Like most boys growing up at that time, Butchie and Me were fascinated by the high tech marvels of the first half of our century. The car and the plane, but good old trains weighed in pretty good too. All this was helped by our Dad's common interest in exposing us to lots of all three along with boats of course....because after all Dad was a Navy man.
Our father's job with the New York Telephone company, took him all over eastern Suffolk County. In his travels, he was great at making mental notes on places of interest to take the family to when we would go for our "Sunday Drives". Back then gas was mighty cheap, and with roads being mainly two lanes a Sunday Drive to anywhere was an easy way to kill an afternoon with fun sightseeing entertainment. It didn't seem to matter that there was no air conditioning, and the mohair seats were itchy as hell. Well at least not to me anyway, Butchie was prone to car sickness and the only cure was to let him ride up front. Payback perhaps for the time I drove our Olds Convert?
Sometimes though the trips would turn into an adventure in frustration and long waits in the back seat while Dad was under the hood. For the son of an auto mechanic, his luck with used cars was not very good, though he sure brought home some interesting ones over the years. Our Mom made him ditch the Ragtop Olds practically before it had a chance to break down, but some of the others were not very reliable. The '41 Caddy for example, we had that one for a long time. Cadillac used to bill itself as the standard of the world. The only standard it seemed to set with us was "vapor lock". We spent many a hot hour stranded while he cursed in vain from under the hood. It was great in the snow though. Lot of weight. It seemed we had that car much longer than the others that came before, during and after its reign as the king of our driveway. What finally did it in was a broken front spring that sent him off the little Neighborhood Road bridge that passed over the stream that led to Pattersquash creek. Even after the crash it sat in our driveway for a year or two because Dad and Gerry's boyfriend Dennis had plans to make it into a "sports car". Instead Dennis went into the Coast Guard, Dad joined the Coast Guard Reserve and the Caddy went to the junkyard. I think the Caddy was the replacement for the Hudson which also sat in our back driveway for a longtime after he stopped using it .
Somewhere in that time frame a bunch of real interesting motor vehicles entered our lives. There was a '36 Dodge that was mainly for my mothers local use. The "safety glass" however was delaminating when he brought it home and probably within a year all the windows were discolored past the point of being able to see out of them. As far as I know that was all that was wrong with it. It got parked behind the Hudson and became a play car for Butchie and Me for a summer.
The Caddy was a gas hog so Dad's answer to that was to get himself a "work car" ....There was a succession of them. One of the first was no econo miser either It was a '35 Buick Straight 8 Rumble Seat Coupe. The Rumble seat had rambled somewhere with one of the previous owners. But Dad found a unique use for it one time. At this time his father was still working in a machine shop in Patchogue and they would ride together a lot. Well Dad decides to build a split rail fence to spiff up our place (not to keep out flying Chryslers) . He inherits a few telephone poles they had replaced at work. He worked then on what they call a "line gang" whose chief job was replacing and maintaining the poles. Now the phone company can be seen trailering poles to the work sight with all kinds of red flags and stuff. He gets the bright idea to stuff 3 , 30 foot telephone poles into the rumble seat and bring them home from Patchogue some 15 miles away. My grandfather said half the time the front wheels of the Buick were off the ground... It must of looked like Laurel & Hardy for sure. I don't recall the fate of the Buick.
Of all the cars Dad dragged home in the early '50's, the Miss Congeniality award has to go to the oldest one. It was a 1929 Model A Ford coupe.... It also had a rumble seat at one time..The hatch was still there and so were the inner springs that once had some of Henry's fine leatherette upholstery covering them. Butchie and me loved riding back there, so did Boot's our dog. Our Mom loved driving it too. What a sound the exhaust made and the horn Ahhh EWWW gah. It was grey with red spokes... The windshield cranked out and I remember every time Mom wheeled into Pat and Mikes, Pat would ask if she wanted HIGH TEST!... The gas cap filler was right in front of the windsheild and the fumes would come right on in as regular Fire Chief got pumped into the cowl. Going to the beaches with our inner tubes or going to the Harrington's frozen custard stand was always a big time when we took The A. A lot of times, The Denning's would pile in with us too. Larry Schulz's Dad had a Model A sedan at the same time and seeing the two cars together was quite a sight. Then one Sunday afternoon Dad drove away in it and returned with something else. And that caused a lot of problems. Our Mother was really ticked as she considered it her car. But what made it worse was what he traded it for. The deal was made with Joe Sommers one of his fire department pals, probably in Johnny Meehan's saloon. Joe got our Model A and we got....... well see for yourself
Not only was the Chrysler ugly, it smelled real musty inside. The best thing I can say for it (though in reality Airflows were well engineered ) is the junky towed it out of the yard about two weeks after it arrived. I think the rear end went out. From that point on it gets a little blurry on the stable of successors. I do recall a light gray '40's Plymouth sedan, that spent a long weekend down the street in my grandfathers yard as Pop, Gramps and Uncle Les who lived in nearby Center Moriches and was a mechanic tried to "revive" it. It too left on a junky's hook. We may of got by with just the Caddy for awhile. Then he added in a '51 Ford Country Squire 9 passenger station wagon with real wood trim. I think the newest car we ever owned in those days was the Old's convertible. Everything else was pretty worn out.
Our father was thought by many to be unorthodox,
so why disappoint the crowd when it came time to finally buy a
brand new car. It was the early spring of 1955 when he "got
the bug " for one. So what does he do, he buys something
never seen in our little town before and back then hardly seen
anywhere. He buys a "foreign" car, which had a whole
different connotation in Eisenhower's America.The first year of
production 1949 they only sold two of them in America, perhaps
because we had just went through 5 years of killing each other.
But Pop was convinced this was the car of the future. No radiator
to fill, pints of oil instead of quarts, and gas mileage that
was so great they didn't even need a gas gauge! You guessed it
he sprung for a Volkswagen. A baby blue convertible that certainly
wasn't drafty. It was so tight you had to roll down the window
to close the door or the pressure would pop your ears. It was
our first encounter with new car smell too. Boy it sure smelled
good. And Mom really liked it, though it would still be a rare
occasions when the top went down. VW's were so rare then that
when we drove around if you saw another one on the road you would
honk and wave at each other. I'd get in arguments with Larry Schulz
about how great it was and he would say, "Well it might be
the best car made in Germany, but Ford is the best car made in
America". Big words from a a couple of 8 year old kids. Larry's
Dad always bought new Fords every few years until he got a lemon
in 1961. Lot of folks laughed at VW's back then and called them
toy cars. I thought it was appropriate to use a photo of a toy
one especially since it was the right color.
It turns out not too many places were very eager to service the VW. The dealer that he bought it from Osborne's in East Moriches was sales only. Jaguar, MG, Austin Healy and VW's . We can sell them to you, but you need to find your own mechanic. Being that it was new, the only thing's it needed was regular maintenance. One day he took Butchie and me with him to a garage in Eastport that Osborne recommended. It seemed to be taking all day for a tune up, oil change and valve adjustment. After we reread the two magazines that were in the office waiting room. Butchie and me wandered outside to watch the cars go by on Montauk Highway. We used to play games like count the number of "shoebox style" Fords (49-51) we would see on an outing. All of a sudden we heard this loud shriek. Looking in the direction of the scream, just east of us, we saw it. It was a steam locomotive crossing a trestle. I'd never seen a real live one before. I'd never see one again. Only in photos or the Lionel one that used to run under our Christmas tree. I say used to because one day Butchie took it out in the yard and played in the dirt with it .......It never ran no more.
There's nothing like having a big brother to look up to, protect you from neighborhood and schoolyard bullys, and to teach you the facts of life. In 1955 Butchie was 11 and he figured it was time that his 8 year old brother woke up and smelled the coffee. It all started in the fall when our Mom only hinted that we might celebrate Christmas a little differently this year. I didn't quite know what she meant, but Butchie took her suggestion seriously. We were able to stay home alone sometimes because Gerry who was now 16 and ready to graduate in high school in June (she was a smarty pants too) was able to watch us. Well one Saturday afternoon in November when she wasn't watching too closely, Butchie says. "Hey....you want to see something really exciting? " I took the bait ( what kid wouldn't after that sales pitch ) and followed him up the stairs into our parents bedroom. At the foot of the bed they had a cedar chest. Butchie says , "What do you think is in there?" ' Blankets ', I replied ' and Pop's war souvenirs. Pop had his Sea Bee Yearbook, a bag of shells from the South Pacific and coolest thing of all.... an ID Plate off of a Japanese Zero stashed away safe from attack by moths.
"Oh yeah, well feast your eyes on this",
Butchie said as he lifted the lid and removed the top layer of
blankets. There before us was a large sealed cardboard box with
the lettering on it that said CONTAINS ONE 1955 LIONEL TRAIN
SET. I was speechless and didn't know what to say. He did
though, as he carefully put things back and slowly closed the
lid. It was like he closed the lid to Santa's coffin as he asked
me. "Now how do you think they got in there and who do you
think put them there?" It was kind of a sad moment and even
though I now knew the answer, to one of the facts of life. Somehow
nothing more within my ears heard about it, but about two weeks
Christmas my mother casually asked me when we were alone, "Butch and Gerry would like to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve this year....would that be ok with you. " SURE THING IT'S FINE WITH ME" ....hey it just meant we would get the loot earlier right.... yet somehow as an adult today with my own son who went off to college this morning.... we still wait for Santa to come.