Saturday, December 8, 2012

What's 200,000 Miles Between Friends?

Mrs. Jumbo on a foggy Saturday
... and so she sits, this old van my wife called Mrs Jumbo, waiting for someone to rescue her.

Mrs. Jumbo (because she's very large and grey all over) wore out my patience this past week. We parked her in the driveway went looking for a new van. New? Oh, no. If you want a new van equipped to haul a passenger using a wheelchair, you best bring $40,000 to $60,000. As I've said more than once, being a crip is an expensive hobby.

We went looking for an accessible van new to us, and we found a good one in the inventory of United Access, and thanks to the good folks in their Springfield, Missouri office we were able to make a deal without mortgaging the farm. It's another Ford (makes no lemons, that FoMoCo), a 2003 model with low mileage, and something I've always wanted: a mini-van with front wheel drive, a smaller (less gas-guzzling) engine, and a cut-out floor (meaning I can see at eye-level out the windows without being forced to bend down), no wheelchair lift necessary.

But we'll miss Mrs Jumbo, a 1992 E-350 Club Wagon. Actually, truth be told, I'll miss her because I didn't want to spend money for a new van at this point in my life. My wife on the other hand will miss her because she's so blooming huge—the van, not my wife—that my handy little spouse who likes to build things could take the seats out and use Mrs. Jumbo as a truck.

In fact, that may be her fate: a local craftsman, a fellow who lays hardwood floors, thinks she might just be the ticket for hauling around his heavy floor-sander and other equipment. Who'd thunk it? A Braun wheelchair lift going into the twilight as a machinery lift.  

Mrs. Jumbo has a raised roof that's leaked since the first day we owned. Solution? Complain to the dealer. Dealer returns van to modifier. Van returns with leaking roof, and $600 damage to the door that happened when the modifier didn't clear the door while using the wheelchair lift. Solution #2? Always park on a slight slope so that rain water will run off. She has a relatively new engine, that occurrence the result of ignorance that certain Ford 351-cubic-inch V8 motors are prone to fan clutch failure. Overheating. Trying to edge along into Chicago anyway. Blown head-gaskets and ruined heads. New heads. Overheating. Cracked block. New engine. 

Mrs. Jumbo's other problems are relatively routine—I can hear the u-joints getting ready to retire— although my wife insists that the litany recently is the result of an incident in the winter of 2008-09. Mrs. Jumbo lost her footing on ice, did a pirouette, went down a slope, and then up a slope only to sail over a barbed wire fence. Luckily she landed on her feet. If I were the sort who get out and around and about a vehicle, she'd probably drive on; but I'm not. And in the last year or so, we've spent several thousand dollars keeping her on the road. As I told the fellow looking at her, she's more a rolling collection of worn parts than a van. He said, "Hey, she's twenty years old? I wouldn't expect anything else."

He's getting her for about half the price of two front tires, an engine computer, and a rebuilt front end suspension invested in her in the last six months.

Sometimes there is a straw that a camel cannot carry. I think mine was located in my wallet. 

Will I miss her? Not really. Oddly enough, I feel safer in the smaller, lighter van. I feel more enclosed. With Mrs. Jumbo, I sat in an open area, and I always felt as if there were no support for the wheelchair. The 2003 Ford, too, has front airbags, which will be good when the kid who lives with us rides up front. My wife, though, misses Mrs. Jumbo already. "This one doesn't feel right to me," she said when we took a trip lasting a couple of hours. It drives more like a car." I suppose that's understandable since she's put most of the 200,000 miles on Mrs. Jumbo.

And so we need only a name for the new van, a sleek low-slung Windstar. 


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