william's picture

My Million Mile Chevy Van

            I love my Chevy van. I’ve watched each time as the odometer has clicked over nine times to reach 1 million miles. It now has 1,010,000 miles on it and she still runs as good as the day I bought her brand-new in 1976 from Central Chevrolet in Atlanta, Georgia.

            She’s been in all of the lower 48 states in addition to most of the provinces in Canada. As a “Boomer” railroader for Burlington Northern out of Grand Forks, North Dakota, I worked freight trains all across the West, including Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska and as a trainmaster, Colorado.

            Through it all, I always had my Chevy van. I even lived in it when working as a Boomer – I put curtains on the windows, built a bedframe in the back and added a small fridge and stove. Unfortunately, there was not a heater in the van which would’ve come in handy when I was in Minot in 35 below weather!

            I still drive her frequently and it’s like traveling in a time machine in more ways than one! She has three on the tree which just doesn’t exist anymore. And with limited funds in 1976, along with no automatic transmission, I also passed on power steering and power brakes. Which makes it a bit of a challenge today if I have to parallel park!

            And driving her today reminds me of the days when I was driving across North Dakota with snow tires on the back and six bags of sand in the rear so that I wouldn’t slip off into the ditch while negotiating blizzards. Or when I set up camp in the parking lot of the Alliance, Nebraska terminal awaiting a knock on the side of the van from the crew call her to tell me whether I was going to the Black Hills of South Dakota or the coalfields of Wyoming. Yes, the old girl has lots of memories.

            My daughters and I would take several weeks off every summer and pack the dogs, a tent and the rest of our camping gear and drive all over the West and just pick a spot every night to camp out. My wife would stay home for her own vacation. The kids and I explored the Grand Canyon, Little Bighorn, the site of the Custer massacre, and Mesa Verde in Colorado one year, and the following year drove to Vermont and explored all of New England plus Québec. Through it all, the worst that ever happened was a flat tire. The old girl has always been dependable!

            That’s why I will never get rid of her and I think she’s going to stay in the family. My grandson Max asked me the other day about the van. “PaPa, when you die, can I have the van?”

            Before I could answer, my oldest daughter Shawn, who practices law with me, jumped in. “I get it first Max”, she said.