Service the Beast

Mr. Sillypants here, filled with experiences from a short but event-filled tryst with our most aged and venerable of cars, the Isuzu Rodeo which routinely graces our driveway.

This miracle of engineering has served our family for nearly 2 decades.  Bought first by Ms. Plum’s mother, the “Beast” left the Isuzu showroom in immaculate condition in 1992.  It served her well, also stepping in to help when Ms. Plum needed an extra car.

With the unfortunate passing of Ms. Plum’s mother, the Beast came to our family full-time.  It has served admirably in a number of roles, providing faithful transportation for both Ms. Plum and I.   It also towed our modest but enjoyable boat anytime we needed.   In recent years, it was used by our exchange student (remember “Schwartz”?  anyone?  anyone?), who once remarked, “I love the way the back end slides around when I’m driving in the snow.”

Truthfully, the Isuzu does extremely well in the snow.  Equipped with four wheel drive, it has a confident stride as it makes its way through a myriad of slushy, snowy, icy conditions, never failing to trudge through whatever Mother Nature throws its way, much the same way that Christian Okoye (the “Nigerian Nightmare”) used to blast through defenses when playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Thanks to the plethora of salt used by the Madison area road authority, the Beast is showing signs of wear.  In fact, the body has steadily started to erode, so much so that a few things thrown into storage areas in the back of the vehicle have immediately clacked around like a steel ball in a Pachinko machine, ending up on the ground beneath the rear tires a few seconds later.  Our mechanics have told us the car will likely rust out around us before the major pieces (engine, tranmission, brakes, etc.) fail.

Most recently, the Beast has become Waffles’ chariot.  Time was when Waffles and I found a church parking lot to review the basics of the manual transmission, the need to engage the clutch *slowly*, the importance of finding the right gear, the importance of using just the right amount of gas to keep the car running without lurching when starting from a stopping position (even on a hill.)

Truthfully, Waffles has become an expert in manual transmissions and now says he will “always” buy a manual transmission, if it is available.  This, of course, makes my heart jump.  I was raised with manual transmissions, having driven countless tractors, trucks and even semis between field and farm when I worked for a landscaping company as a youth.  I can still remember the intimate details each gearbox of my favorite manual transmission cars – – – how my 1970 Volvo 144S had a long throw with the shift lever but a very positive engagement; how my 1968 Chevrolet El Camino with its “three on the tree” felt more like an old style pickup than anything else; how my 2006 Volvo S40 turbo with its *6* speed manual transmission felt more like a racecar than a sedan . . .

I would, also, always buy a manual transmission if it were available . . .

I had the chance to drive the Beast again, last week.  We were in a shortage of cars and I was asked to drive the Isuzu to work so that the other cars would be available for Ms. Plum and daughters.  Two things quickly became evident.  First, the car never warmed up – – – I drove it for a full 45 minutes before seeing the first nudge in the temperature gauge.  (Waffles said later that he thought this was occurring because it was Winter.)  Secondly, the engine ran rough, skipping, coughing, hesitating and loping along even at slow speed.

The cold issue was easily fixed.  I’ve had a number of cars with faulty thermostat valves.  After $8 at Napa, Waffles and I replaced the valve and found the car now warmed up within 5 minutes – – – definitely a plus when you’re asking the heater in the car to remove the ice from outside and *inside* the windshield (an unfortunate side effect of the Beast’s rust issues . . . ).

However, the car continued to run rough, so much so that we had Waffles select other transportation when needing to run errands in this crazy week before the holiday.  In the back of my mind, I wondered if there was something more serious going on.

Ms. Plum and I stopped by the auto parts store this afternoon to get new spark plugs for the car, hoping that such a simple change might make a difference.  Late this afternoon, in the shadow of a setting sun, I had a chance to replace the plugs.  Truthfully, I was a little skeptical that it would return the Beast to working status.

Also, the work itself was mired with a few challenges.  To wit, if one were to write down a procedure for replacing spark plugs on a 1992 Isuzu, you might include:

~ drop the ratchet extension into the bowels of the Beast

~ use a screwdriver to try and liberate the ratchet extension

~ swear silently as the screwdriver drops out of your hand to a location near the ratchet extension

~ swear audibly when the second screwdriver isn’t quite long enough to reach either the ratchet extension or the first screwdriver

~ breath a huge sigh of relief when the ratchet extension and screwdriver were delivered from their respective purgatories, thanks to the presence of a much longer screwdriver and a flashlight, held expertly by Blueberry

In short, the plugs were replaced.  Oddly enough, I also found a vacuum advance hose going to the distributor which had become detached at some point in the recent past.  (Suddenly, I realized that I may have found the “real” reason for the impaired engine performance.)

Remember that this car was the pride and joy of Ms. Plum’s beloved mother.  The car has served admirably for countless trips, commutes and outings.  It has shuttled people to innumerable appointments, has towed the boat, transported pets and, most notably, been a living rememberance of Ms. Plum’s mother, a woman of indescribable warmth and character, a living legend in our lives.

It is a living legacy of her beauty, her quirkiness, her personality.

Imagine, also, my joy when the engine roared to life again, renewed and ready to serve our family again, both as a chariot and as a testament to someone both beloved and missed.

The Beast lives on.  It has new life and we are, in some small way, renewed.


3 responses to “Service the Beast

  1. When I read this title I thought Mr. SillyPants was writing about our little beast, you know, the one who is our resident ankle biter! Or, I wondered if he was writing about moi? Nope – it’s the car. I dug up this photo of my mom – it was her Christmas card image from…2004. I remember this picture. I took it 🙂
    Mr SillyPants has a way with words – if you receive our holiday card, you’ll know his writing when you see it. If you want a holiday card, leave me your address.
    Thanks for the fun recounting of your car adventures, my love, even though 1/2 of the technical stuff doesn’t make sense. I’m happy the Beast runs – because we got it goin’ on here!
    (BTW, the Beast was mom’s name for the car – we’ve just carried it forward). Oh, by the way, the dog in the picture? The BEST DOG EVER. Atlas – a Bernese Mountain dog. Loved him.

  2. I printed out your instructions for fixing emphysemic vehicles – which I find much clearer than the Chilton’s version.

    Though my vehicle is a spring chicken compared to the Beast, the chunk of rusted metal that flew off and almost hit me in the eye when I closed the back door leads me to believe we may be on an accelerated schedule for demise.

    More importantly…an El Camino?!!? Sweet!!! Color? Please don’t tell me it was the aqua blue as I might just die of jealousy.

    And, I thought Gma was Kathy Bates.

  3. Here at the Lost Planet, we’re in full agreement with always getting a manual transmission if available. We recently had an unexpected car drama (our Honda CRV had numerous/costly/unexpected repairs necessary- leading us to suddenly have to buy a new to us car on the fly). We were hard pressed to find another manual- and Babba claims that since people are no longer driving them, the car companies are going to stop making them. That threw me into a tizzy- how on earth would we negotiate our Very Steep driveway without a manual transmission (especially going down in winter!)
    Glad the Beast is back on the beat.
    *I want a holiday card! did you get ours?! Do you need my address? 🙂

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