Ted’s essays

first car

I bought Mom’s ’50 Plymouth from Dad when he upgraded her to a ’57 Ford. He paid $125 several years before, so that’s what it cost me in 1966. The 16-year-old factory paint was such a glossy black that reflection of sky was blue, clouds white, leaves green, etc…. darn near a mirror.

My main purchase motivation was, at 5’2″, I needed to sit on a handmade wooden box to see over the steering wheel of most cars. Buying my own car allowed me to remove the front seat, put wooden blocks under the seat mounts, then re-install it tall. No more booster seat.

Funny, I never felt small. There were four short boys in my graduating class of 1,000, but while I knew I was noticeably shorter than 996 of the class, it simply didn’t mean a thing to me. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to sit on a booster seat to drive.

Grandpa D came for a stay with us shortly after the Plymouth became mine. Probably to teach me some mechanic-ing and give Grandpa something to do, we removed and rebuilt the engine, an obsolete flathead six. It was attached to a standard transmission which, for several decades meant 3-on-the-tree, a 3-speed column shift with syncromesh in 2nd and 3rd only. Teaching the fine art of “double-clutching” (into 1st) was one of that car’s many roles.

A teenage boy’s first car is central to near-infinite adventures. The lucky, skillful or combination of the two survive them. Fixated with driving from toddler on, the Plymouth served as the world’s worst sports car, but serve it did – and fortunately was tough enough to survive along with me.

My first brake system failure was in the Plymouth. I drove (semi-)brakeless to our rural home from mid-town thanks to anticipating traffic, double-clutching and a parking brake that was a separate system.

My best friend Rich was the worlds greatest passenger. Lane-sharing through turns, passing cars like a slalom course, even taking turns mostly on two wheels – nothing I did bothered him.

While a long story in its own right, I’ll cut to the chase scene finale: Four big guys in a ’58 Chevy Impala (big honking V-8) found me driving alone, wanted to catch and kill me. They patiently followed to my home turf where that obsolete Plymouth ran away and hid from them through familiar curves.

Southern California, late at night, heading towards the Boraxo mines with delusions of big bucks jobs awaiting us, Wayne asleep in the front seat, Greg asleep in the back … we reached the crest of a hill to meet a sleepy truck driver coming straight at us … closing speed about 120mph!

Handy that I knew EXACTLY how sharp the Plymouth could turn without rolling – and that I instinctively knew steering was THE ONLY move that would save us, not to mention having the quick reflexes to make that move in time.

Wayne and Jerry woke up as their faces impacted the side windows with the car tipped up broadside to an oncoming semi. I don’t know how I did it with Wayne in my arms, but I followed the swerve right with an equal and opposite swerve left. The semi passed a wax-job away from the Plymouth that was now just enough to the left of it that we failed to collide.

We ended up in Scott’s Mills, Oregon where Jerry was the only one of us to find an actual job. His ham-handed commute driving of my Plymouth killed it off – with no compensation to me. He blamed the car for wearing out. I knew better.

My car saga resumed after mornings of strawberry picking, afternoons of hay bucking saved enough to buy a ’58 Chevy Bel Air for $125 plus my transistor radio with which to escape Scott’s Mills.