I married her for her car — a 1959 Volkswagen


Over the course of our family history, it seems that Nancy’s and my long time together always involved car stories.

When we got married long ago in the little western Iowa town of Harlan, I was a college student and did not own a car. She had a little 1959 Volkswagen, which became “our” car once we tied the knot.

Even now, she will mention to new friends that “Bill married me for my car,” which I cannot deny.

One adventure with that car involved a trip back to my hometown of Wadena, Iowa, where I was taking her to meet my parents and my 10 siblings. It rained all the way on the 300-mile trip from southwest to northeast Iowa. Just before we got there the wipers quit working.

My dad, who owned a gas station, could not fix it — it was a foreign car.  

Nancy did impress everyone and was welcomed into the family. She was 18 and I was 19.  Those were amazing times when people got married younger than today. Also, the pressure of the Vietnam War encouraged a lot of young couples to marry younger than they normally would. 

I was attending a small college in Denison, Iowa. If Nancy was married to me and worked in their admissions office, my tuition was cut 80 percent. Hence, marriage seemed logical. Plus we were in love.

My uncle Paul in Waterloo, Iowa, was a mechanic but he could not fix the wipers either.  He helped string a cord through both side windows, which attached to the single wiper on the drivers side. With Nancy scooched up next to me, she could operate the wipers manually.  We drove 300 miles back to Harlan that way.  I knew I had a keeper after that trip.

The reason I did not have a car was that two friends, Preston VerMeer and Larry Carlson, and I shared a 1949 Chevy. We also roomed together in Larry’s house in Denison.  

One morning our Chevy was gone. The city had hauled it away because it was a “junked car,” and you could not park junk on the street. The impound fee was $50 and we could not afford or justify getting it out of impound. So I became car-less.

I worked at the Denison Bulletin as sports editor and had access to a company vehicle for work.

After we were married, Nancy and I were able to buy a 1963 Dodge DeSoto. It had a leaky radiator; thus steam would rise out of it after a short drive. Nancy was always calling me to say: “The car is on fire again. Is this safe?”

We moved to Wyoming in 1970, and our first trip over Interstate 80 in the winter in a rear wheel drive car was harrowing. 

Living in Lander in the winter can be interesting. We lived in the country and did not have a garage. We had teenagers and lots of cars. All were plugged in at night so they would start the next morning.

One Monday during Christmas vacation, I got a call from Tom Davey at Central Bank saying Nancy was there and needed to talk to me. She had left the house to go to town to do a banking errand and forgot to unplug her car. She had dragged all the cords and plug-ins to town. Would I mind walking over to the bank and unplugging this mess? She was too embarrassed.

I walked over and gathered up two big extension cords plus three other cords connected to them, all of which were ruined by a two-mile drag down a paved road. Not a happy sight. The various cords stretched halfway down the block. 

It was probably -20, on that day, similar to how it has been lately in many places in Wyoming.

Our three daughters, Alicia, Shelli and Amber, all had to drive to school on terrible winter roads and each one had a major mishap by spinning off the road during winter driving. Luckily nobody got hurt. 

We always called a local friend who had a tow truck, which he called the Happy Hooker. Pretty soon, when I called him, once he heard my voice, he just asked: “OK, where did she go off this time?”

Gradually we moved up to four-wheel drive vehicles and our car stories were not quite so riveting. It’s been an entertaining 52-year linkage between our car stories and our marriage stories.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 30,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

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