COUNTY AGENT GUY
Seeing her there at the roadside nearly caused a traffic accident.
It was high summer and she was decked out in a stunning sapphire blue. Her expression seemed to scream “Take me home!”
Which I could have, for a price. Indeed, the dollar amount was stated explicitly on a hand-lettered sign.
But it would have been difficult to explain to my wife. Why did I need a 1953 Chevrolet?
The answer is quite straightforward: that particular model was my first, and a guy never forgets his first.
Today’s youth will never be able to form strong automobile-associated memories. This is because modern cars are these forgettable, wedge-like conglomerations constructed mainly from plastic and aluminum, with only trace amounts of steel.
Once was a time when carmakers put tremendous effort into design. Models changed radically from year-to-year, with vertical fins one season, horizontal fins the next. This made it possible to discern a car’s make and model at great distances, perhaps even from low-earth orbit.
Automakers really knew how to build cars back then. This was shortly after the end of the World War II and there was lots of steel available. Carmakers would buy surplus battle tanks and stamp fenders directly from the armor plating.
I don’t know when our parents acquired that brown 1953 Chevrolet; they already had it by the time they had me.
The Old ’53 was a wonderful car for small children thanks to its generous rear deck. A kid could nap in the back window or simply lie there and watch the world slip by.
Nowadays, a child dozing in the rear deck would elicit a call from child protection services. So would the simple act of riding in a car like the Old ’53, with it’s non-padded, bulletproof steel dashboard and passenger windows that could be opened without the unanimous consent of the Supreme Court.
Our family grew and the Old ’53 could no longer hold us all. It may have been theoretically possible to stuff two adults and eight kids in there, but this would have elicited guffaws of “clown car” whenever we piled out.
Dad bought a station wagon and the Old ’53 was relegated to field car status. She also initiated many of us kids into the adult world of driving.
Those were the days. This was a time when it was acceptable to put a 12-year-old behind the wheel and send him off to the field with a trunk full of 5-gallon cans of gasoline to refuel the tractors.
But first, one had to prove oneself worthy of the Old ’53 by mastering the mysteries of her transmission, a setup commonly called “three on the tree.”
The hardest part of driving a manual tranny is getting going without killing the engine. Stalling isn’t an issue in modern cars with their modern batteries that have the output of a nuclear power plant.
Not so with the Old ’53, which had a 6-volt system and a battery that wouldn’t power a cell phone. Her battery was good for maybe one sweaty-palmed attempted restart. After that, you’d better have a Plan B.
Plan B often involved hills. Using every last ounce of oomph, one could maybe get the Old ’53 rolling downhill until it attained sufficient speed, then leap in, jab the clutch, yank the tranny into gear and pop the clutch.
If the Old ’53 was feeling charitable, she might lurch and chug and sputter to life. But I would likely forget to leave the ignition in the “on” position, thus squandering my one shot at redemption.
A more reliable Plan B was to bring along friends or younger siblings. If the engine stalled and the battery ran down, your passengers had no choice, but to get out and push. Being the driver, my job was to sit inside and issue such helpful instructions as “Little faster! Little faster! Oops! Try again! I’ll turn the key on this time!”
Yes, the Old ’53 was an uncompromising mistress. But as with many firsts, we soon left her for newer and more exciting experiences.
The Old ’53 was retired to a secluded spot in the grove. She remained there, forgotten, until the day we had that barn fire.
Hurricane-force winds pushed flames through the grove. The Old ’53, unable to dodge the conflagration, was reduced to a cinder.
After the fire I went to view her remains. Her paint was charred, her interior a black and twisted mass of melted metal. The rear window where I once napped lay in a million shards. Rest in peace, old girl.
Besides explaining it to my wife, there’s another, deeper reason why I passed on that other ’53 Chevy – even though she may have been similar, there’s no way she could have ever been the same.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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