By Catherine C. Brooks
In 1941 about 29,500,000 passenger cars were registered in the United States. But by 1945 the total was down to 25,350,000 and many of these were so decrepit they qualified as little more than junk. Although the allowed speed limit had been only 35 miles per hour during the war, it failed to prevent rusting, sagging running boards, dents from run-ins and other damages. The automobile factories had kept busy, making tanks and vehicles and for the marines, navy and army.
The Japanese bombed Pear Harbor on December 7, 1941 and President Franklin. D. Roosevelt declared war on that country on December 8th. Later in the week on December 11, 1941, the Germans and Italians declared war on the United States. American troops sailed for Europe on the Atlantic Ocean until early 1945 and left for Pacific Islands until August of the same year. Germany surrendered unconditionally on May 7, 1945, and Japan surrendered aboard an American Ship on August 14, 1945.
All servicemen, some who had never owned an automobile, needed or wanted one as they returned back to civilian life. Progress to convert factories that had been making military trucks, tanks and other needed equipment took time. By one estimate upwards to 15,000,000 cars were needed, but Ford, one of the larger manufactures previously, only turned out 10 cars a day at first.
Kirby and I had courted in his dad’s Model A Ford coupe before he left home for boot camp the month of his 18th birthday. It still seemed in fine shape while we enjoyed his 30-day leave before his leaving for the west coast and duty in the Pacific. However, when he returned in March 1946 for his 30-day furlough, the Model A sat on the woodland, adjoining their home, somewhat dilapidated. After the engine failed, Kirby’s younger brother, who enjoyed mechanical toys, began to see what made it go originally.
After Kirby’s discharge in May, he couldn’t find an automobile that he was able to purchase. Therefore he went to his job on a bicycle that his brother used or walked, having to travel only a few miles. He would borrow his uncle’s or granddaddy’s car to come see me several evenings a week. On Sundays he rode home from church with my family and spent the day, returning with us for evening service.
We enjoyed our long Sunday afternoons with walks when the weather permitted. It gave us time to enjoy being together again because we had both changed in the two years we had been apart. We’d also talk about our future life and plan for our wedding. We knew that we would live with my parents until we could build a home; but I wondered how Kirby would get to and from work, being much farther than from his home, until we could buy a car. He didn’t feel discouraged because he’d be willing to buy the first car that ran when it became available. Until that time, he’d walk, thumb rides, and Daddy would take and pick him up on bad days in the winter when he couldn’t oyster. We knew we weren’t the only ones without transportation.
Approximately seven months after we married, Kirby drove home from work in the prettiest car that I had ever seen--or so I thought. A man had traded in his black Model 98 Oldsmobile that had very low mileage on the odometer. It had been the family car they used mostly for trips, but they could drive little distance during the war with gas rationed. Kirby used his savings, which we thought would be enough for an older model car, and borrowed $2,000, the amount due over what we had, from his granddaddy. I don’t think a 20-year-old couple could have been happier over an automobile than we were. It surely wasn’t a piece of junk.
Kirby and I liked our car better than most new automobiles that were made wider and longer but lower.
Anyone with height had to bend low to get in their seats. Hoods rose so high it made view of the highway hard for some drivers, large windshields slanted, letting in too much glare and fenders swept outward.
Joseph C. Goulden wrote in The Best Years, regarding one make: “Nash bragged of a completely aerodynamic car…nearly 18 feet long, 61/2 feet wide…only shoulder high.” In several makes, the entire engine had to be removed for the mechanic to get to the crankcase for repairs.
We lived through that era with some fussing and fuming and moved on to
wider highways and bigger vehicles—vans, suburbans and more. We have heaters
for cold weather and air conditioning for hot weather. There are not only
head lights for after dark but head lights for daylight. If we don’t care
for the radio programs, we may play a cassette tape or CD as we cruise
on today’s highways. On our dash board, we watch the warning lights to
see if there is a malfunction and what it is—a far cry from the ‘Ole Tin
Lizzie’ of the 1920’s.
© 2001 Catherine C. Brooks All Rights reserved
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