I’m thinking that everyone has memories of romantic situations that excited their dreams and aspirations. Frequently, these pictures of the past contain images of whatever forms of transportation that were common in those days. For some it was a buckboard drawn by horses, mules, or oxen. For my generation cars had been around for several decades so several models where running the roads of Lawrence County, KY. I was of an era that got to see some of each, but except for some very old automobiles most were cars of the late thirties or early forties. Included were the famous Tin Lizzies that brought the horseless carriages into the lives of nearly all Americans. Therefore, I saw some of nearly everything including the newest models out. Those changed tremendously in front of my eyes as I was growing up. The roads was filled with those wonderfully fast coups seen in movies as the choice of big town gangsters and moonshine runners. I knew from the weekly paper that arrests were made as some were caught carrying illegal booze up and down the muddy roads of Lawrence County. Many families in my little town had a car and they were ready for the most part to give a ride if someone had an urgent reason to go somewhere.
Here’s an old photo of my great grandmother standing next the family grand touring car holding my mother closely when mom was a small child. How fun that must have been to have spun the crank to bring that monster to life! My great grandfather, a country doctor used this to make house calls for many of his patients. I was told that he also still rode a horse to those cabins out of reach on the main roads. Either way, it must have been cold in the winter months. The car in the picture had only side-curtains to protect against the elements. It looked huge in this rare photo, but it wasn’t by today’s standards. I grew up seeing very few of these ‘20’s cars, but a few from the thirties were very common.
I remember a few times when I looked into the garages of homes, usually of a widow-lady, to see what today would be a priceless treasure. Some, kept in barns lent their existence and fame as ‘barn finds. There are those avid collectors that to this day search high and low, run ads, and mail out flyers in hopes of finding and restoring an antique gem. On Saturdays and holidays it is common today to see car shows where these collectors show off with pride their latest acquisition.
Some of my earliest memories are of riding in the rumble seat of a model-A coup. I felt the air against my face once we left the narrow streets of town and were on the highway. It was common in those days when we passed a farm seeing folks out on their porches as we motored by. A second nature required us to exchange waves even if we didn’t know them. Funny thing, the folks that live on my lane still wave in salute when passing. I’ve noticed that generally it is no longer common behavior except for rural societies.
I remember being at a friend’s country farm and getting to ride on the running board of their old car to pick up the mail at the road. It could be quite a ways out to the mailbox. My aunt told me that she didn’t have to have a driver’s license in her college years, but later she did. The backroads were perfect for kids learning to drive. Also, those trucks that were for ‘farm use’ could be driven by kids off-road, including some cow paths. I remember also that some of my classmates used tractors. One of them taught me how hard it was to steer one over plowed ground. I also remember a few deaths when tractors turned over on the steep hills.
During the war years they stopped making cars and turned their attention to producing aircraft, tanks, and jeeps. We saw our share of army trucks and equipment going through town. Some trains had big flat cars loaded with war equipment for a time even after the war ended. I never knew where they were going or what their purpose was, but I somehow felt safer knowing they were there protecting our country.
As I grew up and the war production stopped, Detroit went back to making cars. The first of the lot was from the same old models but it wasn’t long before new models were being created. I went to school one year (8th grade) in Detroit. We had a design engineer come to our class and show us how cars were designed. He had several large models, some of wood and some in clay. He also had charts showing the speed and horsepower changes that happened with just the smallest of tweaks.
Back in Louisa, I remember that every fall local dealers had an ‘open house’ to show off the new models. I remember Pannell’s Pontiac having one and our whole family attended. The hood ornament lit up when the head lights were turned on. Around the same time Briton-Whitt had a show for the Fords and so did the Chevrolet dealer down on Main Cross. The dealerships changed hands a few times but they still liked to show off the brand new models.
We went through times when the running boards were taken off cars and bubble skirts were added. In the fifties fins popped up on the back of nearly every model. Some cars were sleek and looked like outer space, but others emphasized speed and power. Muscle cars was the trend and frankly still grab people’s attention. I remember Corvettes and Firebirds competing for the sports car market, while others made family cars and station wagons that were more for utility and less for show.
Another factor became safety. It was timely because so many lives were lost on the roads. Consider the running boards, or open riding in the back of a pickup truck or flat-bed. I certainly traveled to many a baseball game standing up behind the cab of a truck. We may have had nearly the whole team riding on just one truck. At one point Detroit stopped making convertibles since the hard-top was deemed to provid some roll-over protection. Cars didn’t come with seatbelts until the late fifties, but some ‘after-market’ belts could be added. After a year or two lap belts became standard issue in new cars. Finally, the cross-strap was added and baby seats were made available. After that came the air bags. There’s no doubt lives have been saved.
In high school I didn’t have access to a car nor did I have a driver’s license. I depended on the wonderful practice of double-dating with a friend who could borrow their parent’s car for an evening. I also dated at least one fine lady that had a car so we could drive around, go places, or sit and talk. These evening were romantic, for sure, but not always easy to make happen. The incentive to go steady was to avoid a loss of transportation. That would means, gasp, I’d have to walk or use my bike. That’s bad Karma for a senior in high school.
After graduation and entering the Air Force, I managed to buy my first car. It was a one-owner, 1947 Pontiac. After enjoying seat belts in aircraft, I put some in my 1947 Pontiac. I loved the car and added many miles to the speedometer. It was a ‘throwback’ as I imagined what it must have been like to have this car when it was new. Oh well, you do what you can.
I still enjoy watching movies set in the twenties and thirties. They often show many vintage cars including classic luxury limousines from the time. I cannot watch those movies without taking notice of every vehicle that passes on the screen. When I was growing up I loved to go to drive in theaters, to Camden Park, to Dreamland, and just a drive out in the country. I also like the ‘putt-putt’ sounds of a model T, and the regal looks of a classic roadster.
I have a dream to one day finding a vintage car in a barn or garage that is ready for restoration. The fact is while I’d love to see one and perhaps drive one, I’m not the guy to do the restoration. Dropping a wrench could delay the project for a long, long time. If you of you readers have done such a thing, or know of one who has, please send me a picture and tell me the tale that goes with it. I’d enjoy that.