Jerry Nelson: An old flame
I was recently visiting with a local businessman when I caught a glimpse of an old flame. A jolt of nostalgia and regret shot through my gut.
She hadn’t changed in lo these many years. She still had those same shapely lines, that saucy upward tilt to, shall we say, her back end.
Striving mightily to stifle my emotions, I pointed my chin at my former paramour and said, “That’s a ’68 Impala Super Sport.”
The businessman casually glanced over his shoulder. “Yep.”
“Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission? The 327 engine with 275 horsepower?”
“Yeah. How did you know that?”
Choking back a wistful tear, I replied, “Let’s just say that she and I used to know each other. Quite well.”
Like many people my age, I cannot watch a televised Barrett-Jackson car auction without exclaiming from time to time, “Dang it! I or one of my buddies used to own a car just like that! If we’d held onto it, we’d have enough money to buy a private island!”
I met the Impala when I was a high school junior, a formative age for a young guy. She was ensconced on the lot at Oines Implement & Chevrolet, our local auto/farm implement dealership. It was the kind of place where you could trade off your old car and buy new blades for your disc harrow.
Captivated by the Impala’s sensual curves, I began to find reasons to visit Oines Implement. Orvis, owner of the establishment, noticed my budding infatuation with the Impala.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” said Orvis one day when I was at Oines Implement to see if they had any tractor headlight fluid.
“What makes you think I’m interested?” I asked.
“You’ve walked around her so much that you’re worn an oval groove in the gravel,” he replied.
He had me there. Never a strong negotiator, I was totally worthless when it came to making a deal for the Impala. I probably paid more than I should have, but as they say, you can’t put a price on love.
Our first few months were total bliss. The Impala had oodles of power thanks to her four-barrel carburetor. I soon learned that the “four-barrel” part meant that she would chug approximately four barrels of gasoline whenever I stepped on the accelerator. But a gallon of gas cost about as much as a bottle of soda back then, so her drinking problem didn’t bother me.
I found it deeply concerning when she picked up a smoking habit. It got so that the view out the back window often resembled a glowering thunderhead.
The next spring, my buddy Steve and I decided to overhaul her engine. We used our loader tractor to extract the engine in the driveway of our farmstead. We then took her engine to Steve’s parents’ garage, where Steve had an engine stand.
Fortunately for me, Steve worked at an auto repair shop and had access to various specialized tools. More importantly, he had actual skills and experience.
The overhaul process was a pleasant adventure. I learned a lot. For instance, you shouldn’t even joke about grinding valves by hand while saying, “I bet I can eyeball this!” or slap on a new part and declare, “Good enough to hold ear corn!”
The Impala was already outstanding, but I secretly thought that she could be improved. This is a guy thing; it explains why home improvement centers do such a booming business.
We decided to boost the Impala’s horsepower by installing an aftermarket camshaft. The word “racing” may or may not have been in the camshaft’s description.
It took several weeks, but we finally reassembled and reinstalled the engine. A tsunami of relief washed over me when the Impala roared back to life. I was as happy as a porcupine at a pincushion convention.
The Impala’s personality changed. After the overhaul, she was a lot crankier on cold mornings. She also developed a reputation for being “fast.”
She quit smoking but the expense of that habit was far surpassed by her gasoline guzzling. Stomping on the accelerator went from a four-barrel experience to an eight-barrel experience.
I overlooked these faults and we spent several happy years together. Then, one fateful day, I rented a farm and became a dairyman.
I learned that the Impala’s trunk could hold about a dozen bags of feed but bending over to retrieve them was a backbreaking task. Her rear end also lost its jaunty tilt.
I eventually traded the Impala for a pickup. This may be among the biggest mistakes of my life. Because if I’d held onto her, she could be worth more than I ever made as a farmer.