Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Retiring the Old Gray Ghost

 Carl and I have been saving for retirement for decades now, and though it is hard to believe, retirement isn't that far off.  We will both be 60 in a few months; weren't we just 20 not that long ago?  Time flies when you're having fun.  And when you're not having much fun, too. 

We went in for a financial review awhile ago.   The advisor ran the numbers of our savings and our current spending habits and asked about our hopes, dreams and goals for old age.   Some of the questions that came up were, "How do you see yourself spending your retirement years?  Play golf?  Will you want to travel? Buy a new home? Vacation home?"

We said no to all of the above.  I played golf once, in 1975, in my junior year of high school.  It was ok, the scenery was nice, I liked the walking, but the game was not for me.  

Travel?  Um, no.  I've never been on an airplane.  Carl flew once as a young boy, on a small aircraft with his sister, Donna.  (All he really remembers about the experience was Donna being airsick.)

Neither of us have any inclination to leave the country; with my luck, they wouldn't let me back in.  

I'm the happiest on the farm. 

A new home?  What?!  Where??  And leave this humongous garden behind?  I don't think so.  (Ok, some day I will have to give up the botanical monstrosity, but until then, I'll keep planting dwarf conifers and hope for the best.)  We do want and NEED to remodel our current hut, though, so ok, yeah, home renovation is a retirement goal. 

The financial advisor's next question was, "How often do you buy a new car?  Would you say every year?  Every two to three years?  Every five to seven?  What is your average?"

Carl and I looked at each other and I busted out laughing.  Our 'average' car turnaround time since we've been married is closer to fifteen years or more.  In fact, Carl's current car, the 1989 Delta 88 Oldsmobile is one year older than our youngest son, David, who just turned 27.  

"Your car is 28 years old?  That's quite the longevity," the financial advisor marveled.  "But would you like to possibly drive a bit newer car in retirement?  How about I figure in a new car every five to seven years in your long-range plan?"

Wow.  A different car every five to seven years, huh.  That would be a change for us, indeed.  Mind-boggling, actually.  We've lived as frugally as possible all of our lives and now, well, it's an ingrained habit.  Carl's motto about anything we own that's starting to fall apart is, "It just needs a little work."

The Olds has needed more than 'just a little work' for a long time now.  The bumpersticker, 'Honk if Parts Fall Off' wouldn't have been a stretch, but I never bought one.  Carl drove the car from a little less than 40,000 miles to 150,000 miles in the eleven years we owned it.  The sad part is, the rust is taking over but the engine is still as strong as ever.  The last time Carl took the car in for tires and they put it up on the hoist at the garage, everyone stood back and waited to see what would fall off before venturing underneath the body.  Even Carl.  

Like all of our cars, the Old's had its own idiosyncracies.  The 'Service Engine Soon' light was on for at least five years until the light burned out.  Carl was happy, Problem Solved.  The problem was actually a cam sensor which would have cost more than the car was worth to fix.  You just had to know how to accelerate from a stop sign and so it wouldn't stall in an intersection.  

I'm not sure when the muffler problem started, it has to be more than five years now.  Carl had replaced the muffler, but the pipe broke up near the engine.  Carl welded it up and it held for a few years, but then rust took out more of the underbody and there was nothing to wire or weld up to any more.  

Yes, the car was loud.  As in very.  One neighbor said he didn't have to set an alarm clock because Carl goes by every week day at 5:15 AM and wakes him up instead.   When I was out in the garden, I could always hear him coming home from a mile away; it was handy, actually.  The last time we rode together, though, we had to yell to be heard over the racket, especially when accelerating.  Once he had it up to speed, it wasn't as bad.  And in all honesty, it was not as loud as most Harley Davidson's on the road.  But it wasn't good.

Carl was determined to drive the car to 200,000 miles and beyond.  I was skeptical, but it was up to him.  He loved the car, so if he was satisfied, so was I.  We have a 2005 Pontiac (another extinct vehicle, as Pontiacs are no longer manufactured either) as our 'good car' which we bought in 2007 with 30,000 miles.   Even the good car is twelve years old already.  Drat!  I doubt we will ever buy another new car; we had two brand-new ones when I was still working, but once I quit, what was the point?  Let someone else take the hit of the high price tag, buying a one or two year old car has worked out very well for us.  

I took the following pictures off an internet ad for a nearly identical car that was for sale.   I'm not sure where this car was located, but it is in way better shape than our Old Gray Ghost.  I suspect this car lived out its life somewhere far away from Salt Country.  Look at that body, would ya?

My parents bought the Oldsmobile used around 1992, I'm not sure when, to tell the truth.   I think it was around three years old when they purchased it from a car dealer and had about 30,000 miles on it.  A local school guidance counselor was the first owner and she often asked me if my parents still had the Olds, "I really loved that car, sometimes I wish I'd never sold it."  She passed away a few years ago as did my father in 2001 and now my mother.  Ironically, the car outlived three of it's owners.

My father was very proud of the Oldsmobile.  Mom was okay with it, but would have much prefered to own a Buick.  In 2006, Mom got her wish and bought a one year old 2005 Buick Le Sabre as an airport rental with 28,000 miles on the odometer.  

Mom sold me the Olds for a little of nothing. Joel and David were teenagers and it came in handy for them, especially Joel, for awhile.  The premiums weren't bad at all.  Eventually, the boys acquired their own vehicles and Carl claimed it for his work car. 

Carl is a wonderful man, but even he will admit he has a problem with junk, as I've mentioned many times before.  He can see something of value in virtually almost everything and as a consequence, virtually almost everything was in the back seat, passenger seat and trunk of the poor Olds for years.  He hauled steel and all sorts of flotsam and jetsam in his car every day.  The faithful vehicle pulled countless trailers of stone and mulch, kayaks and canoes for years.   
I went back through years worth of photos and could only find a few where just a glimpse of the Olds was shown.

 This was the most recent photo, taken in August when we were hauling the last load of granite landscaping rocks from our friend's home.

 The rear of the car is seen here last November, towing our new septic tanks into the back yard.

 I feel bad, gosh, you'd think I would have taken a better picture of the car who served us so faithfully, wouldn't you?

When Mom had to stop driving at age 93, we acquired her Buick.  For over three years, her car more or less sat in the garage, going out only for her doctor appointments.  After Mom passed away, her car is still sitting in the garage at her house, a 2005 with 36,000 miles.  It still looks and even smells like a new car, but it is coming thirteen years old. Carl said we'd keep it as a spare.  Good idea, but expensive to license and insure a car no one drives very much.

Fast forward to September, when Carl called from work, "My car won't start.  I'm going to be late.  I've called a guy and he's coming over to help me.  I'll be home when I can."

Turns out the mechanic who came to look at Carl's car was a miracle worker, and he managed to get it started.  We put a new battery and starter in and once again, the Gray Ghost was rolling.  

"I made arrangements with the mechanic to take the Olds to him and have it tuned up.  He said he can replace the exhaust too, and look at the other problems," Carl said when he got home.

I looked at him in dismay.  "How much will that cost?  Every time you put gas in the tank, the value of the car doubles.  Don't you think it's time to take the Buick out of mothballs and say goodbye to the Olds?"

I don't like to make Carl sad, but I just did.  How he hates to part with stuff, but the only good thing is, he does not like working on cars.  At all.  If he did, we'd have a real mess on our hands as he would be collecting every car he'd see.  

"The Olds is up for registration the end of October," I said.  "I'm thinking we sell it or give it away or something before then.  We're paying for three cars to be on the road and only driving two.  I think you deserve a better car, don't you?  You're not getting any younger."

"What am I going to drive to work, then?  The Pontiac?" Carl asked sadly.

"Yes, that would work, don't you think?  Then we'll move the Buick up to the 'good car' status and start the process all over again," I said.

So, sadly, Carl began the month-long process of saying goodbye to his car.  He put the word out at work and a coworker said he'd trade us a generator for the Olds.  Carl really doesn't need a generator, but he couldn't bear to turn the car into the junkyard since it runs so well.  He agreed to the trade.

Last week Tuesday, one day before the plates expired, Dave and I followed Carl in Dave's new-used car on the Old's last ride to its new owner.  We were both amazed at how much higher the suspension rode after Carl cleaned out all of his junk.  I know it was a hard time for Carl, he hates to give up on anything he feels he can fix.   

When we arrived at the destination, I was surprised to see the new owner was quite cheerful about the Old's.  Turns out he is intending to fix it up for his teenage daughter to drive when she turns sixteen in a few months.  (I think he's going to have a bit of a problem there, because when his daughter laid eyes on it, she declared she wouldn't be caught dead driving it.  He told her she'd better be prepared to walk, then.) 

Carl is now driving the Pontiac to work (Merle, as we call it, due to the paint color listed as 'Merlot') and is feeling a little better about losing his Gray Ghost lately.  

When he came home from work yesterday, Carl said, "The new owner's taken the car to his mechanic already.  They're going to fix up the exhaust and check it all over.  He said the mechanic said, '"This car has a lot of life left in it yet.'  I bet they will get 200,000 out of it.  You just wait and see."

I bet they will, too, Carl. 



FlowerLady Lorraine said...

What a great story! Enjoy Merle.


Peter/Outlaw said...

I get attached to cars too and hate to get rid of them. What a great story.

Alison said...

Great story. I hope Carl gets just as attached to his "new" car. Is it full of junk already? Our car is ten years old this year and I still think of it as new. I have a hard time getting rid of anything that is still working too. I hate all the kitchen appliances that came with this house, but they still work, so...

Garden Fancy said...

What a great story -- I love your descriptions! I drove my 1994 Infiniti G20 from the day I picked up the 4yo car (drove it home from our honeymoon!) until two years ago, so it was over 20 years old. Found a used, low miles Toyota Corolla on Craigslist to replace it, and hope to drive it for at least another decade. I see young people buying new cars and working mostly to make their car payments and think: What fools! That's money I'd rather be spending on plants! :-) Take care, -Beth

Ellie's friend from canada said...

Somehow my comment was deleted. I am smiling wistfully at this blog. One of the saddest moments was when I had to sell both my mother's and my brother's Oldsmobiles. And also a 1951 Ford (that in fact I was taken to the hospital in for my birth). They all were held dear by us. The Ford was in the family for 40 years (and still worked). The blow was softened because a city worker who collected cars and one day made inquiries said he was going to restore it as a vintage car.

The Olds were close to our hearts, too. It marked the end of driving for my Mother. The cars sat in their respective driveways for about a year. I don't drive but with all my heart I wish I could have kept
my Mother's Olds. For my young brother, it marked the realization that he was going to be a quadriplegic forever. One day, one of my regular cab drivers asked about them. It turns out that old-time cab drivers here have a love affair for Olds as many of their first cabs were Olds. He bought both of them for a much reduced two for one price. We liked that they went to good homes.

That, I am sure, tempers the loss for Carl, that his beloved car went to a good home. Still, there was nothing as great as an Olds...

Condolences to Carl.

Karen said...

My thanks for all the kind comments! Yes, cars do often become part of the family, I'm glad to see we weren't the only ones who feel that way.

Beth, so true about making car payments (and the higher insurance premiums) on new cars, really doesn't make any sense.

Ann, what a sweet story you have about your Oldsmobiles, too. So many memories in these great old cars. I'm glad you were able to find good homes for yours, too. :-)

chavliness said...

Every time I read your blog I think you should publish your posts in a book. They are much more than posts, they are captivating stories, life lessons. They make me laugh and cry. I really enjoy reading them.

Karen said...

chavliness, thank you so much!