1964 Rambler Saved My Life
In 1974 to 1976 I attended the University of Wyoming in lovely Laramie. Being from New Jersey, it was a 1,300 mile trek that usually meant 38 to 42 straight hours behind the steering wheel each way. My roommate who was also from my hometown split shifts driving with me.
Rarely could I say the trips were "non-eventful." I do recall one tale of extreme notoriety. It was January and we were driving back to Laramie to start the spring semester. We were young, stupid and therefore, fearless. My dad had the wisdom to buy oversized snow tires for my 1964 Ramblin Rambler before we left Denville, New Jersey. In addition, he cut cardboard and placed a full sized piece in front of the car’s radiator because he said it’d help keep the engine warm in the cold air. We were fine with all this but really thought he didn’t have to do these extras for us because we were seasoned cross-country travelers. Hmmmm. Really?
Funny thing, the car was running rough after having traveled 130,000 miles in the course of its life as the slave to my brother-in-law’s father. (He gave me the car. Hmmmm. No strings attached, for free; who’s going to turn that down?)
Dad opened the front hood of the Ramblin Rambler and showed me the carburetor. He un-screwed the air filter thing-a-ma-jig, ah wing nut, and lifted the casing and filter off the engine. He took his flathead screwdriver out and adjusted the air to gas flow and she smoothed right out. Cool. We’re done; thanks for everything; we’ll call you in two days when we arrive in Laramie (if we get there).
So, we pulled out and went west on Route 80. My Ramblin Rambler ate up the Pocono Mountains and we were warm as toast as we traveled in the cold weather. Ohio was a bit colder but we still drove on listening to AM radio. (How can you top that?)
The sun went down as we got to Chicago, Illinois. Suddenly the car’s not that warm anymore. In fact, the heater’s blowing cold air instead of heat. We turn on the radio to a local station; it’s now -35 degrees with winds blowing off the Great Lakes. We put “stuff” into the gas tank to keep the gas from freezing and we drove on.
Next, yours truly, JP, said to his macho, college footballer, co-pilot who is now driving, “Let’s get a room for the night. It’s too cold.” He says, “What, a little cold air and you want to waste good money on a room???” Shame on me. I deepened my voice again from its sudden falsetto caused by the cold and said, “Nope, let’s keep going.” Now, up until that moment, I had the highest IQ in the car. Nevertheless, understand, in all, between the two of us, we totaled less than 100 in IQ that night in my 1964 Ramblin Rambler. You’ll see that I’m right about this, read on.
The windshield began to fog up and crystallize but we kept on going. Now it’s Indiana, Iowa and the car is no longer singing like a canary but sputtering like a black lung victim. That’s ok. We’re the original dumb and dumber.
As we entered into Nebraska we met a lovely blend of falling snow and sub-zero weather. How charming. However, why let logic take over when you’re now ensconced in a full-winter blizzard? The ole Ramblin Rambler kept chugging along. As we pressed on my over-sized snow tires dug in and we defied saner minds who were someplace safe. As we got closer to Omaha the radio tells us it’s the biggest storm in years…yeehaw!! Why stop now? We pulled into Omaha proper and the snow was up to my door handle. Stop now?? Hell no. We’re on a mission. A mission to taunt death. And my ole Ramblin Rambler keeps pushing through the snow as we saw dozens of immobilized vehicles stuck with no way out.
We left Omaha and the storm behind us. We were back on Route 80 and the road surface was getting drier and the stars were out by the thousands. Now the car is up to 65 mph and it felt like we were doing 110. I held onto the dashboard for dear life while my pilot was grinning this evil smile of wicked delight.
If you know Nebraska, you know what the barren tundra is like in Russia. We got a hundred miles out of Omaha, it’s now 2 a.m. and we’re the ONLY car on the road. No one passes either way forever.
Suddenly, ole Ramblin Rambler started coughin ugly. We pulled over to the side of the moonlit road and she coughs for the last time. Yup, you got it. We were marooned in the middle of Nebraska with no human in sight in -35 wind chilled air. The car inside was so cold we decided freezing to death was better than beating the crap out of each other.
I opened the glove box and I suddenly saw the screwdriver my dad left there. I turn to the moron next to me and said, “I’m getting out, going to open the hood and turn that screw my dad showed me. That’s our best bet.” He nods, “Get er’done.” For some reason I’m only wearing a T-shirt, no gloves. I pop the hood, turn the wing nut and watch the wind whip the nut, filter and all the housing across Interstate Route 80. I fell to my knees and crawled out onto the highway feeling for the filter stuff. As a miracle would have it, I found everything including the wing nut. No, I don’t take drugs.
I went back to the car. I turned the screw and said, “Give her a turn.” Nothing. I turned it more and she puked and then started. I shouted, “Hit the gas!” It revved and I put the filter back on, slammed Ole Ramblin Rambler’s hood, jumped in the car and whoosh, we were off, back on the road. One problem. Top end was 30 miles per hour.
I shook so violently from the cold that I passed out. Six hours later we were outside of Cheyenne Wyoming driving up Route 80, top end now 20 mph, laughing because the exit speeds were 25 mph and we could not take them to get off the highway. Yup, dumb and dumber, travel on. Several hours later we hit the mountain peek and rode the highway downhill toward Laramie doing 50 mph. Wahoo!!
We slugged along into Laramie. Dumped the car at the residence hall parking lot; ran upstairs to our dorm room and passed out.
Somehow the 1964 Ole Ramblin Rambler got us safely to our beds. The next morning a mechanic adjusted the carb to adapt to the 7,300 ft altitude in Laramie and she lived on to create another story to be told at another time.
See ya later, Fast Eddie