Car Camping #3: The Cadillac #3, Parking 

We got our new Cadillac in 1952. In 1952 grocery stores were just starting to include parking lots and advertise for an area larger than the near neighborhood. Shopping for anything else meant going downtown where the department stores were located. 

In 1952, downtown Boise had bustling business buildings, cafes, specialty shops and six large department stores. And crowded two-way traffic. 

Downtown Boise also featured that most challenging aspect of city adventures: parallel parking. Mom had no idea how she would ever be able to park that huge, heavy vehicle in tiny downtown spots with traffic backing up behind her.

INT mom

There was a reason cars had huge steering wheels back then – it gave the driver more leverage when turning the tires. Another way the driver was given more leverage when turning the tires was making it so it took a lot of turning the  steering wheel to move the tires back and forth.

At driving speeds the tires turned rather easily since the they were moving into the change of direction. When the tires were standing still the only thing that worked to turn the tires was brute force. 

Well, folks, the tires on a car are standing still when you are cranking the wheel to parallel park.  No wonder Mom was worried about parking that heavy Cadillac in downtown traffic. Yet on her first try that vehicle slipped into a spot easier than any other car she had ever driven! 

Today we take powered steering for granted, but my Mom never did! 

INT steering wheel.jpg

PS – While researching this story Wikipedia told me the first power steering for cars was put together by a man named Fitts in 1876. Chrysler sold the first off-the-line passenger car with power steering called Hydraguide in the 1951 Chrysler Imperial. Apparently General Motors was not going to be lost in the dust and had power steering ready for the 1952 Cadillac, the first GM car to feature it. Both these systems were based on work introduced in 1926 by Francis W. Davis. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_steering

Buck Brook #20 — A Manhattan Pothole

The school at Buck Brook Farm had one large van for when special events were attended by multiple students and staff. In case I was ever the only staff member willing or able to venture on such events I was sent to the county DMV office to get a chauffeur’s license. Even without proper cap and livery, this lanky twenty-five year old from the hippie school managed to pass.

INT.jpg

The only time I remember actually chauffeuring anyone in that extended van was to some event a hundred miles to the south — in the center of Manhattan Island. !

I had observed drivers in Manhattan, both as a passenger and a pedestrian. Zero to fifty between lights was the expected response to a green signal. And drivers were immediately responsive to your signal to change lanes but you better jump into that space they gave you or it was assumed you’d never mover over and the space was closed. The space was, after all, a good foot longer than your car!

By 1970 I had driven in Los Angeles and Portland and Seattle and San Francisco. What could be so different with driving a small bus filled with teenagers into Manhattan? I wasn’t even on a surface street when I found out. 

The divided highways toward town turned into the West Side Elevated Highway — a crowded freeway squeezed between the Hudson River and the towering apartment buildings of the upper east side. Like everyone else I was keeping some eight feet behind the vehicle in front of me. Like everyone else I was going some fifteen miles over the speed limit, maybe 70 but it felt like 100. 

And then the pavement just wasn’t there.

The car in front of the big van was still there. The car behind the big van was still there. But there was no pavement there. Just squares of rebar.

And between the squares of rebar were deep potholes of beat up concrete.

Without hesitation the van dropped some two inches off the surface of the road and began rattling out a very fancy rendition of Riverdance across steel squares and deep potholes.

This went on for some eighty feet before our tires hit the sharp two-inch edge that returned us to smooth concrete roadway, slamming the suspension hard into the van’s undercarriage.

It was Manhattan Island, folks. Shutting down the West Side Highway to fix a Manhattan-sized pothole sure would have messed up the commute. 

As to me? I came away with an entirely new respect for the technology that goes into building four tires to survive city driving.

_____________________

PS: Wikipedia tells me the West Side Elevated Highway was built between 1929 and 1951. In 1973, three years after our Manhattan adventure, the highway was shut down “due to neglect and lack of maintenance…” It was dismantled in 1989. Its replacement was completed in 2001.

Car Camping #2: The Cadillac #2, Fantastic Features

For several days Dad delighted in reading the manual for our new 1952 Cadillac and discovering all the new features of this luxury “automobile” — versus all the “puddle jumpers” out there. 

photo INT.jpg

The first night the Caddy was home we kids were rousted out of our warm beds and led to the cold garage where he sat us in the front seat and pushed in the radio’s tuning knob. A motor’s rather loud whir had us discover the radio antenna rising out of the right side front fender. Pulling the knob out caused the same whir to make the antenna disappear back into the fender!

Dad’s excuse for buying the Cadillac was for its big V-8 engine, but an equally important feature was the heater. The heater blew out from under the front seat. The Manhattan had a heater unit hanging down under the dash on the front passenger’s side. All three of we kids would crowd on the front bench seat after a day sledding in the snow, usually crowding Mom onto  the back seat. Having the heat come out from under the front seat meant both the front and back of the car had warm air blowing on our feet, so Mom no longer had to sacrifice so we kids could warm up.

Come to think of it, it was probably also a safety feature since Dad no longer had to drive on icy roads while being squashed against his door by three squirming kids.

Buck Brook #19 – Chicken Shit Truck

We staff members at Buck Brook Farm were kept busy driving the little crooked roads of the Catskill Mountains. 

photo INT.jpg

Whether we were on a shopping trip or carting students to functions, there was always a mixture of groans and laughter when we rounded a corner and saw we were coming up on a particular type of truck. 

These trucks were always slow and never more so than when loaded down with cargo and grinding up the abundant steep grades of this mountainous terrain. And the mountainous terrain made for endless curves so passing was never an option.

From behind these trucks were large metal boxes, the size of a semi-trailer. At the base of the back wall of the truck was a little sliding door some two feet by two feet. These trucks were aways older and the little doors were always oozing a milky fluid. 

These trucks were chicken shit trucks. 

The concept of being behind a chicken shit truck grinding its way through the mountains was squeamish. The patience of waiting for a place to pass was challenging. But the smell? Well. Pour a bottle of ammonia over yourself. You get the picture. 

When we first saw these trucks we’d stop and wait where we were. If another driver came up behind us they’d understand and wait as well. Once the truck was out of sight we’d go up the hill, go around the next corner, and see if there was a chance to speed past. 

And we’d have a story that was instantly recognized by all who heard it.

NOTE: NEVER POUR A BOTTLE OF AMMONIA OVER YOURSELF! I don’t even recommend getting your nose very close once the cap is off.

Car Camping #1: The Cadillac #1

As soon as World War II was over the manufacturing might of the United States turned its attention to consumer items — items that were sorely needed thanks to limited or no production during the war. 

My folks were early customers of the new production lines. In 1948 they gave their Ford Model A to my aunt and uncle on the family farm and bought a brand new 1947-48 Frazer Manhattan.

car.jpg

I was three at the time so the Manhattan was the first car I remember being ours. It had very cool push-button latches on the inside of the doors. Fortunately they were so stiff my very curious little fingers I weren’t able to open the doors with while the car was moving. But I sure tried!

push button.jpg

Alas, the Manhattan was outdone by our growing family’s need to go camping in the mountains and canyons of Idaho. By 1952 it was too small for the five of us and all our gear. When Dad hitched on a trailer to carry our heavy, primitive camping supplies the Manhattan barely made it out of town. We often stopped to refill the radiator from a stream using the “dipper” (a sauce pan) we always carried under the back window. 

There was a line of cars known to have big motors – which was Dad’s excuse to buy a 1952 Cadillac. 

Interesting innovations of the Frazer Manhattan

History of the Frazer Manhattan

Buck Brook #18 – Caldron of Paradise

The entire process of gathering maple sap and boiling it to syrup was an education to me. And it was fun. But the moments that hold my soul so dearly are but a brief time in the days of reducing maple sap. They include one of students at Buck Brook, a very mellow guy named Billy Garvin.

Billy INT

I had gone to the boiling shed in the evening to see what was up. It was dark by then and Billy was there by himself. We chatted a bit and added sap and threw on logs. Then we fell silent. 

The fire was glowing under the pan, flicking yellow light around the rustic walls and filling the shed with crackles and pops and smoke that was quickly dissipated. The steam rose in thick rolling clouds and passed through the shifting yellow light on its rushed journey through the open slots in the ceiling. 

Billy expertly tossed logs into the fire, keeping the flames contentedly busy. His curly hair and glowing face added the perfect humanity to the warmth of the flicking light and the rustic shed and the heat of the fire and the cold damp of a light snow that fell on the open roof, melting on the exposed boards and dripping  around us. 

All so active with dancing light and so noisy with active fire and so stirring with damp and heat and cold. And all so absolutely at peace.

How long did I sit there in the presence of this glorious life? I’m pretty sure my body sat there a good long time. I know my soul still celebrates being there.

Buck Brook #17 – Boiling Shed

One of the places my soul rests to this day is Buck Brook’s boiling shed, where some hundred and forty gallons of maple sap was reduced to three gallons of thick, satisfying syrup. 

By the way — if you have never splurged for some real, reduced-sap maple syrup, go get some now. Use a quarter as much real maple syrup as you would pour from a bottle of corn syrup with “maple flavoring.” Your taste buds and your body will be more content than any amount of artificial syrup can provide. 

But on with my story —

The spring snows of 1970 were wet and turning to cold rains when we fired up the boiling shed, and a good lot of that snow and rain had soaked up the shed, inside as well as out. After all, the object of boiling maple sap is to get rid of water and leave the maple sugars and flavors. The process releases copious quantities of steam and the shed must let that steam out. Imagine a simple shed with every fourth board of the walls taken out. And every third board of the roof. 

Yep. It was wet and cold. But the breezes were kept at bay well enough to let the fire rage and we got real good at establishing sit-spots close enough to toss on more wood while staying far enough back so the fire on our front sides balanced the cold on the rest of us. 

The floor of the shed was dirt and the logs, fire and ashes were on top of that, creating a fire pit that I remember as being some six by four feet. Cinder blocks were stacked three high around the fire pit, with some stacked in the middle to support the pan. The stacks of cinder blocks around the edges of the the fire were spaced some two feet apart to allow tossing on more wood and allowing plenty of air to the inferno we kept raging. 

Held above the fire by the cinder blocks was a metal sheet, large enough to cover the entire large fire pit and the cinderblocks around it. The metal sheet had a sealed metal wall around it, rising only some eight inches in depth. There was a lot of surface area exposed to the fire under the boiling sap and to the air above it.

I was not there for the lighting of that fire, but I often stopped by and helped. Well. At least I chatted — it did not take any effort at all to get all the students eager to play at feeding the fire.

And the fire needed constant playing. More wood. More distributing the hot coals. The buckets of sap needed to be regularly and carefully added to the steaming caldron, letting the sap loose its water but keeping it thin enough to boil, not burn. 

Night and day for more than a week the steam rolled out of the boiling shed, until the trees had returned their stored sap into their branches. The little stream of sap filling our buckets slowed to drips and the drips slowed to occasional drops. 

We started letting the fire settle and cool, gently boiling off the last of the water, boiling more gently and stirring the thickening liquid until, at last, the liquid was just the texture we claimed to be syrup! 

Just as I missed the lighting of the fire, I missed the moment of claiming syrup. Since it would have been difficult to completely extinguish that much hot ash and burning wood I’m thinking there must have been a concerted effort to get the hot liquid scooped out of that shallow pan and funneled into the glass jugs that were waiting.

We had saved one-gallon glass vinegar jugs for the occasion. We filled three of them and ate pancakes with gusto.