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Can't keep a Stovebolter still ~~ The Corvette Adventure
By Steve VandenBerg
With the first utterance of the IRWIPI - Triple Dog Dare adventure, I told 'Bolters on the forum about my 1969 Corvette that I drove back from California (what I did for my summer vacation). This Corvette Adventure happened a few years ago. This is a nice long read that I hope you will enjoy. And as with all things, I will start at the very beginning.
In March of 2004, I took a week long vacation to Springtown, Texas to see and work with my Uncle Carl (for those of you who followed the Triple Dog Dare Adventure, you KNOW all about Uncle Carl -- everyone needs an Uncle Carl -- I'd like two please ~~ Editor) . Uncle Carl builds hotrods and retro rods, and does some restorations. I had interest in starting to work on cars and pickups here in South Dakota. I thought it might be an eye-opening experience for me to actually see some of Uncle Carl's work.
Uncle Carl showed me how to graph a Nova sub frame to a 1956 Chevy frame. I thought that was a lot of fun. Uncle Carl and I talked a lot about cars and he shared some of his conventional wisdom about cars throughout the week. We worked on a 1957 Chevy that he was restoring and discussed his other projects at as much length as we could.
Uncle Carl and Aunt Norma took me out to listen and watch some "real" Bluegrass folk singing on Friday night. Saturday night I talked them into going out for a steak and toured the cattle yards in Ft. Worth. They took me out shopping for a new cowboy hat and were able to find just the right one. I made Uncle Carl wear it because I put on my tennis shoes until we got to Billy Bob's. At Billy Bob's, we were able to watch indoor bull riding and saw Tanya Tucker perform while we downed a couple of drinks. I even got Aunt Norma out country dancing. In Texas they call it "honky tonkin'."
I asked a few gals to dance and two gals kept me busy dancing that night. That week was the most fun I had in a long time. It was a great feeling to be within the family values that are still in place in Uncle Carl's home. Uncle Carl and Aunt Norma have a way to make sure everyone is shown friendship and makes them feel like a part of the family. I felt it was a shame when I had to leave.
While I was there, my Aunt Louise from Vista, California called my cell phone. My Mom told her that I was visiting in Texas, and so she called me. She informed me to let Uncle Carl know that she had a friend that had a 1969 Corvette for sale and wondered if he would be interested. Louise and Carl discussed the car's details over the phone. We knew up front that this car wasn't going to be the "song" we all hope for and that a fair price would be the best we might get. I mentioned to Uncle Carl that it sure would be a nice way for me to get into a Corvette. I had recently been thinking that my 44th birthday was coming up. Now, I have never been married and haven't had any kids yet either. I thought that maybe I should have a sports car. Being the man that he is, Uncle Carl said if I wanted the car, I could have it. I told him that he would have first dibs on it because Aunt Louise called to tell him about it. He told me that it was just a car and that if I wanted it, I could have first crack at it. I told him I would look into it and let him know if I decided to try to get it or not.
When I got home, I couldn't believe how stressful it was to be back to work. I had such a hard time keeping my head in my work and thought about hotrods and old trucks constantly. I even dragged four old pickups home so I could think about fixing them up. I didn't think that I would get the Corvette and that it would be too much trouble (expensive) to get it home. Jo (the Corvette's owner) had her brother in-law look it over and Jo thought that the value was too low -- the car needed too much work and money to make it drivable again. The initial talks with Jo led me to believe that she would just keep the Corvette. I asked Jo if she would buy a disposable camera and take some pictures of it to satisfy my curiosity. She said she would and I left it at that. After a couple of weeks, I didn't see any sign of the pictures. So I had just let it go and figured that it wouldn't happen and I started to forget about it. Then to my surprise a package arrived.
I got the pictures developed and was somewhat pleased at what I saw. My first look! I was disappointed that no pictures of under the hood were on that film. My second look. After talking over the next week with Jo, her BIL, and studying the pictures and enhancing them on my computer, I was able to determine the shape of the car to some degree. Here's one of her pictures showing the interior. Jo told me that her ex-husband had done some engine work on the car and my new worry was that the engine might have been exchanged. The numbers were under the air conditioner compressor and very hard to get at. Jo's BIL believed that it was the original engine. Apparently, the engine and transmission had been overhauled about a year and a half before the Corvette was parked. It was not confirmed that the engine was the original. Jo's BIL said that he was able to turn the motor about 1/4 inch by hand. With that, I figured the motor was probably still unstuck.
What I did know after my initial research, was that the car was a 1969 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe with a T-top and removable rear window. It came with a 350 cubic inch 300 horse power engine and a 400-turbo transmission. From the pictures, talks with Jo, and the serial numbers, I was able to determine that the accessories included power steering and brakes, power windows and leather seats, tilt-telescopic steering column and deluxe wheel covers. The radio in the car was not the original, but Jo said that the original radio was there. Jo stated that there was also a carb change at one time and the original carb was there, too. The tires looked like they were in good shape. The Corvette had been on blocks in Jo's garage for 18 years.
Jo and I discussed the price. I also talked with Uncle Carl about it and sent pictures to him, too. Jo and I came to an agreement and the car was mine!. Now I had to figure out how to get it 1800 miles from Carlsbad, California to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
During the informational stage of finding out how much it would cost me to get the car home, I started calling auto transport companies. The costs ranged from $750 to $1300 to have the car brought to my door not running. While having one of my many talks with Uncle Carl, he said something to the effect of "Fly down there and get it running and drive it home." Now, this is a thought that I had already. Yet, I wondered about the amount of the time involved and where was I going to work on it? While talking with Jo, she said that I was crazy. However, she said I could use her garage to work on it to get it running. If I wanted to transport the car, I could leave it in her garage until Thanksgiving.
Well, almost everyone I talked to and told that I was thinking about driving the Corvette home from California thought I must be nuts. The only people who were encouraging were people like Uncle Carl who built cars and one guy, Bob. Bob restores C3 Corvettes (C3 Corvettes are the body style years from 1968 to 1982). He said, "That sounds like fun" and that made me more intent on driving the Corvette back! I knew I could do it, but I guess most people are not encouraging about things they would be afraid to try. I think that what they are really saying, is "they" would be crazy to try something like that themselves. I thought it would be a challenge and started making my plans.
Before I get into this any further, I want to tell you about my Mom and her reaction to driving this Corvette back from California. My Mom (Lyla) is quite a woman. She is a carpenter. She learned how to rebuild houses from hanging around her Dad and sweeping up after him. She was her Dad's buddy. She doesn't just repaint and wallpaper a house, she rebuilds it with new windows and doors, knocks out walls and redesigns the layout of the house, lays her own carpet and shingles roofs, etc. A bunch of us came over to shingle her house and we couldn't keep her off of the scaffold and roof. Mom has won hammering contests at local fairs and had job offers from some contractors who thought it might extract some enthusiasm in their young workers to try to keep up with this woman who can run a hammer and dig in the dirt with a spade better than most men. Mom started using a motto from Nike that says how she manages to get things done. Her motto is "Just Do it". Mom just turned 71 at the time of this trip (she is 74 now) and still works harder than most men. Mom's story of accomplishments would be a very long story, and she isn't done yet.
Mom's reaction when I told her I bought a Corvette, and that it has been sitting for 18, and I was going to go to California to fix it and drive it back home, she said ……………………. nothing. Verbally she had no comment. The visual reaction led me to believe that she thought I was crazy and she just might give her sister a word or two (if not wringing her neck) for telling me about the Corvette. No encouragement from her this time. I can only imagine what she was thinking when I told her. Words like crazy, stupid, hair brained ideas come to mind as things she might have said. I think she knows that trying to discourage her kids from "hair brained ideas" doesn't work with them. She has told me before "Life has many hard lessons to learn."
Preparing was fun for me. I thought I could buy some cheap tools when I got there, but I decided to ship some of mine down there. I also shipped some of the parts I knew I would be replacing. I could have warranty on them when I got back home. Jo sent me the title and I went to the courthouse to get license plates and shipped them to CA with some work cloths. I had to keep in mind that everything had to come back in the Corvette. I had to ship everything right away for it to get there for my window of opportunity. I had to leave on June 18th or I would have to wait until July 16th before the next window opened. Jo was leaving on vacation on June 25th and Aunt Louise was coming back here for a family reunion on the week ending on July 9th. I knew that once I bought the Corvette, I would have to get it right away or I would drive myself nuts just thinking about it. So I ran head first into scheduling a one-way flight and rental car for the trip. I was going to get a two-way flight, but decided that this was an adventure, an extreme sport. I don't rock climb or skydive, or anything like that. So, I figured that I should plan on going through with it all the way from start to finish. I was going to drive the Corvette home.
After shipping everything to California, I had to prepare things at home. I had a guy coming over to replace some windows and siding on my house. So I committed on Monday and started to tear the old siding and windows from the house, as he was coming over. He decided then that he wanted more money ($5 an hour more) and I told him to take a hike. The principle of jacking me up for more money once I am committed just ticked me off. I called a few people and a friend of mine (Mike Ormseth) said he would come over and help. He wouldn't accept any money, so we agreed that friendship was a pretty cool thing and that I would take him out to eat and buy a few drinks sometime. We got the house buttoned up the night before I was going to leave. I happened to go into the garage to grab some tools and noticed that the garage had flooded with two inches of water from the night before when we had six inches of rain. (I had brought home a load of rock and placed it too close to the garage. With the heavy rain, the water couldn't drain fast enough around the pile of rock so it ran into my garage.) I didn't need that. Needless to say, the shop vac got a real workout with over 200 gallons of water that we ran through it. At least my shop has a mopped floor again. So, I made sure that the rock pile was moved before I left for CA.
After Mike and I got the garage cleaned up and after many thanks, he went home. I felt a sore spot on my leg. I pulled up my jeans and I could see a bulge under my sock right above my ankle. Within 20 minutes, it looked like a golf ball under my skin. It was numb and I went in to have it looked at. The doc said that I banged it real hard and that I would be all right if I stayed off of it. I have no idea how I did it. The doc wrote me a note for work, and told me to keep it elevated for the next 24 hours. I went to work in the morning and cleaned up a few things so I wouldn't leave a mess for Vern to take care of before I left. Then I went home and tried to relax for a while.
My bags had been packed for a week. All my parts, tools, work clothing and license plates had arrived in California (I tracked them via internet and confirmed with Aunty Louise). I had to wait for my ride to show up at 3 pm. I hadn't even given the Corvette much thought in the last week as I was so busy taking care of the little things at home and at work so all would go smoothly. I decided that I needed to bring my truck to Luverne for my Mom to use. I called my ride (Judy) and told her how to get to my Mom's house. My directions were very clear except for the house number. I told her "702 or something like that." The correct house number is 207. I saw her drive by, but apparently Dick (who was riding with her) decided that the house was beige or something other than yellow as I had told Judy. They saw my brother leaving on his motorcycle but not me waving on the front steps!! I chased them down in my Mom's car. The directions were "half a block after the right hand turn, yellow house with maroon front door and shutters, white trim and on the right hand side, house number is 702 or something like that." OK women (and Dick) listen up. Colors for most men are like this. red, yellow, green, blue, black and white. I don't even know what mauve is, or even how to spell it. I thought maroon was pretty precise. Dick even argued over that color shade. I at least got the white trim correct, or they didn't mention it.
We took off and Mom said "Good luck! I love you!" I guess that she was worried that she might not see me again. "Thanks. I love you too, Mom." Now there's complete confidence for you. Feeding her doubtful encouragement. (Just kidding Mom).
For information about the trip to the Twin Cities, you will have to ask Judy and Richard about the conversation. I had had so much coffee that when we stopped, I had to run around the rest stop because I was so wired up. I guess my talking was entertaining to some degree. Either that or I didn't hear them tell me to shut up. I think I said 98% of everything all the way to the airport.
The flight was uneventful, but the security check was thorough. I was very careful not to wear any belt buckle, boots with metal shanks and only had a watch and my billfold. They patted down the rivets on my jeans though.
I arrived at Los Angeles around 11:15 pm Friday night. I took a shuttle to the Budget rental car office and waited in line for and hour and a half to get my car. I drove to Vista and was so tired, my eyesight was blurry. I figured out that the reason I couldn't read the signs is that the car had been wiped down -- as were the inside of the windows -- creating a marvelous death defying glare. I think they provide this service for all out of towners" on late night flights who are unfamiliar with the territory. I don't remember what time I arrived at Aunt Louise's house, but I was butt tired. She was waiting up for me.
Aunt Louise put me in her master bedroom with a master bath. The bed was high enough that I couldn't sit on it and put my socks on in the morning. There was a chair in the bedroom. At my house, chairs are for putting stuff on. So I put my stuff on the chair and put my socks on leaning against the bed. Aunt Louise is a pretty classy babe. She insisted on me sleeping in the master while she slept on the couch. She wouldn't let me win that argument. I love you too, Aunt Louise.
The next morning, I got up whenever (I was on vacation so an alarm clock was out of the question) and Aunt Louise, my hot cousin Kelly and I went out to breakfast at a place called Co Co's. It was in the same parking lot as a WalMart and that was to be my first stop for supplies like oil, antifreeze, brake fluids, shop towels, hand cleaners, etc. I had my directions in hand from MapQuest to get to Jo's house and got on my way.
I arrived at Jo's house and she greeted me pleasantly and we went into the garage and there was the Corvette just as it had looked in the pictures.