GARY LANPHIER AND THE DEVIL CAR

 

By Richard Nickelson

© 2003 Richard G. Nickelson

 

During the early 1960’s, not many of the young men who had just completed BUDS, and entered the Teams, owned his own car. However, for those lucky enough to own a car, the demands of others would be many. Gary Lanphier, a teammate and fellow Class-28 graduate, happened to be one of the lucky few to have his own wheels; he was the proud owner of an old Plymouth. Though it wasn’t much to look at, it served him well and proved to be a great means of transportation for many who would have otherwise had to walk, hitchhike, or ride the bus.

 

Gary was well liked by most of the men who served with him in the Teams. Basically, he was outgoing, animated, and a fun person to be around. Gary was also the person we all liked to pull pranks on and was therefore the brunt of many jokes. However, if you were going to pull a prank on Gary you had better be prepared for the retaliation that would surely follow. With regard to retaliation, Gary always gave at least as much as he received but most often, much more.

 

During BUDS, we would all look at certain individual trainees and try to determine the odds of that person completing the program. There were many who felt Gary had little chance of surviving training but, time and again, he would prove them wrong. Of all Class-28 trainees, Gary possessed the biggest heart, strongest will to survive, and greatest amount of resilience. Gary had what it would take to complete BUDS; he was a warrior.

 

Gary could easily be compared to one of those little yellow rubber ducks that children take into the bathtub; you could hold him under water for as long as you wanted but as soon as you let him go he would shoot right back to the surface. He was a person that refused to be kept down and he would never go softly or quietly into the night.

 

Prior to entering BUDS, Gary was a Navy Parachute Rigger and his talents were put to good use at a time when all of the men in the Teams were attaining jump qualification status. He would not only repack our parachutes after a jump, Gary was also responsible for repairing torn or damaged chutes, drying them after water jumps, and a wide assortment of other duties related to his rate.

 

One day Gary was asked what he would take in trade, for an old unusable parachute that one of the men wanted to convert to a car cover. The Teammate making the request was in charge of an area that served as the Teams garage and repair facility as well as paint shop. Gary in turn said that his car could use a new paint job and if that was acceptable, the deal was on. There was considerable arguing back and forth before a deal was struck and only then because Gary agreed to supply the paint. Shortly thereafter, on a Saturday, Gary turned over the parachute, his car, and enough red paint to do the job twice. Words to the effect, “You could have just as easily given me the parachute” were the final words Gary would hear as he departed for a weekend away from the Team compound and Coronado. Gary then spent the weekend in anxious anticipation of Monday and returning to see his newly painted car. For Gary, this was truly a major occasion. 

 

Monday arrived and as everyone gathered for muster, there was a buzz throughout the compound about Gary’s car. Men were going to and from the paint shop and all were laughing and talking about what they had just seen. Everyone returned laughing but Gary, he looked like he had just lost his best friend. It wasn’t until I went to the paint shop that I realized what had created such a stir and why Gary looked so beleaguered. His car had been painted red all right, and not just the body of the car, the whole car. The chrome, tires, wheels and hubcaps, the bumpers, inside the engine compartment and trunk, even the windows, all painted a fire engine red. It looked like a car driven straight out of the depths of hell. Even today, I can still picture the “devil car”; it was a sight I shall never forget. It was funny to everyone but Gary, and there was nothing he could do about it, the paint had dried hard over the weekend, it was a “done deal”.      

 

That afternoon, Gary made up his mind that he would purchase another car and asked if I would go with him to Chula Vista, a suburb of San Diego. I didn’t blame him for asking me to come along, I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see me, all alone driving the “devil car” for even two blocks, let alone all the way to Chula Vista. In this case, misery truly loved company.

 

Gary used a razor blade to scrape the paint, as best he could, off of the front windshield on the driver’s side. Then, when he tried to start the car the electrical system caught on fire and we were only able to extinguish the fire after a good part of the system was destroyed. Gary’s problems had gone from bad to worse but he wasn’t nearly ready to surrender. As far as Gary was concerned, he would let nothing this trivial get him down. As we were pondering what to do next, Al Fletcher, another teammate joined in. Then, together we were able to salvage enough of the electrical harness to wire the ignition and starter to the battery and start the car. With that, we rolled down all of the windows and the three of us were under way to Chula Vista. During the drive we encountered many people who took second and even third looks at the “devil car” as we drove past. There were even several cars that nearly ran off the road. Gary was putting on quite a show and everywhere you looked spectators were laughing, but none would laugh as heartily as “Honest John”, the car dealer, when we drove into his dealership.

 

Gary had selected this particular used car lot because the sign out front stated something to the effect, they would not be under sold and they were also willing to take any car, “any car”, in trade. When “Honest John” saw us coming, I thought he was going to strain something he was laughing so hard.  It was probably five minutes before Gary could talk sensibly with him and even then, “Honest John” couldn’t get enough of the story; he wanted to know everything about the “devil car” and why it

had been painted red. Eventually he did settle down and before long Gary was the proud owner of an Oldsmobile 98 and once again we were on our way. As we left “Honest John’s”, I looked back and could see him still standing there, staring at the “devil car” and laughing.

 

It was now early evening so Gary decided we should buy a gallon of wine and catch a drive-in movie to celebrate the purchase of his Olds 98. Gary was just happy that he no longer had to worry about the Plymouth that had, even prior to the paint job, given him problems due to faulty headlight wiring. The car had never been safe to drive at night, for fear the lights would go out. This “lights out situation” would happen at the least opportune time, leaving Gary stuck out in the middle of nowhere, and this would happen more often than not. On several occasions Gary had commented that the car had a mind of its own, and that it hated him. But, all of that was behind him; he no longer had to worry, things were starting to look up. What could possibly go wrong now?

 

We arrived at the drive-in shortly after the previews had started so, after a quick trip to the snack bar, we settled in to watch the movie. I have never been much of a drinker so passed the gallon of wine to Gary and Al who were sitting in front. It didn’t take long before Gary decided that he had satisfied his thirst and gave the bottle to Al to continue on alone. An hour passed and Al was feeling no pain. We were laughing and joking about what had happened during the day when, out of the clear blue, Al said he was feeling funny and that he thought he was going to be sick. When Gary told him to open the door and get out before something happened, Al took offense and told Gary that he had no right telling him what to do. With that, Al turned his head to the right; then, it looked like someone turned a fire hose on the passenger window, which just happened to be rolled-up. Oh what a mess it made, all that purple wine and hot dog sliding down Gary’s window into the door panel and I can’t begin to describe the stench.

 

At first Gary looked shocked and didn’t say anything. There was dead silence for about a minute then Gary simply said, “My car, you ruined my new car”. When Gary tried to talk to Al and find out why he hadn’t opened the door, Al refused to discuss the matter and again shouted back that Gary had no right telling him what to do. I just sat there in the back seat, and though I tried, I couldn’t control my laughter. Surprisingly, Gary didn’t try to kill Al, which would have been a normal reaction and one I would have expected; he simply started up the car and said we had to find a filling station. Gary could think of nothing more important than trying to wash the second hand wine and hot dog out of the door panel as he raced out of the drive-in theatre. Needless to say, no amount of water could clean up this mess and no matter how many, green and red deodorant trees Gary put in his car, nothing could remove the smell that had been implanted as a permanent reminder of that evening.

 

It didn’t take long for Gary to realize that the only way to solve this problem would be by purchasing yet another car and that he did. Wisely, Gary handled this trip alone and I am unaware of any additional problems that accompanied his next purchase. While the problems related to cars had ended, it would by no means preclude the fact that other problems would soon materialize. It seems that wherever Gary went, problems would surely follow.

 

NSWA home