Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Tuna Boat

My Bird Approaches 50

When I first saw it I knew it was something special. It was low to the ground. It was uber curvy. It was the color of desert sand. I had to look to find the door handles (they were sculpted right into the door). It was just plain bodacious.

To this 16 year old boy, in an era of boxy 70's era mustangs, it was love at first sight.

The Thunderbird was already 11 years old but had a little over 34,000 miles on it. It was in darned good shape except for missing a back seat. The little old lady that owned it told me she raised show dogs and had the back seat removed (and filled with plywood to better accommodate cages for transporting her show dogs). I had visions of the back seat resting in perfect shape covered up in her garage. Nope, she had thrown it out.

My 1961 Thunderbird
(Cars from the Era of Sputnik)

When I asked about the missing jack she wistfully said "Oh, I have triple AAA, I don't need a jack!"

There's some logic in there somewhere.

When I asked where I might find a back seat she rolled her eyes to let me know I was really starting to annoy her. She just took a deep breath and said "these are sports cars, they get wrecked every day, go to a junk yard!"

It needed tires. I knew full well that powered by Ford's 390 V8 with a 4 barrel carb it would pass anything on the road except a gas station. But, back then gas was 34¢ a gallon with a free box of dishwasher detergent and a complimentary car wash.

I took it.

Ahhhh! Fins and Chrome

First stop was a junk yard and I'll be damned if the first T-Bird I came to had a back seat in the right color and the jack. It was joss.

The Famous Back Seat

While most of my travels today are by plane, in those days Roadboy's ticket to freedom was this very t-bird. I drove it to high school every day. I drove it to Lake Tahoe about once a month. I drove it camping in the Redwoods. I drove it to Death Valley.

This is the car that moved me to Coeur d'Alene and then saw me through all of my college years. In fact it was at college in Moscow Idaho where my friend Darryl christened it the "Tuna Boat".

I spent the stupidest night of my life in it, driving drunk. That was the same night I rolled it right over a couple of those fold-up signs with flashers. Never saw em. But I dragged them for blocks and only decided something was wrong when my car sounded like a North Idaho logging truck. Yep those signs had ripped off both mufflers.

We made quite an impression rolling into Country Kitchen that morning.

I was lucky. No one got hurt and the noise my car now made affirmed one of the most important lessons of my life. Never mix alcohol with driving. Period.

The Very First Swing-A-Way Steering Wheel

When I graduated it drove me to Seattle (right through Royal City where the eruption of Mount Saint Helens delayed us for three days - there is still that grey ash under every panel).

The Invisible Door Handles

But when I moved to Alaska the Thunderbird went off to live with mom and dad. Dad took good care of the Tuna Boat for me. After my five years in Alaska the t-bird was waiting for me and my new family in Seattle.

Amazingly, after a few minor fixes it drove like a champ all the way back to California. Over the next decade I finally had to have it painted and drove it only once in awhile.

We then decided to move to Arizona. The t-bird carried me, my 4 year old son, and our huge golden retriever Charlie. My son sat in the passenger seat with Charlie carefully straddling the space between our seats looking out the big windshield and panting the whole way. Charlie was a big gentle soul with an epic case of doggie halitosis.

In Arizona the car had a proverbial melt down one day and we parked it for about three years. Then I met Jim Dottling and took the car to his Thunderbird Connection. He ran (and his son now runs) sort of a spa for old t-birds and falcons. In his care my t-bird was brought back to life. Over the years he replaced the transmission, all the rubber parts, added AC, new upholstery and dash.

In many ways it looks better now than it did when I was in high school. The engine has never needed to be rebuilt and (at the present rate of usage) probably never will.

Except for one night when I played jackass, it has safely carried my loved ones, friends, and canine buddies for 37 of its 48 years.

Now as it nears the 50 year mark, when I drive it I get honks, smiles, and a whole bunch of thumbs up. Mostly from old guys driving beaters.

My son ducks down and tries to hide.

Best $700 I ever spent.

Roadboy's Travels © 2009


angelic said...

your car is magnificent!!

Roadboy said...

Thanks for the Compliment! Roadboy