Life with Darrell - Tanks You

I was always impressed with Darrell's car. It was a Chrysler Turismo, and this car could take anything. It reminded me of my own car that I had when I lived in the countryside of Missouri.

I had a Mercury Comet back then in the early eighties that I drove. My wife had the good family car so she and my son were confident that they would always have a car that would not break down. She was not so concerned with me being able to get around, God love her. This car of mine I bought for very little cash, and really did not expect much. It was only after I had been driving it for a while that I realized how little I should expect.

At first the signs were subtle. Like I would pull up to a stop light, and a blue cloud would envelope me. For a little while I always thought that it was someone else's car. For a very little while. I soon realized that there could not be so many cars that smoked heavily that followed me. I drove my car all over the region, whether to work or to hunt artifacts. It would break down after a time, but I was soon conditioned enough to work on any component of the car at any time. I learned soon to be prepared, and carry along tools. Before too long my confidence in the car grew as I knew I could keep it running. I drove it farther and farther out into the country looking for fields, and never once had a problem serious enough to need outside help. This car was a tank.

When out in the fields sometimes the farmer would ask me to drive him out to his tractor that he had left in the field. The first time I did that I was kind of wondering if I would make it, but found that this car could survive any mud or ruts. I'd tool down the farm lanes bowling over weeds that was higher than the hood of the car. The crossing of creeks did not faze the car even if the water was as high as the bottom of the door.

Once when out on the search for a field, I was driving through the hills on a gravel road when I rounded a bend. The hill was steep, but not to large. As I came around the blind spot on the side of the hill ,I struck a two foot high boulder that had fallen from higher up and rolled into the middle of the road. The curve was so sharp that I didn't even have time to see it. The ol' tank just kind of pushed it a little bit as it dug a groove into the soft rock roadbed until I stopped. I just backed up and drove on around it, and kept on going.

That winter, on my way to work which normally took forty five minutes, the roads were slick so I drove slowly so I would arrive safely to my job. There was ice on the roads everywhere, but I had no serious problems. When I pulled into the parking lot I hit another patch of ice and slid right across the road into a road sign and newspaper vending container. The road sign just bent over a little, and the metal paper container bent pretty good too, but my tank only had a few scratches on the bumper and a slight dent on the spoiler. What could I do? I was late for work. The ol' tank took it like a man.

This Comet was cool too. It developed a bad case of rust cancer after I had it for a few years. I preferred to call it my 'racing rust.' There was no hope for the rusted body, so I just let it go, and did not worry about it. Out in the fields it was often extremely muddy. Although I didn't have a 4X4, you would guess from all the mud that I accumulated when in the fields that I had been out four wheeling. Many times I was out where you'd think you would need a four wheel drive vehicle, but I never got stuck.

Darrell's car didn't have my 'racing rust', but were it lacked the finesse of my artifact automobile special, his made up for it in unique tankness.

Darrell's car was also a tank. We drove his car through many fields and farm lanes. Like any good tank, it took the mightiest of obstacles to slow us down or to stop us. We ran over our share of small seedling trees with very little trouble, that liked to sprout up in the middle of farm lanes. They would scrape the sides of the car, and along the bottom, then spring back upright. Well, more or less upright. After we would leave the field and stop to get a soda, we would find all kinds of weeks stuck in the bumper and under the car.

His car also had two features that were big advantages over my car when it came to tank'n. One was that his car had front wheel drive, and the other was that his had a stick shift. Both of these helped tremendously in the snow, mud, and gravel, and I'm glad to say that I can only recall getting stuck twice.

The first time we got stuck was during a cold winterery day that as the day wore on, the ground thawed out. When we got ready to leave the field we found that the car was in the middle of a enormous mud puddle. I took some rocking, and pushing on my part, to get us out. Darrell graciously offered to drive so that I could have the honorable position of pushing, and getting even more covered with mud than I already was from the tire splatter. And I tend to get a might muddy on days like that. I don't call it being muddy, but most others do. So when I say I got muddy from pushing, buddy I mean seriously muddy.

The other time we got stuck out hunting artifacts was the worst. We were in Montgomery County Indiana searching relics after a real soaker of a storm. The rain had saturated the ground and the runoff water was swelling the creaks. We were on our way to another field, traveling along a gravel road at a good pace. Coming to a bridge that spanned the creek, the car started to wiggle, bouncing in and out of ruts in the road, and slowing down. Darrell exclaimed that something was wrong and gave it more gas. We kept on slowing down, and soon we were completely stopped. We were both wondering what was happening. When we tried to open the car doors we found out. We had been sinking in the soupy gravel of the road and now we had sunk so low that we scraped the door bottom on the gravel when we open them to get out. We were definitely stuck. The road bed and the car frame were touching like there were no tires on the car. We couldn't believe it. The road had swallowed the car. We stared at the buried car for a few minutes and then Darrell tried rocking the car while I pushed from behind. No progress was made; the tank was stuck. We finally had to walk down the road to the closest farm house to ask for help. The farmer was just coming down the road on his tractor and after we explained the problem, he agreed to pull us out. We road back to the car, hooked up the chain, and after a good steady pull, the car came free. It was a situation that could of been very bad if no farmers were around as it was a holiday and the nearest town was closed.

Too many times I had to push his car to get it started. This was a benefit when we were far out in the country, and was only available due to his car having a stick transmission. His battery had a habit of running down, and so we got into the habit of disconnecting the hot wire after we stopped the car. The car also would tend to overcharge the battery, so we would disconnect the hot wire after we started the car. He went through a few batteries before he figured out that the alternator and regulator was causing the problems.

One evening after a hard day searching fields for artifacts, we were driving home when suddenly there was a loud bang. Darrell slowed to a stop, commenting on the terrible odor that all at once we were smelling. When we stopped, I opened the door and bent down to see if there was an animal, or something, under the car. Instead I saw a lot of water running out of the engine compartment. As I raised up to tell Darrell that we had better check the engine, he pointed to the hood and said to look. I could see were in the front area of the hood, many new dents had appeared. The dents looked as if someone had shot a shotgun from under the car into the hood. We stopped and had to repair the damage, and luckily we were very close to a gas station. Apparently because we had forgot to remove the hot wire from the battery after starting the car, the battery overcharged and eventually exploded. When it went, it went big. It knocked some good size dents in the hood, and cut up his water hose and fan belt.

Like all hard driven tanks, Darrell's floorboards accumulated a copious amount of dirt from boots. Likely the old dirt on the floorboards stuck to our freshly muddied boots, so we actually rid the car the dirt on the floorboard sometimes. I don't think he had ever washed the car. It had many layers of rock dust and grime accumulated over the years, and we just gave up on cleaning it out. It was more efficient to let some of the dry dusty dirt on the floorboard stick to the mud already on our boots and be carried out when we exited

Darrell had the classic country tank, perfect for traveling to artifact fields. Like my old car, it may be a bit dirty, but then again, a little dirt could never stop a tank.

By Jeff Anderson
February 1, 1994
© 1996 Jeff Anderson