In the early 1960’s my father took a civilian attorney position with the Air Force, which maintains a base about 20 miles north of our home. He worked on contracts and other legal matters for their Titan II Missile Program, which I suppose is no longer “classified,” especially since one of the silos blew up in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980.
Naturally, my father rubbed elbows with the Air Force brass, and he loved to linger at the Officer’s Club. Although I never met any of them, my brother and I became vicariously acquainted with these guys, hearing stories of “Colonel” this or “Major” that. There was one colonel who was not a particular favorite of my father’s and, I gather, others in the office felt the same way. We would hear tales of this man’s arrogance and boasting.
One day the Colonel came in with a new boast. He had purchased a Volkswagen, later called a “Beetle.” These little cars were a rarity to us, and I am sure the guys at the office gathered around to inspect it.
“Why, this little car will go forever on a tank of gas!” The Colonel exclaimed, rubbing in the fact that not only was he the first on the block to have this rarity but that it was a super-smart decision, to boot. A plan hatched among his staff.
A task force was formed. Before the Colonel’s first tank ran low, the rest of the guys begin taking turns going by his house every night to “top off” his tank out of a gas can. They all chipped in and shared the burden of keeping the Colonel’s tank full.
His car exceeded all the Colonel’s lofty expectations; he could not help but crow at how his gas gauge was barely showing a dent—after weeks! The guys paced themselves so that it did appear gas was being used up, albeit it at an astonishingly-slow rate. And the office staff heard about it—ad nauseum. Except, of course those in on the joke were barely holding in their laughter.
This went on for weeks, and at one point the Colonel mused that he was going to contact the dealer because he wanted to know if this was normal that his gas mileage number should be three figures per gallon or if he had just happened on to an especially economical unit.
My father leaped in, saying, “You know, I did a little research on your car, and it appears that after the break-in time you can expect your car to use more gas…kind of opposite to your regular models!” This seemed to mollify the Colonel’s curiosity about his good fortune and allow the strike force to move to Phase II of the plan.
Phase II consisted of rotating the duty of siphoning gas out of the car about every other night…just enough to look like the car was turning into a gas guzzler. This, too, raised the Colonel’s inquisitiveness, and he again considered calling the dealership. He began tracking his gas mileage and discovered it was in single digits per gallon! Finally, it was off to the dealership.
I remember my father’s glee as he recounted the entire office staff laughing over their imagined scenarios. They could all picture the Colonel explaining to the mechanics that his car had gone from triple to single digit gas mileage. The joke was over and, so far as I knew, the Colonel never was in on it. He had enough clout that he could have made folks pay for his humiliation, so they had to be content with keeping the joke among themselves.
And, the love of Beetles carried over to my wedding day in 1970 when my father announced to all who gathered that he was pleased to present my new husband and me with the keys to a brand-new Volkswagen Beetle! The entire crowd burst out in applause at his generosity—what a great start this would be for a young couple! Our little car was dark green in color, on which we immediately plastered a peace symbol decal in the center of the rear window.
Dad’s Colonel Volkswagen joke came back to me the week after my honeymoon. The dealership called to ask us to come in and “finalize” the sale of the little car, at which we were handed the payment book—with no money down. It seems that my father, truly, had presented us with only the keys to the car—the payments were all ours! The Beetle joke was on us….
Never mind! We were able to pay for it and had many, many happy times in that little car, including fitting our huge German Shepherd in the back seat or, when I was alone, in the front…until I slammed the door on his tail, after which Ace would never get in again. -C