Running an active workshop and publishing company in an inner city has its challenges, especially when it comes to moving stuff from Point Lumberyard to Point Workbench to Point Truck Terminal. Every week Megan and I move stuff – 500 woobies, 500 board feet of cherry, 500 lump hammers – to keep the business going.
I have a pickup truck for this, and it works great. But recently I found something more appealing.
While teaching at the Florida School of Woodwork last month, Kate Swann loaned me her Mitsubishi Minicab, a Japanese Kei-class truck. Those of you who have followed me for a while might remember that I used to fix up Volkswagen Karmann Ghias. I adore simple, well-made machines. But I sold my last Ghia because I couldn’t bear to expose these gorgeous cars to the Midwest winters (we’ve never had the luxury of a garage).
After about two days of driving Kate’s Minicab, I fell in love. The trucks are insanely simple: stick shift, three-cylinder engine, less than 50 horsepower, 45-55 mpg and right-hand drive. All that appealed to my affection for old cars. But what really sold me was the truck’s bed in the back. It is perfectly suited for what we do. The bed is only 25” off the ground and measures 53” x 76”. And all three walls fold down so you can load from any side (or even use it as a flatbed). Plus lots of tie-downs.
The trucks are not designed for interstate use (many states prohibit them on interstates), and the most comfortable top speed is about 45 mpg. I see this as a huge bonus.
One of the things I loved about my Ghias was taking trips without using the interstates. I used to drive to Charleston, S.C., to see my dad in a Ghia. Getting off the interstate is my favorite way to travel. You see the country in a new way. You see far more Main Streets, interesting architecture and beautiful vistas (and you can pull over without being flattened).
Yes, it takes a lot longer, but it is far more satisfying. (Insert obvious hand-tool comparison here.)
So I bought a Minicab from a dealer in Tennessee that imports them. It’s a 1996 model with 4WD and has less than 17,000 miles on it (these were utility trucks in Japan that were frequently driven around a factory or warehouse lot; the import papers and history of the truck show that the odometer has not been rolled over). And it was a bargain: $6,500.
And yesterday, Megan and I took it for a long spin to Fairfield, Ohio, to drop off a crate at the trucking terminal. It took 45 minutes (instead of 30), but we saw neighborhoods we’d never been in before – even though we’ve both lived here for decades.
Yes, there will be some misery. No AC, for example. But I drove Ghias for years in the South and managed fine (as did our ancestors).
Lucy and the kids have christened the Minicab the “CATBUS,” after the character in the movie, “My Neighbor Totoro.” While they have pushed me to paint the thing like the catbus character, we’re going with more conservative bling: our skep logo on the doors and six happy bees on different places on the truck.
So now you have one more reason to visit the storefront – to visit Catbus. We’ll have her in front of the store at our next open day, March 26.
— Christopher Schwarz