Sunday, November 23, 2008
As I prepare to write this story about how I got into cars and hot rodding I almost can’t believe it.
Mine was truly a different generation.
I was in my mid-twenties when I went to college. During a conversation with one of my professors I mentioned how surprised I was at how many “adult” students were still living at home and even had their parents driving them to school. He said that one dynamic of an advanced civilized society, such as the U.S., was that the maturation period from adolescence to adulthood kept getting longer. In effect, the vestiges of boyhood remained long after boys should be conducting themselves as men. That would explain all the twenty-somethings we see hanging out at malls, in baggy pants riding skateboards, while thirteen year olds in backward countries are soldiers.
The die was cast for me before I was nine.
Hop Up magazine changed over to Hot Rod magazine in 1948. I would have been six. I remember the change. I don’t know what other boys read. I devoured car magazines. Hot Rod. Car Craft. Rod and Custom. (The same magazines I just bought as a gift subscription for my twelve year old grandson)
The summer of my tenth birthday I told my Dad that I wanted to buy myself something special for my birthday with the money I’d saved doing odd jobs and that I’d need his help with it. Raking leaves, delivering papers, setting bowling pins and caddying golf served me well and by August I’d amassed the princely sum of about $100. A lot of money in those days, especially for a kid.
On my birthday my father asked me what I wanted. He expected an answer like a new Schwinn or Huffy Flyer bike, a single shot Stevens 22 caliber rifle or a small black and white TV for my room. I said, “Dad, I want a car.” Mom and Dad were speechless. After explaining ‘Ten Good Reasons’ why nine year olds don’t buy cars, (Dad had ‘Ten Good Reasons’ for everything. Everyone usually gave up around #7 and Dad almost always got his way), I explained that he could use it to drive to work since we a one car family. On weekends we could work on it together. It would a great father/son project. He could teach me all about cars and during the summer we could leave it at Grandpa’s farm and I could work on it there and drive in the fields. Besides, it was my money. I’d earned it.
She was a 30 Ford Tudor sedan, cost me $75.00 and she was beautiful!
We went straight to Grandpa’s and build ourselves a workshop in the corner of the barn. The first project was the seats. The upholstery was tattered, the padding in shreds and the broken springs poked Dad in his rather ample posterior. After removing them we found the frames and springs were too rusted to repair. Grandpa suggested replacing them and he introduced me to my second Hot Rod Epiphany in as many days; the junk yard.
After much searching and measuring we went home with a pair of seats from an Essex. They not only tilted forward, they moved forward and back on tracks. We measured, drilled and mounted the seats. To reinforce the thin sheet metal floor to keep the bolts from tearing out, Grandpa cut pieces of 2 x 4’s that we covered in barn tar and bolted under the floor. Hot Rod Epiphany #3; the Bedrock of Hot Rodding, American Ingenuity.
We rebuilt the motor and transmission. We replaced the wood spars in the top and running boards. The rubber in the roof, running boards and floor came from conveyor belt discards from Grandpa’s work, turned good side out. It looked as good as new.
Grandmother and I redid the entire interior replacing the frieze material with a hard weave, heavy cotton duck material. Given the right needles and a lot of patience, a Single treadle sewing machine can do leather harnesses. The trick is to make a BIG table around the machine so you have a big surface to lay large pieces on. You have to crawl on your hands and knees to reach the hole where the operator sits. I learned to make patterns, dye fabric, make welting and sew upholstery. Grandma’s Singer has done a lot of upholstery over the years and sits in a corner of my living room.
Eventually it got a dual carbs, split exhaust manifold, and dual pipes. The wire wheels were replaced with steel wheels and 32 Ford V8 hubcaps. They took a liking to me at the junk yard and many better pieces of trim and metal found their way onto the A. The manual wipers were replaced with electrical units from a Lincoln. Copying a mod I saw in a magazine, I replaced the curved headlight bar with a sharply angled straight one and mounted it upside down. That made the main cross piece pass very low across the radiator. I then mounted flat lens, oversize head lights to give the front end a look like an imported limo. I did this all myself. Very cool for its time. I learned to weld, solder, braze and paint cars. I also learned how to drive.
During the school year, the car was at home and Dad drove it to work. During the summer it was at Grandpa’s with large wooden blocks strapped the pedals. The blocks and a pillow allowed me to drive. I spent hours bouncing around the fields and back roads of Darke County Ohio.
I kept the car for 4 years until epiphanies #4, #5, and #6 hit me in rapid succession.
A hot rod is a work in progress, never finished.
You’ll run into another car you can’t live without.
You can’t afford both.
to be continued....................