This car actually belonged to my parents, but I learned to drive in it: it took me to college, and on my first mountain-climbing trip. It was a four-door sedan with a straight eight engine and a Dual-Range Hydramatic transmission (early version of an automatic). A small toggle switch on the dash would run the radio antenna up or down. This picture is not of the actual car: I don’t have a good one. I pulled an old publicity photo down from the Web. Our car was the same model and color scheme, however.
Purchased in June, 1964, from Neil Motors in Pullman, Washington, the first car I ever actually owned had a straight six and a 3-speed stick shift mounted on the steering column (“three on the tree”). Its two-tone paint job gave it a fancy look, but it was really a pretty basic model. My brother Jack and I used this car on a summer-1964 road trip to Klamath Falls, Oregon, which included a climb of California’s Mt Shasta; this picture was taken on that trip, in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. I sold the Plymouth to a junkyard in Walla Walla, Washington, when the bearings gave out nine months after purchase.
This replacement for the Plymouth was purchased in the spring of 1965 from a used-car lot in Walla Walla. Hydramatic again (Kaiser used these under contract from General Motors), coupled to a straight six engine. The air scoop on the hood was meant to supply an optional turbocharger, but this car didn’t have one. We called it the Batmobile, for reasons I think are probably obvious. The picture was taken in front of my parents’ house in Pullman, Washington.
1963 Volkswagen Squareback
Purchased in Seattle when the Kaiser died in the fall of 1967, six days after Melody and I were married. We used her severance pay from the Peace Corps. The car had been privately purchased in Germany and brought to the US the year before official Squareback imports began; it had the standard VW rear air-cooled flat four engine, with a side-draft carburetor to lower the engine’s profile so it would fit under the luggage area (replaced by two smaller downdraft carbs on the officially imported models). The manual was in German. Seat belts mounted as shoulder harnesses, and a short stick connected to a 4-speed manual transmission (“four on the floor”), made it a lot of fun to drive. The picture was taken in front of the duplex in Pullman that we shared my last year in grad school.
1960 Studebaker Lark
A temporary replacement for the Squareback when it was struck head-on by a speeding driver on a blind corner on a rural road outside Moscow, Idaho, in May 1969, the Lark is pictured here on the summit of East Moscow Mountain. We found it on a used-car lot in Lewiston, Idaho. Three on the tree, six-cylinder engine, and absolutely no luxuries (not even a radio). The bearings were going, which we knew when we bought it: Melody’s brother Larry helped me replace those. When the Squareback finally came back to us, we sold the Lark to my brother Jack for the same amount we had paid for it – $69.
1967 Volkswagen camper
Purchased in Portland, Oregon, in the fall of 1969 when the oil pump on the newly-repaired Squareback gave out at 70 mph on the freeway, destroying the engine before the car could be brought to a stop. Financed through Melody’s Uncle Warren (who lived in Portland) and by her parents, the camper had a wood-paneled interior, with a fold-out bed, a folding table, a small closet, and a combination sink/water tank/ice box. It was terribly underpowered, but wonderful for camping trips. We nursed it through two engine rebuilds caused by shattering valves, a common hazard of these vehicles. I once rebuilt its carburetor on a workbench in the basement of our Ashland house – the highlight of my experience as an auto mechanic. The picture was taken in April, 1970, on the William O. Findley Wildlife Refuge near Corvallis, Oregon; the baby on the blanket has two adult children of her own and is about to become eligible for AARP.
Purchased in Medford, Oregon from Southern Oregon Subaru in the summer of 1975, using the advances for my first two books (“Hells Canyon” and “The Wallowas”). Four on the floor coupled to a flat four-cylinder engine, like the VW’s but water-cooled and mounted in front. The Subaru was our first front-wheel-drive vehicle, and was the car I drove on the 1983 research trip for my first book on the Great Lakes – part of which it spent carrying a canoe more than three feet longer than itself. Pictured here in front of the Sawyer Canoe factory in Oscoda, Michigan, with the canoe, which had just been purchased by my companion for the second half of this trip, Rod Badger (at left in the photo).
1984 Dodge Aries
A gift from Melody’s brother Gordon, purchased from Lithia Motors in Medford in February 1984. Slant four, mounted crosswise under the hood and coupled to our first automatic transmission since the Kaiser – I knew I was shortly going to have to teach a couple of kids how to drive. It also had our first bench front seat since the Kaiser, giving it the ability to hold six people, something not matched by any of our cars since. This was the car that took our daughters Jenny and Sara across the country to college – Jenny to Wisconsin (1987) and Sara to Massachusetts (1990). The photo was taken in Alta Lake State Park in Washington.
1991 Ford Escort
Purchased in April 1991 from Butler Ford in Ashland. This was our first car bought after the beginning of my concern for global climate change: its V4 engine and 5-speed manual transmission gave us as much as 43 miles per gallon, a significant improvement over the Dodge. It was the car used on our round-the-country road trip in 1992 and on my Great Lakes research trip of 1998; it also took us to the Great Lakes for a family reunion in 1994. The photo was taken on the Brockway Mountain Drive near Copper Harbor, Michigan.
2001 Toyota Prius
The second racheting down of our carbon footprint, this first-generation hybrid gave us a consistent 47 miles per gallon. Our friends wondered, in those early days of hybrids, if the car could handle a road trip; we proved that by taking it over Sonora Pass, the highest paved pass through the Sierra, during its first summer. Later, we took it to on my research trip for Ogallala Blue in 2003, where it caused a bit of a sensation (hybrids were still rare anywhere except on the east and west coasts). Purchased from Lithia Motors in the spring of 2001, and pictured here near the summit of Sonora Pass.
2008 Ford Escape Hybrid
A step backward: though a hybrid, the Escape was still a 4-wheel-drive SUV, and the best mileage we were able to squeeze out of it, ever, was 34 mpg – usually it hovered around 30. Purchase was driven by the sudden death of my best friend, Larry Chitwood, in early January, 2008, a wake-up call that couldn’t be ignored. Our motto became “if not now, when?”, and one of the earliest “if not nows” was the 4wd vehicle I had always wanted but never owned. By the time of Larry’s memorial, two weeks later, the Escape was ours. That step backward was paired with a giant step forward in another area, though: Larry’s death also jolted us into moving forward with long-simmering plans to sell our home and use the proceeds to buy a house that was more appropriate for mounting a solar array. Purchased from Butler Ford in Ashland in January, 2008, and photographed here on the road to Alex Hole in the Siskiyou Mountains.
2011 Nissan Leaf
Our first electric car, leased from Lithia Motors in Medford in November 2011. Also the first car to be charged from our solar panels. A sweet little vehicle, and a lot of fun to drive, but its 100-mile range turned out to be inadequate even for most of our day trips, let alone overnights. We continued to use the Escape for all of those (except one, which the requirement for multiple battery charges made way, way too long to want to repeat), and we terminated the lease a few months early. Pictured at the trailhead for the Bear Gulch trail in the Siskiyou foothills, one of the few hikes within the Leaf’s range.
2013 Chevrolet Volt
An electric car that carried a gasoline-powered generator for use when the batteries ran out, the Volt was purchased as a new car in May 2014 from TC Chevy in Ashland – we got a really good deal, because it was the last previous-year model on the lot. In many ways, this was an ideal car: all our local driving could be done on electricity, but we could pull into any gas station in the country and fill it up on long trips. Its primary disadvantage was its tiny rear seat, which held only two people – uncomfortably. Overall gas mileage, in the four years we had it, was in excess of 100 mpg. The photo was taken at the Rabbit Ears parking lot on the road to the summit of Mt Ashland.
Purchased from Lithia Motors in 2016 for my use at a time when Melody was active in a couple of volunteer positions that regularly took her (and the Volt) away from the house. We also ended up using this car for nearly all overnights while we owned it, because if we couldn’t plug the Volt in, the Prius would actually use less gas (47 mpg vs. the Volt’s 40 mpg when running on gas alone). A marvelous road car, with lots of storage compartments and near-flawless performance, despite its 150,000-mile age at the time of purchase. But I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with using any gasoline at all, so we didn’t keep either it or the Volt for very long. This picture was taken in Lone Pine Park in Medford, to be used on CraigsList while we were selling the car.