Saturday, March 15, 2008


I went on a mission this morning to unload a truckload of Styrofoam we’ve managed to collect due to the unfortunate circumstance that our meat around here mostly sucks. If a great steak is desired, we have to order it off the computer, and, as many may know, it all comes mailed in a Styrofoam cooler which takes up lots of space in a garage.

And this all reminded me of a guy I met years back down in The Saline Valley- a remote place full of enormous desert expanses and dotted with a hot spring or two.

What makes this story interesting is not so much the story, but the location and its make-up during the beer we shared together.

I was with my builder buddy Bruce and we were out walking around and meeting new folks and just trying to stay warm after having soaked for hours along with a bunch of other folk. You see, this place we were at was full of folk, mostly in the hippy sector of the way folks are, and well worth getting to know.
We came across a guy in a van who towed behind him an enclosed trailer and said “howdy” and he said “howdy” back. This led to an invite to check out his rig and the first thing that I noticed was that the entire OUTSIDE of his van and trailer were covered in Styrofoam. To keep the Styrofoam intact he had sprayed several layers of latex paint over all, but the road and the wind and the gravel that bounces up into vehicles had chipped up sections of it and you could plainly see the entire van was covered in Styrofoam. EVERYTHING except holes cut out for the lights and the windows. The doors were also covered in Styrofoam but they had been carefully cut out with a knife at their seams so they would open.

His old Dodge Van, I had to admit, looked like a giant Coors Cooler on wheels.

He opened up the van and showed us the inside by way of an invite to get out of the cold desert winter air, and we crawled in and sat in wonderfully made bench seats amidst a wonderfully apportioned interior. All was done in that pine-burnt-by-a-torch-and-then-varnished look of the early seventies, and the story was that this man had done all the work himself way back when.

As one who has outfitted a couple of yachts in my day, I was duly impressed.

The trouble was, the van was not warm enough for the lifestyle this man asked of it. He was a jewelry maker and he came to the Saline Valley every winter and camped, using the enclosed trailer he towed as his workshop and the van as his bedroom. Summers were spent traveling from fair to fair selling jewelry heading all the way up into Canada, and so a warmer interior was not only desired, but necessary to an aging man.

There was no way to insulate the interior of the van without taking out all of the beautiful woodwork, and so this man literally thought “out of the box” and wondered how he could add insulation to the outside. He happened to hear of a company that sprayed foam into the insides of trailers for big rigs, making them refrigerated vehicles. This spraying foam technique sounded like it could be the answer to his problems and he went to one of these spraying outfits and asked them to spray the outside of his van.

Once sprayed, the man began the lengthy and troublesome process of locating everything beneath the foam that needed to be revealed, like the headlights and the gas cap. The latex paint was added when the structure of the foam was challenged by UV, rain, wind and flying pebbles and bugs.

The foam had been on the van for about nine years when we came across it, and you could tell, this old jeweler never tired of telling new and awestruck folks about how it all came to be...

Sure wish I had a digital camera back then. I would like to have a photo of that amazing rig…


Shrinky said...

He must have been quite a character. I wonder if his van is still going strong? You may have missed out on a photo opportunity with his van, but I see you managed to acquire a camera for the essential shots.. (wink)

travistee said...

Your image brings back great memories. I spent a lot of time at Scotty's Castle when I was a kid. It was one of my parent's favorite driving destinations. So when you read my book, and they were driving around drunk all over the desert roads...often that was where we were headed!

kario said...

Love this! Necessity is really the mother of invention, isn't it?

Sorry you can't find good meat down in your neck of the woods. Thank goodness for the Internet, huh?