Pagosa’s Past: Remember your first car?

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Most folks living in these parts drive through Halfway Cañon without realizing that, in pioneer times, this was a stage stop halfway between Lumberton, N.M., and Pagosa Springs. Here you could get a home-cooked meal, a night’s rest and a change of horses, if you could afford it.

By John M. Motter
PREVIEW Columnist
Do you remember your first car? I’m doing a bit of reminiscing and you need to know I’ll be age 86 on March 14. That gives me a lot of time to ponder the past.
This story starts in 1950-1951, when I was a junior in Grants Pass High School. Grants Pass is in southern Oregon not so far from the Oregon Caves. The schools we competed against knew us as the Cavemen. Our nearest rival was Medford, the Black Tornado. But, that is another story.
By the time they were 16, old enough to get a driver’s license, most of the boys in my class had a car courtesy of their dad’s pocket book. The car of choice was a coupe, a one-seater. These were vintage 1938 through 1948 coupes, the newer the more expensive and the more girls lined up smiling and hoping for a ride, also known as “a spin.”
I had the driver’s license and occasional permission to drive the family car. I also had a job working at the local weekly newspaper on weekends and at a nearby Guernsey dairy morning and night excepting Sunday nights. This is off of the subject, but, not counting chores at home, I’ve worked since I was in the fourth grade, starting at 50 cents an hour and not moving up the pay scale very fast.
Back to the original story. I jacked up my courage and asked my step-dad; he was an ex-Marine from the last Horse Marine Cavalry unit that fought in China. “Dad, I’d like to buy a car?”
“Did you look at the tires,” he asked.
I expected that question and was ready. My high school chemistry teacher had purchased a newer car and wanted to sell his 1936 black Ford four-door sedan. He told me $50 would do the job.
“I did, Dad, and they’re almost new,” I assured him. “It’s a good, clean car.”
I explained my prospects to dad and told him I’d like to have him look at it with me.
“Go ahead. I’ll sign any papers you need signed,” he replied as a fork full of mashed potatoes took priority over any remaining conversation as far as he was concerned.
As you must know, they don’t make cars like that anymore. In the first place, it had the now legendary flat head V-8 engine. Boy, would it go and get there in a hurry. But, there was a second place. You never knew if the brakes would work. The brake pedal often rested against the floor board.
Instead of hydraulic brakes, it had cable brakes connected to each wheel. Over time, the cables stretched and had to be tightened. Now for the critical third place. Rats! The girls didn’t think that old sedan or its driver were sexy.
And so, within six months, I bought a 1940 navy blue Chevy coupe. Now I was in the driver’s seat and girls were tickled plumb pink to go with me to one of the newly invented drive-in restaurants as long as I could pay for a hamburger, fries and a milkshake. The only thing better was a drive-in movie.

This story was posted on March 8, 2020.