Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
June 23, 1976
Some car models have an appeal that is universal. From the first day they were rolled off the assembly line, to the day the last one remains in existence, there are some cars that are special. One of those cars was the Chevrolet Standard Phaeton. As soon as Tim saw it, he fell in love with it. It was in sad shape, but Tim had to have it.
“I have no idea how we’re going to get it out of here,” Benny said in disgust.
There was a tree growing through the engine compartment. It wasn’t just a little twig, but a tree with a six inch diameter trunk. It went up twenty feet. Cutting the tree down would damage the car unless it was done very carefully.
“I know. But look at it.”
“Once we get the tree out of the way, how will we get it on a trailer?”
“I know, but look at it.”
“There’s no engine, the hood is gone, the bottom is rusted out, the metal is thin, and there’s no interior.”
“This is the car I want to restore.”
Benny knew that this car was a waste of time. There was no way to restore it without basically replacing everything on it. He figured that the body would fall apart the moment they took some sandpaper to it.
“You mean, this is the model of car you want to restore.”
“Then let’s look some more. We can always come back and get this as a parts car.”
“This is the first one we’ve found.”
“It won’t be the only one. Maybe there’s one in West Texas or California somewhere that hasn’t rusted so much. This body is about to fall apart.”
Disappointed, Tim let Benny drag him away. They had not intended to come here and had stumbled upon the car by chance. They were on a completely different quest when they had spotted this car sitting out in the field. They were looking for a rebuilt generator for Sandra’s car. Driving a different route from the office to the junk yard had led them past a place with the rusted car sitting by the fence line.
Upon arrival at the junk yard, Tim went into the office while Benny walked around to see what older model cars were stored near the back. The junk yard had been around for years and there were some fine old cars rusting away on the property.
Jim Snow, the owner of the junkyard, greeted Tim, “Hey, Tim. How are you doing?”
“I’m doing okay. How are things going?”
“Fine. Is that old Ford truck of yours still running?”
“You bet. It’s doing great.”
“So what car are you working on?”
“Fixing the girlfriend’s car. I need a rebuilt generator for it.”
“So you’re not restoring anything right now?”
“No. I just saw a Chevrolet Phaeton on the way here. I’d love to get one of those to restore.”
“That must be the one on Carl Donovan’s place. That’s a 1934 Chevrolet Standard Phaeton.”
“Benny wouldn’t let me buy it.”
“I always said that Benny was the smart one.”
Tim threw his hands up in the air in a surrender gesture. “I give up. I’d really like to restore one of those. There’s got to be one or two of them around. A car like that doesn’t get crushed unless it is in really bad shape. That car is way too pretty to crush.”
“There’s a 1935 Chevrolet Standard Phaeton outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico sitting up on blocks. The guy wants a grand for it.”
“Is it worth a grand?”
“Yes. It’s probably worth more than a grand.”
“Can I find parts for it?”
“Yes. The other 1935 Chevy sedans used the same parts. The Phaeton was just a difference in body style from the sedan. There’s a lot of those old sedans around.”
“Give me the guy’s name. I’ll call him and see about driving out there.”
“That’s a two day drive.”
Tim hadn’t thought about that. It would be a five day trip, considering that they’d want to take at least one day to check out the car and purchase it. He didn’t think they could put together five days to take a trip, even with a three day weekend like on the Fourth of July.
“I’ll need to talk to Benny.”
“I can probably get it delivered here for an extra $200. That would put the cost of the car at $1,200. If you don’t want it, I’ll take it.”
“$1,200. That’ a lot of money for a car that has to be restored.”
“It would cost you $200 to drive out there and back, particularly pulling a trailer behind your truck.”
“That’s a lot of money for a car that has to be restored.”
“Like I said, if you don’t want it, I’ll buy it.”
“What do you know about the person who owns it?”
“He’s a distant cousin. Actually, he’s my great-uncle’s son. He’s pushing seventy now, and isn’t going to be restoring it. He’s got a daughter, but she’s married to a guy who thinks an old car is only good as a trade-in for a new one.”
“Why aren’t you buying it?”
Benny came into the office. He said, “Tim, you should see what he has behind the building.”
Carl smiled at Benny’s timing. “I think if you go back there you’ll understand.”
Benny led Tim around the building. Sitting there was a car like nothing Tim had ever seen. Carl came out the back of the building and, sounding like a proud father, said, “What you are looking at is a 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Sporting Open Tourer. A friend of mine in the army came across it stored in a barn in Belgium. He told me it was in pretty good shape. I bought it sight unseen and he shipped it here. I had no idea it was in such great shape.”
“How much would you sell it for?”
“Tim, you don’t have enough money for it.”
Benny said, “Tim, this is way out of our league.”
“I know you’re right, but you have to admit this is a beauty.”
“And we’re not getting that wreck out in the field.”
“Carl told me where there’s one in good shape. It’ll cost us $1,200 to buy it and have it shipped here.”
Benny asked, “Is it worth that much, Carl?”
“I told Tim I would buy it, if you two don’t want it.”
“Where is it?
“Outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.”
“We’re not going to be able to go there to see it.”
“What do you think, Benny? Should we buy it sight unseen?”
Knowing how much Tim wanted that car, Benny said, “The 1935 Chevrolet Standard Phaeton is a poor man’s Rolls-Royce Phantom II. They’re both fine looking machines of the same general style although nothing compares to the Phantom II. There’s something about these that says, ‘I’m a classy car.’ I say, if you really want it, then let’s get it. I’m sure that we’ll be able to fix it up and make some money on it. I’ll admit the Phaeton has some nice lines to it.”
Tim reached out a hand to Carl and said, “Why don’t you talk to your cousin and see if he’ll sell it to us? We’ll take it for that price.”
Carl shook his hand and said, “Let me call him.”
Tim followed Carl back into the office. He was buying a car and that made him very happy.
Benny continued to wander around the junkyard. This place had been here for over twenty-five years and there were a lot of old cars on it. Carl’s father had opened it just after World War II. A lot of men were returning from overseas only to discover that their pre-war vehicle had turned into something about as useful as a boat anchor in the desert. A lot of cars from the 1930s and 1940s had been towed here by servicemen looking to a future rather than a past. Most of the cars had been scrapped out for parts or crushed for metal, but Carl’s father had kept a few around just because he liked their looks. After sitting out for twenty-five years on top of being hauled in here as junk, most of the cars weren’t worth anything. Still, Benny enjoyed looking at them.
During his first pass through life, Benny had worked on his Volkswagen beetle with Tim. That was the extent of his car repair days. He still remembered those days with great fondness. He had enjoyed working on the cars during this pass. It was very different from his days as a programmer which he didn’t like much at all.
He walked around thinking about what the future held. The digital revolution was on the horizon. Right now, automation was mechanical. The present was characterized by complex machines with gears, levers, and drive belts. In the future, it would be CPUs and stepper motors. That transition period could be very interesting. There were a lot of problems to be solved between now and the future.
It wasn’t even all that far off in the future. There were already computer controlled systems in use. The electronic fuel injection was eight years old. The electronic cruise control was spreading. There were large industrial robots in use in the automotive industry. He thought about all of the medical systems that would come out in the future.
In his first pass through life, he had acquired knowledge of mathematics and computer programming. If he gained mechanical and electrical engineering, then he’d be perfectly situated to work in robotics. While he had often felt that his mastery of mathematics had not improved the world at all, and that his programming hadn’t done much more than make money for other people, he still felt that the knowledge was worthwhile.
Benny stood in front of a rusted out hulk, seeing nothing. He was lost in the world of ideas contemplating all of the possibilities. They excited him. There were so many things he could do and all of them could be of great value to mankind. He could work on a computer controlled medicine delivery system. He didn’t know if one existed already, but it was representative of something he could do that would have great social value. He realized that many of the truly significant robotic systems didn’t appear in the history books because they weren’t revolutionary, only useful in very important ways.
Tim had finished his business with the junkyard. He had a rebuilt generator in hand that would fit in Sandra’s car. He had made arrangements for the purchase and delivery of the car. He figured that it would only take an hour or so to fix Sandra’s car.
Not aware the Benny was lost in thought, Tim shouted, “Hey, Benny. Let’s get a move on.”
“Mechanical and electrical engineering.”
“What about them?”
“That’s what I’ll major in at college.”
“Robotics. That’s the future and that’s where we can inject the biggest nudges.”
Tim had lived through the dawn of the information age and knew that there was more to the term robotics than Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons. He had seen all kinds of robotic systems, from vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers to military robots and drones. Benny was right. That was an area where he could really nudge the world down a better path.
“That’s a great idea. You can really make a difference in that area.”
“You said that you were done here?”
“Yes. I’ve got the generator. I’ll come by tomorrow with a check for the car. It should be delivered in a week or two.”
The two of them swung by the rear of the office to take another look at the car. It was a magnificent car. They both agreed it was a shame that they didn’t make cars like that any more. It was shame they wouldn’t make cars like that in the future. Benny wondered why the world had lost touch with the elegant. It was bad in the 1970s, but it was even worse in the 2010s.
Tim and Benny went to Sandra’s house where her four door 1966 AMC Rambler was parked. At the time it was sold, it was the economy car that was inexpensive to purchase and to operate. The Rambler won gas mileage competitions which was important during the 70s. It was just a simple basic little car.
In 1976, her car was now a decade old and it was definitely showing its age. It had reached the point in its life cycle where nearly every part that could break was breaking. It would be hard to say that Sandra loved her car, but she had the kind of attachment that one has towards their first car. It was the car that first freed her from being totally dependent on her parents for getting from one place to another.
Tim opened the hood and looked inside the engine compartment. He looked at it with a critical eye. It was a little more complicated than the engine compartments of the older cars they had worked on. They had gotten spoiled with the spaciousness of the engine compartments on the last few cars they had rebuilt. Even now, this was nowhere near what it would be like with catalytic converters, fuel injection, electronic ignition, and all of the other stuff they would wedge into the front of cars later.
“Benny, do you think this car is worth saving?”
“You mean repairing?”
“I mean rebuilding.”