September 28, 1998
Cars we have owned in years past give us landmark memories. We can date periods of our life by the particular auto that was parked in the garage at that time. I have a really misty recollection of driving to the top of Pike's Peak with my parents and sisters when I was not yet of school age. The specific day was my birthday one summer and the car was a four-door sedan that chugged mightily on the inclines, but got us up there and back down again without a single flat tire. That was a considerable achievement in the late 1920s. Harry and Edith Donaldson and their son, Bobby, were with us on that trip.
Our car at that time was a black Buick. It had a squarish, boxy body style, high running boards, a visor over the windshield, pull-down shades for rear seat windows and a thermometer atop the radiator cap on the hood to warn the driver when water was needed to cool the engine. It also had small ceramic fixtures on either side of the back seat to hold fresh flowers. That was a charming optional feature, but of course such niceties as factory-installed heaters, air-conditioners and radios were unknown. That was just fine because we didn't know what we were missing. Lap robes were always carried in the winter, windows were cranked down in the summer, and our family sang songs when we traveled. So much for comfort and entertainment.
My cousin Dorothy from Kansas City used to tell me about trips to Perry that she made in the early 1920s with her parents, my Uncle Irving and Aunt Mollie, and Dorothy's younger brother, my cousin Fred. There were no paved highways in those days long ago and the travel time from Kansas City to Perry was a good two-day drive. An enterprising man, Mr. Hockaday, had some road maps made up which could be purchased by travelers in the Midwest. His charts were indispensable for those early motorists. Most roads were rutted and, for the most part, two-lane thoroughfares barely wide enough for cars to pass coming from opposite directions. They were made for horse-drawn traffic.
Mr. Hockaday had placed markers bearing a large letter "H" on fence posts to help guide motorists along the routes shown on his map. There were no curves, just square corners at section lines or wherever the roads bent. Driving at night was perilous because headlights were bright only when the engine was accelerated. If the driver slowed down for any reason, the lights nearly faded out. Fortunately, traffic in those days was not heavy. Uncle Irving solved the headlight problem by letting my cousin Fred sit on a front fender with a flashlight to provide extra visibility as they sped along, sometimes at more than 20 miles per hour. It was a thrill for young Fred but Aunt Mollie was not ecstatic about those times. Windshield wipers were hand operated by the driver or a passenger beside him. For a trip of that distance (about 300 miles), two or three flat tires were normal. Uncle Irving was a patient man but I think the ordeal of changing tires on a dark, sometimes muddy, road must have tested his endurance. Wichita was the usual overnight stopping place.
Cousin Dorothy remembered those trips as fun times because my dad, proprietor of the City Drug Store, always rewarded Uncle Irving's two children with candy and ice cream from his white marble soda fountain. The Kansas City family all enjoyed the leisurely pace of the small town life they found here, far from the noise, crowds and the hustle and bustle of the Missouri metropolis, even though everything was pretty much up to date there.
More reflections on automobiles when we return.