Lee Pitts: The Company Tank
At the ripe old age of 21 I went to work for a leading livestock newspaper as a field editor. This was at a time when most of the other field editors and breed reps qualified for the senior citizen’s discount at Denny’s. As the youngest person in the trade at the time I was walked on, stabbed in the back and even punched in the face.
I was given a company car and an expense account but those costs were subtracted from any commission I made selling advertising in my territory. Unknown to me, my colleagues referred to my territory as the Great Advertising Desert because it was nearly devoid of cattle. It consisted of Southern California, the southern tip of Nevada (which had more endangered turtles than it did cattle), Arizona and Utah. The amount of my speeding tickets in Utah exceeded my ad sales in that great state.
While most of the field men drove Lincoln Town cars, which was the greatest road car ever built, I, on the other hand, drove a German tank. Or at least it felt like it. It had the turning radius of a Carnival Cruise ship and I never knew how fast I was going because the speedometer was broke, as was nearly everything else in, or on, that poor excuse for a car we lovingly called ‘The Tank’.
I’ve only run out of gas three times in my life and all three were in The Tank because the gas gauge didn’t work either! You could see asphalt through holes in the floorboard, it got two gallons of gas per mile and the tires were balder than my uncle Charles. It had a V-5 engine (a V-8 with three bad pistons), and the air conditioning consisted of rolling down the windows… by hand. There was evidence in the glove box that The Tank had been totaled by at least three insurance companies.
Worst of all, the car wreaked of cigarette smoke. A used car salesman told me once that if he turned on a car’s radio and it blared rock and roll he knew the transmission was shot, but if all the ash trays were full and it smelled like smoke it was a rental car. I complained about the car to my boss but he said, “Quit complaining. Back when I began my career we had to start our cars with a crank. Just be thankful you’ve got power steering and power brakes. Sometimes, anyway.”
I was at the Arizona National Livestock Show one year when a breed field man asked if he could borrow The Tank to go snap a couple bull photos “just down the road.” I hesitated because I didn’t feel right loaning out the company’s car. But he promised to buy my supper and what could he do to The Tank that had not already been done to it? So I handed him the keys and asked him to be careful. I got a little nervous when my friend didn’t return in time to buy my supper and I tossed and turned all night. I was extremely relieved the next morning when I looked out the motel window and saw The Tank taking up three spaces in the motel parking lot.
When I got home I took The Tank in for a long overdue oil change but the mechanic called later and said he couldn’t change the oil because the drain plug was welded to The Tank’s heavily scarred oil pan.
I was puzzled at first but then I remembered when ‘my friend’ borrowed The Tank. So I called him up and he came clean. It seems the photo shoot was two hours away and 30 minutes of that was on a dirt road with protruding rocks the size basketballs, one of which hit the oil plug and shredded the oil pan. Since they couldn’t get parts for at least two days my friend told the mechanic to just weld it all together.
But my ‘friend’ had somehow forgotten to mention all this to me!
Both The Tank and I quit shortly thereafter. I quit because I was making more money in my previous job as a cowboy ($650 per month). I have no idea why The Tank finally quit but I suspect the new oil was just too much of a shock to its system.