My family was ‘car poor’ the entire time I was growing up. I knew some stuff about working on cars from neighbors or from time on my uncle’s farm in Canada. Cousin Art had a Chevrolet truck that he could drive on the road and a neighbor lad had various cars and trucks as well. And at home in Seattle, a school buddy Robert Miller had cars. So I was not a complete dummy about brakes and carburetors and lights.
I learned the essentials of driving on my Uncle Gilbert’s farm behind the wheel of a 1926 Chevrolet Superior Touring car that had been converted to a pickup truck. It had no top, had a wooden steering wheel and wooden spoke wheels with skinny tires and a second set of treads one size larger. I’m sure it was something that Ralph Nader would have declared ‘unsafe at any speed’.
I had gotten my driver’s license, after the second test, in a 1949 Ford two-door while working the summer of 1950 in a car wash. In February of 1951, I was out of school and had been after walking around Seattle looking fruitlessly for a job (no one in manufacturing was hiring), I became a Greyhound bus cleaner and window washer cleaning out the ‘end of the line’ coaches after they arrived at the Seattle Bus Terminal a few blocks away. I quickly graduated to exterior cleaner which required boots and rubber apron and using a high-pressure hose after soap spraying the wheels, rear-engine covering and with the covers open the diesel engine to remove road grime.
There were various happenings that are memorable. First, being in the seat where a glass pane was missing as the washer arch covered the entire coach with pressure water. I got soaked with cold water. Another was searching an entire bus for a diamond ring, an earring or necklace with a frantic lady standing in the aisle saying “I’m sure I was sitting right there”. Finding the precious ring (a BIG diamond) and the resulting ‘thank you’ from the passenger was enough reward as the agent added, “Good job lads. You can go back to work now.” Puke was another matter and an effective stench cover had been developed over the years to allow the coach to load another batch of passengers for a far-a-way city. The work required to remove the biologic hazard was not easy but I never saw any of the cleaners lose their lunch.
As the coaches cleared through the washer, two mechanics would take over and one would drive the bus over a floor pit where the second mechanic under the bus would adjust the brakes on all the wheels with shouted calls and answers going back and forth. The air brakes were constantly making a ‘whisshhss’ and ‘at-chew’ noise as they cycled. Straight ahead of the coach was another pit for lubricating the under-carriage and the driver mechanic would power the bus forward to that position just short of the big roll-up doors that allowed the busses to exit back to the city street. You may wonder why I am giving you this lesson in bus maintenance, so here is another fact about air brakes; an engine drive compressor provides the air for the pressure tanks on the coach. If the engine isn’t running during the testing of the brakes or too many cycles occur, then the brakes don’t have enough pressure to stop a moving coach. Yes! you have guessed. Another remarkable event of my days with Greyhound, the coach did not stop and went right through the big doors and wound up ten feet into Denny Way. That picture made the front page of the Seattle Times.
Well, the main point of the foregoing paragraphs is that I made enough money to buy the first car in the family. And opportunity knocked!
One day I was walking Denny Way, on course to catch the 17 Sunset Hill bus home, and noticed this 1939 blue Ford coupe in a gas station back-lot. After looking it over a bit I went into the station and asked about it. The car’s owner worked there and to shorten the story I bought it for $300! That began the modern automotive history of the Taylor family.
My coupe was stock except for hydraulic brakes having been added. It was originally white but had been painted blue over the white, no primer! Even the original wrench kit was still with the car and the body was sound. The original flat-head 90 V8 engine ran strong but might have had to use a bit of 40 weight oil to quiet some internal rattles.
It was floor-shift and had a radio. The tires had been ‘grooved’ something I knew nothing about but that would result in my first accident a number of months later. The tires on the car had been worn ‘bald’, driven till the tread disappeared, then had been subjected to cutting of the rubber in straight grooves. Straight grooves are not very effective when breaking on a slick surface.
I used the car to transport Dad and Mom home from work, or to visits nearby and to go out past North Bend and the various river roads. I went to trade school at Edison Technical School to learn the Machinist trade and in February was granted an apprenticeship at The Boeing Company. Now the car became important to my getting to work and school which continued for 3 years until graduation from the Boeing Company training program in the fall of 1955.
During that time I made a number of modifications to the car. The first was due to the grooved tires, streetcar tracks, three passengers, and wet streets. A driver ahead changed lanes quickly and caused a Nash sedan to pull in front of me. My wheels were on the railroad tracks and when I locked the brakes, there was a sliding sound from the wheels, two exclamations to a higher power from my passengers and a ‘thud-crumple’ from the front of the Ford. Because of the height of the Nash the bumper was untouched but several inches of the vertical bar grille had been pushed back. The driver of the Nash said he knew the accident wasn’t caused by me and he said he would call me and tell me what the damages were. In a day or two, I got a call from a manager at American Motors and that the cost was $45.00. That was a full week’s pay at that time. As soon as I could, I bought 4 new tires that cost almost $100.
Weekend evenings I used to go to the Ridge roller rink in North Seattle for skating and various car owners were there. One Queen Anne High School alumni that I knew, was a big ‘car talker’ who had a 1940 Chevrolet and was sort of a ‘Jock’, was ‘flashy’ with the gals and happened to leave the rink about the same time I did one evening. He drove alongside for several blocks. When we would stop at lights on the way to Aurora Ave southbound he was revving his engine to entice me to race.
When we got to the light at Green Lake and the fenced-off street that goes through Woodland Park, he pulled up by me again, looked over and grinned and the two girls laughed and waved. The light changed and I popped the clutch and floored the gas. I accelerated to the south end of the fenced street and let my foot off the gas and slowed to the speed limit. The Chevy Jock went by 10 seconds later. Next week he asked me what kind of ‘Mill’ I had in the Ford. He said he had put in a dual carburetor and manifold and was considering a high lift cam and ‘planing the head’. He thought I was lying when I told him it was ‘stock’.
I did not get involved in “street racing” much as I knew getting a ticket was seldom worth its price. I had sent some money, less than 100 dollars, to a parts magazine ad and got 2 glass packed mufflers and an exhaust manifold connector and I had a dual-exhaust system. I soon got my first ticket. Travel over a wider area became the norm, and a girl came along that created a necessity to upgrade our automotive need.