I’m writing while waiting for new tires to be installed on my van. Many things in my life I’ve done for three quarters of a century, but few bring back cherished memories like those involving my wheels — whether Radio Flyer, bike, or anything else with four wheels.
We men have watched the ascent of the women in our lives accompany our loss of relative power and status like buckets on opposite ends of a well rope. We began dependent upon our mums and have been striving for independence ever since. At 16 we took that first, giant step to being a man — a driver’s license.
I sat in the Tag Agency this week and watched as a young man walked out the door beaming with happiness and pride as he clutched that precious license permitting him to cruise the world as one on the cusp of adulthood. He proudly exited ahead of his mother. She walked respectfully behind, glowing with approval. Cars do more than get you there and back: they indicate you have arrived and are to be contended with. Of course, at my age I’ve arrived and am departing, but memories of the trip are precious.
’29 Ford Model A Coupe
We begin life watching the back of our Dad’s head as he drives. My older sister was a babe in 1931 as Dad and Mom drove their Model A to his cousin Jumbo’s in Pueblo on the promise of a job.
It was the heart of the Great Depression and Dad was desperate to find work. Consequently, when they had just arrived and he called back to speak to ‘Syl’ Goldman and received a job offer if he could be back in Oklahoma City the next morning at 8 a.m., they turned that little Model A around and raced back. They made it. Syl was Sylvan Goldman who went on to invent the shopping cart. (Years later, his son Monte was a classmate of mine in the Business School at OU.)
’39 Chevy Sedan
My Dad was a speaker at the American Fruit Grower’s Association convention in San Diego in 1939, and he took all of us along in our new ’39 Chevy. The motel on the beach was buku house trailers. As we drove back the three of us scrapped in the back seat on its awful bristle-like upholstery. Rocketing along at up to 60 mph made me throw up. Fortunately, this was before cars were air conditioned, it was summer, so we drove with the windows down. My sister and brother held it against me until I married.
Page 2 of 3 -
’41 Nash Ambassador
Times were good for Dad, and he bought what would turn out to be his last new car — a 41 Nash Ambassador. Its body was a unitized, all-steel-welded body. Once Dad had the back seat full of vivid color pictures of oranges and apples. One Sunday morning we couldn’t get in because humming birds were banging on the window trying to get to that fruit.
We had that car when WWII began and civilian automobile production ended for the “duration.” Some cars were made for the government, painted OD (olive drab), and named “national” this or that.
Dad went into a business for himself that required a vehicle, so he used that Nash like a truck until the war ended. By then it had over 100,000 miles on it, no back seat, and was a wreck. He sold it before new cars hit the market for more than the $600 he had paid for it.
We essentially endured the war without a car. That wasn’t the biggest problem. The Japanese blocked America’s access to real rubber and synthetic rubber did not have the properties of the real thing. Rubber guns required real rubber which sent many of us to the back of tire stores looking for discarded red, Model-A tubes made of real rubber.
My late father-in-law (DOB 1907) used to get exasperated with me when he would tell me something that happened before I was born and I would respond that I had seen or done it. How could I know of such things? It happened because the Great Depression began in 1930 and was followed seamlessly by WWII which ended in 1945 making a 15-year period of scarcity during which things that ordinarily would have been phased out or worn out were continued in use far beyond their useful life.
I have been in a real blacksmith shop in downtown Enid, seen a black sharecropper plowing behind a mule, almost bought a Model T, seen ice men deliver ice, seen a washing machine driven by a gasoline engine underneath, had neighbors and grandparents who still used “coal-oil” lamps, picked “polk salad” for my neighbor to eat, and observed a neighbor carried off in an ambulance after being gassed by their open-flame water heater, etc. My buddy had a horse named “Rowdy” I have ridden. Mom washed clothes in a Montgomery Ward, wringer-type washer with two wash tubs — one for rinsing, and the other for bluing white things.
Page 3 of 3 -
Gasoline, then, was dispensed by a hand pump from a glass container with markings etched on the side. Ordinarily one or two men would fill your tank, wipe your windshield, and check your oil — all for 15 to 20 cents a gallon! As a boy, however, I was allowed to tend the pump — my first assignment with a car. My older sister was never allowed to do that, which added to the high status of this function. I was on my way.
Next Week: Cars-Part II