During high school and my early college years, I had the ultimate road-trip-mobile.
I could be spotted a mile away in my 1967 Sears-green Ford Econoline SuperVan. My friends simply called it THE VAN!!! (with loud joy in their voices) as they piled in for road trips short and long. Over a five-year span, I drove the van in 25 states from Maine to Colorado.
My father bought the van from a hippie in the early 1970s for my older brothers and me to drive to and from our home in the Midwest to Maine, where we spent our summers. I wasn’t even of driving age when he bought it, but it was my primary vehicle throughout high school and into college.
The previous owner, a bearded guy who looked like the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, had customized the interior for road trips. The spacious rear cargo area had two single wooden beds with storage space under them and thin mattresses on top. A wood panel that swung down the side of one of the beds could be lifted up and latched in place to turn the two single beds into a queen-size bed. It’s no surprise that parents gave me leery looks when I arrived in the van to pick up their daughters for dates.
The van had 12 windows—five on each side and two in the back—plus a humongous windshield. You could draw the curtains over the windows to shield the light when people were sleeping (or conceal certain activities that were taking place inside). The engine was located between the two front seats, and a piece of carpeting covered the metal engine cover so friends could sit on top of it without burning themselves.
The steering wheel was seemingly as big as a hula hoop. And I’ll never forget learning to drive on the van’s three-in-a-tree gear shift lever located on the side of the steering column.
I always carried a can of gasoline in the far back of the van because the gas gauge didn’t work correctly and I never knew when I was going to run out of gas. When the gauge hit the quarter-tank reading, it didn’t go down any further, leaving me to guess how much fuel was left in the tank.
The previous owner apparently liked stickers, which he affixed to various strategic places in the van. Stickers of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse were stuck on the small side windows just in back of the front seats. On the ceiling between the front seats was a Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill wine sticker.
And on the ashtray was a sticker of the Zig Zag man, the bearded icon found on the front of Zig Zag rolling papers. My mother once looked at the Zig Zag sticker and asked: “Is that the devil?” After giving it a few seconds thought, I replied: “I guess you could say that, Mom.”
Through the years I drove the van with friends throughout New England, the Midwest, the South and the West as I traveled to Maine, to Florida on vacation, to college in Colorado. The van broke down on me on various trips in Virginia, Missouri, Mississippi and Kansas. I ran out of gas in Ohio and another time in New York. The cops pulled me over in Maine and Tennessee.
When I look back at those years in the van, it’s like watching myself in a coming-of-age movie. Carefree and shaggy-haired, listening to the Allman Brothers or the Rolling Stones on my not-so-trusty 8-track player, I bounced around town and around the country in a distinctive vehicle unlike any other. I have a thousand memories of THE VAN!!!—and I hope I don’t forget a single one of them.
Clarke Canfield is a longtime journalist, writer and editor who likes to be active. He is the communications director at Southern Maine Community College.