My mother and I got talking about family stories a while back and she reminded me of a story I had heard many times before. It was one of those family tales I remembered with great fondness but a lot of skepticism. Since it was about my Uncle Bud, and we havenít heard from him recently, I asked him to share this one with you too.
The interesting thing about truth is that you just canít make it up! (Read that again. Itís profound.) And, no matter how bizarre fiction can be, thereís always a true story that is even stranger. With that little bit of introduction, I bring you the story of....Uncle Budís First Car.
"I was 16 when we first met in 1943. The car belonged to a salesman that worked for the "group" headed by my dad and Uncle Harry. His name was Leonard (can't remember his last name), but I had the inside track to buy her for $200, because Leonard finally lost his valiant battle with the draft board, and went off to fight the war.
Similar to Black Beauty and White Fang she had been grossly abused. I doubt that the oil had ever been changed, but she ran OK as long as you didn't expect to drive her for more than an hour. The diagnosis was "high oil pressure," apparently caused by an oil blockage that would have cost more to fix than what I paid for the car. At 61 minutes, she would just stop. The engine would seize up, and you just had to wait until she cooled off before you could coax her into taking you anywhere. I usually had the time for her tantrums. We were well suited to each other, because as a high school student I never had an opportunity to go anywhere more than one hour away from home anyway.
I bought her sight unseen. It was a car, and finding one to buy in the middle of WW II was a lucky thing. You didn't ask questions beyond, "Does it run?" She did, but not very far.
The first day's inspection was amusing. There was an extra old shabby tire in the trunk to use in case of a blowout. There was also about $1.40 in change under the back seat that bought plenty of JOY GAS back then. Joy, on the corner of Puritan and Livernois in Detroit was selling 10 gallons for a dollar. It was a match made in heaven. I also found ladies underpants in every conceivable nook and cranny, but I never figured out until much later what purpose they served.
I was in the 11th grade and had my driver's license since I was 14. I soon found many friends who reminded themselves how much they liked me when they discovered I had my own car. I picked up 5 or 6 guys almost every morning on the way to school. I hooked up an old doorbell that operated with a pull-string running around the perimeter of the inside of the car. On the way home after school my friends would pull the cord to signal when their corner was coming up, just like the DSR buses, but I was never smart enough to collect the carfare.
It didn't take long to figure out that the old tire in the trunk was an integral part of keeping the car ambulatory. Soon I had bought 2 more "experienced" tires from Les Sher's dad who ran the Gulf Gas station on Linwood & Doris. Instead of doing my homework or practicing the violin, a lot of my spare time was spent learning how to change tires and tubes without permanently damaging my body or clothing. I got the procedure down pretty good eventually and soon established a new speed record for the job.
I found a great piece of wood molding once, and with a little experimentation and lots of cutting and cussing, I fashioned it into a "V" for victory that was all the rage then. I hung it on the front of the radiator grill, to excellent reviews from my admirers. During the next few weeks it got painted red, white, and blue. My fame and pride continued to swell, and culminated in electrifying the "V" with a bunch of small 12 volt lights that I found elsewhere. It was real glitz, before glitz was ever heard of. At night, cruising Woodward Avenue, with that foot tall "V" for victory all lit up, I was in heaven, and firmly convinced that the war was turning in favor of the Allies strictly because of the symbol that I displayed. I fashioned a switch on the dashboard and we flicked those lights on and off like it was on a blinker.
Things were going great until one night I realized that the headlights dimmed every time the V was lit up. The realization that it would drain that battery down to a whimpering imitation of road kill was even less inspiring. I learned how to push the car, then jump into it while it was rolling, and quickly throw it into gear to get it started. We kept supporting the war effort with our symbol until I needed to buy a new battery.
The car came without a heater or a radio, and eventually they were accumulated from junk shop purchases. The radio used to buzz so loud that you had to have a good imagination to hear the music. But the heater was the real exciting thing. It was a GASOLINE heater that actually worked like a miniature blowtorch. I must have given myself carbon monoxide poisoning many times, not to mention the many near-death experiences when the gasoline sloshed out of it's intended burning area. I don't know to this day how I survived that car.
I used to park my car in the garage occasionally because it was a difficult task for my mom to put the family car in the garage. Don't forget that in those days, there were no electric door openers and hardly any overhead doors on garages. We had two barn type doors that swung out on both sides of the garage, but only when there was no ice or snow on the ground to wedge them into total immobility.
One day when my father's plumbing business expanded it's warehousing facilities, and all the bathtubs that had been stored in our garage, were finally all gone. I was given the job of sweeping out the garage. Marveling at all the space I had to sweep, I told my sister that I could probably drive my car in one door and out the other. She laughed and told me how utterly preposterous the idea was. I was intent on proving my point, so I tried it. After about 45 minutes of backing and going forward and turning the wheel to it's extremes in each direction, I ended up with the car firmly wedged against the far wall, perpendicular to the garage door. Beebe laughed so hard she almost fell down, and I caved into a humiliating defeat.
When my dad came home from work, he would not believe what I said happened, and let me tell you, the look on his face when I opened the garage doors for him to see the fruits of my labor was worth everything, including any possible punishment. He laughed as hard as Beebe did, and strangely enough said that he would not help me get it out. He went to get mom so she could see it, holding his stomach all the way. It took more than two additional hours to get the car out of the garage without a single scratch on it, but I did do it. I was not anxious to repeat the feat, so I didn't tell too many of my friends about my accomplishment. Who would have believed it anyway?
One cold and icy winter day as I backed out of the garage on my way to school, I noticed that a bag of grass seed, hanging from the rafter was partially closed in my passenger door. I stopped a little too late to save the bag. As I opened the door the seed spilled out like Niagara Falls all over everything. I cleaned most of it up, but some seeds fell into the car and when spring finally sprung the grass seed was happily sprouting on the floor of the passenger side. It looked awful, so I trimmed it with a pair of scissors, liked what I saw, and planted some more seeds to sort of even it out. Floor mats back then were made of some sort of fiber that held the moisture of the melted snow that was tracked into the car. It was a perfect media for growing grass, and I wondered why the Ford Motor Company hadn't at least offered grass on the floor as an option on any of their models.
The grass grew nicely and I was soon cutting it every other day to keep it in a sort of simulated bent grass mode. Central High became aware of this ingenious agricultural experiment very quickly and I got plenty of attention and offers to help with the landscaping of my car. My list of perspective passengers grew and I was having difficulty adjusting to my new popularity. .Perhaps I would have become famous except for one little thing that I had not thought of before. Every day that I watered and cut my grass, the moisture was insidiously at work rusting out the floor on my passenger side. This concealed secret destruction eventually culminated in an unimagined disaster, unparalleled in automotive history to this very day.
My mother had bragged to the girls at the beauty shop of her son's astuteness in automotive innovation. I proudly drove her to her next appointment. As she attempted to get out of my car in front of the beauty shop, with all the ladies pre-warned and streaming out to see my grass miracle, the high heel of her left shoe pierced and penetrated the weakened and rusted floor. Her shoe continued on through the grass, through what was left of the floor, until it rested firmly on the pavement! There she sat, screaming in pain, with her foot and silk stocking torn to shreds.
Removing her leg was a painful reversal of the accident, not unlike backing out a giant fishhook from ones body. Her friends and beauticians made a hasty retreat back into the shop, and my mom, bless her heart, found it within herself to forgive me before the end of the week.
I cut a piece of plywood to fit the floor, and as mom's wounds healed, the subject gradually became one of humor and awe. It is now but another faded memory that very few people want to believe actually did happen."