When I was 19-years-old, I purchased a 1954 Ford 2-door station wagon from Tom & Brian Dieter. They had nicknamed it “The Green Latrine”. The entire wagon was green – a green I can’t describe. It may have been close to blue-green, but that’s stretching it. It was an ugly green that made the car stand out. I loved it.
The Dieter boys got $60 out of me for that unique antique. I had never seen one quite like it, and I may have seen only one like it since (50 years). The exterior was in pretty good shape. The interior of the vehicle was fairly decent, also. The engine did burn about a quart of oil every 500 miles, but I didn’t plan on taking a long trip, and oil wasn’t that expensive. It was a good piece of transportation; one of the best automobiles I’ve ever owned. However, I have to give my 1998 Ford Explorer a better rating. I’ve had it for over 15 years and 170,000 miles. I got my money’s worth out of both Fords.
One winter’s night, Mike Ruch, John DeVolld and I were traveling along country roads west of Vail, Iowa, when Mike and I got into an argument. Next thing you know, we’re upside down in the ditch. Alcohol may have had influence. The three of us walked into town, a little over a mile and one-half; Mike and I arguing all the way.
The car was towed out of the ditch the next day. I can’t remember who helped, but I do recall being grateful. That’s what people do in small towns, they help each other in need. Everyone was surprised when I turned the ignition and the engine started up right away. It seemed to be running smoother. As a matter-of-fact, I never had to put oil in it again – ever. The Green Latrine would be a model of oil efficiency. Someone explained the phenomenon to me, but I’m not going to repeat it because I doubt the accuracy of the knowledge, as well as its source.
I drove that car around town for several months without a windshield, windshield wipers, a bumper and the doors wired shut. It could have been weeks as opposed to months, but as the memory fades the tales get longer. Actually, the windshield wipers did work, but what good where they if there was no windshield? Someone bent them back (or forward) so that they were sticking out toward the front of the car’s hood.
That car saw so many parties, especially after it was damaged.
On a nice April afternoon, Jim DeVolld, Jim Malloy and I acquired a case of beer. I believe Honcho (Devold) bought it since he was home on leave from the Marine Corps after serving his first tour of duty there as a grunt. If I was 19, he had to have been 21. The case was put into the folded down back seat, which made the entire back of the wagon a cargo area.
We decided to head out of town. I pulled onto Highway 30 heading southwest. About that time, traveling northeast was an Iowa Highway Patrolman. “Shit!” We all said in unison. The Green Latrine was a manual transmission (gear shift on the steering column). I went through those gears like I was Mario Andretti. “Give ‘er hell, MT!” Honcho yelled at me. [One of my nicknames was MT – don’t know if that’s because my first two names begin with those letters, or because of the way I did things sometimes in which it seemed as though the brain was MT.] The State Trooper had turned around, turned on his lights, and turned on the muscle in the interceptor’s engine.
My foot was to the floorboard as we headed out toward Tracy North’s place southwest of Vail. When we approached the dirt road heading west, I slowed enough to make the turn on two wheels.
“He’s gaining on us!” “Stomp on it!” And several other cheers kept me going and seeing nothing but dust in the rearview mirror, one of the car’s rare amenities at the time.
One more mile on the dirt road and I made a hard right. I almost rolled it again, but kept fish-tailing for a few hundred feet before I straightened it out and hit the foot feed hard. About that time, the patrolman was right on my ass. His patrol car wasn’t even eating dust he was so close.
I said: “This is it, guys.” And I pulled over.
I can no longer remember his exact name. Robert Hansen, Donald Hansen, Hanson, or whatever. His name stuck in my head for years. Lately, I have forgotten it, precisely. “Officer” is what I called him as he approached the driver-side door. “License and registration?” Yeah, I had that stuff. “Will you step out of the car?” I couldn’t do that. I had to crawl out of the driver-side window. The doors were wired shut. He had me get into the patrol car on the passenger side.
While he was paging through an Iowa Code book, I struck up a conversation with him. I found out that it was his first day on the job alone, and I was his first stop. After what seemed like 30 to 40 minutes, he gave me a citation. He went back to the car with me and he made the Jims hand him the beer. He confiscated it.
I looked at the ticket. “No windshield wipers.” He told me to take it easy driving back to town, to park the car, and never get in it again. No windshield, no bumper (with the license plate attached), tried to elude, speeding, ran a stop sign, possession of beer as a minor, and he gives me a ticket for “No windshield wipers”. Wow!
I brought the ticket with me to court. The magistrate said “I heard about this car. What are you going to do about it?” I told him that I was entering the U.S. Navy at the end of the month, and that I had sold the car for $5 to a person who wanted it for soil erosion in a creek bed – all true! He tore up the ticket and told me to stay clean until I was in the military.
Jim DeVolld (Honcho) went back to serve another tour of duty in Vietnam. He was honorably discharged from the Marines about the same time I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army (I know, it’s another story how I was to enter the Navy and ended up in the Army). Honcho died in the Crawford County Jail after an “alleged” suicide. Another story for another time.
Jim Malloy (Jocko) entered the Navy about a year after the Green Latrine’s last run. He is currently a resident of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. I visit him once a month.
Leaving work at Farmland Foods in Denison one night around midnight (working the evening shift), I saw flashing red lights reflected in my rearview mirror. I pulled into the Super Value parking lot along Highway 30. “License and registration?” Yeah, I had that stuff. “You have a taillight out. You want to come back to the car with me?” He was going to give me a fix-it ticket. It was Officer Hansen. I asked if he remembered me. “Vaguely”, he said. I talked about the day the Green Latrine was put to rest and his memory of the event slowly crept into his memory, but I think he wanted to forget it. I struck up a conversation. It was his last night on the job. He was retiring early because of a health problem.
I asked him if he could make me the last stop of the night. You know, to say that I was his first and last stop. He wouldn’t make that commitment.
The Green Latrine is lying in the bottom of a creek bed somewhere approximately 4 miles south of Vail.
I wish I would have taken better care of it. I wish I could have afforded to stow it away somewhere until I had enough money to fix it up. Of course, it would be stowed there, yet.
I learned a lot from owning the Green Latrine. Get a Ford!