FILE PHOTO: A blue 1980 Chevrolet Camero
Shopping with my dad was an educational experience. Sometimes nail biting. Like when I sat next to him in the sales office of Axtell Chevrolet in Logan, Utah back in the spring of 1980. I was a month away from high school graduation and we were there to make a deal on a brand new Chevy Camaro I had picked out. I had saved a few thousand dollars from farm work. Our arrangement was that we would go 50/50 on a car for me to take to college that fall if I met his chosen threshold for my final GPA. He did not believe in buying used cars, “You’re just buying someone else’s problem.” So new it was!
He had tried to convince me to choose a two-toned Ford Mustang that he actually drove home from the local dealership to our driveway. His big mistake was referring to it, as we walked around and surveyed the features, as “a cute car.” No way was I going to drive “a cute car” on Preston’s Main Street. I had a reputation to protect!
I was more of a Camaro guy anyway. I picked a brilliant blue model with not much extra equipment. No AC, nothing power on it like windows or door locks and only an AM/FM radio and cassette to feed my music addiction. When I asked him about the air conditioning option, his reply was: “It’s got what’s called 2/55 air conditioning. Roll two windows down and drive 55.”
Negotiations were being conducted in earnest between Dad and Tommy Axtell, owner and salesman who already knew my dad from previous purchases. I sat there silently, my checkbook in my back pocket ready to sign. The sticker on the window said $7400, if I remember correctly. Dad made his offer of $6900 flat. “I’ll pay the sales tax in Idaho, cause it’s cheaper.” The usual up sale offers were made by Tommy for some bells and whistles he knew would appeal to me, the teenager.
Dad repeated his offer while patting his checkbook that was nestled in his shirt pocket, “$6900, that is my final offer.” Tommy counters with, “Best I can do is $6950. I’m not making any money if I go any lower.” With that said, my wise and parsimonious father then leaned forward, put his hands on the chair arms and proceeded to stand up, slowly, with the statement, “Well, Tommy, I guess we are not buying a car today.” My heart jumped into a tachycardic frenzy, my legs went numb, my mouth dry as cotton. My dream car was slipping through my sweaty hands.
Before dad was quite up to his 6’ 1” height, my new best friend Tommy leaned back in his chair, threw his hands up in the air, and burst out with, “OK Bud, you’re killing me here. I’ll do it for $6900.” Dad immediately sat back down and grinned at me.
Thirty minutes later, I was behind the wheel of my chariot of independence rolling north through Cache Valley, windows down, a cassette of Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” as loud as the knob would turn.
Now to connect this diddy of a story to the title of this column. Once home, car parked and keys on the desk in the kitchen, Dad sat me down for an educational discussion. He explained all the other responsibilities that came and were expected of me with this new conveyance of freedom. Insurance, registration and licensing, maintenance, and the consequences of a speeding ticket.
I asked questions about the negotiations I had just witnessed and survived. “Why didn’t we get the extras, like the longer warranty or the undercoating of the chassis he recommended?” I asked. “Good question,” Dad replied. “I never buy an extended warranty on anything. If the product or farm equipment I’m interested in buying is as good as the salesman or manufacturer claims it to be, then that extended warranty is useless and a waste of money. If it isn’t, then I’m not buying it. And they will only fool me once with a lemon.”
As Chris Stapleton sings, “Seen my share of broken halos, folded wings that used to fly.” That does not describe my dad. His halo and wings are still working, inspiring me in everyday situations. His voice echoes in my mind whenever I have contemplated larger purchases like vehicles or household appliances. At checkout, I always decline the offers of extended warranties, saving me hundreds of dollars on occasion. So far, I have not been burned by any “lemons” as he described a bad product to be.
Like those “coins from his pockets” I used to scramble for under his chair…advice so precious and valuable to me now. Thanks Dad. Thanks Tommy Axtell, wherever you are now…JOB WELL DONE!!