The old fishing car is a concept that goes way back in my family to at least the mid 1950′s, as far as I can remember. I was maybe 9 or 10 at that time. For some reason my mother thought that we should have a second car, one that would be used primarily for fishing trips. After all, fishing was the primary recreational activity for us. It just seemed fitting to have a special car designated for that purpose. It had to be an older car, one that could get messed up and dirty, and have a large trunk to hold oily outboard motors and smelly fish and bait. My own associations to this fishing car concept include a particular old mohair smell, prickly seats, and dull, dark, interior colors. That old car mohair smell has long since vanished because the cars from the mid fifties and newer with the vinyl interiors just don’t have it. My idealized version of the fishing car was likely based on my grandfather’s 1950 Mercury which we would sometimes take fishing. I would, some years later, inherit that car.
In the 1950’s we trailered a 15 ft. wood Lyman boat on an old Mastercraft trailer back and forth to the Lake Erie Islands, Cleveland, and occasionally to Mosquito Lake and Berlin Reservoir. Perhaps the underlying (and main) reason to have a second car was that, at that time, two car families were not common, and my mother delighted in being the first on the block to have such things as, a TV, a new Hi-Fi, a new car every year, and a second car.
I remember that my mother’s idea of an ideal fishing car was, much to my father’s chagrin, a 52 Kaiser Manhattan, which would have been about 4 or 5 years old by then. She and my father looked at them in used car lots. But he was an inveterate Ford man, as was my grandfather. No unproven upstart of a Kaiser would be brought into his family. There was no Kaiser, and actually no second car for several more years until the early 60′s, I’m not sure exactly why. But in the late fifties, the milkman still came around to the door, and so did the bread man, the vegetable man, and the egg man. And what they didn’t have, she’d send me up to Henry’s Square Deal market on my bicycle to get. So I guess we really didn’t need a second car yet.
In about 1962, when I was about 15, the fishing car finally materialized, and turned out to be yellow 1955 Mercury. This was the car that was to last for a couple years and be the beast of burden for fishing trips. Ah, the ulterior motives were numerous for that fishing car. Coincidentally, it was also the main ride to the bowling alley during the weekdays for Mom. Perhaps also coincidentally it was designed to be a “learning” car for me because, coincidentally or not, it also needed a good bit of bodywork, and the number seven cylinder burned enough oil so that the spark plug had to be changed weekly or the car would begin to miss. That was my department–at age 15- and where I learned to do body work, and engine maintenance. My father got me started on the body work, and over the course of the next two years I patched it up and painted it a couple of times. I also learned how to rebuild the brakes, and repair whatever else went wrong.
The car was yellow and black– a big, lumbering 4-door sedan. There were no mohair seats, just yellow and black slippery vinyl upholstery. It reminded me of a large bumblebee and certainly not the sleek hot rod I had ideally pictured. Most importantly, it had a good radio that I listened to Cleveland station WHK on in the driveway every evening. I drove that car in my mind all over the country without ever leaving the driveway. It had a cavernous trunk that you could stuff every piece of fishing gear into and then some. For some reason my father insisted on taking the big outboard motors off the boat each time we were done fishing and placing them in the trunk–to what end I’ll never know! But there was room for them. The bumpers were still massive enough at that time to be able to just clamp on a trailer hitch and drive away with the boat. Now days you have to spend a couple hundred dollars to get a frame hitch installed…if the car does indeed even have a frame. So anyway, this was the car that we didn’t have to worry about messing up, and it had plenty of power (when the number 7 cylinder wasn’t fouled with oil) to pull the boat at the then new and revolutionary turnpike speed of 65 mph. And in fact, on weekends, my father, my grandfather, sometimes my cousin Beverly, and I would pile in and motor up to the Lake Erie Islands area and back the old boat into the water and fish. Exactly where we put it in the water escapes me. Maybe it was Channel Grove Marina. But I remember that it was not a paved ramp, because the spinning wheels of the car would throw gravel all over the place when pulling the boat out. I also vividly remember a smelly outhouse that was full of spiders and bugs.
The fishing car served us well on so many levels. But after a couple of years and many gallons of oil, it got replaced with a Ford Falcon, which very definitely was not a fishing car–heck; it could barely pull the boat and trailer. A lot of dynamic changes occurred in the family around that time. The concept of the fishing car transformed into the “Mom’s” car–probably her plan all along. Dad’s car, an inherited Oldsmobile, became the workhorse. And I had my own car, the 1950 Mercury with the mohair by then. Certainly this set in stone my fascination and lifelong interest in old cars.
The fishing car concept has never quite left me even these 50 years later. From time to time I have had some old cars that served as good fishing cars. I remember a well-used 1989 Dodge Omni that was the designated “beater”, winter driver. With 116,000 miles on it, the car rattled incessantly, and in cold weather became difficult to shift until it got warm. For fishing purposes though, it was an ideal automobile. It could pull my little aluminum boat and trailer very economically and adequately (though I eventually pulled off the rear bumper), and its diminutive size made it easy to handle at some of the small lakes with not-so-spectacular launching facilities.
Lake Hodgson in particular comes to mind– there is one small launching ramp, very little room in which to turn around and back down to the ramp, and very little parking. Also, with this car I could fold down the rear seat and it became a sort of station wagon to cram all the fishing gear into, even if the fly rods did extend to the windshield and curve around the dashboard. Of course, it didn’t have that old mohair smell, but more than occasionally it did smell fishy.
The Old Road is a column that features antique automobiles, old cars, their owners, and their stories of the road, the restoration, and the acquisitions. Do you have a restored antique auto? Perhaps you have an old daily driver or a no longer drivable derelict with an endearing family history sitting out in the barn or a field? Maybe you have questions about restoration. Drop me a line: E-mail me at Skipstaxidermy@yahoo.com, or give me a call at 330-562-9801, I’d like to hear from you.