Author’s Note: Yes, I did write about this van once before, but the story to tell keeps growing.
Sitting in the surgical waiting room, time was creeping. The anticipated timeframe had passed with absolutely no word at all. Sitting there alone in that small hospital in Hannibal was excruciating.
The doctor soon appeared, still wearing his surgical scrubs. “Mr. Shafer, I’m sorry to keep you waiting. Your wife is out of surgery and will soon be waking up. I wanted to come visit with you myself.” This was not a sign of good news.
Sighing, he said: “I’ve been a gynecologist for thirty years; your wife has one of the worst cases of endometriosis I’ve ever seen. I’m sorry, she needs more help than I can provide for her; it’s not life-threatening, but it greatly affects her quality of life as you well know. There are several doctors I can refer you to.”
Such was the beginning of our journey to purchasing this 2000 Ford E-150, a vehicle with which I have had quite the tumultuous relationship.
After a second and less than ideal surgical experience in St. Louis, we knew we could do better. Indeed, Mrs. Jason did find better with a physician who specialized in endometriosis and had a wealth of international references to back his statements, as well as a text book on the subject. There was only one minor obstacle: He was located in Bend, Oregon.
image source: Bend, Oregon Tourist Information
To clarify, his being in Bend wasn’t the obstacle; transporting a post-operative female half-way across the continent was the obstacle. Abdominal surgery is not as forgiving as some other types of operations.
Do we fly? She would not be overly mobile, I would have to transport luggage at some point while aiding her, and she would need assistance to regularly use the restroom. That’s a problem.
Do we take the train? There was an Amtrack station twenty minutes from us in Hannibal, but the route took a person very far east before going west. It would necessitate four to five days on the train, with its gentle and constant bobbing back and forth. That is not good for sore innards plus we would still have to change trains, so it was getting comparable to the airport.
Do we drive? The biggest vehicle we had at the time was my ’01 Crown Victoria. While it was quite ready for the task, it still would not allow Mrs. Jason to spread out as required nor would there be room for both Spawn and Mrs. Jason’s mother. My mother-in-law was a necessity of sorts as my wife would still need help getting to the restroom and my helping her into public toilets would be problematic regardless of mode of travel.
Practical people that we are, we opted to buy a used conversion van. The cost wasn’t too much more than airline tickets plus rental car for a week and we could still sell the van when we returned. Our goal was to make as much lemonade from this bushel of lemons as was possible; the travel was also several good learning opportunities for Spawn. We even determined our route based upon maximizing the number of national parks we could visit. Plan of attack identified!
The appointment in Bend was finalized in mid-June; we had to be there on August 10. We had no transportation.
We looked at, and drove, a bunch of vans. These cream puffs had all sorts of ailments – from bad differentials to loose steering columns with many being thoroughly trashed on the inside.
I quickly came to the conclusion that buying a used conversion van was about like buying a used mattress from a low-buck motel – you didn’t know who had been doing what in, on, and around it. It was that certain “ick” factor that all of them possessed and I could not envision ourselves driving any of them the 1,900 miles from Hannibal, Missouri (our home at the time), to Bend.
One night after I half-jokingly suggested either buying an old limousine or bolting a recliner to the floor of a cargo van, Mrs. Jason stayed up looking on e-Bay. As I’m almost asleep, she bursts into the bedroom.
“I think I found one. It’s a 2000 Ford and the auction ends tomorrow. I just called the owners – they are just over an hour west of here – and they said we could come look at it tomorrow at 2 pm. The auction ends at 5.”
We went to look and they let us drive it, even organizing it with blankets, pillows, and foot rests that a post-operative woman would need to get comfortable. Mrs. Jason fell in love with the seats, which to her are the next best thing to a recliner. Mrs. Jason says it is quite comfortable and is luxurious in a Packard-esque sense; luxury used to be defined to a degree on basic comfort and room, not how many electronic gadgets there are.
This wonderful couple was retired, they were the second owners, and they had only used it for vacations. It was equipped with the 5.4 liter V8, had 89,000 miles, and it was as close to cherry on the inside as could be. This couple had purchased it on e-Bay from the first owner who had also only used it for recreational purposes. Despite our not being wild about being the third owners, we both knew this was by far the best of anything and this couldn’t pass us by. It was profoundly clean and drove like new.
Getting back home, we bid and trump the high bidder. We still didn’t meet the reserve, although we were willing to go higher. The auction ended without it being purchased. Ten minutes later I called the owner and we quickly negotiated a price. It was $500 less than we were willing to spend, and $300 below their reserve, so we did well.
Picking it up the next day, we learned a competing bidder had been calling them all day before the close of the auction. The wife of the selling couple said, “We didn’t like them; we like you two. We wanted you to have it for your trip to Oregon, so we never answered the phone for those other people. Tough shit for them.”
After getting home with it, I spent the next few days getting the front end aligned, changing the spark plugs, and replacing the brake pads on the front. The pads had about one-third left, but I figured as I would be driving it through the mountains I would rather use the first third than the last third.
The trip to Bend was terrific and the van ran flawlessly; it even averaged 18 mpg with a high of 19.5. The trip was well worth the trouble and helped minimize the foreboding undertones. We all knew the return would be less carefree.
One day while driving west around dusk, somewhere on US 20 west of Craters of the Moon National Monument in southern Idaho, the biggest elk in North America jumped in front of us. Had I been one second earlier the outcome would have been catastrophic. When one is sitting in an E-150, it is scary to be eye-level with an animal’s ass – it was that big. It was also comforting to have new brake pads. Did I mention this van has anti-lock brakes?
After our arrival in Bend, my in-laws flew into Redmond and helped for the four days we stayed post-surgery. The trip back was where the van further exposed its practicality and utility; Mrs. Jason could spread out in the back with her feet propped on a cooler, recline the seat, and relax. Five people could spread out with all their crap. For the circumstances, this van was the ideal vehicle. My admiration was short lived.
Three days after arriving home, I announced my desire to sell the van. It is roundly vetoed by Mrs. Jason.
Three weeks after arriving home, I proclaimed my ambition to sell the van. It was resoundingly vetoed. At this point is when I disclosed I could not stand the thing and wanted nothing to do with it. There was still no agreement.
Not all conversion vans were produced with the highest quality, with some being backyard upgrades. Many of the reputable companies that made, or are still making, them are in Indiana; not this one. This one was proudly produced by Osage Industries, a company based about fifteen miles east of Jefferson City. As an aside, the company still makes ambulances and they are pretty decent ones. This van does not have any obvious quality issues.
A quick google search reveals an abundance of horror stories about the inherent danger of conversion vans, primarily due to raised roofs and some (but not this one) being built without safety glass. Thinking this was my hook, I again announced my desire to sell it. No dice. My argument on its dangers evolved over the next several months. I wanted it gone.
During an extended conversation on why the stupid thing needed to be sold (my constant references to it as “stupid”, “the big oaf”, and “my forty-five hundred pound hemorrhoid” likely didn’t help my case) I suddenly realized why I despised the thing so much. Its very presence reminded me of every unpleasant event that led up to our having bought the damn thing. It represented everything that had caused my wife and I to realize a life much different than we had envisioned, a life that did not allow for a number of very important things we both desired. My condemnation of it was not financial; this van had become the embodiment of all the derailments and curveballs that life had thrown us regarding my wife’s health and the results thereof. It was a very strong resentment, so strong I did not care to be in or around that van. To me, it did not exist. Why should it? Other than a seven day trip west, it had brought no joy into my life.
Finding a somewhat peaceful middle ground about the stupid thing (see, there I go again) I learn there is to be a huge restructuring and downsizing at my employer. This was in May of 2011; in September 2011, I am reassigned 115 miles southwest to the state capital.
image source: www.wikipedia.org
In January 2012, Mrs. Jason and Spawn moved to Jefferson City. Being in temporary housing with inadequate parking, we store the van at our house in Hannibal. The van then alternated between the garage and a nearby storage unit until March 2013 as it took us nearly 20 months to get a perfectly good house sold. During this time, I missed the van not one single bit. Oh, we have a van? Huh, I guess we do. I missed it like I would a boil on my ass. In March of this year we took the van to my in-laws house in yet another attempt to refresh the house and lure in a buyer. It sat at my in-laws house until September of this year.
Okay, so maybe this is where I need to give the blasted thing a little credit. We had not driven the dumb thing any distance in over 18 months. Hell, the license plates had expired in July 2012 and it hadn’t even been started until I renewed them just before taking it to my in-laws house nine months later. During the first six months it sat at my in-laws, it had twice been driven to St. Louis, a little over an hour away. I would sometimes drive it a few miles during our occasional visit there. It wasn’t exactly limbered up when I fetched it for a trip to Huntsville, Alabama, in late September – a 1,200 mile round trip.
Again, the damn thing was flawless. Why is it the vehicle I dislike the most is probably the most stone-cold reliable I have ever owned? I don’t want to think about it. Besides, after our trip, it went back to the in-laws house where it was delightfully ignored until the first week of November, when this happened…
My old girl got sick. She needed attention, so I hauled it back to where she had been revived from the dead. Realizing I could make use of an otherwise empty rental trailer for the return trip, I started pondering the possibilities, which led to…
Wouldn’t you know it? The bastard did it again. Let it sit for six or seven weeks, hook on a 2,500 pound trailer loaded with a 5,500 pound pickup, start it up, and drive it the 100 plus miles back. It did so at 60 mph without a whimper and on stale gasoline. Oh, and yes, it was overloaded according to Ford’s towing guide, but it has a higher towing rating than the pickup due to its larger engine and being two-wheel drive.
As I type this, recollecting various events with this van, I’m massaging my temples. This van truly makes my head hurt, but maybe I’m thinking about when I whacked my head on the bottom of the back doors after checking the air in the spare tire. Or maybe it’s because Mrs. Jason and I suspect we may be using it for its original purpose again. Maybe Mrs. Jason knew we weren’t finished with it. She is a very smart woman, somebody who constantly amazes me, and is even more perceptive than I am. However, I hope she is wrong about needing it for that again.
I own a conversion van. A big, tacky, lumbering oaf of an oversized pain in the ass piece of transportation in a horrid fleet white with acres of gaudy tape down both sides and all over the ass end of it. A van with seats that say “Flexsteel” on them. A van that my wife and Spawn adore and have nicknamed “Dream Boat”, a van I have nicknamed a whole host of derogatory names. A van I may possibly end up owning for the next twenty years.
Excuse me; I need an aspirin.