Cars Of A Lifetime: A Rambler in Relief

hood ornament Christopher Ziemnowicz,

One of the cars we had for only a short time as I grew up was one that I remember fondly, not just because it was a car I liked to be seen in, but because it had, in a tiny but not insignificant way, a positive role in world history.

tedholmanrambler use

In the late 1950s, Dad decided to replace Mom’s aging Plymouth Cranbrook sedan with a car more capable of hauling us four boys around. Being an economy-minded fellow, he chose a 1955 Hudson Rambler. It was a quite a looker, with a well fed roundness and lots of color excitement. Thanks to the foresight of AMC President, George Mason, Ramblers had a reputation for deluxe appointments in their market segment, and this one didn’t disappoint.

Big, stuffed, chair-high seats in tutone vinyl that matched the exterior, an attractive dip in the roof blessed with a chrome rack, wide whites and full wheel covers, heavy-lidded tail lights that could lull drivers of following cars, the hip looking “woman on a wing” ornament by pinup artist George Petty, a mock hood scoop and the oh so continental Farina crest on its C-pillar.

Rambler 1955 TK cropped-e1336158212903

I remember the car in Palomino tan, but my 89 year old Dad corrects me: “It was coral and white. One of the prettiest cars we ever had.”  Like the one in this picture shot by Ted Holman, gazing at it might make you want to stop an ice cream truck for a Creamsicle. Tom Klockau posted an identical one here a while back (above) seen on the road in Texa.


When I recall the Rambler, it’s at the eye level of a child. As I write this, I see myself in front of it, chin just clearing the fenders, lost in the jeweled Hudson grille badge with its two tiny rook-like castles and twin sailing ships.  Dad loved it when people would tell him what a nice little Nash he had there, because he could point smugly to the cloisonne, and answer, “Actually, it’s a Hudson”.

I can admire the upsweep in the aluminum frame around the rear quarter vent windows, marvel at the strange little ball joint at the bottom of the shift lever, play with the coaster sized radio dials, or open the liftgate to loll in the “way back” on a warm buzzy Saturday afternoon, spying DC-6s and Constellations high in the blue. (Photoshopped from an original by Christopher Ziemnowicz, as is the featured image.)

chilean earthquake use

Two weeks after my 10th birthday, I spent a Sunday wasting the afternoon like any other middle class American kid, unaware that half a world to the South, a horrible natural disaster was taking thousands of lives. It’s a day seared into the memory of any Chilean who lived through it, and many born later whose family lost a loved one in the flood and conflagration. The Great Valdivia Earthquake that struck off the coast at 15:11 on May 22, 1960 measured 8.6 on the Richter Scale, which translates to 9.5 on the current Moment Magnitude Scale, the highest earthquake reading ever recorded.

parking meters chile use
Besides the quake’s immediate destruction, the resulting tsunami hit the Chilean coast at a height of over 25 meters, and went half way around the world. The streets of Crescent City, California were flooded nine hours later, and six hours after that, Hilo Hawaii lost 61 residents as the force of the wave bowed parking meter poles like Uri Geller bent spoons. Honshu, Japan lost 199 residents.

chile plane use

As they had done before, and have done since, Americans, along with people around the world opened their hearts to help fellow earthlings in trouble. All over the country, relief efforts were mounted, planes flew packed with clothing and sundries, and donations eventually exceeded half a million dollars in 1960 money.

Chilean Lancaster use

At the Framingham, Massachusetts Seventh Day Adventist Church, my 34-year-old Mom, Ella Adelle (Siplics) Koch accepted the position of Director of Welfare Activities, to assist Pastor Warren Skilton in collecting clothing to be sent to Chile. The church, which already had missions in South America, joined forces with the local Red Cross affiliate to set up a collection site, and the story made the Framingham News. When this photo was taken, Pastor Skilton estimated that 3 to 5 tons of clothing had been collected.

Though oft quoted, the Pastor is not in any of the photos we have of the effort. I imagine he wanted to give Mom credit, nor do I doubt he minded selling the charity on the strength of her pretty smile. Ella is the woman looking at us in the dark dress. My Mother wasn‘t someone to push herself to the forefront, but she liked to smile for the camera and would always make eye contact. I’m sorry to say I never spoke to her in detail about her role in the relief effort, but I’m sure she was proud to serve… and probably didn‘t mind being surrounded by all those young men in uniform, either!

(PS: Thought I would leave the little police blot about our beagle in the scan for local color, as it was on the same album page. That’s Mom‘s typically modest script of his name, “Brownie”.)

shoppers world use

The local mall, Shoppers’ World donated an empty store for a collection site. It was a plum location. Opened in 1951 next to The Meadows, an upscale restaurant/nightclub built by bandleader Vaughn Monroe where he broadcast his weekly national  musical radio program, Shoppers‘ World was one of the nation’s first suburban shopping malls, with 44 stores. Open at one end, it was anchored by the big dome of Jordan Marsh Department store at the other. The plan was of two-tiered parallel rows of stores fronted by covered walkways and separated by a gardened walking plaza where all kinds of banal but harmless promotions took place, like traveling petting zoos and fishing competitions in the reflecting pool. There were a few open stores on the lower level, so the shopping center made one available for the effort.

chilean ribbon cutting use
As the relief gained momentum, the Framingham News decided to run a front page story on June 8. In a photo of the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Shoppers’ World storefront, Mom is flanked by the executive secretary of the local Red Cross chapter and the mall’s manager, who wields the scissors. Mom is quoted as estimating the final shipment of clothing at “between 8 and 10 tons”. She must have been so proud! Mom believed in the traditional woman’s role, but here was a chance to shine in a meaningful way beyond the everyday, making a difference on a bigger stage.

mom's rambler wagon shoppers world

And this is where the Rambler gets its fifteen minutes. It was the main mule bringing donations to the collection center. The manager of Shoppers’ World would let Mom drive the Hudson through the middle of the mall to make clothing deliveries to the storefront. Strolling shoppers would have to move aside for the “Coral Relief”. Imagine how cool that seemed so us kids! And the Framingham News photographer apparently thought the car was photogenic enough to snap this picture on the walkway in front of the store, a place normally inaccessible to vehicles except for landscaping trucks and the odd electrician. It’s a favorite family auto artifact of mine. Apparently, they didn’t think to use the Rambler’s roof rack, but they were probably erring on the safe side.

rambler wagon 58
What became of the Rambler? Worried about rust holes peeking through the rear footwells, Dad took the unibody AMC to his buddy Tony at DeCollibus Auto Body and put it up on the rack for a look-see. The Hudson was traded in posthaste…on another Rambler, this one a snappy red and black ‘58 Cross Country wagon like the one above (but with full wheel covers). When I asked him today why he replaced a rusted out car with the same brand, he answered, “For the mileage. Ramblers were good on gas”.

54 rambler in water use

He continued his assessment thus, describing the car as “not very fast”, and possessing one other characteristic besides being rust prone that was hard to live with.

“The brakes were terrible!”

So that’s the story. Does anyone else have memory of a family vehicle that had a bit of “hero” in its DNA?