Leon Was Our Test Pilot

Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 08:52 AM.

            We didn’t have cruise control on that old 1951 Chevrolet that served as our “Family Car” in my formative years. You pretty much had to keep your foot on the gas pedal all the way to town. It did have power steering…..it took near ’bout all the power you could muster to turn that big wheel! It was air conditioned in the winter time. In August your tee shirt was stuck to your back before you made the big curve in front of Raymond White’s service station. Thank goodness it didn’t have seat belts! Do you have any idea what Leon would have done to us with all those straps hanging at his disposal…..

            It was equipped with an “Entertainment Center” that GM could only wish for today. We’d play “I Spy” until Leon spied something black and when you said the “black on the dashboard” he changed it to the black behind the dome light. When you said “dome light” he changed it to the black letters on the First Baptist Church sign which was clearly outside the car and thereby outside the rules. That’s when the cab of that old car became a wrestling ring! We had roller derbies inside that thing. We chased rabbits, real and imaginary. Football championships were won and lost daily. Leon put an Indian burn on my left wrist once that lasted from Huntingdon all the way to Pulaski!

            It was the first automobile I ever saw that was equipped with a back up camera. When Leon was learning to drive and he would back up dangerously close to the porch steps, he’d make me run back there and let him know exactly how much room he had left. He’d be trying to parallel park in front of Bailey Moore Wrinkles’ Hardware I’d have to jump out and see if he could “get in” without clipping Mr. Ed Wiley’s Buick.

            That old car also had keyless entry. Anybody could get in it at anytime. No waiting or looking for lost or misplaced keys. The doors were never locked. And the key was never taken out of the ignition. This was the case if we were parked in the back yard, downtown in front of Tri County Electric or off visiting grandparents.

            I wonder how that would work today.

            Leon had his moments. David Mark and I were way too young to drive this car. No matter how “far forward” we leaned and stretched, our little legs couldn’t reach the pedals. Sometimes Leon’s agile mind worked for you. He tied two inch blocks of wood to the pedals so we could drive around in the back yard. I never did get to “taker in to town” but I cruised by the clothes line and left the cedar tree eating my dust.  

            I don’t reckon that old ’51 Chevy would ever be considered a classic. It would definitely be on the “boxy” side by today’s aerodynamic design. And it weighed a ton. I know that sun roofs are cool, as are tinted windows and heated seats. You can get vehicles today with two wheel, four wheel and all wheel drive. You can plug your dishwasher into anyone of six handy power outlets within easy reach…… But when Leon rolled that old Chevy down the embankment out where they were constructing the new highway 22 I wouldn’t have traded the strength and build of that automobile for any fancy computers rigged, fuel injected, sleek model on the current market. There were eight people in the car. It rolled over three times. Everyone walked away. As a matter of fact, Leon, with a cut above his eye, got the worst of it. Leave it to him to add the last touch to a wonderful tangible product of our great childhood.



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