My Packard's solo adventure

Posted by Mark Buckley On 2012/2/17 16:52:35
I keep my 1950 Packard Eight in a garage out in the alley behind my building. The garage consists of four bays that stair step down the alley's slight incline. My Packard's home is in the highest unit, which is more shed than garage. There is no garage door, just a roof supported by three sides of the bay. Two of the other units--the ones farthest down the incline--do have garage doors.

Parking the car in the garage involves driving up the alley and then swinging hard to the left as I nose the Packard into its space. Backing out is basically the reverse procedure. That means the car's front wheels are always turned hard left when parked. The floor of my garage is not exactly level. Rather, it is very slightly tilted toward the alley. Sometimes I remember to set the hand brake when I park the car, but at other times I just leave the car in first gear and walk away. As long as the car doesn't roll backwards I figure it's doing fine.

During a recent spate of electrical problems I asked my mechanic, Jerry, to come to my place to install a new voltage regulator. With the Packard in its garage, Jerry pulled out the old unit and got the new one connected. Then he hopped in the car, put the transmission in neutral, and fired up the engine. After a bit he asked me to take over revving the engine while he ran some tests. A short time after that he declared the job done and directed me to shut down the engine. I complied and exited the car while we congratulated ourselves on our success. Jerry went on his way and I walked back home.

About an hour later, I needed to run an errand. I walked out into the alley and was astonished at what I saw. The Packard was out of the garage and facing the opposite direction from when it was parked. It was also completely blocking the alley; it was sideways across the narrow lane.

As I walked toward the car a utility worker ran over to me. "I watched it happen," he said. "The car just rolled backwards out of the garage. It swung in a 180-degree arc, and the rear bumper smacked into that garage door right there." He pointed to one of the downhill doors. It had a significant hole and was off its track. "Then," he continued, "the car rolled forward and stopped right here, in the middle of the alley."

I checked the Packard's rear bumper. Aside from a smudge of paint that matched the color of the garage door, there was no damage. I thanked the utility guy and put my errand-running on hold. I returned the Packard to its stall and this time I both left it in gear AND set the hand brake. My immediate concern was to take responsibility for the damage to my neighbor's garage door. I had no idea who the garage owner was, so I headed back home to work the phone and make inquiries. After a fruitless couple of hours, I gave up and decided to post a note on the door with my apologies and contact info.

As I walked down the alley the same utility guy came running. "I saw it happen," he said. "The lady who uses this garage drove up. She hit the garage door opener and the door opened. Then she drove into the garage. Before she could get out the whole garage door fell on top of her car!"

I looked at the garage and there it was--the door hard on top of a Volvo.
"Was she OK?" I asked apprehensively. "Did she get hurt?"

"No," the guy said. "It looked like she was OK. She did seem a little mad, though, when she found out why the door fell."

I scribbled even more apologies on the note and left it in the Volvo. Then I went home and waited for the inevitable call. In the meantime I contacted my insurance company and made a full report. I had to explain three times to the State Farm lady what happened. She seemed to have a hard time understanding how a car that was rolling backwards could hit the same building it had just exited.

Awhile later, the Volvo lady called. She was not happy but at least she didn't chew my ear off.

Everything turned out reasonably well. The Volvo lady got her garage door repaired and the damages to her car were minor. The insurance company picked up the tab, less my deductible. I figure that is my penalty for foolishly walking away from my car with the transmission in neutral and hand brake not set.

The other day the Volvo lady and I ran into each other at the garage. She seemed genuinely friendly and waved off my profuse apologies. Then she gave me a smile and a pat on the arm.

"I just want to let you know," she said, "that I really like your car."

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