It was probably in 1942 that we got our first radio. Bill and I were both making money and decided to go together on a radio for Mama’s birthday, the seventh of July. We secretly sent an order to Montgomery Ward for a battery powered table model. Nearly all of our shopping at that time was done with mail order houses, primarily Montgomery Ward and Sears and Roebuck. It was very common to hear these two referred to as “Monkey Ward” and “Snort and Rareback.” Mail order shopping was popular because traveling by automobile was still slow and often difficult. Besides, mail service was excellent. We had mail delivery only three times a week in the summer and twice a week in the winter but we could put an order to Sears Roebuck in Minneapolis in the mail on Monday and nearly always receive the goods on Friday of the same week.
Passenger trains sped over an interconnecting network of rails that lay across the nation and included in most of these trains was a rolling post office. Inside each of these mail cars there were people sorting and date-stamping mail. At each station along the railroad, mail was dropped off for the local post office, as well as for nearby towns, and outgoing mail was picked up. Even at stations where the train didn’t stop, pickups and drops were made on the fly. Our rural mail carrier would pick up our mail and deliver it to the post office by early afternoon. There, it would be sorted and the outgoing mail put in a bag and taken to the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad depot in Ringling. The east-bound train would pick it up and deliver it to Minneapolis the next day. That efficiency can’t be matched today even with the mail going part of the way by airplane.
Anyway, the radio arrived before Mama’s birthday all right, but it wasn’t a secret any longer because the box the mailman set off had “Airline Radio” printed on all sides of it in letters big enough to be easily read from the house. From then on, we could listen to Fibber McGee and Molly, Amos ‘n Andy and The Grand Ole Opry but the radio was used very conservatively because the batteries were not rechargeable and were quite expensive.
That year and the next three, I spent most of the summer working in the hay fields. There had always been a demand for help during haying season but now many young men were going into military service so the demand was even greater. The summer of 1942 I worked for Fred Buckingham, a lifetime friend of the Fuller family. By this time, most people had an automobile of some sort but some were finding it hard to keep them running due to wartime shortage of gasoline and tires. Such was the case for Laurance Walter who was also working for Fred that summer. Laurance had a Hupmobile but he didn’t drive it very often. One tire had several repair boots in it and another had a long slit in the side that was laced up with wire. Inside of it was a smaller tire. Needless to say, it didn’t provide fast or reliable transportation but he would drive it to town once in awhile.
In 1943 I began driving to school. Previously, Bill had driven or, during the harder winter months, we had stayed in town during the week. It was necessary to do one or the other because our school district did not operate any buses. For the few who had to commute to school, a transportation allowance was provided that paid most of the cost of driving. Bill was out of school now so we applied for a special driver’s license for me to drive on until I became sixteen and could get a regular license. The car we drove to school was a 1927 Chevrolet sedan. Daddy had removed the four-cylinder engine, had it rebuilt and replaced it into the car so that the car was in top condition. It was a pretty good car for that time but most people today would probably find it impossible to deal with. For one thing, it did not have an electric starter which meant it had to be cranked by hand to start the engine. In warm weather this was not really very difficult but, as with so many other things, in cold winter weather, it became a challenge. Antifreeze was not yet in general use and was still too expensive for our family to use. So, during freezing weather, the radiator and engine had to be drained whenever the car was shut off for more than a short time. This called for some educated estimations on the part of the driver to determine how long it could stand without running or the water drained at various temperatures. Using water rather than antifreeze was an advantage, however, in starting the engine in extremely cold weather. The procedure was to take a bucket of hot water out to the garage and pour it into the radiator. This warmed the engine and made it start somewhat easier. Then you moved a lever near the steering wheel to retard the ignition so the engine didn’t kick back when you turned the crank. Another lever set the engine speed to keep it running until you could get from the front of the car to the controls inside. Then you pulled the choke knob (no automatic chokes then) out to the limit. Next, the crank had to be inserted in the front of the engine and the cranking began. When the engine fired and began to run, you had to make a mad dash for the controls to get the choke pushed in some before the engine choked too much and died. Sometimes you were lucky and everything worked the first time but usually you miscalculated the amount of choking needed or were too slow getting to the controls and had to crank several times before you got it running. One morning the end of my little finger caught the sheet metal that curved out in front to cover the end of the front spring. When I had the controls all adjusted and the engine running, I pulled my glove off to see if the finger was hurt. I found it turned straight up at the middle joint. I took hold of it and straightened it and it seemed to work okay. It was sore for awhile and the knuckle was large thereafter but, otherwise, it was fine. If the weather was freezing, the radiator had to be drained during the day while we were in school. After school I would crank it up and drive it down to the hot springs, about a block from school, and fill it up with warm water from the springs.
This is not the 1927 Chevrolet that I drove to school but is exactly like it.
It was sometime during this winter of 1942/1943 that I installed a heater in the car. Daddy had gotten a couple of heaters somewhere and they were on a shelf in the garage where I would often see them. One day it occurred to me that I could probably install one of them in the 1927 Chevrolet so I bought some hose and fittings and went to work on it. I felt that I really should get permission from Daddy first but he was working away from home. Once I had the idea in my head, I couldn’t wait for him to come home so I could ask him. So, I got the heater installed and it worked fine. It certainly made driving to school in cold weather a lot more pleasant. In fact, it was so much nicer that, after Daddy used the car a time or two, he installed the other heater in the 1929 Chevrolet that we had.
The 1929 car was the “good” car or family car and I was not normally allowed to drive it. However, I do recall one occasion when, for some reason now forgotten, I drove it to town and back. I remember how impressed I was with the smooth, quiet power of the six cylinder engine.