March 7, 2015
Growing up in Louisa – Junk Cars
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
I think the garage was part of what I think in those days was called Britton-Whitt Motors. I’m really not sure because all of that is pretty fuzzy. In any case it was the Ford dealership in town as opposed to the Chevrolet dealer located on Main Cross that was later was owned by Steve Gay’s family, a good fellow in my class. I think the Ford Garage that was later named Keeton Motors when Bill Keeton bought the place. Regardless, like most businesses of the day the back-lots were often used for the storage of excess and junk equipment. It was a necessary ‘bone yard’ that dealerships used to keep wrecks and older cards for parts to be later cannibalized and used in the service departments. As it happens, I was busy growing up and exploring my immediate neighborhood, and lived just across the street from this wonderland of oily and dirty contraptions. The place was the cause of my having to be forced to bathe earlier and more often than otherwise might have been.
I remember the morning I was out the front entry, slamming the screen door and rushing to find something to do. That’s when I discovered the young boy’s dream place. Just there, in the bone yard, near the curb on Franklin, the remains of an old Kaiser-Frazier sat in the muck. It had no tires and had rusted fenders and faded paint, not to mention an accumulation of thick dirt. A quick test proved that the doors still would still swing open to allow a chap entrance to its damp interior should he have a mind to do such a thing. I did.
This weathered gem may have sat there for months, or even years, but it was a fresh discovery to me. As I dug through the junk inside at the cab I found a load of car parts. There was a discarded air filter, lots of empty cardboard boxes that had once contained Champion Spark plugs, and some discarded oily rags. There may have been a muffler or two, and perhaps a carburetor. I wouldn’t have known what they were. I did find a little part that seemed to have a metal button to push but it was very difficult to do in my hands. I later figured out it was a dimmer switch and the foot would have found the job of pushing the button easier than would the hand.
The wool seats were scratchy and warm to sit on, but dust would fill the air when you banged on them with your fists. Wanting to breathe just then, I decided to stop punching the seats. The neat thing was that the old jalopy still had a dashboard that was well-appointed with gauges, each with a little needle that pointed to a number or letter. I was too young to know their purpose, but they reminded me of the ones I’d seen in the movies of the airplanes that bombed Berlin, a mean place somewhere in Germany. They were our enemy, you know, and we were whipping them.
I took the steering wheel in hand and imagined my bomber was flying amongst the flak going off all around me. I would grab the shift but it would not budge. No matter, it had already sent the bombs out the door below to destroy yet another tank factory. Suddenly a bullet whizzed by my ear, breaking the window and allowing in the cold air. It was winter, the altitude high, and the plane had no heater. Pulling us my oxygen mask, I took the wheel and turned for home. My load had been dropped. Just ahead were some enemy fighters coming in on the attack. I called out through my intercom to my gunners “Bandits at eleven o’clock!” Rata-tat-tat, rata-tat-tat. My crew was hard at work defending our shell of a craft, then one of them was hit. It was Daren, the tail gunner. Oh, how we needed him, but now the top and belly gunners would have to do the job.
Just below me I could see Bob, the nose gunner loading yet another belt of ammunition into his sixty caliber guns. I called out to the radio man and told him to get some escorts here quickly before we’d have to hit the silk, but before he could call we saw the American flyers bursting high out of the clouds to swoop down on the swastika blazoned fighters. We’d make it home this time, but who knows about tomorrow? I could see the channel just ahead. Some rest, repairs and a good meal and we’d be back.
This little shell of a Kaiser-Frazier fought many a battle, but was replaced one day with a Studebaker. Looking at this little car I felt it would never take the place of my wonderful bomber, but the light went on in my head when I surveyed a trunk that looked much the same as the hood. This will make a perfect tank, thought I as I pulled on the driver’s side door.
Later, a chain link fence went up and many of the junk cars were removed. My friends and I found new places to play along the river banks and up on the hills. Sometimes we dug out redoubts (forts) complete with rooms with roofs of timbers or brush. Boys are a special kind of folk, bent to play war and dream big dreams. Some have grown up to fulfill those wishes and fallen prey to the power that follows. When we think of Alexander the Great, Hannibal, or even MacArthur, or Patton, in some ways they romanticized war and strutted in their victories. There was a kind of glory in those battles, but often lives were wasted in the name of such ideas.
Just as Hollywood brought us World War II in black and white, and later in full-blazing color, we saw the glory but missed a good part of the misery. We didn’t often see the hopes of men dashed by the bullet that didn’t miss. The wives sat at home waiting for the wire that would tell her that life had changed. Babies would cry never to feel the comfort of a father’s strong embrace. War isn’t about a junk car that lifts us high over the enemy, or a ‘pillbox’ fort to protect the homeland. Many a young man lived to find out the ugly truth of a prison camp, a friend blown in half, another family lost, and the brutality of friend and foe in battle.
For those who lived through it, my salute. For those who died, my gratefulness. Little boys should play safely and remember those who made it possible to dream. For wives left along, again my gratitude and sympathy, and a promise to help where I can. On these fields of war there is always waste, but at the same time there is honor. For the victims of this new kind of war there is still waste but the enemy has no honor. A difference has arisen.
Our enemies in past wars have been governments and a way of life and a struggle for power or territory. Our current enemies have no honor and are without any redeeming characteristic. They kill the innocent without regard, and as such are worthy only for a trash heap. They kill themselves, but take others in their cowardly attacks and leave nothing worthwhile for a soldier doing his job. Their stupidity is beyond understanding and their actions beyond any speck of decency or contribution to mankind. They say it is God that demands it; I say this is not the God of Abraham. They have been fooled and as such, have become radical fools. In the end their very graves will cry out with the gnashing of teeth when the truth appears and they see their error. How horrible that will be.
As for me, give me a junk car to play with, maybe restore, and pass on to my children. In the meantime, may God protect us from fools.
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