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Tales From Down The Old Road… Early Memories of the Family’s Automobiles

How far back can you remember into your childhood?  I’m guessing that most people can’t remember much before 4 years old.  I’ve read that approximately 4 years of age is somewhat of a threshold of actively recalled memory experiences. This is not to say that there aren’t occasional flashback experiences—dreams and visual recalls.  Some of them are often strange and seemingly unrelated to general life themes.  For example, I remember a scene in our apartment, from which we moved ‘long about 1949, wherein I wanted some more milk and my mother showing me an almost empty milk bottle saying “the rest is for your Father’s coffee”.( Yes, I’m sure we could psychoanalyze that one!!) Certainly unpleasant repressed experiences are somehow retained on an unconscious level. Pleasant things are likewise often retained as an aura or overall good feeling.   I surely can’t remember much prior to four years of age but I do have a sort of flashback memory in the context of automobiles. How odd!  Does this mean that automobiles are somehow genetically programmed into me?  If you buy Darwin’s theory of evolution (being of a scientific background I certainly do!) then it is certainly possible and more than likely so.   Hey, generations of birds seem to automatically be programmed to ….fly south, then north again, visit the same bird feeders, and eat the same things, generation after generation, right?   Without a doubt old cars are a major part of the Schweitzer lineage dating back to the beginning the automobile era and my Grandfather Charles. He would have been about 12 years old at the turn of the century—1900—and witness to the beginning of the great age of automobiles.  Yes, I know, the old nature verses nurture debate comes into play. Why me and not my sister or brother who have little interest in automobiles? I buy the genetics!

I can, for instance, remember my father’s 1946 Pontiac which I gather was traded in sometime in about 1950, likely on a Ford.  1946 was also my birth year, making me a ’46 model. The memories are fuzzy, and sparse, and still life as opposed to moving picture scenarios but I remember things like the large chromed grill and the fastback torpedo styling of the body and the mammoth, roomy interior of dark mohair. For some reason I remember the hand pulls on the door posts to help you get in and out of the back seat.  And I sort of remember a moving picture scenario of my Grandmother Ethel—a large woman—getting in and out of the back seat using the hand pulls (We could psychoanalyze that too!).   Additionally, I have a particular memory of the car in an extremely large, brick parking garage and also a sense that the car was often parked out in front of it.  I have seen a few pictures of the car with me in it, beginning at probably less than a year old through maybe 3 or 4 years old.  Sometimes it’s hard to ascertain whether the pictures influence the memories or visa-versa.

I can only vaguely remember, but not actually picture, a shoebox Ford—1949-51 vintage—that came after the ‘47 Pontiac.  I can only bring up a dark shoebox Ford outline in my memory and not much else.  Conversations that I remember between my Dad and presumably my Grandfather indicate that Dad was displeased with the Pontiac.  Maybe he had little choice but to buy it after the war due to lack of available cars because he was basically a Ford man.

The next family car that I can actually remember—and it only very briefly—was a light blue ‘52 or ‘53 or ‘54 Ford.  I can only just remember/picture the light blue color and the round taillights peculiar to the ‘52-‘54 Fords.  The blue color stands out in my mind.  When much later in life I was confronted with the shape of the dashboards of the ’52-53’ Fords they seemed foreign to me, yet the ‘54 dashboard, which is distinctly different, did not. This makes me think that the blue car was likely a ‘54 Ford.  I have no way of checking that out now.  Though my mother is alive and well in Florida at 92 years of age, she does not remember such trivia.  She was not automobile oriented other than cars as a means to get from point A to point B  (usually home to bowling alley and back and later to work, home, bowling alley and back).

The first car that I can vividly remember, picture, and actively recall memories from, is the family’s 1955 Ford Fairlane. I would have been about 9 years old.  It was a two door post car, it was green and white—a two tone job that was all the rage in 1955.  It was a very handsome car.  I liked it.  I can remember sitting in the back seat, going on a trip somewhere, and riding in it often.  We must have owned it for about 3-4 years, and I remember the family trading it in on a 1958 Plymouth Station wagon.  I remember my mother lobbying heavily for the Plymouth wagon and forcing my father to go back in to the dealership to try to negotiate them down. I remember them arguing in the ‘55 Ford, he not wanting to do so, she forcing the issue.  He went back in!!  My Father and Grandfather were Ford men, they did not like Chrysler products—I don’t know why.  But my Grandfather only bought Ford products.  I remember many of the conversations between them while riding up to the Lake Erie islands and back to fish.  “The ‘55 ford was leaking oil from the rear main.  They are not building cars like they used to. The Model “A”—that was an automobile, wasn’t it? (Model “A” Fords were always referenced in conversations between my Father and Grandfather!)   These new cars are built much more cheaply than before, and they are rusting very quickly—cheap Japanese steel, poor assembly.  Let’s take the ‘50 Mercury (my Grandfather’s car) next time; it needs to be blown out.”

The 1955 Ford seemed to have made a big impression on me because, when I became of driving age I owned three of them in succession. Coincidentally I have had 3 Model “A” Fords.   I’m sure my Father influenced the procuring of the first two ‘55 Fords.  Obviously, despite the oil leaks he was favorably impressed with them.    All were high end models and I relish them to this day.  I’ve often considered owning one again and it is certainly not out of the question.  As my friend Don Bowker, who is approaching 80 years old, would say, “I’m not done buying cars yet!”

 

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.

 

Skip Schweitzer, of Mantua, can be described from early on in life as an avid outdoorsman and old car restorer and aficionado. He comes from a long line of great lakes fishermen and hunters. He is a taxidermist and a retired psychologist. His grandfather Charles, a machinist and fisherman who fed his family with fish during the Great Depression, was one of the original auto restorers at the Thompson Auto Museum, now the Crawford Auto Aviation Museum. Skip learned to hunt, fish and restore cars from his father Roy and learned the value and appreciation of antique automobiles from his grandfather. Skip has, over the years, restored upwards of 25 automobiles including many Fords, Studebakers, Buicks, Jeeps and VWs. Skip has written extensively on automobiles and outdoors for several newspapers, magazines and auto publications this past 20 years. His current antique automobiles include a 1930 Ford Model “A”, and a 1970 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Skip’s most frequent bylines are, Outdoors With Skip, and The Old Road.

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