Thursday, April 21, 2016


There went the paper mill whistle, seven o’clock point zero zero sharp, next signal will be twelve noon. What it stirs from dark recesses, releases from behind some rock, is the bosun’s pipe and announcement from the quarterdeck in port, from the bridge at sea, “Now turn to, turn to, all hands commence ship’s work.” What do I miss? never the being there but always the sounds. The sounds and the smells. A Navy ship has (had?) smells and sounds that were unique in my life. Would I go back? You betcha.

HTH did I get there, the mind was on cars, our first cars. My first car was that 1947 Buick Special sedan, bought for $75 co-owned with a friend, $78.80 for assigned-risk insurance from Allstate my junior year at Florida. Our first car was the dark green 1948 Dodge that mama and I chose from the two cars still loaded on the boxcar that day in May 1948, mama’s 36th birthday present, that my parents gave to me as I started my senior year of university and on into the Navy. 

Where is this going — just remembering. Few cars were air-conditioned in those days. But green-tinted windows were being introduced. So in 1955 if you wanted to impress your friends on a hot day, roll up the green side windows and swelter inside, pretending how cool you were, it’s been done. 

Our first brand new car was the blue and white 1958 Ford Custom 300 tudor sedan, a Ford V8 with automatic transmission, and I had the dealer, Cook Ford on Harrison Avenue -- by then they had moved from the old location at Harrison and 4th Street up to the dealership across from Panama Grammar that previously had been the Lincoln-Mercury dealership, and the L-M store had moved out 6th Street to a building on the north side of the street across from where First UMC is today -- so anyway, our 1958 Ford had Ford-o-matic but the dealer had to install power steering on in. But not air conditioned, about as I recall a $300 option for a $2,000 car. 

Driving between Panama City and Norfolk, Virginia where my destroyer was homeported, we soon realized that $300 extra for air conditioning might have been a worthwhile expense. But it was too late, and besides, who had $300. As a new ensign, my Navy pay was $222.30 a month plus $47.88 subsistence allowance; plus I think it was $110 housing allowance, that number may be wrong, it may have been $125 or $150, I don’t remember. 

What to do then, to make the car more comfortable on the highway? 

We had seen cars with this “coolerator” thing hanging on the passenger side window. So we got one

Fill the tank with water, on the road air was forced the wet filter and into the car. We thought to be cool. It may have worked in Arizona, IDK, but driving up and down the stifling hot and humid Atlantic Coast, the device just filled the car with steamy superheat. But we tried it.

Our first air-conditioned car, which this discussion is what enables me to post the picture, we bought from the Nash Rambler dealer in Jacksonville, Florida during our first shore tour, U.S. Naval Station, Mayport, Florida. It was nearly new, had been a dealer’s demo. A two-tone 1961 Rambler Classic station wagon, 

top of the line Custom Series, burgundy and light pink. A pretty car, white tires. Of course, I was a George Romney fan anyway, and it was air-conditioned. We drove it a couple years, including taking it to the University of Michigan for our time in Ann Arbor, where I got the car bug again and, as a research paper project in one of my classes, shopped around for the new 1963 Chevrolet station wagon that I ended up buying from the best offer, Rollie Spaulding at Spaulding Chevrolet in nearby Chelsea, Michigan. That brand new car was about $2500 as I recall, and the dealership installed the under-dash air conditioning unit, which was a huge hit as the only air-conditioned car in our carpool between Yokohama and Yokosuka.

Who was in that carpool. Me, Wayne Hatchett, Ron Murphy, Slug Butts, Bill Velotas, Gary Hahn. Six of us, Navy lieutenants. I think the only one of us who stayed beyond twenty years was Wayne, an OR specialist from the Navy PG School at Monterey, who finished up with four stripes.

In Japan the car bug bit once again, I sold the Chevy station wagon to a PCS-ing air force officer, bought his 1952 Cadillac, and for $100 from a civilian supervisor at the same duty station, that 1952 Chrysler V8 Saratoga club coupe that the original owner had kept together with bond-it, chewing gum, and duct tape, all beautifully painted light blue, an enormous, soft and comfortable rumbling car, and man would it go.  


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