Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Cars with Personality
The first car I remember my family driving was a 1948 Oldsmobile 98. It was tan and brick red, turtle-backed in shape, and big! My favorite spot to occupy in the Olds was up in the back window on the large flat shelf. I could squeeze in under the window and at night watch the stars and moon or the rain that streamed off the roof as the rear wiper blade swept it away. It was a favorite place to sing along with Hank Williams or Tennessee Ernie Ford coming from the dash radio that Dad always reminded everyone was an “extra” on this big car.
The Olds was replaced with a 1951 maroon colored Plymouth, one that had the same profile front and back, so you couldn’t tell if it was coming or going from a distance. We drove that car for many years, and it served as a hunting vehicle and we chased horses out through rocky pastures several times with it. I can’t remember why, since there was never a chance we would ever corral them with the car. Mom made the mistake of riding with us once, getting so scared at Dad’s tearing through washouts and around rocks that she made him stop so she could get out and walk three miles home.
Our next car was, now that I look back on it, ahead of its time as far as its design, but as kids, having a Studebaker for the family car was a disgrace. Ours was a 1955 pea green Studebaker Commander. My only solace was that Larry Barbee’s family also had a Studebaker, so we could feel sorry for ourselves together. It was a pretty good car, Dad drove it to and from Pierre every day when he barbered here, but it just didn’t compare to the flashy Chevys and Fords of the time.
My spot on the social ladder changed dramatically when Dad traded the Studebaker for a 1958 Chevrolet Bel Aire. Two tone green, 283 engine, and it was hot! I drove it a lot while in high school, sneaking out to the highway to race from the station to the airport a quarter mile west of town. The little motor would keep rapping up, and I was beating big Fords that topped out at a certain point. It’s a wonder I didn’t blow it up. I almost met my end when I decided to race the Daily Plainsman paper delivery man who blew into town every day, threw the papers on the sidewalk in front of the post office then raced out of town towards Blunt. I and a cousin decided we were going to follow him to see how fast he was driving, and we caught up to him about three miles west of town, doing ninety miles an hour. We tagged along behind him for a bit, then felt this hard thump coming off the front tire. We slowed down and pulled over, got out and discovered a bubble on the front tire the size of a tennis ball. We tried not to think of what would have happened if that had blown at ninety miles an hour as we limped back to town. It still gives me chills recalling it.
The next car Dad bought was a 1964 Ford Galaxy, two-door hardtop, canary yellow with black interior. I suddenly moved way up the social ladder. Dad must have wanted me to make the most of this new social status symbol, because he let me take my girlfriend to the drive-in movie the very first night we owned it! I’m not sure he even had put insurance on it yet. It was a big car, and floated at ninety miles an hour, and I made several trips to college with it in short time.
Cars of the fifties, and sixties had personalities. You could tell the year and make at a glance. Not so, today. All cars, suvs, whatever, look alike. They are quiet and powerful, give you quiet rides at eighty five on the interstate, unlike cars of my youth that were always an adventure to drive, when you sensed the speed, heard the growl of the motor, and felt like you mastered the art of driving a great looking car that had personality all its own.