Three Mistakes

Larry Sayler

DURING MY NEARLY 70 trips around the sun, I have made countless mistakes. Most have been minor, but three stand out. Two I have already made, and the third I’m about to make.

Mistake No. 1: Go-Kart. When I was 12 years old, I bought a go-kart. It has a fiberglass body and was built to resemble the car driven to victory by legendary driver Jim Clark in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. It cost $300. I used the money I’d saved from my paper route. A friend and I would take it to an elementary school three blocks from our home and drive it for hours.

More than 50 years later, I still have that go-kart. I assumed our kids would enjoy it. But we were living in Southern California at the time and there was no place they could take it out on their own. I was busy at work and our kids had their own interests. We never used it. Years went by. Grandchildren have now used it, but only a few times.

I need to get rid of it. It’s taking up space and it isn’t getting used, and yet I’m emotionally attached to it. My children and grandchildren don’t want it. It would be hard to sell to a stranger for even a few hundred dollars. It wasn’t a mistake to purchase the go-kart. Rather, my mistake was not selling it when I got my driver’s license and largely lost interest in it.

Mistake No. 2: Caboose. Until recently, we owned a full-size railroad caboose, parked on 40 feet of railroad track. Twenty years ago, my wife showed me an ad in the paper.

“Look, someone has a caboose for sale,” she said. “Who would want a caboose?”

My response: “Let me see that.”

The caboose was going to be sold at an estate auction. Because of other commitments, neither my wife nor I could attend the auction. I asked a college student—the most dependable student I knew—to go on my behalf. I gave him a signed blank check and told him the maximum he could bid. When he returned at the end of the day, I found out that I’d purchased a caboose for $5,000.

Now in Illinois, we live on five acres in the country and have no zoning issues. It cost $2,000 to move the caboose 20 miles to our home. The body was lifted up and strapped to a low-boy truck. The wheel assemblies and rail were put on another flat-bed truck.

I was going to add electricity. I wanted to build two sets of bunk beds at one end, and a platform so people could sit up high and look out the cupula. I even scavenged some industrial carpet. It would be a great place for grandchildren to play or sleep.

I had great plans, but almost nothing happened. I was busy at work. When I have free time, I enjoy reading. I have few carpentry skills and I never figured out where to start.

The wooden siding began to deteriorate, so a dozen years ago my wife helped me apply new siding. We broke one of the cupula windows. I removed it but never got around to replacing it. Rain blew in and, ever since, various birds and animals have called the caboose home.

A year ago, I offered it to an area train museum. It took a pass.

Two months ago, someone knocked on our door. He offered to demolish it and remove everything. He said he would sell the steel to a scrap yard and burn the wood. He would give me half of whatever he received, after subtracting his expenses. That sounded like a good deal.

The caboose is gone now. I received $1,240.

Mistake No. 3: 1965 Corvair. Recently, I noticed a 1965 Corvair parked in front of a friend’s house. He and his father purchased the car a dozen years ago. It’s in near pristine condition, with less than 35,000 miles on it. Until recently, it was parked in a garage. My friend said he is getting ready to sell it. I told him that when he decides to sell, he needs to call me.

I believe Corvairs were the only American-made automobile with a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine. Yes, the trunk is in the front of the car.

Today, most cars are front-wheel drive. Back then, most cars were rear-wheel drive. A Corvair’s rear engine added traction on snowy and slippery roads. Some people thought it was a great idea, but crusader Ralph Nader disagreed. He wrote a book, Unsafe at Any Speed, about the alleged safety deficiencies of the Corvair.

My dad, who could fix anything mechanical, loved Corvairs and we had several. My parents allowed me to use one to go back and forth to college.

After I graduated, my first job was with General Electric in Schenectady, New York, more than 1,000 miles from our home in Iowa. My folks handed me the keys to an 11-year-old 1965 Corvair and said, “Take it. You need it more than we do.”

It’s important to note that I am not at all mechanically inclined. I have absolutely no experience or skill in refurbishing cars.

What is the mistake I am about to make?

When my friend calls and says he’s ready to sell his Corvair, I’m afraid I’ll pull out my checkbook and say, “How much?”

Larry Sayler is the only person with a Wharton MBA who also graduated from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Clown College. Earlier in his career, he served as CFO for three manufacturing and service organizations. For 16 years before his retirement, Larry taught accounting at a small Christian college in the Midwest. His brother Kenyon also writes for HumbleDollar. Check out Larry’s earlier articles.

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