In high school, it was my dream to live in a van and drive around the country. I know, I know. Set your sights a little lower! Living in a van is too glamorous a dream, Josh!
Now, when my brother graduated from high school, his graduation gift from my parents was a new (used, but nice) truck. That set the precedent.
I knew that if I played my cards right, I could wrangle a new car at graduation time too. Being a few years behind my brother in school gave me the time I needed to plan. If I wanted to make my dream a reality, it was going to take a little work.
I started by finding out how much my parents had spent on my brother’s new truck. I needed to get an idea of how much I had to play with in my dreams of making a van worth living in. I don’t remember if I weaseled the information out of my parents sneakily (probably not) or just bluntly asked (this is more likely), but I remember that I had about $6,000 to use.
I shared my dream with my dad, a huge car nut, and before long he found a guy in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who was selling three old Dodge vans: a 1966 Dodge A100 passenger van (which ran), a 1966 Dodge A100 panel van (which had seen some use on a drag strip, but now didn’t even have an engine), and a 1968 Dodge A108 camper van (which had been lived in by hippies, but no longer ran, and was much beyond repair). All he was asking for all three vans was a paltry $2,000. Done deal. And I still had $4,000 to fix them up!
Now, the van that I really wanted to live in was obviously the panel van. The passenger van was good for replacing my first car (a 1991 Geo Prizm), and the hippie van was good for parts, but the panel van was the one where you could get a little privacy, which when acting as a bedroom, is important. The problem was that the previous owner had cut out part of the floor in order to make room for a larger engine (as he had been using it on the drag strip). So we cut out part of the floor from the hippie van and welded it into place on the panel van. Not a problem. But we still needed an engine.
I guess my dad knows the right people, because before long he came across gentleman in the Detroit area who was selling two full-size Dodge Ram vans that had been used to haul carpet. We really only needed an engine, but it was cheaper to buy both vans. So we did.
That was when I became every father’s worst nightmare.
Father’s don’t appreciate when a boy shows up to pick up their daughter for a date in a van. And now, here I was, a teenage boy with not one, but five of the blasted things.
Okay, so only one of them worked (most of the time), and I didn’t have any prospects as far as a date was concerned, but still.
As we progressed with the project of creating the ultimate van, the number of vans shrank by attrition. After we removed the bits that we wanted from the A108 and the engines from the carpet-haulers, we chopped up two of them and stuffed them into the third to take to the scrap yard. I think we got $300 for the metal. The engine from one of the carpet-haulers actually went into my brother’s Ramcharger, which the engine blew up as he was traveling home from college one year. The other engine, we dismantled completely and started to rebuild.
By the time we got my van ownership under control (my wife would still argue that two vans is still two too many), things got busy for my father, the project manager. My role in all of this was mostly as grunt labor and tool fetcher. I had no idea what I was actually doing when working on the van. So when things got busy for my dad, the van project sputtered out.
Pretty soon, the A100 passenger van which I had been driving as my main vehicle was showing signs of unreliability. One day, while driving to school, my van died in the middle of the busy intersection outside the school parking lot, block traffic from every direction for an embarrassingly long time. When I finally did make it to school I passed a classmate in the hall who must not have realized that it was my van.
“Don’t worry about being late, Mosey,” he told me. “Some idiot in a stupid van broke down in the intersection outside and half the school was late. Since there were so many kids late, the teachers aren’t marking anyone tardy.”
“Thanks,” I said.
Anyway, once that van started to die, I started to realize that maybe what I really wanted was some car that would get me from point A to point B without worrying about breaking down halfway there. And so I sold the passenger van and bought a Plymouth Reliant K car, the type of car that grandmothers drove in the 1980s. It wasn’t pretty, but it ran (mostly by a series of magic spells, I am sure) and it didn’t matter what I did to it because it was ugly (I’ll post another time about what all I did to this car).
And that left me with one van, the engine for which never actually made it inside, because by the time I had time to work on it, my dreams had changed. Though I still liked the idea of traveling the country and living out of a van to do it, I didn’t have the enthusiasm needed to actually finish putting the van back together.
In the end, I traded the unfinished van project to my dad in exchange for his old Chevy S10 (which he had souped up a bit, of course), getting pretty much what my brother got for his graduation present, only with a few unnecessary years of van drama in the middle.
I am proud to say that I am reformed. I haven’t owned a van since then.
Not that I haven’t tried to pitch it to my wife every now and again.