The First Trip in New Baleau – Autumn of 1981 A Leave of Absence Leads to a Most Memorable Trip Part 1

Bill Early

What really predicated this trip? I really think it is worth mentioning. In the summer of 1978 I purchased a 1965 Chevy van, which, as it turned out, was my ticket out of Dallas. Everything I owned that wasn’t bigger than a breadbox was crammed in her…”there wasn’t any room for anything except where it was supposed to be”.   It was time to move on to new places and new faces. Incidentally, the van, or Ol’ Betsey as I was to call her, had been plastered with 128 Cowboy stickers by the previous owner (yes, I counted ’em). I immediately had her sprayed with a $49.95 Earl Scheib navy blue special. I must have had a premonition when I had all those star-emblazoned helmets fade into the blue, because I ended up in Denver (the Cowboys and Broncos had just met in Super Bowl XII the previous January). If Ol’ Betsey had been festooned with all that blue and silver graffiti, she would have been pelted with stones like a Colorado hail storm. She had already inherited quite a few small dents (from the previous owner). So, in the fall of 1980, I decided to perform major surgery on Betsey’s ol’ body. After three months of dent pulling, decal scraping, paint removing, “BONDO” spreading, and countless hours of hand-sanding, she was ready for a pro paint job. The end results were very gratifying. It had been a labor of love. I was looking forward to driving to Dallas for Christmas. There was a method in my madness. The holiday season was going to be special because brother Franz and his family were blessing us with a rare visit. I wanted to impress him with my handiwork in autobody restoration. Now, let me make two things perfectly clear. Ol’ Betsey was 15 years old, and Franz had a penchant for the new (especially in autos). Well, he sure let the air out of my tires. He took one look at my “masterpiece” and said: “Hell, Bill, that’s all fine and good work, but don’t you deserve something new for a change?” I was crushed. But, I quickly recovered from his insensitive observation. All the way back to Denver, chugging along old U.S. 287 in my straight-six, three-on-the-column, erstwhile varucose van, Franz’s words kept echoing in my ears: “Treat yourself to something new”. As soon as my altimeter read 5,280 feet, I touched down at the nearest Chevrolet dealership. In order to pay $8,900 cash for a new “short” van with just the bare essentials (engine, transmission, steering wheel, and one driver’s seat), I calculated that it would take three months to accumulate the necessary assets. I was making major bucks at the best architectural firm in Denver, and living a fairly Spartan life (brown-baggin’ and biking to work). By the end of March, I placed the order to Detroit, and wrote the largest check of my life. If the timing went right, the new blue machine should arrive as a birthday present to myself. And wouldn’t you know, she rolled off the carrier and “touched down” on the lot on April 24th, 1981….the first vehicle that I had ever bought that wasn’t at least a second-hand rehab. Oh, what a feeling:

By mid-1981 the oil exploration in Colorado had come to a gear-grinding halt. The construction crane was no longer referred to as the “State Bird”. Pink slips at architectural firms were floating around Denver like cheap soup. I decided that it was a good time to ask for a three-month leave-of-absence starting in July (I had it extended until the end of the year). By the end of June I had enlisted the professional service of shops dealing in stereo sound systems, van skylights and luxury chairs, and RV refrigerators. Now I was ready to do my interior design work. I was so grateful to Dick Anderson, one of my associates at the RNL firm, who “leased” me some garage and drive-way space. I had the tools, he had the outlets. I had the materials; he had the work-benches. There was no cutting corners on the carpet – $20 a yard, 100% wool. It was laid over quarter-inch foam padding on top of half-inch plywood. It was well worth it. There’s no feeling like curling your bare toes in a deep-pile carpet, especially while driving with cruise-control. I stuffed every cubic inch of walls, ceiling, and doors with R-19 batt insulation before applying the paneling. I figured the inside temperature would be 10 to 15 degrees warmer during the cold months. I was later to be proven correct in that calculation, thanks to a trusty little clock/temperature digital display unit that I acquired at Radio Shack.

Those were memorable times with the Andersons. After a serene somnolence in the newly constructed van-bed, Dick and Carol would accommodate me for coffee and toast. Then they would speed off to their respective offices, and I would consume myself in my newfangled labor of love. I’d greet my friend in the evening with: “Well, Richard, another day at the office, another brown helmet, huh?” (That’s local Texas humor). Dick, being from Iowa, would acknowledge my levity with a condescending smile.

To be continued…