COAAL (Cars Of My Aunt’s Lifetime): Saddle Shoes, Swimsuits, and Studebakers

Aunt Barbara on the right, with her first car, circa 1955.


In the fall of 2018, my wife’s Aunt Barbara came to live with us. Nice lady, over 90, never married, no kids. It was unbelievable, in every sense of the word. When we moved her into a memory care home in 2022, her old photo albums stayed with us. My wife scanned the best images and I grabbed everything with a cool car in the background. This turned into a “Where’s Waldo” moment that I wanted to share with my fellow CC-ers. So, slap on your saddle shoes, squeeze into that scratchy woolen bathing suit, and enjoy this car spotter’s guide to mid-century Americana.


PAF parade car on North Forest St., with Barbara center, circa 1949.


After graduating from St. Mary’s Academy in 1945, Barbara got her first job at Pacific American Fisheries in Bellingham, Wash. At the time, PAF was the largest salmon cannery in the world, and Barbara made a lot of friends there. All the girls from invoicing got to ride in the parade car, a dealer-plated Dodge convertible, which may have also been pulling the float.


Aunt Barbara at center, near Howard’s Stop & Shop on E. Magnolia St., circa 1949.


The PAF girls stepping out in downtown Bellingham, which was a pretty happening place after WWII. In the photo above, that toothy Buick seems to smile right along with Barbara and her friends.


Barbara and Pat re-enacting a scene from Bonnie & Clyde, circa 1950.


In the late-forties and early-fifties, Barbara lived at home with her mother, brothers and sister near Western Washington College of Education (now Western Washington University). I found a shot featuring younger brother Pat, driving something dirty from the thirties.


Barbara and Dermot from left, with a rare Studebaker visible in back, circa 1952.


Barbara’s youngest brother, Dermot, was my father-in-law. He was a classmate of my mom’s and joined the Marine Corps during the Korean War.


Barbara’s friend was all smiles on Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, circa 1948.


Barbara was “always a bridesmaid, never the bride.” Her photo albums were full of other people’s weddings. The newlywed owner of the sleek postwar Studebaker above must have been a friend from Yakima, Wash., which is east of Bellingham over the Cascade Mountains.


Barbara vamping it up at KIMA radio, 1460 on your AM dial.


In the mid-fifties, Barbara worked at Bellingham Shipyards and got to know the boss, Arch Talbot. He also owned a radio station in Yakima, where he gave Barbara a job in advertising. Barbara bought the Chevy four-door (at top) while she was working for KIMA.


Bring on the bathing suits, Santa Barbara, circa 1955


At some point, Barbara was at a wedding in Santa Barbara, Calif. She ended up liking it so much, she moved there. The Oldsmobile above looks like a convertible, with the sun-visor peaking over the windshield frame.


Barbara and friend next to an Oldsmobile convertible, Santa Barbara, circa 1955.


Barbara worked as a secretary at the historic Santa Barbara Courthouse, where my wife and I eventually got married some 60 years later.


Looks like a ’48 from this angle, driven by one dapper dude.


In a strange turn of events, on a tip from a friend, Barbara moved from Santa Barbara to Chicago. She worked as a legal secretary and took night classes at Northwestern. She became president of Epsilon Eta Phi, the sorority for business administration and commerce. Barbara lived in Chicago for about twenty years, and never owned a car there. She either walked or rode the L.


Ready for a night on the town, Santa Barbara, circa 1957.


The color photo above could well be from Barbara’s going away party. She would return to Santa Barbara in the 1990s and spend almost 30 years there. Barbara is now 96 years old and living in a care facility about an hour’s drive from our house. We see her about twice a month, and she will get a kick out of knowing her story is on CC.

Well, maybe not the swimsuit part.