The article in Cars & Parts magazine hooked me. They were advertising a cruise to happen next year in 1997 along Old US 66, that long storied and fabled highway running from Chicago to Los Angeles.
The only real stipulation for participation was using a car older than, I think, 1965. Despite having two of them, the 1962 and 1963 Ford Galaxies, neither were ready for any type of run. They had been sitting in my parent’s pole barn entirely too long. Plus, there was more fun finding something different – and already running.
My 1955 Chevrolet fell into my lap, in a sense. Since I was finding my new found freedom from my extended
incarceration time in college to be both liberating and invigorating, I was making up for lost time in automotive experiences.
The exact chain of events are now quite fuzzy. All I can really remember is my mother mentioned an old Chevrolet belonging to a good friend of her younger brother, my Uncle Tom. The car was located in Scott City, Missouri, just south of Cape Girardeau. At that time, I was living over three hours away in Jefferson City. That’s no step for a stepper, is it?
One Friday night when visiting my parents, my father and I met Tom and his friend Frank at Frank’s house. The Chevrolet had originally belonged to Frank’s grandmother, Frank was moving to Texas, and he really needed to sell the Chevrolet.
Like both of the Galaxies, this Chevrolet had been sitting for a while – but not nearly as long. Plus it was something different, which was greatly appealing.
Despite this little dormancy thing, that Chevrolet was in fantastic, but not perfect, shape. There was no rust anywhere, the interior was still quite serviceable, and it was equipped such that abuse was much less likely.
How was it equipped? In addition to being a four-door sedan in a mid-trim level, it had a 235 cubic inch straight-six hooked to a three-speed manual transmission.
In talking with Frank, he and Tom were having a fun time reminiscing about their adventures in that ’55 Chevrolet. It seems they had played hooky from work a few times and drove all over the countryside in it, seeing things, bullshitting with each other, and finding unique restaurants.
My big takeaway from this was that Chevrolet was accustomed to roadtrips and it would be just the ticket for me. I talked Frank down $100 from his $1,000 ask.
I can vaguely remember pulling it back to my parent’s house with their 300 straight-six equipped 1984 Ford F-150. That was a leisurely trip.
Getting it back to my parent’s house, I was pretty pumped about the old Chevrolet. But I was now out of weekend by this point.
Future trips back saw me fiddling with that Chevrolet, getting it ready for its grand journey.
It took little to get the old girl started. Once running, I drove my Chevrolet around their house a few times, thankful there had not been any recent rains to prompt my getting stuck in the mud. My father drove it once around the house, observing it was running a little weak.
So he and I changed the plugs and the points.
Changing the plugs was a non-issue. They were all conspicuous and easily accessible. The points were a different story.
Intuition was telling me to replace the points without removing the distributor, but the reach was just enough to be awkward. When my father, who is several inches shorter than I with the associated shorter arms, was having trouble, he simply grabbed the distributor and pulled it out. That really made changing the points easy. He had changed points before, so I figured he was aware of what he was doing.
This is the moment I learned there is no correlation between the precision needed with popping an aspirin into one’s mouth and the installation of a distributor. When the points were changed, he then (finally, but too late) had that “uh-oh” moment.
The distributor went back in, but we never got my Chevrolet started again. In hindsight, correcting this situation would not have been overly difficult. However, I was simply ignorant about such things. Further, time to learn by trial-and-error was a luxury I did not have.
It was around this time Marie and I had become much more serious and I knew a wedding was in our future. So my time to work on my Chevrolet was evaporating.
Soon after I placed it for sale.
After dealing with some intriguing characters, I found a buyer in Sweden. He wired me my money the very last day I worked in Jefferson City before moving to Cape Girardeau. It worked beautifully as my money arrived at 10:30 am and I closed out the account at noon.
Several weeks later the transport company arrived at my parent’s house and my ’55 Chevrolet was then loaded up to head for a transport ship in Huntington Beach, California. It seems taking the long way to Europe was a whole lot cheaper.
In a reflection of 1998, I got $1500 for my Chevrolet. While not a bad return on my investment, I was unhappy about not really getting to become familiar with my car. This is the least I have driven any car I’ve ever owned.
As with so many things in life there was a learning lesson involved. My ownership of this wonderful Chevrolet made me face adult life and realize how one has to prioritize and be realistic and how one cannot keep living in a world of optimism. So, like the fictitious character of Portia, I had faced life.
I used the money from the sale of my Chevrolet to finance Marie’s and my honeymoon to Yellowstone National Park. And the Route 66 cruise never happened.
(Author’s Note: Portia Faces Life was a syndicated dramatic serial on radio from 1940 to 1953; it later moved to CBS television where it ran from April 5, 1954, to July 1, 1955.)