MEMORIES of VEHICLES
in BELMONT MA
Edition of July 2007
A late 30's era Ford convertible parked in a driveway, east side of Pleasant Street not far from Leonard always fascinated me, swooping fenders, lower lines than the stock US Fords. Many years later via reading hundreds of books I learned it was a German made, 'Taurus' Ford.
When I got seriously into 'the car hobby' in the 70's-80's I realized we had seen many rare imports in eastern Massachusetts due to their being private party imports from Europe.
I can envision a 2 door light green Crosley sedan avoiding 'pot holes' while in low gear 'climbing' Common Street just beyond Orchard. I believe it was the first one I ever saw, not sure what year.
European imports seen in Belmont Center and Harvard Square, the annual 'bring back of 'deux chevaux' that is 2CV Citroens, Skoda, Wartburg, 'upright' British 'saloon' cars such as Anglia, Prefect, 'London Taxi', etc. I test drove but decided not to buy one in 1953.
A convertible in Belmont was 'an exotic' to me, heightened by the sight of late 30's, early 40's Ford convertible rumbling along on a snow covered road. A 'touch of sailing' there, only canvas between the occupants and the weather. The first convertible which made a lasting and deep impression on me was the 1940 Chevrolet owned by the Kingstons on Edward Street. When it was brand new, Kathy put the top down and took neighborhood kids for some rides. I sat in the back and to this day a "40 or '41 Chevie convertible brings back that spring day. The top was light tan, the paint a darker color. The Kingston's driveway was adjacent to ours so I had many hours to admire that car.
Other memorable convertibles were owned the '39 to '41 Fords owned by Shep Garfin, Paul Andrews, Richard Santangelo, and the son of the gas station operator by the underpass at Leonard St and Channing Rd. Rick Wheeler had '36 or so phaeton and rarely had the top up. Jack Martin's gaily painted '37(?). Later models were Bob Watson's '49 and Skip McAdams series of Fords. Other makes were Welch's light green '41(?) and the Conlon's '48(?) Mercuries, a black '39 Plymouth four door phaeton which 'made the rounds'of owners, Katherine Walsh's inimitable green '40 Packard and a 1939-40 LaSalle at the gas station on Concord Avenue across from the Clay Pit.
Roy Scammell emailed me tales of his experiences after the Class of '50 graduated with his 'cable braked' 37 Ford convertible coupe. Some lawns acquired tire tracks but Roy didn't hit anything.
He also reminded me of the 'boys' sport of identifying makes and models when he emailed;
"One of our biggies was to sit on the front steps and look for cars coming down Sycamore St. and try identify what make they were. Plenty of Terraplanes back then. Then when WW2 arrived, and Raytheon was hiring a lot of people, the evening rush hour of cars coming down the street was beyond our comprehension. From maybe 4 or 5 cars a day, the numbers increased to 20 or 30 cars a day as people got off work at Raytheon. Sycamore St. was a main connector from Raytheon in Waltham
to the rest of the town as well as surrounding towns. We wondered where they all were going to. We'd see more cars at 5:00 than we thought even existed."
My personal fantasy car was the 1941 Lincoln Continental convertible coupe. It had to be silver with a maroon top and white walls. I saw one someplace but don't recall where.
A couple of woodie wagons impressed me; the Benz's International Harvester, the Frye's Ford and I recall seeing a Packard woodie around Belmont.
Pickups were rare, the first example in our school class was Wicky Walsh's '36 Ford, the all time adorable Ford PU configuration. Panel deliveries acquired smooth 'carlike' bodies in the late '30's and they always interested me. Precursors to the ubiquitous 'van' to some extent. Belmont center had a few, usually parked in the back or the alley beside the old postoffice which was across from the fire station. Sage's was always in back of their store. Some were used for home delivery and some only for a proprietor going to Boston for his stock. I drove one out of a grocery store in Cushing Square once in about 1949, filling in for Mort Robinson.
The only 'rail job' I recall seeing was one of the Abley's near Scott Rd/Pleasant Street. The first complete 'California' style street rod was the Edgerton's, cycle fenders and all, reportedly largely assembled in their cellar.
A kid who lived on Belmont Hill was expert at building 'rods'. His car I recall the most clearly was a
about '37 Ford Phaeton, chopped windshield, big duals coming through the back seat floor and out the back, sticking out like bazookas from half way up the Ford's trunk. Reportedly he put a cam and duals on his mother's Chevy when she was away. And 'reportedly', she took it to a local dealer to find out 'why it has a rough idle'.
Les Beaton had the first Model A or B I ever rode in. When he went in the service Johnny kept it running with the standard joke that it ran on molasses, kerosene, or about any concoction the kids would believe. When hard to find rubber engine mounts broke the story was he relaced them with cement. That may have only been to cover for the car's shaking. Anyway it was a fun ride. About 1950 I recall a very nice B coupe with a balanced engine and updated balanced wheels and tires. The Winn Street owner and his dad had done the work on the car. I recall going out Route 2 with him and commenting on how smooth it was at 50-60 mph. The 'Athlone' gang also had a model B coupe with I think their name on it, somewhere.
Cars had pet names. Off hand the only two I can recall were Mort Robinson's 'Grey Grunt', a '50 Chevie coupe and Frank O'hara's 'Esmeralda', a '37 Olds two door sedan with which he commuted to Boston College.
A favorite lawn customer, an MIT professor on Oak or Pine Street had 3 or 4 pre war Hudsons including a convertible. Their covered portico, cement drive, large garage and tree shrouded lot highly impressed me. There was an MIT course where you had to buy a car for $35, get it going, register it and drive it to class. I learned of that, witnessed the cars and 'eavesdropped' on Alvin Sussman, George Winkler and another guy about their experiences.
Sharper recall comes with the cars we had in high school. Most of us turned 16 in '48 just as the shortage of postwar cars letup. Guys had been peeking in garages and barns for a year or more and often had 'spoken for a car when the owner acquired a new postwar model. I recall the 'king' of this ploy
lived on the Waltham line and didn't go to Belmont schools. He started out with a four door Model T convertible with hay and chicken droppings in it. Then he had about a '34 Ford coupe with some red on the front fenders. He was one owner of the '39 Plymouth phaeton mentioned above.
In my senior year, Jimmie Rollins and I were the only two 'college' prep guys permitted to take an auto shop class in lieu of a study period.
Some of the high school era cars were; Jack McDougall's '39(?) big Studebaker, my '37 Chevie sedan, Herb Gram driving up and down Common street in a nice Model B coupe, Mort Robinson's 'Grey Grunt', a '50 Chevie coupe, Dave Reidy's 'air conditioned' back seat '40 Ford tudor, Malcom Daly's aunt's 38 Chevie tudor, the Maguire's '35 Olds four door which I acquired for $35, a blue American Bantam convertible owned by Donald Cook on Alexander Ave at Farm Rd. I recall the owners removed the engine, carried it down into their cellar and rebuilt it. I seriously considered buying that car and in the '80's wrote up a Bantam meet in Orange County, California for Old Cars Weekly. I hated to get rid of my cars in those days. Retained the '51 Hillman in Herbie Ducey's garage for some months before giving it to a local dealer. With a barn somewhere I would have saved them all, ignoring 'public opprobrium' about 'hanging onto junk'.
Herbie had a '36 Plymouth 'business coupe' which he painted in his driveway in warm sun with a brush and it came out very well. I rode in it a couple of times to the stock car races at Norwood.
I was quite impressed with the Whelan's '51 Hudson coupe when Gus would give me a lift to Harvard.
It was the first 'step down' floor car I had been in. Those were the years Hudson with it's 'Twin H Power' was a formidable competitor in stock car racing.
We boys all studied 'the new models' coming out every year. Visited dealerships, talked about 'the features', etc. The Rocket 88 Olds was 'the' engine to come along and time has proven what a dynamo it was. The first automatics were scorned of course. I recall being fascinated with seeing the Kaiser Frazer line of fine cars. There was a nice Henry J around the intersection of Claflin St. and Channing Rd. A rare site was a Muntz Jet. The late '40's Studebakers brought out the 'which way is it going' comment.
The car hobby has memorized the add on features of those days but when each one came out they were 'like Christmas' all year to we 'car nuts'. Plastic rim 'whitewalls', spinner hubcaps, refitting later model or other make grills, 'frenching' tail or headlights, fender skirts, Smitty mufflers, 'Carson tops', foxtails, 'looper knobs' on steering wheel, ornamented 'shifter' knobs, Arvin heaters, the early and rare car radios, Muntz and Chrysler in car tape or record players, foxtails, 'oogah oogah' musical horns, blue tail lights. license plate covers, sunshields, spotlights, exhaust tips, chrome side moulding. First there was the add as much chrome as you could, then remove all chrome.
SLOGANS,'CATCALLS' and SOUNDS of the ERA
'Don't laugh lady you're daughter may be in it'. 'Grind me a pound' upon hearing some poor clutch operation. 'Get a horse' was still around, carried on from our father's era. I have had some recordings of car sounds, essential for authentic recreation of an era.
GAS STATIONS, DEALERSHIPS and REPAIR GARAGES
The most 'inimitable' was Old man Purington in the gas station Brighton St at the RR crossing. I think it was a 'Munhall' station from which he moved to one on the Post Road in Sudbury.
He wore 'coke bottle' eyeglasses and would help you with your car for almost nothing, using the 'pit' beside the station. I yakked with him on cold winter days in the 'office'. He told me how he and his brother had been into repairing bicycles and wagons 'when the auto came along'. He lived on what had been a farm, still with the house and large barn in Waltham. I visited him once there to pick up something for my '37 Chevie and he showed me his collection of wagon wheels, early auto rims, tires, springs, etc. I think I was after a rear spring shackle which he gave me for almost nothing.
The station in Sudbury was just a pump or two, little building by the side of road and I don't believe the 'turn in' area was paved. It was gone by '61 when we moved to Sudbury.
Another one was in Waltham or Watertown right near some big company. He charged for parking for local workers and had boys parking cars in the lot. Many left them off for servicing since he had I think three bays in that gas station. I went to that station after stopping by his house since I had heard he was ill. His wife told me the doctor said there was nothing he could do for him and that his health was deteriorating because his system couldn't adjust to his not working. So he got this other station to manage.
Copyright, 1996-2013 Joe Nix where applicable
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