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Lessons learned (the hard way)

Sometimes, when the phone rings, one knows he shouldn’t answer but does. This happened to me at the Show of Shows. I was manning my booth when the Blackberry rang. A quick glance revealed it was a call coming through my Military Vehicles line. It was after 6PM on a Friday evening. Everything pointed to letting it go to voice mail. Nevertheless, despite all the alarms going off in my head, I clicked the “go” button and said, “Military Vehicles and Military Trader. This is John”.

The person on the other end didn’t even introduce himself but rather launched into the point of his call: He had bought a 2-1/2 ton historic military vehicle from a seller in Wisconsin but didn’t receive a title. What could I do to help him?

I was dumb-founded. Standing at a show surrounded by customers didn’t help. I was the dummy for thinking I could adequately address any reader’s concerns, but here I was—I was in it now!

I tried to regain control of the call by attempting to get the caller to at least tell me to whom I was speaking. That wasn’t successful. So then, I tried to move right to his problem in an attempt to understand what exactly was the dilemma.

It seems the caller was not from Wisconsin, but rather, had purchased a truck from a person who was. The caller paid for the truck in cash and drove it away. He did not get a bill of sale or title. Now, he was trying to register his truck and, having no title, ran into a roadblock. The seller was not returning his calls. What could he do?

Maybe it was the noise of the show or just the exhaustion from being on the road, but my kinder self did not prevail. “What could he do?” All I could answer was, “Get a good lawyer”.

My mind slipped back to when I was eighteen. My dad would not allow me to own my own car while I was in high school. So, during the last months of our senior year, my buddy Damien and I scoured want ads for a Porsche I could afford. We found a 914 (a glorified Volkswagen Beetle) in Des Moines, Iowa, nearly five hours from our Minnesota hometown. With $2,500 in hand on the last day of school, we drove to Des Moines and the next morning, after deciding the paint job looked nice, handed over the money and drove off. We had gone about 10 miles when the car rolled to a stop with a dead battery (NOW I know it was just a bad alternator, but then, it was the sign of having just bought a lemon!)

I didn’t know what to do. I had to call my dad for help. After the expected 10-15 minutes of yelling, he calmed down and we worked to solve the problem. His first question was, “Did you get the title?” Uh, no. I didn’t know I was supposed to. “But,” I explained, “The guy was really nice. I am sure it will be no problem.”

Little did I expect, the guy did not answer his phone…for two days. We finally towed the car back to his house. The seller and a buddy were in the garage and told us not to leave the car with them.

I found a phone and called my dad again. He was at his lawyer’s office. They used their influence to get a Des Moines officer to show up at the guy’s garage along with the towed Porsche. The flash of a badge was enough to convince the guy to hand over the $2,500 and accept the keys back to the car.

I was real lucky. I was in over my head and my dad and his lawyer pulled me out of the deep end.

But what about the guy with the truck from Wisconsin? Well, the grim fact is, he is in for a struggle. During 2008-2009, Wisconsin was not issuing any registrations for historic military vehicles (HMVs). After a two year campaign, a very dedicated group of HMV owners have successfully legislated a bill through the House and Senate that will protect private ownership of HMVs. As you read this, the bill is on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature. But that won’t help our nameless caller.

Unfortunately, I did not come up with any good advice for him. I was way out of my element—both physically and legally! I still believe his best path is to hire a lawyer to draft a certified letter requesting the title. But I am betting the seller never had one, so that might be money thrown down the lawyer-drain. What next?

Obtaining a title for a vehicle that has none has become pretty tough. There used to be a few titling businesses scattered around the U.S. but changes in the laws have forced them out of business. One could try registering it through their DMV, but first would have to prove ownership. That is going to be tough for a military vehicle recently released from service. I had no solution for the guy’s problem.

He never did identify himself, but he did admit that he was probably a little too eager and a little bit too careless when he bought the truck. By the end of the call, he was giving off the vibe of a whipped dog with his tail between his legs. I tried to assure him, “We all do stupid things. In fact, I do at least one REALLY stupid thing a year.” He told me he would keep me apprised of the situation and said good-bye.

Southern Fried Crow
After the show, I was sitting in my hotel room thinking about the call. I still couldn’t come up with any good advice, but I thought about the end of our conversation. “I do at least one REALLY stupid thing a year.” Was that true? What about 2009?

Oh, it didn’t take but a micro-second to recall the really stupid thing I did in 2009. My ears began to blush immediately just as they are now as I type.

Some of you may remember one of my rants in the JAG File in which I voiced my opinion about the public display of the Confederate Battle Flag. Well, I received a bunch of feedback, but none so eloquent, thoughtful and instructive as that from B. Frank Earnest, Chief of Heritage Defense of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Mr. Earnest and I shared a series of emails as we both stated our positions and considered each other’s. Finally, I admitted I could see his point of view and could respect his opinion as well as his right—or anyone else’s—to display the flag.

This was a real eye-opening experience for me and changed an opinion that I held fast for many years. My blog about the Confederate Battle Flag was, without a doubt, the stupidest thing I did in 2009, but I did learn from the mistake. I hope anyone who I offended will accept my sincere apology as well as my “reformation” of opinion.

Alas, I will continue to do stupid things. 2010 will have its contender, for sure. I just hope whatever dumb things I do this year, won’t impact others. And with that, I will wipe the grease off my chin from this particular serving of southern fried crow.

Keep finding the good stuff and keep those historic MVs rolling,
John A-G
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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