Another Amphibious Vehicle Tale

At the risk of telling stories out of school, another amphibious vehicle tale has come to mind – this time involving a person whom I shall refer to as “Isaac,” who in 1980 went to a Ford dealership in San Rafael and purchased a brand-new, bright yellow pick-up truck.

Isaac was a great guy. He was honest as the day is long, had a twisted sense of humor, and worked hard on construction sites and doing backhoe jobs when needed. The new truck was somewhat of a luxury, although Isaac did figure that he would use it for work at some point. Meanwhile, Isaac’s new wheels were the pride of downtown Bolinas, at least with the people in my social circle, who would hang out on the street near the bar across from the grocery store on most Friday and Saturday nights. We’d take the truck out to Palo Marin and go 4-wheel driving, as well as load it up with friends and go over the hill to the movies.

We all know that work can be seasonal in Bolinas and West Marin. This may be what led Isaac to do what happened next, which was about a year after he got the truck. Late one Sunday afternoon in September, he drove the truck down onto the Wharf Road side of the beach, pointed it toward the water, and then set the truck to rolling straight into the channel between Bolinas and Seadrift. Soon, the truck was completely submerged.

When the bubbles from the engine running and air pockets had stopped completely, Isaac turned and walked back down Wharf Road to Smiley’s Saloon, where he proceeded to enjoy cocktail or two and to act as if none of what a few of us had just witnessed had ever happened.

I did manage to get him to talk about it on another occasion. He confessed to me that he had in mind to report the truck as stolen and let the insurance pay it off.

I am not sure if that ever happened, but a few weeks later, another possibility for Isaac’s thinking came to light. Already blind in his left eye, Isaac was about to lose site in the right. He never talked about this very much. But before we knew it he completely blind and relying on friends to drive him around. Though sometimes we did let him drive.

I am thinking of the time the same core group of friends put him behind the wheel of a car that was driving in the Fourth of July Parade. A sign adorned the front and sides of the vehicle announcing that there was a blind man driving.

Inside the car, other friends directed him when to brake or turn, as well as when to wave. Outside of the car, an assortment of pals and strangers yelled to Isaac that his helpers inside were giving him the wrong directions. It was such a funny, bittersweet moment – I remember laughing so hard I was crying. Isaac appeared to be enjoying the activity, too, with a broad grin spreading across his face. The depth of the channel kept the truck’s secret for many years. Long enough for Isaac to get sick and die the process. Then, one summer afternoon in 1996, someone came and pulled the truck right out of the channel. According to the reports that I heard about it, the person who had discovered the truck dived down and tied a chain to it. Then, with the help of another group of friends, was able to rescue the abandoned truck with the assistance of a Winch. As it was explained to me, even after 11 years under water, they were able to prime the carburetor with a little gasoline and the truck started right up.

That last part of the story I heard second-hand. But I can attest to having seen the truck rambling around the streets of Bolinas again – rust grey and the bed full of holes.

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