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Cars I've known
Scripps Howard News Service


June 20, 2005

I am completely fascinated by the new remote control for the car. The new On-Star locator and navigation system just blow my mind. All of this is such a long way from Ford's Model T, where you first set the spark and hand throttle on the steering column, pulled out the choke, turned the motor with the hand crank, then hurried back to adjust the controls. Be careful. That crank could break your arm.

I must have been 14 or 15 years old when our family got our first car, a big, heavy worn-out Hudson sedan with a motor a yard long. It had wooden wheels. We must have had a license tag for it, but I do not remember buying one or having a driver's license, either. I do remember what an adventure it was taking my father on a 50-mile trip to see his brother. We patched inner tubes and used the hand pump to keep air in the tires. The first car I owned was a 1933 Ford two-door sedan, definitely used.

After World War II, I took a job in Robinson, Ill. We needed wheels. A local merchant had a Model A Ford for sale. I explained my situation and he said, "Well, we gotta help our servicemen. You can have it for $100." I gave him half, and promised the rest from my first paycheck. I had lots of reasons later to wonder if "help" was what he did to a serviceman when he sold me that car.

I have owned a wide assortment, but she was the smartest car I ever saw. She learned early where the city limits were, and it took a lot of persuasion to get the old vehicle out of town. Something always happened: a flat tire, a loose battery cable or dry radiator. Her inner tubes were almost double-walled with glue-on patches. To this day, I could show you exactly how to apply a patch so it will last forever. We were lucky that she didn't use much gas, for the price had gone up to 21 cents a gallon.

One thing that old Ford did well was to sit quietly under the big maple tree in her favorite resting spot. Well, sometimes you did need to pump up a low tire before moving her. She did let us make one successful trip out of town. Wanda and I were aware of our good fortune, but afraid to say anything. As we pulled into our parking place under the maple, we looked at each other with a smile, but just as we rolled to a stop, the right rear wheel fell off. After that, we traded her for a 1934 Chevy coupe, where our 4-year-old daughter could ride on the little deck behind our heads.

Later, I was to drive a small lightweight Studebaker, the one with a radiator ornament like a propeller hub. We lived in Paducah, Ky., at the time, and those Kentucky hills were too much for the Studebaker. It ran best downhill in overdrive. That car couldn't pull the hat off your head.

Our first new car was a 1956 Chevrolet. I was never a car fancier. To me, they were just a way to get from here to there. Somewhere along the way, I decided I needed a second car, so I bought an old Volkswagen "Beetle." The running boards were rusted off, but it ran pretty well. Problem was, it was hard to stop, as the brakes were worn out. I made the mistake of letting my daughter use it. She was back quickly and ordered me to "Sell that thing before you get hurt." It wasn't the brakes that scared her; it was the big hole rusted through the floorboards. She was afraid I'd lose a foot.

When I retired (the last time?), I sold a heavy highway car and bought a Ford Tempo. I loved the little car, but at 83 I was probably not as well as I am now and realized I was a hazard on the streets. I parked it and walked away with no regrets. If you are aged and question your own driving, please park it now, before you hurt someone.


Stewart Elliott is a nursing-home resident who writes the column "Notes From a Nursing Home" for the Evansville Courier and Press in Evansville, Ind. For more infomration about his book, "Over What Hill?" contact him at thepilgrimSE(at)

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