In Praise of Econolines

Most Americans feel sentimental about their first vehicles — there’s a deep automotive lore baked into our psyches. And I guess I’m no exception. 

My first vehicle was a matter of practicality. See, I started working when I was 14 with my parents’ permission. I worked during summers at a paint shop, cleaning paint brushes and vans, taking inventory and mowing the lawn. Frankly, it was terrible work for terrible pay. My lungs usually hurt from the airborne particles of dried paint and dust kicked up by passing trucks coming from a nearby gravel quarry.

You may have gathered that my young adulthood in rural Washington State was not very glamorous. You’re right. But maybe it taught me the value of hard work. Maybe. With my first job, I was able to buy my own drum kit. And my own van.

The van’s purchase was arranged on my behalf. See, I needed transportation to and from the paint job and my parents couldn’t do it anymore.

My grandpa had recently died, so I inherited his 3/4-ton Ford Econoline work van. My grandpa had used it for his construction company. The van came with his Sons of the Pioneers audiocassettes stashed in the glove compartment. It was painted maroon. It had no power steering. I didn’t know anything about vehicles (still don’t, really), and I ran it without oil or anything. When I turned on the heater the whole van smelled like maple syrup. I think that has something to do with antifreeze. 

I did end up loving the van. It easily fit my drum kit and other instruments. I was in several bands and the ol’ Econoline inevitably became the band van because it could accommodate gear and people. I once ran the van into a tree when I was coming down a narrow wooded driveway. Because I don’t know. I was distracted. The van was just fine, but the spruce tree was not. Durable vehicular craftsmanship!

I bring all of this up because old Ford vans are pretty great. By modern standards, they’re ugly, wildly fuel-inefficient, and a waste of steel. But they’ll last a hundred years with proper maintenance and they’re durable as hell.

And maybe I have the same goals in life.

Do you believe in the power of storytelling? So do I.

My freelance writing service, Porter Wordsmith, is your antidote to bland, canned jargon. I’m your guy to help you say the thing and say it right.

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