COAL: 1986 Ford LTD Crown Victoria – The Guiding Light

For several years now, my wife has had the observation about events in life not aligning in a conducive manner.  She says the figurative gears grind since nothing meshes they way it should.

Thinking about it, this phenomenon likely started with my purchasing this LTD in late 2000.

Being in a carpool, I was hauling multiple people in my ’96 Thunderbird when we were still living in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  That Thunderbird, awesome car that it was, really wasn’t intended to haul more than about two people for any long distance.  Seems there was something about “personal” in that car’s description.

Thus I had been periodically using my ’86 Plymouth Gran Fury for commuting duties.  The gentlemen liked it; the sole lady did not.  But the rub for me was the Plymouth was produced during, and geared for, 55 mph speed limits.  Having no overdrive, it was seemingly revved up like a chainsaw at 70+ mph.  Such really took no toll on its 318, but it did on the 318’s fuel economy, such that it was.

So I let my automotive eye wonder.  Well, I knew what I wanted; this Ford had been parked at a maintenance building belonging to Southeast Missouri State University which, conveniently enough, was next door to where Marie and I got groceries.  The plates had been taken off, always a sure sign of an imminent sale, so I started keeping an eye out for an auction.

In October 2000, the auction took place at an old elementary school the university had purchased in Cape Girardeau.  I was there, checkbook in hand.  For whatever reasons, my parents and a coworker were there, also.

When the Ford went up for bid, I realized I had never purchased nor even bid on anything at auction before.  The quick-talking auctioneer must have sensed my apprehension as he seemed to slow down such that I could easily comprehend what he was saying – or maybe I was being hyper-attentive.  My only competitor for bidding dropped out rather quickly.

I purchased this 1986 Ford LTD Crown Victoria with 133,000 miles for the princely sum of $375.  As my coworker said, I got the deal of the day.

Another 351 Crown Vic from the web

Except my new-to-me Ford would not start when I went to get it.  Thankfully, it only needed a jump and was fine after that; I never had to replace the battery.  But that jump start reaffirmed what I had seen prior to the auction, the piece de resistance of this Ford – it was powered by a 351 cubic inch V8.  In the United States, Ford only equipped these Crown Vics as such for a very select clientele.

Here’s a secret – I strongly suspect I knew that car.  I had seen a remarkably similar Ford many times prior as a marked Department of Public Safety vehicle used on campus when I attended Southeast from 1990 to 1992.  From what I could tell, the university had no other Crown Vics of this vintage, Southeast isn’t that large of a university, and all the other university sedans at the time were Chevrolet Caprices or Ford Tauruses.  Plus, it was obvious this car had been marked at least once.

This one is a few years newer, but you get the idea…

Also, as I suspected, the university was the second owner of this Ford, making me the third owner.  The first owner was the Missouri State Highway Patrol, as evidenced by paperwork found in the car.  That didn’t surprise me as I knew the Patrol sold their cars at just under 50,000 miles to various Missouri state agencies and fellow law enforcement agencies around the country.  It is currently nothing unusual to find a police spec Explorer or Charger at the Office of Administration’s garage facility here in the state capital; these are invariably sourced from the Patrol.

As an aside combined with a contextual element regarding the prior paragraph…in Missouri, the Departments of Public Safety, Transportation, and Conservation do not report directly to the governor as is so often the case with both other agencies here and in other states.  Rather, these three report to their own independent commission that sets their direction.  These commissions were designed under the philosophy the department’s mission and purpose should be considered without regard to political affiliation or to party politics.

As such, the Patrol buys, works on, and sells their own vehicles with their former vehicles being found in use by other agencies, such as the Office of Administration – or universities.

As an example of being sold to other law enforcement agencies, a few months ago I followed a marked police Tahoe from, I believe, Calhoun County, Alabama.  It was headed south on US 63; the Tahoe was following a Charger that had been purchased from the Patrol as evidenced by the writing on the glass. I have seen convoys of Chargers, Tahoes, and Explorers being driven all directions out of Jefferson City.

After driving my new-to-me Ford the one mile home, I parked it on the street and started going through it.  It was needing a bit more than I realized.  This was in October 2020.  I was still sorting it out in January 2001 when I learned we were moving 400 miles away to St. Joseph, Missouri.  It seems I had once before moved while having a bunch of cars to relocate.  Sometimes one needs to learn from history so it doesn’t repeat itself.  It seems I had not yet learned that lesson.

At this point, my Crown Vic was good to go except for the upper control arms being shot.  And, being a police spec unit, these were not on the shelf of the auto parts store.  I truly don’t remember how I got it all sorted out (I’m thinking I ordered them from an obsolete Ford parts dealer in Memphis) and the car relocated to my in-law’s house in the St. Louis area.  There was a lot going on during that period over 20 years ago.

Once the control arm issue was corrected, that Ford was an awesome cruiser.  In comparison to the Plymouth, the Ford was not as nimble nor was it as snappy on take off (it’s 2.73:1 rear gears helped stunt that) but it always had a much more solid and planted feeling than did the Plymouth.  Plus, the Ford would more comfortably cruise at 75 mph.  Overdrive transmissions are wonderful things.

So, as life and fortune would have it, I got my long distance commuting car ready just in time to move away only to ultimately buy a house that was two miles from work.  So I tended to drive this Ford around town and only irregularly on the highway.  Such is life.

The irregular highway use was also a good thing; that Ford loved gasoline.  After our daughter was born in 2002, my wife needed some help from her mother, so I met my in-laws in Macon.  St. Joseph to Macon is a straight shot on US 36, a roundtrip of around 260 miles.  I had a full tank upon departure; I had to stop on the way back in Cameron, 30 miles east of St. Joseph, to get fuel.  I’m thinking it got maybe 11 or so miles per gallon on the highway.  Those 180 horsies were some gluttonous creatures.

This Ford was quite active in my life during this stage of my career in which my eyes were fully opened to the self-serving and mean-spirited mental workings of entirely too many people.  My Ford did not stay with me throughout this personal journey (one could effectively argue such a journey is never ending) but it was there for the beginning of the process.  In that regard alone, that Ford is forever stuck in my mind.

In a way, this Crown Victoria provided me a guiding light to work my way through the lingering shreds of my youthful innocence and naiveté, helping me work towards a more enlightened era of my life.

If one looks at the Merriam-Webster definition of “enlighten” there is vast room for subjectivity in regard to what constitutes one’s knowledge and insights as these are going to vary based upon a person’s experiences.  In my case, enlightenment should be considered as becoming more deeply aware of the true ways of the world, realizing idealism generally gets diffused by realities.

A vintage picture for now vintage events

My new job in St. Joseph was as a supervisor.  I had seven direct reports, with one of those seven being a supervisor himself, having roughly twenty people reporting to him.  I was twenty-eight at the time.

As an aside, I did not grow up in a sheltered environment.  Long ago I wrote about a Trans Am and an experience I had on the school bus.  This school bus experience is but a drop in the bucket of the butt-brained antics I was subjected to during primary school.  In addition to the bra-sailing incident I wrote about, my many hours on the school bus contained countless goings-on with all unfortunate manner of sexual, racial, religious, and other disparagements.  So I had first-hand insight into how some people behaved.

But that was just scratching the surface.  What I had seen was behavior; I had not to delve into the roots of the behavior, specifically the workings of minds focused on simple, raw duplicity.

I will also say I have encountered many other weird situations since that time.  Personnel situations wore on me early on, as addressing situations that would likely compromise somebody’s livelihood were troubling.  However, long ago a now counterpart gave me some sage advice…the outcomes of such rare and unfortunate situations are simply granting the wishes of those performing these acts.  They know the playbook and they choose their behavior, so the outcome is self-inflicted as they are being granted their indirect request.

Somewhere along the way, I also discovered the weird personnel situations managers often encounter as having some degree of innate humor.

Isn’t it amazing how we can evolve in our lives?  Currently I manage 350 people and the occasional unsavory situation bothers me only in the fact it is time-consumptive and disrupts my schedule.  But it truly is experience that leads one to this evolutionary conversion.

These philosophical musings lead me to a story about Felicia, my first example of one (of ultimately many) being granted their wish.  She was one of the twenty who reported indirectly to me at that time.  Felicia was also a schemer.

Felicia had started as a seasonal worker, supervising a crew of incarcerated workers on a work-release program.  Evidence strongly indicated Felicia had been giving multiple male inmates hand-jobs with regularity, which was, not surprisingly, frowned upon; for some reason Felicia was still hired full-time.  Don’t ask why as that was just before my time.

Once full-time Felicia was now my problem.  On December 23, I believe in 2003, Felicia called me, saying her ex-husband was at her house, breaking things, and threatening to kidnap their son.  She acknowledged her leave balances were marginal, but was asking if she could leave to attend to the problem.  I told her to take care of business.

The next day, December 24, I drove down to her building to wish her and the others a happy holiday.  When I arrived about 10 am, the clerk asked me if I had talked to Felicia.  I said I had not.  Upon returning to my office about an hour later, I had a voicemail from Felicia.  She said the cops had just released her from jail.

That was an interesting twist.  So I had some sources look into this further.

It seems Felicia had indeed been truthful about the activities and whereabouts of her ex-husband.  However, she had neglected to mention the trivial matter about her having locked her ex-husband in the basement that morning before she left for work.

Felicia was fired a few months later for job abandonment.  She had really wanted to use FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act, a federal law which allows job security despite being being gone for an extended period due to specific extenuating circumstances) as, supposedly, her dog required cataract surgery.  Canine cataract surgery was not one of the specific extenuating circumstances, nor was it anywhere in the vicinity.  When Felicia called me about her leave request, I informed her of her precarious situation.  Perhaps she thought my statements served as her termination.  Despite further messages left, Felicia never called back and that was that.

Fast forward ten years…I went to a retirement party in St. Joseph one day.  Julia, the human resources manager, with whom I had worked extensively and who was quite familiar with Felicia, asked if I knew about Felicia being in prison.  I told her I did not, and was somehow not surprised, but was curious what got her there.

Detecting from Julia’s facial expression this story had a few twists, she told me Felicia’s father had been charged with sexual assault.  Not wanting her daddy to go to prison, Felicia drove the hour south to Kansas City to hire a hit-man to eliminate the woman who was pressing charges.  In turn, Felicia had unknowingly hired an undercover Kansas City cop and she was arrested for, and convicted of, conspiracy to commit murder.

Julia and I got a good chuckle out of that.

It was this 1986 Ford LTD Crown Victoria that accompanied me on the path to always consider what underlying motives there may be, what parts of the story have been conveniently omitted or minimized, and to always be on the lookout for weak links among the details.  It was also a reminder to not fall prey to emotional pleas – which rarely work on me anyway.  This weary looking old Ford was my tried and true companion during a time of great personal growth.  That Ford was my cocoon of sorts; I thought about and pondered upon all manner of things while driving it around town, often taking the long way home from work.  It was definitely a good automotive partner for this period of my life.

I forget exactly when I sold this Ford, but I suspect it was sometime in late 2004.  The buyer was the son of a local truck stop and tire shop owner, the friend of a friend.  It is rumored he was doing doughnuts in this Ford thirty minutes after purchase and soon thereafter he fitted a four-barrel carburetor to this Ford’s 351 along with a few other tweaks.

There was one last interaction with this old Ford.  Needing tires on my wife’s car (which will soon be covered), I had dropped it off at the buyer’s father’s tire shop.  The buyer gave me a ride back to my house in the Crown Vic, but told me to drive so I could feel the improvements he had made.

While I complemented him on the changes, I fibbed as I really couldn’t tell any difference from when I had it.  But if he was happy, that is all that really mattered.

It’s hard to gauge how much longer that Ford stayed on the road – starting off as a highway patrol car, then sold to a university in which it slogged around campus for years, followed by a several year stint with me, it had not been blessed with an easy life.  Yet mechanically, Ford built a really good one with this car.  Despite all the (ab)use it had seen, other than swapping out the variable venturi carburetor, I had no mechanical issues during my ownership and everything, except the heat, functioned beautifully.

That alone says a lot.

(Author’s Note:  The Guiding Light, also called just Guiding Light after 1975, aired on NBC radio starting January 25, 1937, before switching to CBS radio on June 2, 1947.  It then transitioned to CBS television on June 30, 1952, and stayed there until it last aired on September 18, 2009.  The radio and television show overlapped for exactly four years; Guiding Light is the fifth longest running program in broadcast history.)