The Wagon

In the 1960s, my family had jumped from 4 kids to 6 and we struggled to fit into the old greenish black Chevrolet that Dad had purchased new in 1949. It had the following special options: gigantic back seat where four or five of us sparred for territory on a once plush, now worn velvet seat, no seat belts, lots of window space, no heating, no air conditioning, no radio. Simultaneously we battled for the honor of holding “The Little Girls”. The Little Girls were the last of the group, almost exactly 2 years apart, keeping their dual nickname far into their teens.
Wars were fought to sit by the windows though the seats were worn bare to the springs from use, for no one wanted to sit on the strange center lump where the drive train ran. The spacious interior kept us five feet away from any discipline as the adults up front were too busy holding a baby safely in their arms or managing the gigantic two foot diameter steering wheel.
The 1949 Chevy had held up well despite the fact that a crack in the radiator had developed and Dad chose the option of emptying the radiator fluid each night during cold weather and refilling it each morning.
He traveled daily all the way downtown Denver to work at his engineering firm, now Mom needed a car too, so the time had come. With this crew, a station wagon was the only option.
It was duly purchased in a cash deal at a downtown Denver dealership called Rudy’s Chevrolet. The price of $3000 was terrifyingly exorbitant but the gas mileage of 12 to 18 miles a gallon was of comfort. We had dreams of camping in Walden and trips to Nebraska to see our beloved cousins as Dad drove the sparkling white 10 seater Parkwood Chevrolet Station Wagon into our huge gravel driveway. It was summer and already we began to scheme about our first visit into the mountains in the powerful car. Mom was just glad for the comfortable new plastic weave seats and the gigantic seats in the far back with a massive rear window. She was just about to become a bus driver or as is called now a soccer mom.
She drove us to private school, catechism classes, softball, volleyball, football, grocery stores, church, Sunday school. And that was just the first week.
We were thrilled, too, with the aspect of a heater as the cool weather came on and dad felt relieved that he didn’t have to empty this radiator every night as he maintained the old 1949 Chevy beside the new Parkwood.
Winter came early and colder than expected in 1965 as sudden artic blasts hit Colorado. Bad news comes in threes it is said. I am sure Dad felt it was true when the water-only solution froze the radiator and engine block in the station wagon on a bitter December night.
Dad argued, cajoled, threatened, raged, but the auto company would not repair or replace the block. He was at fault for the water only radiator solution , for they indicated they had put antifreeze rated to -20, and the damage not covered under warranty. It was a near tragedy, relegated to the old seats in the ‘49 Chevy while the station wagon was towed to Rudy’s, repaired at Dad’s expense. The cost $300, a month’s wages, for this family of 8. I imagine there were likely lots of oatmeal meals, eggs from our own chickens, and milk from our own cows for a few weeks until the financial uproar was settled.
I remember hearing debates over the huge kitchen table. How could fault be determined at this late date? Would the story be different if the car had been financed with monthly payments? Would this have given my parents leverage over Rudy’s Chevrolet?
The Parkwood Chevy lived on for years after its initial woes, never idle for a day. It was driven to and from downtown, mountains, plains, churches, and private schools for 13 years. It’s massive frame cradling dozens of riders and saving Brother Rob’s life, in a collision on the Valley Highway on the way home from high school in 1972. The huge interior left room for him to escape as he faithfully wore the newest invention in 1960- seat belts.
Each year at Christmas time for over 20 years, my extended family would drive to downtown Denver to view the beautiful Civic Center lights. The song sung most often as we drove into the scenic spot became a refrain: Oh, quick! Hide, there’s Rudy’s Chevrolet, they can see us coming from a mile away!
It is 2011, an eon has passed since the Chevy was lost to us, my dad tells me that some years ago, he found paperwork on the purchase of the Chevy, indicating that it supposedly did have antifreeze rated to face the Colorado winters and the repair costs should have been under warranty. But then we would not have this story nor the wisdom to remind ourselves, “Buyer, beware.”


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