Curbside Calamity: 1969 Chevy Van, a Former COAL – Tree 1, Van 0


Looks like it’s game over for this van. Or is it?


If this van looks familiar, that’s probably because it’s appeared here before (when it was featured in the QOTD for November 12, 2013). I didn’t have enough background to make a whole article out of it, so I inserted it there as an example of a “vehicular guilty pleasure” – a machine that I longed to own despite its many drawbacks.

This one involved more than just dreams and desires, though; I actually owned it for a time. $700 cash had convinced its previous owner (a gentleman in the somewhat nearby city of St. Cloud) to part with it, at which point I took it home and made it roadworthy.

Where had it been before that? Nobody seemed to know. The guy who sold it to me had bought it at a local auction; he’d recognized it as having belonged to a friend of his in years past, and decided he had to have it. There was a Colorado registration sticker in the windshield from 1977, which jived with the seller’s vague reference to it having been “out west” while in his buddy’s ownership. But other than that, it was a mystery.


Another big unknown centered on the body damage it had to the front and rear. Much speculation accompanied those dents. We never did find a definitive answer to what it hit, and/or what hit it… but I always wished I’d knew.

There was evidence of it having passed through many hands, many uses, and many phases of life. Perhaps moreso than most other vehicles I’d owned, this van held many secrets – and like any good confidant, it wasn’t about to start talking now.

Despite all the mysteries surrounding this van, there was no mystery as to its equipment. It was as straight-forward as can be: 90″ wheelbase, a 2-barrel 307 V8, and manual everything – including a “3 in the tree”. Combined with its forward-of-the-wheels seating and controls, driving it was an experience like no other.

Of course, I wasn’t content driving it in its rough state, and body parts were proving impossible to find. So after owning it for slightly more than a year, I accepted an offer and sold it. The buyer lived just up the road, in a small town called Mora (which also happens to have the nearest gas station, food, auto parts store, etc. to my office). As such, I got to see it around fairly often.


Two years passed. Initially the new owner had kept the van in his carport. More recently, though, he’d begun parking it on the street (his latest acquisition, a Type 14 Karmann Ghia, now lives under said roof).

I saw the van out there about three weeks ago and decided to take its picture. After all, this is Curbside Classic, yet somehow I’d managed to spend a year writing here without posting any vehicles that were actually parked at the curb. Here, finally, was a golden opportunity to redeem myself.

Little did I know, this would be the last time I’d see it in one piece.


You may recall me mentioning that I’m in the process of building a radio station. Long story short, that project ended up getting HUGE in a hurry – moreso that even my most over-the-top estimations. Things have come together well, as this work-in-progress studio picture can attest. (All this gear started out as other stations’ rejects just a few months ago. Countless hours of repair and restoration was needed to get it all working properly again.)

But all that low-cost awesomeness has still come at a price: my time. Every free minute I have (literally) has gone into this effort. As such, many other things have been sitting neglected. Even my daily driver had been left with a noisy AC compressor clutch for the past week, simply because I didn’t have time to mess with it.

(Side-note: Sorry, Jag fans! I haven’t forgotten about the XJ6… I just haven’t had time to do much with it, other than keep air in the tires and the grass cut beneath it. The Wisconsin junkyard was unable to find me a usable tank, and locating other candidates is a task that’s been perpetually languishing on my to-do list. Progress, soon!)

What does any of this have to do with our featured van? Hang in there – it’ll take a few steps, but there is a connection.


Thanks to some wangling by yours truly, the radio station is moving ever closer to absorbing a local digital news operation. We’re currently in the process of integrating its people and products with our own. (The latter needed a news department, and the former – a project I helped launch in past years – needed a little extra help to reach its full potential. Win-win? I’m hoping so.)

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. For me, this has meant still more work – not just in things like merging websites and such, but also in picking up the slack whenever there’s too much going on.

Such was the case last week, when a big storm came through Mora. I’m no photojournalist, but I do know how to work a camera – so off I went to help document the damage.


There was no shortage of things to see. Trees were toppled everywhere. Most had merely dropped into yards and streets, causing hassles but not damaging anything. This family, however, was particularly unlucky – they lost their garage to a sizable oak that had been uprooted. It was not a pleasant sight.

But as I rounded the corner onto Morrison Street, my heart sank.


This was how I first saw it, before the sun came up.

Actually, that’s not quite correct. My first glimpse was of the rear of the van, at a distance. I could see it covered in branches and leaves, with the axle sitting at a funny angle, and the rear right corner stood up for reasons unknown. My mind refused to believe the most likely outcome.

I waded through the running water and mud, jumped over downed branches, and navigated all the other obstacles until I reached the van. Sure enough, it had been crushed – flattened diagonally by a downed tree.

Eventually crews arrived and cut away most of the tree, leaving only the section that was on the van itself. I snapped the picture seen above, and waited for daylight.


Once morning broke, the scene became clearer.


True, it was no longer my van – but still it was a heartbreaking sight.


There would be no coming back from this.


It had needed a windshield from the day I first saw it. Now? No longer a concern, I guess.


Complete and total destruction.


This is (was?) the left A-pillar.


I strongly doubt this seat will ever be occupied again.


We were the second media outlet to get a story out about the storm, and the first to break images of the flattened van – which would quickly become the “money shot” seen across the state. Websites, newspapers, and even TV news carried pictures of my former van. A television news anchor in Minneapolis spent a good 15 seconds debating on-air whether the vehicle in question was a car or a truck.

Once the story began to spread, a strange thing happened. Family, friends, and acquaintances began calling to tell me they saw “my” van in the news. A few strangers even asked me if I’d seen the crushed Chevy on TV or in the paper, knowing my appreciation for old vehicles but not realizing there was any connection. Everyone’s reactions were universally the same: what tragedy that it had been destroyed, too bad it was beyond salvation, etc.

Simultaneously, another strange thing happened. The van’s owner took a can of spray paint and wrote a message on the side and rear of the van. It read: “1969 CHEVY. LIKE NEW. MAKE OFFER!”

Hey – at least they had a sense of humor about their predicament. That’ll all buff right out… eh?


Though there really is no such thing as a happy ending for this story, I do hope that this van’s death won’t be entirely in vain. I’ve been in contact with the van’s owner, and will hopefully be hauling it back to the shop one of these days, so that its drivetrain and any other usable parts can be salvaged over the winter.

Here’s to you, Chevy Van – to 46 years of surviving, to a life well lived, to the few adventures I was there for and the many adventures I’ll never know. It shouldn’t have ended this way. But if I have anything to do with it, your remaining parts will help others live on.