Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Old Cars

I told you about my first car.  It was a "Crosley".  They also make home appliances and stuff like that.  The car they made was quite like a shipping box with a sewing machine engine.  We had many adventures in this tinny machine, but I have reported these in old blogs.

I learned to drive on my dad's '39 Mercury.  It was a black 4 door sedan.  In those days we had windows you rolled down with a hand crank.  In fact that was how you could turn on the air conditioning.  It was crude, but effective.  There were obvious disadvantages noticed when driving past a stock yard or through a dust storm.  But we were young and rugged in those days.

May Company was closed on Sundays back then, and that made for a great student driver venue in the parking lot.  One day I froze with my foot on the accelerator instead of the brake.  My dad grabbed the wheel and thus we avoided wiping out a stop sign (yes they had several of these strategically placed around the parking lot).  Following that traumatic crisis, dad thought we had spent enough time for the day.  In spite of all this grief, dad was a skillful and patient teacher, and I eventually passed my exam and received a "Junior Driver's License" when I was just 14.

Actually, I'm screwing up the story, dad's preparation was for my real driver's license.  The Junior model was for my doodle bug motor scooter two years before this.  Well that's another story.

The 39 Merc had four on the floor, you know, a long handled gear shift poking up from the floor board with a shiny black round handle on top.  I had to learn the "H" pattern for selecting the gears, and there was the clutch with which to reckon.  Fewer and fewer cars come with a clutch these days, and that is an experience too many modern drivers have missed.

The clutch disengaged spinning gears beneath the floor board and thus enabled me to shove the stick into position for first gear.  This being the gear with the highest disparity of spinning ratio between the gear coming from the engine and gear sending torque to the wheels.  When the clutch was pressed, and gears at rest, engaging the gears was a smooth operation.  If one forgot to depress the clutch and yet attempted to engage the gears, a hideous grinding racket would emerge from the gear box.  "Hey, why don't you grind me a pound!" was a frequent sarcastic quip that has now disappeared from our vocabulary.

The front seat was like a wide, padded bench.  Sorta like the back seat in most cars today.  Of course we hadn't thought of seat belts yet, and that made for some cool dating.  We were never distracted by some cell phone or other electronic device.  But there was a considerable distraction from driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other arm around my girl friend who was cuddling up next to me.  Only race cars, or very expensive sports cars, had bucket seats.  And dating teenagers really didn't want that kind of seating arrangement.  Couples learned team driving with the girl shifting the gears while the guy drove with one hand (often on a knicker nob mounted on the steering wheel to enable strong turns by easily spinning the wheel).

And there actually were some things you could do for maintenance that are out of the question today.  That's because modern cars are half computer and half car.  So in the old days most of us learned to be amateur auto mechanics simply by necessity.  I remember replacing second gear in my old Rambler American.  I was clearly in over my head, and when I had to replace second gear again the next month, we decided to save money and buy a new car.

But changing the oil and cleaning the carburetor and replacing the points were all things one could do to tune up his own car.  They don't even have points any more.

One summer we packed up the whole tribe and headed out to visit the grandparents.  Barbara's parents lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, and mine were in Los Angeles.  When we got to the border of Nebraska, a frightening, rhythmic knock developed in the engine.  But that station wagon was an eight cylinder auto, and it still maintained highway speed without over heating.  So we kept going another 40 or so miles to the Piper house.  One of dad Piper's parishioners had recently retired from the maintenance yard for a major utility company.  I paid him a mere $20 to look over my shoulder while I opened the engine.  It was a simple case of a broken valve lifter.  He even knew where to buy the part at dirt cheap prices.  When we closed the engine again and it purred, I said, "Doesn't it make you feel good to know you fixed it?"  I was feeling quite elated, I know.  But after 25 years on the job he was ready to retire so he said, "No."

I began thinking how the internal combustion engine is similar to the human body.  We can have a lot of things wrong with us and still be able to operate.  And even though the soul is cut off from God and spiritually dead, a man can appreciate life and be thankful.  He just doesn't know who to thank.  But when he realizes that his life is messy and he will be judged by the Creator for every irresponsibility, he needs to cry out to someone to help him get repaired by the original Manufacturer.  That's when I need to be there to point him to Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life.

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