Much of my life has revolved around cars and trucks. My favorite toys were Tonka trucks and plastic bumper cars. I remember rolling spring-loaded toy cars against the living room wall and squealing with delight as the toy crashed and exploded fenders, bumpers, and other assorted parts. He would collect all the components, put the fenders back on, and repeat the process for hours on end. It was a miracle that my parents would allow me to drive their cars later in life.
I still have no idea how my father Frank survived teaching me to drive. I have right/left hand problems. My dad would instruct me, “turn right at the next corner,” and I would turn left. It wasn’t a big problem driving in the small town of Lafayette or on the county road. When he took me to the big one-way street city of Boulder, it got a little creepy. I also had trouble shifting to a manual transmission and braking at the same time. I once turned right on a gravel road at 30 MPH, veered into the path of an oncoming car, fishtailed almost into the ditch, straightened up, finished my downshift, and apologized to my dad, who probably needed a change of underwear at the time.
My dad spent a lot of time in our garage working on our car. Dad had converted an old mule barn into a small garage. If he owned a used car made in the 1940s and 1950s, he expected to replace the starters, engines, and transmissions regularly. Dad would often walk to work and leave the car for Mom to use. I remember many conversations over dinner that began with Mom telling Dad about a strange sound or a hard starting problem with the car. My dad always responded with a tone of disbelief: “I shouldn’t do that!”
Then I would go test drive the car. Of course, for him the car would not make the strange noise and would behave absolutely normal. He would sigh and proclaim that the car was “fine” and hand her the keys back. Inevitably, two weeks later he would break down. Mom would put on her best “I told you so” face and go back to doing the dishes. I grew up knowing that dad could fix anything. He passed this talent on to my brother, who became a mechanic. That particular gene was never passed on to me. In fact, my high school career counselor told me that he didn’t have any mechanical aptitude. I have owned many vintage cars. We had Tracy’s old 1967 Triumph Spitfire, which we spent more money on repairs than on gas. My wife, Tracy, has gotten very good at hearing the ominous sounds of cars, and she’s almost always right about the problem. Still… I can’t help but parrot my father. “I shouldn’t do that!”
By E.D. Peck | Special to the Herald Times