Walking through the lineup of nearly 200 vintage cars entered in the Oregon Mountain Cruise car show in Joseph Saturday, I couldn’t help but recall people I’ve known throughout my life who had owned one of the vehicles.
The station wagons reminded me of several large families that lived in and around my hometown. They’d come to town on Saturday night, all five doors would swing open and a flood of humanity would exit.
It often reminded me of one of those clown cars where the clowns just keep coming and coming.
We had a number of families in our town who were rich enough to purchase muscle cars for their sons (and a few daughters) over the years. They were a status symbol. The cool guys drove the Chevelles, Chargers and Camaros. You could hear them coming before you could see them.
I was decidedly not one of the cool kids. When I came of driving age, the only vehicle left unused was a 1966 Chrysler Newport. Pale green and 22 feet long, it operated more like a boat on wheels than a car. The four-barrel carburetor was fed with garden hoses.
When you laid the accelerator to the floor, the g forces plastered you back against the seat and you could watch the needle on the fuel gage going down.
I didn’t mind too much because that car could safely accommodate me and seven friends on those huge bench seats without anyone being crowded. And if you needed to pull over to catch 40 winks, the back seat was as comfortable as most regular mattresses of the day.
The trunk was the size of two caskets set side by side and with
those 195/75R14 tires, it was about as smooth a ride as you could hope for.
It was a car in which we felt safe, despite the rock-hard dash board and the absence of air bags.
No way was I going to take the monster off to college with me. It required two parking spaces, and spots on campus were already at a premium.
Since I was working full-time and attending class full-time, I had enough money to purchase another car. I chose a 1962 baby blue Volkswagen Beetle.
It wasn’t the most ideal vehicle for the far northern reaches of the country. It was air cooled and in theory, the heat from the engine would keep the inside toasty in the winter.
Alas, it was a flawed theory. Ice formed on the outside –– and inside –– of all six windows. Winter driving meant having a second person along with long arms to keep the windows clear enough to see where you were going.
With it’s rear engine, however, it waded through the deepest of snow with ease. I parked in an alley at the time, and most of the residents of the block would follow me out on snowy mornings because they knew my VW would make it through.
I wish to heaven I still had it, but the parade of things that kept breaking finally forced me to sell it for parts.
Thanks to the organizers of the car show for bringing back a flood of good memories for me and, I am sure, for most people who attended. Perhaps next year I won’t have to pick sleet pellets out of my bratwurst.
Paul Wahl is editor of the Chieftain and drives a Saturn Ion and a Subaru Impreza.