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Pre-WWII cars tough enough to roll

During World War II, auto manufacturers built tanks, airplanes, landing craft and other material for the war effort, so there were lots of cars made in the 1930s that were driven for years. Even after the war, it took a while for manufacturers to design and build new cars, so the older cars were driven longer. Employees at Sandwich-area dealerships have told me that dealership owners would keep lists of people who wanted to buy new cars. The dealers even went to great lengths to hide the first few vehicles that were delivered.

The older cars and many made soon after the war had special characteristics. We’d use the “choke” to get them started in the winter, there were really wide steering wheels so we’d have leverage to turn corners and windshield wipers somehow ran on vacuum (if I remember right) so they’d slow down and speed up at random. I remember pulling into Klotz’s gas station when my wipers weren’t working during a storm. Russ replaced a hose under the hood so the wipers would work and I could see through the windshield.

Most of the pre-1940 cars didn’t have radios, very few of them had air conditioners, we had to forcefully roll our windows up and down and we’d go from first to second to third and reverse using a shift on the floor or steering column, trying to time it accurately when pushing the clutch so the car wouldn’t jump and leap. Didn’t want to be embarrassed.

Pre-WWII cars, especially the four-door vehicles, had big interiors. The back seats had plenty of leg room. If a lot of teens were going to a dance or basketball game, they’d sit on each other’s laps. It wasn’t unusual to see people, usually guys, standing on cars’ running boards if they just needed a ride for a short distance. They’d hold on by putting their arms around the door frame, through the front and back windows, and the driver would stop for just a minute to let them jump off. 

We’d frequently see hitchhikers along the highways and country roads. My dad always picked them up to give them rides. He’d get acquainted and take them as far as he was going, probably go out of his way to to help them out. It’s hard for me to believe, but my husband told me he and a friend hitchhiked to Aurora and back just to go to a movie when they were under 12. They each had just enough money for admission to the movie and popcorn.

Cars and trucks all seemed to be made with really thick metal. I don’t remember any of them having rust on the exteriors. Of course, if I remember right, road crews didn’t use salt to melt ice or snow on the streets or highways. I do remember Sandwich city crews throwing cinders out at intersections to help control sliding on ice. The cinders were probably from coal furnaces that heated city buildings that had to be hauled out anyway.

One of Ron’s classmates told me of an experience he had that involved one of the late-1930s vehicles. He was hanging out at the local pool hall in the early 1950s when Ivan walked in and said he’d roll his car if someone would buy him an ice cream cone. He had a dark gray or black four-door car that might have been a 1938 Ford or Chevy. The trunk had a big hump on the back.

Someone bought Ivan an ice cream cone, he ate it and walked out with Ron’s classmate, who wanted to ride in the back seat.

The contributor of the ice cream cone took a carload of guys to watch the fun. They threw a chain on Ivan’s back seat floor so they could pull him out of a farm field or ditch then get him back on the road if he needed help after his adventure. Ron’s classmate said he got in the back seat and held onto the straps that were fastened to the door frames on each side of the car.  He didn’t want to be thrown around, thought he’d be safer.

Ivan swerved back and forth across the gravel country road, gunning the engine as he whipped his steering wheel left and right, and finally accomplished his goal, rolling his car several times down the road.

It took seconds for Ron’s friend to realize that the chain on the floor was really a weapon. It kept hitting and whipping him each time the car rolled over.

I think the car was on its side when it stopped, but there was enough muscle in the gang who enjoyed the show to put it back on its wheels. 

Ivan proceeded to drive his car back to town with Ron’s classmate in the back seat.  

It’s been nearly 70 years since the event, and I still can’t eat an ice cream cone without thinking of Ivan and his teenage production.

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