Yesterday's Magazette

10 – My First Car

My First Car:

California Or Bust in A ’56 Ford

By Don Haines

Carroll County, Maryland, 1956: Three young guys with the urge to go somewhere anywhere, and a ’56 Ford ready to take them.

The ’56 Ford was my first car, and while it may not have been my first love it was certainly one of the first. The night I drove it home from the dealership I knew I had something special. I knew this car would never let me down. It never did.

Charlie and Dave were my friends, the kind of friends who’d give you the shirt off their back, the kind of friends you’d go anywhere with, even though you had little money to take you there, and no job prospects once you got there. We had trust in each other, and we had the Ford. We needed nothing else. In 1956 there was only one place for three guys from Maryland to go California!

We’d heard about the paradise called California, the golden land, where you could follow your dreams as far as they would take you, where the sun always shone, and it never snowed. We started for California on a cold November night. We had youth, we had nerve, and we had the Ford.

The Ford was an eight cylinder. Nobody with any class had a six in the 1950’s. It got about fifteen miles per gallon, but that was not a concern back when gasoline was plentiful and cheap. Life was good in the fifties, and uncomplicated. It will never be that good or as uncomplicated again.

We drove almost constantly the first couple of days (the entire trip took three) and why not? We had the desire, we had the energy, and we had a car that wouldn’t quit.

Route 40 was our route through West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and on into Missouri. On the other side of St. Louis we picked up the famous Route 66. It was about this time we began to see scenes that here to fore we’d seen only in books. It’s only now, looking back over four decades, that I can realize how lucky we were, to be young, to be free, and to be driving across the USA in a ’56 Ford.

A while back I watched a special about old route 66, and saw some of the same scenes, Charley, Dave, and I saw in 1956. I’m not ashamed to say a tear came to my eye when I thought of the time when three guys in a ’56 Ford were living their dream.

On a trip of this length, your car becomes almost a member of your group, and takes on a personality of its own, and while we sometimes felt overwhelmed by the vast expanses of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, that car never wavered.

A mile through the Painted Desert, was like a mile back in Maryland, something to be conquered. With a Rebel flag (Charlie was from North Carolina) flying from its antennae, the miles quickly disappeared behind us.

While California itself was not exactly a disappointment, it was something of an anti-climax. We had to find housing and go to work. In other words, get back to the real world. Paradise loses its luster if you have to work while you’re there.

We didn’t last long in California. Things like getting drafted kept getting in our way, and we found our way back to Maryland.

Later, Dave did return to California, and raised a family there. Some years after that a major earthquake drove him back east and Pennsylvania, where he still lives.

Charlie and I are back in Carroll County and live only fifteen miles apart, though we seldom see each other. We both married, and raised families. He’s a widower now.

The only thing I have left from our California trip is a dilapidated photo album, and our meticulously kept diary. I get it out and read it from time to time, and the memories come flooding back.

I lost the Ford. The payments were to hard to keep up on a Private’s pay. My sister accompanied me when I returned it to the dealership. It was like experiencing a death in the family. I left it sitting alone on the used car lot. I never looked back.

Vol. 39 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette – 2012


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