06 November 2012

Bill's Beetle Pt 2 - The Econoline Years

When we last heard from Bill, he posed the question about the "first" always being the most memorable. To many it is, right?  But Bill just sent this reprise - and to him, the answer is obviously NO.
Thanks for the story and photos, and 'Keep On Truckin'!

My First Favorite Car:
I wrote about my “first” car, after all, that is what this website is about.  My “first” car was a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle.  But that bug was not my “favorite” car!  And my favorite car was not a car at all, rather, it was a truck!  It was my 1963 Ford Econoline Van!

My ’63 Econoline was purchased with a specific purpose in mind.  It was to be the vehicle I drove to Canada for the July 10th, 1972 total solar eclipse! It would carry telescopes, cameras, camping gear, food and supplies for me and my best friend, Roy, as we drove from Oklahoma to the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, camping and seeing the sites on the way. 
Here she is:

It had already been outfitted as a camper: paneling with insulation, carpet, an ice box, and a vent window, so I really had little else to do to prepare for the eclipse trip.
I put new tires on it, drove to Moore, OK where Roy lived, and we packed her up and took off on our adventure!  And do I have terrific memories of the trip!  I was only 18, and it was some adventure – 5000 miles round trip, and included terrific stops like Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, NY City, Washington DC – places I’d never before visited. 
Though I have long forgotten the exact round-trip route, you can see by this map, that for a couple of green 18 year –olds from Oklahoma, this was an ambitious trip:
Of course, the blue lines on the map mark the path of the eclipse, with the red line in between the blue lines marking the centerline of the eclipse.  This is where we had to be, on the centerline, and is why we chose the Gaspe Peninsula as our destination.
We arrived at our eclipse site a full week before the eclipse, found a terrific local resident who let us park the Van in a favorable location on a hill on his property.  We set about making camp: 
That’s me in the red ball cap and my telescope in the foreground.  The aluminum foil in the windows served as a cheap way to conceal the contents of the van, and to keep the sun from shining directly on all our gear stored inside.  It also offered privacy when we set up our narrow cots inside the van for the night.
In the week ahead of the eclipse, every day at eclipse time was met with beautiful, clear, sunshine!  But eclipse day, the clouds rolled in, socking-in the entire peninsula, so we were forced to experience the eclipse through nearly complete overcast, though the clouds broke for a few seconds in the moments before totality enabling me to get this shot:
Above: The total eclipse of 10 July, 1972, just moments before totality!  Seen through overcast skies near Gaspe Quebec, Canada.

Anyway, I’m sure few reading this really care about my adventure all those years ago, and would rather be interested in knowing just why this vehicle was my favorite car!  Well, I’m not sure I can adequately explain it!
The Econoline of this period had the engine situated in an enclosure right between the driver’s and passenger’s seats.  With the engine mounted this way, the driver sat right up front, in the nose of the vehicle, providing an unprecedented visual and driving experience!  Sure, today, we recognize this arrangement is incredibly dangerous, and no manufacturer these days would again place the driver in such a precarious position, but I have to tell you, it was great!
Then there’s the design of the Econoline itself! I just loved that “boxy” appearance and the double doors on the right side and rear which allowed for incredibly easy access to the back for hauling items such as lumber and cinderblocks which I did haul, many of, as I used the van to haul the materials to the site of my observatory I built back then about 25 miles out of town where we had dark night skies! 
The van was also a “rest stop” on wheels!  I drove the van to and from college each day, and used it often for naps between classes!  Yes – naps! And yes, it made for a great, private place for rendezvous with the girls, that I cannot deny!
So here's the deal; Of all the vehicles I've ever owned, I would kill to have THIS one back! That's how much I love it!

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