180 Relative   /   List of Ed's writings and art
Ed Bookhardt Pt.1 180-01R
August 2008

It was like new: a black 1936 Studebaker Club Coupe with brown leather rumble seat.

Father had gone to Orlando by bus to pick it up from Grandmother. She had purchased the car for us from an elderly resident residing in her nursing home.

To find such a vehicle at the height of the war, particularly with a full set of treads was a gift straight from the Almighty! The family was ecstatic; it was our first car! As for me, I was overjoyed to the point of giddiness... my fifteenth birthday was near and I could take the driver's exam once I mastered the fine art of motoring. 

“Fast Eddy” could soon be a clutch-poppin’ gear-jammin’ menace on the back roads of South Georgia!

To surprise Father, Brother and I meticulously cleaned every nook and cranny of the wagon shed to garage the Studebaker... even went so far as to rake the ruts for a nice smooth sandy finish. Everyday following chores, we trekked out to the main road in hopes of getting an early glimpse of our new chariot. Each cloud of dust brought bouts of euphoria... followed by bitter disappointment as loggers would come by burying us in clouds of dust. Late in the week after another fruitless vigil, we headed to the house for supper. Ambling along, I vented my frustration by tossing rocks at hapless birds gorging in the fence-line blackberry brambles. Little Brother, my constant shadow, moped behind mumbling and kicking dirt clods from the clay ruts with his bare feet. Time was sure dragging.

Off in the distance came an unfamiliar sound! Was it our new Stude? As the vehicle drew closer, I squinted, shading my eyes against the setting sun... it was black and a car I had never seen before! 

Honking “Shave and a haircut... two bits,” Father displaying an air of nobility pulled up beside us with his arm cocked out the window. Wow! What a sleek beauty she was and purring like a Singer sewing-machine! Leaping in the air, I was overcome with excitement to the extent of soiling my overalls... it was the first pangs of man's enduring love affair with the automobile! I climbed on the running-board for the ride to the house... smitten to the core! 

With the wind in my face, I pictured myself doing wheelies and cutting donuts in front of Betty Jean “Big T” Jordan's house... ah yes; “Fireball Eddy” was on top of the world! Father kept his thumb on the horn past the Walker place, across the branch; through the pine thicket right up to the front gate... it was a hell of a ride! To this day I remember the thrill of riding running-boards! 

After officially kicking a tire and inspecting under the hood, I opened the hatch to the rumble seat... it was like new! It even had that unique showroom smell! Apparently the old gent had never opened or used the seat! Bro and I jumped into the hatch claiming the seat as ours forever! The brown shiny stitched leather was soft and cool to the touch... it was a marvelous machine!

Making slobbery motor sounds and shifting imaginary gears, we sat in the rumble seat until called to supper. Thinking back, the scene was not unlike “Dude Lester” in Erskine Caldwell’s classic “Tobacco Road.” In fact many locals, including my own family could have easily stepped from the pages of the novel.

As is customary, a new vehicle must be shown off... it is as American as apple-pie! Our small farm community's center of social activities was Arlie Sinclair’s gas station and mercantile store a few miles up the dirt road in Snipesville. Nestled against a backdrop of scrub oaks and long-leaf pines, the store was strategically located in the south fork of a five dirt road intersection. The metropolitan area consisted of Arlie’s store, a rundown eight-room elementary school with adjoining soup kitchen and the principal's quarters. The towns only other residents were a chewed-eared coonhound and a three-legged birddog called “Tripod.” The old hound was affectionately dubbed Mayor. His Honor's office was under the store's front overhang next to the Quaker Oil rack.

Arlie’s was a typical country store, with one Standard Oil hand-cranked gas pump... self-service of course. There were a couple of benches propped against the wall adjacent to the front screen door for the local gossips, whittlers, City Council and weather guessers. Metal signs, hawking Merita Bread, RC Cola, Bugler Tobacco, Martha White Flour and other commodities were haphazardly nailed to the weathered clapboard siding creating rusty patterns on the peeling white paint. A bright red Bull of the Woods Chewing Tobacco logo... the local chew of choice, was prominently displayed over the store entrance. 

An old Model A Ford that Mister Sinclair had cut-down to make a flatbed truck was parked between the icehouse and kerosene tank. It was a permanent fixture and the center of an ongoing contest among young bucks. The origin of the contest is unknown, however for a nickel anyone could attempt to pick up the rear end of the truck. The rules were simple; the tires must be held clear of the ground for a minute and witnessed by at least two unbiased [hard to find] bystanders. The winner would win the nickels in a large pickle-jar atop the meat display case. Last I remember the jar of buffalos was still in place. Some said Arlie, who was known to squeeze a nickel, had leaded down the truck's frame and rear end. 

On Saturday morning, with the Studebaker carefully wiped down, all was ready for our grand debut upon the upper crust of the local gentry. Father had carefully calculated our arrival at Arlie’s so we would have a large audience.  With the adults and babies up front, Little Brother and yours truly sitting tall in the rumble seat, we motored up to the gas-pump. Father in his best overalls and starched white dress shirt stepped up to the pump, hesitated, glanced around to insure he was seen and then began to slowly crank five gallons of amber liquid up into the glass cylinder.(see note below)

Several cronies soon gathered around to share the time of day, evaluate the car, discuss crops and strategize the war.  Zeke Moody, Chairman of the bench-warming elder Statesmen affirmed; Fords were far superior vehicles to Studebakers. The entire bench agreed with a nod... punctuating their decision with a salvo of tobacco juice. The salvos narrowly missing His Honor's privates! In silent indignation, the Mayor rose from his nap and retreated to a shady niche by the icehouse.

After wiping dust from my eyes and spitting out some road gravel, Brother and I hopped down and swaggered inside. Clutching the dollar bill Grandmother had sent me; I scooped an RC Cola from the icy water of the drink-box and nonchalantly popped the cap. Taking a swig, I tossed the bill on the counter asking Molly Sinclair, a classmate, for two Moon-Pies, three Baby Ruth bars, two Paydays and a pack of salted peanuts to pour in the cola. Little Brother followed suit. With goodies in hand, we sashayed out and hopped back in the rumble seat for a little repast... 

The year was 1944... Happy motoring! 

Ah, the delicate ambiance of richly tanned leather enhances the pleasure of dinning alfresco... 

Commander Ed Bookhardt, US Navy, Retired is a former SeaBee with 30+ years active Navy service who worked his way up through the ranks from Seaman Recruit to CDR.            He writes good stories.
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Sid note:  For those who never saw an old hand pump gasoline dispenser.

They had a graduated glass cylinder on the top and a handle that one used to pump the gas from the in-ground tank up into the cylinder.

If one wanted ten gallons the thing was pumped to the 10 gal mark and then dispensed into the vehicle's tank.

<<< They all pretty much looked like this one.

Some of my relatives lived in a rural area that did not receive electric service until 1949.

The local country store used this type of gas dispenser. They also lighted the interior of the store with kerosene lamps.  Regionally called "coal oil" lamps.