During the last bad storm – I mean a really bad storm – a huge oak tree fell in our yard. It landed in the middle of a bunch of other trees and palmettos, and various barbed and probably semi-poisonous vines that we relative newcomers to Florida find intimidating, at least when our wives aren’t watching us.
Even with an industrial-strength chain saw, no way was I going to wade into this jungle to cut up the oak. So I decided to pull it out into the open, and cut it up there.
I should remind you that this was a big, big tree.
I hooked up an 8,000-pound-capacity nylon tow strap to the tree’s trunk, and attached the other end to my 1994 Chevrolet four-wheel-drive pickup, which has never met a load it couldn’t pull.
Until now. It dug itself up to the axles in the sandy soil.
For weeks, a coincidental parade of test trucks showed up, and the brawnier ones took their turn at the tree. The Toyota Sequoia was tough but could not budge the oak. A confident-looking Ford F-350 diesel moved the tree – about an inch.
Then came the Hummer.
As the Hummer H1 chugged past the tree, I thought I saw it vibrate with terror. Or it could have just been the Hummer – everything seems to vibrate as you drive past. The 6.5-liter, cast-iron turbocharged diesel engine is so loud that trying to listen to the stereo just adds to the white noise. The H1 is so heavy – 7,154 pounds, which is three Toyota Echoes and two Marlon Brandos – that when you come to a stop, it gently rocks back and forth on its tires.
At nearly $112,000, the mere presence of the Hummer four-door wagon in my driveway practically doubled the value of our property.
So I hooked up the Hummer four-door wagon to the tow strap, shifted the transmission into low-range gearing, and hit the accelerator. Though this engine – a last-generation diesel, not General Motors’ current Duramax diesel – has just 195 horsepower, it has 430 foot-pounds of torque, which is the measure of pulling power.
It would be dramatic to say that the Hummer yanked the tree right out of the forest, but it dug four big tire-sized holes in the sand, just like the other trucks. At that point, admitting defeat and risking snakebite, my chain saw and I started hacking away waist-sized branches – Brando’s waist – until the Hummer could pull the trunk free.
This was a big, big tree.
The 2002 Hummer H1, though, is a monster, arguably the most impractical vehicle this side of a Lotus Elise. It’s confoundingly loud, frighteningly wide, gets dreadful fuel mileage, has the outward visibility of a Taliban cave and costs a fortune.
But this hulking Dentyne package-red Hummer got more attention than any Ferrari I’ve tested, more “thumbs up” from fellow drivers – perhaps our current state of military readiness makes the Hummer seem more patriotic than before – and when you drive one, you become a rolling ambassador for the Hummer factory.
When you stop for fuel (frequen tly), or Excedrin for your diesel-induced headache, you learn to build in an extra 10 minutes to answer questions (“What are those big steel loops coming out of the hood, you ask? Why, that’s where the military attaches the parachute, when they launch these things out of the back of a C-130 into a combat zone!”) There’s something quietly reassuring about knowing your vehicle can sky-dive.
The Hummer is a very peculiar animal. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is absolutely tiny. The distance between driver and passenger is so great you could be in different ZIP codes. Some of the controls and instruments seem flimsy, added as an afterthought. Some parts of the Hummer seem so strong they will be found as fossils somewhere in a million years, while others feel as though they will break off in your hand.
That’s the contradiction that is Hummer. Off-road, it’s the absolute king of the hill, with a startlingly tight turning radius, a surprisingly smooth ride, and an astounding ability to take “no” for an answer when faced with a seemingly insurmountable hill. Time and time again, we were approached by ex-military types who told us of some remarkable feats their enlisted Hummers performed.
Does that make the H1 worth $112,000? Sure, if you have the money. The more I drove it, the more I liked it, and the more I knew I would miss it when it was gone. That drone from the diesel that was so annoying at first had turned into a reassuring hum. Of course, the fact that it probably cost me 20 percent of my hearing may have had something to do with that.
And take this for what it’s worth: We had a bad storm the other night. And not one oak tree dared to fall.
Details: Front-engine, four-wheel-drive, four-door wagon powered by a 6.5-liter, 195-horsepower, turbocharged diesel V-8 with a four-speed automatic transmission.