If you didn’t defrost the freezer for five or ten years, and there were bits of broccoli and other debris encased in the layers of frost and discolored ice, I am quite sure it would look allot like the world I drove through that cold January morning on my way to Storm Lake to recover the seats for the van. It had been a number of years and at least two lifetimes since I had experienced winter landscapes like this and each mile was a reminder of why Kingman, Arizona was now my home.
Over the years I have developed a bit of fondness for the mini van but they really make terrible snowmobiles and and even worse snow plows. That was the lesson learned as I attempted to force the van along what seemed to be endless miles of farm roads to the house where the van had been repossessed and where the missing seats were to be found.
With the exception of a roadside mail box, and the passenger side mirror, I arrived unscathed only to discover the reason why the repo company had neglected to recover the seats with the voluntary surrender of the van. They were stored in the basement accessed by “A”, a side door under a leaking gutter that had transformed it and the stairs into a towering ice sculpture, or “B” a trap door in the dining room under a massive antique oak breakfront.
Well, I wasn’t about to wait for spring thaw so that left the dining room. The ladies husband was gone for two weeks so she called the neighbor, who lived about five miles away, to see if their son was available.
Waiting in the van until he arrived seemed the best option so I turned on the heater and waited. Then I rolled down the window to air out the van and I waited. Then I asked for a cup of coffee and waited.
By the second hour I began to think of attacking the ice sculpture with a pick ax. By the third hour I began to wonder if the seats would really add value to the van. Shortly after this I had decided that they could keep the seats as souvenirs and the boss would just have to find a creative way to market the former custom van when the rusted remnants of a Ford truck crested the hill and slid into the yard.
It was the neighbors son, the one with one eye, and one hand. This trip was getting better by the minute.
Well, we gently removed the china from the breakfront, removed the drawers, put our backs into it, ended any chance that my son would have a sibling, and moved the ancient piece of furniture – two inches. On the third effort we could access the trap door – that was locked from the inside.
I am not sure if it was the hysterical hyena laughter of the idiot savant, the neighbors boy, or the realization I was on day four of what was to be a four day odyssey and I was still in Iowa but my vision narrowed to a tunnel and from that point things went kind of hazy.
With some rusty hacksaw blades recovered from the barn I sawed through the hasp, lowered myself into the dark, cold hole via what had once been a wooden ladder but was now a buffet for termites, and with flash light in hand, sought the seats in a sea of debris that included broken tools, a variety of automotive parts, most of a snow blower, a mummified cat, rolls of chicken wire, discarded building materials, and assorted odds and ends. There was everything you could imagine with the exception of seats for the van.
With a bit of blood running down my forehead from an encounter with a nail, torn pants, and cobwebs in my hair, I began the ascent back into the world of the living through the hole in the dining room floor. I can’t quite be sure if I verbally expressed the profanity or if I merely thought it but when that lady looked at me and said, “I wonder if my husband put those seats in the barn?” something came out of my mouth.
Yep, the seats were in the barn, under a tarp, right in front of the side door by the old grain bins. Yep, it was a ten minute job to toss them in the back of the van. Yep, it was now very late in the afternoon and the faint glow of the sun was vanishing to the west and the leaden winter skies were turning dark with a threat of snow.
So, I imitated a sidewinder on drugs in retracing my tracks to the highway, found a truck stop type place in Cherokee where I topped off my tank as well as the one in the van, and rolled west on state highway 3. I hate driving at night in the winter with a passion but was determined to put miles between me and Storm Lake, Iowa.
So, I pressed on into the night and the snow began to fall. Then the snow began to blow. Then the defroster fan quit and I replaced the fuse.
The first time the van began to slide was when I crossed the Missouri River at Sioux City. The first time I got it do a full circle, and the first time I began to think of finding a place to wait out the night, was somewhere near Randolph, Nebraska. Somewhere between Randolph and Norfolk, highway 81 vanished.
One minute it was a strip of black in a sea of white and then it was as white as the sea that surrounded it and the headlights merely illuminated the thickening curtain that embraced me. Again thoughts of stories by Jack London and poems by Robert Service began to dance in my head.
With hands clinched to the wheel like the tongue to the sled in the middle of a blizzard, I fought to stay between the reflectors and mail boxes that snaked past as the speed had dropped to a crawl. Enhancing the sense I was the captain of the Titanic in search of an ice berg was the window falling down into the door, the oil light illuminating the instruments, and the passenger side wiper that flew into the night when the switch was turned to high.
Now, Norfolk, Nebraska may not seem like heaven to many folks but the dim glow of that cities lights sure looked like the pearly gates to me that night. And I have to tell you, that truck stop coffee was some of the best I have ever had.
Well, a night spent hunched over a table in a booth isn’t very restful. It is also a very good way to ensure you will be able to do a passable impersonation of the hunchback the next morning.
By morning the storm had passed, most roads were closed, and the van was full of snow. However, the biggest concern was the simple fact the van had used more than four quarts of oil in less than five hundred miles.
But my job was not to question why, so I bought a case of oil, shoveled the snow from the drivers seat, propped the stick back under the window glass, and when the roads opened, headed south on US 81. The drive across Nebraska and into Colorado was relatively uneventful, a welcome respite from the for first leg of the adventure.
Drive awhile, replace the fuse. Drive awhile, add some oil, Drive awhile, put the window back up. Drive awhile, get something to eat.
Rather than tackle the grades of the Rockies at night, I chose to wait it out at a motel in Denver. Now, why someone wanted the wheels off the van I will never know. They were chrome but not overly fancy. The tires were mismatched and weren’t even very good.
I bet the look on my face was quite comical. There I stood in the parking lot, bag in hand, staring at a van with no wheels, sitting in the slush.
I don’t remember being overly upset or even surprised. At this point I suppose it just seemed to be situation normal on the odyssey from Hell. Even the fact that the seats had been stolen out of the back and the radio pried from the dashboard didn’t seem to be a real issue.
So, even though it was only about eight in the morning, I couldn’t decide whether to walk down the block to a cafe for breakfast or across the street to the bar for a beer. Well, I was a very blessed man even though at that point in my life things like blessings were considered blind luck.
I had ordered breakfast, asked for a phone book, and began feeding the pay phone coins when the waitress told me that the owner of the wrecking yard down the road had just sat down at the counter. As it turned out, he not only had four wheels but they had almost new snow tires already mounted on them. Even better, they were in the back of his truck right outside!
So, before it was even time for lunch, I was sailing through the Rockies repeating the Nebraska performance of changing fuses, adding oil, and getting a bite to eat. The day ended with me in Green River, Utah, and by the time the sunk sank into the west the following day, I was back in Kingman.
It had been a grand adventure, one that often makes me smile. There would be many wild adventures with this job but none could ever top the quest for the missing seats, not the recovery of the bullet riddled Pathfinder without a muffler from Oklahoma City, or the upside down Geo Metro from Salt Lake City, or the flaming Dodge truck in Winnemuca.

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