When did you get your first car?

When did you get your first car?


Like several of the other topics I’ve been sent by this service, the thing to talk about could be one of several things. In this case I have three vehicles that could fit the bill. The first car that I used quite a bit didn’t actually belong to me. It was a 1951 Hudson Pacemaker. The second vehicle did belong to me, but it was a motorcycle, a 1962? 305cc Honda Dream. And the third qualifier was a 1954 Ford F-100 Panel Truck.

Judy and Butch Thorpe with Hudson Pacemaker in the 1950’s

Hudson Pacemaker

My aunt and uncle, Ralph and Helen Thorpe lived in Dewitt, Iowa, in the mid 1960’s. I think my uncle retired and they were going to move to Medford, Oregon. They didn’t want to take all sorts of stuff with them so they gave us a number of items; some furniture, books, and the Hudson Pacemaker. Uncle Ralph bought the Hudson new. He loved it and babied it. When the push buttons for the radio developed a little rattle, he carefully folded some strips of thin cardboard and pushed them under the buttons to eliminate the sound. He also had a number of natty accessories; curb feelers, a knob for one-handed driving on the steering wheel, and the best, a spot light just like the police had. Luckily, the light was located at the lower left corner of the windshield where is was difficult, but not impossible for my friends to get to. They took great joy in shining the piercing light on someone at the most inappropriate times.

Since it was a second car for my folks, they didn’t drive it all that much. I had the use of it in high school, but they didn’t let me drive it to school. I used it to drive myself to my extracurricular activities and for goofing around on the weekends. I remember riding around in the winter one time and stopping by at the Giant store to buy a copy of the new Beatles album, Beatles ‘65. It’s odd what you remember. Another time I was in a hurry to get somewhere. Someone had pulled into the driveway behind me, a little off to the right. If I pulled forward, it looked like I could back around them and not get into any trouble. I missed them all right, but I dragged the left front fender along a telephone pole that was next to the driveway. I got out of that one some how but why I didn’t get in more trouble, I don’t know. By that time the car must have been feeling its age a little. I heard a loud bang once and the car stopped. It turned out that it had blown a head gasket. Luckily it was a flathead straight six so the repair could be done by a talented amateur who knew what to do. Roy Pugh, a fellow tool and die maker of my father’s from Square D was just such a man. We scrounged all over town and found the gasket at Rapoports on the corner of 16th Avenue SW and the Cedar River in what was called Bohemie Town. In later years it had been renamed the more gentrified “Czech Village.” All the job really required was to take out all the head bolts, remove the old gasket, clean up the surface of the block and valve cover, reseal the new gasket, and rebolt the head to the block. Not all that much, but care needed to be taken. Roy had brought a torque wrench and we tightened all the head bolts to the exact proper pressure. All, that is, except the one we missed. When we cranked it over, there was another loud bang and all our work had been in vain. Can you imagine how hard it was to find another 14 year old gasket for a car that had been out of business for 8 or 10 years.

1962 Honda Dream 305cc

Honda Dream

Several of my friends had bought motorcycles. They went with the image this created, street bikes or dirt bikes. I never could afford one of them so I had to settle for a “Dream.” Honda made 3 versions of their 305cc models. The CA was the Dream, the CB was the Super Hawk, and the CL was the Scrambler. The CB and CL were a lot alike performance wise. The CB was made for the street while the CL was made for “off road” use. The CA or Dream was kind of a dog compared to the other 2. It had a heavier front end to add stability and a smoother ride that highway driving required. Instead of big, dual carberators it had a small, single throat carb. This yielded much better gas mileage and coupled with higher gearing a much farther driving range which a highway bike should have. But they definitely were not sexy.

I tried to do a wheely with it once. Big mistake. I revved it way up and popped the clutch. The front end raised up as expected, but the higher it rose the less stable it became. It started rolling to the left and crashed down right on top of me. Remember, this was a heavier than normal motorcycle for its class. Luckily, I did not get hurt and put that foolishness behind me. I never tried another wheely again. After I dropped out of college, one weekend I rode it to Ames to visit my friends. About halfway there it started to rain and only got worse. I was soaked to the skin and freezing. I tried slowing down to see if it was any more comfortable, but it wasn’t. So I sped up again. It was more dangerous going faster in the rain but I thought to myself if I got into a crash maybe I would kill myself and the miserable driving conditions would be over. Unbeknownst to me a screw had worked loose in the alternator and methodically started turning the rotor wires into a dandy little metallic bird’s nest. The motorcycle died before I could come back to Cedar Rapids. I could not afford to have it fixed. Somehow I got it back home but it was the end of my motorcycling days with the Dream. I can’t say my dad liked me having it anyway. I picked him up from work with it one time. He behaved with dignity, climbed on the back and rode the mile home without complaint, but told me to never pick him up with that “damned” motorcycle again. In the end, Roy Pugh who helped us with the Hudson’s engine bought the bike from me and repaired it. I don’t know if he rode it himself or sold it.

Bob Burns and Judy Thorpe with panel truck

Ford Panel Truck

After Karen and I were married we needed some kind of vehicle. I only made $2.75/hour so it couldn’t be anything too fancy. We looked in the Sunday paper and saw an ad for a panel truck. The guy who was selling it was heading to Alaska and said that several people were interested in it and that he would sell it to the first one who could put $100 in his hand. It was Sunday so we thought we would be ok if we got to the bank first thing in the morning. Karen thought about it and said, “You know what? I bet my dad has $100.” We went over and sure enough, he had the money. We took it back to the seller and were now the proud owners of our first car. We had lots of adventures with it. It was a utility van and only had a driver’s seat. Karen, who was well along in her pregnancy with Lance, sat in a folding lawn chair on the right. The wipers didn’t work properly. When it rained, they would only return to the left. We had to rig a string to the right wiper and give it a little yank for it to sweep back. And that was while hanging out the window in the rain. Lord only knows what would have happened to Karen if we got into a wreck.

The van was white when we got it. From the picture above you can see I painted the fenders blue. After this picture was taken I painted a gold stripe with white stars below the windshield. Very patriotic. Later on, Easy Rider came to the theaters. We didn’t know about the surprise ending. When it was over we sneaked out of the theater and hugged the wall till we got to the truck and made it home. We were sure someone with a shotgun was waiting just around the corner.

I was working at Collins Radio as a draftsman. Next to me a sat guy named Paul Traudt. On the way to work one morning I heard another loud bang. Always the loud bangs. The radiator had blown apart and the truck ground to halt. I was telling Paul and he said he would buy it from me. Sold. He got it repaired but when his friend was working on it he said the joints at the end of the tie rods were shot and could have fallen apart at any minute. With the nuts missing and having the bolts on the topside had kept them from falling apart.

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1 Response to When did you get your first car?

  1. Daniel Chen says:

    Butch, I am amazed again by the detailed descriptions of your memory. Wow, it’s incredible! It is also nice seeing friends with the aged car (instead of some one that I don’t know in the car advertisements).

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