A childhood of Edsels, Falcons, Comets and a VW Bug

This post is written by Mike Staton.

This post is written by Mike Staton.

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.

It looks like a trip to or from church for me and my kid sister. That's our Ford stationwagon in the background.

It looks like a trip to or from church for me and my kid sister. That’s our Ford stationwagon in the background.

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.

Here's the great gas guzzler, dad's 1958 Edsel. Great car for a kid collecting LA Dodger posters from the Union 76 station.

Here’s the great gas guzzler, dad’s 1958 Edsel. Great car for a kid collecting LA Dodger posters from the Union 76 station.

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.

That's our 1961 Falcon behind dad, Jody and me. A fine car if you wanted to creep up mountains.

That’s our 1961 Falcon behind dad, Jody and me. A fine car if you wanted to creep up mountains.

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.

I couldn't find a photo of our 1964 Comet, but did find this one on the Internet. It looks just like ours. Dad liked convertibles.

I couldn’t find a photo of our 1964 Comet, but did find this one on the Internet. It looks just like ours. Dad liked convertibles.

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.

I love this photo of our 1965 VW Bug. Dad has just placed luggage in the Bug after a visit to our cousins in Indiana, the Harold Snyder family -- Harold, Juanita, Ron and John. I've vivid memories of that weekend trip -- watching a meteor shower with John, eat homemade rolls like the ones baked by my Uncle Raymond Snyder at his bakery in Rittman, Ohio, long ago, riding a horse for the first and last time.

I love this photo of our 1965 VW Bug. Dad has just placed luggage in the Bug after a visit to our cousins in Indiana, the Harold Snyder family — Harold, Juanita, Ron and John. I’ve vivid memories of that weekend trip — watching a meteor shower with John, eating homemade rolls like the ones baked by my Uncle Raymond Snyder at his bakery in Rittman, Ohio, long ago, riding a horse for the first and last time.

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….

# # #

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.

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26 Responses to A childhood of Edsels, Falcons, Comets and a VW Bug

  1. Enjoyed your post. I love reading blogs that I can relate to :o)…..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Doris says:

    Memories through the cars in our lives What stories this post brought up for me. Thank you so much for sharing your childhood. Now it’s off down memory lane for me. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      I expect many folks who read this post will be thinking of the cars their parents drove back in the day. When we lived in Corona, mom drove us around in a late-model Renault. I left that tiny car out of the story.

      Like

  3. My childhood was full of Mercedes Benz and Buicks. This was interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved the pics. Our family had a white VW Bug as well when I was really young. It was more of a grayish-white I guess. It was my dad’s first car when he married my mom. We also had a huge green Monte Carlo. Thanks for the clever post, Mike!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Travis says:

    An Edsel convertible! That is impressive. I like how you linked your memories to the cars that your parents owned. I think it would be a good writing exercise (esp. for memoir writing) to describe how objects impacted your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Neva Bodin says:

    Fun memories and yes, it did bring up memories of cars from childhood and dating my husband. I remember a brown chevy we took on a trip probably about a 1943. My mom put a potty chair in the backseat for me on a 500 mile trip. My husband had his dream car when we dated–a 1964 black chevy supersport with a 409 engine and silver interior with bucket seats. I didn’t like that console between us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      It’s sad that those consoles are ‘always’ in the middle of modern cars. Back in the day, it was so convenient having a front seat without an obstacle in the way of cuddling. And it’s amazing how “BIG” some of those engines were in the sporty models back in the ’50s and ’60s.

      Like

  7. sstamm625 says:

    Great memories and family photos! I don’t remember all the cars my dad had, but I know we didn’t have an Edsel.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Joe Stephens says:

    The car of my childhood was a slick white Ford with a red interior. My Dad loved that car. In fact, he still talks about it. He traded it in because there were four of us kids and it was a two-door, which is just a lot of trouble with a family of six. Sadly, the car he traded it in for was a station wagon that eventually rusted to the point that it was the ugliest thing ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. S. J. Brown says:

    Your post brings back so many memories. A high school friend of mine had a car with push buttons for park, reverse, and drive. My aunt had a VW Bug that chugged along on afternoon errands. It was a stick shift and she would laugh and yell here we go girls every time she shifted. Thanks for sharing your memories and sparking a few of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      I’ve a few HS/teen memories as well. We drove around the Ohio county in a friend’s 1861 Corvair. Remember that model? Ralph Nader’s ‘Unsafe at Any Speed.’ A few years later, as a young reporter, a friend and me would go to the occasional poetry reading at a nearby college. Once we went to one in a snowstorm. The wipers worked on his VW bug, but the defroster would only give him a small space to see the road. Me? I couldn’t see a thing.

      Like

  10. Wranglers says:

    Cars were important in our memories. I remember several of ours, and a nemory about each one. Your dad is very handsome. I had a pushbutton car too. You’ve come a long way baby–thinking of the push buttons. My grandson’s pick-up has a pushbutton start and a little dial on the dadh changes gears. Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Sounds like your grandson has a net pickup truck. Recently saw a photo on FB of a Chrysler’s pushbutton transmission. I recall seeing a post from you a few days back saying you guys had mechanical problems with your semi. What happened?

      Like

  11. What a delightful post, Mike! So many great memories — thank you for sharing! We had a VW bug when I was a teenager — my dad tried to teach me to drive a standard transmission with it; not very successful, I must admit! LOL That car got GREAT gas mileage!!

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      The Bug was the first car I drove… in 1968. So I learned on a standard, but not very good. By the time I took my driver’s test in Medina County, Ohio, we had an automatic transmission — a 1968 Buck Skylark. I didn’t get proficient with a standard until 1975 when my dad and I drove his TR-6 Triumph down to Florida to watch the last Apollo launch atop a Saturn 1B.

      Like

  12. Nancy Jardine says:

    Mike – that was a lovely post. I have to sound really deprived here but we didn’t have a car and my dad never learned to drive. A car was a rare thing on our city streets in the early 1950s, though less so in the 1960s when it became more affordable to own one. Most people used the bus, tram or train systems. My dad cycled the 5 miles to and from his work in the city and I walked the mile and a half to school twice a day from the age of 7. Distances travelled by people tended to be routinely very short since their place of work was generally fairly close to home. My house was around 5 miles from the city centre of Glasgow, so a bus trip was less than a half hour. The exception was during holidays when people went much further afield – then they used the train or a coach. Your memories make me picture the huge open spaces and longish drives I’ve experienced between some small towns during my trips to the US. ( Minnesota, Northern California and Oregon in particular)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Fascinating memories of an era in Scotland not too many years after World War II. America wasn’t that much different from Scotland in the days before the Automobile took control of our lives. In the cities of the early 1900s, folks rode streetcars, subway cars and trains. People like to talk about the building of the Interstate System in the late 1950s and the 1960s, but there was an even bigger road-building boom in the 1920s.

      Like

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