December 2, 2011

Back when things were more simple

I don't usually do this, but there was a column in the Star today in a special section on Auto Technology. I had a piece in it, but they haven't posted the extras on their website. it is!

Air conditioning was the devil.

That’s what my Dad always told us as kids, when we got back from a ride in someone else’s car; a car that felt like heaven on a blistering hot July day. “Roll down the windows, you got all the air you want,” he’d tell us.

I thought air conditioning cost a million dollars; it must have, because we could not afford it, even if everyone else could. They didn’t have to eat their ice cream cones in 2 minutes like we did - the cones that were a reward for 3 hour Sunday afternoon drives around Mennonite country.

I remember being fascinated with the small triangular windows on the front doors of our ’66 Rambler, the no drafts. We called them nose drafts. I firmly believed this actually was air conditioning, and begged my mother to angle the flowing air to the back seat. It wasn’t until 1976 that our car had a radio with FM. It didn’t matter; it was only ever set to CFRB on the AM side of things.

We always had station wagons, because my father believed a car was for one thing only: hauling wood home from the cottage. We had nasty plastic seats and no power anything, because the wood didn’t care about those things. It cared about a V8. Little girls fighting in the back seat as they were being dragged across the country to Saskatchewan were not wood, and didn’t care about the engine.

The concept of utility versus luxury has blurred over the decades. The very presence of acres of leather, climate control, heated bolstered seats, and exorbitant stereo systems makes me think we should be embarrassed to squeeze the word ‘utility’ into the description of so many vehicles. The tractor my father drove growing up on a farm? That was a utility vehicle. The hollowed out van my first boyfriend hauled pool supplies in? That was a utility vehicle.

As my sisters and I grew up and started acquiring our own cars, we’d try to teach my father the error of his ways. You need air conditioning, we‘d tell him. Power windows are practically standard. How could you not want comfortable seats and plush carpeting? It wasn’t that we had all these things; we just thought if you could afford it, why wouldn’t you? He thought we were crazy to pay for such silliness. He would adjust his nose draft and turn up CFRB to drown us out.

In 1994, my father was too sick to kick tires and dicker with salesmen, and uncharacteristically handed the chore to my mother. She let her inner car freak fly, and the Chrysler Intrepid she showed up with was loaded. My father only drove it a handful of times, but even he had to concede it was nice to drive a car that cocooned you in luxury instead of challenged your stamina. The fight was over, but the stripped down station wagons remain a centrepiece of my early life.

What about before the station wagons? Like most children, I didn’t believe my parents actually existed until I was born. My mother alluded to a fabulous social life apparently powered by Morris Minors and public transit in England when WWII was finally over. This was fine, but I was far more enamoured of my father’s first conveyance: in the late 1930’s, he used a team of horses to get to school.

Featuring 2 horsepower, he had the original utility vehicle. Call me a foolish romantic, but there are no cars my parents owned in my childhood, nor any I have driven since that have topped this.


Anonymous Annie said...

Oh yes. My dad's car of choice was a '71 Chevelle with hot-ass seats that could burn all the skin off the backs of your legs in about three seconds. Ahhh... the good old days.

December 02, 2011 3:02 PM  
Anonymous jmd said...

When I was little, we had two teams of gigantic workhorses on the farm (boy, does that show my age.) I hadn't thought about them in years, until I read your column.

Now I have to call my siblings and see if they remember what their names were. (the horse's, not my sibling's.)

December 02, 2011 3:27 PM  
Anonymous Padraig said...

I see you are talking about the famous Four/Fifty air conditioning - you open all four windows and go fifty miles an hour.

December 02, 2011 4:13 PM  
Blogger Chris Brown (not the felon) said...

My grandparents had a massive woody station wagon. I can remember going crabbing with them when I was about 4. My grandfather threw me in the back with the crabs. They were in burlap sacks and they clicked away furiously. I was terrified they'd claw their way through the burlap (even a four year old knows burlap is no defence against crab claws) and I would end up covered in a clattering, knawing, mass of treasonous BC crabs.

To this day the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I look back into the bowels of a station wagon.

December 02, 2011 5:25 PM  
Anonymous buzzwhack said...

That was a great article. I work with older cars all the time as an appraiser and journalist. Interesting to see the invoices listing a bunch of stuff we consider standard equipment as options. My aunts 52 Ford has a V8, radio and green metallic paint. That was it and it was considered pretty swish back in 52. My 72 GTO is loaded compared to auntie's car and my 81 Trans Am put them all to shame. Things got better for comforts as time passed. Performance sadly returned to being a preserve of the wealthy once again.

December 02, 2011 5:54 PM  
Anonymous PJ said...

The first vehicle I remember associating with my Dad was the family hardware store's late forties GMC truck known to me as Daddy's Guck! (Hey! I around 2&1/2?)
His cars until I was around 11 were 2 door Pontiac Parisiennes, a 61 and a 65. Unfortuntely as the youngster, I'm the one who had to climg in the back seat. Hard enough in a 2 door but his car also sorta doubled as a truck and, well, you didn't waste time putting things in the trunk so I had to climb over paint cans, tools, boxes of nails or screws etc to get in the back seat.

I was thrilled when he showed up with a station wagon around 69 or 70. Of course you still didn't waste time opening the rear door (despite the many ways Ford had to open the thing) to put stuff back there so it all still went behind the drivers seat but at least now I had my own door to get in around the stuff.

As a result of years of climbing over stuff in the back of cars, I've never owned a 2 door. Yep my first car was a 74 Dodge Colt Station Wagon. Back when friends were buying Chevelles, Mustangs and Novas I had a station wagon and am driving a 2004 Focus Wagon.

Thanks for trip down memory lane Lorraine.
Going to take my hyponain now. Huh? Don't now, it's my word and sounds good....

December 03, 2011 10:19 AM  
Anonymous B1 said...

Still think it was stupid of the manufacturers to drop the "no draft" window. Oh wait. I forgot they were functional. So of course they got dumped.

I'm pretty much with your Dad: The more doodads (like the AC that I use maybe twice a year), the more there is to go wrong. The most useful vehicle I ever had was a 1986 Bronco II that I swear I'd still be driving if some jerk hadn't written it off in a rear-end collision. No air, five-speed manual tranny, locking front hubs for 4wd, V6 engine etc.

December 03, 2011 11:03 AM  
Blogger DJW said...

My Dad was a mechanic for 40 years, always fixing someone else's trouble.

A few years before he died, we had a meeting, and figured that with all the money he saved us on car repairs over the decades, we should buy him a new car.

The last car he ever owned was his first with air conditioning, power windows and Factory AM/FM


December 03, 2011 11:36 AM  
Anonymous buzzwhack said...

A funny satirical piece I saw described a fictional marketer's meeting with an undisclosed car manufacturer talking about options in goofy slang..
we need to load this thing up with's got to be like a banana split. Ben & Jerry's
Yes! We need heated bum bums!
high fives and clapping.
One dour guy..It won't play in Pomona.
Cooled bum bums! make it do BOTH!
more high fives.
The coral frost phaze paint is nice, but every other car in Miami is like that. We need more...
Gold! We'll put gold leaf on the trim. We'll baste the car in gold.
celebratory handshakes.
It went on and on. I laughed.

December 03, 2011 11:37 AM  

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