Camping out in my 1942 Willys Americarby jmaloni
by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
Remember when I told you a couple weeks ago about the whip-poor-will call and music dating you to old memories? It happens to everyone I'm sure.
Let me tell you about my romance with my first car. Some will find this story boring, some will like it and some will ask, "What's this got to do with outdoors?" Just be patient, and read on.
"Person of Interest," a TV show on Channel 4, is one of my wife's favorite shows. I like the show too, even though it seems to be off track sometimes compared to real life. In a scene on the episode I saw, one of the main characters, Harold, was going back in time in his mind to when he was a youngster. He recalled being out in the garage helping his father repair the family car. It probably took place in the 1960s sometime.
Now I'm looking at this 8- to 9-year-old kid in the show (Harold) and I think, "Jeez, my dad had a 1942 Willys Americar four-door sedan he bought and paid for in 1942." I can remember helping him repair that Willys when I was about Harold's age. (Dad didn't get delivery of his car until 1946.)
Before that "Person of Interest" episode was over that night, I already had this story written in my head, and decided it might be good enough to submit to my boss at the Sentinel for publishing. Hope your memories will be jogged like mine was in some way, too.
In December 1941, the United States entered into World War II and in February 1942 the government stopped production and shipment of all automobiles to dealers because of the fear of a steel shortage hampering the war effort. In fact, even before Pearl Harbor, car production was scaling down and manufacturers started producing armaments, military vehicles and aircraft with the steel (e.g.: the famous Willys Jeep). The ban wasn't lifted until after the war in 1945. In 1946, previously manufactured cars were then shipped to the dealers and to customers. It is said only 7,000 1942 Willys were ever built.
So my dad had a brand-new 1942 car he bought in 1942 for around $650, and it was still brand-new in 1946 when he could finally take it home. That picture above is just like it, black color and everything. Some dealers already received their shipment of cars when the ban hit, but they weren't allowed to deliver them until the war was over when Uncle Sam said so. In 1946 I was 9 years old when my dad got the phone call from the Willys dealer, Ralph Daubney, telling him his car could go home with him now. Daubney Motors was located on Cleveland Avenue near Whirlpool Street in Niagara Falls. Dad said, "Wanna go with me to pick it up?" Think I was as excited as he was, maybe even more.
When we got to Daubney's, Mr. Daubney met us outside and then we went to the garage where it was stored. Ralph had the motor running in the yard. I can see the car now, it was dirty from inside storage, but it was just beautiful. All black, with a light gray stripe around the shiny hubcaps, and four doors! In those days, to protect the chrome bumpers and other chrome parts, they were all wrapped with some kind of tape, like masking tape. We spent about an hour in the driveway peeling that tape off. Ralph got his water hose out, and we all gave it a scrubbing down before we left. Notice the painted ring around the hubcaps on those wheels.
As the years rolled on, I got older and so did the car. In the 1930s, '40s and '50s, cars weren't built as well as today's cars are. You were lucky if you got 60,000 miles on the motor and you needed an overhaul. And before you overhauled it, it smoked out the tailpipe for the last 10,000 miles and leaked oil out of the rear main bearing seal, and never ran on all cylinders.
After dad had the car for a while it needed a new water pump. That pump leaked for a long time and finally had to be replaced. It was "do it yourself" days back then. I can remember the night - it was colder than a well digger's posterior - and I held the light. Dad was digging down behind this and that, all the while being patient until the last bolt wouldn't line up. When tightening that last bolt, the wrench slipped. His hands were already half-frozen, and when the wrench slipped his finger broke open, then the air turned blue. I knew enough to keep my mouth buttoned up. My hands were warm from a light bulb, and I had mittens.
A few more years rolled by and after dad bought another car, the Willys became mine. We spent our summers at the cottage, and I worked for a Youngstown farmer, Leonard Allen, picking cherries, peaches, pears, and apples. I wasn't old enough to drive on the highways, but I could drive it around the farm roads and in the orchards. I always felt like a big shot because Mr. Allen would allow me to take my Willys in the orchards and play the added-on, under-the-dash Motorola radio while the rest of us could listen while picking. Those radios drew a lot of juice from those 6-volt batteries, so you had to start the car every half hour or so to keep it charged.
Camping in this car was a hoot. I would park my car in a level spot off the side of our driveway at night and sleep in it. That was my first camping experience. I took the back seat out completely so I could access the sleeping quarters through the trunk after building a platform so I could lay straight, and to put the old feather tick on top of it for the mattress. It was a crude camper but it worked for spending summer nights outside with the doors open, windows down, listening to the nightlife of owls and loons from over at Four Mile Creek, and crickets that could drive an older person batty. On some Saturday nights I would have a tiny campfire crackling outside the door. At dawn, the birds would be my alarm clock, and off to pickin' I would go for another day. I had to be in the orchards by 7 a.m., and I spent two summers doing that at age 14 and 15.
When I turned 16 I couldn't wait to get my driver's license, after spending all winter preparing that car for the road. The four cylinder L head engine with just 65 horsepower needed a lot of work. I can remember removing that engine twice that winter to repair an oil leak and install a timing chain and gears. The first leak repair failed, so I yanked that motor again. The first time I didn't know what I was doing, but the second time it was a breeze, and we didn't have power tools back then either.
Of course, I had to get a job to cover the humongous expenses of operating a car. I was pretty proud of that old car in my high school days, and in those days not many kids had their own car to drive to and from school and work. I always felt that car was smiling at me like it is right now in the photo.
P.S. I guess I'm older than Harold, because his father had a newer car than my father's car.
"So Smart" sez: "A can is the only place salmon can be found with any degree of certainty."
If you read down to here to the end, I guess my story wasn't so boring!