ horse-power rare then-and-nowadays reel-type mower.

A mere 10 bucks at the garage sale a few blocks away. Riding past on my banana-seat bicycle; that’s what my memory says I was riding but the latter part of those wild & wooly ‘60s was so long ago!!!

Back to my beloved bike; I was also cheap frugal so when I grabbed the saved paper-route money to buy that lusted for device I passed up on the lusted-by-most Krate-style costlier offering with more amenities and matching price for the lesser-cost Schwinn Stingray.

But school bike racks were the ‘great equalizer.’ A crowded area back in “the day” that nowadays are mostly deserted! The drive-through passenger part of school is traffic-jam-city from what I observe in this era, not so “in the day.”

Need I mention our cohort in those days of yore were not nearly as slender-challenged as I see today. Wallowing monstrosities currently, not that there is anything wrong with THAT, but maybe an explanation why those wonderful banana-seat-style bikes disappeared.

Not a crucial question but as I write via memory a tidal wave of long ago thoughts force their way into my writing effort.

Okay, bikes may have been my initial step to powered conveyances but are merely a precursor to the pertinent stuff; kinda’ like the powered mower Dad bargained down to seven bucks after I rode straight home and begged him to look at it.

He looked and offered the expected excuses but my pre-thought-out rebuttal convinced him to fork over the funds; “But, Dad… I can use it and learn about engines.”

Ahhh, “learn about.”  A very useful term for convincing Pa or Ma that an object may be worthy of buying. As long as it wasn’t mega-costly… that was 20 bucks or so in our abode.

Dad rode the bike home and I pushed the mower. Whoa, it was heavy and hard to push even though the centrifugal clutch and belt drive allowed the wheels and blades to free-wheel.

At least when running the power defied the weight and I merely had to guide the critter.

Happy days and close enough to driving to sate me—for a couple months, anyway, when dreams and visions of eventually driving legally, for real,  re-emerged.

After the powered mower I did not expect the cheapskate frugalskate to buy anything other than necessities for quite a spell.

I was shocked, shocked I declare, when a few days later he drove home with Mom following in the 1965 VW Bug. The only one in the ‘hood and the constant butt of my cohort’s jokes and guffaws. I think they may have actually been jealous but we know the power of self-delusion as a coping method.

I stared, amazed at the “land yacht” he was captaining. A HUGE conveyance. Would it even fit through the Panama Canal? Motioning me to action I ran to the garage and swung the door up.

Would that monstrosity even fit lengthwise? He commenced reversing, sawing at the rudder, as he slowly backed, the propulsion unit growling a sound I was unused to; later told it was a Ford ‘mighty 390.’ A man’s engine capable of propelling the largest, heaviest barges tar above-normal velocities across immense distances.

Exactly why the Old Man purchased that nifty machine; saved just for that yearly lengthy-for us visit to the kinfolk and the “homeland” of Ma and Pa: Nebraska.

Cool!  No more scrunching in that VW, misery-producing machine that left us all cramped and contorted and scrunched resulting in days before regaining full flexibility after the relatives pried us out of that pert-near-as-slow-as-a critter-drawn covered wagon in an even more distant era.

The hood of “Fred,” the name I have created and bestowed upon that vehicle for brevity’s sake.  Our family unit never named our vehicles, however. They were tools, not a part of the “family unit.”

Fred’s hood was HUGE! Immense, even! Seemingly aircraft carrier flight-deck size.

Fred’s interior was also massive, especially for a family unit of three hardy hearty souls. With an entire rear seat, a rear cargo area with “pop-up backward-facing mini rear seats, I was in vehicular heaven with an acres-worth (seemingly) romping room.

Supposedly adding subjective-based “visual appeal” Fred’s designers slathered upon the sides and tailgate fake wood that may have been grabbed from the store where shelf paper is sold.

The largest portion of the faux wood was very thin but it gripped tenaciously, defying hail and minor scrapes and bruises.

Surrounding the “shelf paper” was thicker strips of wood-looking plastic. Glued on, I believe. It, too, was vice-like in its gripping ability. Not that I ever purposefully attempted to pry it off.

Unlike the woodys of old, the cars/trucks whose bodies were partially composed of real dead trees, Fred was never termite infested. Those bothersome bugs are simply uninterested in fake wood.

Malfunctioning memory mentioned already. A lack of any retained photos in the family stockpile of Fred failing to assist efforts at past recall. The family was basically so cheap (frugal) that even the minimal cost of a pic was avoided.

Thus mainly minor descriptors of Fred are avoided here. Oh, sure, ample pics of other “Freds” are viewable via the Web but the Fourth generation (1967–1968) and Fifth generation (1969–1972) are close enough in appearance to disallow differentiation BUT…. The Three-Way Magic Doorgate that, as written by others, first appearing on the Fifth Generation Fred, IF that data is correct, is convincing enough evidence that OUR Fred was a 1969 model.

Memory nudged me with “1968,” at first but I believe the Old Man shouted at me to “Quit playing with the damn tailgate” and when Pa told you to do something, it was an era when the head of the family unit was heeded and not interfered with by others unless grievous bodily harm was inflicted. Mere loud-voicedness was socially acceptable, even encouraged.

And a poke or prod producing pain was not rare and nobody witnessing my usually well-earned pokes/prods ever showed any sign of disagreement. So the tailgate remained a non-piece of playground equipment.

It was a nifty-keen device, anyway.

When sitting in the rear, either upon the flat floor or within the cubby created when the “lid” was raised and the small seats hidden within arose, I marveled at the experience of seeing the world retreat with no glass to hamper the oneness with nature.

Rain and cold did distract from the fun, compelling closure, but the view to the rear was still fun. Wheeeee!

In those ancient days of compared-to-today cheap frugal gas prices I did not notice Fred’s fuel economy or lack thereof I had to do a Web search for average gas cost in that era.

One source declared it was 35-cents though averages can be devious but good enough for me.

The frugal one, Fred’s pilot/captain, likely griped but the extra room and comfort Fred provided likely minimized complaints despite the  previous provider of passenger hauling to Nebraska, via the VW Bug’s superior sipping of ‘motion lotion.’

I do recall Ma and Pa’s endorsement of Fred’s air-conditioning ability, a condiment no prior vehicle in our transportation arsenal ever possessed.

Of course, if Mr. Frugal had bought new vice used he would surely have, if possible, forgone A/C to save a few bucks. Our treks to the east mainly occurred during summer and its accompanying withering heat.  Absorbing that rush of cool air made that lengthy trip so much more pleasant. Technology is a wondrous thing!

Dad drove straight-thru until destination arrival; stopping only when required for gas or the then frequent construction delays as massive amounts of work was still underway to complete the  Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The “Interstate” as you kids of today label the ‘super-slab,’ as truckers often refer to those time- and fuel-saving ribbons of cement and asphalt threading across the landscape.

Our vittles came from the ice chest thing holding grub that needed cold to shun minute critters that, if present, could cause sea-sickness-type agony. Yech!

But the sandwiches within staved off starvation along with the other comestibles such as chips and, once, a box of Bugle snacks the folks did not care for so I ended up eating the entire contents of the box. Never ate another Bugle in my life but that story belongs elsewhere but THAT memory is firmly rooted in my mind despite a lack of outward evidence of the agony within other than subdued groans from me for several hours.

Well, even the wagon-using pioneers had their annoyances so mine was minor in comparison. And I had air-conditioning available. Did I mention that technology is wonderful?

When sleepy time arrived, encouraged by the tier’s constant drone, toted items such as luggage, etc. was shoved aside and blankets spread. I was usually the first to seek some ZZZZZZs with Mom following. The Old Man remained upright, eyes wide open, at the tiller.

Assured by past experience of his ability to consume immense distances without nodding off, Mom and I settled in to snore. The provided room was not extremely large but compared to the un-named VW Bug was so ample we felt akin to royalty within a humongous castle.

Since apparently even the thought of renting a motel room entered any of our thoughts (not a sign of cheapness but logic, in my view) Fred was a friend, a true pal, providing what was to be the finest on-road sleep experience I ever experienced.

Yes, the experience provided much later by my semi-trucks “sleeper” behind the captain’s chair was far superior, that snooze occurred while the truck was parked, not while in motion.

Travelling, ride comfort, sleep-providing; a superior vehicle in many ways.

Reliability, as I recall, was never a negative issue.

Though the Old Guy’s intention was to use Fred only for those interstate treks his maintenance regimen required a monthly drive of a minimum of 30 miles. Sound reasoning I will expound upon in a future article/essay.

I enjoyed those mini-treks also since the destination was often Santa Cruz; a touristy place with ample local residents providing “color” to “the scene.”

Not quite Haight-Ashbury-like or Berkeleyesque in the offering of Hippiness or other counter-culture affairs of that era Santa Cruz was still groovy, what with a boardwalk akin to a travelling carnival with rides and games, etc. And the beach. Ride the small waves. Stare at bikini-clad babes. Be stared at by the same. I was youthful but not too young! Good times and Fred got us there in comfort. Good Fred.

“So, you Old Coot, once a young Coot. Was Fred a permanent resident within thine family unit’s vehicle domicile that normal non-frugal folks label as a garage?”

Nay ye varlet, for a reason(s) never revealed to me, Fred was sold to an admirer, a neighbor who paid cash to possess the wonders that was Fred.

A few months later, perhaps due to unhappiness with his new owner, Fred erupted in flames near the carburetor while being driven down a nearby freeway.

Fred expired, a burned-out hulk that was deposited in a wrecking yard, never to visit his new owner’s abode again.

The buyer did visit us regarding the incident. Demanded that his purchase price be refunded. Frugal one appeared to ponder the not politely worded demand for perhaps a mili-second before tilting his head and declaring (as memory, again, digs deep for best recollection) “You gotta’ be kiddin’ me!”

New owner burbled he was not kidding.

Pa declared a state of non-compliance and when new owner mentioned going to court Pa stated that might be fun and would be a good learning experience for the kid.

Uttering more to hisself than us the neighbor departed. While he had never been especially vocal with the human herd within our dwelling even that previous communication dwindled to nothingness except for the occasional stare/glare when he was outside and we were visible.

We just ignored him and the threatened court visit never arrived.

Thus ends the tale of Fred. Fred is dead. That’s what I said.

But his memory lives on in this Old Coot and now you know the happy yet sad-ending of a beloved by me land yacht.

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