Auto Ghosts from the Past

Some of the new cars look quite nice.  Some I find to be very clunky in appearance.  They do have many new features that are wonderful–like air conditioning.   I suppose GPS is a handy tool for the geographically challenged.  I still don’t like the idea of the windows and seats moving only on electrical systems without any backup.  For the life of me I don’t understand why they don’t  leave in the old crank to roll windows up and down and same for adjusting the seats.  If your electrical system goes in an emergency you are toast.  It is not expensive for sure but I guess someone thinks those cranks wouldn’t look sleek on the doors or under the seats.  On occasion they sure would come in handy.  Anytime you can have a backup system in anything mechanical you should do it when the cost is minimal.  The safety features are really good.  I will give them credit there for a vast improvement.  Seat belts are literally a life saver.  It is hard to believe that only a few decades ago there were no such devices.  Babies were put in their bassenets in the back seat and small kids rode in whatever seat was available. 

I remember when I was in an accident with my mom when I was about 5 or 6 at the most.  I was riding shotgun in the front seat.  We had a collision at an intersection when another car ran a red light.  I was thrown into the dashboard naturally.  Fortunately I wasn’t  hurt badly but my face was wacked pretty good and there was blood everywhere and it scared my mom.  It busted up my lips and cracked a tooth and some gashes here and there.  Heck, it scared me to see all that blood on the seat and all over me.   There are other features of the old cars that I do remember fondly for whatever reason, simple nostalgia I suppose.   When I was a small boy in the late ’40’s and early ’50’s you have to remember that many of the cars on the road were fairly old.  Many of the cars had been built in the late ’30’s and during the ’40’s.  We had the missing years due to the War when there was no auto production at all.   I can’t remember exactly when the first cars were built after the War but I think it was late ’45 or it might even have been in ’46.   After the war they were building lots of cars but there was quite a bit of catching up to do and the demand was high and costs were relatively steep.  The country went through a slump for a bit after the war when so many millions of people were laid off because of the the termination of War production.

Some of those cars from the ’30’s had what appeared to be tar roofs.  They were always the coupes.  I have no idea why they used that design or what the purpose was. I would imagine it had something to do with costs.  But the roof would be tar paper.  It was very strong and thick but it was not metal. Of course in the hot Texas sun they would wilt a little bit and you could smell that distinct odor of the petroleum base.  Right after the war the first car I remember my dad having was a Chevy that had that design and it even had the rumble seat in the back.  Those were fun naturally for the kids.  A rumble seat was where the trunk is located.  But instead of the trunk there would be a door with a handle and you could open it up and pull back and a seat would come out of the back of the car.  It was small and cramped.   It was of course exposed to the elements so they were of limited use in rain or cold.   The interior was very tight.  The back “seat” was really just a space with a very small seat.   Me and my cousins loved getting in the rumble seat and going around the neighborhood.   Of course only two at a time would fit.  We didn’t keep that car very long.  It  burned up.  I have no idea what went wrong but there was some problem with the wiring and “whosh” up it went.  I remember dad getting it back to the house and it was mostly just a skeleton.  No one was hurt.

These days the only vehicles that have a running board are the SUV’s.  At least those are the only ones I notice these days and even those are pretty small and inset some so that they only serve as a bit of a stepping stool.  The older cars would have a much bigger running board and you could stand on them and hold onto the window and ride along.  That is what the teens would do as they went to school or whatever.  I was only allowed to do that a couple of times because it was considered dangerous.  I suppose it was but for a 7 year old it was quite the thrill and equal to the rides at the Fair.

Those cars mostly had the starter on the floor.  Today you turn the key and fire up the engine.  Then you would turn the key but only to activate the electrical system.  The starter was a small round pedal right next to the gas pedal.  You would push down on both of them at the same time to actually start the car.  It took a little practice to get the gas pedal depressed just right or you would flo0d the engine.  Of course very few cars then had automatic transmissions.  They were all stick shift or even four on the floor.   Some of them had a choke that you would use also to start the car.  The choke would be a knob on the dashboard and you could pull it out to regulate the flow of gas and air to the engine.  Many of the cars had to be “choked” to start especially on cold mornings.  The automatic transmissions to my memory didn’t really become standard until the mid ’50’s.  Even  then there were lots of cars still made with a stick shift because you could get better gas mileage with them and lots of folks simply liked the feel of being more in control of operating the car.   You were more adventurous if you had stick shift.  Those remained popular with the drag racers at least through the ‘5o’s and into the early ’60’s.  Cool cats never drove a automatic.  Those were for your mother or grandmother.

The US has often been critized for gas, germ or biological warfare development.  We have certainly had a share of that due to perceived threats from others using them going back to WWI.  We were never alone in that endeavor however.   The Germans, Russians, and others did the same thing.  In fact after WWII and the very aggressive behavoir of the Soviets, the British expanded their program.  The British stockpiled nerve gas in 1950 as a counter to the Soviet threat of same.  The nerve gas came mostly from captured German stocks during WWII.  The Germans had over 70,000 such bombs weighing 110 pounds each. Even at the end when matters were so desperate for them they never used them.  The British also had mustard gas shell to the tune of 500,000 and other gas bombs and conducted numerous experiments in the area. They rejected chemical weapons in the late ’50’s but turned over all their testing and expertise over to the US and actively encouraged us to continue with research and development.  They got to postive PR of renouncing the use but also got the benefit of knowing their ally would cover for them in the event of war.  That possibility of war was hovering almost daily during all this period right up to Reagan’s time.


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Filed under Culture, family, history

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