My husband wasn’t thrilled with the idea of getting a minivan. But with one child in his toddler years and a second child on the way, neither my Plymouth Horizon nor his Plymouth Sundance would meet the needs of our growing family. One of the cars had to be traded in for something bigger. His sporty Sundance with the turbo was a two-door coupe … and it was the color of black cherries … and we were living in Mesa, Arizona at the time … and the Sundance was burning through air conditioners at a rate of one every 18 to 24 months. His car was going to have to be traded in for the new family vehicle and, once we did that, he’d be driving my Horizon. Given that he’d traded in his 1966 Fastback Mustang for that Sundance, it would be unreasonable to expect him to be excited about trading his somewhat less sporty coupe for a new minivan for me so he could drive the Horizon.
“Does it have to be a minivan?” he asked me. I explained that I needed a vehicle that could hold two kids along with their car seats, the diaper bag, the stretch-limo style stroller for two, a full load of shopping from Target and the grocery store, and still leave me some space to change a diaper. If I could get all of that in something other than a minivan, I was willing to consider it. He couldn’t think of anything else that fit those criteria, so we cleaned up the Sundance and, equipped with an exact value for the car plus definite interest from a potential buyer, went off to shop for a minivan.
After looking at both Ford’s models (the Aerostars and Windstars) and Voyagers and test-driving a Voyager model with just about everything, we settled on a basic Voyager model that was within our price range. There were two to choose from: one white, one “iris.” The iris-colored one had a full-size spare tire … and I liked that color better. My husband was able to drive a very hard bargain with the sales agent to get the final number where we wanted it. (That accomplishment likely eased some of the pain of having to give up a sporty car for the mom-mobile.) We drove our 1997 Plymouth Voyager for the very first time when we left the lot that evening. It had all of nine miles on it.
A few months later, we traveled together as a four-some for the first time when my husband drove me, our son, and our newborn daughter home from the hospital (with my mom along to help). Just as I had expected, the Voyager had room for everything when I was out and about running my errands with the two kids. When the baby was hungry, I could sit in the backseat and nurse her while the toddler sat in the driver’s seat and pretended to drive. On one such occasion, he dropped a couple of quarters from the change holder through the slots of the speaker cover. This produced a certain clinking when turning corners that lasted for several years until the need for some other work on the vehicle made it convenient to have the quarters removed.
My husband came to appreciate the minivan when we took our first trip to Albuquerque in it. There was room for everything – the kids, their car seats, their stuff, the luggage, a cooler for snacks and drinks – everything! We made several such trips in the van, the most memorable being the trip at Thanksgiving in 1999. I came down with the flu on Thanksgiving and the kids were showing signs of becoming sick the next day, but we had to go back to Mesa that Friday. (My husband was working up in Minnesota at that time. The house had sold, but the kids and I were staying in Mesa until I finished my semester of school. Then we would join him in Minnesota. We had to get back on time so he could make his flight back to the Twin Cities.) Although he did almost all of the driving, my husband did need me to take over for one hour. Usually this is not a problem, but I was sick and that last ten to fifteen minutes of my turn behind the wheel were a hard struggle. However, like a good horse who knows the way, the Voyager helped me through that last bit.
For the move to Minnesota, both vehicles were loaded on the moving truck with all our stuff and hauled up to our temporary housing. The truck had arrived a few hours before we landed at the airport, so the minivan and the car were waiting for us. So we settled into Minnesota … found a bracket for a front license plate (which the Voyager hadn’t needed in Arizona) … and learned our way around our new location.
In the fall after the move, the Voyager became our school bus when my son started kindergarten and I began regular, daytime classes at seminary. My son was enrolled at an elementary school near my school. Each morning, I would drive him to his school, go the few miles to my school, drop off my daughter at the day care center there, and hike the hill up to my classes. Then I’d pick them up at the end of the day – or pick my son up from kindergarten at noon, take him over to the day care center, and then go back up the hill to continue my classes. So it went the years we were all in school together. The kids and I spent a lot of time together in that Voyager on those 30 … 40 … 60 (or more when it snowed) minute drives to and from our schools in Saint Paul and the corner of Blaine where we lived. I was glad to be able to spend my commuting time with them, rather than apart from them. It was in that Voyager on the way to school on a bright Tuesday morning in September 2001 that we heard about planes crashing into the World Trade Center.
We also took a number of vacation trips in those years … to the Wisconsin Dells and Port Washington, to the Soo Locks and across Lake Michigan on the Badger Boat car ferry, several trips down to the Quad Cities for the blues festival there (and to see family in that area), to Fargo on a lark for another blues festival, to Indiana and my old stomping grounds. Early one summer, we had a hitch for a bike rack installed on the Voyager and so we took our bikes on trips. The most memorable trip included visits to Laura Ingalls Wilder territory around Marshall … then out to the Black Hills of South Dakota, biking some of the George Mickelson bike trail and, of course, seeing Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument … and then biking around Sioux Falls on our way home.
In due season, I graduated from seminary and was called by a congregation in Topeka, Kansas. Because of some scheduling quirks, I went down a week before the actual move. For my trip, I drove the sporty Subaru that had eventually replaced the Horizon as my husband’s car. He and the kids followed one week later in the Voyager, with my mom and beloved cat as well. (A few years later, my dad would drive me and that beloved cat, along with my mom, in the Voyager for that sad, final trip to the veterinarian.)
The van continued school bus duties until we were able to move out of temporary housing and into our new home. But once we settled into our home in Kansas, the kids rode the bus and the van was all mine as I went about my rounds and learned much of northeastern Kansas. Meetings took us to Emporia, Atchison, Lancaster, Everest, Robinson, Valley Falls, Lawrence, and lots of trips to Kansas City as well as Saint Joseph in Missouri. The years and the miles rolled smoothly along.
There was a problem in 2008 when the transmission was quickly failing. Initially, my husband was inclined to replace the Voyager at that point. But he did some checking and found a website where people were bragging about their late 90s Voyagers. Reading the stories on that site persuaded him that all we’d have to do was replace the transmission and the minivan would be fine for years to come. So we did. But we did retire the Voyager from long driving trips after that. The next time we went on a driving vacation, we rented a minivan and left ours safely at home.
Then in the fall of 2010, the Voyager became my only vehicle. With both of us out of work at that time, my husband found a job back up in Minnesota. That was the good news. The bad news was that companies were no longer helping with relocation for new employees. He’d be living with friends while the kids and I stayed in Kansas until the house was sold and we could make arrangements to move up to Minnesota. Soon after my husband had gone to Minnesota, the van developed a radiator problem as I drove home one afternoon. But at a reduced speed, the engine temperature dropped enough to limp to the repair shop within walking distance from our house. After that, there were no other problems and the van continued to make the trips each month to and from the airport north of Kansas City to pick up my husband on the weekends he flew back home and to and from the airport again so he could fly back to his job in the Twin Cities. During that time, we took trips to Salina for the Blues at Crossroads festival, to Independence (Missouri) to visit the Harry Truman Presidential Museum and to the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Museum in Abilene.
So it went until the time came for the move. I knew the Voyager had at least one good trip back to Minnesota in it. But I wasn’t sure how many more. I rented a car for the pre-move trip, saving the miles for when I really needed them. Then in August 2011, we made the move to Minnesota. I pulled out of Topeka in the Voyager with both kids, the two cats and the dog we’d added to the family in Topeka, luggage, and other things my husband thought could go in the minivan rather than on one of the moving trucks. North of Kansas City, we picked up a third driver for the two trucks and headed north to Des Moines to catch up with my husband and his brother, who were driving ahead with the two moving trucks we’d rented. The Voyager’s carrying capacity was pushed to the max; the cat carriers were stacked one on top of the other. Things were much more comfortable after we were able to move my son and our friend into the cabs of the moving trucks and a few of the extra items into the back of a truck. My daughter and I made the rest of the drive in good time and the animals were a lot more comfortable.
Once we’d settled into our home in Saint Paul, the van was rewarded for all its years of faithful service with an engine block heater because it would be parked outside from now on. Thanks to that block heater, the van started up every morning without fail. The only time it failed to start was when the guys at the shop didn’t clamp the fuel line on tight enough after doing some maintenance work. The next year, my son learned to drive in the Voyager and the following summer, he took his driving test in that minivan.
By this time, the van had developed a few quirks – the windshield wipers would start moving spontaneously, the cruise control would kick off on very rare occasions, and the instrument panel would not have power sometimes. But other than that, the Voyager was holding up very well. We were hearing from mechanics that the Voyagers like ours were developing a reputation for keeping running … and that it was rust that usually gets them in the end … and rust was starting to get to ours.
But rust was not to be the fate for this legendary vehicle. On September 26, 2013, the final act of my beloved Voyager was to take one for Team Mom at University Avenue and Cleveland Avenue in Saint Paul. I had been heading east on University and wanted to turn south on to Cleveland. But the right lane was closed due to road work near the intersection. While waiting for the red light to change to green, I was trying to see how and if I might be able to make the right turn once I passed the construction workers and their truck. That’s when the accident happened.
I didn’t notice the car until it was going up on the light rail tracks in the middle of University Avenue. It came over the track area, shearing off a barrier post in the process, then down into the left turn lane next to me. The car struck the front fender of my minivan with enough force to turn my Voyager 90⁰ and send it across the empty right lane and up onto the sidewalk – all four wheels. I steered hard to turn away from the fence at the Kenworth lot and tried to brake to avoid hitting the car that hit me, which was then ahead of me on the sidewalk. The brakes didn’t seem to be working, so I threw the transmission into Park. I turned off the ignition and got out to inspect the damage and call my husband. My husband asked if it was drivable. I told him about what I’d had to do to stop and that I was afraid to try driving it. He said he was on his way.
A police officer came, took the requisite information and statements from each driver. While we’d been waiting, I got the name and phone number of the passenger in the car that hit mine and from one of women in the car that had been behind mine. They all left. I called the insurance company to report the claim. My husband arrived as I was on the phone. The claims agent asked if the minivan was drivable; I told her what I’d told my husband and the police officer. She said it didn’t sound drivable and my husband, noting that some type of fluid was now dripping near the site of the impact, also stated it was not drivable. The agent recommended a shop where the Voyager could be towed and my next call was to roadside assistance for a tow.
My husband warned me that the Voyager was likely totaled. The manager at the shop said the same when I called to let someone there know that the minivan would be towed there. This was a 1997 Voyager; it wouldn’t take a whole lot of damage to exceed the value. But it wasn’t until the tow truck arrived and the driver tried to start my Voyager that I realized it would likely never run again. The next day I stopped by the repair shop to sign the papers. One of the service managers and I went out to look at it. He pointed out how far the front end had been shifted and said it was totaled. It took a few days for the formal repair estimate to come in and for the insurance company to run the valuation. I stopped by during the waiting time to take a few final pictures, remember the miles and the good times, and say good-bye. Then there were the final papers to sign – the title, odometer statement showing 191,318 miles … keys to send in … and that was it.
Over the years, I’ve often said that when the day came to give up that Voyager, I wanted to go back to the dealer and say, “Give me another one just like it.” But there won’t be another one. They don’t make them like that anymore. They don’t make them at all.
Bon Voyage, my faithful Voyager; good voyage. It has been a good voyage – very good, indeed.