One of the problems with rural living is that you really end up putting miles on a vehicle far in excess of what you do with more urban living. We had a predilection for renting small acreages 20 miles or more from the grocery store. My wife had a job that might involve a 60- or 80-mile day. With these needs in mind, it became time to get another car. We ended up with something we eventually didn’t really like that much but nevertheless stuck around for a long time.
I’ve always been the purchaser on everything three or four-wheeled tracked that has shown up in my house but not the 2-wheel vehicle buyer. There was one time I wasn’t the 4-wheel buyer either. A kind relative of my wife wanted to loan her interest-free money for a car. The relative also wanted to be involved in the purchase, I stayed out of it but at the end of the day, I wasn’t that surprised to find that my wife now owned a 1992 Honda Civic with low miles and in perfect condition. Far nicer than anything I would have shopped for. These cars were the class of the lot when I worked at the rental car dealership, and I liked the idea of my wife having something very reliable and nice to drive. The Civic ran perfectly all the first winter and I didn’t even have to think about it when I was away. It was a 1500 LX 5 speed and of course these were very good small cars. It handled well, had enough acceleration and got pretty decent fuel mileage. All those 1990s Honda things that one expected. Maybe these years were peak Honda.
After a bit of time though, three things became apparent. One was the seat was pretty hard for a long trip. The second was that if you weren’t careful over speed bumps you were in for a good bit of bucking and lurching when you applied the throttle. And the third and most egregious problem was the lack of ventilation. As soon as the days got halfway warm the Civic got hot inside and without air conditioning there was no relief. Park it in the sun and it wasn’t going to cool down for a long time, maybe the next morning sometimes, resulting in lots of noisy windows-down driving. One thing that surprised me is that we never took a picture of it. It was always there in the background but never the star.
As usual, when I get about this far into a story about a boring reliable car my mind wanders into what else was going on at the time. And at this time forestry was still dominating my life. The Mountain Pine Beetle and Spruce Bark Beetle infestations in BC killed 40,000,000 Acres of trees, an area the size of Wisconsin. Once the beetle got going in the expansive pine forests of the North it was unstoppable. It was an economic disaster for Northern British Columbia as much of the wood was not recoverable. In the south where there was less of a monoculture, the beetle infestations were more manageable.
In Southern BC effort was put into the early detection of beetle and other forest health problems. The detection cycle started in July when the aerial program started with flying over huge areas to look for dying trees. I remember we used a fixed wing Cessna Skymaster with the push and pull engines and good visibility due to the high mount wings. We spread the topo maps on our knees and marked out the places we wanted to check out in pencil. It was work that made me dizzy and I learned the hard way once, that Gravol has an expiration date, after losing my breakfast a couple of hours into a flight.
This was pretty imprecise work, mapping while flying at 150 miles per hour. If there was a forest issue that needed more detailed mapping we would have a few targeted days with a helicopter, usually a Bell 206. The best part was then getting paid to check out the spots on the ground and conclude what was killing the trees. Lots of driving around and hiking into the forest. Sometimes we visited beautiful spots like the one below which we were lucky enough to land at.
Meanwhile at home, the Civic just kept running. It ate its distributor for some reason at 160,000 km. That wasn’t cheap to fix. Also, the exhaust went out and had to be replaced. Too long a pipe that cooled and collected moisture said the muffler shop.
Since this is an automotive website and not the Journal of Entomology, I’ll only add a few more sentences about finding bugs in the forest and then relate it back to something that burns fuel. Beetles attack trees during the summer. Damage may not be obvious until spring, so a probe must be done over winter to see the more subtle signs of attack. A probe is a grid survey with 100-metre spacing. Every tree had to be mapped and marked so it could be found again for treatment or in the case of high-value trees marked for logging.
Sometimes the areas were remote enough that we were dropped off for the day by helicopter. In the pre-GPS days, you had to be really good with a map and compass to make the end of day rendezvous though the pilot could usually find us.
Since helicopters were so expensive to fly a contractor would only use one if someone else was footing the bill. So if a truck could get there I would try and make it particularly when the Yellow Toyota was around.
I hear there is a statistic about helicopters needing 3 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air. And on the subject of high-maintenance machines, there was one other method of transportation that was often present in my contracting time.
I kind of hate snowmobiles. At the same time, the great snowmobile boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s is endlessly fascinating to me. I have a keen interest in the Evinrudes, Harley Davidsons, Massey Fergusons and Ski Whizzes of that era. So much so that I decided to use a vintage sled for a couple of contracts. This was a 1969 Ski Doo Olympique which actually worked well enough and was good at going slow. It made for a good laugh most mornings on the way up to the survey. Of course, it needed constant tinkering. Interestingly, some parts for these are still at Canadian Tire in 2023. Working in the forest in the winter is easier than in the summer when there are bugs and deadfall everywhere. In the winter you snowshoe over everything.
This was a super tough block full of massive deadfall, Devils Club (opoplantax horribus!) and thick impenetrable patches of juvenile balsam fir. I wasn’t sorry to see it logged.
This block had been the scene of all sorts of misery for my vehicles. This is where the input shaft on Yellow started to rattle. It’s also where I got the Yamaha ET340 stuck, which happened way too often as 1970s sled were absolutely useless in actual snow, and during the unsticking process, I pushed too hard on the bars, cracked them and unknowingly messed up the throttle cable. I noticed this problem when I applied the throttle, it stuck, and the sled took off at a good rate of speed. I was thrown off violently into the snow, lost a boot, and then ran along on one sock foot after the sled cursing the day I signed up for Forestry School. I watched in awe as the Yamaha continued by itself for 300 meters until it hit an immovable object. After a few repairs to the hood and clutch it looked a bit the worse for wear but still ran.
Here’s a tip for Americans who want to blend in as locals in BC. It’s not even remotely automotive related but up here we all wear these Stanfields woolen underwear shirts to work in the bush. They don’t melt like fleece, and they breathe being made of wool. I still have three in my closet for special occasions and social events.
I’ll get back to the Honda.
All was smooth for a few years. We had made the move to the Arrow Lakes by this time and the car had caused no trouble. Being two and a half hours from a major hospital resulted in a couple of exciting times when I had to catch up to an ambulance carrying my wife so I could figure out which hospital she was at as it was never a given what city patients would get dropped off at. The twisty trips over the Monashee mountains from Nakusp to the Okanagan at high speed were pretty fun in the Civic.
I was still working away contracting most of the time though I felt that I was getting near the end. With a baby on the way, it was time to try something new in the form of a job where I got the same pay every two weeks. Not nearly as exciting as contracting had been, but a bit less stressful. The only problem was this job was a 9-hour drive away in Prince George. With a pregnant wife at home, I made the round trip every second weekend. Combined with the fact that I was driving around for my new job I spent a huge part of my waking hours in the Civic over a 6-month period. And I found the seat to be getting harder and harder all the time. Luckily, I was getting a good mileage reimbursement. The Civic was making more money than me some days.
I did just remember a funny story about that horrible Devil’s Club forest. As part of First Nation’s consultation, some cut blocks were evaluated by an experienced First Nations member who knew what to look for in terms of cultural artifacts. He accompanied the Forest Service on a walkthrough of the block before it was logged. Like everyone else who had been in there he had a completely miserable time. When he was signing off the archeological report, he said ” I guarantee there will be no First Nations artifacts present because there is no way any of my ancestors were ever dumb enough to go in there.” Made me laugh. That would be a John Deere skidder in the background,
Back to the Honda. I think I drove it the second most miles of anything I have owned. We took the kids on some trips in it, but the heat seemed to make them queasy. It ate another distributor eventually and another exhaust system dissolved. I changed out the clutch and brake pads. It ran as strong as the day it was built when it hit 300,000 kms. I wasn’t easy on it, and it saw plenty of gravel roads as well. So many significant life events happened while driving it that I almost feel bad for not missing it. With air conditioning and a better seat maybe it would have been a favorite.
In the end the beetles ran out of trees to eat. The old yellow Ski Doo was given to a friend for his collection where it resides today. A lot of the forests we saved from the beetle burned down in forest fires. I sold the Honda to someone from work. He drove it a bunch more. It needed suspension work, so he sold it to a 50 mile a day commuter. I saw it two years ago looking a bit shabby but still running. It must had a pretty decent number of miles on it then.
Next week it’s time to buy a truck again.