When riding a car was an adventure

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A few of you, a very few, will have read about this before, in the book for one place. It’s a piece about a car and some people I love; so crawl in through a window and let’s travel down this bumpy road again.

They were running clips about famous outlaws of the ‘30s, Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelley and … Bonnie and Clyde. They showed the car Bonnie and Clyde were in when they were ambushed and thoroughly ventilated, them and the car. It was a ‘34 Ford, just like Uncle Kent’s.

I saw the car one time. It was on display at the Ford place in Opelika, back when it was at the Johnson Galleries location, and before that, where the old bus station used to be. You remember.

It came off the line in Dearborn and was shipped to Maddox Motor Company in my home county. It was a shiny green fordor (that’s what Mr. Ford called it; there were also tudors available). It was snapped up by a rural mail carrier. Mail carriers were always among the very first to get a car when the new models came out. Good  reason: after a year on those unpaved roads that were muddy in the winter and dusty in the summer and always bumpy, their old car was ready for the junk pile.

But, no! It was saved from that fate by and outdoor advertising company where it was used as a utility vehicle by Daddy and Uncle Kent. As I’ve explained before, they would leave their rocky hillside farms for about a week out of each month to go around a five-county area putting up those huge billboard signs. Back-breaking work, but it brought in a little money during those Depression days. Ah, the signs were appealing: “Watch the Fords Go By,” “Smoke Chesterfield,” “Drink Coca-Cola,” etc. I would recognize the smell of the paste they used in a moment.

Daddy finally quit and got another job. Uncle Kent kept on, usually with one of his boys to help him.

He somehow heard about this huge building project going on at a place called Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where they were paying outlandish wages to anybody who could paint, plumb, do carpenter work — nearly anything.

So he went there, leaving the old Ford he had bought (surely, they didn’t charge him much) as the family car for aunt Eunice and the kids.

By then, it was a sad affair. A couple of the doors were wired shut, the windows, especially the rear windshield, had turned that bluish color that early safety glass turned. There was a sour, moldy smell inside the cabin. The battery, under the right front floor board, would sometimes just fall out; and even when it stayed put, the lights might go out without the slightest warning.

The odometer had quit a couple hundred thousand mules ago. The choke and throttle buttons jiggled in their worn sockets. Reverse produced an awful chattering. Brakes? You planned well ahead about stopping. Shock absorbers? Oh, please don’t make me go into a laughing fit. And there were terrorist springs in the worn seats always liable to make a surprise attack.

In short, the old car had about everything wrong with it a car could have and still, after a fashion, usually, run.

I can see that we’re going to have to continue this saga next week. There may still be some life in the old heap.

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.

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