Trying to decide on just one clunker story was challenging. You see I have owned a long list of clunkers. I finally decided on a story about my 79-80 Horizon. It had a Volkswagen engine, three white doors and one orange one.
I paid $300 for it when I lived in Red Lodge and was commuting back and forth to work in Billings. My little car had a little over 200,000 miles when I bought it. That little car always seemed happy running up and down the road as I logged lots of windshield time. It always ran like a top.
I began to notice that it needed to be “herded” down the road more often. It would kind of list – side to side as it meandered down the highway. I was planning a trip to Kalispell and decided it was time for a trip to the repair shop for a re-alignment, before I went.
I checked with several shops and K-Mart offered the best price. I took it in and was told to come back in a couple hours. I went shopping and killed several hours. I returned to K-Mart to collect my car and head for Kalispell.
I asked the mechanic how much I owed. He replied matter-of-fact-ly that there was no charge. I looked at him incredulously and repeated “No Charge?”
“No, Ma’m. No charge.”
“Why isn’t there a charge?’, I asked.
“We didn’t fix it.”
My amazement was quickly turning to irritation, “Why didn’t you fix it?”
He shook his head and responded, “Lady, there wasn’t anything left to re-align it to!”
I thanked him and decided against the trip to Kalispell, then promptly drove it home.
At the time I was a member of the Montana National Guard. I worked with a great bunch of guys in the Mechanics section. I shared my story the next time I saw them. Their eyebrows rose as I told about the aborted attempt to have the car re-aligned.
Sgt Hammer was concerned because he knew I often drove back and forth to Miles City. He found me a little Subaru that was more dependable.
I still drove the Horizon in town until one December night it broke down in the Shopko parking lot. I had gone and called AAA and was waiting for the tow truck to arrive. While waiting, a family drove up. The gentleman asked me if they could help. I thanked him and said I was waiting.
He seemed reluctant to drive off, and leave me by myself. He had a quick conference with his wife and then finally spoke again, “I used to have a Horizon that I traded off. I have often regretted that decision and wished I hadn’t. I just wanted to know how many miles you have on your car.”
I told him that the car had a little over 300,000 miles on it. I heard him laugh and say, “I knew it! Those little cars you could drive until the wheels fell off.” He wished me a goodnight and I could see him still shaking his head as they drove off.
I got the car running again, but finally parked it in the driveway where it sat for the next couple of years. One of the neighbors offered me $50 dollars for it. Dan told me to just give it to him, so I did. I later learned that he sold it for $100.
That little car had heart and I almost literally drove it until the wheels fell off. My Mother often told me that the only reason I could get a mechanic to work on my car wasn’t because they were trying to figure out what was wrong. They were trying to figure out why it had been running. I once told a mechanic what she said. He looked at me in all seriousness and said, “She’s right.”