Vintage Snapshots: The Kneer Family Cars

My mom and uncle posing in front of the family 1956 Ford Ranch Wagon


Instead of the usual assortment of anonymous random people, today’s snapshots come from my maternal grandparents’ collection of 35mm slides. So these are all relatives on my mom’s side (Kneer being my mom’s maiden name).

First a little background: My mom’s family hails from Evansville, Indiana, in the very southern toe of Indiana, right across the Ohio River from Owensboro, Kentucky. Evansville, like much of southern Indiana, was settled by German immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Due to its proximity to the Ohio River and wealth of immigrant labor, by mid-century Evansville had become a major manufacturing hub, and played a key role in building ships, tanks, and aircraft during World War II.

Both my maternal grandparents (Bernard and Dorothy Kneer) were born and raised in Evansville and served in WWII. Here they are on their wedding day, December 16, 1944 (in uniform, of course).

1952 Ford Customline Fordor Sedan


To start things off, here is a picture from around 1954 or 1955 of Dorothy driving a 1952 Ford Customline Fordor Sedan with her son (and my namesake) Tommy Kneer. I don’t know much more about this car other than the fact that it is unusual, as we shall see, for not being a stripped base model. Perhaps it was purchased used.

Like many in the Greatest Generation, Bernard Kneer was a child of the Depression, and developed a frugality that he carried with him throughout his life (he would frequently tell us how he and his siblings would scour the railroad tracks as kids for pieces of coal to heat their house with).

My Uncle Tom in front of 1956 Ford Ranch Wagon


This frugality naturally applied to his car purchasing habits. Behold the 1956 Ford Ranch Wagon pictured above and in the lead photo. The photo above also shows my uncle Tommy, while my mother and her brother Danny appear in the lede photo. At $2,183 ($25,122 in 2024), the Ranch Wagon was the cheapest Ford station wagon you could get in 1956 (and pretty much the cheapest wagon from any manufacturer in 1956).  Standard features include one sun visor, one armrest (both driver’s side only) and, well that’s about it.

1956 Ford Ranch Wagon

1956 Ford Ranch Wagon. Very few were likely sold with whitewall tires.


While every Ford engine, up to and including the 225 hp 4-bbl. 312 Thunderbird V8 was available in the Ranch Wagon, I would be willing to wager that Bernard’s wagon, like most 1956 Ranch Wagons, was sporting the 137hp 223 six. Grandpa’s wagon does have the bright rear window trim and partial side spear, indicating that it is a mid-1956 model.

1955 Buick Special


Roughly around this time, Grandma Kneer was driving this 1955 Buick Special two-door sedan. I’m not sure if it was purchased new or used, but many of my grandparents’ vehicles were purchased new. Bernard may have been frugal, but he wasn’t foolish enough to buy someone else’s problems. Full wheel covers were a $20 option on the 1955 Buick Special, believe it or not, as were whitewall tires, so unlike the Ranch Wagon, at least a few options are present and accounted for.

1955 Buick Special 2-Door Sedan

1955 Buick Special 2-Door Sedan


The Special two-door sedan was your cheapest ticket into the Buick fold in 1955, starting at just $2,233 (about $26,000 in 2024). But hey, it’s still a Buick, amirite? Believe it or not, the Special actually undercut the cheapest 1955 Oldsmobile (the 88 two-door sedan) by about $60, but don’t mention that part to your friends. Even in 1955, the Sloanian Ladder was already starting to collapse.

Grandma loved red cars, and she loved this Buick. She said it made her feel rich! You can see her behind the wheel above, with her mother in the passenger seat. Grandma was a slight woman, and the Buick seems absolutely massive around her.

1959 Pontiac Catalina Safari Wagon


Bernard and Dorothy had three children, which was probably doable in the two-row Ranch Wagon when the kids were little, but I’m sure it got tight once they hit their teenage years. To make more room for his growing family, in 1959 Bernard purchased a Pontiac Catalina Safari Wagon. A two-row version, it would have started out at $3,101 (about $33,000 in 2024).

As per his now well-established pattern, Grandpa likely passed most of the available options. Looking at the nice clear windshield above, I’m sure he made an exception for the optional $102 heater and defroster.

Finally, here is a picture of Bernard with a 1960 Chevrolet Biscayne 4-Door Sedan. Grandpa worked as a traveling salesman, so I feel fairly certain that this would have a company car issued to him by his employer, and not a car that he personally purchased.


More Vintage Photos Here