My First Automobile
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 by Frank Shortt
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While stationed at Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, Ca. in the 1960’s, I had never owned a car yet. In fact, I had never driven a car before joining Uncle Sam. I was placed on an ‘on the job’ training program on Special Vehicles, consisting of fire trucks, towing tractors, and some heavy equipment. My OJT trainer was Sgt. Ezekiel Keys who became one of my best friends.

My first driving lesson was on a small aircraft towing tug. I guess the other airmen, who could already drive, figured there was nothing I could hurt with one of those slow moving, heavily armored, pieces of junk! I began there and pretty soon was moving up to heavier pieces of equipment. I was allowed to move a fire truck or a huge towing tractor from one spot to another as needed. Later, I began driving general purpose vehicles as it was found out that I was a pretty good brake repairman. When you are the low man on the totem pole, you can be moved around at the whim of your sergeant in charge!

In 1962 I met my future and only wife. I had been invited to San Jose, Ca. to visit with the family of my good friend and fellow Airman, Joey Cardoza. While on the first visit to his home, I was introduced to Sharon, who happened to be his neighbor. We seemed to get along pretty good considering the newness of the relationship. We began writing letters via USPS to each other after that, (Writing Letters??) whoever heard of such a thing. Anyway the relationship grew, and pretty soon we began talking marriage. What she saw in an ignorant hillbilly, stone broke, and no hope for the future, I will never understand! But, we decided we would need a car if we tied the knot!

I had a couple of Airmen friends who knew quite a bit about automobiles, Charles Hoskins and Cecil Gray Angell. We had grown quite close since we were all from the Southeastern United States. We understood when we went to the store and asked for a ‘poke’ to carry our groceries! I inquired of them if they knew anyone who was selling a good used car. Hoskins did not, but Angell said he had a pretty good Ford that he was willing to sell for Four Hundred dollars. I had seen the car as he drove it onto the base, but had never really taken a good look at it. It was a 1955 model stick shift with a small T-Bird engine, and appeared to be in good shape as far as the body and interior. The engine ran so smoothly that one could place a glass of water on the hood and it would not even shake the contents. In fact, it was not uncommon to try and start the engine at a stop sign even though the engine was indeed running. We made the deal and I couldn’t wait to drive the car to San Jose so that Sharon could view it for the first time. Now, the catch!

First, Angell did not tell me that the car had a tendency to jump out of second gear at the least opportune time, and second, the heater did not work! Since I had learned to drive on stick shift vehicles, I had a pretty good knowledge of what to do in case the transmission jumped out of second. Plus, I was always having to justify the purchase of a faulty vehicle to Sharon. We spent quite a bit of cash, after we were married, in order to try and get the transmission operating properly. There was a garage just outside the Mather main gate that always enjoyed seeing me coming. Some of the businesses close to the base thrived off the ignorance of young airmen.

We had not noticed the lack of a heater in the car as we had bought the vehicle at the end of the summer and had never checked it. After we were married we made occasional trips to San Jose to see Sharon’s folks when I had weekends off from my duties at the base. As winter set in, and one Friday night we were on the way to San Jose, we began to feel cold air coming in from somewhere. Sharon began to shiver and asked me if I could turn the heater on. “Sure, I replied, anything for my new bride!” She began to fidget with the handles to turn on the heat, and after a while, gave up in disgust as the motor in the heater would not budge. She remedied the situation by going to the back seat and taking my heavy wool socks out of our overnight bag and placing a couple of pairs on her feet. Needless to say, when we arrived in San Jose, I was the one who had the shivers!

We made do with the old Ford until we were able to save up a little money to purchase another vehicle. After taking the car to the garage at Mather several times for the transmission, almost miraculously, the owner suddenly found the trouble. There was nothing wrong with the transmission, but he found out that the only thing wrong was that the motor mounts were disintegrated causing the rear of the motor to lean a little too far backward causing the transmission to jump out of gear. Just when I had a buyer for the car! We just hoped that our next vehicle would be a little more serviceable! Was Angell such a good friend after all? When I asked him about the heater and the transmission, he played it off to the fact that he had sold me the car ‘as is’ and had given me a great deal at four-hundred dollars to allow for any repairs that were needed. Nevertheless, we remained good friends and he would give me a ride in his car whenever I needed it.