Have you ever owned a bad car? I mean a real beast that you grow to despise? One that you wish you could drive to the top of a high cliff and joyfully push over the edge, cheering its demise as parts fly off and boulders crush fenders and the whole metal mess somersaults to the bottom, a pancake of its former self?
If you said no, I’m glad you’ve been spared the ordeal. If yes, I’m sure you’ll commiserate.
I needed a small pickup truck in the early 1980’s, because we’d bought a wood burning stove and I wanted something economical to haul firewood, along with basic transportation. Researching magazines and library articles (unfortunately, no internet access at this time), I decided on a Datsun – now Nissan – pickup. So I checked the newspaper ads daily, until seeing a likely candidate.
It was a nice-looking little yellow pickup, decent body, and only 49,000 miles, and after a test-drive, I decided to buy it from the private owner, who said the reason he was selling was that he was leaving town (now I know why).
Problems started soon after. Hard starting, it used oil, and about six months later, the transmission went out. I began wondering if the odometer had turned over once…or maybe even twice, because in those days, odometers largely went only to 99,999 miles, before returning to zeroes.
But the biggest misadventure came one winter night, after attending an adult education class at the local community college.
On my way home, the thing simply died while driving on a main street. Luckily, I had enough momentum to turn off onto a side street and pull over.
Cell phones were only a wish to the future at this time. And I didn’t relish knocking on doors at night asking to use the telephone; people can understandably feel uneasy. That would be a last resort. For now, I was on my own.
The engine turned over, but refused to start, and I knew I had plenty of gas. I thought of rolling it down the hill and trying to jump start, but decided against it. I checked under the hood and everything seemed okay for as much as I could see – I had no flashlight. I pulled on the throttle linkage, though, and no gas pumped into the carburetor, so I figured it had to be some sort of fuel problem.
I had worked on this truck enough to know that it had an electric fuel pump, and I knew where the wiring was located. So, with numbed fingers, I felt along the rear of the frame, until I located the wires.
Sure enough, one of the fuel pump wires had broken off the connection. The problem was, I needed a piece of wire to splice everything together, and I had none.
Searched the glove compartment and my traveling tool box; nothing. Searched under the seat; same.
Looked under the floor mat; nothing but a paperclip.
A paperclip. Okay, let’s try to make do. So, I straightened it, and, by feel, spliced the wire ends onto the clip, then put electrical tape over the whole thing.
Got into the truck and turned the key. I knew if the wire had been the problem, that it would take a moment or two for the gasoline to be pumped to the carburetor.
The engine turned over, and turned over. And started!
And before it could change its mind, I hurriedly made the ten-block trip home.
Soon after, I sold the beast. I sold it cheap, as a parts vehicle, and made sure the buyer knew what I knew about it, beforehand.
But it does make for a good story: The night I made it home on a paperclip.
An even better story would have been: “Flattened pickup truck found at bottom of cliff – owner ecstatic.”