The Meatwagon we know and adore is actually not the original; yes, I must admit, it is actually Meatwagon II. Above is a shot of the first Meatwagon, a copper-colored 1972 Olds Vista Cruiser station wagon. It was 7500 pounds of American-made, fear-inspiring, gas-guzzlin' fury with a 350 in3 engine that ran better at 85 than at 55. It was my first car, a graduation gift from my high school biology teacher, back in March of '85. Before it went on its first storm chase that fall, the entire exhaust system, from the tailpipe/manifold union back, simply fell off one afternoon on Royal Lane in north Dallas. That's right - tailpipe, muffler, and all -- KAPLUNK, right in the middle of the road; I saw the exhaust system through the rear-view mirror lying there in the road, rocking back and forth.
Original Meatwagon stranded in an Okie snowstorm
From then on, it somehow passed yearly Okie inspections despite its thunderous noise ("It sounded like a freight train!") and thick columns of gray smoke belching sideways out from under one or both sides -- depending on wind direction. When I wasn't chasing on official business with NSSL, I took the Meatwagon out far and wide, spewing the dense exhaust into the inflow of several supercells. [Wonder how good the particles were for condensation nuclei? I hope nobody mistook the smoke column wafting into the wall cloud for a tornado! :-) ] I managed to squeeze about 12 mpg out of the beast -- not too bad considering its age and condition.
TOTO (foreground) posing in front of the original Meatwagon at NSSL. Both will always be remembered for their great weight, ugly colors, clunkiness and inability to get near a tornado.
In late 1989, not thinking it could make the trip to Miami, I sold it to Rich Thompson and bought his Roachmobile. Rich took it on a few chases early in 1990, with generally lousy results. Rich found the only non-tornadic supercell in the south-central Plains on 13 Mar 90, then while leaving that storm for the tornadic Washington OK storm, had a flat. Of course, the spare tire's rim didn't fit! [Oops, guess I should have tried out that spare sometime in the prior 5 years!]
The poor ol' Meatwagon finally met its demise in Apr 90 near Arnett OK, directly under a mesocyclone that would later become tornadic. Rich had been driving it that day with a bad fan clutch, as diagnosed early in the chase by a Shamrock TX greasemonkey. He didn't realize that a busted fan clutch meant no fan; and the engine started baking to cinders beneath that meso. Smoke poured thru the air conditioning vents; and he managed to hobble it into Elk City on 3 of the 8 cylinders. Mercifully, the Meatwagon was sold for scrap on the spot; and Rich got a friend from Norman to come out and get him and his crew.