Guest Rental Review: Ford Transit

Being practical, I spent the ‘winter term’ of my freshman year in college earning an EMT Basic certification in lieu of studying ‘Religiosity in the Simpsons’. My idea was to both increase my earning power during summers through learning a skill and to do something useful. After busting my ass for a month in a compressed course while friends in the dorms pulled all night benders, I passed the simple exam and started volunteering for the rural county EMS provider. That gave me the chance to get up-close-and-personal with a variety of Ford Econolines including a late 80s 460-powered Type II (van body) bruiser back-up bus (you may have seen this at Putnam Park), a 7.3L naturally aspirated Type III (box-type) diesel, and a pair of 7.3L ‘Powerstroke’ turbodiesel Type IIIs. All had well in excess of 150,000 miles. None were cosmetically pretty. All were in reasonable mechanical repair.

After going through an Emergency Vehicle Operators Course – consisting of watching a video – and driving around on a wet high school parking lot forwards and backwards with a senior Paramedic, I was deemed qualified to operate a 5 ton truck capable of pushing 100 miles with lights, sirens, and an air horn at the ripe age of 18. Naturally, I drove as much as I could: emergency responses, 120-mile round-trip patient transports to regional medical centers, in conditions ranging from a sedate transport on beautiful spring days to emergency transports in the midsts of hellacious storms so rotten helicopters couldn’t fly. Since I was paired with a full-time Paramedic, I’d ride in the back about half the time, depending on the patient’s condition. That also meant I was the guy driving when the patient’s life literally hung in the balance and OTIF delivery to a trauma center 60 miles away would determine whether someone went home alive.

The old Econoline was a noisy, wandering, bouncy, uncomfortable steed with hot, cramped footwells, weak AC, and suspension tuning that would give you nausea from repeated jolts to the front wheels. At speed, the losing combination of a drag coefficient approaching the percentage of Millenial males unfit for military service and a complete lack of suspension travel made high speed work simply terrifying. It required micro-movements to keep the thing straight and huge corrections when the nose started wandering around. No brake or steering feel, either.

Why the hell does this matter in an ambulance? Because when some asshole doesn’t see a huge ambulance with dozens of flashing lights and 200 watts of blaring siren and therefore pulls out in front of you, or in those fortunately rare times when seconds really do count and you’re driving down an ice-covered interstate as fast as possible to get to a scene, you need to know what’s going on with the vehicle in order to arrive alive and avoid creating your own bus crash.

With bad memories of “American” style vans in mind, I pulled into Enterprise to pick up a 15-passenger van for a week-long adults-only vacation in Charleston with my wife and 6 other good friends. I was the designated driver for the 850 mile jaunt.

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A Little Ditty About Dan and Roseanne

Tonight, after a 20 year hiatus, the 90’s sitcom staple Roseanne returns to network television. The critics, fresh from their advance viewing, have done their part and the internet is awash in reviews. As expected, opinions are mixed but the details being reported appear to be consistent. The father of the Conner family, Dan, it turns out is not dead and, in the years since we last met, life has churned relentlessly on. The middle and most problematic child in the original series, Darlene, appears to be once again at the center of the action and is back at her parents’ with her kids in tow in the wake of a divorce. Her older sister Becky, meanwhile, is a widow – the actor who had played her husband, Mark, in the original series has passed away – and the youngest of the Conner’s three children, DJ, has married a person of color. The situation appears to be set and the comedy will surely flow but the cherry on top of it all – and it’s the one fact that the papers are simply up in arms about – is that Roseanne is a Trump supporter. Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Overcoming Our Animal Nature

“Everyone,” as Mike Tyson famously said, “has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s a good quote, but I think it vastly overestimates the majority of the human race. In my experience, most people don’t have a plan. In fact, punch in the mouth or not, most of us don’t even have a consistent direction. No, I’m afraid, the truth is that most of us are winging it all the time.

Planning is a uniquely human skill set and the ability reliably do so was so important to our ancestors that they devoted an immense amount of labor constructing sites like Stonehenge in order to predict the best days for planting or harvesting crops. Their efforts helped humanity to achieve dominance over nature and while it can be argued that animals like wolves can cooperate to spring cunning traps, that certain birds and chimpanzees can make and use primitive tools, and that beavers can work to shape the natural environment, no other animal can plan for the future with the thoroughness of mankind. Why then, do so few of us do it? Continue Reading →

Guest Post: They (Still) Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To

(Please extend the usual sullen Riverside Green welcome to returning contributor Michael Briskie — JB)

It was snowing outside the dealership, and the sales staff were busy running around cleaning cars on the lot. “They don’t make them like they used to,” said an aging customer wandering around the showroom. He was admiring an immaculate 1960’s Beetle, occupying prime real estate just inside the front doors, juxtaposed against the new cars on display. I hesitated before asking what he meant by that, recognizing the likelihood of a long conversation stuffed with foggy nostalgia.

“We used to drive an old Beetle through the snow like it was nobody’s business,” he said. “You couldn’t break it if you tried.”

Given his fondness for the good old days, I wondered why he even bothered to come look at new cars on this slippery morning. He could instead buy that very Beetle, perfectly restored, for less than ten grand. He was right though. Air cooled Beetles conquered everything from winter storms to Baja desert racing. Many still do. 50 years later, tens of thousands of these things just keep on going, probably because they’re just so easy to fix.

People buy cars around their perceived notions of reliability all the time. In fact, there is no other reason I can use to explain the volume of Corolla sales. It all got me thinking: Do automakers REALLY care about the lifespan of their cars? And like that Bug, fifty years from now, will we see anything at all on the road from 2018? With that, let’s dig into the ideas of planned obsolescence, lifecycle management, and mainly, whether or not any car companies give a damn about how a car ages.

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Guest Post: Will Gibson Go The Way Of Studebaker?

Ronnie wrote this nearly a month ago, but I was lazy and didn’t get it posted. With the recent Gibson bankruptcy speculation in the news, this piece now looks reactive rather than predictive — that’s on me, not Ronnie — JB

Did you know that Studebaker still existed as of just a few years ago? Yes, they stopped building cars in 1966 but in 2009, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that Cooper Industries was the legitimate corporate heir of the Studebaker Corporation and thus responsible for the environmental cleanup of Studebaker factory sites in South Bend. Cooper Industries makes electrical components like circuit breakers and has since been acquired by Eaton. That’s just the latest in a series of deals that started when the Studebaker corporation, no longer making cars, merged with Wagner Electric and the Worthington Corp. to form Studebaker-Worthington in 1967. McGraw-Edison bought Studebaker-Worthington in 1979 (except for Studebaker-Worthington Leasing, which still apparently exists, providing financing for industrial equipment) and Cooper Industries bought McGraw-Edison in 1985.

Starting in the early 1950s, Studebaker’s position as an automaker became increasingly precarious. Though they had one of the earliest genuine postwar car designs in 1947, they really didn’t have the financial resources to go toe to toe with the big three Detroit automakers, particularly as GM, Ford, and Chrysler introduced modern, high compression V8 engines. What should have happened was a merger of the major independents, as was proposed by George Mason, who ran Nash (and merged it with Hudson to form American Motors), and wanted to merge with Packard, Studebaker and Kaiser Frazer, which had bought Willys. James Nance, who ran Packard, wasn’t willing to give up any power so a fourth major U.S. automaker never came to be. Eventually, though, Packard’s worsening financials forced them to merge with Studebaker, not realizing that Studebaker’s automotive operations were probably in even worse shape.

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Cougars And Firebirds – The Ponycars Of My Youth

Note: Please welcome Joel Miller to Riverside Green. Another emigre’ from the old site, Joel’s passion is 1970s Detroit rolling stock, particularly the 1977-81 Firebird and full-size 1973 Pontiacs. -TK

The car that first really hooked me was the Mercury Cougar. I was probably four or five when I first spotted a ’69 or ’70 Cougar though the window of my mother’s Mark III Lincoln. Whoa, what’s that? The sequential turn signals were mesmerizing!

At around age six, I finally figured out what I was looking at. From that point on, everything was about the Cougar. My half-brother drove a white ’69 XR7 for a few years, although I don’t ever remember riding in it. I probably stared rust holes in it though!

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Guest Post: Granny Get Your Gun

Photo courtesy of Japan Today

Over the last few months, there has been a rash of age-related car accidents in Japan.  Just yesterday, a 9 year old girl was killed and four other children injured when 70 year old driver rear ended another car and sent it spinning into a group of students walking home from school.  Last week, an 85 year old driver who had been warned by his family not to get behind the wheel, veered onto a sidewalk after striking another car and ran down two high school girls on bicycles before flipping his car onto its side.  In November, an elderly woman suddenly accelerated through a lowered parking lot gate and shot across the street where she killed two pedestrians.  A month before that, seven people, including a two year old boy, were injured when an elderly driver hit the wrong pedal while exiting a parking lot and barreled across crowded sidewalk near a major department store and, earlier in the year, a 76 year old killed one person and injured five more when she lost control of her car in a parking lot.

According to the Japanese police, drivers 65 and older were responsible for 965 fatal accidents in 2016.  That’s more than 25% of fatal car accidents nationwide and, because Japan is an aging society, there is a great deal of fear that the number will to grow in the coming years.  To help mitigate that growth, in early 2017 a cognitive assessment was added to the existing mandate that all drivers be retested at 70 years of age and, rather than face the possibility of being found unworthy, more than 106,000 people voluntarily surrendered their licenses in the months prior to the new rules going live.  While it’s certain that many older people were opposed to the new rules, there was little public outcry.

Of course, it will take time for the rules to take effect.  An entire generation of drivers were retested at 70 before the cognitive assessment was added to the regime and they continue to be out on the road.  But overall, the new rules are a genteel solution to a serious problem from a civilized society and it says a lot about the Japanese.  Of course, I do not believe for on minute that we could do anything like it in the United States without a good old knock-down drag-out fight.  We’re just not wired the same way. Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Thoughts On A Motor-Sportsbook

(Contributor Michael Briskie is back, offering an idea to preserve the future of motorsports — JB)

“And here comes number 8, roaring off the exit of turn four! He looks to the inside, but the door is slammed shut… a quick move to the outside and he finds a lane for the pass. Every inch counts now, they are on the final straight, it’s going to be close… and Hoof Hearted sprints over the line for the win by a nose, followed closely by Deweycheatumnhowe!”

A dozen sweaty, snorting horses slow to a trot, and the victorious pony and rider are showered in garlands and champagne. You can almost smell the money in the air. The tension begins to evaporate, and the faces in the crowd, red from yelling, cheering, and willing their prize animals to victory, are either triumphant or dejected. Bets have been won and bets have been lost. At the horse race the adrenaline rush for the spectators appears to match that of the riders. By comparison, an auto race is an almost identical concept, but by the time a car rolls into Victory Lane, the luckiest fans haven’t won a dime. Maybe they leave with a tan instead of sunburn.

Henry Ford said, “The first auto race was born 5 minutes after the second car was built.” While it is undisputed that the automobile replaced the horse as the means of modern transportation, the car, despite its superiority in so many ways, has not vanquished its ancestor in popularity at the race track. Gambling, in no small part, contributes to the reason why.

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Guest Post: For Old Time’s Sake

Over the last couple of weeks, I have written two articles about my evolving relationship with technology.  In the first, I discussed the reasons for my reluctance to purchase a cellular telephone for my middle-school aged son while, in the second, I talked about why I am opting to use what many people have told me is a substandard workaround to play digital audio through the factory stereo in my new-to-me Nissan Hardbody.  Although both essays were intended to be short and simple, I found them difficult to write.  The second piece was especially so as, to get at the truth, I had to acknowledge the fact that I have a history of making poor choices and that I have, over the years, been incredibly wasteful.

But even though I struggled to write that second piece, I understand that many people my age are in the same boat.  To paraphrase one commenter, the entirety of Generation X came of age during a period when, thanks to the pace of technological advance, our music collections became obsolete again and again.  He’s not wrong.  Virtually every machine I included as proof of my poor decision making abilities was superseded by improved technology and, because I am not an early adopter, that happened only when the machines were so outdated that it became difficult to find new releases on the old media.  It turns out, then, I had hung onto things!  But that led me to another question: Which of my possessions is the oldest? Continue Reading →

Guest Post: Get Out There And Drive

About three times a year, on the big holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter) I am required by marriage to drive south from Louisville, Kentucky to Hodgenville for a family dinner with my wife’s extended family. This past Thanksgiving, I had recently purchased my 2016 Corvette and it was quite the conversation starter unlike my last car.

“I got a Corvette too!” My wife’s cousin exclaimed as we sat down to dinner. “Check out my license plate!”

He pulled out his iPhone and showed me his near-showroom condition 1998 Corvette convertible, complete with a pristine Torch Red paint job in a massive garage.

“Nice!” I replied. I then proceeded to get nerdy, because I felt a potential common bond forming. I am a man of passion, so when I find others share similar interest, I can’t help but get more into the conversation.

“Auto or manual? Does it have the Z51 package?” I inquired, hoping and praying I could not only learn the specifics of the car, but maybe something new about the C5 I didn’t know.

“It is an automatic, but it has an LS1! My license plate tells you it is a 1998 LS1!”

Uh oh.

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