By Bill Moeller / For The Chronicle
I recently wrote about some vehicles owned by the Moeller Family when — starting in 1960 — we lived on Curtis Hill Road. In 1969, we moved into town and the type of vehicles we needed changed to reflect that decision. We sold the strange Chevrolet truck that I mentioned in the previous column, a truck that one of our horses used to chew on if we parked too close to the fence. In its place we found a 1968 Ford Galaxie 500 fastback sedan — a hot car and one of only a few that were made.
Then, for a second car, I found an Austin-Healey Sprite sports car in Centralia and couldn’t resist. The car had a nickname of “bug-eyed Sprite” because the headlights were on the hood instead of the fenders. My daughter found it perfect for driving to high school each day.
As I eased into my delayed hippie years, I bought an old Oldsmobile ambulance. It really was an ambulance but looked more like a large station wagon and, since those were the happy hippie days, I installed self tie-dyed curtains in the back windows. It had a high speed rear end gear and a Centralia fireman once told me that, on one of his off-duty days, he drove it to a hospital in Seattle in 35 minutes. I think he may have been fudging a little but that’s what I think I remember.
At this point, my marriage broke up for a while and Frances thought the Ford Galaxie was more car than she could handle, so she bought a Ford Pinto. I drove the ambulance for another year or so (even made a trip to California in it) but a sensible — and less oil-using — car was eventually needed, so I traded it in as a down payment for a new Ford Pinto of my own. I don’t care what anybody said about that car at the time, I loved mine and I still consider it one of the most sensible cars made for the use it had been designed for. Its only flaw — for some people — was that the gas tank was in the rear of the car and a possible rear end collision could lead to a fire or possible explosion. Maybe — if Ford made an electric Pinto today — they could bring it back again, but I don’t imagine anybody thought to save the molds for the first ones?
I, eventually, took a job at a store in Olympia that sold bicycles in the summer and skis in the winter and felt I needed a slightly faster car to make the drive each day. So I traded it in on a bright red used Chrysler sport coupe. It was prone to develop minor malfunctions but was really sharp looking and much faster than the Pinto when needed to get to work on time.
Frances and I reconciled and, somewhere along the line, an ad for a Jaguar Mark Ten sedan for sale in Bremerton caught my eye. It was elegant looking, but temperamental as that breed is known to be. It had once been the personal car of the British Ambassador to Greece — the fitting for his flag was still there on the front of its hood-or “bonnet,” as they say where it was made.
After tinkering with it more than I wanted to — an occupation frequently encountered by Jaguar owners of that period — I spotted its successor. During a drive on Whidbey Island, we passed a field with a half dozen or so Jaguars in it, but there was also an authentic London taxicab there in the grass with them. I offered to trade our Jaguar for it. The offer was accepted.
A London taxicab wasn’t very practical to drive either, but it sure got a lot of attention as we brought it home on I-5 with Frances looking as regal and haughty as she could in the back seat. During the only time it was in a local parade, it developed a flat tire and I discovered that the spare tire was only ornamental. Its wheel wouldn’t even fit onto the axle. It was later traded for a small cabin cruiser boat.
I was keeping mostly solvent in those days as a traveling actor— touring the Northwest states as Mark Twain — and needed more dependable transportation, so a 1979 Chevrolet pickup truck right off the showroom floor was next. With a solid canopy over the bed, it held all of my stage props and even held me on nights when I couldn’t find lodging. (At this point, can I slip in a plug for my final performance as Twain. It was in the Wickstrom Theater in Centralia College and was recorded by the broadcasting class and is still available at the Timberland Library. Just ask for “Bill Moeller as Mark Twain.”)
That large pickup truck was traded in for a much smaller 1992 used Chevrolet S-10 pickup and — some 24 years later — is still running!
Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at [email protected]net.