Road trips, real and imaginary

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True of all dairy farm families, we didn’t travel far because the twice-daily demands of milking made sure of that.

But, my parents always had a dependable Ford in the driveway, and four little girls made great use of it, even when it never left the driveway.

“Las Vegas here we come!” I remember all of us shouting at once as we clamored into our chosen places. This sometimes came about as we were ‘playing house’ and the story line demanded travel.

That car felt like it was a big part of our collective fun. The keys were never touched, (though it’s likely they remained in the ignition most of the time) and the car was always parked under the big maple tree on completely flat ground.

The two-door model my dad preferred (never a four-door, because we could fall out, he said with genuine conviction) was built like a tank. From the exterior, I had a hard time pushing the chrome button on the door handle, and swinging the heavy door open required a big sister.

I was forced to sit in the front when we were actually going somewhere, but when we played, I remember pushing the sofa-sized front seat forward and somersaulting with glee into the back seat.

Power of imagination. I would sometimes climb into the flat window ledge or lie down on the floor with room to spare. The massive 1958 Ford Fairlane 500 interior seemed ample enough for all of us to live in comfortably.

We weren’t blessed with an overflowing toy chest, and we didn’t have motorized anything back in these olden days of which I speak. These were the gloriously fearless days of the early 1960s when our combined imagination could take us anywhere our little minds could conjure.

When I finally got my turn to hold that steering wheel, I totally grasped the fascination. The aqua and chrome wheel was sturdy, shiny and sleek, finger indentations on the back side magically molded. I had never in my life seen anything more lovely than that steering wheel, I felt sure of it.

I could stand up on the seat, coming nowhere close to bumping my head in that roomy Ford. My arms outstretched in order to span the enormous steering wheel, I would pretend to drive so fast we were on two wheels, maneuvering hairpin turns.

“Hang on tight! Here comes another one!” I might shout to no one at all. The travel was divine.

When we returned from our imaginary trips, we would often pretend to wash the car. I would have been almost four years old when rust bubbles started to appear on the back fenders. For fun, I remember popping those blisters with the crushing weight of my thumb. Along with my sidekick sister, Debi, I also remember getting a swat across the behind for doing something so ridiculously stupid.

New car

The aqua, white and chrome Fairlane 500 was replaced with a brand-spankin’ new bright red 1963 1/2 Ford Galaxy 500. Ford had come up with the industry’s first ‘half-year’ model in 1963, and it caught Dad’s eye.

This new beauty, a Cruise-O-Matic (no more shifting!) likely cost my parents about $3,400. Somewhat intimidating in its sleek glory, it didn’t feel nearly as hospitable for playtime travel. The new sports hardtop replaced the old boxtop square-roof models, and this meant less jumping room for four little girls.

The fancy dashboard, as otherworldly as a rocket ship, seemed eons advanced. Friends and neighbors stopped to admire this shiny red beauty, unlike anything witnessed before.

When we went for drives in our new head-turning car, I sat up front between our parents, no car seat or seat belt in sight. At stops, I remember both Dad and Mom reflexively doing the stiff-arm maneuver to hold me in place.

In 1964, when the baby brother came along, I gained more freedom when I was moved to the back seat with the ‘big girls.’

About that time, I recall becoming fascinated with my Dad’s new D-17 Allis-Chalmers. Its unbelievably cushioned seat and enormous steering wheel were quite a step up from the old WD-45.

I was sure that the D-17 could take us anywhere we wanted to go. All we had to do was dream it up!

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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