Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Re-Deanimator, Part 6: They Shoot GMC's, Don't They?? By David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Previously published at

Carlos strode into the garage. George walked alongside him, while Laramie and Phil followed at a few paces. The professor stooped to pick up the .45 handgun and a loose clip that had belonged to the flattened former police officer, stowing it in a loop in his belt, and inspected the vehicle on the lift. A quick appraisal confirmed that it was a Dodge one-ton 4WD Power Wagon, with the oversized wheels and beefed-up suspension of a custom off-road rig and a crew cab that was not standard for the model. The grill marked it as a '61, having an iconic early-sixties shape vaguely like the face of a longhorn bull and a mesh pattern throughout that was retired after a single year. The stakebed rear and a railroad tie bumper added a touch of redneck engineering. "It's one of a kind, far as we can tell," Phil said. "The engine under the hood is a diesel. The guy gave it to us to have an electric transmission installed, like yours. I heard he was a regular customer back in old Pete's days, maybe a friend. Except, I got the feeling old Pete didn't like him... maybe got scared of him, by the end."

"One of a kind," Carlos said. "...We'll take it anyway."
He strode out the back, into the rear lot. There were a dozen cars in view. The lot ended at a line of outbuildings and a wooden fence that clearly enclosed a much larger junk yard. At least a score of trailers and motor homes poked above the fence right at the front, in addition to the edge of a gabled roof that was presumably Pete's place. Ranks and files of many more tall trailers and vehicles receded into the distance, and who knew what entirely out of view.

Carlos looked over the cars first, twirling his hammer thoughtfully. His eyes lit on a VW Bus crewcab pickup, which had the V-shaped front and split windshield of the original line. "We want that," he said. His eyes turned next to a van of similar vintage which was fairly generic except for the grill that marked it as a Jeep. "Damn. The FC passenger van variant. We spent years lookin' for one of these."

"Ah... we got it running well enough, but the engine's a bit off," Phil said. "Rattles, squeals, you know..."
Carlos ignored him, sizing up a tiny Subaru that looked more like a golf cart. "We'll take that one, too."
"But, ah, that's the 360, ah, sir. It received one of the worst ratings ever for safety in a collision..." Carlos gave him a cool glance, and he fell silent. Carlos went down the line, and stopped at a GMC pickup, slapping the hammer against the palm of his hands. "Well, sit, now that is a fine vehicle. I notice you already have a GMC van, so I'm sure you already know, they're among the best..." Only then did he see the coldness ell, the engines can be a bit labor intensive. And they can get rusty, though it's not a problem in this climate. But rest assured, nothing on the road is more durable than a GMC, especially the..."

Carlos took several long paces back and drew the .45 from his belt. Four out of seven shots perforated the hood, with the others hitting the windshield, an unsuspecting trailer and the sky. He loaded the other clip and and an extra cartridge, pointed the gun sideways at a headlamp and fired eight shots in rabid succession before the gun clicked empty. The bullets fell in a wide but level grouping that took out the right blinker, the left headlamp, and the "M" in GMC. He put the pistol back, took a few more paces, and drew the 20-gauge. The first two blasts sprang the latch of the hood and made a geyser out of the radiator. He unfolded the stock and blew out the front tires, and then shot off the driver's side mirror for good measure. Then he stowed his weapon and closed in with the hammer.

The first swing put the blunt end of the head straight through the windshield. Carlos yanked it back out and struck again with the point, gouging sideways through the fractured safety glass. After three more blows, the windshield was as broken and crumpled as a peeled egg shell. He smashed the remaining windows, and turned his attention to the remaining headlamp. One phenomenal blow drove the point of the hammer all the way through the reflector. A wrenching, crunching twist and a hard tug wrenched the entire headlamp out like a gouged eyeball, complete with wires that held it dangling at the level of the bumper. Two more blows did not so much knock the headlamp loose as completely pulverize it. Finally, Carlos wrenched a hubcap off one of the front wheels and heaved it skyward. At the peak of its trajectory, he drew his 12-gauge and let fly with both barrels, missing completely.

"Looks like you're losing your touch," Laramie said.
"Start runnin', and we'll test the hypothesis," Carlos answered with a grin. He turned to Phil. "For the record... I love a good Jeep, and I'd stake my life on a four-by-four Dodge. VW's pretty good, and Ford isn't bad. I'll even give a Chevy a chance. But I hate GMC's."

Sure enough, there were two Dodge Travco motor homes just inside the gate, both definitely late-'60s vintage. Though it was Winnebago that had put the RV on the map of commerce and popular consciousness in the late 1960s, mass-produced Travco motorhomes had hit the market about five years earlier, and the line had remained successful until higher powers at Chrysler shut the division down. Early in the history of the enterprise, Travco had introduced a major innovation that set their product apart from the motley and costly one-off truck conversions that had been available before that time, and still made them instantly recognizable: The resources of the automotive giant had been put to work to produce purpose-built, ovoid fiberglass bodies, in lengths ranging from 21 to a tremendous 32 feet, almost always white and usually with a broad, straight stripe from the headlamps to the tail lights. Many compared it to a "Silly Putty" container; Carlos would have compared it to a submarine. The red-striped 32-footer before him, however, called to mind a beached whale. "Ah, bloody 'ell," he said, his shoulders sagging, "even a GMC deserves better'n that..."

"And we thought Flipper was bad," Carradine added. Though the rear of the body extended well past the rear wheels, the front sagged so low that, if the bumper was not touching the ground, then the distance was indiscernible to the naked eye. The hull listed visibly to starboard as well. Clearly, the suspension was not simply overloaded, but in a state of collapse. The rest did not look much better. Despite the dry climate, rust was rampant on the exposed metal parts, and even the plasticized body had conspicuous yellow and orange stains. The tires were bald, the windshield broken, but Carlos took an especially hard look at the fine cracks in the rubber lining of the window. He also sniffed at a distinctly foul smell.

"This is what I've been telling you about," he said to Carradine. "Check the window gaskets first. If they're in bad shape, chances are the hoses inside will be worse. You know what happens if they go bad: Water damage at least, maybe sewage contamination, and worst case scenario, propane or even petrol spills. I don't like that smell, neither. Normally, I could put it down to an overfull black water tank, but these things are supposed to burn fecal matter. Best guess, either the Destroilet backed up, or else there've been animals nesting in there... This thing's not just a wreck, we're lookin' at fire an' flat-out biohazard. We don't even go in there if we don't have to."

The other specimen certainly looked more promising. It was only 21 feet, but in every other respect it would have presented itself as a superior specimen even if both had been like new. The wheels and suspension were not only in good condition but better than factory standard. The body was all but Teutonic in its straight and level pose, with just enough wear and weathering to confirm that the vehicle had spent the better part of its years in regular use rather than taking up space with other trophies of someone's midlife crisis. Carlos took an especially long look at the wheels. "I wouldn't swear to it," he said, "but this sure looks like a four-wheel-drive rig."

A quick examination of the cab, with assistance from Phil, confirmed it. Laramie came forward from the rear with a smile. "Doc, you wouldn't believe how sweet this is," he said. "They got a full-size fridge, heating and AC, and what we're pretty sure is a filtration system."
"Perfect," said Carlos. "The only thing left to check is the propane tank..." He hurried outside, leaving the others to continue admiring the interior. After a few minutes, Dr. Carradine came out to investigate the long silence.
Carlos had opened an access panel that covered a propane tank. He was still standing, staring as if in horror that battled sheer incredulity. Carradine looked over his shoulder with definite concern. Laramie and Phil followed to see what was the matter. They saw a propane tank, in good condition, hooked in to the RV's systems with a hose... a garden hose. Not to mention generous applications of duct tape, some of which had been applied to the middle of the hose. "Well," Laramie said, "at least they patched the hose."

"Twice," Phil added. "Ah... at least."
They turned aside, grimly. "All right, we have a great rig, with one flaw," Carradine said. "We can fix it. Put in a new hose, hell, a whole new tank. We've done it with worse."

"Sure we've done it," Carlos said. "Enough to know it's never `just one thing'. By now, we might as well do a chart, like the kids did for the stupid things the stupid people do in those stupid old monster movies. We find a rig that looks great, except one thing that somebody let by with a subpar patch. So we fix it, and drive off. Only after a few weeks, or days, or hours on the road, something else turns up, the kind of thing even a good crew could miss it. So we fix that, only it's more work, we have to tear things up a bit, and while we're at it we find something else and fix that. And then, if it didn't happen already, the first fix we did goes wrong, and when we redo it we figure out it was worse than we thought, and like as not we actually made it worse. And we can repeat with variations until something finally gets bad enough that we have to tear down to the chassis just to get at it, which is right about the time we find the big problem that makes everything else look like termites on a sinking ship. O' course, then there was the time we actually had termites..."

Even as he spoke, he was clearly trying to convince himself as much as the others. "C'mon, we've seen the same thing with rigs that looked better'n this! For cryin' out loud, the last owner thought it was a good idea to replace a propane line with a garden hose and duck tape!"
"All right, what's the alternative?" Carradine asked, not quite rhetorically. "Nothing's perfect. What else can we do, besides leaving it here to rust?"

"Easy," said Laramie. "We tear it apart. We put those shocks in Flipper, and the water filter wherever we can fit it, use anything else we can, and if there's any left over we're sure will work, we take it for later."
Carlos shook his head. "We've tried that, too. Swapped-out parts never work as well. And putting those shocks in Flipper is like headlining Richard Kiley in the Podunk Community Theater production o' Oklahoma. The real problem with Flipper is that we put it together without a clue what we were doing, and we got too invested in it to admit it was time to give up. Sure, the suspension was junk, but we all know, even shocks as good as those would go just as bad, an' sooner than later. No matter what we do, assumin' nothing else goes first, it's gonna end up..." He jerked a thumb at the 32-foot write-off.

"Yeah, but as long as we keep it going, we save on gas," Laramie said. "Or we would if we didn't keep Monstro around."
"If we could get that running," Carradine said, pointing to the four-wheel RV, "it wouldn't use any more gas than Monstro."

"A bonfire wouldn't use up gas much faster'n Monstro," Carlos snapped back. He pondered. "All right... We give this thing a shot, after we take out this whole atrocity and patch a new tank in proper. An' if this rig even starts to give us trouble, then we take it apart and use whatever we can for Flipper."
"Okay," Laramie said indifferently. Carlos couldn't hide a flinch at the sound as his student lit another cigarette.

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