When I was a child, my father was an auto mechanic. He had his main job fixing every-day autos for people. His passion, though, was engine restorations on old cars, and as a result, he had access to some wonderful old cars. My father never made a lot of money as a mechanic, and as a result, we grew up feeling the pinch of never quite having enough money….my mother and I were talking the other day about how I have not felt panic during this time of the Handy Man’s unemployment. I know that God has us, but my mother never had that assurance. So I grew up feeling that undercurrent of tension as my mother struggled to make ends meet while making sure she had enough to take care of us should we not be able to afford the rent. That kind of tension is something that the children are well aware of–no matter how hard a parent tries to hide it. I am so very thankful that God has given me a different living testimony for my children!
Back to the cars, though. My parents did not have medical insurance 40+ years ago, as most people didn’t, I guess. So when I came along, Daddy sold a 1937 Mercedes 540 K Roadster to pay for the medical bills associated with having me. By the time my brother came along three years later, Daddy had formed a relationship with an old country doctor who had sick antique cars. Eric’s birth was paid for in trade for a new stainless steel dual exhaust system on the doctor’s 1944 Bentley, and my sister’s birth was paid for in trade for an in-chassis engine overhaul on the the doctor’s 1935 Rolls Royce Phantom ii, which was a most beautiful car. Ryan may have been a cash transaction–Daddy couldn’t remember.
Doctor Ligon lived on a farm with an old, rambling house covered in ivy with boxwood hedges and, best of all in my little-girl mind, HORSES! Mrs. Ligon was a sweet lady, and when my dad would go over to take a look at one of the cars, I would often go along and end up in her temporary care. I would go outside and stare longingly at the horses or play with their sheepdogs or, if it was raining, I would get to sit in the living room and sip lemonade or coke.
One of the perks of being the doc’s mechanic was that Daddy was sometimes called upon to be the “sweeper car” of their outings. They would stage these incredible progressive dinners that would last all afternoon with a parade of antique cars driving from one mansion to another….and sometimes, I would be blessed enough to get to along with my Dad. His job was to drive the Doc’s 1913 Model T or the Bentley and be the one to stop and aid any drivers whose cars may have broken down along the way. Antique cars often break down in my experience. One time, while driving the Model T, we were the ones to break down!
I remember distinctly that I learned how to count past 100 while sitting in the back floorboard of the Rolls Royce. I loved to lower the little table and hide under it while playing. I am fairly certain my Daddy and Dr. Ligon were both in the car that time. Another time when I was a good bit older (probably around ten or eleven) we were the sweeper car for a progressive dinner, and I had donned a linen pantsuit with a wide-brimmed straw hat. I even had a matching straw purse. I have no idea where those clothes came from, but I do remember feeling VERY elegant as I rode in the back seat of Dr. Ligon’s Bentley.
We had unusual car friends, too, like the very tall man (he was taller than my Daddy–and my Daddy is 6’6″ tall!) known as “Red” who owned Hudsons. He had several of them, and we always ran into him at the car shows. We attended a lot of old car shows.
I called my Dad to get the information about the models of the cars. (I am so grateful that my relationship with my parents is mending! )His memory is not what it used to be, but he did remember one restoration of which he was particularly proud. It was a 1919 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, and it belonged to a neighbor of ours when I was a baby. It had been on blocks for ten years with a locked-up engine. My Dad took it apart and restored it to perfectly running condition. The owner cried when it was finished.
I also learned that my father bought a 1949 Packard Super 8 from his childhood friend’s mother, and that was the car MY mother drove for a while in the early 1970’s.
The most interesting car my father ever restored was a Rolls Royce that had been built for one of Hitler’s men. General von Ribbentrop was the Reich’s Foreign minister, and he had ordered a Rolls Royce to be built that looked like a Grosser Mercedes. It had instruments installed in France, and it was sent to England for upholstery. My father remembers that it was found in a barn after von Ribbentrop was hanged, and that the car was “liberated” and send to America. Eventually, the family that owned it decided to get it restored. They took it to a man who did not really know what he was doing, and my father inherited the job. He said that the engine was in about “500 pieces” and that he put it all back together so it ran just fine.
I grew up around all these beautiful old cars. At one time, we had several old cars and a friend’s single cockpit, open wheel race car living in the old barn on our rented property. There was an old trash pit behind this barn, and, while we did not actively use it for our household trash as had generations before us, we did put organic material like brush in it. One fall, my mother had been burning leaves in a barrel. She needed the barrel, so she emptied it out. It had sat for several days, and had even been rained in, so after feeling all the ashes to make sure it was cool, she dumped it out on the side of the trash pit. About 20 minutes later, she smelled smoke and ran back to look–the whole dump was on fire! She called the firemen out, and the fire was extinguished. It came within about a yard of the old shed with all those priceless cars inside it!
My father laments that he did not take pictures of all the cars upon which he worked. I think they really were his first love. I have a very tender spot for old cars—I cannot name them or tell you much about them for the most part, but when I see an old Packard, Bentley or Rolls Royce, I am taken instantly back to my childhood, sitting down on the floorboard of a Rolls Royce, smelling the unique smell of old upholstery and dust, asking my Daddy what comes after 100.
A view from the open road:
And a picture of me during the time my Daddy was restoring cars. The Golden Retriever was my favorite dog of all time, Rover.