SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

For Once, Four Wheeled Was Fore Armed
By Dave Kiffer


March 25, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - Last week was the one week out of the year where I could feel an "eensy-weensy-teensy" bit smug about owning an urban assault vehicle.

No, I don't drive a Hummer or a Bradley fighting vehicle. I do, however, have a garden variety SUV, which is frequently lumped in with the aforementioned turret-less tanks by those who feel that I am somehow compromising the future of life as we know it by driving one of those "beasts." (not that they'd really want to live in a "future" in which everyone drives Yugos and Le Cars, but as usual I digress)

I won't say which brand of SUV I own. Let's just say it was once credited with "winning World War II" but now is owned by a German company. Go figure.

Fear Is Not A Factor
John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

Fifty-one weeks out of the year, my wife - who owns a perfectly "functionable", perfectly "reasonable" Toyota Corolla - sighs when she looks at my leviathon hulking away in the driveway.

Yes, it gets atrocious gas mileage.

Yes, it has been in the shop more times in the last three years than the Toyota has been in the last 10.

Yes, it is sometimes hard to park.

And yes, when you drive is around, it feels more like a tank than a smooth, modern motor vehicle.

Heck, even I hate how its suspension seems to magnify rather than smooth out life's daily bumps and grinds. It was made to handle bomb craters in the road, not potholes. Then again the potholes north and south of town are not that different than bomb craters thanks to the DOT.

When I was a wee lad, there wasn't much talk about SUVs and four-wheel drive. Everyone pretty much had big honking two-wheel drive pickups for the bad weather and sedans with tailfins for the good.

There were a few four-wheel drive jeeps and land cruisers around but even they were somewhat limited by the terrain. The joke then was that a Jeep was only good for getting stuck farther away from the road than a regular car. They were dubbed "Temscos" because that was who you would have to call if your Jeep got stuck in the muskeg.

Those were also the days when anything with "four wheel drive" meant you had to get out and "lock the hubs" in order to use all four wheels. Frankly, by the time you needed the extra grip, your vehicle was already up to its headlights in the goo. Who wanted to jump out and lock the hubs? Who could even find the hubs at that point? It was a stupid design anyway. Most folks just did without.

So to increase the likelihood that you could get really stuck, you would put about 2,000 pounds of assorted debris into the back of the pickup in the winter for better "traction." I remember some trucks that were carrying so much "traction" that they could barely move ahead on the flats. Forget about going uphill in the snow. It would have been like trying to pull the Malaspina up Madison.

Of course, the old days where also the days when you had to drive "ten miles uphill in the snow both directions" to get anywhere, but somehow we made it back and forth without having specially designed vehicles. Most of the time.

gif feel safer

Feel Safer
Mike Lester, The Rome News-Tribune
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

Come to think of it, I remember going to a basketball game at Kayhi one snowy day (I walked up the hill) and the only cars in the parking lot were a handful of Volkswagon "Bugs."

Maybe it was the rear mounted engines, I don't know. But they always seemed to be able to get around town no matter what the weather. Hard think of a VW Beetle as an "urban assault vehicle."

But - on the other hand - if they had helped "their" country "win World War II" maybe they would now be owned by an American company and one would be sitting in my driveway.

Of course, I wouldn't have a driveway if that happened. I'd be speaking German and I'd have an "auffahrt." Preferably, I'd have a private driveway or "privateinfahrt." I kid you not.

Anyway, to make a short column long, it was pretty danged snowy around these parts last week and that sidelined the good old Toyota. It was time to use the big clunky SUV to bash a few snow berms and rumble its tractor drive up the slippery, slushly, and steep hills.

For once, my SUV had a purpose. It allowed us to take our son to Preschool and retrieve him later.

It allowed us to get to the grocery store and get provisions.

And it allowed us to get back up to our view house on the hill, without having to load everything into my son's red plastic sled. For which my shoulders and arms were immensely grateful.

For one week, it was more useful than the Toyota.

Unfortunately, now that week has passed and the sighing and the clucking of teeth has returned.

That's okay. I can wait till next year.

Having an urban assault vehicle means you can be patient.

The previous two times it snowed, my SUV was in the shop.



Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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