Last weekend we were looking for something to do that might interest Papa and decided to go to an antique car show. Papa was hesitant at first wondering how far he would have to walk, but quickly warmed up to the idea as soon as he saw the lines of old cars stretching over several blocks. It was fun to see his excitement at the different model vehicles, and to see the old mechanic come out in him. He could name every pre-1975 car and tell us the year it was made, if the colors were replicated correctly and if he had ever worked on that type of vehicle. Pausing to look under the hood of most of the vehicles he made sure the engine was not only properly refurbished but also as clean on the inside as it was outside. Look at that engine, look at all that room! I have fat Italian fingers, see how there is room for me to work on these cars; cars aren’t made like that anymore. After we completed the first row of old cars I realized he was walking by some vehicles much faster than others, and while we were into the second row I looked over to Doug who nodded and whispered, “He has always been a Ford man.” Sure enough, he was walking by every one of the Chevys. Papa reminisced about his cars the entire trip home prompting us to start looking for pictures of the various vehicles he has owned.
Papa’s first car was a 1935 Ford convertible. He was 17 at the time and bought it for $150.00. My Ma and Dad never paid for my cars, and my Dad was worried when I bought this one. It had mechanical brakes and my dad told me to be careful, he didn’t think they were safe.
Papa was working at Strang’s Cities Service, a local garage on the corner of North Avenue and Ridgeland in Waukegan, Illinois. It was across the street from Louie’s, do you remember Louie’s? He laughed when I remind him I wasn’t around back then. As with all of his cars Papa did the engine work, but left it to auto body professionals to repaint this car’s exterior from black to blue. It looked really nice; I wish I had a picture of that car. He went on to tell me about a near miss he had while operating that vehicle. I was driving one day on Glen Flora at the North Shore tracks and could not stop; I had to swerve to get through a train gate. I must have looked concerned because Papa assured me a train was not coming even though the gate was down. I ripped the car top on the train gate and left my car at the shop that night. When I came home without my car my Dad asked me if I wrecked it. I said Nooo Dad; I am putting hydraulic brakes in it. My dad said, “Come here, let me kiss you, now I can sleep at night.” Mechanical brakes were not made for panic stops; I guess my dad was right they weren’t too safe. I think Ford was the last carmaker to use hydraulic brakes in all of their cars.
Papa smiled when he saw a picture of his 1950 Ford Convertible. I asked him why he liked convertibles, and was told they were the style. I didn’t put the top down in the winter, but I liked to drive with it down in the summer. It never bothered me in the cold weather. Look, this car had skirts, it was neat. I didn’t know what skirts were but he explained they covered the back wheels. See how they come half way down in the back. And look at the tires, white wall tires back then were wide. I used a lot of steel wool and soap on this car keeping the wheels clean. It was sharp. Every Friday night we would Scoop the Loop on Genesee Street between Grand and Belvidere. It was the main business area in Waukegan for a long time. We just drove out cars back and forth and made a lot of noise honking and yelling at our friends. Everybody did it. The police controlled us if we got too loud, but we didn’t really cause any trouble. It was a lot of fun. I can picture a handsome young Papa getting dressed up on Friday nights just to Scoop the Loop with his pals so they could show off their cars.
We were on a mission and pulled out another box of photos digging for more car pictures. Papa smiled when he found the next batch, he was about 23 and had just completed basic training in Fort Leonardwood, Missouri after being drafted in the Army. My Ma and Dad came to my graduation and so did Marge and Clarence Geib, they were like second parents to Geri. They brought her to Ft. Leonardwood in their 1955 Ford Fairlane. That Ford was a comfortable car. It was like a big family having everyone there. He took one more look at the photograph before saying I don’t know whose old Chevy that is next to their car. Yes, Papa is a Ford man. He was also a pretty sharp looking Private in 1956 standing next to his beautiful young bride.
As I continue digging in the box, Papa explained to me that he had owned a lot of cars. We just traded them for other cars. This is my 54 Mercury Monterey, it was a stick shift. That Merc was a really nice car. We bought it used but it was only a couple of years old. Papa smiled again as he looked at Nana posing next to his really nice car and told me, she was pretty nice too. Yes Papa, she was. I don’t see a picture but I had a 54 Ford junker. I used that car to get back and forth to work after I was married. I drove that car and never even washed it once. Not once. It was a rust bucket, but then all cars in Illinois rust pretty quick. I had a 53 Ford hard top too, that sure was a good one. I drove the hardtop when I wasn’t at work. I don’t see any pictures of that either.
I handed Papa another photograph and he continued on. That is my 1969 Ford F100 Ranger. We bought that new, but it was not our first new car. That is a 15-foot Kent behind it, our first trailer. Man, that pulled good. We had a lot of fun times camping. That is just what we did back then, it was enjoyable. I wonder if I asked Doug and Daryl if they would remember camping as fondly as Papa does.
We also found a picture from 1991 of his 68 Ford pickup pulling their 5th Wheel. That was a 30’ Real-Lite, it had everything on it. We bought that when we retired and I wanted to travel over the United States and visit all of the friends we met in the service. I wish Geri and I had been able to do that. That truck was OK too, I wanted another 69 but this was almost as good.
After his boys left home Papa bought a 1968 Barracuda to refinish. I am not sure what year I bought that car but it took me a while to finish. I did all of the engine work, and the guy that did the interior and the outside did a super job. I wish I had kept that car; I could have driven it forever. Someone is Arizona is probably still driving it.
I do recall that car sitting in his garage for quite a few years in the mid 80’s, and definitely agree that it was a pretty cute muscle car; I wish he had kept it also.
The car Papa brought up the most and was most excited to talk about was his 1963 ½ Ford Galaxie 500 XL. He knew we had to have a photograph in our growing pile. I was glad Papa was the one to pick it out. Found it! That was the first car that I bought brand new. It cost me $3400 and I even had to finance it for three years. It. Was. Sharp.
The color was called heritage burgundy and Geri picked out coral for the interior. It looked really good. It was a fastback, you know, the kind that looks more streamlined. We had that car for a long time. We pulled the trailer with it and took a lot of nice trips when the kids were young. I think Geri liked that car as much as I did.
Papa spoke about other cars, but we were not able to find pictures. I had an old Dodge charger I wanted to redo. It had a Hemi with dual exhaust, positive traction and nitrous oxide boost. Wow! That is in the early 80’s and with two teenagers in the house maybe it was a good thing he never finished a speed car like that. I can vividly remember the sound of that engine revving up the few times Doug or Daryl did drive it to school. I reminded him it also had holes in the floor, or as Papa might say, another Illinois rust bucket. Of course I had a Gremlin. I smiled this time. Papa actually had two Gremlins. One was totaled in an accident, but that is another post. I fondly remember his second Gremlin, and while we did not Scoop the Loop, Doug and I spent many a date night in High School driving in and around Zion in that beige car.
The car show was a great way to spend last Sunday, it was a beautiful day and we logged over two miles that afternoon examining all the cars Fords. But as it turns out, the Bowling Green Virginia Car Show was really not the highlight of our week. Because Papa had come home talking about the many vehicles he had owned we were inspired to spend the rest of the week digging through old pictures with him. We found photographs he didn’t remember existed and brought back memories that he had not thought about in years. Papa told us some great stories, and it was in Papa’s own words, entertaining.
Below are a few more of the pictures we found…