Pigpen 240



Two years ago, I couldn’t wait to replace Pigpen, our 2002 Toyota Hylander. In the fall of 2013, I was thrilled when we bought Flash, a nearly-new GMC Acadia.

And while I continue to bask in the Acadia’s still-new glow, I rarely drive it. In an effort to preserve Flash’s pristinery (not a word, but it should be), I pilot the rolling dumpster on a daily basis.

And with all those hours behind the wheel, my revulsion for Pigpen has been replaced with affection. Pigpen is a filth magnet; he is missing a backdoor handle; and the back hatch regularly crushes my head when I’m loading bags of groceries. But concussions aside, I appreciate Pigpen. We’ve bonded after logging so much time together.

Last month the odometer rolled over to 240,000 miles, and that got me thinking: Can Pigpen soldier on to 300,000 miles? How far can this car go?

According to Carfax and, plenty of vehicles are roadworthy beyond the 350,000 mile mark (most of these veterans are Hondas and Toyotas.)

missing handle

Pigpen continues to shed parts — screws and handles — most recently, the sun visor dropped precipitously and hangs at a jaunty angle. We don’t foster Pigpen’s health; tune-ups are few and far between. And the interior is perennially ankle-deep in trash. My softball equipment is rolling around in the backseat, though my last game was back in August.

But I hope that Pigpen is roadworthy 60,000 miles from now. The rolling dumpster would be a perfect match for a first-time driver. And Cayden gets his license in six short years.

Hang in there, Pigpen!

The story of Flash



Last Thursday Martin got a new car.

Not new, but new to him.

My car is now his car.

He inherited the Toyota Highlander — complete with 210,000 miles, a bent axle, a broken door handle, and an interior completely defiled by children.

“Here you go,” I said, jangling the keys.

“Thanks,” Martin said flatly.

“Now you promise to take good care of it, right?”

“Just give me the keys,” he said, grabbing them and trudging across the parking lot.

“I’ll follow you home, okay?” I shouted from my new car.

My new car.

We’d talked for ages about replacing the Highlander, and more recently, when it acquired some four-digit repair bills.

Not to mention it’s falling apart. One window is broken, and a rear door handle has been pulled clean off.

missing handle

To open door, knock on window…and hope a kid answers.


Then there’s the trunk-door hatch: it likes to brain people in the wintertime. When it’s freezing cold, the hatch’s hydraulic arms lose tension.  So you open the trunk, begin to load/unload, and — without warning — the door slams down, delivering a concussive blow.

And speaking of the trunk, there’s that trunk troll issue: we don’t have any extra seating, so we stick additional adult passengers in the trunk.

Have I made my case? New car needed. We were looking for something 3 to 4 years old, less than 40,000 miles, and no minivan. We test-drove a few models and narrowed the pool of contenders.

And then one day I snapped.

Not just like that. There were cumulative factors, several bad days that led to snappage. But one particular afternoon the kids were acting like maniacs, the horse lost another shoe, the dog rolled in deer poop, Brynn was screeching her head off, and I was helping Cayden look for his homework — which he dropped somewhere in the grass. I was looking down, walking in circles… like a crazy person. Or like someone concussed by the Highlander’s trunk door.

In that moment of chaos, I glanced at my sweatshirt. My new sweatshirt — already a favorite. It was riddled with moth holes.

A moth turned my sweatshirt into swiss cheese. Now that was the moment of snappage.

Suddenly, a 4-year-old car with 40,000 miles wasn’t good enough. I wanted nearly-new and no economy model. I wanted a nice car, out-of-budget, with unnecessary accessories. Redundant running lights, wood trim, remote keyless entry, air conditioned seats. I needed that. My butt needed to be cool when I drove.

Martin didn’t know what to say about my luxury-vehicle lust. It didn’t fit my frugal track record.

He thought it was a phase and would pass. He thought that, until I asked for a ride to pick up my new car. (Which is a 2012 GMC Acadia, if anyone’s still reading.)

At the dealership, the guy tried to explain all the accessories and functions until Martin interrupted. “Just show her the gas and brake. That’s all she needs.”

On the way home, Martin and I talked over the phone from our respective vehicles. (And there’s another state law that I’m no longer violating. No trunk troll, and I talk on a hands-free device. Apparently, that’s been a law for three years.)

“It’s so nice,” I crowed to Martin, as we looped the beltway. “Where are you?” I asked. I was driving so cautiously, I’d lost sight of him.

“I’m up ahead,” he replied. “Can’t you see the cloud of dirt and dust? That me, driving Pigpen.”

And that’s how we named the Highlander, after 8 years. Pigpen.

As for the new car, Martin wanted to name it right away. “How about Shiny? It’s so shiny!”

“No,” I said. “It won’t be shiny once I hit the gravel drive.”

But it will be flashy, even with a coat of dust.

For the time being, Flash is still pristine. Because I don’t let kids near it. In fact, I don’t drive it. I’d like to drive it, but since I’m chauffeuring kids, I drive Pigpen.


But when the next snap moment comes, I’ll be in a better frame of mind.

I’ll be sitting in Flash. With the seat coolers on.



Chitty, Pigpen and Flash. Not pictured, Big Rig


(PS: I don’t mention Little Zippy, but he was blog-worthy 4 years ago. Click here for that post. Little Zip is still roadworthy. I saw him last year; he still bears the deer dent.)


Pasture Ornament

 Mid May 04 004 

In the horse world, a “pasture ornament” is defined as an unrideable horse. An equine ill-suited for productive use.

But lately around here, the tractor’s been the ornament. It has been stuck in the back field for weeks. (Note: “it” is the only farm vehicle to escape nickname and gender assignment. Unlike Chitty.)

Not only does tractor disability result in unkempt grass, it restricts pasture use.

Technically, we could use the field. But allowing horses unlimited access to something new — namely the presence of a sharp farm implement…

…is like putting a steak knife in front of a toddler. Call the doctor.

So, the tractor. It’s a 30-year-old Ford, with issues.

Issues not entirely self-inflicted or aged-related.

We haven’t treated the “It” very well. We leave it exposed to the elements and rarely provide service.

Okay, never provide service. And this summer the tractor’s been reluctant to operate.

Really reluctant once we lost the key. The key.

We scoured the farm for it, countless times. We begged the kids to find it, then threatened them. Finally we offered a bounty: $25, no questions asked.

Meanwhile, the grass grew and grew and grew. I imagined the neighbors complaining. Actually, I pictured them shaking their fists and shouting as they drove by: “Hey, slackers! Go back to the ‘burbs where you belong!”




When green nearly swallowed the tractor, I called the local parts store for a replacement key. And good news: the key is universal. I just needed the tractor model number. So I bound up the attic stairs, crawled into the depths of storage space — through Christmas wrapping paper and Halloween costumes — and unearthed the battered manual that came with the battered tractor.

I flipped open the cover, studied the model number, then gasped in horror at a line of text immediately below.

Six jarring words, emblazoned in thick, bold letters:

This tractor engine – Made in Japan

Made in Japan?

A tractor — one of the most iconic symbols in America — and a Ford, nonetheless, made in Japan?

I am not evenly remotely xenophobic, but everyone’s got limits. And mine is the tractor.

That is not right, I thought. No way that engine’s made in Japan.

“Yep, made by the Ja…Pan…Eeze,” tractor guy emphasized over the phone. “It’s an ’83 model, right? I’ve got 10 copies of that key.”

I sighed. “Alright. I’ll take them.”

What, all 10 keys??

“Oh no, I mean… how about three? You keep the other seven for me.”

“Yea, I can’t do that.”

“Okay, then gimmie four.”

So, we were back in biz. Five keys (the original resurfaced) and the tractor started. Immediately, the battery quit. The following day Martin jumped it to life and shifted into gear. He bush-hogged one row before the the tractor threw up, all over him.

A hose blew, showering him in hydraulic fluid. So there the Ford sat. Again.

Weedy flowers blossomed all around.

I glared at the tractor and mulled over bitter thoughts.

About the Japanese, too.




Another trip to the supply store, hose-transplant surgery, lots of sweating and cursing… and the It-Tractor was back in action. Martin jounced across the rutted field, bush-hog trailing. Four hours and one (allegedly) bruised kidney later: mission accomplished. Martin parked It-Tractor in a safe location and the horses charged about, turfing up their newly-cropped confines.*

As for the spare keys? I’ve stashed them in various, undisclosed locations.

Guaranteed, I’ll never find them again.


*Possible reader question: Why must we mow the fields when able horses can do the eating? Horses are choosy and consume only the tasty clover, leaving the weeds to run amok. Mowing’s a must: lesson learned after you’ve bought the farm…