A trip down memory lane of fun vehicles and so many driving memories…
By Aaron Storms
As far back as I can remember, I was always fascinated with anything on wheels. Starting out with hand-me-down metal pedal cars, as a pint-sized driver I literally drove the wheels off them until the hard rubber tires started to peel off, then drove on the rims until those gave way too. Soon after came a long string of bicycles, from the not-so-cool bikes with training wheels, to my first new full-sized Schwinn bike with headlights. My dad helped me save coins until we had enough to buy it, and on my first day rode it on the sidewalk from the street and promptly into the side of the house – I couldn’t reach the brakes, and of course it was captured on 8mm video that the family had laughs about for years! For actual car driving, my dad would let me sit on his knee while I drove around the old country church when I was somewhere between 1st and 3rd grade – that was fun to steer, but I couldn’t reach the gas or brakes. Walking home from school each day, I would pass an old Army vehicle storage yard, and loved the little Willys flat-fender Jeep parked up front by the fence – I think that embedded something in my mind.
I was mowing lawns as our kid business with my sister Gayle, and sometimes I would trade the mowing fee for letting me drive their old cars around the block. From there came a series of banana seat bikes with ape-hanger handlebars, to my first large frame new 3-speed, then finally a new Schwinn 10-speed. By then my friends and I were discovering motors, so we all shared learning to ride mini-bikes with lawnmower motors, and go-carts with chainsaw motors, then migrated up to enduro bikes that we could ride on the street and off-road. Of course then those became too tame and we started exchanging out the rear sprockets for lower gearing, upgrading the motor heads to the sunburst type for better cooling, and swapping on more aggressive mud tires instead of the all-terrain tires that they came with. At that point, our group of friends started splitting into those that went all-out for the hardcore off-road only motocross bikes, and those that went the street bike path with larger motors and able to cruise on the highway.
I worked at a grocery store part-time, so had limited funds, and needed to find a used motorcycle that I could use to hang with both groups of friends. There was a motorcycle mechanic that went to our church, and he always had a half-dozen or so used bikes that he had in good running order, and recommended the 1965 Honda Super Hawk 305. I had just turned 14 and my parents finally consented to let me either buy a long-wished for shotgun, or a motorcycle. I logically decided I could always borrow a shotgun for pheasant hunting, and since I lived in Belleville, a small rural town in Kansas where we had all gone through Drivers-Ed and had obtained our drivers permit to allow driving to school or work and back. It was our rite of passage to becoming a teen, so I had just purchased my freedom! I loved that bike and of course everywhere we went was officially “to or from school or work.” My friends and I would ride around town, but our favorite pastime was riding on our friends farms where there was plenty of open space with woods and streams, and hills to climb and jump. We all learned to carry pliers and baling wire that could usually patch up broken parts and get us back home again. It seemed like we were forever tinkering on them to make them suit our needs or upgrading parts. Somewhere around there, I discovered that my key collection was very handy at starting the early 60s cars, and sometimes “borrowed” a few of them for a short joy ride. Fortunately for me I didn’t pursue that line of work, and got my own vehicles.
Soon thereafter I discovered girls, and though the girls were willing, I met some resistance from their fathers about taking them on dates on the motorcycle for some reason. So that meant always borrowing my parent’s car, of which I’m sure they had some reservations, but after 50+ hours of driving with them, they were willing to lend me their car. The first car was the copper and white 63 Chevy Impala with automatic, but they traded that off for the 71 Buick Le Sabre after I got my permit. It had been a Driver’s Ed car, so they got a good deal on a car that was nearly new and only had a few thousand miles, and it was really nice after that old Chevy. But of course I really wanted my own car, and Charlie Mikesell, a farmer friend of the family that had already raised two rowdy boys, offered to loan me a car from the row he had sitting in the pasture on the farm. He let me choose between an aqua and white 59 Ford Fairlane 500, and a powder blue 63 Ford Galaxie. Both had the largest V8 motors offered, and I decided on the 59. So we proceeded to make it road-worthy again with new mud tires, wipers, and new fluids. I was so proud that I had my own wheels and could take at least four of my buddies to the lake in the summer at 90 mph, and still have plenty of room in the spacious trunk for all our gear. But of course being young and inexperienced with breakable parts, I had to learn the hard way that entertaining my friend riding shotgun and spinning the mud tires on ice and then hitting dry asphalt puts a lot of stress on driveshaft u-joints. Of course there was a big bang when the driveshaft hit the floorboards and then nothing but the hum of the motor as we weren’t going anywhere. I called up Charlie and explained that somehow the car had just mysteriously quit running, and didn’t know what to do. He called up his mechanic friend and they towed it over to their shop and of course it was very obvious to them what had broken. Unfortunately for me, the stop sign where I had done the amazing burnout on ice happened to be in front of one of Charlie’s friends, and of course he shared that info with Charlie.
Shortly thereafter Charlie informed me that his nephew needed a car and was going to give the 59 to him. I understood why, but that left me with no wheels, so this time I decided to buy something newer that was cool. Small foreign cars were becoming the cool thing around then, but none were available in the small town, so I went to the big city, Salina, and went with one of my best friend’s dad who was a mechanic to go test drive a few models. I decided on a ’71 nearly new sporty 2-door Datsun 1200, powder blue, with no radio, carpet, or any frills, but it was a 5-speed with silky smooth shifting and was a blast to drive. Back then, a 2-door was the only kind of car a teen could be respected in, and not some 4-door family car. I think it was all of $2,000 or something similar, and I drove it home that day. Of course I had to go pick up three of my friends, and we soon got into a car chase with some other friends who didn’t know the car or who was driving it. Unfortunately I discovered that when turning on a sharp 90 degree corner on the dirt road, that the front tires would just slide on my over-loaded little car. And of course there would happen to be a telephone pole that jumped out in front of me and managed to dent my bumper within the first few hours of owning the car! With all my handy friends present, we just put a chain on the bumper, wrapped it around the pole, and gently pulled the bumper back out – nearly as good as new. This was the same great group of friends that we learned new like skills like “riding the rails” with our cars and little to no air in the tires. That works pretty good until you meet a train!
That little car performed very well for me after upgrading to larger tires, stiffer suspension, free-flowing muffler and air cleaner, and I drove it on long road trips as well as weekend street racing on the Gun Club road just outside of town. Of course I had to race other imports as that little 1200cc motor wouldn’t have stood a chance against all the muscle cars that some of my friends had – Mustangs, Camaros, Chevelles, Chargers, and Challengers. If we only knew then what would happen to those $800 used cars years later, we would have all kept them! Once I graduated from high school and went to Central College in McPherson, KS, I had to pack that little car to the max to get all my stuff in, and couldn’t see out the back or the sides. At college, my friends loved picking up that little car and moving it around campus – more than once it was found in the girls dorm lobby. We used to take it out on the local motocross track and scare my college buddies, and had an “escape” route worked out on one of the bridges where we would go plunging off the side and down into the ditch and up onto a feeder road – was great fun!
Living in McPherson for the summer, but transferring to the University of Oklahoma for my junior/senior year, I was still driving that little Datsun on the long weekend trips to see my girlfriend in Oklahoma City. We didn’t get enough sleep for some reason one weekend, and I took a nap while driving back Sunday night on the interstate outside of Wichita and hit a bridge. I was thrown out and was fine more or less after knee surgery, but my poor car was even more of a compact. Since I had a full leg cast on my left leg, going back to college was iffy, and I needed a vehicle with an automatic since I could no longer work the clutch pedal. Fortunately I found a cool gold colored ’71 Pontiac Firebird with a 350 V8 that fit the bill nicely and served me well through college graduation and to a job with the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
Since I lived in Norman, Oklahoma and had to commute 45 minutes each way, I was ride-sharing with two girls from work who also lived in Norman. Since they weren’t too keen on sitting in the backseat with their knees around their chin, and since my wife and I had our first darling daughter Shayla, we traded the Firebird off for something we thought would be more practical, a lovely brown 2-door Saab 99GL that was neither sexy or fast. I immediately regretted trading off the Firebird, but we made do with the Saab until after we moved to Houston for a new job and I was cutting across four lanes of traffic to a shopping center and managed to catch air on the ramp and came down with the front-drive wheels still spinning and heard a bang and then nothing but the motor idling – seemed somewhat vaguely familiar. Sure enough, the transaxle was broken and had to spend considerable time in the shop until we finally got tired of pouring money down that black hole and ordered a new blue ’87 Chevy S10 Blazer with fun 5-speed. Life was good once again!
This was followed by a string of even better or at least more fun vehicles that we’ll save for another day!