Behind the Steering Wheel - [Courtesy Rovers Magazine]
By Jeffrey B. Aronson
Our local volunteer EMS service stood in need of new EMT’s. Desperate, actually, or why else would our director urge me to attend a course in April at the Solo School, Conway, NH, to become a Wilderness EMT?
After a winter of driving the QE I only around the island, the trip to New Hampshire felt rather inviting. During the winter I had carefully made a list of all the required maintenance tasks required before departure, and assiduously avoided all of them until the last minute. For example, filing worn-out points instead of replacing them did not eliminate stumbling and bucking under load, such as the long hilly roads across Maine into eastern New Hampshire. Upon arrival I met the 19 other students taking the month-long course. All were much younger men and women who thrived on working in national parks, fighting forest fires, climbing rock faces, snowboarding instead of skiing, leading hiking, rafting or wilderness trips. I thought of these as intriguing, exciting endeavors, best sampled by people with a lot of time on their hands. Over the month the gap between me and my new peers might have become a chasm – except that I had brought my Land Rover. Quickly the QE I became the vehicle of choice when the group decided to head into Conway or North Conway. I only had to say “I’m going into town” and arguments would break out over who would occupy the four rear jump seats. In theory, a Series Land Rover 88” station wagon seats 7 people; I will attest that you can squeeze in more. Men who would go weeks between laundry runs when out in the wilderness suddenly got the urge to do their laundry anytime I headed into town. I recognized that these new friends did not really care for me; they cared for my Land Rover. They openly admired the timeless elegance of the design, its purposeful appearance, the banjo steering wheel and the scuttle vent knobs, the multiple levers sprouting out from the transmission tunnel. Even on the coldest nights they requested that the rear flap remain rolled up. The total absence of expected amenities common in contemporary cars and trucks did not bother anyone. While at school the Jeep Cherokee owned by Matt Runyanszky, Trenton, NJ, challenged the QE I for automotive attention. Matt - a 20-something rock climber, tattoo aficionado, welder and outdoorsman - had kitted out his Jeep with a massive lift kit and oversized tires. Skid plates protected the undersides and the steering linkage. It even had the requisite sound system for cruising streets. In appearance, his Jeep looked far more capable than my stock Series Land Rover. Three days after the course began, as I waited in the dinner line, Matt ran into the cafeteria and shook my shoulder. “I need you right now, man!” I quickly followed him outdoors and down a lane to the school’s entry road. Like any steep dirt road in New England, this one was lined with a generously deep ditch, into which Matt had inserted a wheel on his Jeep. Unknown to him the ditch had an extra drainage hole right underneath his front wheel; now his Jeep resembled a Labrador retriever sleeping on its side with its legs in the air. With a straight face Matt said “I need you to pull me out.” Dumping your Jeep on its side in a ditch, hundreds of miles from home, in full view of a parade of faculty and administration driving by – well, it’s unnerving at best. An awful lot of cellphones clicked and transmitted a lot of photos that early evening. Certainly the thought of further damaging Matt’s car made me feel uneasy. I walked around his Jeep, looking at pulling angles and directions. I would have to right it first. With the Jeep on its side, finding the best place to attach my kinetic rope and shackle was a cinch. I reached up to the right rear spring and connected it to my rope with a shackle. I positioned the Rover, selected low range first gear, and pulled sideways on the Jeep. It tumbled over and bounced mightily on its coil springs. While the 6” lift had undoubtedly caused his car to lean wildly and tip over, it also allowed him to back out of the ditch successfully with only a crumpled front fender for damage. The Rover had proven its mettle. Stiff upper lip and all that, I returned to the cafeteria for dinner. Later that month another glorious moment arose with the arrival of a box from Rovers North. In addition to the requisite parts for an ignition tune-up (points, plugs, condenser, rotor, distributor cap) I had ordered a new hand crank, as I had left behind the one that usually resides in the QE I. A crank makes finding the high spot on the distributor cam lobe much easier than relentlessly tugging on the fan belt. Many classmates equated my white hair with “senility” or “uselessness”; several mouthed the word “dementia” when I claimed that the Rover could be started with a hand crank. Wisely, I chose a weekend evening when I had been selected as chauffeur to demonstrate this procedure. If successful, I was confident I would not have to purchase my own beers that night. I turned the key to “on,” pulled out the choke slightly, set the hand throttle a bit high, and inserted the crank into the front pulley. I gently turned the crank clockwise and when I felt compression release at the “3:00” position, moved the crank to its lowest point on the arc. Loosely holding the handle, I pulled it up and slid my hand off as it went over the top. The Rover gently throbbed to life as I raised my arms just like champions do in the Olympics. The “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” that followed validated the Rover’s awesomeness and my own belief that I could leave my wallet at home that night. Next, on a Sunday morning run to Dunkin’ Donuts, John Kurtz, Minneapolis, MN, and I spotted two women in a new Jeep Wrangler, dangling a stuffed lion out the window. We waved it down and got Kristen Welch, Chester NH, and Jenny Bronson, Henniker, NH, to agree that a lion really belonged on the spare tire of a Land Rover. Their Wrangler looked ordinarybeside the Rover. When the need for another weekend diversion from the month-long course reared up, a quiet afternoon spent performing an ignition tune up and general maintenance on the Rover proved the perfect antidote to excessive studying. For the African instructors and students at the Solo School, the Rover elicited fascinating stories about their lives spent around or through Land Rovers. The message is, of course, get behind the steering wheel and share your Land Rover with the world at large. They’re waiting for you! Actually, so are Jeep owners. When I returned home to the island town in Maine, I found myself in my Rover driving behind our mechanic in his old Jeep Wrangler. As he chugged up a hill he tapped his taillights several times to get my attention. When I waved he dangled a tow strap out the window, clearly wondering the QE I needed help getting up the hill. Continuing the pressure, I found a hand-painted sign, which read “Junk Pile,” staked into the ground in front of the Rover. ________ David Townend of Yorkshire, England, makes and sells clothes for classic-car buffs. “They get the car, and we supply them with the clothes,” he explained. “People come and say, ‘This is the car, what should I wear?’ Bentley guys wear simple clothes, corduroy trousers and Harris tweed. Rolls-Royce owners wear suits.” The question of what to wear in a Series Rover requires complex answers. It’s helpful during rainy weather to consider something totally water repellant; Defender owners might share similar opinions. On snowy, cold winter days, one might suggest “everything you own – unless you replace those leaking door seals.” It has occurred to me that Land Rover advertisements of their day dressed up the models in far different outfits. Men, women and children wore clean clothes appropriate for the weather implied by the advertisement. Advertisements from the ‘70’s and 80’s suffer from some genuinely embarrassing articles of clothing and hairstyles, but they do all look clean – even the workmen! This got me thinking about the “outfits” I wear while in my Rover. I’m still rankled about the parting shot that Mark Letorney sent my way at a past British Invasion. When I tried on my then-new Rovers North waxed cotton coat, Mark admonished me – publicly – not to “get it all greasy.” Really!
I wonder what Jeep owners wear in their cars?
[Copyright Jeffrey B. Aronson and Rovers Magazine 2010]
"The Land Rover is not a vehicle, it's a way of life."