My last two posts have focused on childhood memories – passenger train travel and day-trips to amusement parks. This time it’s again similar memories – the cars of our childhood.
For me, it begins with a 1955 Ford stationwagon. I’ve strong memories of this car. Photos exist that show me and my sister in front of it. Photos help resuscitate memories in need of rescue.
The stationwagon was the car dad drove when we made our 2,300-mile move from Wadsworth, Ohio, to San Bernardino, California. That was in the late summer of 1957. Dad’s employer, B.F. Goodrich, had transferred him from its Brecksville operations to a new rocket plant near Lytle Creek outside Rialto. Know what I remember of that long trip? Playing Patty Cake and Peekaboo with my baby sister Jody. She’d been born in March… that makes her no more than six months old.
In the photo of the stationwagon, Jody and I are standing near the car’s hood. We’re wearing winter clothes, a sweater for me and a coat for my sister. I look spiffy. I’m sporting a bowtie, and I’m holding something in my hand. My best guess? It’s something I made at Sunday school, which means we spent the morning at the United Brethren Church. The car’s parked in the driveway of our St. Elmo Drive home; I can tell by looking at the neighbor’s house… the Crawfords. They had a boy, Randy, who was a year younger than me, and we’d play “Bomber” on the back patio’s picnic table.
Dad traded in the stationwagon sometime in 1960 for a 1958 Ford Edsel. Yep, you heard me right. A black Edsel convertible. Cool car with atrocious gas mileage. The eight-miles-per-gallon mileage for city driving was a godsend for me. I’d beg dad to stop at the Union 76 station to gas up. A fill-up came with an 8-by-10 color poster of a Los Angeles Dodger. I had a wall full of posters thanks to the Edsel’s gas-guzzling V8. I hated to see dad trade it in for a 1961 Ford Falcon.
Beyond the posters, one other Edsel memory holds top billing. I was fascinated by the transmission shifter pushbuttons in the center of the steering wheel hub. No stick shift for the Edsel. Dad pushed buttons for reverse, park, low, drive and neutral. That’s how we took our Sunday afternoon drives, usually finished off with a stop at the Rialto Dairy Queen.
What I remember about the 1961 Falcon were the vacation drives to and from Northeastern Ohio. Actually, I think it was just one motorcar trip in the Falcon – a ’61 jaunt to Rittman, Ohio. The Falcon got better gas mileage than the Edsel, but its V6 engine lacked pickup. We’d crawl up the mountains and coast down them. I had the flu when we headed east on Route 66, first through Cajon Pass and then the Mojave Desert. Drinking warm water from a Seven-Up bottle to fight off dehydration, I struggled to keep food down as we made our way through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. We left on Friday night and didn’t stop until we reached Amarillo Saturday evening – close to 24 hours of driving. I don’t remember when I started feeling better, but I figure sleeping in a hotel room bed (or maybe a rollaway) and eating breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant put me on the path to good health.
During Little League Baseball season, dad would park the Falcon behind the centerfield fence. He figured there was little chance a fly ball could reach it. Often cars parked in the lots behind the foul lines became target practice for pre-teen boys. Guess what? A kid knocked one into dead center and over the fence where it dented the Falcon’s hood.
Our next car was a 1964 Mercury Comet, a stylish black convertible. I was closing in on my teenage years and love riding in it with the top down and the wind rustling my hair. I guess dad grew weary of the sluggish Falcon and decided to treat himself to a muscular V8 with some thrust. I mean… he built rockets, so why not fly like one?
Dad enjoyed bowling and continued to participate in a bowling league in San Bernardino even after we moved to Corona. It was a 45-minute trip to the bowling alley. Dad and his bowling buddies would have a few beers during the matches. One trip home went badly. He got in a fender bender, tested positive for too much alcohol, and spent the night in jail. Mom, Jody and I had to bail him out the next day.
That Comet was bad luck. After Goodrich closed the Rialto rocket plant, we moved to Corona to be closer to his new job at Philco-Ford Aeronutronic in Newport Beach. That was a long drive. One day an inattentive driver smacked the side of the Comet at an onramp. The collision didn’t injure dad, but caused extensive damage to the passenger side. Soon after we made a trip to a dealership off a Riverside Freeway exit. The result? We bought a 1965 Volkswagen, a nondescript white Bug with zilch horsepower but fabulous gas mileage. Mom drove the Bug home – with the emergency brake still partially engaged. Dad wasn’t happy, but the Bug survived mom’s forgetfulness. That was the last car dad purchased in California.
The Bug and the Falcon had a common trait. Both hated mountains. We took trips to Ohio in it twice – in 1964 and 1965. The first was a vacation trip; the second, our move back to our house in Wadsworth. Dad had rented the house out for the nearly nine years we lived in Southern California. He’d not been happy with the long freeway trip to the Aeronutronic plant in Newport Beach, so he’d begun a job search that culminated with accepting a job with B.F. Goodrich in the company’s main plant in Brecksville. He’d be working in the Tire Division.
By the mid-60s, much of the interstate system had replaced Route 66. Still, the rides through the mountains were slow-moving affairs, the Bug going slower and slower as it crept toward the summits. I do remember a few things from those trips. The St. Louis Arch was partway done as we made our way by it. The middle was still missing. And I’d pester dad until he’d give me the coins to make the hotel-room bed’s Magic Fingers spring to life. Nothing like a vibrating bed. Let’s shake, rattle and roll. Almost as good as a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and toast at a Howard Johnson’s Restaurant. When I close my eyes, I can see thirteen-year-old Mike reaching for a packet of grape jelly. Those were the days….
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Two books of my fantasy trilogy have been published – The Emperor’s Mistress and Thief’s Coin. The third, Assassins’ Lair, is done and being edited. I hope to have it to the publisher by the fall. It’s been a tussle for the third book. The first two were published in 2010 and 2011. See what I mean? You can order the novels from the websites of Amazon and Barnes & Noble.