Essays

1937 Olds

Photo credit: sicnag. CC-BY.

I first saw the 1937 Olds on an overcast Seattle day in February of 1974. It was minding its own business and not looking out of place in a dirt lot. It was a dull brown four door sedan in need of at least a good buff and polish. As with most cars of the era it had running boards, suicide back doors, and headlights in pods on each side of a vertical honeycomb grill. It was a thing of beauty. It was love at first sight.

That year I was working as a projectionist at the Movie House in Seattle. I was twenty years old and a full-time student a the University of Washington. The theater was owned by Randy Finley. In a few years he would own the largest chain of art theaters in the Pacific Northwest. In 1974 he only owned the 99-seat theater I worked at, and a somewhat larger theater in Portland. His planned expansion started with his buying another Seattle building at the corner of 50th and Roosevelt.

He thought the building, which would become the Seven Gables Theater, was big enough for a twin cinema. It previously had been an American Foreign Legion dance hall. Transforming the old dance hall he ran into a snag. For the time being it became the office for Randy and various other people who worked for his growing company. One of those was a guy named John Osborne. In February of 1974 he bought the 1937 Oldsmobile sedan. That was not a completely nutty thing to do. Randy’s sister Pat had started things off by buying a forest green 1940 Chevy two door sedan. She looked cute tooling around in it. Sometime after that I had gone to Centralia with Randy where he bought a 1946 Pontiac woody wagon. It was a rare and beautiful head turner.

My first glimpse of John’s Olds was when I saw it parked behind the Seven Gables building in the unpaved lot. It had everything you could want in a car. Except that it didn’t run.

John soon tired of the project. He bought a running 1936 Cadillac sedan. It was navy blue with dual side mounted tires. He offered me the Olds for six hundred bucks. I paid three hundred down and paid the rest off at fifty bucks a month. After six months it was mine.

After handing him the last fifty I asked John for the title. He said there was a little problem. He had never transferred the title to himself. It was registered in the name of a dead man. John had bought the car from a widow on Vashon Island. He had a bill of sale from her, but the title was in the name of her dead husband. Being has he was dead, he couldn’t sign it over. I went to the department of motor vehicles. They told me I needed a few things. First would be the title in name of the dead man. Next was a death certificate for the man. Then a notarized statement from the widow that she was the inheritor of the man’s estate and there were no claims or liens against it.

Photo credit: John Lloyd. CC-BY.

On a bright and sunny summer day I went went to Vashon Island to see the woman. John didn’t have a phone number and he didn’t have an address, but he had some fairly specific directions. He had been driving around Vashon Island when he spotted the car in a garage next to a farm house. He had bought it on the spot and had it hauled to Seattle. He assured me I could find it.

I eventually found the place. The widow was not happy to see me. She was a woman in her forties. She had buried her husband and gotten rid of the car and I suppose had found some closure doing it. My showing up disturbed that carefully constructed narrative. My youthful enthusiasm eventually wore her down. It didn’t take her long to find the title. She agreed to go to the bank with me and have the inheritance document notarized.

The death certificate was a little trickier. The man had been buried in his home town of Rochester, WA. I had go there to the mortuary that had handled his remains to get a copy of it. With the documents in hand I was able to get the title.

Making the car run was a tougher problem. I had been working at the Movie House making minimum wage for over a year. It barely paid for a shared apartment above the theater and the cost of attending the U. In order to increase my income I convinced the other two projectionists to join me in a demand for a raise of twenty five cents per hour. Our leverage was that we would walk off the job. I made the demand to Randy. He was incensed. I was resolute. The other two projectionists kept their mouths shut.

He brought the issue up at a staff meeting. The meeting did not include us. His sister Pat was there. She was a Broadway actress currently working on TV in The Bob Newhart Show. She was even more upset with us than Randy was. She threatened to have my Olds towed off the lot. The manager of the Movie House, Ruth, interceded and told Pat and Randy that my car could have her parking space.

We got the raise and the car stayed put. Ruth was exiled to Portland to manage the Portland Movie House. She is now the sole employee from those days still working for the company. Randy sold Seven Gables Theaters to the Samuel Goldwyn Co. in the eighties.

***

My uncle Dale, my mom’s younger and only brother, had a Volkswagen repair shop in Astoria, Oregon. He liked old cars. He told me if I got the car to him we could fix it up together. In exchange I would paint his house. Getting there wouldn’t be easy. There were both time and financial restraints. The time problem had to do with my working a full time job and being a full time student. I wanted to get the car to Astoria without missing work or school. I also had to do it as cheaply as possible. That would mean I’d need to use my parents 1967 Ford half-ton six cylinder pick-up truck. It was at our family farm in Yacolt, Washington. I’d also need to rent an auto hauling trailer.

I got off work on a Friday night at eleven. I drove to my parents. I arrived at two in the morning. At seven I was driving into Portland. I rented the trailer there. At noon I was back in Seattle. With no load the trailer pulled easily. With help I got the Olds on the trailer and was back on the road before one. That’s when it started raining. The trailer and the Olds together weighed around three tons. It was a chore for the six cylinder truck. The rain came down in buckets. Going straight down the road on I-5 wasn’t bad. Changing lanes was an adventure. There was no way to relax. There was a lot of glare after Centralia from the slanting rays of the winter sun the water on the pavement, and the still falling rain. I had to leave the inter-state at Longview to head south and west to Astoria. Conditions got worse. Stopping for a light took planning. Getting going again took time. Hitting pot holes would make the whole thing loosey goosey. It was dark when I arrived at Dale’s shop. I felt lucky to have made it.

We rolled the Olds off the trailer and into the shop at five in the afternoon. Dale liked the looks and condition of the car. It was straight and solid. There was no rust, all the wood in the body was good, and the upholstery was fair. He told me his dad, my grandfather, had a 37 Olds 6 during the war and that they’d moved from Pasco to Portland in it.

Photo credit: aldenjewell. CC-BY.

I returned the trailer to Portland at nine that night, leaving it in the dark lot. I drove the truck to Yacolt. My folks were happy to see me and it didn’t take much convincing for me to spend the night. I was up early Sunday morning and was at work at one in the afternoon. I worked the double matinee and evening shift.

As often as I could I drove to Astoria and worked on the car with Dale. One of my jobs was chasing parts. Assuming the engine would run, and in any case, needing it eventually, Dale rebuilt the brakes first. I got brake shoes at NAPA. I had to get wheel cylinder kits at Hagen’s Vintage Auto Parts in Puyallup. I got wheel bearings from the Brown Bearing Co. on Airport way in Seattle. Dale did the brakes and bearings while I watched, hoping to remember how things were done. It didn’t look all that complicated.

Every spring there was a huge antique auto swap meet in Portland near the old cattle yards. I was familiar with the area because my family had often eaten at the The Red Steer restaurant. We would go there to get steaks fresh from the nearby slaughter houses. My parents would order cocktails. I would get a Roy Rogers and my sister would get a Shirley Temple. That’s the way things were during the Mad Men era of the early sixites. One time, when I was nine years old, I went to the rest room and found four guys on their knees shooting craps.

At the 1975 swap meet I walked past dozens of booths selling vintage auto parts. At each booth I would ask for 1937 Olds parts. I bought a fuel pump and a pair of “new old stock” knee action shocks. Knee action was a General Motors exclusive. It was not as good as the Chrysler “airplane style” tube shock absorbers introduced in the early thirties and still in use today. Knee action was phased out in the early forties. I also got a carburetor rebuild kit. We rebuilt the carburetor on the kitchen table in Dales house.

The gas tank had several holes so we removed it and I took it to a Yacolt welder who patched it up. Welding a gas tank is tricky business. The gas has to be completely emptied and the tank flushed with water. If any fuel remains it can evaporate into a gas which will explode when the welding starts. A man had been killed welding a gas tank in Battle Ground a month or so before the Yacolt welder repaired my tank.

I didn’t go to school summer quarter in 1975. That made it easier to spend time in Astoria. During a sunny and rainless spell I got his house painted. That included completely stripping off the old paint down to the bare wood. Dale got the car rewired during that time.

One evening, alone in the shop, I put in the fuel pump and decided to start the car up. The engine coughed to life, emitting a lot of smoke from the tail pipe. Over the sound of the engine I heard what sounded like running water. Looking under the car I saw oil pouring out on the floor. That was because the rear main bearing was shot. That meant the engine needed a total rebuild.

Back in Seattle I scoured the vintage auto ads. I found a guy in Sumner, Washington selling a running 1937 Olds eight cylinder engine. I went down to look at it. It had been in use as a stationary engine in a saw mill. It was sitting on a stand. The guy started it up. It ran fine with no knocking. For seventy five bucks it was mine. It came with the front grill and radiator. I drove down to the farm, got the pick-up, drove back to Sumner, loaded the engine, and drove it to Astoria. Dale and I took a closer look at the engine. It had a foot long weld bead along the outside water jacket. That seemed to indicate the engine had frozen and the block had cracked. The repair looked ok, the engine ran fine, but we decided it wasn’t a good enough engine to put in the car.

I priced engine bearings, rods, pistons, and valves, everything needed for a rebuild of the engine. It was more money than I had. School was starting and I had to pay tuition and buy books. We put the Olds project on hold. That fall a new theater opened in Seattle. Two guys from Canada, Dan Ireland and Daryl MacDonald had rented the Moore Theater downtown. The Moore had been built in 1907 for legitimate theater and vaudeville. Movies were still in the nickelodeon era. It had fifteen hundred seats and two balconies. If it had been free standing it would have been knocked down. Instead, as part of the Moore Hotel building, it was just an albatross that no one wanted. Dan and Daryl re-named it The Moore Egyptian Theater. They recruited a couple of dozen volunteers who put in hours cleaning, painting, and stenciling Egyptian motifs on the walls. The unpaid volunteers were all promised jobs when the theater opened. One of the volunteers was a friend of mine named Pat. He had been promised a projectionist job.

The early days of the Moore (Moore Egyptian) Theater. Photo by F.H. Nowell. CC0/Public Domain license.

Randy Finley received an invitation to the grand opening of the Moore Egyptian. He gave the invitation to me and asked me to represent the Movie House. I put on a vintage tails outfit and went to the party. I was standing in the lobby with a drink in my hand when a guy leaning against a pillar looked me up and down and said “Who are you?” It was Dan Ireland. I told him who I was and that I worked as a projectionist at the Movie House. He looked me over once more and said “How would you like to work here?” I said I liked it fine at the Movie House. He said “We’ll pay better and I can get you into the projectionist’s union.” I had been trying to get into the union for over a year. It was practically impossible to get in if you weren’t related to someone who was already in. I accepted the job. I didn’t know that the job he gave me was the one that he had previously promised to my friend Pat.

Working at the Moore was fine. The raise in pay was nice. Dan never made an overt pass at me. During the Winter of 1976 I decided to take Spring quarter off from the UW and ride freight trains around the country. My destination would be New York City. I could no longer leave the Olds in Dale’s garage. He needed the space for his business. A girl worked at the Moore named Riesha. She lived in a house in the U District. There was plenty of parking on the street and a long driveway along the side of the house led to a garage. The garage had been converted to an artist’s studio. Riesha offered to let me park the Olds in the driveway.

Dale offered the use his pick-up to trailer the car to Seattle. It had a V-8 engine. The sawmill engine would ride in the truck. On a sunny spring day I drove to Astoria, rented a trailer, loaded the car and towed it to Seattle. The heavier truck with V8 power made the towing less nerve wracking. I arrived at Riesha’s house at midnight. I didn’t want to wake anyone up. I decided I could coast the car off the trailer myself if I disconnected the trailer from the truck and then jacked up the front of the trailer with a bumper jack. It would be easiest to unload the car at the curb and move it into the driveway later. I found some fire wood at the side of the house. I used the wood to support the tongue of the trailer. I then drove away from it. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but somehow the tongue slipped off the wood and dipped down when I pulled away. If I’d studied engineering instead of psychology things might have been different. When the tongue hit the pavement the Olds lurched forward.

It stopped when it got hung up on the tongue. The front wheels were now hanging in air and the front axle was resting on tongue. I should have just left it like that and gone home to sleep. It would have stayed right where it was until I could have returned. I had till noon the next day to return the trailer without paying extra charges.

Instead, I jacked the trailer back up till it was sloping backwards and again put the fire wood under the tongue. I got extra fire wood and made a better job of it. It was lucky there was fireplace in Reisha’s house. When I let down the jack nothing bad happened. Unfortunately there was no way to elevate the tongue to the height where the Olds would roll off. [I moved the jack to the front axle of the car. To get enough elevation for the jack I had to get more fire wood and put the jack on top of it. The tower of Babel had nothing on me. I jacked up the Olds until the front wheels were above the trailer bed. I then got out of the way of the jack, so it wouldn’t hit me when it sprang free, and shoved on the front fender of the car. The car teetered back and eventually fell back onto the trailer bed. When the weight shifted the front of the trailer tipped up, wood scattered everywhere, the jack fell aside causing no damage. The Olds rolled backward. It rolled right off the back of the trailer. Once on the ground it kept rolling. Heck, why wouldn’t it? It had new wheel bearings. Luckily it was a level street. I only had to run past it and push from the back to stop it before it rolled into a parked 1956 Buick.

Ravenna Boulevard near Green Lake, 1963. Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives. CC-BY

The next morning I unloaded the engine in Charlie Carosella’s garage. Charlie and I had worked together at the Movie House. He was one of the projectionists who offered to go on strike with me. The garage was on an alley off of Ravenna Boulevard. Parked in the garage was a 1954 Ford Skyliner coupe that belonged to another friend who worked for Randy Finley. I drove to Astoria and returned the truck and trailer. I was back in Seattle in time to work that night.

The car stayed at Riesha’s while I was riding freights. I didn’t make it to New York. I did get as far South as LA and and as far east as Chicago. I was back working a the Moore and attending the U in the fall. Occasionally I would stop by Reisha’s and look at the Olds. One time I found an empty bottle of wine and a blanket in the roomy back seat. Apparently some couple had used it as an assignation place.

I was now living in a house NE of the University in a neighborhood called View Ridge. The house belonged to John Barnes. He rented out rooms to students. My girlfriend April had lived in the house and recommended me to John as a prospective tenant. John liked old cars and old motorcycles. He drove a 1953 Cadillac Fleetwood Sedan that he had inherited from his grand parents. It was forest green with a white top. Taking up a third of the trunk was a very rare factory original air conditioning unit. There were also 1937 and 1940 Indian motorcycles in the garage. Various friends would drop by to work on bikes. One of them was Diane Pulsipher. I was surprised to see her. She and I had attended Arnada Elementary together in 1961. Arnada Elementary was a wonderful 19th Century building that was torn down in 1962.

I settled into a pleasant routine. School by day. Being a projectionist at night. Every morning I would go to Lorraine’s Hole-in-One donut shop on University Way for coffee and donuts before going to class. A girl named Valerie worked there. She knew I liked old cars. She told me that her brother had a 1953 Cadillac Fleetwood Sedan with electrical problems that I could have for two hundred bucks. I bought the car. It was white and in very nice shape. It turned out the electrical problem was no problem at all. The car used a six volt battery that was long and skinny. The person who installed it hadn’t strapped it down. It had fallen over and the acid had leaked out. Val’s brother had set it back up and filled it with water. It would take a charge but wouldn’t hold one. John had a box of battery acid in the garage. I took the water out of the battery with a syringe and filled it with battery acid. That solved the electrical problem.

Riesha moved out of her house and I had to move the Olds. My friend Pat, whose job I had been given at the Moore, had a 1949 Kaiser. It was a rare “Traveler” model that looked like a sedan but opened up in the back like a station wagon. On a sunny day in the late spring of 1977 we drove the Kaiser to the Olds, tied a rope to it and towed it to View Ridge. I rode in the Olds to steer and to brake. It was the first time I had ever been in it while it moved. We had to go through the Wallingford business district. Stopped at a light I heard a little girl say to her mom “Look mommy, there’s one old car towing another old car.” We parked it at the curb in front of the house.

Shortly after that I decided to tow the car to Charlie’s garage and put the extra engine in it. I had noticed that the engine in the Olds had an identical weld bead to the sawmill engine. It probably wasn’t from freezing but was from the factory and of no concern. That was in late June. I should have immediately acted on that plan. On the fourth of July some kids set off fireworks in Charlie’s alley. One of the rockets landed on the roof of the garage and set it on fire. The garage burned to the ground. It destroyed the 1954 Ford and my running straight 8 engine.

Seattle had a law that a car could not sit at the curb any longer than twenty four hours. That law was usually ignored. It only went into effect if there was a complaint. If a neighbor complained about a derelict car a meter maid would have to come and chalk the tires. At the second visit they would paste a large orange sticker on the windshield announcing the car would be towed away if not moved. I would push the Olds to a new spot every few weeks. Eventually it got up the street and around the corner from where I lived.

One day in the Fall of 1977 it was time to push it to a new spot. I walked out to where I had left it and found it gone. I assumed that since it was out of sight I had left it too long and the city had nabbed it. I went back to the house and called the impound yard. I was told they didn’t have my car. I called the next day and the next. I talked to the parking enforcement officer for the area. The city did not have my car. It had been stolen. It had been stolen and I had never even driven it under its own power during the four years that I had owned it.

1937 Olds at the Haynes Motor Museum. Photo: Hugh Llewelyn. CC-BY

I filed stolen car report. I waited for a call from the police. I religiously read the local “antique cars” for sale ads. I didn’t want to miss it when someone tried to sell it. I attended auto swap meets thinking it might turn up there. I subscribed to Hemmings Motor News. It was the national magazine for old collectors. Every month it would arrive and I would look at the Oldsmobiles For Sale section hoping I would find it there. I never gave up hope that I would get the car back and someday I would drive it.

The transmission failed in my 1953 Cadillac. I sold it to John Barnes. A kid had run into his Cadillac and he needed parts. My mom told me about a 1951 Chevy Pickup for sale at Haney’s Chevron in Battle Ground. It belonged to a guy I’d gone to high school with. He wanted five hundred bucks for it. I only had three hundred to spare. I took the train to visit my folks. In Battle Ground I offered Haney three hundred for the Chevy. I told him it was all I had and I could either take the train back to Seattle or drive the rig. I showed him the cash. He accepted it. Driving from Battle Ground it started to rain.

1951 Chevy 3100 pickup. Photo credit: Greg Gjerdingen. CC-BY.

The truck ran fine. It had its original Blue Flame six. It had a long handle three speed transmission, plus a granny low, on the floor. The brakes worked fine. The windshield wipers didn’t. There was also a lot of play in the steering wheel. It rained all of the 180 miles from Battle Ground to Seattle. I couldn’t see straight ahead at all. All I could clearly see was the white line at the edge of the highway shoulder through the corner of the windshield that for some reason kept clear. Looking straight ahead I could barely make blurry tail lights on the big truck ahead of me in the slow lane. The sloppy steering just added to the misery. Somehow I made it to Seattle in one piece.

The truck had a Trico vacuum wiper motor. I found one on the shelf at Wilson’s Auto in Amboy, Washington. Installing it wasn’t hard. Getting the linkage straightened out was tricky. The truck also had a gun rack with two bungee cords hanging from it. They were there because the door latches were shot. The bungee cords hooked into the window channels to keep the doors from opening while in transit. I named the truck Betty.

I finally got into the projectionist union and was making better money. I started looking around for another old car. I found a 1940 Chrysler Windsor Sedan for sale for six hundred bucks. It was advertised as being in excellent mechanical and driving shape. It was in a suburb north of Seattle. I got a ride out there and bought it from Mark Sigfrinius. He was motorcycle cop. It was a glorious sunny day. I felt wonderful cruising in the old car on two lane roads on the drive home.

At 65th and Roosevelt I stopped at a light. It was on a very slight incline. Suddenly my foot on the brake went to the floor. The car started to creep forward. I pulled on the emergency brake. There was no response. I turned off the engine, leaving the car in gear. All of that did not stop my gaining speed as a rolled forward. I hit the car in front of me hard and with an awful noise.

Luckily the car in front of me was a behemoth with a huge bumper and was not damaged. The driver was very sympathetic about my brake failure. He liked the looks of the old car. The Chrysler was none the worse for the impact. I called Officer Sigfrinius. I accused him of selling me damaged goods. He told me to leave the car where it was and that he would have it taken to a station and repaired. The work was done at a Chevron station at 45th and Roosevelt. The brake failure had been caused by shoddy work sometime earlier. Some previous mechanic had installed the wrong flexible brake lines. They were several inches longer than the correct ones. The extra length caused them to rub against the wheel. To compensate for that, the mechanic had slit a length of garden hose and put it around the flexible line. Over time the rubbing on the wheel had worn completely through the garden hose and the brake line. It finally ruptured while I was waiting for the light. New brake lines solved the problem.

I enjoyed the Chrysler. It was not without problems. It had a three on the tree transmission with overdrive. The reason it had not stopped rolling when I turned off the ignition, while leaving it in gear, was that it was stuck in overdrive. A larger problem was that it would not back up while in overdrive, meaning it would not back up at all. I got used to it. It did make parking a challenge. The car looked good and got me around. It also had suicide doors, but no running boards. I continued checking the ads for my stolen Oldsmobile.

1940 Chrysler Windsor. Photo: Greg Gjerdingen. CC-BY.

The Chevy pickup expired in 1981. One day in downtown Seattle the engine overheated. Looking under the hood I saw that the fan had cut through a water hose. That shouldn’t have happened. The reason it did was that a motor mount had broken and the engine was leaning to one side. It could have been worse. It wasn’t exactly the motor mount that had broken. The break was where the motor mount attached to the frame. I let it cool down and drove it to a welding shop in Pioneer Square. A Welder crawled underneath it at the curb. Using a bottle jack he raised the engine to where the motor mount was flush with the frame. He then welded it in place. I thought that solved the problem. A year later the torque tube housing broke. My guess is the engine was just a smidgen off true due to the weld and that had caused stress to the torque tube that eventually broke it. If it had an open drive line that wouldn’t have happened. I was able to drive it home with the drive line flopping around and making a racket. There I sold it for two hundred bucks to a guy who promised to completely restore it.

Shortly after that the transmission failed in the Chrysler. It also needed brake work. I sold it to a friend for a hundred dollars and a Schwinn Varsity bicycle. I had to talk him into it. He didn’t mind the amount of money but said he could always ride the bike home if none of his cars ran. I drove a hard bargain and came away with the bike.

I bought a 1965 Buick Skylark convertible. I bought the car in north Seattle for three hundred bucks from a good old boy with missing teeth. The engine sounded good. I asked him about it. He said “That engine would drive you round the world!” Truer words were never spoke. That car ran and drove like a dream. It had 302 V8 with a two speed auto trans. From twenty feet it looked good. Close inspection revealed various nicks and cares. When I first got it none of the power windows worked and the tail lights were prone to shorting out. I got all that straightened out and then really enjoyed the car.

I began to wonder if the good old boy had made enemies before he sold it to me. I got off work one night and found an empty bottle of Michelob beer on the front seat. It had been tossed through the side window, shattering it. Finding a replacement was a chore. The side window was specific to the convertible and didn’t interchange with any other models. I finally found one in a wrecking yard in Duvall. A little later someone put a foot long cut in the top with a knife. That was purely malicious as I never locked the car. Finding the battery stolen, and later having all my tools stolen from the trunk, just seemed more specific to the inner city neighborhood I lived in, than evil intent. The tomato paste and salad dressing seemed more purposeful.

I found the empties on the front seat. A can of Hunts tomato paste, a bottle of Italian, and also a bottle of ranch, dressing. The contents had been splattered all over the interior. Since the interior was vinyl the clean up wasn’t that bad. More lasting was the salad dressing that had been poured down the air intakes on the cowl. All that winter I would smell Italian dressing whenever I ran the heater.

I was working at a movie theater around the corner from the Pike Place Market. A woman who worked in the market asked me if I could provide the car as a parade vehicle for a Valentines day parade. It was the first such event and very low key. My car was just right for the funkyness of the market. I said sure. It was not a long parade route. I would start on first avenue just north of Pike Place. With the Market Valentine King and Queen in the back seat I would turn down Pike Place and make the oblique turn under the Clock to head north along vegetable and fish stalls. They had a sort of review stand under the clock where television cameras were set up.

1965 Buick Skylark. Photo: Chad Horwedel. CC-BY-NC-ND

For the event I washed and waxed the car. I also put on all four hubcaps. I normally didn’t do that, because they were prone to falling off. Sometimes they were hard to find. That February 14 belied the claim that it always rains in Seattle. It was a beautiful day. The king and queen showed up on time. We made the first turn easily and rolled slowly toward the review stand just as the left front hubcap popped off and rolled into the tv cameras. It made good viewing on the evening news. The parade next year was much grander event. A brand new convertible was provided by a local car dealer.

As much as I enjoyed the Buick, it really didn’t seem like an old car to me. In Hemmings Motor News I found a 1935 Oldsmobile Sedan in Elko, Nevada. It was $1500. I asked the seller if he thought it could drive from Elko to Seattle. He said he didn’t see any reason why not. I decided to ride freights to Elko and drive it home. I’d passed through there on a freight in 1976. The seller got the car ready for me. On the night before I was to leave he called me. He said he’d been cleaning up the car using gasoline and a rag and accidentally caught the car on fire. It was completely destroyed.

I met a guy at an antique show who restored candlestick telephones. I bought one from him. He also liked old cars. I bought his 1946 Cadillac Coupe for fifteen hundred bucks. It was a really sharp looking car, two tone, with a maroon top and the rest black. It was also a good driver. It’s only major flaw was crud in the gas tank. Occasionally the engine would die. I would then have to crawl underneath, take apart the fuel line, and blow the crud back into the tank with my mouth. It didn’t happen enough to make me take out the tank and get a new one.

I got married and bought a brand new 1986 Toyota Tercel. Owning two other old cars didn’t seem very adult. I sold the Buick to a kid who came to look at it with his dad. The kid really fixed it up nice. He even got a parade boot for it. I’d often see him sitting up on the parade boot parked at Dick’s Drive In on Capitol Hill. The car got a lot of attention.

In 1989 Officer Mark Sigfrinius was sadly again in the news. He was then a motorcycle cop. At a routine traffic stop he was shot and paralyzed. He never walked again. I am happy to report that he seems to be doing well now. He is the now the mayor of Goldendale, Washington. I doubt he ever thinks about the 1940 Chrysler he had briefly owned.

A couple of years later I sold the Cadillac. I’d collected the notes left on it over the years from people wanting to buy it. A Russian guy offered me twenty five hundred bucks. he came over with 25 one hundred dollar bills and drove it away. The 25 c-notes went into a home in a permanent box and resided on shelf in the bathroom until they were all spent over the next several months. The Cad then changed hands when it was bought by a restaurateur. He had Queen City Grill painted in nice lettering on the doors and parked it daily in a lot across the street from the restaurant, just up the street from the Pike Place Market, at First and Blanchard.

In a sunny Seattle Spring day in 1994 a cop showed up on my doorstep. He called me through the apartment intercom system. He asked me if I had formerly lived at 5704 37th NE. At first the address meant nothing to me. Then I realized it was the address of John Barnes’ house where I had lived in the late seventies. I said that yes I had, but it seemed half a lifetime ago. He said he had good news for me. They had found my stolen 1937 Olds.

I talked to the cop on the front step. He didn’t have a lot of details. He said that a man had tried to license the car and a red flag came up showing it was stolen. That was in Winthrop, Washington. The car had been towed to the State Patrol center in Okanagan. All I needed to do to reclaim the car was pay the $130 towing charge.

I had a vision that the thief had spent nearly two decades restoring the car. When he had it ready for the road, in brand new condition, he thought enough time had passed for it to be safely licensed. I would get back a beautiful car. I would drive it back from Okanagan and be able to enjoy it into my dotage.

The next day I got a letter. It was from Al Egbert in Okanagan. He saw the car in the impound yard and wanted to buy it. He said it was identical to the car he had driven his daughter home from the hospital upon her birth. The daughter was now forty years old. From him I got a description of the car. It was described as being in the exact condition as it was when it was stolen. He said he could only give me eight hundred dollars for it.

From the Police I got a longer report. The man who had tried to license the car owned a garage and towing service in Winthrop. His story was that in 1977 a couple of kids were towing the car through Winthrop with a rope when they broke down. They asked him if they could store the Olds at his garage. He said fine. He said they never came back and after a while he moved the car into a garage. He let it sit there until 1994. I personally thought he knew all along the car was stolen. Since he owned a tow truck I didn’t put it past him to have stolen the car himself in Seattle before dragging it all the way to Winthrop. The State Patrol wouldn’t charge him with anything. I was also ticked by the tow charge. I didn’t see why they couldn’t just leave the car where it had sat for seventeen years for me to collect. They said standard protocol was to secure the stolen item and Okanogan was the closest secure place. That was fifty five miles over a snowy mountain road. At least they hadn’t hired the man who had the car to tow it to Okanagan.

Old pickup near Okanagan6. Photo credit: Kristin Wolff. CC-BY

I drove to Okanagan to look at the car. I took the title to the car with me. It was amazing to me how little it had changed. It even smelled the same inside. It still needed a lot of work. All of the work Dale and I had done would probably need to be done again. I accepted Al’s offer, paid off the tow charge, and signed over the title. Using Al’s truck we towed the Olds to his place. I was again driving the powerless car via a tow rope. It felt good.

In 1995 I moved to New York City. One thing I was looking forward to was never having to own a car ever again.

In 2001 I got a letter from Al Egbert. He had decided to sell the Olds. He had never changed the title on the car to himself. Trying to do it in 2001 came up with a lien against it. I had gotten behind in my child support payments. The Olds was the only tangible asset the State of Washington could find that I owned. There wasn’t a whole lot right away I could do about it. I wished that Al had transferred the title right after he got it. It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law. I’d learned that lesson when I bought the Olds in 1974.

In 2003 I was caught up with my child support payments and wrote a letter to Al saying the title on the car should now be freed up. I never got a reply. I have no idea what happened to the 37 Olds.

In 2004 General Motors shut down Oldsmobile production. Hard to believe. The Olds was the first mass produced car in America. The 1901-04 Curved Dash Olds was built on the first automotive assembly line. Many people mistakenly credit Ford with that. The Curved Dash Olds was so popular that in 1905 the song “In My Merry Oldsmobile” swept the country.

In 1951 there was no such thing as a Chevy pickup with a V8. In fact, Chevy didn’t even make a V8. In 2006 I moved to Portland, Oregon. By then most Chevy trucks were V8. The next year I bought another twenty six year old Chevy 6 cylinder pickup. Funny, it didn’t really look to me like an old car. In 1977 the 51 Chevy had looked ancient. The 81 Chevy was $850. That was because it was a V6. That is why I liked it. It did not have a long handle three speed with granny low trans on the floor. It’s an automatic. I just drove it to Tucson, Arizona and back. I think it’s a keeper. This summer I might drive it to Okanagan and see if I can find out what became of the 37 Olds.

Coda

Well, I never did get to Okanagan. I am still driving the 81 C-10. It’s now 38 years old. That is a year older then the Olds was when I first saw her. Funny, the truck really doesn’t seem old. The Olds sure did. That is why I still check 37 Olds for sale. I guess it is the romantic in me. You don’t get over love at first sight.

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