Thunder Butte

June 01, 2008

Wild Cars of Thunder Butte - Part IV

My brother-in-law, Floyd (Ted) Dickinson, bought a new 1935 Ford V-8, three window coupe in the spring of 1936. Ted’s Father, Elting Dickinson, was owner of Consumer’s Grocery in Lemmon and he dispatched Ted to Yakima, Washington, to buy a train carload of apples. Ted asked me to go with him for company and we set out in Ted’s new `35 Ford.

The Ford was a bomb. Fast and peppy, it covered the miles with great speed and comfort, and Ted attempted to drive the entire distance without stopping to sleep. The only problem with driving non-stop in a brand new car at that time was – a new car had to be driven at intermittent intervals until the engine was broken in. On this trip, non stop as it was, the car soon began to smoke. At 70 to 80 miles per hour, day and night, it soon began to use oil and started smoking.

By the time we had arrived back in Lemmon, we had to add two or three quarts of oil every time we stopped for gas. Ted’s answer to the oil problem was to carry a five gallon can of oil behind the front seat for the purpose of adding oil at gas stops.

Long after we had arrived home, the habit of the oil can continued. So that winter, when I had a date with Vivian Kusler, Ted let me borrow the 35 Ford. During the evening on the town, we got the Ford stuck in a snow bank. The process of jerking the car out of the snow bank, back and forth, caused – unknown to me -- the five gallons of oil to over turn in the back seat. It was discovered the next day when Ted took his car out of the garage.
Another of my great adventures with cars consisted of working most of the next day in an attempt to restore the inside of the Ford. Removing five gallons of oil from the upholstery and flooring of a car is big time stuff for a 14 year old boy.

Another adventure with cars, which did nothing for my reputation, happened shortly after my parents had purchased a new 1929 Model "A" Ford. This car was the last word in middle class cars, speed, comfort and endurance. The Ford had it all. One day, I "borrowed" the Model A and set out to practice driving. Soon the novelty of driving up and down the country trails wore off, and I looked for more adventure. I discovered that hard pan flats would fill with water during the winter and then freeze over – making great skating ponds all over the prairie. One could race across these ponds at full speed, and then turn the steering wheel all the way over, braking at the same time, and the car would sail along sideways. Or, in some instances, the car would start to spin around and around.
I was having great fun spinning the Model A when the rear wheel hit a clump of frozen dirt sticking up out of the ice. The result was the rear axle broke off – I was stranded!
Fortunately, my brothers, Joe and Neal, found another axle and repaired the car, but my name was mud for a long time.

One exciting automobile of those times was the 1934-35 Chrysler Air Stream. One day, someone came to Lemmon to demonstrate the Chrysler. I recall watching with great excitement as a man was blindfolded, then drove the Chrysler down Main Street at full speed, blindfolded. I guess this was done to demonstrate how well the car held the road. Maybe it was just to draw attention to the remarkable car.

Not long after the Chrysler demonstration, in 1939, in fact, Studebaker came out with the Champion Starlight Coupe. As I recall, this was the first instance of using all glass around the car in a Stream lined automobile. I was crazy about the Studebaker and "rented" it many times from Bob Rainey. Many years later, my sister, Cecelia owned one of the little Starlight coupes when she was living in Alameda, California. When she tired of it and bought a Plymouth Fury, I bought the Studebaker from her. Somehow, though it just was not the same – the thrill was gone.

--John Crowley
Mike Crowley Sunday, June 01, 2008


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