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Friday, July 13, 2012

The Thrill of the Hunt!

I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. The Great Lakes side of the state where winters batter and destroy all things steel and beautiful. It’s also a place where the act of hunting is more than a hobby, but a passion. A passion for sitting motionless for hours in a cold wet tree stand, rifle in hand….waiting. Hunting is a rite of passage among families and friends. A chance to get out of the house and walk for hours in mud, snow, rain, and frigid temperatures in pursuit of elusive furry wildlife…so you can kill it. It’s where men can be real men and women can re-enact their ancestors’ pioneer spirit. Where I went to grade school, the school districts learned long ago that NOBODY shows up on the first day of Buck season, so they invented a fake holiday to spare us the stink-eye our state administrators would give our pitiful school district’s attendance record.

I’m all for the consumption of meat - especially the cute animals with big doughy eyes and soft fur, but I’m happy to let others take care of the killin’ part of it. Me? I like to be warm and dry, except when it comes to hunting cars. I understand the thrill of the hunt. I appreciate the crucial aspects of timing. The strategy. The adrenaline of scoring a 10 pointer. The key is steering clear of those filled with tinworms. Since there’s no official “season” for car hunting, the diseased ones often make their way into my crosshairs. (note: animal hunting seasons generally occur after the weak and sickly members of a given species have since died of natural causes). ie: Elmer goes after Bugs in the springtime.)

I’m really bad with money. If you care about being financially stable and debt-free….stop reading now and go hug your spouse or make a healthy mortgage payment. I am, however exceptionally talented when it comes to buying old cars. Good ones. I have the gift.

And just what constitutes a “good” old car? It’s an elusive set of qualities but I’ll try to put a few of them in focus as best I can:

First off, you need to understand your own skill set. If you weigh 119lbs soaking wet, you don’t go hunting for 300lb black bears and try to drag them home by yourself. I’m a fairly patient and knowledgeable mechanic, so the nuts and bolts of decrepit old buggies don’t scare me too much. It’s the rust that I worry about, especially where I live. I can bring wrenches and floor jacks home on weekends, but I don’t have a welder or sheet metal forming tools in my basement. I haven’t figured out how to make a paint booth out of my guest bedroom either. Besides, THOSE kinds of tools get real REAL expensive. Fast. Then there’s that whole “learning how to use them” thing. Not for the faint of heart or butter fingered.

I have what probably equates to a third grade math level by modern standards, yet I find myself often tallying up all kinds of numbers in my head as I gaze upon a potential purchase. I repeat the following mantra and suggest you do the same: “How much can I sell the parts off of it, if it completely fills it’s britches with mechanical poo, in the first week of ownership?” I define this sullying of undergarments as mechanical failures of colossal proportions such as: 1. thrown connecting rods or heavy Viking ship like thumping from the engine 2. the infamous “fist full of neutral” transmission experience 3. Wiring filled with black gun powder that ignites when exposed to sunlight. Those aren’t deal killers, but they change the game dramatically and need to be considered seriously.

How practical is the purchase going to be? That one’s simple. It ISN’T. I don’t go out looking for old cars because I need one, anymore than a deer hunter needs to kill Bambi to feed his starving family. That’s not the point. If I really “needed” another car, I’d shop for one the same way people shop for household appliances or cereal. I’d read the reviews of one and check out the nutritional information on the other. It’s not about that with old cars. It’s about faith, which brings me to my next point.

In John Muir’s classic “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive” book, he mentions taking the time to soak up a car’s “aura”. I call this ephemeral quality “heart”. Some cars have it, some don’t. Some cars tell you they only need one more chance to shine and be triumphantly resurrected, and beg for the chance to be saved. Others simply sigh and tell you “Save yourself…I’ve had a good life but I’m not worth it”. You need to trust that inner voice. The right old car will give you a sense of satisfaction and worth as you bring it back to it’s former glory. The wrong one will make you bitter and angry.