Chippewa Herald * May 7, 2008

Saying goodbye to an old friend is always tough

by Tom Arneberg, Community Columnist

We said goodbye to an old friend last weekend.

Even when you know it's coming for weeks, months or years, it's still hard when the time is at hand.

We managed to give hugs and take pictures during the final moments.

Then the truck and trailer drove off with our precious cargo. Our 1986 Toyota Corolla would grace our driveway no more.

Its death was slow but the end was interesting. "Mighty Whitey," as we call it, was part of our family for 22 years.

It had a great start in life, enjoying salt-free roads for five years in Colorado and Oregon. After several years in Wisconsin, however, the rust began to take its toll.

I remember deciding at one point that it was no longer worth any costly repairs, given the sad state of the car's body. (I was not about to withhold life support; just unwilling to perform any major surgery.)

Sure, I still changed the oil, but when little things started going wrong, I simply let them go. I didn't fix the windshield washer fluid squirter -- it's not that hard to carry a jug and pour it on when needed.

I kept thinking that if I could get through one more winter, I'd be happy. My oldest son Ben had his first stick-shift experience with it, and then went on to buy a five-speed of his own.

Two years later, my daughter Alison also learned manual transmission with Mighty Whitey. On the other hand, my wife Beth declared she would never again drive it, when she ran out of gas due to a non-working fuel gauge.

"One last winter" turned into another, and another, and another. This baby still had its original clutch and transmission, and like the Energizer bunny, just kept going and going!

Last summer, the driver's side window rolling mechanism decided to stop working. It wasn't a big deal to hold the window up with duct tape, although it did make for some rather warm driving with that window perpetually closed, since of course the air conditioning quit working years ago.

In November came the last straw that broke the camel's back. (Mixing metaphors is a hobby of mine.) The passenger door would not latch at all, no matter how hard I slammed it. I figured that the rust holes had finally gotten big enough to let corrosive salt into the door's interior, possibly rusting right through one of the cables. (A few years ago, a kid who saw my car at school asked his mom why the car had "bullet holes"; now the rust spots look more like grenade craters.)

Thus disabled, the car sat in our driveway all winter. (I'm willing to endure a bit of inconvenience to keep a car going, but requiring my passenger to hold the door tightly during each left turn seemed a bit much.)

Boy, was I in for a surprise when the spring thaw finally came last month -- the door started latching all by itself! So it wasn't permanently damaged after all; the latch must have been frozen.

I was so happy that I jumped right in to give it a whirl, but the battery was dead. I charged it up overnight and tried again, but the tires were stuck in ice. (We had a LOT of ice on our driveway this winter.)

A week or two later, the ice now totally gone, I tried again. But the tires were STILL stuck. What's going on? The rear tires would not turn at all. I tried PUSHING the car with our van, but the tires just skidded along. Apparently, the brakes had rusted in place.

Meanwhile, Beth had taped a newspaper ad on our bathroom mirror: "CASH FOR JUNK CARS." However, I still clung to the thought of getting it rolling again and selling it to someone who would actually drive it -- I just couldn't imagine crushing a perfectly good vehicle.

Then came the "coup de grace." Beth had several friends over for an afternoon prayer group, and they noticed the big sign taped to the kitchen cupboard doors: "44 days left until Mighty Whitey is gone." She had made another declaration -- she would NOT renew the license on a car that won't roll.

She denies it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that all those women prayed for the demise of my beloved car. Because, out of the blue, there was a knock on our front door -- DURING THE PRAYER MEETING! A guy showed up with a truck and a trailer, wanting to buy it and haul it off right then and there. I am not making this up.

Beth knew she couldn't sell it while I was at work, but when I heard the story I knew its days were numbered. The guy showed up again last Saturday, and winched the car up onto the trailer, its frozen tires dragging all the rust that had accumulated on the driveway all winter. The kids watched in solemn silence.

The unseasonably late April snowfall that day was like frozen tears drifting from the heavens to mourn our loss.

Maybe we're all better off this way. Mighty Whitey didn't die; it's just entering a new phase of life. The buyer mentioned what he plans to do with his new purchase: enter it in a demolition derby.

What a way to go.

You can reach Tom at

Links: [Tom's column archives] | [] | [] |

This page is maintained by Tom Arneberg (
(Last modified: $Date: 2008/05/08 15:29:59 $)