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Autos tell their stories

Rosalie Justen is a member of the Jottings Writing Group of the Adult Community Center.


When I was very young our family car was a Lincoln Zephyr. In the predawn hours of winter, seven of us were comfortably enjoying a drive toward Idaho.

Going around the Vista House slippery curves on the old Columbia River Highway we were traveling a little too fast. Hitting the side rail, then skidding to the opposite steep hill, the car turned over on its side. Our legs were tangled but no one was hurt. We could not force the doors open. An early morning milk truck driver saw our plight, pried the doors open and pulled us out one by one. We later took the train to Idaho.

While attending the University of Oregon, my parents purchased for me my first automobile. It was a red and white Chevy, which I named Andy. It held the road bravely when I was traveling home to Portland from Eugene after finals, juries and term papers. Andy didn’t search for and find the ditch when I was starting to get drowsy.

When I met my husband he had an older model Ford which was temperamental. He was the only person who could coax it to go. When it was stubborn, he would tap on the engine and it would obediently perform. We traveled in that vehicle to Berkeley on our honeymoon. He attended a master class with the great classical guitarist Andres Segovia since my husband was also an outstanding guitarist.

En route back to Portland, he pushed the speedometer to the car’s limits in order to get to the performance of a Shakespearean play at Ashland. The car made it to Ashland, but simply refused to go another mile. We got out and walked to the venue of the play. The next day I called home and asked my father to loan us some money to purchase a car in Ashland.

What we bought was a maroon and white pre-owned Oldsmobile. We thought it was grand looking and joyfully returned to Portland. That car served us well on short and long trips for some years.

My husband had his VW bug sent over from Germany. It was the older type in which one must “double clutch.” One had to push the gas pedal in order to shift to a lower gear. My husband joined the armed services and was stationed at McCord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Wash. On his very last trip home to Portland, there was black ice on the highway. The car slid, flipped completely over, and, like a cat, recovered it footings on its wheels. A nearby tow truck pulled it out of the ditch, and he proceeded on his way.

We also purchased a pre-owned maroon Volvo, which was a nice, sturdy family car. It was in that automobile that we made a three-week tour into Mexico from Houston where we then lived. Thank goodness the car performed well, because we saw no Volvo repair places in our travels. Later, with German engineering genius and American ingenuity, my husband rebuilt the engine of this Volvo. He designed and built a pulley to remove the engine and place it back when the job was finished.

In Houston I owned a brown pre-owned Ford, which was in excellent condition. It had not rained for some time and then there was some precipitation. The streets had a greasy glaze. A little dog was suddenly in front of the car and I “paused for paws.” Slamming on the brakes, suddenly the car was hydroplaning across the oncoming traffic lane and headed toward the corner house on the other side of the street. I prayed.

God gave me the calmness of mind to guide the car between two large trees and it stopped at the decorative lamp pole in that front yard. I turned off the ignition, opened the door and got out. The right side of the car was badly damaged. So, that was totaled car number one. But then, brown was not my favorite color.

My next car was an attractive dove gray with blue interior Olds Omega. One day on my way home there was a plant nursery truck completely stopped in the middle of the freeway. The car immediately following it stopped. The pickup truck in front of me hit that vehicle, I ran into the pickup truck and the pickup truck behind me ran into my car.

So, I was sandwiched between two pickup trucks. The front end of my car was under the truck’s rear end. There was nothing to do but wait until the tow trucks untangled the chain of vehicles. So, that was totaled car No. 2.

My first brand new car is the white with blue interior 1990 Olds 88 Royale, which I have to this day. I drove it from Houston to Portland and it sailed along smoothly and comfortably. It was permitted to travel a little too fast on the long roads in Texas going into New Mexico. The police were lined up just outside of the border waiting for these speeders. The policeman who stopped me said, “I bet you are glad to get out of Texas.” Could this have been a preference for his state and a dislike for his neighbor state?

Although nowadays the trend is “throw away and get new,” I still like to hold on to what serves me well. Unfortunately, the monetary value of an older car plummets to a very few dollars. So, a minor fender bender created a situation where the repairs amounted to more than the Blue Book value of the car. It now has a “reconstructed license.” Two “fly by night” guys who said they had worked for General Motors repaired the front fender. The job cost a fraction of what the garage quoted but what they did was barely passable.

Please don’t tell my insurance agent, but to date I have totaled three cars.




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