A FUNNY THING happened on my way to “da U.P.” last weekend.

I forgot to leave my wallet at home and as a result, I came home from da U.P. much lighter in that piece of leather than when I left. And it’s all the fault of my lovely wife.

She knows better and, grudgingly, I must admit I know better than to turn me loose for several hours while she is sitting in two days of meetings.

Usually on these trips, I try and wander around the outer areas of Marquette, Mich., Ishpeming, Mich., and Negaunee,?Mich., with an occasional detour farther “up Nort’ ” as they say in that country, all the way to the end of the road in Big Bay, Mich.

Ah, but no, this time I got taken in by the bright lights of the big city and made the fatal mistake of wandering into the lot of a new car dealer. Five hours later and almost what we spent to build our house lighter in my wallet, my wife had a brand-spanking new Honda CR-V to drive home. Needless to say, I’ve got her checking out the want ads for a second job as we speak and a third one to boot if she’s willing to give up sleep four nights a week.

So, just like we were 47 years ago when we got married, we are in the poor house again. Any and all charitable contributions to get us out will be welcomed. The bottom line though is that my lovely wife deserves a new car, one with all-wheel drive, and more than just rust and chewing gum holding it together.

Speaking of cars like that, I drove many of them in the early years of our marriage. At that time, we kept my wife in a decent car, since she had to drive more miles to work and back than I did. I drove anything with four wheels and an engine that started four out of five times.

I got to be an absolute expert at searching out $200 junkers that would last me anywhere between three months to a year. Thing was, I figured buying two or three junkers a year was a whole lot cheaper than paying $100 or more per month for a new car. Besides, my junkers were far more than mere cars.

They were hunting-fishing-wood cutting-swamp running-mountain climbing animals. Without the fancy label, they were the original SUVs. Back in the day, if Hector called me up and said “Let’s go fishing in an hour” or “Let’s go hunting in 10 minutes,” he knew that I would be instantly ready. 

I always had more outdoor stuff crammed in whatever junker I was driving at the moment than you could fit in any crew cab truck made today. There were fishing rods: spinning, casting, fly and ice fishing — in case we had a cold spell in July — at my beck and call. Above the back seat there would be at least one each of 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns, a deer rifle, a .22 and a black powder waiting for me to pull them out of their cases. Assorted shotgun shells and rifle cartridges would be found in boxes under the front seat, in the glove compartment and just plain rolling around on the floor so they were always near to hand.

Of course, you needed to have all the other accoutrements of the outdoors in the car at all times as well, things like tow straps, winches and such to get yourself out of swamp tote roads that were not as solid as you imagined. Axes, chain saws, gloves, hats, coats and other garments to cover all seasons were piled on the back seat.

Never having the cash to buy an actual pickup truck, my cars had to do double duty as a regular means of transportation and as a wood-hauling truck. It took me about six cords of wood to heat our house each winter and, except for borrowing my dad’s truck now and then to haul chunks 12-inches or more in diameter, all the smaller stuff got hauled home in my car.

I had a rack on top to which I could lash about a half-cord in 16-foot lengths, and across the back seat and in the trunk I could pile three rows of cut-up chunks. The usual load would have done a standard three-quarter truck proud.

Only thing was, loaded down like that, uneven logging road ruts usually managed to yank the muffler and tail pipe apart several times each fall. No problem. Two soup cans, one atop the other, wrapped around the tail pipe joint and secured with metal clamps would hold everything together for a good two weeks until the hot exhaust burned through the cans. Hey, soup was cheap back then. We had to eat a lot of it to keep tail pipe repair materials in stock.

There were always two spare tires in the trunk. Switching out one never made it a sure bet to make it home. My tires were $2 used specials I picked up from a friend in the tire business who always assured me the tread was good for another 2,000 miles. What he called tread were the cords sticking through what little rubber was left.

Most of the time, things like lights, brakes and heaters worked, but not all the time. I recall the late October afternoon my son and I — he about 12 at the time — headed up to Partridge Lake for a duck hunt.

We made ’er there all right, never saw a duck and by twilight, had “Old Johnny” boat lashed to the top of the car ready to go. With a couple raps on the solenoid, the beast, a ’67 Ford, fired up. Unfortunately, the lights did not. Jiggling wires, pushing the bulbs in and out of the sockets, and even a few swift kicks to the fender wouldn’t make the lights go on.

With dark settling in and 15 miles to go, we climbed in, and, with my son holding a flashlight out the window, we were on our way. By the time we hit Highway K, it was nigh on to pitch dark, at which time I tried and found the turn signal lights did work, so for the last 9 miles home, we had a flashlight and a blinking turn signal to light our way.

We made it, meeting only three vehicles the entire trip, all of whose drivers gave us a very wide berth. The next day, I pulled my secret Mason jar out of its hiding place, filched $200 hidden away in it and set out to find a new woods car.

Know something? Those were some of the best vehicles I ever drove.