I recall as a very young gearhead (if you ever took apart the Tonka truck you got for Christmas and somehow managed to get most of it back together without losing your father’s tools…you qualify) being taken to the circus.  I also recall, at said circus, being highly impressed by the “clown car.”  A small vehicle would come roaring into the center ring to the glorious accompaniment of Fucik’s “Entrance of the Gladiators” (You know that song, even if you didn’t know you know it).  A seemingly endless procession of clowns would then come pouring out of the car to commit their acts of comedic mayhem upon each other and the folks in the good seats.  To my young mind, it seemed almost like magic how they got so many clowns into that tiny car.

The “clown car” problem is one that is quite familiar to the Righteous Rides crew.

Lest someone get the wrong impression, I am NOT equating selfless, dedicated missionaries returning from toiling in the fields of the Lord to circus clowns.  Clowns have a much flashier wardrobe, and missionaries (as far as we know) rarely hit people in the face with pies.  But they do share a commonality in the situation described above.  How do you manage to fit so many people and so much stuff into a seemingly too small vehicle?

Small is a relative term.  Back in the dark ages, when Mark and Brett first got the crazy idea that returning missionaries just might need a little help with transportation, they went right to the concept of the mini-van. (Those guys have engineering backgrounds, so they can actually figure things like cubic footage without taking their shoes and socks off…an ability for which the rest of the Righteous Rides staff is eternally grateful.) Mini-vans are a nice combination of cargo space and gas mileage that serves well in most situations.

They did try, at one point, to offer compact cars to those clients who could get by with a smaller set of wheels.  But it never really caught on, as most missionaries just had too much “stuff” they needed to carry with them as they motored around the country.  Can’t say that we blame them.  Ask yourself and/or your significant other:  What’s the least amount of stuff YOU would need to travel around for several months?

Let’s take a moment to crunch some numbers here.  (Those of you with an aversion to math should probably avert your eyes.)  The numbers can vary somewhat, depending upon the whims of the folks at Chrysler, but we’ll go with there being about 163 cubic feet of space in the average van that Righteous Rides provides. A cubic foot works out to about 1,727 cubic inches.

(Of course I’m rounding off…normal people don’t do decimal points.)  Some long-form multiplication later, complete with muttering and crumpling of paper, tells us that we have a little over 281,000 cubic inches of space to fill. (Yes, I’m still rounding off…bring it up again and I’ll smack you in the head with a calculator, which I totally didn’t need for that calculation.  Honest.)

Bottom line?  We’ve got a pretty good pile of cubic “whatevers” to fill.  But in some cases, like our car full of comedic professionals, it just doesn’t seem like enough.

I hesitate to bring this up, since it might be a touchy subject that gets somebody smacked in the head with a calculator. However, we first must consider the personal volume of the vehicle’s occupants.  That’s going to involve height x width x thickness.  Tread VERY carefully here, young math wiz.  In most cases, the height factor isn’t too big of a deal.  But width and thickness? A quick prayer for the Lord’s protection might be appropriate before proceeding.  Somebody reported (on the Internet, so it must be true…) that the average person takes up about 3 cubic feet of space.  We’ll go with that. It’s safer than trying to calculate exact numbers while running for your life.

Now, a situation involving just a missionary couple is, for the most part, easy-peasy.  6 cubic feet, give or take, (If that’s the number you were given, I would suggest taking it, no questions asked) for the human factor, leaving 155-ish for all of their stuff.  No problem…unless for some reason they decided they just had to bring their pet elephant, Fluffy, with them.  (I attended Sunday School as a small child, and I’m certain I was told that all missionaries went to Africa and had a pet elephant…)  How you get Fluffy through customs is a topic for another day.

Children complicate the situation (as they are wont to do in most situations…).  You’re adding more cubic footage, much more…even without the “squirmage” factor and the “he keeps touching me!” factor.

Just a couple of arrows in your hand, oh mighty warrior?  (That would be Psalm 127 for those of you playing along at home…)  Two extra, smaller persons is not too much of a volume problem.  Please note that I’m still talking about volume as a measurement of three-dimensional space, not as a measurement of loudness.  The amount of decibels generated by children in a crowded van on a seemingly endless road trip is also a topic for another day.

Suffice it to say that adding a few more kiddos and their associated “stuff” is enough to make the calculations a bit more worrisome. If your wee ones are truly “wee” then you’re going to give up even more space for car seats.  You get the picture.  We might be down to feverishly counting the remaining square inches.

I did ask for some hard numbers on things like “what’s the largest missionary family you’ve had to deal with?”  Rest assured that the intrepid folks at Righteous Rides HQ have the data somewhere, if they’re just a bit too busy most days to go digging around for it.  But if statistical analysis really floats your boat, you could always volunteer your services.  Every little bit helps.

However, I do have anecdotal evidence of situations in which some missionary clients had an entourage large enough, even without Fluffy, to really need TWO vans.  Honestly, that need’s not likely to be filled.  Righteous Rides has about 130 vans in service.  The sad truth is that they have to turn down quite a few requests for vans, simply because the need is greater than available resources.  Getting a single van is often do-able. Getting your hands on two? Not so much…even though some might think highly of being able to add “That’s it!  You’re riding in the other van with your mother!” as an available solution to the “He keeps touching me!” factor.

Our discussion, thus far, has been primarily dedicated to internal cargo space.  Most, if not all, Righteous Rides vans do have rooftop luggage racks, which reportedly get rather heavy usage.  The automotive experts at Righteous Rides have plenty of helpful tips to aid the missionaries in securely strapping down their precious belongings so as to avoid strewing them across several states.  But, no, they will NOT help strap the kiddos on the roof rack.  We’re pretty sure that’s illegal in most states, even if it might solve at least one “volume” issue.

Here are a few more numbers for those trying to get the most out of a roof rack:  In the U.S. it is not advisable to go over 13 feet 6 inches in total height. Even that is pushing it, because there are low bridges and overpasses scattered around to make the term “strew” much more creative and interesting.  And Fluffy is probably 9 to 10 feet tall…so you can forget that right now.

Anything on the horizontal plain beyond 8 feet 6 inches will legally require some sort of oversize signage.  Although, it might be a good idea to push back any discussion regarding the purchase of a “wide load” sign until previous calculations regarding occupant volume have been forgotten…just sayin’.

As with most endeavors, a little bit of careful planning (and perhaps a prayer or two) can go a long way.  Now that I’m much older, if not much wiser, I understand how all those clowns got into (and out of) their car.  A smidgen of trickery, a whole lot of logistics, a great amount of flexibility, and, hopefully, some proper hygiene, enabled so many people to fit into such a tiny vehicle.  But even clowns couldn’t bring their elephant…