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  Texas : Features : Columns : N. Ray Maxie :

Growing up Wasn't Easy in the '40's and '50's And it Still Isn't Today

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie

Young men love cars and most old men do too, for the luxury of mobility. "Son, you gonna drive me to drinking if you don't stop driving that hot rod Lincoln." Those were the words of a popular song I really liked as a teenager. That song had a fast, racy, rocking beat and was very popular with many teenagers, especially hot rodders, of that day. Some of my age group right here reading this, of the '50's and '60's crowd, may remember that "Hot Rod Lincoln" song. I am still very fond of that it, but rarely hear it played any more.

As an aspiring teenage country lad in the summer of 1956, I worked a construction job during high school summer break. It was between my junior and senior year. The job was at an expansion project of the Lone Star Cement Plant in Oak Cliff, Texas, a "old" W. Dallas suburb. A good family friend from my rural Cass County neighborhood, Mr. Orman Whatley, was kind enough to give me three months of badly need employment at that time. Mr. Whatley was an Executive Assistant for a large commercial construction company and throughout the years I learned a great respect for him.

A group of six construction guys all working together at the cement plant carpooled every weekend to and from Kildare in NE Texas, near Atlanta. We would drive to Dallas early on Monday mornings, work all week and return to NE Texas late Friday evenings. That way we spent the weekends at home. Everyone in our group stayed all week at an Oak Clift boarding house where we ate meals and slept each night. It was a fairly nice, adequate place to sleep and to eat breakfast and supper each day. Of course, we ate our lunches on the job.

Commuting to and from work weekdays in Oak Cliff, we often drove along Singleton Boulevard and Hampton Rd. I soon began to notice a pretty little 1949 Chevrolet Fleetline two door sedan sitting on a nearby used car lot. It was a very shinny dark blue color with very good chrome and whitewall tires. Having six cylinders and standard shift, it was attractive from an economical standpoint, too. I liked that. It had the outside front windshield sunvisor, a long sloping rear deck, fender skirts and lots of appeal to me. So I walked to the car lot one evening after work to inquire about the car. I drove it and inspected it very closely. I kicked the tires and began to talk price with the dealer. Soon I was convinced to buy the car and negotiated with the dealer for a reasonable price I could afford. Payments were arranged, papers were signed and it was mine.

For the remainder of that week I drove the car around Oak Cliff, to and from work and about town. Come Friday evening after work, a work companion and me drove it home to NE Texas. Back then the only route for us to use was US Highway 67. It was the old two lane slow moving highway, passing through the heart every little town along the way. Plus, I didn't drive my "new" car very fast, either. Those were the days before the great "super slab" Interstate Highway 30 was constructed, so our trip home was unusually slow.

Our group always stopped at a small, but real popular steakhouse just west of Sulphur Springs to enjoy a nice Friday evening steak dinner. By the time my companion and I reached that place, our friends in the carpool ahead of us had already come and gone about an hour earlier. Maybe they were in a bigger hurry than we were.

Reaching home late that Friday evening, my parents had already retired for the night. My arrival awakened them and they couldn't wait until morning to see my "new" car. Having to inspect it that night, they seemed to like it quite well. My dad said to me, "Very good son, maybe now you won't have to always be borrowing my pickup for a date." And he was right. It had been an inconvenient arrangement. He wasn't very fond of, well, as he often said, "a wild and reckless" teenager taking his work truck, the only family vehicle he could afford, out for long hours on weekend nights. Especially since I had nearly wrecked it on a couple of occasions. If today, I had a son like I was back then, I would be even more reluctant to turn him loose with my vehicle.

That little '49 Chevrolet served me well throughout my senior year and until the fall of 1957, when I traded it for a 1954 Pontiac Catalina Hardtop. That was some nice, cool, comfortable car. The extra long hood, with the lighted Indian ornament, covered a big powerful straight eight engine. Leather seats with a big roomy interior, made it a "snazzy" fine car for me. I was proud that I had been able upgraded my wheels.

My dear mother never learned to drive, never; and as long as I was living at home, I chauffeured her around quite a bit. Mostly to places like church twice a week and to Atlanta shopping about once a week. We often traveled to see relatives, too. I remember one weekend mother wanted to go to Ore City, Texas, to visit a relative whose husband worked there excavating "mountains" of iron ore gravel used there at a nearby steel mill for the production of steel. We got as far as Jefferson and had a flat tire. That took a while to get it fixed before we continued merrily on our way.

All in all, experiences with my cars haven't been bad. I learned to drive early on. I learned a lot about the mechanical side of motoring. Being mostly self-taught, I learned how to look and listen for any pending problem and how to fix many of those problems. I learned to perform all the regular service, to rotate tires and to keep a car clean and be proud of it. My dad was pretty fond of saying, "Son, you take care of it and it will take care of you." Never having a lot of money for expensive repair bills, I tried to adhere to that bit of wisdom. Throughout my life I have learned that principle also applies to many, many things, not just to cars.

My driving requirements these days are pretty minimal and throughout fifty-five years of driving, I have had only one serious accident and that was as a teenager. It happened between Atlanta and Huffines on Long Bridge Road. I was driving alone in someone else's car and there were no serious injuries. The car was a total wreck though.

It has often been said that children are lucky to survive through adolescence and the teenage years. I've come believe it. That goes double for me in the rural backwoods during the '40's and '50's. Growing up wasn't a "breeze" then and it certainly isn't easy today, either. Even by today's standards, young folks have some mighty tough hurdles to over come. There are so many negative influences lurking in the world today, children need strong positive parental influence. Our children need all the help, guidance and supervision they can get from responsible adults.

N. Ray Maxie
piddlinacres@consolidated.net
"Ramblin' Ray" >
July 15, 2006 Column
 
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