Father's Cars(first written abt 1980 for an IBM writing class - updated over the years)
I think that you can tell a lot about a person by the cars that he owns and how he acquires and takes care of them. One summer night, I asked my father about some of the cars that he had owned. I could remember some of them and I had heard stories about others of them, but I still learned more than I expected to that night. I learned more than just about cars.
The most surprising, almost shocking thing that I learned was that my father couldn't remember all of the cars that he had owned. To me, this was almost like forgetting one of your children. But I suppose that Dad had forgotten some of them not only because there had been so many of them but as much because it had been so many years. Noticing this lack of memory was one of those fleeting instants when you notice your parents are getting old.
The first car that my father owned was a model A, and he came to own it in a round about way. Uncle Bob had built a motor bike by putting a Briggs and Stratton engine on his bicycle. Dad wanted a car but wasn't old enough to own one, but he had the money to buy one because he had had a paper route and was working at the bakery. So, Dad bought the motor bike and Uncle Bob bought the model A. Then Dad bought the Model A from Uncle Bob when he went into the army.
Dad brush-painted the body black, the wire wheels cream color, and painted the lug nuts red. Grandpa said it looked more like an Easter egg than an automobile, and it was generlly referred to by the rest of the family as "the junker.1" One of the neighbor ladies was impressed by his diligence in working on it and requested that she have a ride whenever he got finished. Well man it was sharp when it was all done and he was proud to give her that requested ride.
Next came a maroon '36 Olds convertible. This was a nice car and Dad kept it a fairly long time. Then came the day when he changed the oil, and he discovered a bolt in the drain pan. He took it to the Olds garage and talked to the service manager who assured him that it was not a part of the engine and that someone must have mistakenly left the bolt in there. The next time he changed the oil, there were two bolts in the oil. This time he pulled the oil pan off and looked inside the crankcase. He saw that some wrist pin bolts were missing and the wrist pins were cutting grooves in the cylinder walls. That's when he bolted the pan back on and sold the car to Durward Baker who Dad recollects "was kind of a creep." Dad is a very honest person, but when it comes to matters like these, he believes in "let the buyer beware".
When he closed the sale for $300, Duward counted out the money, the Notary Public counted out the money, and Dad counted the money. $300. When Dad got to the bank to deposit the money, the cashier counted out $400. Dad deposited $400 and has wondered ever since where the extra $100 came from.
Next, Dad bought a '32 Dodge from somebody on South Prospect Street for $75. It only had second gear. Dad went to Saunders' junk yard and Ol' man Saunders ordered a trans out of Chicago. When Dad got it and put it in, second gear was out of it. Since it was during the war and transmissions were scarce, Saunders then welded in a new tooth and filed it down by hand. As you can imagine this was rather hard on Mr. Saunder's hands. When Dad picked it up, Saunders made it clear that Dad need not bring it back for any reason. Well, first gear clicked from then on but it worked and it did eventually wear-in to where it was hardly noticeable.
Then came the fateful High-Y trip to Cleveland. The arrangements had Dad driving and his passengers buying the gas and oil. When no more than outside Marion's north corporation limit on route 23, a brrrrrr sound was heard but not understood. When they stopped in Upper Sandusky, to get gas, he checked the oil and it was down below the dip stick. Three quarts, and they were on their way. To make a long story short, to keep from bankrupting Dad's fares, they got a two gallon can and filled it with used oil whenever it got low (it was soon discovered that the thicker the oil was the longer it lasted), and kept pouring it in at each stop. After returning from the weekend in Cleveland, Dad put the car in the garage.
He borrowed the garage from Fred Garvin, the one legged ex-mechanic neighbor, and pulled the engine. He used Fred's trailer and Grandpa's '38 Dodge to haul the engine to Waldo to have new bearings poured in it. While the engine was out, Dad painted the body black with Nu-ENamel from Wiant's Bookstore, and painted the engine battleship gray.
Grandpa and Fred kept up a pretty good barrage of joking about how it would never run again and "boy is this kid in for a lesson." Dad says he knew a little about timing or thought he did and when it was all back together, he set the timing and much to the surprise of Grandpa and Fred, it fired right off. I think it was the taunting and predictions of failure from his father and neighbor that made Dad stubbornly finish it. He sold the Dodge "to some guy for a fishing car to drive up to Lake Erie", when he went in the service.
When he got out of the service, he bought a Black '35 Plymouth. He put new brakes on it and got it all fixed up because he was planning on driving it up to New York to go to school. Grandma Mosher gave him a coupon for an oil change and lube job from one of the local filling stations. He collected the lube job. Now this particular car had lube fittings for the rear wheel bearings and the kid at the filling station had been given instructions to put grease in until it comes out somewhere. Well, he proceeded to pump Dad's new brakes full of grease. Dad went home and spent hours cleaning them up, and has had a skepticism for filling station mechanics ever since.
The '35 Plymouth was traded while going to school in New York for a '41 Plymouth. When Mom and Dad returned home from New York, he sold the '41 Plymouth to the guy that he had worked for at McDaniel's Pontiac and bought a '51 green 2 door Plymouth. Some old woman ran into one of the doors and Dad swore off 2 doors because of that. He says he guesses "because when you wreck a door on a 2 door, you got a lot of wreck to fix."
Several cars run together at this point and the order is not clear, but the cars are a two tone gray Pontiac, a Ford coupe, and a maroon Chrysler with fluid drive.
The next car that I know about is one that I can recall. It is a big green 1950 Dodge or Plymouth. The paint had absolutely lost its shine and myself and the neighbor kids used 1 1/2 inch paint brushes and coffee cans of water to "paint" it. The object was to "paint" the entire car and make it shiny before the sun dried the water and made it look flat again. This was a tough task on a hot summer day.
I guess that I remember this car so distinctly because I fell while climbing on the front of it and cut my knee on the front bumper. This was when I was about 4 years old I guess, but I still have a scar today.
The next car that I remember was Dad's 57 Plymouth. Dad got a seemingly impossible amount of service out of this car. He put wooden floor boards in it and had some wood panels in the trunk. When the integrity of the trunk was finally lost, Dad junked the car. You see, the trunk was massive. He could haul nearly as much as a pick up truck and did. He was doing electrical contracting on the side in those days and he hauled his tools and equipment in the trunk. I remember the trunk lid coming open and seeing a sea of wire, fittings, tools and tool boxes. So, when the trunk could no longer be trusted, the car had to go. I went with Dad on the trip to Sim's junkyard on that car's last day.
I think on one occasion, Dad hauled sand in quarter height drums in the trunk of that car. It was a four door and the back seat was so big (or at least seems that way in remembering) that "us kids" had a virtual playground. That was before seat belts were thought much of and we did have a play ground.
The next car Dad got was a '64 Chevy Impala that he didn't really want but got such a good deal on it that he couldn't turn it down. One of the guys he worked with sold it to him. It was no time, and it needed a valve job. I guess this car and the previous bolt-dropping Oldsmobile was what soured Dad on GM products. In defense of his position, he cries "What Chrysler product do you know of that ever needed a valve job?" I can't say that I can think of one.
EpilogueThe writing of this article took several review and revision sessions and much memory strain on Dad's part. In fact, Mom usually helped him with the particular cars and time frames that he couldn't clear up in his mind. This demonstrates that while an automobile may seem like something special to me, to Dad, it is just a means of transportation, to be forgotten once it is no longer of use.
Epilogue IILater discussions (on Easter, 1992) Dad was talking about Aunt Helen, (I don't remember why) and his conversation, seeming as always, quickly reflected on cars. He talked about aunt Helen living in Toledo, and how they used to drive up there. He said that it was probably in the old Wippet, it may have been in the 31 Buick, he wasn't sure. He said that Grandpa Boyd used to fill a great big trunk that was attached on the back of the car with provisions for staying the weekend (it was an all day drive to get there, and so when you went you stayed over and needed to pack clothes etc.) Also, he loaded the trunk with vegetables from his garden, and I imagine lots of other things to take up to aunt Helen to help her out. Then Dad reflected on the one time that Grandma Boyd drove up to Toledo with he and Uncle Bob, Grandpa staying home. He said it was in the winter, and on the way back it was snowing, and the roads were slushy and the brake mechanism on the car was mechanical, not hydraulic. The linkage became ice covered, and as Grandma came into Marion and came to the Fairground Street intersection where another car was stopped, she discovered that the brakes were frozen, and she could not stop. Dad said she wasn't going very fast, since it was slippery, and she was slowing down to stop anyway, but nevertheless, she did bang into the back of the other car.
After getting out and finding that no damage had been done, she climbed back in and found out that the brakes now were working because the impact of the collision knocked all the ice off the linkage.
We then talked a bit about his Uncle Lou Wasser who also lived in Toledo, and then I asked if he wasn't the one who helped Grandpa build his garage on Spencer Street, and Dad said "no," that it was Uncle Carey who helped Grandpa. He had just driven back from Montana. "I think he was driving a _______ at the time." (I don't recall what Uncle Carey had been driving, but Dad did, and included it as an integral part of the family history.)
Next, Cheryl asked Dad if that wasn't the garage where he had rebuilt his car. He said no, recalled some details of the rebuilding, and then reflected on how the wife of one of the firemen that Grandpa worked with saw him rebuilding and painting the car, and wanted Dad to come by and give her a ride when he was all done. It's certainly understandable how this would be a memorable experience, for a teenage boy to have a woman ask for a ride in his car because she thought it was neat. But again, it was another car story.
Maybe I'm just sensitive to this because of my interest in cars, or maybe Dad tells me the car stories because he knows I like cars. Who knows, but either way, cars are a part of our family history.
Other great stories Dad told me that aren't car stories: Of frying fish in the doughnut oil while working at the bakery, of lying in the sun on a dam in a creek east of Marion and getting a severe sunburn that caused heat prostration while working in the bakery are to be written later. About driving the delivery truck at the bakery before he had a license. About driving the old woman around.
1) This is from several letters written by Grandpa to Uncle Bob when he entered the army in early 1945.