Senator RIP Tom Carper’s “Silver Bullet”, we will miss you
Biden’s agenda: Delaware congressmen in its first 100 days and what lies ahead
After the first few months of the Biden administration, we spoke to American senses Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.
Ed Forbes, Meredith Newman and Sarah Gamard, Delaware News Journal
Dear readers, we are gathered here to say goodbye to you.
Here it is stretched out: a van that knew its value – over half a million kilometers. A member of the Chrysler family. An iconic element of Delaware politics.
She leaves behind a U.S. Senator, countless staff who drove her, and possibly more secrets and juicy gossip than in a high school hallway.
Let’s take a moment of silence for the âSilver Bulletâ.
US Senator Tom Carper revealed last week that he was sending his old van to the pasture, opting for a much younger and sportier red Tesla Model Y with all-wheel drive, 20-inch induction wheels and ‘an entirely black interior.
Nothing lasts eternally. Not even a 2001 Chrysler Town & Country minivan.
In total, the Silver Bullet has traveled approximately 535,000 miles. But how do you measure the value of a car? In mileage? In the Wawa races? Or in the number of politicians who led it?
âWhether it’s your first car or another car, I think everyone has a vehicle that they just had a genuine attachment to, a lot of affection or maybe even just gratitude for because of what it was. brought them to life, âCarper said.
The reach of Carper’s elders is vast in Delaware politics. Many of them are now high-ranking communications assistants or elected and appointed officials. Upon hearing the news, the former drivers, who see themselves as part of an unofficial fraternity, immediately texted each other. The thought of getting lost while driving the van or breaking down on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge still makes some sweat.
To put it simply: Joe Biden has his Amtrak. And Tom Carper has his Town & Country.
âIt’s the most famous prop in Delaware history, isn’t it?â Joked Mat Marshall, a former driver who estimates he has traveled between 340,000 and 390,000 miles.
Some former drivers identify better with the mileage driven with the pickup rather than the years they worked for Carper.
(Full disclosure: The speedometer became kaput last year, so it’s unclear exactly what the mileage is. A spokesperson believes it may actually be closer to 600,000. Carper and his team still drive the van. It will switch to greener pastures once the Tesla arrives this summer.)
When the Silver Bullet made its first appearance, it was in January 2000, the last year of the 20th century. She was bright, new and full of possibilities. At the time, “Stuart Little” was America’s greatest movie. Christina Aguilera‘s “What A Girl Wants” has been performed over and over again on the radio.
AOL instant messaging was only three years old.
Carper’s relationship with the van dates back to his governorship in the 1990s, when Delaware State Police drove him to a rented town and country. He bought one for himself in 2001 after leaving office.
CR McLeod, current spokesperson for the Delaware Department of Transportation, was one of the first drivers of the Silver Bullet. He estimates that he has covered 100,000 miles in his five years in the senator’s office. The van, McLeod said, was Carper’s command post. The politician read policy notes and took calls from the back seat.
Driving the van can be stressful because Carper’s schedule can be aggressive. McLeod recalled countless days of driving from Wilmington to Bethany Beach to Dover to Washington, DC back to Wilmington in a single day at work.
July 4th was always the worst day.
When McLeod drove Carper from Washington, DC to Wilmington, it wasn’t unusual for Joe Biden to take a ride.
Biden was still sitting on the shotgun, McLeod said.
In the van, there are only Carper and the driver. The personnel are the first line of defense. He’s responsible for relaying messages and feeding the Senator, which often means stopping in Wawa and ordering a wheat bun (never white bread) with chicken salad, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. Pickles on the side. He likes soup, but if it isn’t “healthy” he would like it small.
And chocolate milk. The senator likes chocolate milk as a pick-me-up.
The primary responsibility of the staff member, in addition to driving and feeding the Senior Delaware Senator, is to maintain the Silver Bullet. Scheduling regular oil changes and tire rotations was a top priority.
âI wouldn’t be surprised if the maintenance costs exceeded the original costs,â McLeod said.
Carper doesn’t know how much money he spent on maintaining the car, but estimates it to be less than $ 120,000. Wife Martha Carper, according to her husband, viewed the van as a “money pit”.
Depending on the model and options chosen by the senator, the initial price of a new Town & Country at the time was between approximately $ 25,000 and $ 35,000.
Marshall, now a spokesperson for the Delaware Department of Justice, said he was still concerned that every day would be the day the Silver Bullet “caught fire and I was going to be the driver who killed the van.”
When Marshall drove for Carper in 2013, the scariest stretch of road was driving over the Bay Bridge. The Silver Bullet caught all the crosswind and the guardrails were thin enough to see the water below you as you drove.
Carper also likes to follow proper driving etiquette: don’t camp in the left lane on the freeway, and never drive more than 15 km / h over the speed limit.
Marshall said he also quickly learned that Carper “doesn’t believe in GPS, he strongly believes in atlases.”
In the first months of Marshall’s tenure, for fear of getting lost and wasting the senator’s schedule, he pre-drove all roads. This meant that if Carper was going anywhere in Delaware, or even Washington, DC, Marshall was going there alone the night before.
Eventually, human resources found out and advised him to stop.
To celebrate the milestone of 500,000 miles in March 2019, Carper drove the Silver Bullet around the Monster Mile at Dover International Speedway. He was wearing a tie and a sweater. He waved a black and white checkered flag as he crossed the finish line, later taking a sip of champagne.
âWe had tears in our eyes,â McLeod recalls. “And he comes out like he’s just won the Indianapolis 500, both arms outstretched above his head.”
The pickup truck was a significant visual for the Carper brand as a United States Senator. It’s one of the first things a lot of people learn about it.
âI don’t know if I got to a place where I can imagine him driving another car, period,â Marshall said.
âIt’s part of his identity,â he said, âbut I don’t think he bought it, you know, planning for it to take that form. I think that’s the one of his quirksâ¦ he’s not someone who likes to throw things away. “
The Silver Bullet reappeared in the news last week when Reddit user Delaware_Royalty posted a photo of the senator at a Delaware gas station. The moment captured the senator, shirtless, as he pumped gasoline.
It was a movement, noted one commentator, which should be called “the bipartisan flex.”
Last week, the Silver Bullet’s air conditioning was not working properly, Carper said. The photo was taken right after the senator finished a “very hard workout” and needed gas.
âI love the sun,â Carper said. “And I said, ‘I’m going to enjoy the sun'” as he refueled for his longtime companion.
And for the last time perhaps, the Silver Bullet had its moment in the sun.
Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 324-2386 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @MereNewman.