By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
It started out as a simple dream. A man and his car. Driving cross country with the roof down. Not a care in the world except what diner to stop at for dinner.
But like many dreams, it got complicated when it crossed lanes with reality. Throw in a leaky roof, low oil pressure, and a windshield wiper collision with the video camera perched on the car to record the trek. Now you’ve got yourself a real road trip.
Dave Kielmeyer, chief marketing and communications officer at Bowling Green State University, had long wanted to drive cross country from his home in Bowling Green.
“It seemed like a good idea. I’ve never driven across country and it seemed like it was overdue,” he said.
But Kielmeyer wanted a bigger challenge. He wanted to take the road trip in his 1969 Ford Gran Torino. The light blue convertible is what is referred to in the car collector world as a “survivor car.” It still has its original engine, first coat of paint, old seats, no cruise control, no air conditioning, AM radio, gas mileage of 16 miles per gallon, and no warning if lights are left on (which will come into play later).
Riding shotgun on the trip was his son, Jake Kielmeyer, a junior business major at BGSU.
“I think it was agreed among the family that he had the best temperament” for the trip, Kielmeyer said of his laid-back son.
Jake shared the urge to travel out west – but he admitted having some concerns about the mode of travel and his partner on the journey.
“I think everyone my age has reservations about being in the car with their dad for 10 days,” he said.
The plan was to drive to San Diego then ship the Gran Torino home. They mapped out a course taking them from Ohio through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The goal was to drive about 300 miles a day, which would give the father-son team a couple days to spend sightseeing at the Grand Canyon.
“A lot of smart people expressed reservations,’” Kielmeyer said.
But he was determined. So last month, the driving duo took off with a video camera mounted on the outside and a “mix tape” put together by Jake’s friend.
“Jake picked some music that I’m not sure I could define,” Kielmeyer said. “It was tolerable.”
It was indie rock. “Apparently, Dad’s not a big fan,” Jake said.
So they often cranked up classic rock. “I introduced him to the oldies early on,” senior said.
They hit the first snag about an hour in when it started sprinkling.
“I turned on the windshield wipers and it bent the mount on the camera,” Kielmeyer said.
Then the sprinkles turned to hard rain.
“That’s when we found out the roof leaks a ‘little bit.’ It was almost like it was raining inside,” he said. So they stuffed a towel up to stop the downpour. “That was Jake’s invention.”
The pair stuck to two-line roads as much as possible – though the Gran Torino could hold its own on the open road.
“It goes faster than I’m brave enough to go,” Kielmeyer said. “But you start to remember when the car rolled off the assembly line, and the only thing holding you in was a 49-year-old lap belt.”
They rode with the top down whenever possible, with Kielmeyer wearing his BGSU ballcap, and liberally applied sunscreen. “That was the lecture from my nurse practitioner wife,” he said of Diane, who was meeting the pair in San Diego.
As they journeyed westward, they stopped at local diners, including one in Bowling Green, Missouri. They drove on the legendary Route 66 for a day and a half, and visited the Oklahoma City memorial.
With Kielmeyer’s love of “gadgets,” the pair was posting video and still photos along the way under #Torinodiaries. People were following along through social media.
“I think they were getting a kick out of it. I think they were enjoying the ride,” he said.
The car had few luxuries, and was less than comfortable on long hot days when they couldn’t put up the windows and turn on the air conditioning, Jake said.
“The vinyl gets very hot in the sun,” he said. “My back was pretty much stuck to the seat.”
The long days would drag on, and after 10 hours on the road, the trip would seem “less special,” Jake said. But each morning as they put the top down, it was a fresh start.
“The next morning, it was a new adventure,” Jake said.
His dad agreed. “This is why we did this. This is a lot of fun,” he remembered thinking each day.
But when the duo had traveled about 1,800 miles and got closer the Grand Canyon, they decided to give the Gran Torino a rest, and trade her in for a newer model rental.
“When we decided to pull the plug, the car was doing OK, but we were pretty ragged,” Kielmeyer said. “I was starting to feel a little guilty doing that to the car.”
In Albuquerque, they arranged for the Gran Torino to be shipped back to Bowling Green. They switched for a loaded GMC Yukon Denali with leather seats that cool.
“It wasn’t as fun as the convertible, but it was pretty decked out with luxuries,” Kielmeyer said. “I still didn’t have all the controls figured out by the time we got to San Diego.”
“Jake joked it was kind of nice to be in a car from this century,” and not one two and a half times his age, his dad said.
Kielmeyer admitted those following the road trip on social media suggested a name change for the journey to #Snowflake or #Suckitupbuttercup.
But he and Jake made it to San Diego in the Denali, in time to meet Diane. And they all arrived back in Bowling Green in time to greet the Gran Torino when it got back in town.
The dream – a man and his car headed westward – checked off the list.