Saturday, February 14, 2009

The New 1937 Ford V-8

The first car I remember my dad ever having was a 1928 Chevrolet Sedan. It was a two door model, and, I think, a kind of “greenish” color.

At about age 11 or 12, I got interested in what cars looked like, and what model year they were. I got so I could recognize just about any “ordinary” car (meaning NOT one of the expensive variety.), and the model year of them. Later on, it distressed me when most of them looked a lot alike from year to year, as well as, make to make.

They were: Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, Plymouth, Hudson, Essex and Buick, at least. The expensive American car then, I think, was the Packard. That’s what General MacArthur rode in at Manila when I saw him, during World War II.

I remember one car’s slogan: “See the USA, in your Chevrolet!”

The first Ford I saw, of course, was the Model T. It was built like a “box”, all square corners, with a front grille that looked like an inverted “U”. Those I remember were all black. In addition, they had a crank in front - this was before the self-starter. And, a spare tire on the back. (In 1941 or ’42, I bought a Model T from my Grandpa for $25. I drove Jean to church in it, though I parked a block away, “down town”. Much to Jean’s chagrin.)

Speaking of the crank in front again, though one person COULD start the car by cranking without anyone inside, it was a lot easier if another person was in the driver’s seat. He could adjust the “throttle” and “spark” with a lever on each side of the steering wheel. Kinda like the steering wheel gear shifts in later years. A very real danger of “cranking” the Model T, was that sometimes, the car would start to “catch”, but then “backfire”, and if the crank was still engaged, it would turn the other way, and some folk got broken arms from the cranks. The crank was loose on its hinge and “hung down” when not engaged. To engage it, you had to push it toward the car and start turning it.

The cars all had “running boards”, to facilitate getting in and out of the them. They were pretty high off the ground.

The first “regular” car I remember having a gear shift on the steering wheel was the 1939 Chevrolet. There were, of course, still 3 forward gears, and one reverse. You could shift the gears without removing your hand from the steering wheel, or at least, your thumb, anyway. You could reach the lever with your fingers, leaving your thumb on the wheel, then pull it up toward you, then slide down for first gear. For second, you would push upward, let it spring down, then push upward again. For third, the shift came back toward you, in the lower position. Reverse was to lift the lever toward the wheel, then slide up.

Back in those days, there were a few cars that had front doors that opened up from the front, rather than the rear as all cars do today. I think the 1935 Chevrolet was one of those. This feature only lasted a year, though, because if the latch became loose while driving, the wind would push it to the rear, and sometimes tear it off the hinges. When opened from the rear, the wind would keep it nearly closed, even if un-latched.

Some of the “coupes” were convertible, and sometimes with a “rumble seat”.

Rumble seat.

When we all returned from the war, there were several of us couples who had not been “belled” after marriage.

New term?

A “belling”, at least in Mechanicsburg, consisted of piling the couple into the “rumble seat” of someone’s car, then all of their friends would get in their cars, form a parade, and follow them all around town, honking their horns. Depending on the leader, the speed sometimes got out of hand.

The night Jean and I were belled, there were 3 or 4 other couples who had not been “initiated” yet, so we got in two cars, I think, and joined the parade.

This night (always at night), the leader got carried away, and decided to go out of town. He want south on Main Street and out in the country toward Columbus, then turned right on Route 187. Speeding all the way. Then he turned right on the little- traveled Wren Road. Shortly, the cars all started to slow down, and stop lights could be seen coming on. The leader (I haven’t the slightest idea who it was) traveled too fast, and came up over a small hill, and left the road.

My memory tells me that though there were injuries, no one was SERIOUSLY hurt. We all piled out of the cars to see what happened.

Needless to say, we all drove slowly back into town. But, WE WERE BELLED!

In about 1935, a new family moved into town, and lived right across the street from us. It was the Snell family. They moved to Mechanicsburg from Loveland, just north of Cincinnati. The father, Roy, became the town’s Ford dealer.

They had two sons, Elmer and Donald. Elmer was maybe 5 years older than I, but Donald only a year ahead. Donald and I became friends, and when he became old enough, he got to drive one of the new Ford “Demonstrators”. That is, a car that a potential buyer could “try out” to see if he liked it. Man………was that livin’!

Liking cars so well, you can imagine my “pestering” my dad to buy a new one. A 1928 car was all of 9 years old in 1937. That was old! Are you kidding? I see cars on the road today that are a lot older than that. And, with a lot more miles. A second hand car Jean and I bought maybe three years ago (that my son is driving as a second car), now has 156,000 miles on it. It's a 1995 model! (14 years old?)

Nevertheless, my argument to Dad was that the Chevy was too old, and we needed a new car. Clyde Frost,the Chevrolet dealer in town, would have been the natural place to buy, since he was a friend. However, I knew all of the advantages of the new 1937 Ford V-8s, and “worked on” Dad to buy one of those. They had basically two models that year: the better one had 85 horsepower, and a cheaper one just 60.

I don’t actually know how I was able to convince Dad and Mother to buy a new Ford, but I did.

The one they chose was a beautiful blue 1937 Ford V-8, and had 60 horsepower. They had it delivered on my birthday on May 20 - not as a gift TO me, but BECAUSE of me. The cost was $750.

I was, as they say, “in seventh heaven”. I wasn’t old enough to drive yet, but WE HAD A NEW FORD!

I was thrilled when we drove it to church, or anyplace.

Dad had a favorite place to park when going to church, it was right on the east side of Walnut Street, the first spot off Sandusky. We ALWAYS parked there. It was almost like some folk in churches today, who ALWAYS sit in the same pew, and “woe” be to anyone who sits there instead!

This was 1937. I had just celebrated my 13th birthday. I had joined the “teenage” years.

Twelve days later, we parked at the usual spot across the street from the church, went to Sunday School and Church, then came out to drive home.

“Where’s the car?” My dad said. “Where’s my new blue Ford V-8”, I said.

It was nowhere to be found. IT HAD BEEN STOLEN. Eleven days old.

Even in those days, we had car insurance.

So, Dad reported to the police and insurance company, and we waited ANOTHER MONTH for my new car. Meanwhile, Mr. Snell let Dad drive the OLD 1928 Chevy. How humiliating!

Near July first, the Sheriff reported that the car had been found in Miamisburg, and was FILTHY inside. It had been used to haul milk, and it SMELLED. It seems to me that it had been wrecked also.

Anyway, the Insurance Company gave Dad a new blue 1937 Ford V-8, and I was mollified.

“All things come to those who wait”?'

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