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Down the Road

Those wonderful Subys
By Milt Gross
Feb 3, 2013 - 1:23:33 AM

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A news piece on the radio the other day stated that Subarus are popular in the northern states, states with snow and roads that get tough.

One part of the show stated that if you want a pickup, you can buy one. But if you want to get around on these tough roads, get a Subaru.

I've had several. (I hope our also wonderful Toyotas don't read this. And, for their feelings' sakes, I'll note that the Toyotas get around 40 miles per gallon on the open road. One got it around town, which still confuses me. They'd get better, I think, if there were no ethanol in the gasoline we buy.)

A passenger on my bus, an Acadia National Park ranger -- actually a scientist, doesn't wear a uniform -- owns a Subaru and loves it. After hearing the radio broadcast, I shared some of it with him on our trip home.

As he got off the bus, I added, "The news show also said that eighty-five percent of Subarus favor some sort of gun control."

He laughed. The show didn't really say that. But it's probably a safe guess that most Subaru owners favor some sort of gun control. Ads for them imply that "green" is part and parcel of their manufacturing process. People who go "green" typically also favor some degree of gun control.

That has nothing to do with anything, so let's move on -- to some of the Suby's I've had. The ones I knew most intimately.

The earliest one I remember, which my son actually had bought for some reason that sons do things, was four-wheel drive. It was tiny. It also had a rusted bolt that closed the engine-oil pan.

So we never changed the oil. It ran happily ever after despite that, until we sold it to another kid. The last I remember her, she was parked at the high school atop a snow bank.

Which says something about the reputation Subys have among their owners.

I forget its name.

Another well-used Suby we owned also had four-wheel drive, which I actually used only once. I was driving through town after a heavy snow-storm and turned up a steep hill onto a side street to avoid a long line of traffic on the main road. After I turned, I realize that road had not yet been plowed, and the short steep hill right after the turn sported about 15 inches of white stuff.

"That's it, we're stuck," I said to myself and Bobby Beater.

Apparently Bobby Beater, who was in four-wheel drive didn't hear me and kept on chugging up the steep hill through the deep snow. As long as she was moving, I let her keep on moving. She chugged right up that steep snow-covered hill and onto level ground.

I appreciated not being stuck.

My final one, which I bought with some 80,000 miles under her two-wheel-drive tires, we named Sally. Sally remained in our family for about a half-dozen years. But just before I met Dolores, she had bought a two-year-old Toyota Corolla. So we eventually gave Sally to my younger son.

Sally got about 26 miles per gallon, but I'm not sure about that because I didn't start keeping records until our Toyota days. She also had some rust here and there, and I took it to a certain garage to be inspected. I won't name that garage, because they did all right by her but they may have repented since and not want to be remembered for what they did for Sally.

"If you supply the duct tape, we'll inspect her," the garage owner told me.

He inspected her for most of her time with us.

She had another ache or two, those little gauges that are tucked here and there in various places in the engine had become rusted in place over the years.

So, when I had the oil changed -- her oil-pan plug worked fine, I said, "Don't touch any of those little guages. She runs fine the way she is."

I was somewhat fearful of what might have happened had someone loosened and tried to replace one of those gauges.

Two-wheel drive or whatever, Sally did fine in snow. One morning after a fresh snow, my younger son was driving her with me aboard. He, a teenager, became nervous in the deep snow. He pulled off into a small rest area, where the snow hadn't been plowed.

Sally didn't notice that the snow hadn't been plowed.

Scottie did.

"I'm not sure I can get out of this," he said. "Can you drive?"

I could, I did, and Sally pulled right out of that foot or more of white stuff.

On another night, we were driving home in a really bad snowstorm, which may or may not have been a blizzard. We met a man trying to get his car out of his drive. We stopped to help.

Our help consisted of my saying, "Don't even try to get out. The roads are horrible."

We drove away. I think the man went back into his house.

Later that night I asked Scottie if we would like to walk in front of Sally to let us know where the road was. He declined, but Sally still followed the road home and safely into our drive.

Sally was a seeing-eye Suby.

I used to drive her up to my volunteer Maine Appalachian Trail Club spot at Surplus Pond, some 2,500 feet high. The "haul" road, a steep, narrow dirt-gravel affair.

The road was so steep and rocky that we at times had to stop, climb out to move a foot-long (rock, not sandwich) before continuing. At times, those front wheels scuffed a bit before getting a grip. I had at times to drive with one set of wheels in the center of the road and the other on the raised edge to avoid getting Sally hung up.

Going down was easier. That's what low gear was for, and she held us back okay.

I once had persuaded the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to send a couple of professional line painters up to repaint the corridor lines, the lines that bordered on both sides the 1000-foot corridor through which the Appalachian Trail meanders. I had advised the painters via e-mail that the road wasn't "all that bad."

I met them on top, and they exclaimed over how awful the road had been for their compacts. They asked me what I thought they should do.

"Don't go down until you're all done," I suggested. "Then you won't have to come up again."

They followed that advice by camping near the pond.

On one occasion in late October, Sally trucked me up the road and waited for me while I was in the woods checking the corridor lines.

Neither of us planned on the snowstorm that struck while I was in the woods, off the trail, and down the northwest mountainside, the direction from which the snow was coming and blowing hard.

Nor was I sure I'd get out of the woods in that storm. I stayed on the corridor survey line for awhile -- have no idea how long -- and finally gave in and headed up the ridge for where I knew I'd find the trail -- unless the wind had blown it off the mountain.

I found it, turned right, and headed down to Surplus Pond. I found Sally waiting under a light white blanket. I brushed her off, put her in low, and we made our way down the narrow, steep, rocky, snowy road. All the way to the bottom.

I should say, to be fair, I've also made very tricky and very snowy trips in our Toyotas since then. But this is about Subarus.

Both of us loved Sally, but the time came when we realized we only needed one car. We gave Sally, including her rust, to Scottie, feeling kind of sorry for both of them.

But he fixed her up and sold her.

That's a Subaru for you. Live to drive another day, with or without rust or duct tape.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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