My Friend – the Station Wagon

I have very fond memories growing up of a special member of our family.  Sure, I grew up with five sisters and two brothers but there was another family member that each of us grew to love and appreciate and was the “vehicle” through which many wonderful and exciting memories were created.  Yes, I’m talking about our nine passenger family station wagon.  We had several versions of this wonderful machine and my dad seemed to favor the Dodge brand.

In the 60’s, this was our SUV – we used our family station wagon for everything.  My dad installed a trailer hitch so we could tow a utility trailer to haul both gear and people (people just on dirt roads).

We owned a cabin in the mountains of New Mexico and one of our traditions was to drive up a steep, rough road near our cabin that led to an abandoned turquoise mine.  Dad would not only load up the station wagon but also pull our trailer full of kids.  It’s an absolute miracle he didn’t burn up the transmission.  Keep in mind; this was during an era where seat belts were seldom if ever used, hauling family and friends in an open trailer in the mountains was normal and my favorite, sitting outside the door windows or out the back window while driving on dirt roads was the best!  We’d hold on to the luggage rack and sing and tell jokes while soaking in the beautiful scenery.

It was the car I learned how to drive, the car I used for my first date, and the car that carried us to exotic places unknown on our family trips.

Sitting in the front seat between my parents was the most cherished and highly sought after position of all.  Not only did you get the full force of the air conditioner, but you didn’t have to fight with your siblings over a myriad of petty issues.

One of the unique features of these station wagons was the folding rear seat.  When it wasn’t needed, it could be folded down to provide more room to haul things.  When needed, it would be lifted up but unlike the other two bench seats, this seat faced backwards.

With the back window rolled down, this provided hours of entertainment for us where we could hang our feet out the window, sing songs, play games and dangle army men on fishing line out the back window (if you’ve seen the movie Napoleon Dynamite, this will make more sense).

There was one uncomfortable side effect of sitting in the back seat.  If we were driving around town and came to a stoplight, it was always embarrassing and uncomfortable to look at the driver and passengers in the car behind us.  Eye contact was always avoided, unless it was a trucker where we would try and get him to blow his horn by making the fisted pull-down movement with our arms.  It was always a relief when we started moving again and there was distance between us and the spectators following us.

Our station wagon was also a university – a place of learning valuable lessons I would rely on throughout my life.  You see, almost every Saturday morning, my dad would spend time tuning up, repairing or cleaning our family station wagon.  He would always include me in that process and teach me valuable lessons about vehicle maintenance.  He would let me do much of the work.  I used to love to use a star wrench to spin off the lug nuts when rotating the tires.

My dad was always prepared for anything that might go wrong on our trips.  I remember a burlap water bag hanging from the front grill in case the radiator overheated.  He had a tool kit with him to repair just about anything and we always felt safe and confidant Dad would take care of us.

I remember helping Dad change the oil, rotate the tires, change the spark plugs and replace the brakes.  Seldom would my dad take the station wagon into a mechanic.  If something needed fixing, it was put on the list for the Saturday’s chores.  Being taught at an early age how to handle most minor repairs gave me great confidence growing up.  I was never afraid to try and fix just about anything.

I have over the years acquired the title of Mr. Fixit primarily because I’m not afraid to try and fix anything.  From cars to computers; I enjoy tearing them apart and figuring them out.  It wasn’t until my twenties that I learned I was really different in that regard.  Many of my friends had no idea how an engine worked or how to replace brakes.  I was really surprised that everyone didn’t know these things.  It did give me a feeling of superiority and prestige especially when others would make reference that “Taylor can fix it”.  It’s now more common to hear, “Grandpa can fix anything” as my grand-kids bring me items of theirs that need repairing.

I believe this is a very important aspect of preparedness.  We need to be self-reliant in every sense.  We can’t plan on having others helping us when something breaks or doesn’t function properly.

Can you repair a torn canvas or a worn out shoe.  Can you replace a broken fan belt or patch a tire?  Do you know how to correctly sharpen a knife or an axe? Do you know what to do if your generator won’t start or how to sharpen or repair a chain saw?  A true hopeless feeling can come from being stranded in some fashion and not knowing how to resolve the situation.

With the countless number of YouTube videos showing how to fix everything from your washing machine to fixing a leaking faucet or replacing the alternator on your car, we really don’t have any excuse not to learn how to become our own version of Mr. Fixit.  Experience is a great teacher and with the help of a virtual dad online, there is no excuse not to become far more handy than you are now.

Your family deserves to feel secure and protected in any situation.  Now is the time to become familiar with and equipped with the knowledge and necessary tools.  Have some basic tools for both carpentry and mechanical work and repair.  A decision I made early on was to maintain a good supply and assortment of nuts and bolts, metal and wood screws and nails.  Seldom does a repair job take place where I don’t dip into my fastener supply.

A multi-tipped screwdriver, a small and large crescent wrench, needle nose and regular pliers, channel locks and a set of metric and US standard wrenches would be a good start.  Add to that a clawed hammer, a hand wood saw and metal hack saw.  Ask for tools for your birthday and Christmas.  Never stop learning how things function and don’t be afraid to take things apart in an attempt to fix them.  You may ruin them in the process but you will have learned valuable information on what to avoid in the future.

In addition, take the time to teach your kids that just because something doesn’t work doesn’t mean you throw it away.  I love the saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”  Teaching frugality, how to take care of our possessions and how to repair them will go a long way in teaching our families to become self-reliant.

More than 35 years experience in the Preparedness Industry