The Life and Times of Old Yeller

Yellow, two tone paint job where the rust spots had been primed and painted over with spray paint, nearly bald tires, oversized speakers crammed in the back window.



Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

Take your life memories surrounding your first car, bring in details, emotion, sounds and smells and let it take you back…


We drove Old Yeller cross country several times between home in New Mexico up to Wisconsin. Its story is linked with the early days of dating and a long marriage. Bought for $1 from my husband’s father; it was the gallant steed that took us across a wide country, away from home to adventure and independence.


We moved in January. Our first week in the north country, we stopped to fill up the gas tank and the man across the pump from us, leaned back, took a look at the license plate and kindly advised us to go home for the day. The temperature had stalled at about 0 degrees and he said it would be safer to explore on a warmer day, giving us a quick lesson in surviving bitter cold. It didn’t take long to learn the routine of dressing in layers, carrying cat litter in the trunk for traction in case you got stuck on the ice, packing a sleeping bag and water too in case of blizzards. We learned early the ease of pushing this little button of a car out of snow banks and we often took it out exploring.


After a couple years Old Yeller’s heater was stuck in the on position. So in summer, the driver’s left foot would nearly ignite under the blast furnace of the heater. But in winter the defrost didn’t work so driving required holding your breath and spraying the inside of the windshield with a jumbo can of de-icer while stopped at a red light. Memorable–and we don’t seem to have killed off too many brain cells.


One cross country trip we drove through an Oklahoma thunderstorm with water shooting up the through the cracks in the floor board. Blew a plug on another trip back to New Mexico and got stuck in the sooner state in a tiny town with “Jesus loves you and so do we” billboards. The garage repairman tried to fix the plug for free and offered for us to stay at his home. We were traveling with our cat and full of adventure so thanked him and opted to sleep in an alfalfa field outside town. Awakened by ominous, growling thunder and rising wind, we stuffed the cat into the front of my coat while my husband shouldered the backpack. By the time we got to town the runoff was hurtling knee high down the street.


This car carried us and our friends on many a camping trip, backpacks stuffed under the front hood that covers the trunk in a VW. I still have a cherished photo of a memorable flat tire incident we shared. Frozen lug nuts. We were eventually helped by an old school gentleman of a crusty rancher way out on that New Mexico back road. We look so young.



Yeller drove us around town on dates, cardboard box of pizza in the back seat, delivered us to glorious sunset picnics on the mesa, oldies station playing on the radio. Once a curious coyote pack yipped their way too close for comfort and we hopped back in the car. From back roads and camping trips to fancy dinners out and cross country moves, this faithful old car delivered.


Finally, the last year of college in Wisconsin, I got in the back seat so we could drive a friend somewhere and the battery fell through the floor out onto the parking lot. We sold Old Yeller for enough money to put side molding on a used truck. The new owner, another poor student, never registered it and it was abandoned and impounded.


I hope it eventually found a new life as some teenager’s hot rod. Thanks for the memories, Old Yeller.

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    Karen Ray

    Address: 331 Bristol Avenue, Las Cruces, NM, 88001

    Phone: 575-323-1048