The Vehicles He Drove: A Photo Essay
By April J. Niemela
1975 Toyota Land Cruiser Years in Family Service: 1980 – 1983 Family Mileage: 8,000 miles Purchase Amount: $4200 Stopped Driving: No oil pressure
1967 Chevrolet Viscane Years in Family Service: 1982 – 1986 Family Mileage: 50,000 miles Purchase Amount: $250 Stopped Driving: Crushed exhaust pipe; no time to fix.
1967 Chrysler Imperial Years in Family Service: 1984 – 1989 Family Mileage: 25,000 miles Purchase Amount: inheritance gift Stopped Driving: Only 12mpg and had costly mechanical problems
1974 Chevrolet Blazer K5 Years in Family Service: 1989 – 1994 Family Mileage: 33,000 miles Purchase Amount: Gift from Grandma Stopped Driving: Blown transmission
1971 Chevrolet 4x4 Pickup Years in Family Service: 1971 – present Family Mileage: 395,000 miles Purchase Amount: $4215 Still Driving
The self‐made man is no bedtime story, no mythology for the literature books, no half‐remembered waking dream. No, the self‐made man is alive and well in the state of Idaho, right there in the midst of the land he tilled by hand, the house he built alone, the trees he knows by scent and bark. It wasn’t by accident, of course. He made himself, just the way you make wood or build fence or repair an engine. He thought about what he ought to be, and he thought about how he needed to think and plan and act in order to attain goals and to function within the world in which he chose to live (Simon, p. 4‐5). One of those choices he made was the vehicles he drove. When a man focuses his attention upon a given object, he imbues it with his psychic energy. The vehicles that remain on his property are charged with the energy of this self‐made man (p. 6‐8). They tell the story of focus, self‐control, and relationships. The right vehicle is important when you live in the country. It is more than a matter of vanity or status; it becomes a matter of survival. The 1975 Toyota Land Cruiser was meant to ensure the safety of his wife and two young daughters. David bought the used Land Cruiser in 1980 for $4200, far more money than he could afford at the time. He and his wife, Patti, had just moved to the property, ten miles out of town down a dirt road that took thirty minutes to traverse on a good day, and another hundred miles from the only job David could find. Because he commuted, only coming home on the weekends, and he needed another vehicle that could be used for his growing family, something that was rugged, meant for this kind of rural, off‐road living, something his wife could drive with confidence. On this Friday, company was coming. David would be coming home for the weekend sometime that evening. Their 30‐foot long 5th wheel trailer was clean but the cupboards were bare. Patti heaved the empty propane bottles up into the back of Land Cruiser, wedging them between boxes of fresh tomatoes. Her two young girls clambered into the back and perched on the side seats. Heat shimmered in the air, dust hovering above the road as they bounced over the ruts toward town. Suddenly, only two miles from home, the boxy jeep started to fishtail, picking up speed as they raced down the road. The upcoming corner loomed. Patti brushed her foot against the brakes, throwing the Land Cruiser into a tumbling roll. When it finally rested on its side, for an
entire moment no one spoke: one wheel spun in the silence, the bloody pulp of tomatoes pressed against the windows, and the world stared back, upside down. No one was hurt, but David never let her forget that she had broken their agreement that the girls would always wear seatbelts. It serves, in a way, as a reminder of the fragility of life and of the links forged between family members who chose to do more than just survive (p. 39). Within another couple of months, he discovered that it was a lemon, and it was the last used car he would spend that kind of good money on. But “human interaction with things is much more complex and flexible” than one first imagines (Csikszentmihalyi, p. 29), and while they only drove it for three years, they still own the Land Cruiser today. Through self‐control, a man learns who he is and of what he is capable. He also learns how to control his environment, shaping it to fit his story of self (p. 39). The recession of the early 1980s had hit hard, and David found himself out of work but still needing reliable
transportation for his family. In 1982, he bought the 1967 Chevrolet Viscane for $250. His initial plan included the further cultivation of the Land Cruiser: he would transfer the Chevy engine to the Land Cruiser and end up with a running 4x4 for his wife. But the beat‐ up classic was so comfortable he couldn’t help but drive it. After spending the summer bucking hay for five cents a bale, he decided to take his wife, three children, and Golden Retriever on vacation. With the dog stashed in the back window and the three kids in the back seat, he took off for California, wife by his side. Once in Disney Land, they decided to hit San Diego and Sea World, which led to Arizona and grandparents, and then Uncle Stephen in Dallas/Fort Worth. They were sitting in a friend’s living room in Duncan, Oklahoma when they realized they only had enough cash for the gas to get home. There was nothing for motels or food. They had no checking account or credit card. The heater didn’t work and the windshield kept frosting over, but they made it home at 3am with $20 left to their names. At 7am, the neighbor boy showed up to claim his payment for taking care of the chickens. David handed the $20 bill over. By the time he drove over a berm in the road, crushing the exhaust pipe, his wife had inherited the 1967 Chrysler Imperial. It only got 12 miles to the gallon, but it was big enough, safe enough, and free. Once the mechanical problems were greater than the
money in the bank, however, it too was parked, right next to the Viscane. But he’ll never forget driving icy roads to transport a family friend to her brother’s for Christmas. In that brother, he met a life‐long friend. Then came the 1974 Chevrolet Blazer K5. He drove it from 1989 until the day that the transmission blew in 1994. It has a story, too, of an engine exploding right outside of Green River, Wyoming, of the man working side‐by‐side the mechanic, of getting laid off the day he returned to work. But the 1971 Chevrolet 4x4 Pickup – he bought that brand new for $4215. It was part of the dream of being a man, of being a husband, of moving 1300 miles from everything he knew. And it’s still a part of the dream. He uses it all the time. And when his teenage boy, driving home late one night after work, fell asleep and rolled that pickup three times down a 35‐foot bank into the river, he didn’t just haul it out and park it. No, he restored it. And this interaction, this relationship between man and pickup truck, glows with the cultivation he’s invested it with: its aesthetic beauty, the pure, unadulterated psychic energy he directed at it, and the ultimate outcome of an entirely restored pickup truck (p. 175). Even more, it represents the span of a life he’s chosen, a life he’s fully lived, and a life he’s proud to call his own. To a large extent, every single one of these vehicles is a reflection of the man that he is today. Covered in grease and oil, sweat and blood, he worked on them, hours at a time, willed them to run when nothing else worked. And in a way, just as he shaped them, they shaped him. While objects, by their very properties, “can stimulate new insight, new understandings” (p. 44), it is through his interaction with these vehicles that this man, David, could “express his own image” (p. 48), thereby simultaneously craft both the objects and himself. It’s the energetic orange paint, however, gleaming beneath the western skies, that proudly proclaims the dream is still alive. References Csikszentmihalyi, M. and Rochberg‐Halton, E. (1981). The meaning of things: Domestic symbols and the self. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Simon, H.A. (1996). The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.