My Favorite Vehicle

Many years ago I owned a dark green, 1952 GMC pickup truck.  Of all the vehicles I have owned, this one stands out as my favorite.  It had a first gear that was so low, the truck seemed to be clomping forward, one tire at a time.  To start the truck, you had to stomp  on a floor starter with your right foot.  The stick was floor mounted and gave off a very satisfying grate and growl if you didn’t quite hit your gear.  No radio.  Mediocre heater.  The windshield wipers ran on some sort of odd power that increased when you hit the gas but languished if you were coasting.  

I’d ride up high, bouncing along on the bench seat as I drove the curving roads at night on the way home from my four-to-midnight job as a houseparent at the Residential Treatment Center for Adolescents.    Like some sort of rare gem, the truck had curving side/rear windows–a feature that did not last into the newer models.   Unfortunately, we traded this truck for two young heifers that I never liked and a 1954 Buick with a cracked head that needed to be bump started. 

What was your favorite vehicle?

35 responses to “My Favorite Vehicle

  1. The family car was a 51 Chevy Carryall, basically a panel truck with windows, so it was with great delight that an older brother, my twin brother and I bought a 57 Chevy pickup. This was a shiny green ½ ton pickup with a tarp on the back with dual chrome pipes under the running boards. This was one cool pickup and the neighborhood boys were jealous. With its glass packed mufflers it took the neighborhood by storm, including an on street drag race now and then. The joy of owning a automobile was soon dampened when I had an accident with the shiny new truck. I quickly learned the responsibility of car ownership dealing with an insurance company and paying for repairs. I have many cars since, but never one as ‘cool’ as this shiny green pickup.

  2. It’s funny how our trucks have made such strong impressions and memories. I wonder if, like me, you get excited when you see one that looks like your ’57 Chevy pickup. Glass packs! Very jazzy.

  3. Ann, I think your windshield wipers were problably powered by a vacuum hose as I remember those days. The vacuum varied as the engine speed. You apparently chose the more general term “vehicle” with purpose, so I felt free to run in a slightly different direction:

    The Bicycle
    I received it for my 9th birthday. It was the best present I ever received and, with the benefit of almost sixty years of hindsight, I can discern several factors which conspired to make it also my favorite vehicle of all time.
    We were not particularly wealthy, and I had resigned myself to never having a full-sized “26 incher” of my own, like my friends. So, its arrival came as a complete surprise. It was bright red with pairs of white racing stripes down each fat fender. Balloon tires at least two and half inches wide gave it a soft, bouncy ride. It had seriously wide, grown-up handlebars that allowed me to sit up tall, and I could carry Susie Spears seated on them with her feet carefully balanced on the bolt ends of the front tire. No sissy racing gears to change on my machine. It had one big gear attached to the pedals in front and one small gear in back which meant that climbing hills was harder work than going down them. It had a brake that worked by back-peddling. It would stop that sucker on a dime, leaving a satisfyingly black skid mark on the sidewalk behind it.
    My father had bought the bike used from a friend in the Kiwanis Club. I don’t know what color it was originally, but he beat out the dents, sanded it down, and brushed on multiple gleaming coats of candy-apple paint, working in the back room of the local YMCA office he managed. He had used masking tape to paint the crisp, amazing, white racing stripes. Of course, I knew that it wasn’t straight off the showroom floor, but I didn’t really care. After all, my friends’ bikes were no longer new either.
    A new-ish bike is a wonderful thing, but racing wheels mean nothing without a track on which to roll, and in this matter I was truly blessed. We lived in North Kansas City in what were called euphemistically, “garden apartments.” There were no gardens that I ever saw. Rather, the term apparently meant that, instead of being stacked upwards in high-rise fashion, the low-rent units were linked like circus elephants into long connected chains and casually draped around blocks and blocks of urban development. While the apartments were not luxurious, they had two great redeeming features that for children raised them to the highest level of functionality and beauty: first, the world’s most perfect Halloween trick-or-treat theater of operations (a subject for another time), and second, unbroken sidewalks that went on forever. The sidewalks mainly followed the streets, but two or three times on each side of a block, they were arranged into little courts with their own special sets of sidewalks. The enclosed block interiors, acres and acres of them, were given over to expanses of weedy grass, clothing lines, and kids. Even there, sidewalks ran along uninterrupted from back stoop to back stoop, creating a continuous network of concrete bike paths that must have measured in the miles.
    I could ride forever without once resorting to city streets. I could race down the long stretches of sidewalk like a Maserati on a test track, only occasionally risking collision with unwary pedestrians, small children, or housewife-borne baskets of clothes. At the end of our block was a large hill. Beginning at the very top were well-worn dirt paths running arrow-straight down and still faster, down and down, until they abruptly leveled out on a patch of leftover construction gravel. If a pre-adolescent daredevil were so inclined, he could steer his runaway steed down the hill and up a ramp of old boards on a couple of rocks that would launch him two feet in the air. It was wonderful.
    Of course, with familiarity came the desire to customize. My bike’s lack of provenance bestowed on it a certain mongrel charm and gave me, I came to feel, creative freedom. After all, no matter how I might choose to tinker, I was in no danger of bastardizing a pure-bred. If my bike had been repainted once, it could certainly be repainted again, and, for some reason I forget, I decided on a mysterious, shiny black, with white stripes. And if I chose to manufacture an electric taillight from an orange juice can, an old D-cell flashlight, and my mother’s nail polish, and bolt it to the back of the seat, well, it was my bike. I don’t know how many decks of cards I destroyed or wash loads I jeopardized by clipping those cards with my mother’s clothes pins to my vehicle’s fender supports. But I assure you the cost was nothing compared to the incredible roar they created when I hit top speed.
    We moved from Kansas City to Lubbock, Texas when I was twelve. But by now, I was a sophisticated junior high student. “The Skunk,” as it was affectionately known, had become merely dependable transportation to and from school. For Christmas the year I entered high school, I received a “British racing bike” with reverse-curved handlebars and three gears. I don’t even remember what happened to my old bike. Only that I disloyally embraced the new, cool wheels without a second thought for what the old ones had meant to me.
    I am now in my sixth decade of life, and I find that my temperament, my spirit, and my body are drawn back to that simpler, kinder vehicle. Last week I happened to pass the bicycle section at Target and saw a bright red “senior cruiser” with a wide, well-cushioned seat for a senior bottom, large, soft balloon tires, a brake that one back-peddles to engage, and only a single gear. I think I’ll call it “The Streak”.

    • galelikethewind

      Bob, Another heartwarming, well told tale. Really like your description of feeling a loyalty to your old bike, and your ending was superb. Makes me want to got down to Target and take a look…

    • Bob, enjoyed your story. I have a bike like that now, too. Love the wide seat – it matches mine! 🙂

  4. Delightful memory! Yes, I did choose the word “vehicle” on purpose so that we weren’t stuck only with cars. I enjoyed this. Now I’m starting to remember my days lurching into motorcycle ownership….

    Perhaps it is being older that imbibes a “Saturday Evening Post” Americana feeling to some of these memories. Loved the playing card noise!

  5. galelikethewind

    As I was filling up my Lexus 350RX last Friday, the pump showed $55.75 for 14 gallons. It struck me that I had just paid more for a tank of gas than I did for my first car.
    It was June of 1956, and after delivering newspapers, mowing lawns, and doing other odd chores for over a year, I had amassed the grand sum of $ 58.00 in my passbook savings account. The many deposit entries of $5.00 or less added up over time. Of course there were a couple of withdrawals too. Six Dollars and fifty cents in April for a Spring Break trip to Disneyland, and $3.50 for a birthday present for my mom in September.
    Not one to dally, I had obtained my learner’s permit from the California DMV at age fifteen and a half, and on my sixteenth birthday, had passed the required driving and written tests to get my prized California Driver’s License D98763-4. Funny how I can still remember that number more than fifty years later.
    My dad had always made it abundantly clear that if I wanted a car, I would have to save up enough money to by one on my own. So when I heard of a 1941 Chevy sedan for sale for fifty dollars, from an older man living a block away from our home, I wasted no time in walking over to his house to investigate. The car was a deep dark blue four door sedan, and the interior still had the original tan felt seat covers. It appeared he had taken great care of it. I can’t remember what the mileage was, but I figured this guy was a “little old man from Pasadena” who only drove it on the weekends. For fifty dollars, it seemed to me to be the bargain of the century.
    It was a standard transmission, with the shifter extending out from the steering column. I had learned to drive a stick shift in my dad’s old Buick, so that was not an issue. But after only one week, I noticed that when I would shift from second to third gear, the transmission seemed to “jump” before engaging in the next gear. After the second week, the transmission jammed, and I couldn’t get the car out of our driveway. No gear worked, not even reverse. After tearfully consulting with my dad, he explained that the throw-out bearing was shot. This was the bearing that separated the transmission from the engine flywheel. I was sick.
    “We should be able to fix it,” said my dad.” Those bearings only cost about $5.00, and you and I should be able to install it ourselves.” He took me to Allied Auto Parts downtown, and we picked up a greasy box containing a new bearing for a 1941 Chevrolet. We jacked up the car, put blocks behind the rear wheels, and my dad showed me how to remove the bell-housing to access the bearing from underneath. Once the bearing was installed, I crawled under the car and prepared to re-install the bell-housing. My dad was on the floor in the front seat area, guiding my work from above.
    The 1941 Chevy had a small button on the floorboard about the size of a screwdriver handle that you pushed with your foot to start the engine. As my dad leaned down to adjust the bell-housing from above, his shoulder struck that starter button. With a loud singing noise, the engine’s flywheel, just inches from my nose, spun around at about two hundred RPM. My dad was sure that he had killed me, and he screamed out “Don’t move!” I didn’t. I lay on my back with this wheel spinning just in front of my face and waited until it slowly quit turning. Only after the fact did I realize that had I jerked my head up at the sound of the wheel, I would have lost most of my nose and face. I guess my dad realized that danger during the fact. When I shouted that I was OK, and slowly slid out from under the car, he looked as white as a living ghost. He gave me a huge hug, and we cried together for a moment.
    That old Chevy never gave me any trouble after that, and l drove it around Pasadena for over two years Not bad for the cost of a tank of gas.

    • Great story, Gale. It brought back memories of my dad working on cars in our old garage (dirt floor with boards stragecially placed so you wouldn’t get the tires muddy). Mom often worried about the thing falling on him some day. Luckily it never happened.

    • That was a pleasant story to read, well written, thanks for sharing the memory

  6. galelikethewind

    Can just see those curved side rear windows. Loved your description of lugging first gear.

  7. I hadn’t heard the term “glass packs” in years, prangemj, but your description brought back memories of those beautiful machines that rumbled after school in the parking lot. And that hair raising story of yours, Gale, was enough to make my palms sweat! Still, we often love most the friends, human and mechanical, who have seen us through dangerous times, even the ones who inadvertently created those times. Thanks to you both for good stories.

  8. My husband had only two or three brand new cars during in his life. They were always family utilitarian vehicles, nothing with any sex appeal whatsoever. We drove to work together each day, spending an hour and a half on the road each way. Shortly before we retired, I began noticing that every time we passed a Chrysler Crossfire rag top, he’d sigh. And stare. And nearly drive off the road. He began reciting the car’s history and specs. His preferred color was that soft, vintage yellow, but since Chrysler quit making them, there were few enough to be found, let alone in that color.

    Ever the gentleman, he let me retire from my job nearly two years before he was able to leave his. That meant he was making that long, boring commute alone each day. I felt enormous guilt about that. So when it was clear his car had reached the end of its useful life about six months before his retirement date, I began searching on-line for a replacement. I stumbled upon the perfect specimen one day while checking out car sites. Coincidentally, it was at a dealer I’d worked for and trusted.

    Long story short, that little car has become my favorite. Not because it has spectacular handling, which it doesn’t. Not because it’s cute, which it is. Not because it was a practical choice, which it most obviously wasn’t. It’s because of the look on my husband’s face the day we bought her and brought her home. I’ll never,ever forget it. He still gets the same look every time he drives her out of the garage. As the commercial says: Priceless.

    • Barbara, a very sweet memory that you shared. Dind’t even have to name the car youfound. We all knew. You must be a very nice person.

    • This is a love story! You might even print it, tape it to the inside of a nice card, and give it to your husband for Christmas. Happiness can’t be bought! This is a nice way to celebrate your affection for each other.

  9. My Favorite Car, You Ask?

    It wasn’t my favorite car. That would be the 1965 Ford Mustang, especially after I wrecked it while driving on wet black ice and had the repair shop guy change the color from gray to turquoise.

    No, the vehicle I want to tell you about wasn’t even a car. It was a Willys Jeep, surplus from World War II, no doubt, because they were only built from 1941 to 1945. Somewhere along the way some handyman had adapted the Jeep to a “passenger vehicle” by building an attractive wooden “cab” behind the two front seats.

    There weren’t any upholstered bucket seats in the Jeep, just the original two front seats with the Army’s idea of padding. In the back, we kids sat on two wooden benches running down each side, leaving plenty of room for groceries when the folks went shopping on Saturdays at Piggly Wiggly. Seat belts? Never heard of them.

    This was a machine meant for bad conditions and hard work. It was not a touring vehicle. In fact, and I kid you not, my dad once took my very pregnant mom for a ride in the Jeep to induce labor.

    How our Jeep got to Alaska is a mystery. Might have been barged in, though the port of Anchorage was pretty primitive back in the late 1940s. Could have been flown in, I suppose, in a military transport plane. Then again, it might even have survived that miracle of a highway that the US military punched through the badlands of Canada and Alaska during the war.

    Whatever its provenance, in 1948 it came to live with us on the outskirts of Anchorage. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that everybody in Alaska would have a garage, and a heated one at that. Not us, not for the Jeep. It sat out there the driveway in all kinds of weather and very rarely did it fail to start, but then vehicles back in those days didn’t have onboard computer systems and persnickety parts. The Jeep was as basic as it could be.

    Of course, dad sometimes had to drain the crankcase oil, bring it in the house to warm it up, and then pour it back in the engine. Other times, he’d put an old Army quilt over the hood and stick a light bulb under the hood in an attempt to keep the engine warm enough to start in the morning.

    The fastest thing to warm up the whole engine, though, was dad’s old-fashioned plumber’s blow torch. Stick that medieval thing under the engine, swaddle that hood in quilted OD, and pretty soon the Jeep would be purring along.

    The best thing about the Jeep was that it could climb C Street hill from the Alaska Railroad yards, even under the worst winter driving conditions. And that hill just east of the railroad tracks on KFQD Road? The Jeep would go right up it, though dad often stopped to pull other vehicles out of whatever trouble those fancy cars had gotten themselves into.

    The Jeep never was MY vehicle. Instead, when mom and dad acquired a 1953 Ford Fairlane, the Jeep was set aside as a substitute. By the time I was old enough to acquire a car of my own, I made the unfortunate choice of a Studebaker Lark. I chose it mostly for its aqua color. Oh, and also because of its $500 price, which was all the money in the world I’d managed to save in the early 1960s.

    I should have paid more attention to the mechanical condition of the Lark than its color, because I had to borrow the Jeep fairly regularly when the Lark was throwing a snit of one kind or another. Fortunately, dad knew how to handle Studebaker snits, all except for the Lark’s habit of jumping out of gear, or insisting on running in only one gear.

    One evening in March of 1964, I left the radio station where I worked early. Less than a mile later, I pulled into my folk’s driveway and asked if I could borrow the Jeep. The Lark was okay, but a five-minute-long 9.2 earthquake had just revised my opinion of shakers being fun (“Let’s go to the store and see the mess!”) Earthquakes weren’t fun any more, not when they killed people, knocked down buildings, and tore up roads.
    I needed that four-wheel drive Jeep to navigate the destruction in my town, at least until temporary repairs made roads passable.

    My younger brother took the Jeep to Fairbanks when he enrolled at the University of Alaska. It served him faithfully, starting in the horrid 50 below zero temperatures to which Fairbanks is prone.

    And then came the summer of 1967. The Chena and Little Chena rivers got tired of all the unusual rain, so they combined forces and flooded downtown Fairbanks. And that was the end of the Jeep.

    Oh, I suppose dad and my brother could have resurrected it. They could have disassembled everything and cleaned out all the silt and such. Maybe re-wired it. I’m sure the old Jeep would have started right up.

    But no doubt the wooden “cab” was ruined, and that was very much a part of the Jeep’s charm.

    Anyway, by that time, my folks owned a black and pink (!!!) Nash Rambler station wagon, and didn’t need the Jeep.

    You thought they drove a yellow Ford Fairlane? Well, see, before I bought the Lark, I just happened to be driving the Ford and was sitting at a red stop light at 2 AM one night when a drunk driver came around the corner of Fourth and Gambell and ran right into the driver’s door. Not my fault. Not at all.

    • galelikethewind

      What a cast of characters! Jeeps and Mustangs and Larks and Ramblers – oh my!
      I thoroughly enjoyed your exciting adventures in ALL your favorite cars!
      Thanks for a nuce read.

    • I lived in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan for a year. Cold? OMG, We had to to the engine block heater plug-in routine there as well. Golf season merged into ski season in 3 days. Only thing I know about Alaska is what I see on Alaska State Troopers. Thanks for writing.

  10. I’ve been wondering where you were. This is a fun topic, but I wasn’t sure it was one that would reel you in. Obviously I was mistaken! Loved the Jeep. I had a Jeep pickup for a while, but again, my restless husband at that time had to trade it in for one more experiment that didn’t quite work, which was (!!) a Nash Rambler that needed a ring job. Dark blue, however. I am jealous of the pink and black station wagon memory! Welcome back.

    • Indeed, I have been away, as far away as I could get from Alaska without standing on the South Pole. I’ve been to Argentina, the Falklands, South Georgia Island, and several places in Antarctica. It was 40 degrees warmer there than here at home in Alaska. I love penguins and elephant seals.

  11. Fort Worth, Texas, July 1966, 106 degrees, red seats, top down, black TR-4.

    Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” is playing from the single speaker, dash-mounted AM radio. I sing with all my heart along with the lyrics, “cool cat, lookin’ for a kitty,” sweat dripping as I maneuver the downtown streets. Anything but cool, but I understand the “Hot town, summer in the city” part.

    Come sunset, my gal by my side, parked at the lake, top down, watching the stars, her watching me watching her. It is a love machine. “Flower power” is in full bloom, cold beer is our drug of choice. “Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” is still a West Coast phenomenon, creeping our way. We tune the radio.

    The Beatles are fading, “Strawberry Fields” are not forever. The time is electric, and Bobby Dylan too. The Byrds are “Eight Miles High,” and Grace Slick is “chasing rabbits.”

    The draft is blowing hot, hotter than the summer in the city, adolescence being shoved into adulthood, kicking and screaming. Hot time, summer in the army, Viet Nam is rising faster than Burdon’s “House of the Rising Sun.”

    And for one summer, in 1966, I fit them all into my little TR. For one year I was safe.

  12. Very nice. Gale hit it on the head– it’s really poetry. I mean, really. You should consider reworking it with that in mind and see if it doesn’t translate almost directly into verse. I graduated from HS about 350 miles due west of you in 1966. This piece really spoke to me. Thank you.

  13. Thank you for your kind comments. I have been reading some flash fiction online and felt in the mood. Got to tweak two words and take out an evil comma splice, maybe toss it into a flash fiction contest somewhere, sometime. “Remember what the doormouse said; feed your head…”

  14. galelikethewind

    Who would have imagined that such a “clunky” word as VEHICLE would elicit so many wonderful memories and emotions in all of us? Says something about our society.

  15. We love our vechicles.

  16. Not only do we love them, but I always feel responsible for giving them a decent retirement home.

  17. By the time I am finished with mine, they need a decent burial!

  18. I have spent some time with Black TR-4 and am posting the final (as of today LOL) version. Thank you for your encouragement.

    Black TR-4

    Fort Worth, Texas, July 1967, 106 degrees, black TR-4 convertible, red seats, top down, driving fast.

    “Summer in the City” blasts from the single speaker, dash mounted AM radio. I sing duet with John Sebastian, “Cool cat, lookin’ for a kitty,” sweat dripping as I maneuver downtown streets. Anything but cool, I understand the hot town part.

    Come evening, my girl by my side, parked at the lake, watching the stars, her watching me watching her, it’s a love machine. Flower power is in full bloom, cold beer our drug of choice. “Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” is creeping our way from the west. We tune the radio.

    The Beatles are fading. Strawberry fields are not forever. The time is electric, and Bobby Dylan too. The Byrds are eight miles high, Grace Slick is chasing rabbits, and Momma Cass is California dreaming.

    The draft is blowing hot, hotter than the city, adolescence being shoved into adulthood, kicking and screaming. Hot time, summer in the army, Viet Nam rising faster than Burdon’s rising sun.

    And for one summer, in 1967, I fit them all into my little TR. For one moment I was safe.

  19. Is it possible the wipers worked opposite the way you describe? A 1952 vehicle would likely have vacuum operated windshield wipers. Vacuum powered wipers work well when the car is coasting but can stop entirely if the engine is under heavy load, such as climbing a hill.

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