It was a day for 4-wheel drives to shine Vehicles get workout, and some drivers make money at it

January 09, 1996|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Mark Bomster, Jonathan Bor and Suzanne Loudermilk contributed to this article.

These are the days for four-wheel drive.

The two feet of snow that fell on Baltimore lay deep and smooth on unplowed streets. On streets that had seen a plow, snow banks hide parked cars from view. Wind-blown drifts are waist-high.

In the Baltimore area, the call went out yesterday for four-wheel-drive vehicles to ferry doctors, nurses and patients to hospitals, or to get medicines to those in need. Neighbors hitched rides to work. Entrepreneurs started impromptu taxi services.

All you needed was something with four-wheel drive. But first you had to get off your street.

That was the problem and the frustration for John H. Josselyn, legislative vice president of the 3,500-member Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore. He was going to set up a dispatch service, sending club members with four-wheel drive vehicles to help where needed.

"The response has been primarily, 'I can't get out of my own street,' " said Mr. Josselyn, who owns a 1986 Jeep Cherokee. "I spent 2 1/2 hours this morning, trying to get out of my street. I got about 150 yards." Mr. Josselyn lives in Hillendale.

"It's very frustrating to have four-wheel drive and get stuck. Everybody I have is saying, 'I have it. I've dug it out. I just can't get out.' "

But when people could get out, they were quick to help.

Craig Macomber, director of facilities for Mercy Medical Center, was up at 4 a.m., bringing workers from around the city into work. By late morning, the Kingsville resident had burned nearly a tank of fuel.

"My people were in," said Mr. Macomber, adding that eight of his 15 staffers had been on the job since 9 p.m. Saturday. "I figured they didn't need another boss looking over their shoulder. I've got a four-wheel-drive vehicle; I can be of better use doing this."

In the Box Hill North neighborhood in Abingdon, Joseph McCarthy and his Isuzu Rodeo came to the rescue of his new neighbors, Andy and Robin Eisner. The couple and their three children moved in Saturday night. They had no furniture and little food.

"Wouldn't you know -- it hasn't snowed like this in 10 years," said Mr. Eisner, who used to live in Fallston. He couldn't get his snow-bound car out of the driveway.

Mr. McCarthy, who lives across the street on Boxthorn Road, offered him a ride to a nearby grocery store.

"It's the first time I got to use it like this," said Mr. McCarthy, who also made a trip to buy cold medicine for another neighbor's father.

"He's just a Good Samaritan," Mr. Eisner said of his new friend.

Ian Vair, a bellman at the Doubletree Inn at the Colonnade, might remember the Blizzard of '96 as the time he put his 1991 Jeep Wrangler to work. Mr. Vair, 19, has become the hotel's unofficial shuttle service, taking guests to the airport, the train station, their jobs.

"I'm getting about $20 a trip each way, and people are paying it," said Mr. Vair, who expected to spend his third straight night at the hotel. "Basically, this has been a way for me to help these people out and make some money. I'm the most important person at the hotel now. I'm the person who gets people out."

John Ege, a security officer at Sinai Hospital, also made some Good Samaritan runs yesterday. He said he bought his red Chevy Blazer in 1986 to navigate the narrow, twisting roads of his rural neighborhood in Carroll County.

"This is a pretty sturdy vehicle," he said during a short run to pick up a laboratory technician whose car was snowbound. "It goes through just about everything."

But four-wheel-drive vehicles have their limitations. Without a firm grip on the ground, they aren't much good.

Mr. Ege found drifts on city side streets that could have lifted his vehicle into a state of helplessness.

To avoid that, he asked some people to meet him at landmarks on well-traveled roads.

Michael Antwerpen, sales manager at Antwerpen Motor Cars, said four-wheel-drive vehicles can be indispensable in times like these but that they are not invincible.

"You can't get out of a huge mountain of snow," said Mr. Antwerpen, whose 1996 Jeep Cherokee plowed through at least a foot and a half of snow to make the commute from Pikesville to Catonsville. "The car is going to do what it can do. If there's ice underneath, it is not going to work."

The snow storm and its aftermath also gave Ronald V. Miller Jr. a chance to really see the value of his 1995 Toyota Land Cruiser.

He picked up several people as he drove to Baltimore from Ellicott City.

"This is definitely the time of year when the investment pays off," said Mr. Miller, a first-year associate at the law firm of Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Gray. "I got it in part because I thought my family could use a four-wheel drive and because I thought it was pretty cool-looking vehicle."

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