First Ride--My First Car!
By: Wayne Brown
I recently found myself reminiscing about the automobiles which I have owned over the course of life. There have been a few but as you can relate, some are a lot more exciting than others. Some are exciting for other reasons…mainly just because they were your first car. First cars are great because up until that moment you did not have one and now you do. It’s that simple. What the car is in terms of year, model, etc., plays little into it in the end because you are just so glad to have “your own car”.
I was especially proud when that opportunity came around for me. I was in the latter part of my junior year in high school. I really wanted a car because I had acquired my driver’s license at the tender age of 16 and I hated begging dad to use his car all the time. I use to ask him, “Hey dad, can I have my own car?” He would laugh and go, “Sure!” I would get excited and ask, “When?”…thinking that he was getting me one. The reply was always the same, “Just as soon as you can save up the money!” The answer never changed but I never tired of asking the question.
You know what they say about praying for things and wanting something until your little heart just aches? Well, that is the way I was about a car. I just had to have one. I had a part-time job working as a delivery boy for a local dry cleaner. The $25 bucks a week that I was earning was not exactly piling up at rapid speed. Besides that, I had expenses so my net contribution to saving for a car was somewhat reduced…damn near to zero!
There’s an old adage that says all things cometh to he who waits. Well, in actuality, I had no choice, I had to wait or take up car theft. But, I will have to say I do put a lot of stock in that old adage now because sure as your born, my waiting eventually paid off for me and my wish finally came true. You can’t leave without hearing this story!
A friend and I had been exploring a wooden area north of the little town I grew up in. It was not a large area but large enough for us to eventually become disoriented and have to guess our way back to civilization. We could pick out the sun through the trees so we began to work our way west through the trees. Eventually, we came to a two-lane highway that we recognized which meandered out of the north of town. We thought that we would walk back up the home toward home. In the interest of reducing the walking time, we cut across some fields in those areas where the road would curve. It was here that I spotted it…while casually walking my way back home totally without any transportation other than my own two feet.
The pasture we were cutting the curve on was situated adjacent to an old house with a barn behind it. As we approached the area nearest the house I happen to look back toward the barn and spotted the front end of a car. My friend and I headed over to the barn to take a closer look oblivious to the idea that our presence might be construed as trespassing by whoever lived there in the house.
The car was a 1949 Ford 2-door Custom Coupe. It was originally painted a light green sheen but rust and sunlight had robbed much of that. The seats were original of a gray flannel-like material. All in all it looked pretty good…four tires, etc. I ran around to the front of the house and knocked on the door. An older lady finally came to the door and answered my knock. I told her that I had spotted the car and was curious as to whether it was for sale. She indicated that it was and stated that she would take $35 for it. I almost peed my pants right there on the porch. I started dancing around, told her that I had to run home and see my dad but please don’t sell that car to anyone until I come. She just nodded and closed the door. I don’t think she figured to ever see me again.
Well, we hoofed it home and the trip was not as bad as it could have been because I was almost willing to run all the way. Needless to say that my friend was less excited and did not buy into the running but we did hurry. When we arrived, my dad was out cutting the grass. I flagged him down and he stopped the push mower and shut it off. As he looked at me with that look of “what are you interrupting my work for”, I began to blurt everything out. I just could tell him fast enough about it. I was dancing, jumping up and down and about every other breathe yelling “Can we buy it dad? Can we buy? He didn’t say much at first but then finally asked me how much she wanted. When I told him $35, he brightened up a bit and then asked me, “Does it run?” To which I replied, “I don’t know, I didn’t even look to see if it had a motor now that you mentioned it.” He finally agreed to drive back over with us to take a look but with the caution that if he did not like what he saw, that was the end of it. So away we go!
Once we returned to the old barn and my dad looked over the car and found that at least there was an engine under the hood, we were at a decision point as whether to buy. I could tell that my dad was not real excited about making the purchase but with the continued urging from me, he went ahead and sealed the deal with Mrs. Kelly. Soon we were pulling this old Ford down to highway to home behind a friend’s pickup truck and I was on cloud nine. All my dad could say was, “You’re gonna pay me back that money whether this thing runs or not!” I could tell by his look that he was not kidding.
The old Ford had belong to an old fellow everyone referred to as “Cuz’ Kelly”. I take it they called him “Cuz” because he was kin to all of them in one way or another. I don’t know, I never investigated that part. It seems that Cuz was a renown coon hunter in those parts. I believe they are more appropriately referred to as “cooners” in today’s vernacular. Since I did not keep up with coon hunting as a sport, you can understand why I was oblivious to Mr. Kelly’s reputation as a “cooner”.
Coon hunting as it has been explained to me is a shorten term for the art of “raccoon hunting” which does not roll off the tongue as easily. From what I understand, the process of coon hunting calls for having a couple of dogs who really are focused on finding coons. Then you join up with some others who also have dogs and enjoy the sport and you go out into the woods and build a big fire. Then you turn the dogs loose and let them go in search of coons. The hunters then sit down by the fire; may brew up a pot of stew or just proceed to pass a bottle of whiskey around until it is gone.
From what I understand you don’t even need a gun to go coon hunting. The dogs will run and hunt most of the night. Once they get on a scent of the coon, then they begin to bark and howl. By the wee hours of the morning, the dogs will normally have the coon treed or trapped up a tree if you will. Then, if you can still walk, you go find the dogs, confirm that it was a coon that they ran up the tree and then go home. That’s pretty much the art of the sport as I understand it. It’s easy to see how a man could both become addicted to it and also create quite a reputation as a coon hunter at the same time. Never have I heard anyone mention that coons were good to eat.
Well, enough about coon hunting. As I progress here, it will become much clearer to you why it is that you needed to understand the sport, if indeed, it is a sport. It really sounds like an excuse to get out of the house for the night to me and I can see where some guys would really like the part about sitting around the fire sipping whiskey. One thing is for sure, if it is indeed a sport, it is one steeped heavily in southern tradition and born of southern roots. The term “redneck” may come to mind.
Anyway, ol’ Cuz Kelly was a coon hunter and he apparently used the car quite often to haul himself and his coon hounds out to the various hunting sites. This was not revealed to me when we bought the car and since I bought it in “as is” condition I guess Ms. Kelly did not feel compelled to tell me. All I could think of at the time was how well the interior had been maintained…I mean it had the original seats still in the car! The other conclusion that I reached was that Ms. Kelly, knowing Cuz’s reputation as a coon hunter, could only believe that I had heard of him and knew well the history of the vehicle.
Well, we get the car to the house and begin to examine it more closely. This examination was going on under the hood because getting the engine to run was a high priority as I did not think that I could push the car around town. I think my dad figured that if it didn’t run there was still $35 dollars worth of metal here for the junkyard man. Either way, he was getting his money back.
We put a battery in the car and got the engine to turn over but it would start up and run. We then installed a new set of ignition points into the distributor. I turned the key on and hit the starter button. The engine turned a couple of times and nothing. That was when we realized that all the gasoline in the tank had probably long since evaporated. So, it was off to the gas station with a can to get a couple of gallons to pour into the tank. Once we accomplished that step, I repeated the process of turning on the key and pushing the starter button. This time the engine rolled over a few times and then roared to life. We were stunned and I just about peed my pants thinking quickly that I now had a car with an engine in it…and the engine would start and run!
The old Ford had a manual three-speed transmission with the shift lever mounted on the right-hand side of the steering column. The engine was an in-line six cylinder with a flathead meaning the head piece over the cylinders was flat. In the top of the head was the threaded openings into which six spark plugs were placed…one to fire each cylinder.
We took the old car for a test drive and it seemed to run like a new sewing machine. No doubt it ran a hell of a lot better than it looked. But that was all right with me because no matter how it looked, I could still say “get the hell away from my car!” and take pride in the fact that I did in fact own one.
I began driving the car to school each day and then to my part-time job after school. The warmth of spring was making its presence known so the car would heat up a bit inside while it sat in the parking lot at school. In those days, I would drive the short distance back home and have lunch there each day instead of suffering the grub created in the lunch room by the ladies who wore the white dresses and big bras. What I was about to encounter unknowingly was not going to improve my appetite.
I open the driver’s door and get into the car excited to be headed home for lunch. Any excuse to drive was a reason to be excited in those days. As I fire up the engine, I notice a rather strange odor not that apparent before. It was strong too. I rolled down both of the front windows to let some of the smell out. Woo…it was overpowering to say the least. On some days, the warmer ones normally, the smell was stronger than on others. Some days, I would have to drive home with my head hung out the driver’s side window to avoid to odor.
As I related my dilemma to folks around town, they would ask where I got the car. I would tell them that I bought off of a Mrs. Kelly up on Highway 25. Many of them would then go, “Oh yes, I thought I recognized that car. Why that’s ol’ Cuz Kelly, the coon hunter’s car. He used to haul his coon hounds all over the county in that thing.” Well, I admit that was not good news but it did explain the odor that I was experiencing.
Another phenomenon that I soon encountered dealt with those original equipment seats in the old Ford. On a real sunny day , you could slap you hand down really hard on the seat surface and the air would be filled with dust and dog hair. Putting the odor together with this and now I am starting to understand just how much dog must still be in these old seats in the car. I then did a major detail of the interior, beating the seating, vacuuming them, and then spray just about anything I could find into the seats and under them. It helped some with the smell but slap your hand on the seat and up flies more dog hair. Still, it was a car, and it was mine but I could not envision myself going on a date in it. Well, I would go but I was not sure whether any of the girls would!
As it worked out, either I finally conquered the smell or I just got use to it…I don’t know to this day. All I know is that over time I began to notice it less and less. I drove the old car for several months and it was very reliable and sipped gas ever so lightly. As luck would have it, another 1949 Ford turned up on a used car lot in town. This one was a 4-door sedan and had a pretty nice black paint job. I worked out a swap and traded Cuz’s old 2-door Custom in on this black beauty. I had really stepped up in the world. I now actually owned a car that a girl would go on a date in. I was seen in some circles as a rich man but that’s another story for another day.
My old light green 2-door Ford Custom Coupe was eventually bought off the lot by an old gent who lived a few miles out of town. He would drive it into town picking up supplies occasionally and it would catch me eye. I always had a tender spot for it. One day I see it and could not believe my eyes. This man had taken a brush and hand-painted the old Front a 2-tone blue and while color. You could see the brush strokes from a block away on the metal. It lost some of it shine for me after that and I found myself looking away when I spotted it. Looking back, it was probably good that I got rid of the car when I did, for unbeknownst to me, being seen driving that car on a regular basis was spreading my representation as a “cooner” all around the county and I did even own a dog even if my car did smell like one.
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