Cross-country odyssey is a family affair.
This story starts back around 1988 in Tacoma. I was a member of the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America, and I enjoyed restoring old Chevys. My oldest son, Jeff, was 15. After he helped me restore a ’62 Nova convertible, Jeff had the bug. His interest in old cars was starting, and he decided he wanted a 1963 Nova as his first car.
Over the next year Jeff and I spent much of our time together restoring this ’63 Nova hardtop, which had a 194-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine. I told Jeff that I would pay for it under one condition: We had to restore it to factory specifications, with no modifications. Jeff agreed, so we worked on the project together. We finished the car when Jeff was 16. He drove the car for a couple of years in high school and some of his first couple of years of college. He was really proud of what he and his father had completed together.
Jeff moved to Louisville, Kentucky, for work, so I ended up storing the Nova for him in Tacoma. I kept it licensed and insured so Jeff could drive it when he came home to visit. Twelve years later, after moving into a different house and having more room, Jeff decided he wanted to have his car back home with him.
And so it begins
Jeff called me one day and said, “Dad would you help me drive my car home with me and my son?” Of course, the answer was yes. How could I pass up an opportunity like that?
The task at hand was to drive the Nova over 2,500 miles from Tacoma to Jeffersonville, Indiana. We planned to see some sights and visit some Chevy friends in the VCCA along the way.
After some discussing I decided that the hotel bills would be more than we wanted to spend on a seven-day trip. Besides, my whole life I have been building things and have always wanted to build a teardrop trailer. The question now was how long would it take me, and how much would it cost?
As anyone knows, when you restore a car you can figure total cost, then double it. Well that’s what happened with the teardrop. I was over budget and over time. My projected five-day build turned into 13 days and my $500 trailer was definitely not $500. Collecting car parts over the years provided me with some trailer parts. I used Chevy parts from 1928 through 1962, and had to purchase a lot, too.
We hit the road
Now that the trailer was done and the car was prepared, Jeff and his 5-year-old son, Corey, flew into town for the big adventure. Soon, we were packed up and on our way. Our first stop was for gas and while leaving the gas station, we proceeded to rip off the stop for the leg that holds up the tongue of the trailer. Not a real big deal, but an obvious design flaw on my part.
We made it to Spokane that day to visit local VCCA club members Greg and Sue Plummer. I had been the past Area 3 Director, so we were welcomed with open arms.
We were even offered a place to sleep inside the house. Being car people, checking out the garage was what we were most interested in and it was everything we were hoping for. Greg and Sue have a beautiful garage and we loved their Chevelle and El Camino.
On this first leg of our journey, we discovered that about 12 miles to the gallon was all we could expect for gas mileage. Going up hills would be slow with trailer in tow, but no real problem.
Stops along the way
Our next stop was Yellowstone National Park. We made reservations to stay in one of the campgrounds nearby. We decided to get a camp site just outside the Park, then go into the park the morning of the next day.
On our way, we discovered the car’s rear end was wobbling a lot at slower speeds. I believed the problem was one of the rear tires. I thought it had separated, causing a high spot. We put the spare on the right rear, but it didn’t solve the problem. There was only one rear tire left, so we changed the left rear with the spare. That did it, so the spare stayed on the car for the rest of the trip.
We got to our campsite and enjoyed the new teardrop that night. We did the normal tourist things the next day in Yellowstone National Park, seeing Old Faithful and watching Corey enjoy the wildlife.
The next morning, we were off to visit a couple of VCCA members in Buffalo, Wyoming. After a couple of hours of car stuff, we were off to Rapid City to see Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments. We even discovered a few things about the GPS. It may get you there, but it may not always be the best way. Traveling with the son and grandson made everything worthwhile, though.
Indiana or bust
The rest of the trip to Indiana was mainly making up time to get there. We got Jeff and Corey home in six days covering 3,200 miles with no real problems. We had changed the pan gasket before we left, trying to solve a gasket leak, but we ended up not making much progress with that. We had to add oil on a regular basis along the way. That didn’t bother us, because we knew the problem was minor and it was not practical to fix on the road. The more we drove the Nova, the better it seemed to run. We put more miles on it in those six days than had been put on it in the previous 10 years.
We sold the teardrop trailer to a couple across the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, for a price that paid for our trip. The couple updated it for their personal needs and they take it to Teardrop Club events. I guess that trailer took on a life of its own.
A close friend of mine would often talk about “making memories,” and that has stuck with me. I have always said I wanted to be a person to make things happen rather than watch things happen. I know I have only so many days left and I do not want to spend them in a rocking chair.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for myself, my son and my grandson. I am hoping there will be more for us to share while Corey is growing up. I get back there about twice a year and we all do car things together. I know we will be talking about this trip forever. Because of the love of family and the love of cars, this experience was possible.
I feel this is a very special time in my life. I have a car hobby that my sons enjoy and hopefully my grandson will too. It has given our family many memorable times. I have two other sons who also enjoy our cars. I restored a ’66 Mustang for Steve and am currently doing a ’63 Nova for Mike.
Jeff said to me, “Everyone says they wish they did not sell their first car. I have mine and I am not going to sell it.” I’m sure someday Jeff is going to pass the Nova down to Corey.