Earlier this spring, my daughter rekindled her relationship with Miss Carol, her dance teacher from when we lived in Hannibal. Miss Carol’s dance school seems to be as well known locally as is Mark Twain, another Hannibal resident of notoriety. Our first trip back there this spring served up a solid reason toward Miss Carol’s school being as close to an institution (in a good sense) as anything in the area – Carol had a banner on the wall of her studio congratulating her on the sixty-fifth anniversary of opening her school.
That’s no typo; and, that banner was several years old. Carol is currently entering her sixty-ninth year in business.
It is likely safe to speculate Carol is not a van person. When we met with her again about ten days ago, she was driving a Lincoln Town Car. Yet upon finding this Ford van of indeterminate model year the following day, it became difficult to not see some similarities.
Perhaps the most obvious are revealed from the scratches all over this old Ford. While the lettering has been mostly obliterated, it takes very little imagination to deduce this van has had a business career working for a locksmith. Carol was quite young when she began her dance school. Odds are strong this Ford was a relative newborn when it entered into the business world. Speculating this Econoline is a 1971 model, Carol still has an eighteen year edge of experience over our Ford.
How long ago this short wheelbase Econoline retired from its business venture is hard to know, but, like Carol, it is no stranger to the challenges and rewards of the small business world.
It appears the current owner has a similar entrepreneurial spirit – or at least is a professed disciple of bartering.
This is one area in which our featured Ford diverges from Carol. In fact, I suspect she likely would take a rather dim view of such a business model. Miss Carol is a “Cash is King” sort of person and this sort of system is great for the short-term but does not yield anything long term. Well, it could, but anyway…
Carol would undoubtedly agree with utilizing what you have if needing to make a repair. Aluminum does not rust, although if in a similar situation Carol would have likely faced the beer can inwards; it’s less proprietary that way.
During our most recent visit with Carol, she mentioned the assorted adventures she has experienced during the years of having her dance school. At various times she and her students have been invited to perform in many places, with these invitations having taken Carol all over North America and Europe.
Carol is understandably quite proud of this. For a dance school located in a town currently having a population of 20,000, it demonstrates Carol’s talent could conquer the distances and visibility of contemporaries in more populated areas.
Similarly, this bicentennial bumper sticker demonstrates our Econoline’s talent in conquering distances and taking people wherever they needed to go. How so?
Allen Elementary isn’t exactly a unique name for an elementary school although none are close to where this Ford was parked. A quick google search reveals elementary schools of this name in Marion, Indiana; Wichita, Kansas; Columbus, Georgia; both Frisco and San Antonio, Texas; Southgate, Michigan; San Bruno, California; Aurora, Illinois; and, Soddy Daisy, Tennessee. That is only on the initial page of search results; I dove no further.
These schools are all over the United States and are many, many hours of driving from where I found this Econoline. This old box looks like it is ready to make the return trip to any of these Allen Elementary schools.
It really isn’t a stretch to see this Ford camped out in the parking lot of any Allen High School back in, say, 1980. Perhaps not parked there by staff, but seeing such a van driven by a male high schooler isn’t hard to imagine, is it?
As an aside, for those who appreciate license plates, you may notice these are advertising Missouri’s bicentennial. Missouri became the 24th state on August 10, 1821.
Being one who has owned older vehicles at various times, more vigilance is needed in keeping up with maintenance. Sure, there are the maintenance schedules found in the owner’s manual, but these fail to account for entropy. Time marches on, things wear out.
For example, my wife and I purchased a 2000 model, 4th Generation Econoline in July 2010. It needed tie-rods at that time and the ball joints were replaced last year. Our featured 2nd Generation Econoline was the first Ford van having Ford’s long-lived Twin I-Beam front suspension, a trait that would continue for subsequent generations. While the front suspension on our featured van is as stout and robust as anything on the market in 1971, this isn’t to say it is immune from wear.
Odds are pretty good our featured E200 has had a few replacements of its ball joints and other wear items. Not surprisingly, Carol has also, as she told me she’s on her third set of knees.
It is maintenance, just amplified.
Recently on a Facebook page about the Ford E-Series, a comment was made about how the Econoline was built to last for fifteen to twenty years in commercial use, being driven harshly by many different drivers. While the validity of that claimed design brief is hard to verify, there is no arguing these Econolines are remarkably durable vehicles.
But it got me to thinking…if an Econoline such as this one is intended for harsh treatment, yet is treated more carefully than most, and barring any unforeseen negative intervention, what length of life expectancy can be anticipated?
Might it be similar to the woman who has remained quite active and is in phenomenal shape after being in business for nearly seventy years?
I think we are looking at our answer.
Found August 13, 2021
Nice old van just needs a coat of paint and some minor patching, plenty of miles left in it.
Kingpins on those second-gen Econolines. The ones you take out have a second life as a heavy-duty drift punch.
These stood up to lots of stuff, but not rust. These have been virtually extinct in my part of the country for 25 years or more.
I got a lot of exposure to these from a high school friend whose family had one. A green 1969 model where the only parts of the interior not made of painted steel were the seat cushions and the steering wheel.
Wow, Miss Carol sounds like an amazing lady!
The killer was the steering gear mount. Even a clean one or something like an RV that didn’t see much salt might crumble at the steering gear. Maybe the tube held water? Anyway, no easy fix, killed off a lot of ’em.
Interesting. Cracked steering gear mount is what killed the same generation Dodge van that my plumber used for almost 300,000 miles.
Another annoying problem was the manual transmission shift linkage wear. This would eventually occur even under normal use. Wear could be greatly accelerated by teenage delivery drivers practicing speed shifting skills on an employer’s van.
Once worn, the bushings could cause the shifter to jam. Drivers learned to use something like a long screwdriver and free up the linkage through the grill.
This van photo shows a little dent in the grill to the right of the front license tag. To Ford mechanics, it was a telltale sign to check the shifter bushings and replace if necessary when we were reconditioning trade ins.
The last Econoline of this generation I had seen was a green shorty hauling kitchen appliances in a little town east of here named Frankenstein. That was five or so years ago.
Like you, these seemed to evaporate years ago. Even the third generation is getting thin on the ground although I did see one last night.
I see that there’s more than one Bicentennial bumper sticker on the van, although the one you show with the federally-approved rounded star would definitely be the one to highlight as you do.
I love 1976 Bicentennial stuff. Maybe that’s because the Bicentennial came around when I was just the right age to get hooked with all of the hype about an event that was in fact really sort of a fabrication, and at any rate just a date on the calendar; and yet it became for over a year leading up to that one date an all-consuming media event that really focuses the popular culture. And then it’s gone. That always seemed kind of fascinating to me. And it set the stage – for me – of other similar events…Y2K comes to mind. I think part of me harbors the idea that our current global pandemic will have some kind of similar end point date on the calendar…although rationally I know that’s not going to happen for a whole lot of reasons. It just seems like it should.
Terrific article Jason. The blending of Miss Carol’s story with that of the van works perfectly. I hope whoever owns the van doesn’t repaint it; although I have a feeling that’s where it’s headed after the owner saves up enough for it. It looks like a customization that is proceeding as parts are acquired.
I remember all the hype and the national Faux-gasm as Der Tag arrived, and it all faded away by August as we got back to whatever else we were doing in 1976. For me it was summer break and then 6th grade and I was getting more into girls than cars.
There were all manner of specials on TV and celebrities like Sonny & Cher and Anita Bryant dressed in red, white and blue as they sang patriotic songs over and over while soaring camera views of waves of grain and crashing waves on beaches played behind them and well, you get the idea. Massive fireworks specials and TV miniseries about the American Revolution. It was jingoism writ large, even to the point of red, white and blue Chevy Novas and Impalas being sold at the dealer.
Sadly, I’ve never had any experiences with this generation of Ford van, not even during the vanning craze of the late 70s.
The printers of that sticker must be pleased that it’s still legible this many years later!
The 69-74 Econolines are far and away my favorite generation. I have all the sales brochures and owners manuals for 70-74. Plus other dealer only literature.
Ford was truly on a roll in the late 60s-early 70s, there isn’t a car or light duty truck sold at a Ford/Mercury dealer from that time period that I would refuse to own, well…maybe a no-options Maverick as that would be just a bit too basic for my tastes.
Nowadays, if you spot this generation of Econoline here in Florida (pretty much an unlikely scenario) it’s in an impromptu junkyard with the bottom edges of the doors a bit crusty and without engine or transmission. I like these, though the Dodge competition is just as attractive.
Buy the Dodge, for its edge in the mechanical, particularly the suspension department. And buy the Ford for its marginally better trim packages.
I had a ’74 E-100 shorty, mildly customized. It started to rust from the top in this salt air environment. I had the Earl of Scheib bondo the roof seam and a white repaint made it easy to sell.
Congratulations on your state’s bicentennial! It seems like the Econoline name is almost as old.
Like most established institutions, we tend to overlook things like Econoline cargo vans until one day we realize they’re suddenly rare. This ubiquitous vans are much more interesting to me now then they were, say, 20 years ago.
Miss Carol sounds like my former piano teacher. She was old when I took lessons in the 1980s, and then kept teaching well into her 90s. Fittingly, she drove a Buick Century.
Regarding Allen Elementary, looks like there was a school by that name in Kansas City, that closed in the late 1970s. The building is now a charter school called Allen Village School… so my guess is that this van’s bumper sticker belonged to that former school. Just a guess.
And finally, I figured I’d attach this ad below – it’s from 1974(-ish), but features a similar tan colored van. Tan vans are something of the distant past, but they used to be everywhere. I’m not sure if the van in the ad below is the same tan/beige/brown color as your featured van since with all the fading it’s hard to tell… but close enough.
Some of the Econoline ads and brochures are pretty interesting. One I encountered was a floor showing the different interior layouts available – complete with people modeling it.
The shop tasked to de-identify the van needs to source some finer grit paper, maybe like a 20 grit? lol
Seriously, there are more refined ways to de-identify a vehicle.
Jason, you’re one of CC’s top-tier local story tellers—always interesting. As to the van, I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen one of these—though I drove a borrowed one back in the day, and remember visibility being less of a worry than imagined, and a certain nimbleness to the lack of overhang.
I’d hoped the “Auto-Owners” insurance sticker would narrow things down, but they say they insure cars in 26 states, so that’s little help at all, I guess: https://www.auto-owners.com/about/who-we-are
Reading this it seems almost improbable someone could be in business that long, but “Carol” has been. She has quite the story.
Tomorrow you’ll hear about another long-time business owner, but he’s only got 62 years in the auto wrecking business, so Carol has him beat.
It’s very inspiring to see folks in their 90s still being so active. Retirement? Some folks equate that to death.
Carol mentioned retirement when we saw her two or so weeks ago. She’s torn about actually doing so as she’s concerned about being sedentary.
She looks twenty years younger than she is. She is amazing.
Perfect body style to put on top of a “skateboard” EV chassis.
Vans and other commercial vehicles are designed to carry and pull more weight than passenger cars and their chassis and other components are usually bigger and beefier than corresponding car items. They are often equipped with transmission coolers, heavy duty radiators and alternators. It would seem that if the vehicle is used primarily as a normal passenger vehicle, these parts should last a very long time. I suppose that this might have been true up until the 1980’s when cars had a pretty short lifespan. Now so many cars will have service lives well into and over the 200,000 mile mark. Still a used, pampered pick up or SUV might be a long lived choice, provided that the poor fuel economy isn’t a deterrent
I used to drive a windowless Chevy van to make deliveries back in the late 1970’s. It was new with a/c and I soon got used to driving by the mirrors. I still prefer being able to see out of a vehicle.
A nice old survivor .
That cute forced patina rust will soon rust through, at least they could have applied something over it .
These were true ‘Road Roaches’ and I still see them doing yeoman duty here and there in So. Cal. .
I bought one of these brand new with the 240 six in 1970 for $2850. It was the E-200 just like the one featured, except in the ubiquitous blue paint nearly every Ford truck had in those days.
It wasn’t my favorite van, but I had no trouble with it.
Nice story, Jason. Hope it isn’t too hot there in Rollo.
(Aluminum won’t rust, but it does corrode).
Right now, at 1:37 pm CDT, I am sitting 60 miles north of Rolla and it is 97 F with 43% humidity, making the heat index 106 F. It’s almost enough to make a guy sweat!
Nice old Econoline. I haven’t seen one of these here in Ontario for many years, but there’s plenty of the third generation vans still on the job. A little bodywork and a paint job and it’ll be good to go for many more years.
Some of my driver training (big, empty parking lot–back when stores were closed on Sundays) in a van like this.
I dig the OG PBR sticker.
I wanted to wait until I had a chance to give this article my full attention today, and I’m glad I did. Excellent essay and a fun read. Love the subject vehicle and all the parallels you made. There is something for both the successful longevity of this van and Miss Carol and her dance school, and the timing of your visits with both was beautiful.