I first saw her sitting like a forlorn puppy dog in a friend’s used car lot…on the back row. Born in Japan in 1968 she was already twenty years old with an odometer having rolled over once showing twenty thousand miles. She was boxy and with her high stance I was told she resembled a postal vehicle. That’s not nice. I had seen FJ 40 Land Cruisers before and had, as President Jimmy Carter said, “Sinned in my mind.” Taupe colored, she didn’t appear to have any rust and when the key turned, fired right up with no blue smoke or hiccups. I was on my way to falling in love. Most importantly, Linda Gail liked her too despite no radio, no air conditioning and hard metal doors. If you look up utilitarian in the dictionary expect to see a picture of her. It didn’t matter, “Yoda the Kamikaze Kruiser” became ours.
Cruising at sixty-five was not her long suit despite being capable. What she could do was crawl up and over a wall in low four-wheel drive. With a suspension stiffer than a brand new pair of jeans, she went over rocks and ruts so hard it would jar the filings right out of your teeth. At sixty-five she rattled like a wind chime made from cast iron. It didn’t matter, Linda Gail and I were young and foolish…and in love…with each other and “Yoda.” During the winter we would go searching for snow to play in and during the rest of the year take the doors off and try to find ways to put the Kamikaze Toyota in harm’s way. We were often successful. While “Yoda” never left us stranded, we left her stranded on several occasions.
The first summer “of love” a sharp, freshly cut sapling ripped out a side wall. Now where is that jack…oh I don’t have one. Stupid and in love. A two-mile hike got us back to Highway 11 and civilization. A neighborly type let us use his phone and a friend came and retrieved us. Now I remember what we did before cell phones. We cautiously approached people and begged to use their home phone. Later on the same summer a weakly constructed ditch crumbled and put us on our side near the summit of Chestnut Mountain. Walking again, a house trailer with what seemed to be several dozen Rottweilers, well four or five, became our salvation. Another phone call to the same friend got us a ride and “Yoda” jerked out of the ditch…by a f@#%ing Jeep Wagoneer no less. Later Linda would put “Yoda” on her side on our mountain. I have a vision of Linda scrambling out of the window because the metal door was too heavy to lift. This time I had my own tractor to pull it upright.
“Yoda” became our go to vehicle. A picnic with Linda Gail and Ashley on our mountain top? Yank a stump out of the ground? Haul wood? Take a goat to the vet? Or just try to tear off a fender on some wilderness trek, CALL “Yoda!” So why did I get rid of her? Trust me I asked myself that question on several occasions. With mileage creeping toward two hundred thousand, a screwy braking system and wiring problems I decided to upgrade. A 1974 Clemson orange FJ 40 with a transplanted V-6 seemed to be the ticket. What a mistake. Looked good and sounded better until a broken rod left her bleeding oil and dead on the side of the road. I didn’t have time to even name her. “Yoda?” She was bought by guy in Simpsonville. I still see her sometimes. With travel stickers holding her rust together, she is still running. Gosh I wish I still had her.
Later there would be an FJ-60. My first trip with newly licensed Ashley was in that truck. I found out she had a lead foot returning from a Columbia soccer tournament. After a couple of years of driving it on dealer tags, I sold it back to the friend who sold it to me originally because of a title problem. What problem? I think the cruiser might have been stolen. But officer I gave it back.
My last one was a ’77. Linda and I went together and true to her love for me she let me drive it home. She wishes we still had “Yoda” too. The ’77 named “Darlin’” was turned in to a piece of junk after being stolen out of my front yard. It was returned months later a mere shell of its former self. Two years later she would catch fire and burn. I think “Darlin’” was so embarrassed she tried committing vehicular suicide by burning herself to death. I say tried because I sold her to a guy who has the intention, means and ability to restore her. I wished him luck with instructions to bring her back for me to see when he completed her restoration. I haven’t heard from him…yet. Hope springs eternal.
I don’t know why we name our cars and refer to them as “her and she.” I talked to mine like they were people but like my wife none ever seemed to listen. For myself and my Land Cruisers it is about the memories of a person who goes with them. Warm and fuzzy ones that never get lost in the fog of time. I see a wild tangle of brown hair blowing in the wind, bug-eyed sun glasses and a big smile as we rattle our way over the top of Chestnut Mountain. I still go on EBay looking for the perfect and affordable FJ 40 to help add to those memories. It may be an impossible search.
Don Miller will be releasing his fourth book, “Through the Front Gate” later this month. Until then go to his author’s page and check it out. On Amazon it can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/cigarman501/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel.