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Missed memories


Jack Bennett
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On a snowbound day, like today, in Western Washington it is both relaxing and refreshing to troll the AACA website.
The amount of skill, and the tenacity of the collectors in spending years to restore these beautiful vehicles to their “original” state is awesome.
What I do wonder though, is how many memories are overlooked as one looks at their own reflection in the pearlescent paint job on that beautiful 1942 Ford truck.
Of course, it doesn’t take an Einstein to know that it’s impossible for a person born in 1965 to remember the history of the vehicle back to 1939.
And, I’m not talking about a rat rotted Ford or a chopped and channeled Chevy.
I’m talking about memories of dad stacking everything we owned in the bed of a 1942 Ford one and a half ton, and striking out to Rochester, Minnesota, to seek help for mom’s broken hip at the mayo clinic there.
It was probably 1951, and dad had sold the house and property to buy the truck and pay for the trip.
We struck out from Joplin Missouri, and headed towards Los Angeles, California where dad intended on dropping us kids with my mother’s sister.
That didn’t work so we made a cross country trip from California, along route 66, and finally ended up in Flagstaff, Arizona before dad ran out of money.
Dad had put high side boards on the truck, and us kids rode the top a pile of all our possessions, topped by the mattresses.
I remember going down the mountains, specifically Yarnell hill, just before we got to Needles, California, and started across the desert.
We could smell the smoke from the truck brakes, and peering out of the small crack between the tarp and the top of the cab.
The curves seemed impossible to negotiate at the speed the truck was traveling, but none of us knew dad was probably sweating bullets as he hopelessly pushed the brake pedal with no response.
Every chance he got dad would downshift, with the transmission grinding and the engine screaming, in a effort, sometimes successful, sometimes not, to pull off the road and let the brakes cool.
We made it down the mountain and hit the desert floor, and began a journey still being used to portray the old Route 66 as the icon for historical highways.
Mile after mile of two lane highway with only a occasional restaurant/motel/side show.
Those who could afford it could park their car and sleep in a concrete teepee and peer into a box of “baby rattlers (for a nickel) which were as truthfully advertised, a box with some baby rattles.
It was not unusual to see a car or a truck parked in the parking area with a tarp hung off the side, or back, to form a shelter from the sun, and a transmission, rear end or engine laying on the ground near the car.
Brakes, radiators, generators and water pumps were replaced, by the driver, mid trip, and most gas stations doubled as a parts store for tires, batteries, fan belts, as well as their nickel a quart Mason bottles of straight weight oil, and glass globed gas pumps.
We did settle in Flagstaff for a while and dad had a 1938 Dodge sedan, which had rod knocks, main bearing failures and a rear end go bad.
He would drive the car, up and down the mountains, weekly between Flagstaff and Phoenix, and nearly every time he came home he pulled the head, dropped the pan, and replaced the pistons and rods with used ones he’d picked up at a junk yard in Phoenix.
The grinding rear end was soothed with a handful of sawdust or some corn meal.
And then came the 1947 Chevy with the Babbitt lined rod and main bearing caps.
A knocking rod or main meant it was time to drop the pan and remove a shim or two between the cap and the seat at the end of the rod or where the main bearing cap bolts to the block.
When the shims were all gone, a file applied to the rod/main bearing cap would give few thousand more miles service from it.
Everyone around Phoenix had a canvass water bag hung from their front bumper….
and as I recall, even the birds carried a water bag too….
because it may be a hundred miles between water sources, and having a adequate supply was absolutely essential to driving a carbureted car in 100+ degree weather.
Driving the straight and level highways across the desert floor wasn’t as demanding on a engine as when you left the desert and started the upward climb toward in this instance, Flagstaff, and up through Sedona.
It was normal to see cars along side the highway with steaming radiators and streams of steaming water running from beneath the car and flowing down the hill.
The water bag is now essential, and it becomes clear that it wasn’t intended to afford comfort to the passengers with a cool drink.
The canvass bag was hung from the front bumper to afford as much cooling from the moving air, as the car was driven forward, as possible.
A problem inherent to a engine, primarily used at sea level, as is Phoenix, and the 6909 foot super elevation of Flagstaff, is the difference in air density, and the ability of a hard working engine to vaporize and effectively use fuel.
I learned the term “hydrostatic lock” as a condition where the engine gets so hot that the gasoline turns to a vapor, and evaporates in the fuel line, or carburetor float chamber, and the engine dies where it stands.
I suppose todays definition is OK too, and I suppose a fuel flooded bore is a problem too, and a engine breathing in water surely can’t be a good thing either, but this is about memories, and not about Wikipedia.
So, it is not a abnormal circumstance to have the engine overheat and go into hydrostatic lock, at least a few times, as the mountain highway is climbed.
No problem though because early on in the climb the water in the canvass bag, when dumped on the fuel line and carburetor, will put you back on the road after a short cool down period.
With a bit of rationing, and some common sense driving the water bag will last until you reach Camp Verde, and a cool and welcoming creek will provide a refill for your bag as well as a refreshing drink and face wash,
I would turn at this time to the floor hump mounted swamp cooler, or the flow through cooler, hung on the outer top of the passenger window, or even the manually operated turn signal arm with the lever capable of easily, and safely signaling a stop, left and right turn.
But I need to save something for later when I venture into the time period the car radio weighed 10 pounds, was the size of a orange crate, and had a few AM only stations……and came as a option.
 

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Greg, Wayne, Steve, I do appreciate your comments, and it isn’t because I need a feather in my hat. There are times I am filled to the top with questions about why I spend my time, my money, as well as my frazzled nerves and patience working on a vehicle I hardly trust to take me around the block. And then I manage to set aside the skinned knuckles, the head bumps, the twisted back and the debris filled eyes, and remember that my old cars were markers, milestones and memory makers for nearly a hundred years, and their roles in a countless number of lives just can’t be minimized to be nothing more than some nuts, bolts, pins, paint and fabric. I can imagine the proposals and baby’s made, marriages dissolved, arguments had, won, lost and abandoned in the back seat of my old Willys. When I look through the windshield of my old Dodge Brothers car I can recall the sadness of the driver as he drove to the burial of his/her soldier son/daughter who was lost in a war, or the exuberance felt as mom and dad drove to the wedding of their child, or to see their grandchild for the first time. I have to think of dad, his days and nights working in the lead mines and tending the farm animals just to make payments on, what is now, a antique truck. And, not unimportant, at nearly 78 years old, what can be a better fountain of youth than spending time with the memories of folks who enjoyed the cars nearly a century ago……..yep, our hobby makes time travel totally possible, and makes past decades seem as near as yesterday.

Edited by Jack Bennett (see edit history)
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I remember a little bit(I was 7 then and am 71 now) about a trip my parents took from North of Chicago to Fancy Gap, Virginia in about 1958 or do in my Father’s 1940 Plymouth two door sedan.(I believe it was a Road King).  I remember riding down the then new Illinois tollway bring passed by everyone(I am not certain my Father ever drove over 45mph in his life and slower if he could get away with it).  We broke down at least twice, once on a bridge going over the Ohio river. Some nice old lady used her car to push my Dad’s Plymouth the rest of the way into a service station at the bottom of the bridge. In my young mind we were there forever while the garage people and my Father worked to fix it. I want to say(since this was late in the day) that the garage man got a local junk yard to open up so they could get a needed part.  This was night and my three year old brother and me were trapped in the back seat at night on warm summer night in the upper south. Bugs crawling on us.  My Mother sat in the front seat keeping order.  After it was fixed we went to a restaurant and ate dinner. This was the first time in my life I ever ate anywhere but home. We stayed overnight in a motel(another first) and the next day reached my Mom’s family’s home. I remember my Dad being stopped by an Ohio State Trooper who then warned him about all the little towns on the road who preyed on out of towners.  After spending a week or so with them we came back to Illinois the same route we took to get there(almost all two lane state and US routes) more motels and restaurants  I did not eat in another sit down restaurant till I was 17.

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2 hours ago, plymouthcranbrook said:

I remember a little bit(I was 7 then and am 71 now) about a trip my parents took from North of Chicago to Fancy Gap, Virginia in about 1958 or do in my Father’s 1940 Plymouth two door sedan.(I believe it was a Road King).  I remember riding down the then new Illinois tollway bring passed by everyone(I am not certain my Father ever drove over 45mph in his life and slower if he could get away with it).  We broke down at least twice, once on a bridge going over the Ohio river. Some nice old lady used her car to push my Dad’s Plymouth the rest of the way into a service station at the bottom of the bridge. In my young mind we were there forever while the garage people and my Father worked to fix it. I want to say(since this was late in the day) that the garage man got a local junk yard to open up so they could get a needed part.  This was night and my three year old brother and me were trapped in the back seat at night on warm summer night in the upper south. Bugs crawling on us.  My Mother sat in the front seat keeping order.  After it was fixed we went to a restaurant and ate dinner. This was the first time in my life I ever ate anywhere but home. We stayed overnight in a motel(another first) and the next day reached my Mom’s family’s home. I remember my Dad being stopped by an Ohio State Trooper who then warned him about all the little towns on the road who preyed on out of towners.  After spending a week or so with them we came back to Illinois the same route we took to get there(almost all two lane state and US routes) more motels and restaurants  I did not eat in another sit down restaurant till I was 17.

Thanks for the comment. It does bring back memories of when dad drove into Los Angeles the first time in his grossly overloaded truck, with us four kids riding atop a load of stuff, and some mattresses. I think I was about seven years old but I remember the policeman telling dad that there was a minimum and a maximum speed limit on the highway. And, when dad told him he was sure he wasn’t speeding, the policeman laughed and said….”No doubt about that. The minimum speed limit is 35, and you weren’t anywhere close to that”. With that he gave dad a ticket for driving below the posted speed limit. I never thought about it before, but, I wonder how they enforced “no shows” for court dates considering nobody even had a telephone, much less the internet or cell phones. 

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  • 4 months later...

I just came upon this this thread, thanks Jack for sharing. At age 78 and having lived in the PNW all my life, it's easy for me to recall those times, but from a very different perspective. My Dad was a claims investigator for the US Dept. of Labor, and traveled around the West a great deal by car. He drove Studebaker Champions because of their reliability and economy, but they were always newer and well maintained and always garaged when he was home. He had in succession a new 1947, 1951, 1956 Champions. His retirement car was a 1963 Studebaker Daytona htp-V8 auto. Areal step up from the champions he had been driving. During the four or five years that he would drive his Champion, he would put about 120K miles on it. When he traded it in the dealership always had a ready buyer for the high mileage car that looked and ran like it had only 20K miles on it. As an aside he would have installed dealer applied seat covers on all his new cars. When he traded in the cars the seat covers were still in place. We, more often then not, never saw the original upholstery!

 

We would vacation around the West as Dad like to travel even though he did it was like a busman's holiday. I remember much of what you have related, but most through the windshield of his newer car. In all the trips that we took the only two firsthand events that I can recall was the vapor lock we experienced at the top of a high pass in Colorado and a flat tire caused be a piece of debris that became lodged between the fender and tire at speed. 

 

When you spoke of the omnipresent water bag it reminded me of Dad, but not because he had one, but because he shunned them on purpose. I asked him one day why we didn't have one of those cool water bags like everyone else had? As I remember he said it was because we didn't need one. What I have come to understand is that not having to have one, was a statement that he was making. It's was like making a subtle class distinction. It would be years before I, as a youth, began to experience my own arduous road experiences as I traveled throughout the country in well used cars.  

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15 hours ago, Buffalowed Bill said:

 As an aside he would have installed dealer applied seat covers on all his new cars. When he traded in the cars the seat covers were still in place. We, more often then not, never saw the original upholstery!

 

Back in the early 80,s I worked at a Chrysler dealer; the warranty clerk retired and bought a 5th Ave off the show room floor. When he took delivery there was quite a lot of hoopla to send him off. The first thing he does is take the factory floor mats out and throws then on the ground and says “My Dad always covered his new car’s carpet with another carpet taking out the seats to make a good job and then removing the carpet at trade in time, and dammit I am going to get this carpet dirty. Never been able to do it before.”

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