After my experience with Bucky Sheehe's old red Jeep, it was a long time before I got to drive a "real" car. I was about 15 years old, and in the company of my good buddy Mike Chamberlain, when another friend - Tom Vallery - came driving by us in his old, beat up 1949 Chevrolet convertible. It was a real "rag top," with most of the convertible top flapping in the breeze, the rear window busted out, and the rest of the car looking like it was ready for the junk yard. But at least it had four wheels, and could move from point A to point B.
Tom asked Mike and me to hop in, and then drove us down to the local ballpark. He drove past the infield barracades - some poles which were laid out on the ground - and drove onto the outfield. We then drove around the area, circling the upright light poles which were spread out in a semicircle at the far end of the outfield. Round and round we went, covering every area of the grassy playing field, in and out, back and forth between the poles.
Tom stopped the car and asked Mike if he wanted to drive. The response was positive, so Tom and Mike exchanged places. Soon, Mike had us running around the field again, maneuvering between the poles and flattening the grass. When we came to a stop, Tom told me it was my turn. I jumped from the backseat into the driver's seat, and took control, exchanging seats with Mike in the process. Once again we were off and running, working our way across the outfield, back and forth between those ever-present light poles, dodging here and there and otherwise acting crazy. It was an absolute thrill, and our laughter filled the air!
But, all good things must come to an end. Tom had to soon go home, so I stopped the car and exchanged seats with him. He drove us away from the ballpark, down familiar streets, and stopped at the Cities Service gas station, where Mike and I got out of the car. Tom drove away in a "cloud of dust, and a hearty Hi, Ho Silver! Away!"
Fast-forward a month or so:
My stepfather, Putt Forsythe, had been looking for a good, used car for me. He found one he thought I would like, and drove Mom and me to Urbana to see it. It was at a used car dealership, with a $400 price printed on the windshield in white shoe polish. I fell in love with the car the first time I saw it. It was a 1954 Plymouth two-door coupe, metallic brown in color, with wide white sidewall tires. The car's front end had been lowered so the car had a strange look to it as it moved down the highway. Even sitting still, it looked like it was moving. It had a functioning radio and a heater, both considered "options" back in the day.
I was working at Arthur's IGA market in North Lewisburg, making all of 85 cents per hour as a grocery clerk and stockboy. I had no other expenses, so I knew that I could pay for the car. Putt and Mom signed a note to finance the car at the old City Loan in Urbana. In return, I was to pay $39 a month in installments until the car was paid for. The deal signed, Putt drove the car home - me riding shotgun - because I did not yet have my driver's license. Mom drove the family car home, our 1956 Dodge Royal Lancer. Within an hour both cars were sitting in front of our two-story home.
Mike Chamberlain, who already had his license, became my chauffer in that car until I got my driver's license about a month later. We travelled all of the roads around North Lewisburg, Woodstock and Cable. Eventually, I earned my license, and decided to drive the old Plymouth to school.
In the early morning hours, most of the young boys I knew would gather at the Cities Service gas station, owned and operated by Cat and Daisy Parker, on Maple Street. There, the guys would bum rides to school. Those who drove their cars would pull into the station parking lot, and those who wanted rides would come streaming out of the building and pile into the cars. Off the caravan would go to Triad High School, approximately 3 miles outside of North Lewisburg.
This particular morning, I got up earlier than usual, went through the morning ritual of preparing for school, left the house, and then strolled over to my car. I admired it once again before I opened the door on the driver's side and got in. The car roared to life as I inserted the key and turned the ignition. I made a little u-turn in the street, and drove back toward Maple Street. I made the turn, and drove the short distance to Cities Service.
I was full of myself at the time, so proud to be driving my "new" car. I turned off the street and began to pull into the service station, planning to fill the fuel tank before heading out to school. I could see several of the guys looking out the building's windows and doorway as I maneuvered the car to pull up adjacent to the "regular" fuel pump. "Pride cometh before the fall!" I just knew some of the fellows who did not have cars were envious of me and my newfound independence and mobility.
Crash! The right side of the front bumper of my car struck the gas pump with enough force to move it slightly backward and "off center." The glass plate which covered the meter fell loose from its mounting, and dropped to the ground, shattering into a million pieces. In that instant I had visions in my mind of the gas pump line rupturing and catching fire, and the whole station exploding into an inferno. Fortunately, that didn't happen. Instead, a chorus of catcalls and jeers erupted from the throats of the many, many guys who were by now all standing both inside and outside of the building. Cat and Daisy Parker quickly moved through the throng to see what damage had been done to the pump, and to determine if there was any danger. Cat shook his head, and Daisy began to laugh once they determined that outside of the broken glass there was little damage. Still the chorus of laughter filled the air as guys pointed at me and the car, grabbed their laughing bellies, and otherwise made me feel embarassed.
I got out of the car to assess the damages to my car, and to offer up an apology to Cat and Daisy Parker, offering to pay for the glass in the process. My face was red as I removed the gas cap from the car, and filled the tank with fuel. I remained the butt of the jokes all during the process.
I paid for my gas, Daisy extracting the huge leather wallet she always carried near her ample bossom, and gave me my change. A bit reluctantly, I asked if any of the guys would like a ride to the school with me. That opened up the opportunity for yet another round of laughter and wisecracks at my expense. Someone shouted he had no intentions of riding with "Crash" Coleman. Sadly to say, that became my nickname for a short period of time. And, guys would laugh with glee and waited expectantly each time I drove into the gas station for fuel in the future, wondering if I would repeat the "and then he hit the gas pump" fiasco.
Three or four of the more daring guys rode with me to school that first morning. Word of my misadventure quickly spread throughout the school, adding once more to my embarassment. By days end, I was anxious to get home. Fifty years have passed since that school morning. I am told that time dims our memories, but I'll bet there are some guys still around who remember the morning that "Crash" Coleman almost blew up the Cities Service gas station.
Fast forward a year or so:
I drove that old '54 Plymouth for another year. One day I drove to Basil Spain's Pure Oil station, at the east end of Maple Street, to fuel up. While there Basil, the owner, opened the hood and checked the oil, washed the windshield, and filled the tank (attendants used to do all of that stuff "back in the day!"). Basil closed the hood, I paid for the gas - about 17 cents a gallon, if I recall - and drove back west on Maple Street, and out State Route 275 (it has since been renumber State Route 245) toward Urbana. When I got to the city limits on the west side of town, I "opened" up the throttle on the car and watched the speedometer needle move up to 50 miles per hour. Suddenly, there was a terrible noise, and the windshield in front of me went black. It was all I could do to slow down the car and keep it on my side of the road; I could not see anything in front of me! I was finally able to stop the car without losing control, just short of the Milo Gilbert home. I got out to examine the car.
The hood had popped up and wrapped itself back over the windshield! It was bent almost beyond recognition, folded neatly over the top of the car. I found a piece of rope in the trunk of the car, pulled the mangled hood back down toward the front grill, and tied it in place. I turned around, and limped my way back to my house.
Mom and Putt were really upset when they saw the car! I told them it was not my fault, that Basil Spain had probably failed to close the hood latch properly after checking the oil. Putt drove me down to Basil's place, and told him what had happened. Basil was sorry to hear about the trouble with the hood, but did not accept responsibility for what had happened. Disappointed, Putt and I returned home.
The Plymouth sat in front of the house for a couple of weeks while I looked for a hood to replace the mangled one. Eventually, I found a man right there in town who had a junked Plymouth which was similar to mine - except that his car was blue. I offered him $50 for the hood, and he accepted the offer. He even disconnected the hood from the car so I could return in a truck to carry it away later that day.
Soon, the old Plymouth was on the road again, although it looked pretty peculiar with its metallic brown paint and an unmatching baby-blue hood! Still, the car provided me with dependable transportation to and from school, work, and the occasional trips to Urbana.
On Monday evenings, a gang of guys would pack into the car, and we would drive the 16-mile distance to the old Salem Auto Drive-in Theater for Guy Spangler's "Dollar A Carload" night. On one trip, there were eleven of us crammed into the car! We made it to the movies, and were on our way home when my fan belt broke midway between the drive-in and home. I drove the car until it overheated, and then did the steering while my passengers got out of the car and pushed it up and down the hills. Then, everyone would hop back into the car, and we'd drive down the roadway until the car overheated yet again. We repeated this process for the better part of eight miles, and arrived back home much, much later in the wee hours of the morning than we had intended.
Once the car was fixed, I continued to drive it for several more months, trying to decide if I wanted to get that old blue hood repainted. My old scoutmaster, John J. Tomlin, approached me and asked me if I would be interested in selling the car. He made me an offer, and I accepted it. For long, long time after that, John could be seen driving around town in that brown-and-blue 1954 Plymouth.
That old car was my first, but it was far from being my last. I've owned many, many others over the 50 years which have passed since then. And there were adventures with several of them - which leaves me with stories yet to be told.