“I heard it again on the way home, dear,” my dad would say as he closed the door.
“What’s that, darling?” my mother would ask knowing the answer.
“That ping I told you about the other day,” he would answer.
“Isn’t it something you can fix?” came the routine question.
“Well, I can’t quite place the sound with an engine part,” would be the rejoinder.
Every other October with the ads for the new model cars showing up in magazines and on radio my dad would get what we called “The Fever.”
“See the USA in your Chevrolet!” Diana Shore would sing on a Sunday evening during her show. Pictures of the new models would appear with families riding down the highway smiles beaming from windswept faces.
“Those Chevies just don’t have the style of the new Fords,” my dad would say just loud enough to be heard.
“Yeah!” I’d shout enthusiastically. “The new Fords look really great!”
Dad would look at me and smile.
“Maybe we should take a ride this weekend to see the new models,” Dad would offer.
“You mean it?”
‘Yes, I mean it. Would that be alright with you, dear?” my dad would ask mom.
“You know you don’t have to ask.” She’d smile because she knew.
The Ford in the driveway was two years old. It hardly had a nick in the paint nor rattle in the engine because my dad was one of the best backyard mechanics around. He’d bought an old Buick when he needed transportation to find a job. It cost him $200. The engine was in need of some work and the price was high at the time but he handed over the money. It was black and had seen a lot of miles. The paint was scratched all over except those places that were red with rust. When he drove up into the yard I was there running to meet him. At the end of the drive I jumped onto the running board as he coasted toward the porch.
“You should be more careful, son. The car was still moving.”
“Yes sir. I will next time.”
He opened the door and the first place he went was to the front of the car to lift the hood, or bonnet as he called it. He bent over the fender and began wiggling wires and tightening screws. The engine wasn’t so big. Climbing up on the fender I looked in and saw the ground beneath surrounding it. It was attached to a fan in front and a long pole stretched beneath all the way to the axle. The top was flat and thin with wires poking out and joining at a black cap which dad was manhandling. He popped the clips off the sides and lifted the wired cap up to show a shining part beneath.
“I’ll have to do some work on this before it will be good enough to rely on.” His face was drawn up into a frown which meant he was concentrating. He replaced the distributor cap. He walked around the door, reached in and turned the key. He placed his foot on the starter and mashed it. The motor coughed into action and vibrated on its mounts. The fan whooshed air into my face and I fell backward.
“Are you alright, son?” my dad asked looking around the door frame.
“Yes sir,” I said and climbed back onto the fender.
“Come around here, son. I want you to step on the gas feed while I look at the engine run.” He motioned me into the seat. I sat on the edge and stretched my right leg toward the accelerator. Holding onto the steering wheel I slid down off the seat and made contact with the foot feed. Mashing it I was thrilled to hear the engine roar.
“Not so hard, son,” he shouted above the engine.
I took my weight off my foot. The engine popped and crackled to a lower decibel.
Dad touched this and that not noticing that my mom had come out and was standing beside him.
“How does it look?” she asked.
Bang! Dad’s head met the bonnet abruptly. He moved out from under rubbing the spot on his noggin.
“Wish you wouldn’t do that, dear” he said. “It’s going to need some work but I think it will answer.” He continued to rub his head but a smile creased his face and his eyes lit up with the challenge ahead.
He spent several days under that hood. My contribution was holding the flashlight to provide illumination around the work area in the dark spaces under the hood. It became my job through the many years he fixed the engines we needed to travel. When he was finished there was no clang, crackle or pop. That engine purred. The ride was smooth, or as smooth a ride as the shock absorbers of the day could provide. Dad kept that car in tiptop condition until the first fever hit. The weekly tinkering had grown tiring I reckon, plus his job had given him enough money to consider buying a newer model. When he took this one in the man who test drove it to suggest a trade in amount was surprised at how well this old model was running.
“Who did you get to work on this old jalopy?” He asked my dad.
“I work on it. Why do you ask?”
“Well, Mr. Croucher, I’d be willing to offer you a job. I’ve never driven an old car like this with such a smooth engine in my life. If you can do this well with this old rattle trap I’d love to get you into my bay to work on our newer models.’
“I already have a job, thank you,” was dad’s answer.
“Are you sure you won’t consider it?”
“I’ll think on it but, as I said, I already have a job.”
“Well, you think about my offer. As to this trade in, I’ll give you $300 towards your new car.”
The deal was concluded and we drove home in a new car. Dad decided to stay with the job he had. I guess he enjoyed fixing the engines but to make it his job would take that enjoyment away. I don’t really know.
Anyway, back to the nearer present. Dad came in from work shaking his head.
“What’s wrong, darling?” my mother said.
“It’s that car. There’s a racket in the engine I can’t identify. The universal joint is going too, I’ll wager. I think maybe we better trade it in before it breaks down and I can’t fix it.”
Mom would smile. “If you think it’s best.’
“Yes, I don’t want to start throwing money down the drain. How about we go this weekend?”
This visit would be the one. We’d be driving home in a brand new Ford. We all knew it.
As he planned on Saturday afternoon we drove downtown to Paul Motor Company the local Ford dealer at the time.
We pulled up front and I jumped out to race inside. The new models were always inside the building behind glass windows that reached to the sidewalk. For me there were the new plastic models that sat beneath glass at the counter in front. I would always go to admire the scale model replicas provided for child collectors like me.
“Hello, Al!” shouted the salesman. “You know that mechanic’s job offer is still open for you.” His smile was broad and friendly.
“I’m still thinking about it,” dad would say. It was a good five or six years now that he had been thinking about it. “Right now I’d like to look at the new models.”
“OK, Al. We have the newest models right over here. They just came in this week. And look at those lines. They are lower and longer than they have ever been. And look at the color choices. Yes sir, Al, these are the best models we have ever stocked. We’re proud of what we have this year. The man who drives this brand new futuristic Ford is a proud man. I drive that black and white two door parked right over there and a smoother ride I haven’t had since driving that old Buick you brought in back in ’51.”
“Can I sit in it?” dad was opening the door and sliding in.
“You most certainly can. Feel that seat and grip that wheel. Speedometer reads 100, not that you will ever need to drive that fast but it’s nice to know the power is there. Two-hundred and fifty horses under that hood. You will love this car. I do.”
“How about a test drive?” Dad asked.
“Why certainly. Would you care to give me your keys and let my man drive yours to give a trade-in value?”
“I think that would be fair.” Dad handed him the keys which he took to a mechanic in back. He came out with a new set of keys in hand.
“Come with me, Al. I’ve got a beauty out back we can take for a spin. You are going to love this car. I’m telling you it is the best Ford ever.”
Dad went with the salesman out the back. Mom and I stayed in the showroom and waited while they took the new car for a spin. I ran back over to the model cars trying to figure which one I wanted this year. I’d know when dad came back.
About twenty minutes later they walked back through the door. Dad’s smile was a dead giveaway. We were going home in a brand new Ford.
Dad smiled at me and nodded at mom as he and the salesman went into the small room to haggle over the price. Wrangling over price was another part of the whole deal that brought some pleasure to dad. Their voices went from high to low to higher while the price sparring went on. The fellow driving our car returned writing on a pad. He stopped at the office door. It became quiet. The driver tossed the keys into the little office and walked away. The spin for the best price began again.
In about thirty minutes dad walked out with a long contract and the new set of keys in his hand and a broad grin across his face.
“Honey, you had better go check the glove box to see if there is anything we should take back home with us. Rickey, come over here. Joe here has something for you.”
Mom went to the car at the curb to retrieve our personal items while I walked over to the display case.
“Well, son,” said the salesman, “which one would you like to have?”
“Do you have one like dad bought?”
“As a matter of fact we do,” he said reaching into the display case. He pulled out a brand new model Ford that replicated the one we would be driving home in. “Here you go,” he said.
I took it in my hands. Inside the seats and dash were perfect. The finish was bright shiny and without blemish. The undercarriage was molded to look just like the underside of the real thing. It was a perfect model to be added to the others I had received each year the fever took hold of dad.
They shook hands. He reminded dad that that job was open for him anytime he decided to start. Dad once more politely refused the offer.
“I’m serious, Al. These cars you bring in to trade are usually as good as the ones you drive out brand new. I know you are the only mechanic who touches them. You are wasting your time at any other job. You were born to be an ace mechanic. We really want you.”