The Studebaker that didn’t stop
My dad was a parts manager for one Ford dealership or another all of his adult life. In fact, when he was discharged from the Army Air Force in 1946, his first job was in a parts department for a Ford dealership in Visalia. As a kid, Ford products were what we believed in and almost exclusively drove. I still cringe when I hear someone say Ford stands for “Fix Or Repair Daily.”
So you can imagine my surprise, one day in 1960, when Dad came home with a used Studebaker for mom to drive to work and to the store. Don’t know when it rolled off the assembly line but it was probably a 1950 or ’51 model.
One of the things I remember about the Studebaker was that the parking brake didn’t always work. But it wasn’t just the parking brake that didn’t work. Sometimes the brakes themselves didn’t always stop the car completely. One time when mom, my brother Peanuts and I were driving downtown to buy new baseball equipment (a Harmon Killebrew 33-inch thin handled bat for me), she attempted to stop at the bottom of the hill at a four-way stop. Mom put on the brakes just in time to stop but, because they weren’t always working like they should, the Studebaker slid through the crosswalk and slowly came to a stop in the middle of the intersection.
I also remember that the engine did not always shut off even after the key was taken out of the ignition. One Saturday morning, mom and I drove to the local grocery store. East Hills, I think it was called. This was when it was a small mom and pop grocery store owned by a Japanese family whose father had been sent to the Manzanar relocation center shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He had just graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in engineering and was detained before putting his engineering degree to good use. After being released from the detention camp, he got married, started a family and somehow got into the grocery business.
He and his family settled in the Hayward Hills and became friends with Mom and Dad. They lived in a small home on the same property as their store. The parking spaces were in front of the store and separated from their home by a five-foot wooden fence. I mention the fence because I can still see the Studebaker crashing through it.
Mom must have been in a hurry that morning. She asked me to stay in the car while she went in to buy a pack of cigarettes. Mom turned the car off, put the keys in her purse, opened the car door and began to walk quickly into the store. She had only taken a couple of steps when the Studebaker started up and drove itself slowly through the fence, stopping just short of the store owner’s home.
The cost of the repairs to the fence took Mom and Dad six months to pay off. It was shortly after the fence fiasco that Dad came home with a used ’54 Ford. This was the car that mom drove to work every day and the car that I learned to drive when I got my learner’s permit at 15. Unlike the Studebaker, the ’54 Ford was a reliable car… most of the time. That it didn’t always perform as expected is a another story for another time!