If there's anything which will bring nostalgia to an old timer, it's seeing autos and trucks of the 1920's and 1930's. We grew up in those days when spoke wheels, fenders, running boards, rumble seats, tires mounted alongside the car, and roofs were of the type we today call "convertible." When we made our second move to the Sanitary District of Chicago in 1930 right after the "Crash," autos and trucks of the type described were in abundance. The trucks often still had the solid rubber tires. No air, no comfort in the ride. Yet, they worked well for years.
At that time there were still many produce, food and ice peddlers around who employed the horse and wagon modes of transportation. The two modes somehow seemed to fit together, horse-driven and autos. Maybe it was due to the fact that autos and trucks weren't too affordable. Or perhaps it was that period of history in which the old and the new didn't clash yet. Anyway, these peddlers were covered in Chapter 5 sufficiently that they need not be expanded upon here.
Our first family auto was a 1927 Chevrolet. It was a four door car which, like most of that day, had a boxy look. The curves or streamlining didn't come into being until quite a few years later. Actually, we didn't care what the car looked like. It was a means of transportation to which we were not accustomed, and it meant for the first time in our lives we'd not have to walk or take a bus ride to get somewhere. The year was probably 1935 to 1936, though it could have been a bit earlier than that, when we got the Chevy.
The windshield on the Chevy was flat and bordered on either side by metal-covered wooden posts for support. Unfortunately those posts were commonly found to be rotting, presenting problems of water leakage. And there was never any shortage of rain in our area of the Midwest, so the constant dampness and moisture brought about quicker decay of our posts. This may have been the first semi-major problem we faced with the car.
Later the car developed "rod knocks." At my age I didn't exactly know what that meant, but Dad was advised by some mechanic friend that it was a costly repair which the family could ill afford. So exactly what happened to the Chevy, I'm not aware. It may have been traded on another auto, or it may have ended up as "junk money."
While we had the Chevy running pretty well, we took trips to Streator a number of times. It was on those trips that I learned to drive, being given the OK to take the wheel on occasion. Brother Phil being almost a year and half older got first crack at it.
Highway 66 in those days was a rather narrow two lane road. We'd take that route to Dwight, Illinois, where we'd turn off on Route 17 toward Streator. So, since the Chevy's steering wasn't as sophisticated as autos of today, trying to maneuver between those narrow lines was quite a task. After driving thirty or forty miles one could feel the strainespecially knowing the other family members in the car were critics of the keenest type. And oncoming traffic led to times of concern when they'd edge toward my side of the road, because there wasn't that much room to the right side before finding nowhere to go but off the road. My age at the time was probably 13 to 14. But my stubborn nature never allowed me to reveal to anyone the thoughts and feelings going on within my mind about the difficulties I encountered in those drives.
You might ask how I could have been driving at that age. Good question. The driver limitations of today didn't exist then. As a matter of fact, I don't think there were driver's licenses required. Things have changed!
The Chevy served us well for whatever the length of time was we had it, but now came the time for another car. Once you've lived the "good life" of having had an auto, it becomes more difficult to try getting along without one.
Lacking in detail again, I don't know how we came across the 1930 Chrysler. But it was a car built like a tank. A big four door with a long hood, spoked wheels, a powerful engine, and a more luxurious interior. To ride in that car was comfort deluxe! It also was much more elegant in appearance than the Chevy. I do know the Chrysler required more stops at the gas station and ultimately may have encouraged its sale. It's hazy to me as to whether that was the sole reason for getting rid of it or if it, too, developed engine trouble which promised expensive repair. It could be that we were offered a pretty decent amount of money for it and couldn't turn down the offer. It's at times like these I wish I could come up with more precise information on dates (when purchased, when sold), and what happened to the Chevy.
Next came a 1937 Chrysler Royal (or maybe a '38). Curvaceous lines (streamlined, if you will) were beginning to show up in cars around that time, and this one was among those first. In addition to a pretty good sized engine, this car had an overdrive system which could be engaged at speeds over forty miles per hour. What it did was to cut down the revolutions per minute of the engine and yet give the same speed. The engine quieted down when this system was engaged. It was really great on trips, most of which for us would be going to Streator. We had that car for some time, as I recall my folks took me up to my CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp in Minocqua, Wisconsin, in it after I'd been home on a short leave. That was probably November or December of 1940.
A wild, fierce storm caught us up in Wisconsin on that trip back to the camp. It was so violent that rivers were pushed to levels above the surface of the bridge, and winds blew trees nearly parallel to the ground. But that's getting ahead of this time frame, and I'll cover that trip more fully later.
Dad and Mom did something in 1941 we kids (especially the boys) found hard to believe. They purchased a brand new 1941 Dodge four door sedan. It had a drive train called Fluid Drive. One could either use the shift lever in normal gear ranges, or it could be inserted into "Drive" without using the clutch. It was what appeared to be both a standard drive and automatic transmission. It was shiny black in color and rode like a dream! We boys couldn't do enough for our folks in taking them places they wished to go. There was one thing about it, however, that made it less than a "hot rod" auto. That kind of transmission didn't give much zip for a quick takeoff, a blessing to the folks, but not a show-off car for kids. We kept that car polished from day one, but as time went by, we became less and less attentive to the finish and less and less excited about taking the folks where they wanted to go.
My own personal "wheels" was a bicycle my folks got for me when I took on a paper route (used bike, of course). I had to agree to repay them when I'd earned enough on the route. Being a rather shy, inhibited young man, I hated to go out to collect the weekly billing from my customers. When anyone gave any kind of excuse to put off paying for the week, I'd just let it ride. Frankly, I even hoped no one would be home when I knocked on the door or rang the doorbellespecially at those homes where I'd learned from experience the customer was a grouchy person. Since everyone wasn't totally honest with me, in time bills began to mount, and the crafty ones took advantage of my shyness to the hilt. It was not a good way to conduct business.
Eventually I'd made enough to repay the folks for the bike, and that in itself made me happy. As to the dishonest customers on the route, I learned a lot about human nature and mankind in general and charged the losses to experience. It wasn't totally a loss, however. Enough was earned to also keep the bike in good repair and to even have a little spending money to boot.
1[Return to Text] Although many states did not issue driver's licenses until the 1930s or even the 1940s, one should also be aware there were no highway patrols for a very long time, if even local police, that could enforce any kind of driving ordinances! And from a perspective of safety, it should be noted that most states which started licensing vehicles early on, did so to collect money from us, not to keep us safe! For example, Missouri was one of the first states to require licenses (1903), but examinations were not required until 1952. Massachusetts, the other state which started licenses in 1903, at least required exams for commercial chauffeurs by 1907, yet didn't have general exams until 1920. The conclusion is that apparently every state first passed licensing to collect revenue, not to keep us safe. In 1954, South Dakota was the last state to impose a driver's license fee on its residents, but again, did not require exams until 5 years later (1959). However, we should be happy about the warning signs and safety laws which govern how the very fast and powerful vehicles of today should be operated, since each one has the potential to kill many people (versus horses, for example, which will generally try to keep a rider from causing harm to others); imagine how many more would die without the laws we have. Of course, vehicle 'registrations' are firstly for the purpose of further taxation, and then for identification, and driver's licenses have now become the most prevalent form of identification within the USA.