7.31.2009

Them's the Brakes

This is a Cord automobile.Recently the discussion came up on our local town Forum concerning a certain kind of vintage car called a Tucker (see link for samples.) http://www.tuckerclub.org/html/see_a_tucker.php
While I think they are/were kinda cool, I have a different brand of vintage car that I like very, very much. It was called a Cord. Not a Ford; but a Duesenberg Cord, and here are some samples of them that I could see myself tooling around in...and hey, this one even looks like me in one of my favorites.
When I was a little kid my family certainly didn't have anything that fancy. My grandma had an old weathered dark green Mercury "tank" that lasted her for years and years and years. (this is not Grandma's car, but it looks just about like it if you can imagine it only having two doors and being a dark faded ugly green.) I remember one time and one time only when I was about four years old that I got to fall asleep up on the shelf in the back window on the way home from the drive-in movie. Of course, the car was so packed full of us kids, that she may or may have not noticed...or, most likely she was harried from the experience of taking such a mob of us to the drive-in, that she just let me sleep up there. My aunt Bev, whom you will remember from past posts, is the same age as I ...except 20 days younger (I have to add that). When we were in our early teens, we were mortified to be seen in Grandma's "tank", even tho' to get around town, we had to ride in it. We kids were always relegated to sitting in the back seat, so getting in and out was a real pain because it only had two doors, and Grandma never got out of the car to let us out, and neither did my Mom if she was along for the ride. Bev and I had to 'skinny' our way between the door post and the back of the front seat to disembark, usually getting our clothes and freshly coifed hair all askew in the process. It wasn't too bad unless Grandma and Mom insisted on letting us out right in front of the W.T.Grant Store where all the cool kids hung out after school. Well, we weren't all that cool and we were humiliated beyond words when Grandma and Mom pulled the old dark green 'tank' right up to the mob of curious teenagers gathered there on the sidewalk. One particular time, Bev and I ducked down into the dark recesses of the back seat and refused to get out, totally mystifying Grandma, who was thrilled to be able to have found the perfect open parking spot right in the middle of all our "friends" to let us out. I think she said something like, "Well, that's gratitude for ya". Olean, NY is a small town anyhow, so we bratty kids walked most anywhere we needed to go, and avoided Grandma's car whenever we could.
...Except I remember on this one occasion when Grandma went for a ride with my Dad in his car on an all day excursion to go visit relatives, leaving Grandma's 'tank' sitting alone in the driveway.
I had gone somewhere and when I was walking down our isolated street which is (still) situated on top of the levy, I noticed Bev and my brother and a bunch of his friends 'messing' with Grandma's car. By the time I had gotten close enough to see what was going on, I watched in horror as they all crammed into the old 'tank' and drove it around the old hide tanning building a couple of times (also located on the levy right next to our house). (this photo is looking out an upstairs window in our house, with our driveway, which can't really be seen, but is between our house and the 'hide house' on the right, and above, the bridge across the Olean Creek.) When I got down to where they were, they were laughing and acting crazy, like typical kids, and Bev was at the wheel. "You guys are gonna get in big trouble" I said. "No, come on and try it...I do this all the time when Mom's away" Bev said. I didn't know that. She did seem to drive it around the "hide house" pretty smoothly, just like she knew what she was doing. "Come on, we've all taken a turn, now it's your turn". I'd never been behind the wheel of a car in my life so I was hesitant. They all made room for me and whined, "Come onnnn!" Well, I guess it couldn't have been that hard if they'd all done it, so I got in. Bev instructed me to put my left foot on what she said was the clutch and my right foot on the middle pedal, which was the brake, turn on the key, then step on the gas pedal at the right and "go". The old dark green "tank" started up just fine but when I let go of the brake, the old car began lurching all over the dirt driveway, throwing laughing kids all over the inside of it, then stalled, while my left foot...any foot was frantically searching for that elusive brake pedal. And that pretty much describes the entire trip around the hide house with me at the wheel; starting 'er up, jumpetty-jumpetty jump, then stall dead in her tracks. Actually, I decided halfway around the hide house to quit after about ten rollicking out-of-control episodes of seismic convulsions, so Bev took over and adroitly 'bedded' the "tank" back in it's place in the driveway so's Grandma would never know.
I hope we didn't hurt the ol' gal. I wasn't around the next time Grandma took her out, but Bev was. She said they got to the top of the road and waited for the perfect timing to pull out and take her place in traffic. She saw a car coming, but knew she had time to quickly drive out and get in line in front of him, planning to speed up. That was her plan. Actually, she whizzed out in front of the other guy, got in line, but then the old "tank" began jumping and lurching right in place. It took some doing for Grandma to get the "tank" rolling, but not before annoying the driver behind her, probably making them think, "You raced out into the street just to stop and do the bunny hop right in front of me on this bridge??!"
My Dad had an old dark green car, too, but his was a Packard. He had that thing from the time we were young kids, my brother shown here, about 6 yrs. old and I was about 7. He never bought another one 'til I was all grown up and out of the house. Bev was still at home, so she was there when Dad came home with his big, bright gold Mercury. He was 65 yrs. old and all his life he'd always driven the usual, 'stick shift'. This new Mercury had all the buzzers and whistles, automatic gear-shifting, highly-sensitive power brakes and power steering; all of which he'd never tried, ever. He was so proud of it, that the first thing he did was to take Grandma and Bev for a ride in it. This new car had four doors(!) so Grandma, every bit the lady, decided to take the tour in grande-style and sit in the plush comfort of the back seat. Because there were no seatbelts in those days, she decided to really relax and sit in the middle, where she could unwind and get a good view from all angles. Bev, decided to sit in the front seat for a change, as well. And off they went. Up to the main road, waited for traffic, then turned left onto the bridge, as usual. Then he jammed on the clutch, as in all his years of driving experience, which, in actuality was now a wide highly-sensitive brake pedal, which brought Grandma Up out of the back seat, landing with her right forearm onto the dashboard between Dad and Bev, then as Dad immediately got it corrected, throwing her back into her seat again. "What in the heck are ya doing??" she yelled. Dad, fiddling with knobs, just said, "Oh...I'm not used to all these things yet." They got about another 35 feet along the road, and his instincts kicked in again with the clutch, catapulting Grandma up front to the dashboard once again, then instantly tossing her into the back. Now Grandma was a big woman, so it's a good thing she also had strong arms, because every thirty five feet or so, whenever the need to shift came about, Grandma was launched up outa the back seat, sprawling onto the front dashboard, then dumped unceremoniously into the back again. I don't exactly know at which point the beating began. At some time during one of the brief respites there in the back, Grandma took her white straw purse with the emboidered petite flowers and began walloping Dad on his head with it,yelling, "Don't do ittttt, don't do ittttt.....AGHHHHH!!!!!... Take me home!!! Take me home right...AGHHHHH!!!!..... now!!! Beverly!!! Hand me my hat!!!" Her prim white hat with the faux white roses was now wedged into a corner of the dash, along with her wig which was still attached to it by hair pins. Maybe it was then. The next week when I went to visit, Bev showed me all the black skid marks that went all along East State Street at precise intervals, to Front Street, up to Union Street and back to East State St. then home. Despite the bad start, Dad just loved that car and took a picture of Grandma just as she was getting out of it from her maiden voyage in it sputtering "Fine ride, all I got to see really well was the front dashboard." (She had her hat in her hand when she got out) I don't think she ever set foot in it again and she went back to her trusty green "tank" and drove it 'til she didn't drive anymore. And now to think, that old "tank" would be considered vintage these days and highly prized. Actually, I don't think I'd be ashamed to be seen in 'er nowdays, either. And I think I could handle her...if she'd let me <:-/
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