Dad bought this Nissan Patrol once. It had been a number of years since the Willis bit the dust, and we all really hankered to get back up into the mountains. We lived after all in the Switzerland of America; Gem of the Rockies; Jeep Capital of the World. The rough terrain, combined with the highest concentration of minerals on Earth, created a situation where miners needed to blast pack trails through the cliffs to get back into seemingly inaccessible places. Years later these pack trails were widened just enough for a skinny little 4-wheeler to get through.
The first time I saw a Hummer, I laughed. I mean, where could it go?
The Nissan couldn't have cost much as, contrary to word around town, the Halls didn't have much money. It didn't have a radio. It didn't have a muffler. For all practical purposes it didn't have brakes. The padding on the dashboard consisted of a coat of white paint.
But it was what we generically called a "jeep" back then, and we were right giddy to have one avaliable to us.
I don't remember much, nay anything about the time we had it as a family. The memories started when it was mine. Though my records have serious gaps in them, and my memory is even worse, I'd say I had the Patrol from 1982 to 1983 - the gap between the time I destroyed my brand new 4-wheel Toyota pickup and the time I traded it to my parents for a '75 3/4 ton Chevy my parents had picked up from the Westfals, who in turn had bought it from the Smyth's. (I figured if it could survive Steve Smyth, it might make a pretty good wood truck.)
I remember two trips with the Nissan up the switchbacks to the Blowout.
The first time I was going up there with Mark Kropenske, and going by where F.O. Seeburg's office used to be it went
"Aw, crap. I'm out of gas. Damn it!"
"What? We came all this way and now we can't even get to the American Nettie? What the hell?"
"What the hell is we're out of gas."
In case you're under the impression that Japanese cars all get great mileage, the Patrol got eight (8) miles per gallon. It was pretty much a piece of steel on wheels. Whether it had a straight six or straight 8 didn't matter. It was a big and thirsty motor, even though it seemed to have no power since it needed to haul around its own weight. Put down in granny, of course, it was a delight. It's great mass combined with its skinny tires gave it the purchase to get up the steepest hills.
"Purchase" (I had almost forgotten the word), is the ability to grab onto the smallest bit of solid ground on a steep road and drag the vehicle upward. For this purpose, skinny tires rule, because the weight of the vehicle is transferred to a smaller number of square inches on the ground. If you only have one tire on bedrock, you want as much weight on that available bedrock as you can get, and that's why fat tires will get you smirks from the locals. Fat tires may work great in bogs - maybe even in "hills" (feel free to detect a sneer in the utterance of the word hills), but on a mountainside grade of 25 degrees or more, you want skinny tires, and the topic is not open for discussion.
Anyway, we ran out of gas, and we were in a fairly narrow spot. The first order of business was to turn around, which we did with Mark's muscle supplemented by the starter - using the battery to turn over the engine and, by proxy, the wheels. It was probably a 30-point turn in all.
Now we needed to coast down this rough road to the bottom, so we'd end up in some reasonable hike looking for a gas can. This was a little tricky because it wasn't all downhill. We needed to build up speed to get through the flat spots and some little rises, and yet the road was really crude, so we endured some serious jostling.
Coming down onto the pavement, we wanted to coast as far as we could before it stopped, so Mark hung out his window looking north up 550 towards the sewer plant, and I cranned by neck around the cliffs so I'll get a look south up towards town just before we hit the road.
"Okay here" said Mark, just as I saw the oncoming traffic was still a good 30 yards off. We blew through the stop sign going about 35, and coasted to a halt about a half mile later.
"Man, I thought we'd make it to Daisy Diggin's for sure".
"Let me see if any gas drained forward up the line to the engine."
I had left a little juice in the battery for this very purpose. The motor sputtered to life and I jammed it in gear. We had enough gas to get us the remaining 200 yards, and we limped to the pumps of the In Der Ground gas station. Huzzahs all around.
The In Der Ground was an artificial cave, blasted into the side of the mountain. Originally it was used as a restaurant, but there was insufficient ventilation, so it was turned into a gas station office and gift shop.
Just a bit of Hooterville trivia there.
In the second trip I remember up the Blowout road, there were about six of us crammed in the Nissan. We were headed up to the lookout, where we would park and backpack up Horsetheif trail to the top of Amphitheatre mountain, and camp for the night.
On a particularly steep hill I ground gears and couldn't get it into second.
As a rule, I pumped the brakes on the Patol every thirty seconds whether I needed them or not. After all, you never know when you'll need brakes. It must have been time to pump them up, because as we came to a stop and started to roll backwards, the brake pedal went to the floor with no discernable effect. As I pumped away and stared wildly into the shaking rear-view mirror, our ride careened in reverse. I managed to keep it straight so we didn't roll sideways 312 times on our way down to the cow pasture below.
The brakes seemed to be coming to life as we rolled to a stop on a flat stretch. Good thing we weren't on the switchbacks. Of course had that been the case, we all would have bailed early on, as best we could.
Mark's brother John, a future Ouray high school valedictorian, gave me a little lecture on automobile maintenance. After this bit of ass chewing, he consented to getting back in, provided I leave it in granny gear first for the rest of the way up, and make no attempt to shift.
So, we went on, with what you might rightly assume were no brakes. As long as we didn't start to slide backwards we'd be okay. No problem there. We had purchase.
Another noteworthy memory is this.
I was pretty proud of the Nissan. At the time I'd even installed a stereo in it - not that I could hear it. It was mostly for when I got up to the woodsie and put the speakers outside so we could listen to it as we drained the keg.
I was sitting in some storefront on Main street, talking to Rusty (I forget his last name). He was an older Englishman who had heard every dirty joke you could think of. Get in about two sentences and he'd blurt out the punch line. Word was - and I think he told me this himself though memory may not serve me so well - that at the time he met his wife he was making a living as a pool shark.
Wouldn't surprise me a bit.
Anyway, I was speculating on what I should get to spice up my ride. New tires? A winch? I didn't have a CB yet.
"What do you think I should get, Rusty?"
Not a moments hesitation was needed.