A TRIP TO PHOENIX AND BACK
A week ago I drove over to Phoenix and returned early this week, driving more than 1,200 miles.
At one time I drove that almost every week throughout the year as a tranveling salesman.
I've driven more than a million miles since I got my first Driver's License in 1943, using my brother's 1937 Ford to take the test. The back of the passenger seat fell off as soon as I started up, throwing the Inspector into the back seat, which seemed to irritate him for some reason. Then it stalled about half an hour later and he and my buddy, Sedgie, had to get out and push it for half a block to get it started again. I think he passed me so that he would not have to chance a ride in that car again, or else because we were in uniform, or both.
I quit the sea in 1948 and took a sales job, one that carried me from one end of the country to the other, coast to coast and border to border, so I can tell you what it was like to drive in those days. For one thing, most roads were a single lane in either direction, so you moved only as fast as the car ahead. On rural mountain roads there was but one lane for cars going in either direction, so someone had to give way. A good highway had a passing lane in the center, where some drivers played chicken
, resulting in some pretty messy head-on collisions. If there wasn't a passing lane, then you had to wait until you could safely enter the on-coming lane and pass the car or slow-moving truck ahead of you. This was also dangerous, but that is all we had and somehow most of us survived it.
When we came to mountains, there might be a slow moving truck ahead crawling up the incline at about ten miles an hour, with forty or fifty cars strung out behind it. A foolish driver might attempt to pass on a hill and curve, and blotto, he became a highway fatality. Traffic would then be stalled for hours. Burma Shave had a good rhyme on their highway signs that I never forgot: He was right, dead right, as the sped along,
but he's just as dead as if he were wrong.
DRIVING 1931 Model A, 1934 Dodge, 1937 Ford, 1941 Falling-apart-Pick-up
We had smaller windshields, barely effective windshield wipers, fogged windshields that we kept wiping with a cloth, flat tires with tubes that had to be patched, radiator problems with overheating and boiling over, no air-conditioners in the summer, heaters that might not work in the winter, but one good thing was that we did not have to fill our own gas tanks in the cold and/or wet weather!
My Dad bought a 1941 Ford Pick-up for business, with a broken heater and in the Connecticut winter, when the wind whistled up through the floor, Wow! The engine threw red burning oil embers out the tail-pipe so frequently that other drivers would yell at us that we were on fire! I can remember the two of us getting home nights, stiff and frozen like today's Thanksgiving turkeys.
My first new car was a 1948 Kaiser, blue, with white-wall tires. I drove that, then a 1949 Kaiser, later a 1950 9 passenger brown DeSoto through 46 of the 48 states. From Maine to Washington State, and California to Georgia, but somehow, until much later, I missed Florida and North Dakota. Barbara (later my wife) and I flew over those highways at sixty and seventy miles and hour, and even up to ninety, carrying a group of young sales-people. She drove a 1950 blue 9 passenger DeSoto, and she was an exceptionally good driver. Gas was ten to twelve cents a gallon then. They had lots of speed traps in the deep south in those days and especially liked to catch Yankees and fine them.
I got stopped in North Carolina by a State Trooper nicknamed "Hot-shot," and was fined $34.40. I had $35 in my wallet, so I left his baliwick with 60 cents.
Today, in some ways, I believe that there are more dangers out there than ever before. Why? Higher speeds because of more powerful engines, blinding headlights due to use of high-intensity bulbs, and the numerous rapid unsafe lane changes they seem to make with high-powered engines. Another problem noted is the numerous pick-ups or SUVs with extra large tires, built-up suspension systems, with four headlights that are level with your rear-view mirror. It seems that many of the drivers of such vehicles are either young and inconsiderate or red-necks and inconsiderate, but whichever they are, they tailgate the cars ahead until they intimidate them and force them to move aside, even if there is a solid lane of fifty cars ahead of them. If they cannot scare you that way, they'll pass on the shoulder and scatter dirt and stones on your car, just to gain one car position on you. Mercedes and BMW cars go by at 90 to 120 mph. The big difference today over yesterday are the seat belts, because in those days if you hit something, you'd fly through the front window, so they'd have to scrape you off the pavement, but today, most often, they find the corpse firmly belted in place.