Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 13, 2012

Eight and a half times around the world

As I was preparing to leave the Manhattan airport, a man walked up to the driver's side of my van. He motioned that he wanted to talk, so I opened the window.

"I just had to stop and tell you that I have a van just like this one in Chicago," he said, chuckling. "And I got 303,000 miles on it. It is the same color and everything."

I was amazed.

"Wow! 303,000 miles," I said.

He told me the exterior and interior of mine were better than his and that the seats were a lot cleaner.

"If you ever decide to sell it, maybe I'd buy it for parts," he said, chuckling again.

It was a fun chance exchange, and it made me think about how much service we've received from our 1996 Lumina van since we bought it.

But its purchase had involved a certain amount of serendipity. Husband Art had usually been lucky finding a replacement just before one of our vehicles was about to fall apart. In 1998, he figured it was time to begin looking. His 1979 Oldsmobile had 250,000 miles on it and the odometer on my 1984 Cavalier showed more than 150,000 miles.

We needed the room that his old Oldsmobile provided. Oldest daughter Mariya was 12 and Katie was 6 and it seemed we were always carting them and their friends to school events, movies and pizza parties. Plus, in the summer, sister Gaila and her two girls stayed for several weeks and we needed space for all of us and the required swimming "noodles," beach balls, towels and other essentials for a day at the pool or at Tuttle Creek.

Our two excursions to Wisconsin each year also dictated a large vehicle. For our Christmas trip, we needed room for gifts - including large tins of Topsy's popcorn for Art's brother Tommy - in addition to heavy winter coats, snow suits, boots, gloves and other paraphernalia needed to survive a week in the "Great White North's" snowy winters. The summer journey involved hauling coolers, fishing gear and other supplies for our annual stay at our North Woods cottage.

Art began searching the Internet for a used sedan and he came across two at a Junction City dealership. But the cars didn't look as nice on the lot as in the website pictures. They didn't have as much room either.

But just as he was about to leave, he noticed a van parked several rows away. The salesman arrived shortly, already in close-the-deal mode. He said the van had been driven by the dealership owner's father, who had put 37,000 miles on it driving between Junction City and his mountain retreat near Denver. Art figured it was a story and really wanted to get back to the Internet to find out more about the vehicle.

But once he researched the van, he liked what he saw and so we decided to buy it. And, indeed, the only owner of the vehicle had been the dealership.

Art said he didn't want the van to become a truck, but it came close a few times. Probably the most unusual thing we transported was a balled and burlapped evergreen tree we purchased in Manhattan to plant on my parents' farm 90 miles away. While in Wisconsin one year, Art's Mom's water heater developed a leak and the van was the only vehicle large enough to transport a new one from Menard's. Art's also used it several times to haul items from his work to customers. But mostly, it's been a people mover.

As with all vehicles, there have been some problems. Art has worked on the door latches and electric windows a number of times. The air conditioning was recharged and head gaskets, brakes, tires, window-washer pumps, battery, tires, wiper blades and the blower motor were replaced. But that's it.

It now drives like an old lumber wagon, but all in all, it's been a trooper. Just before Christmas while transporting my sister and her hubby from the airport in Kansas City, the odometer rolled over to 210,000, meaning it's gone the equivalent of eight and a half times around the world!

Today, it's mainly my go-to-work vehicle. Art has talked about replacing it and some of our other really-old vehicles and I agree that we should.


But for now, though, I'll keep putzing along. It's been a big part of our family story and I'm just not quite ready to close this chapter yet.

Top: Katie and Mariya in front of our "new" van in 1998; bottom: Items ready to be loaded in the van as we prepared to leave our cottage in 2006. Art's Mom can be seen through one of the cottage windows, acting in her capacity as supervisor.

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