Cars back then

Guest column by Norma Haynes
Special to The Newnan Times-Herald
Hanging on my kitchen wall is an invoice from J. L. Weddington Jr. Chevrolet dealership which shows the sale of a 1935 New Chevrolet Standard Sedan priced at $670.95.
The invoice shows a charge of “License” $3.11, making the total sale price $674.06. Cash on delivery was $626.11 and the trade in of a 1928 Buick Roadster $47.95. The invoice also says “Always Show Serial Motor and Key Number.” This car was sold to my father-in-law on March 4, 1935.
As I watched the football games this past weekend, I was “drilled” with new car advertisements and remembered back in 1951 when my family was the proud owner of a 1951 green Plymouth sedan.
I don’t know how much it cost, but I do remember that we did have a heater and two sun visors. Both of these were extra costs on this car. The car had a manual transmission and windshield wipers. We thought it was just the best thing since sliced bread!
It did not have turn signals, so when you made a left turn, you “rolled” the window down, put your arm straight out and pointed left. If you were turning right, you held your arm up toward the sky. If you were stopping, you pointed your arm to the ground. Of course, that took some effort because there was no power steering, and you had to turn with one hand while you were signaling that turn with the other hand.

I was allowed to drive the car sometimes to work at my first job, and if it rained, the spark plugs would get damp. The car wouldn’t crank, and I would have to get a ride home and hope it would be sunny the next day so we could crank the car.

That old green car carried us to church, to town to shop, to picnics at Harvey North Park (the old Water Works Park), to Atlanta on rare occasions to visit relatives and wherever else we needed to go. It had no air conditioning, which would have cost way more than my folks could afford. I can well remember as a teen-ager driving on a hot July day through town with the windows up, sweating up a storm, just so folks would think I had an air conditioned car.

My daddy, like me, always loved cars. Although he couldn’t afford the fine cars offered those days, he bought what he could and took great pride in keeping it clean and waxed. Back then, the paint would last much longer if you gave it a good wax job which took a lot of “elbow grease.”

Gasoline cost 25 cents a gallon, and we used one filling station on Temple Avenue. It was what they called a full-service station where the owner came out, pumped your gas, washed your windshields and checked under the hood for the oil and water and checked your tires for the pressure. Daddy always put in $5 worth of gasoline when he went to the filling station. When Mother went, she put in $2. If I got the car and it was on empty, I put in $1 worth.

In 1955, Daddy ordered a brand new Chevrolet Impala — what a beauty. It was aquamarine and white. We had never had a two-toned car before, and I thought it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. Although it did not have air conditioning, I didn’t mind riding around with the windows rolled down because I thought it was so sporty.

However, when Daddy brought the car home, Mother was furious. In the first place, she didn’t think Daddy should have spent money on a car, and in the second place, this brand new beauty had automatic transmission. She refused to learn to drive it. She finally forgave him and learned to drive it.

We kept that car a long, long time.

As I watched the advertisements for the fine, new cars over and over and over, I thought how amazed my Mother and Daddy would be if they could ride in one today. I, myself, have a hard time understanding how “things” work in these remarkable machines.

For instance, there is OnStar which can open your car if you call and tell them you have locked your keys inside. They don’t even have to come out to do it. And, you can talk on the telephone while driving down the road — all of these inventions truly astound me.

In thinking about the cars of long ago, I also remember they were not made for speed. They were made to carry you from one place to another safely. These old cars were made of steel, built like tanks. There were no seat belts, and you could stretch your legs straight out while sitting in the back seat. People respected other people when they drove, and you rarely heard of a fatality in an automobile. Pickup trucks were utility vehicles, used only on the farms and never for pleasure. Now, some of the pickup trucks are more luxurious than the cars.

Oh, well, it is fun to remember and to think back on a car that cost $674.06, but I am thankful that cars do have air conditioners and seat belts, among other later additions. I only wish people who drive these now-made-for speed vehicles would be mindful of just how much power they have when they are driving and would be respectful of the lives of others, both in their own cars and in the cars of others.

Our lives today are much more complicated and filled with technology every way we turn, some for which I am very grateful and others which have made our lives more stressful. I often grieve that because of some of the technology today, not only in cars, but in other areas of our lives, we have lost the fine old art of “playing outside ‘til dark” and sitting on the porch after supper.

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