By Adrian West [ February 2003 ]
Having taken the "Old Geezer" test in the last issue of Wheel Tracks and getting a perfect score, I started to think about some of the other things which happened awhile ago, leading up to the time when I first started to drive. As an aside, it was a toss-up as to which car looked the same coming or going, the Studebaker or the Tucker. Figuring that they only made 50 Tuckers, Studebaker was the logical answer.
I grew up in Morrisville, Vermont and near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We have always maintained a home in southern Florida since some of the family are not too keen on the ice and snow. So my recollections cover both areas. I can recall the farmers bringing their milk to the creamery in Morrisville…there were two, The United Farmers and The New England Dairies… they merged to form The United Farmers of New England.
The cars were always down at the rear, no doubt from the heavy loads. Generally model A Fords, but the Putnam family had a '27 Model T. It was sort of a dirty maroon in color. The whole family came to town Saturday night to shop but never to go to the movies. It was the first Model T I have memory of.
During World War II Bob Jones had a 1931 Chevrolet roadster. He paid $10 for it. He wasn't old enough to have a license but his father would let him drive it on the dirt back roads. All the boys were green with envy, me included. As the war wore on, cars became hard to get and his father sold the car to a local man for $15-a 33% net profit. Bob was not happy seeing the car go.
Mother had a new Ford convertible each year. She might put 1,000 miles on one in the course of a year. Father would turn it in before the new models came out and I know he said buying a new one each year was cheaper than keeping one two years. I remember the '41 because it rode harder than all the other cars we ever had. Looking back I suspect the stiff seats had much to do with the hard ride.
Down in Florida there was a pest control outfit named Truly Nolan. They had a bunch of cars, all registered, all painted a gruesome green with TRULY NOLAN lettered on the front doors. Cheap advertising I guess.
The cars all ran for they were moved about from parking space to parking space. One, which I particularly recall, was a 60" Ford Model T. These cars were made to fit in the ruts of the wagons, which had 60" spacing between the wheels.
While in the seventh grade, Bob Jones and I built our own car that we drove to school. Eventually the State Troopers threw us off the road, but for a brief while, we rode to school. It had a one cylinder washing-machine engine. At about this time I got my first license. In Florida you could get a license at age 14 with parental consent. I recall some downright begging to get Father to sign for me, but sign he did.
It was legal in Vermont and I did use the family car now and again. The restrictions were quite detailed and I obeyed them, fully knowing that the punishment for breaking them would be severe (and just). My parents both expected us to obey the rules.
In 1953 Father allowed me to buy a new car. I really wanted a Jaguar XK120MC coupe, second choice a Porsche 1500S coupe. I got an MG TD… top speed not quite 80 mph. My roommate got a 1953 Studebaker Starlight coupe, modified by Bill Frick with a Cadillac engine. They were known as Studellacs and they could really tear down the road.
They also could lay down a fearsome strip of rubber. But wonder of wonders, neither my roommate nor I ever got as much as a parking ticket with that car. The back seat was useless for dating since there was a fixed armrest right in the middle.
State laws were somewhat different then. For example, Massachusetts' law said that one could not involve more than two states in operating a car. You could not drive an Alabama registered car in Massachusetts with a Vermont license. So being the wise boys we were then, we all got Massachusetts licenses. I kept mine until three or four years ago when I stopped renewing it. There was no point in having two licenses since the law had changed.
Perhaps now you can understand how I aced the Old Geezer test?