Late Friday night, I was already a couple of beers down (which may explain a certain lapse in judgment) when I came across an impassioned plea from Oppo’s resident Saabaholic, Berang. He was hoping to save a couple of old Saabs from the crusher, but they were outside a barn about an hour north of Austin, and the person he had lined up to help had bailed.
Since I was apparently partially inebriated, and since no other
foolish kindhearted Oppo had responded, I replied and said that I could help him out. I asked when, what, and how long, and he replied that we would meet at 3:00 and should be done about 7:00. It turns out that his 4-hour estimate was, shall we say, optimistic. Very optimistic.
After leaving Berang’s real name and phone number with my wife since she was concerned that he might turn out to be an axe murderer (or at least partially insane), I met Berang at the U-Haul lot. He had a truck and trailer ready to go, and we headed north, arriving at the ranch at about 4:30. (I had thought about leaving my van at the U-Haul lot, but it turns out that we would be glad to have it. More on that later.) There were two cars (don’t ask me models, I have no idea), one of which had one good tire and was stuck in a rut next to the barn. The other was in significantly better shape, with four decent tires, so we tackled that one first.
We knew we might be in trouble right away because neither one of us had any experience backing up a trailer. If you’ve never done it before, it’s quite difficult, as everything happens backwards of the way you think it should. Another problem we faced was that the trailer was designed for a modern vehicle, and the Saab was almost—but not quite—too narrow for the trailer. We had to be just about inch perfect to keep the car from falling off the ramps (which happened at least once with each car). After a few attempts at lining up the trailer, we decided to push the car in a big circle to get it on hard ground and pointing in a straight line and, more importantly, slightly downhill. Dodging wasps that were as big as B-29s, we managed to get it moved and lined up with the trailer. After a few attempts at pushing it up the ramp, we finally decided to use my Odyssey to push it up. I had to push it with the van in reverse since I didn’t want to trash my front bumper and license plate. But we finally got it loaded and, a little more than an hour after we started, we were ready to take it back to Austin. Things were looking pretty good. So far.
Once we got to the storage yard, it was more fiddling with the trailer (Berang was actually getting pretty good at backing it up by now), and we managed to push the car off the ramp into its assigned space. We were pleased with our success, but we knew the second car would be significantly more difficult. So we stopped at Auto Zone and Berang bought a couple of 5,000-pound (allegedly) ratchet straps and a tow strap. By now the sun was getting pretty low. It would be fully dark by the time we got back to the ranch, and I couldn’t see a damned thing because I had left my regular glasses in the van and had only my sunglasses. Berang thought it best if he did the driving. I agreed.
Once back at the ranch, Berang hooked the tow strap to the trailer and pulled the car out of the rut. That was pretty easy, but rolling it by hand up the ramp proved to be impossible. So we towed it farther away from the barn so I could get the van behind it and we started pushing again. However, since the second car was a wagon, and had more overhang on the rear end, we had to stop using the van because the Saab’s bumper would have been pushing on the van door, not the bumper. As it was, I got some big scratches on the bumper, but it’s a 15-year-old van so I’m not really sweating it.
But now we were faced with a new problem. The car was about 75% of the way on the trailer, but would go no further. We couldn’t drive with the car hanging off the back, and we couldn’t push it the rest of the way with the van. And we didn’t want to push it off and leave it behind after all that work. So Berang hooked the ratchet straps to the trailer and the car and started ratcheting. The ratchets, however, were shit, and jammed and just didn’t work well. They also moved the car maybe an inch at a time. But there was simply no choice at that point but to get the damned car on the trailer. So, with Berang ratcheting, I put my back into it from behind and we finally got the car on the trailer. It was now 10:00 pm. Remember that bit about 4 hours? Berang said it was late and I was free to go, but I told him that there was no way in hell he was getting the car off the trailer by himself. I was all in at this point, and we were going to finish the job.
Back to Austin (I drove ahead to make sure I got to the store before midnight to buy myself some beer), and now we had to get the car off of the trailer. The space was pretty narrow, constrained by a trailer on one side and a boat on the other. The ratchet straps had both given up the ghost, so the only thing to do was put our backs into it and push like hell. After a lot of rocking, the Saab finally started to move, and the back wheels (flats, actually) were finally on the ground. At this point, we decided to just pull the trailer out from under the car. That worked, but the car was only half way into the space and simply would not move. It was now 12:30 am (remember 4 hours?). I would have stayed, but Berang cut me loose, saying he would return the next day to get it into the space, perhaps by using a spare and some of the good wheels from the other car. Oh, the things you think about only after it’s too late.
I headed home and had some supper and a couple of cold beers. Berang got home at 2:00 am and had to be at work the next morning. I assume Berang survived, because he made this post at about 3:30 Sunday morning.
So, these are some of the things I learned from this experience:
- Berang is good people. Dedicated, perhaps bordering on monomania, but passionate about cars and possessing an almost encyclopedic knowledge of things with wheels and engines.
- Saving these cars was absolutely worth all the time and effort, and I’m not even a Saab guy (okay, they make pretty cool airplanes).
- Next time, get the right trailer. Ideally, a flatbed would have been better, or at least a trailer with a narrower gauge.
- Find somebody who knows how to back up a trailer accurately the first time.
- Bring at least two more people. And food. Any maybe beer.
- Above all else, bring one of these:
- But, perhaps more importantly, I learned that two people, even without the right tools, can accomplish something crazy as long as they are dedicated to seeing it through.
As much as it was hard work, as much as it was sometimes a comedy of errors that really needed Yakety Sax music in the background, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I don’t remember what Berang said he was going to do with the cars. I think he hoped to restore one and part out the other. At about midnight, I took a breather, sat on the trailer (with the car half off), and said, “You’d better do something fucking awesome with these cars.”
I’m sure he will.
EDIT: This is what Berang plans to do with the cars.
Here are a few more random pictures of the cars that I took before I was exhausted. And while the sun was still shining.