Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chilton Repair Manual

The Fury and I moved to Bozeman, Montana where I attended Montana State University.  The Fury broke down and it meant major repairs.  The mechanic let me store the machine until I either had it towed away, sold as scrap, or fixed.

While trying to decide I used the school shuttle to get to and from college.  I had no phone, no car, very little money - I felt trapped.  Finally I came to a decision to see if I could find a cheap car to run until I could get the Fury repaired.  I looked through the local paper the good news there were 3 cars under $400.  The bad news they were all standard transmission.  

I cannot drive a standard.  I had begun to feel desperate and decided that I would buy one of them.  From the trailer park where I was living the closest phone was in the bar 2-3 miles from the trailer park.  I had been arguing with myself about what to do.  I took the paper and headed for the bar.

I had been walking only a short distance when an older blue pickup slowed down.  The gentleman driving was vintage, somewhere in his 70’s - white hair, twinkly blue eyes.  He offered me a lift.  

“No thanks, I’m only going a little further.”

“Where are you going?”

“The bar.”

“Little early in the day for a drink isn’t it?”

“I’m going to use the payphone.”

“I’ll give you a lift.”

I had always been taught never to accept rides from a stranger.  So it came as a shock when my wee small voice urged me to accept the ride.  I was hesitant.  He looked harmless, he had been driving slow.  I figured worst case scenario I could jump out.  (I was in pretty good shape at that time.)  I usually listen to my intuition - but I argued with myself but finally got in to the old pick up.

“I live just ahead on the right.”

The only place I could think of was what I thought was a business.  There were always road construction equipment parked by the big shop and lots of old cars.  I couldn’t remember a house in that area.

“Going to call a boyfriend.”

“No,  I’m looking for a car?”

“How much you want to spend?”

“As little as possible.”

“You don’t need to make a phone call.  I’ll sell you a car.  I’ll take you to the house and you can pick one out.”

I started looking out the window and judging the speed.

The name on the mailbox said R. The pickup turned into the yard with all the equipment.  There in the background was a house.  In the front yard were all those old parked cars that I had passed a hundred times.

The pickup stopped and I hopped out.  I was less than a ½ mile from home.

“Look around there’s also some in the back.  Give me $100.00 and I’ll get you a title.”

I counted about 15 cars. The hoods were up on some.  Trunk lids up on others.  Rusted bodies, cracked windows. Keys in the ignitions.  My optimism sank as I looked over this bone yard of derelict cars. Most were automatic - that at least was a plus.

“I really need one that runs.”

“Oh they all will run.  You can always use the shop to work on the one you buy.”

“I don’t know how to fix cars.”

“Guess its time you learned.”

I was faced with learning how to drive a stick shift (standard) or learning how to restore an old car.  I figured it would be easier for me to learn how to restore an old car.

I wandered through the maze trying to decide which one to buy.  My intuition kept reassuring me that I would find my car here.  Then I saw it, a little green Subaru.  It had 3 flat tires, no windshield.  You could tell it had been parked a long time because of how the grass was growing around it.  I opened up the doors there were seedlings growing on the floor board.  It felt right.

“Mr R, this is the one I’ll take.  But I really need it running.”

“Well, I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll lend you my pick up until you get the Subaru running.”

“I can’t drive a stick-shift.”

“Its automatic.”

“It’s a deal then.”

I gave him the money.  He gave me the title.  He took me to a parts house and told me to buy a Chilton’s Repair Manual.  I think the Subaru was early 1970’s.  The Repair Manual cost me $15.95.

“Go home read it.  Come back tomorrow.  My sons are in and out of the shop.  You can ask them questions if you get stuck.”

I looked at the manual.  I was over whelmed but I needed transportation.  So I continued to slog through it.  

Mr R had the car towed to the shop, the tires were fixed.  One of his sons had put together a list of what needed fixing.

  • headlight
  • alternator
  • brakes
  • windshield
  • muffler
I was disillusioned - the alternator.  I had paid around $300 to have alternators put in other cars.  What had I gotten myself into?  Where to begin?

I guess he decided that I was harmless.  He came over and checked what I was doing.  I explained what the book said.  I remember him smiling as he offered me some pointers on taking out the old headlight.

Looking back I think this was another case of “watching the entertainment”.

I replaced the headlight and felt very successful.  One of the boys jacked up a back tire and helped me get the tire off.  So that I could look at the brakes.  I decided I wanted someone who knew what they were doing to fix the brakes.  I knew that someone wasn’t me.  He told me he would fix it.

I was still driving the pickup.  I was very careful with it and made sure I took the keys out.  The doors didn’t lock though.  I stopped at the house before going to the shop one morning.  Mr Robinson glared at me when I came in.

“What did you do with the pick up keys?”

“I took them in the house.”

“Why didn’t you leave them in the pickup?

“I didn’t want anyone to steal it.”

“Don’t you think that if someone stole it.  They probably needed it more than you?”


“Leave the GD keys in the ignition.  I went to use it and there were no keys.”

After that I left the keys in the ignition.

Next was the alternator.  I read the instructions and someone came to see how I was doing.  I got the alternator out.  It took me less than 15 minutes.  I became so angry the more I thought about it.  I was angry about all the times I had shelled out over $300 dollars for other alternators that I had paid to have replaced.

Mr R explained that the bushings probably needed replacing in the alternator.  So it was back to the parts house.  They looked the alternator over and did replace the bushings.  

I went back to the shop and put the alternator in.  It felt good.  And it ran!

Next was the windshield.   The wind blew my hair and made my eyes water.  I swallowed several bugs before arriving at our destination - a salvage yard.  They sold me a window and installed it into my Subaru.  

I drove the Subaru for a couple of years before a friend asked to buy it.  They wanted to use it for parts for their car.  Instead they drove it for a few more years.  I did get the Fury repaired and my mom drove it and later sold it.

That green Subaru could be heard a couple of blocks away.  It sounded like the blades of a helicopter going around -whop, whop, whop - at a high decibel, but it ran.  
I still smile when I think of driving that green Subaru.  And to think until then I had never heard of a Chilton Repair Manual.


  1. Hi Ruth!  You've made me very nostalgic in this one, because one uncle was a mechanic and owned his own garage.  He had stacks of Chilton's manuals everywhere in the business office.  I didn't use one, but I know about them.  He was a favorite uncle & the sweetest man.  Anyway, your story is just wonderful again.  You just were (are) such a persistent person with much grit.  You always show that you can learn anything & just dig in & do it!  I loved the first comment to the man: "I really need one that runs." Ha!  It actually seemed here that you learned something about people as well as cars.  Thank you again!

  2. Your writing brings me back to my own college days. I wish I would have picked up a Chilton's manual then and learned how to repair my own car. Back then every penny was important and sometimes needed repairs had to wait.  Your writing also shows that readers will read anything when there is a purpose for the reading.

  3. What a great moment in your life! It is such a powerful thing to learn that you really can fix something when you need to. I love Mr. R's casual offer "you can always use the shop to work on one you buy." and his reaction to your taking the keys out of the ignition! As a young mom I was determined that my kiddos would learn to repair some basic things on a car before they left home. I had completely forgotten about it since - maybe I should rethink that :-)

  4. I am so hooked on these car stories! 

  5. You are amazing.  Lots of guts and determination.  This story is great...funny (I chose the car repair to learning how to drive a stick), real-life, and admirable.


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