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I've been riding and driving cars for seventy five years and if I've averaged 14,000 miles per year, it figures that I've ridden about a million miles in cars and busses in my life time. I don't know if the 14,000 figure is a good number since my travels have been about 8000 per year during the last 10 years and the somewhat less for the first 15 years of my life. Anyway the million mile mark could be close, and my rides and drives have been in many cars, busses and trucks. Maybe I should consider planes, trains and boats in calculating "miles traveled" in miles traveled.
I don't know if I can remember all the cars that have been in my immediate family in all these years but I can remember a lot of the incidents that happened during my "automotive years." Linda's husband Ralph is a car hound favoring Ford products and after talking with him about my "vintage" cars and his Fords, I've decided to write about CARS as I remember them.
The first car in my life almost remained nameless--it really wasn't a Peterson vehicle but rather a Freisting car and I never saw it in motion under its own power. It first came to my sight in a log cabin garage at the end of Boulder Gulch in the 52 acre Sam Freisting farm in Mullan, Idaho. The car was named Overland and it's the only car by that name that I can remember, although Warren Olsen claims there were a lot of them in the late 1920s. It was a touring car with some kind of plastic material for a roof and an engine with probably four cylinders. I'm not sure of its power rating, but I remember looking under the hood and seeing cups about an inch in diameter mounted over each cylinder with valves that had to be closed when the car was running. My dad said that to start the car, each cup was filled with gasoline and the valves opened to let the fluid into the cylinders and then closed. The "automatic" start was initiated by a hand crank operated by a relatively strong human arm. My dad said that a " backfiring engine" quite often caused a broken arm when the crank was still locked in the drive. Later cars changed the connection so that the crank would disconnect when the engine started and later they had electric starters, with cranking facilities for insuring a start should the starter fail. Anyway I never had to start a car with a crank. Usually a reluctant engine (or motor} could be started by pushing the car or leaving it parked on a slope and using inertia to get the car moving and then putting it in gear.
The Overland was moved from the garage into the field by horse power (using a horse) when I was in the first grade of school and allowed to deteriorate after the garage became a source of firewood. The car could not have been driven many miles because in those days cars only had short milage capabilities. I remember one of our cars requiring a complete engine overhaul before traveling 10,000 miles. Help in the deteriorating process of the Overland was accomplished by dismantling the body and the engine. The plastic was used to make a tent or play house for me at our home by tacking it to the side of our garage. The engine provided me with marbles by breaking up all the ball bearings. The wheels on the car had tires that must have been the cord type (not balloon) and at least 19 inch to allow the car to be driven in the rutted roads of the day. Horse power was needed quite often to get the car home during winter or rainy periods when the roads didn't provide required clearance. The Overland was the first car I pretended to drive, and I must have gotten more than several thousand miles out of it as I drove it in the scenic cow pasture. I never heard the engine purr so quietly. "There goes a heck (sic) of a car" is the way Norman Heikkila degraded the second touring car in my life. "You call a Star a heck of a car," was my answer. I thought that our car was great and defended it even though Norman was older than me and I often looked up to him. Our Star car brought us home to Mullan from Aberdeen when my dad had had enough of longshore work. When the decision was made to return to Mullan, we looked around for a car that would hold our goods and finally found the Star touring car which was within the proper price range. I don't know what the financial arrangements were since I hadn't learned of those things in the first grade. I don't even know what the model was or if they even called cars by models those days. The purchase was made in 1924.
Packing the car for the 500 (?) mile trip must have been quite a trick but my dad and mom did a good job because we reached Mullan without a major problem. We put racks on the running boards to hold several suitcases or boxes and the back seat held me and a lot of things. We had lived in a house boat for about six months so we didn't gather much worldly goods in that time. (My mother and I had left Mullan around Christmas to be with my dad and we were back in Mullan in time for me to enter the second grade.) My dad had come from Finland to Aberdeen as had his parents and brother Verner and sister Mamie. When he thought mining wasn't to his liking he remembered the jobs he had worked at in Aberdeen and thought that the work would be better than mining. Evidently they weren't.
I said we had no problems on our travels with the Star on the roads across Washington, but we did have some. One incident sticks in my mind. As we were going up a hill on the highway there was a thud or something and my dad stopped the car. We all watched a front wheel of the car roll up the road ahead of us. Dad chased after the wheel (or tire ) and brought it back to the car and then put on the spare tire and the split rim. There could have been other problems like no air in the spare or the split rim not on the spare. I don't know how long it took to reach our destination but we did make it to Mullan.
Another incident happened afterwards before we got rid of the Star. We had to drive to Wallace to pick up some things not available in Mullan, and got a flat tire. We were near a garage and my dad let the mechanic do the repair work. I watched him jack up the car and proceed to take off the flat tire. In those days the tire had split rims that help secure it to the wheel with lug nuts. He, the mechanic, was having a tough time getting the nuts loose and I got closer and looked down, probably to offer him some advice how to do it. About this time the wrench slipped and hit me in the middle of the forehead. My dad brought me to the doctor who sewed up a gash--and admonished me not watch mechanics taking off tires. I still had the bandage when the school started and maybe the bloody bandage added some realism to a class play when Hiawatha shot the deer, me, with his bow and arrow. Come to think of it, the flying arrow hit the floor half way to the target.
The Star was traded in for a newer car, I think, and was seen by Norman and me one day when Norman made that infamous remark, "There goes a heck of a car." Heck wasn't actually the word he used but some youngsters might be reading this so I'm being cautious. Come to think of it, the Star was a better car than the Essex owned by the Heikkilas which Norman drove when he was of age, whatever that may be.
I don't remember much of the car that replaced the Star except that it was an Oldsmobile four door sedan or maybe a two door sedan. It's fame was to bring us to Aberdeen in the fall of the year to attend my grand mother's funeral. No mind boggling things happened and we made the round trip successfully. I don't know how long we had the car but it was replaced with a Oakland V-8 coupe, 1929 model which made it at least five years younger than the Star and I suppose about three years younger than the Oldsmobile. It had balloon tires.
When we were trying out cars to trade for the Oldsmobile, one of the cars I thought we should get was a Hupmobile--I thought it was great. My dad had his reasons for not getting it. He knew more about cars than I did and maybe he had a cash or income problem that I didn't know about. Anyway he was the controlling voice in the car purchase and the Oakland won out.
The coupe was big enough for two people and a little guy like me. Cars nowadays are built to have two people in the front seat and two or three in the back and some like the Rise's van with seats to accommodate a total of seven or eight passengers. The Oakland allowed two adults and a child to sit side by side. Often when we were coming home from a longer drive I was asked to lay on the ledge behind the seat. If the trip home was a little longer, I guess that I slept. I can imagine problems with the arrangement. For instance, since there were no seat belts a sudden stop would find the ledge rider joining the driver and passenger. It didn't take much traveling for the family to decide on a new vehicle with better seating arrangements.
The Oakland had an eight cylinder, Vee engine and had more horsepower than the new Ford V-8s. Of course the additional power required more gas than the new Fords, making them a cheaper operating and therefor a more attract buy. We got between 10 to 15 miles to the gallon which made transportation quite expensive when the gas price jumped to 15 or 20 cents a gallon.
When we had to overhaul the Oakland my dad went looking for a new car and settled on a Oldsmobile. He dickered with the salesman and a deal was made using the Oakland as a trade in. I was a little sad to think that it wouldn't be at out house anymore. The dealer, whose son was a classmate of mine, turned to me and asked if I wanted the car--I was all smiles when my dad didn't said it was o-k. (I can't remember if they used that expression in them days.)
I mentioned that the car engine needed an overhaul and my dad said it was my job although I was only twelve or thirteen years old. One day my mother came into the garage to see what I was doing with the car and was surprised to see the engine dismantled and all the bolts, nuts, valves and piston rings arranged on a table. "How are you going to get that together again?" About a month afterwards I had ground the valves, put in piston rings, adjusted the clearances on the bearings and put the engine altogether. I had my mother look at my accomplishments and showed her that I had only one bolt left over. The car didn't seem to miss the bolt and it ran nicely and even took our boarder and me on a hunting trip near the Lolo Hot Springs. Even a snowstorm didn't stop us. My dad had made a box about four feet by five feet and removed the lid to the trunk to make a pickup. He then fashioned a camper-like cover over it to make a nice camper. It worked swell on the hunting trip.
I was going to write about the cars I've ridden in or owned in a chronological order but instead I'll shift over to the car I bought in Chicago after the war. A boyhood friend, Ernie Pikkarainen, from Mullan had moved to the city and wrote to me about the advantages of working there. Besides I think he had in mind to have me as a brother-in-law--his sister was available. I got a job with a lawnmower company and was assigned to a fellow who was dye engineer. Due to problems with management a project we were working was cancelled and my boss recommended that I should go back to Mullan as I had discussed with him after being assigned to him.
I took him up on the suggestion and thereby entered into negotiations with a shady car salesman. I wound up with a four door sedan 1948 Oldsmobile, with lots of goodies like regroated tires, lousy shock absorbers, questionable engine, and a good deal for the dealer--not me. I learned about dealing with unknowns and maybe I gained in the long runs.
The reason I bought the car was to haul me and my worldly goods west. The car did do this but not without some trials and tribulations. I left the windy city without a wife and the loss of a friend, and headed for Port Arthur, Ontario, Canada. The car overheated a lot but settled down when I got to the Lake Superior area and cooler weather. In Duluth, Minnesota, one of the tires reached the end of its usefulness and I bought a new one. I continued to Canada and visited my cousins. One of my cousins, Toivo Freisting, had a service station and we talked about overhauling my car and even repainting it. It didn't happen because I was anxious to get home to Mullan, Idaho, and I was running low on available cash.
I made two stops before getting home. The first one was in Duluth, Minnesota to get some shock absorbers and to see if I could visit with a Mullanite, Ruth Ristau. The shock absorbers I got but there was a little problem--all the bolts hadn't been tightened properly and every once in awhile when I was making a turn the right hand wheel went out of alignment. Ruthie didn't answer the phone and so I didn't get to visit with her. A nice thing did happen though in Duluth. Since the shocks required an overnight stay in the car hospital, I had to look around for a bed and breakfast and found one within walking distance of my car.
The owners of the B and B were nice and turned out to be Finns. After telling them of my travels, in Finn, they said they had just returned from a vacation in one of the places I visited during my Canadian travels. It turned out that they were close friends of my aunt and uncle Emil Puranens and son, Ernie, in Hillsport, Ontario. I had spent a few days with them too, so we had a lot to talk about. In the morning they insisted that Bed and Breakfast was on them which didn't hurt my depleting wallet.
My second stop was Butte, Montana, to visit with my aunt and uncle and cousin Laila (Kangas) and cousin Sennie (Miller) and her family. After visiting with my aunt for awhile I was about to ask them for a loan for gas to get to Mullan, when I saw Sennie who lived close by, coming on the run waving a piece of paper. She said she had been waiting for a long time to pay back ten dollars I had "loaned" her in Bremerton a few years ago. I still had the ten dollars and my pride when I got to Mullan because my aunt wanted to visit with my parents and insisted on buying the gas. An interesting thing happened on the way to Mullan that evening or night. The Oldsmobile was running fine at about 55 miles per hour but in Deer Lodge, Montana, I had to slow down and the car decided it wanted a rest. It stopped in front of a service station which would have been nice if it hadn't been closed. I had this problem several times and knew what had to be done--a carburetor problem that required taking the lid off it, and putting the metering pin in place. This was fine in daylight but it was dark and we had no lights, flashlight or otherwise. Well I could try doing it in dark because, as I said, this had happened several times on the highway to Butte during daylight hours. I managed to open up the carburetor, and find the small brass metering pin and remove it to make the adjustments required. While I worked, the pesky little brass pin slipped out of my fingers fell to the graveled driveway under the car.
We pushed the car ahead and uncle Philemon got down on his hands and knees and started to look for something that he had never seen. I remembered him once searching for his glasses and finally was told that they were perched on top of his forehead. I wondered if we would ever find the pin when he stood up and asked if the thing he held in his hand was the precious thing--it was. It didn't take long to fit the parts together and we managed to get to Mullan without any problems. I think the distance from Butte to Mullan was about 238 miles, a long way to walk in the dark.
As I was sitting here in front of the computer I wondered what ever happened to the Oldsmobile. I do know that we went on a fishing trip--or hunting trip-- with it into Montana. We would have thought twice about venturing into the wilderness with the questionable reliability of the car but my dad and mom were along with their car. I think I used it for a trade in on a new Oldsmobile club coupe, or maybe my dad sold it to a miner for a ridiculous price like maybe ten dollars. Anyway the car didn't clutter up our driveway any more.
And that is part of the story too. After the war, new cars started to come on the market but to get one you had to put your name on a dealer's list along with a cash deposit and then wait for your number to come up. I had done this in Bremerton but before my turn for a new car came up I had finished my work as a War Appointee in the shipyard. I withdrew my name, picked up my deposit and moved back to Mullan. Buying a car didn't come to mind again until I decided to leave Chicago, a year or so later and that's when I bought the car that brought me back to Mullan.
One day while I was chopping wood, my dad asked me if I wanted to buy a new car and I said sure but I wasn't on any list. He said he was on one to receive the first car delivered to Mullan because of deals he had made with the Taylor Motor Company but he didn't want the Oldsmobile Club Coupe that had come in. "Sure, I'll take it" I said and I did. This almost caused a problem, too, since a friend of mine thought he was higher on our dealers list than I and should have had the new car. He was satisfied that I hadn't encroached on him--or whatever.
I'll give some thought about writing about that new car in my life later, but I have been reminded of another car Betty and I had and I'll write about it first. It was a six cylinder 1956 Chevrolet station wagon that gave us some problems during a trip to Betty's folks in Alton, Illinois. The reason I thought of it was because the same model and color Chevrolet station wagon has been parked on about the 1200 block of Trenton Avenue for quite a long time and must be in operating condition because it has moved from its parking spot quite a few times and I think I've even seen it driven past our house. I remember the car as a 1926 model.
Many of the cars that we've had have given us problems, some major and some minor but not any that have caused us so many trials on one trip. The return from Alton to Bremerton took at least two weeks, but let me talk about the days after we said good byes to our relatives who wished us a safe and pleasant trip home.
We had planned a journey of camping and visiting and so we pulled a Shasta trailer behind our car with no thoughts of what a trailer would do to a car not designed for such work. Our trip to Alton was uneventful and I could probably say it was enjoyable. Oh yes, the distributer caused some misfires which I corrected by buying new parts and installing them in Alton. Maybe I wasn't careful enough in adjusting the gap, or maybe I didn't tighten the screws properly but the distributer was first problem we encountered on the day we had been wished a pleasant journey. The mechanic in Columbus, Missouri, did a good job of adjusting the gap, the timing, and the tightening the nuts and bolts in a relatively short time. This job didn't delay our journey too much but the next day was something else. Not the distributor.
We were driving along the highway at about noon when some awesome (present day vernacular) knocking noise developed from under the hood and we were forced to drive off the road. I don't mean that we drove into a ditch or anything like that--we drove onto the parking strip or whatever they were called in them days. There wasn't much traffic on the highway and there was only one house in the middle of a plush field. Fortunately there was a farmer or rancher or just a nice guy doing some work in his yard that I thought could help us. I walked up to him and asked where we were in relation to some town where we could get some help. He said we were about five miles from a town--I forget the name of it--and they had a repair garage. He said he would call the garage to tow our car and trailer and maybe help us with our defunct engine. It didn't take very long for a tow truck to come to our rescue. The driver was nice, too, and towed our station wagon with the trailer attached to the town with the garage.
A mechanic determined that our crank shaft needed replacing and told us it would take two days to effect repairs because he didn't have a crankshaft on hand which wasn't unusual for a small town. In the meantime he said he could loan us a car to drag us and the trailer to a nice little resort with a swimming pool. The two days went by enjoyably fast and we availed ourselves of the pool and fulfilled the camping plans of our vacation. We rove past the little town on a later trip but had no desire to stop in--we weren't that far from Alton and thought we could get there before dark.
After we payed or bills to the garage and the resort, we packed our gear into the trailer and started on our way. The mechanic said that we might experience some heating problems for awhile and recommended we drive in the evening at a slower speed until the crankshaft bearings evening for several miles. We did and had no problems except for a flat tire on the trailer which caused us to park along the highway again.
We had an idea that the next town wasn't too far away so we disconnected the trailer and drove off to find a place were we could get a healthy tire on our trailer wheel. Imagine our surprise when we drove over a rise in the road to see lights of a small town. We were still in the "run-in time" on our crankshaft and all we had to do was to find a place that was open and sold tires. At the entrance to the town was service station and when we explained our troubles to the owner he said, "No problem," He sold us a nice tire, the last one he had, and mounted it on the trailer wheel. We drove back to the trailer, installed the wheel and were on our way again. We noticed as we drove past service station that his was the only one that had an OPEN sign. It was a wonder that he had any tires at all.
We thought our troubles were over but the next day we noticed smoke coming from our rear wheel brake so once again we pulled off to the side of the road. As I was standing by the car wondering what we could do, a cross- country semi stopped and the driver got out carrying a fire extinguisher! He looked over the situation and said that a rear wheel bearing had burned up allowing the wheel to drop down and the brake shoe was rubbing on the brake binding. He said that we could loosen the shoe and drive to the next village--or better than that, to a garage about a mile down the road that might be able to help us.
.We drove slowly to the garage and the owner said he could put a new bearing on axle if he had one. He was talking to a salesman when he pulled up and both of them agreed that a new bearing would solve the problem. The mechanic said that he would have to pick up a bearing but it would take most of the day and it would probably be the next day before he could do the work. The salesman (auto parts salesman) said "Wait a minute, I think I happen to have one in my van (or truck)" and he did! Two hours later we were on our way to Billings, Montana.
We had adjusted the brakes after the bearing replacement but when we were going down the hill into Billings we had no brakes. We stopped an found that brake fluid was leaking from the troublesome wheel brake cylinder. The city was only a short distance away but a sign said "Road work ahead, use caution." Fortunately the highway workmen were quitting work for the day so we were able to inch our way to town and to a service station that advertised car repair facilities. The mechanic on duty said my brake cylinder had lost the fluid and felt that it had been caused when the bearing got hot. He said he would replace the cylinder in the morning since it was past his quitting time. He had to get home. He suggested we drive the car and trailer to a park just a short distance away and relax. We took his advice, parked and relaxed.
The next morning the mechanic replaced the defunct brake cylinder and asked me to check it out. Troubles were still with us when the master brake cylinder leaked brake fluid on my shoe while we were checking out the system. The master cylinder had to be replaced and the system rechecked after filling the system fluid. This time the system checked out fine. Again we hit the road and made it to Mullan without having to pull off the road. I can't remember if we stopped in Butte to visit relatives but maybe we didn't because we were behind schedule if we had a schedule. Besides we wanted to spend a little time in Mullan and rest a little.
We started from my mother's house on a Sunday morning and got about fifty miles when noises started in vicinity of our bearing trouble. I thought it was bearing trouble again and decided we could get to Couer d'Alene. With fingers crossed we made it to the lake city and to a garage which had facilities for replacing bearings, but no bearings. Our friendly mechanic managed to get a bearing from an auto parts store for a two dollar fee for getting a salesman to open up on a Sunday. Changing the bearing didn't take long and we started up for a few blocks--the new bearing had not ended the noise so back to the garage. With the car on a rack, I found a defunct (and I used the term many times on this trip) universal joint on the drive shaft. Two dollars more and a little work and we were on our way with a quiet drive shaft. Surely our troubles were now over-- they weren't.
This time we got into Washington and a few miles closer to our destination when we had generator troubles. We limped into a small town west of Spokane and found a service garage that was open and had a sign saying they serviced starters and generators and accepted Richfield credit cards. By this time we were mighty short of cash. Now with almost a rebuilt car, we drove to Bremerton where we were able pull off to the side of the road--our driveway. I wonder if the owner of the car parked on Trenton Avenue has had problems.