In the fall of 1954, just about the time that Hurricane Hazel was making history on the eastern seaboard, my dad, the Chief, decided he was tired of the old black '53 Chevy and wanted to trade it in on a brand new '55. We went down to Colonial Chevrolet in Norfolk and proudly picked up our new Forest Green Chevy 210, with the brand new 265 cubic-inch V-8 engine and a three-speed stick. It was a two-door with doorposts (who knew that ten years later it would be one of the most sought-after models in Chevy history!) and vinyl seats. The Chief couldn't have been more proud.
The new Chevy was only a few months old when we got orders to go back to California. Road Trip!! After settling our affairs in Norfolk, we packed sensibly, under the Chief's strict supervision, and off we went. It was an eventful trip. I was about 8 and my sister was almost three. The adventure wore thin after the first hour or so; then it was just long, boring, and uncomfortable: days on end of watching the world go by...endless monotony broken by small bits of excitement. The first bit came as soon as we got to Kentucky. We were in a fairly good-sized town, sitting at a traffic light behind a delivery truck of some sort. The truck's tailgate was chained in the horizontal position and when the light changed to green, the truck rolled backward into our beautiful Chevy, leaving a tailgate sized imprint in our left-front fender.
The truck's driver was over-apologetic and felt awful about dinging up our pretty Chevy. His boss was super apologetic, too. When he heard our story about being a Navy family and driving to California and being on a strict schedule and two small kids and not near enough money for all this...well...the Boss was a good man. His first order of business was to talk to the local Chevy dealer and set up a rush job on getting our fender fixed. Then he got us settled in a nice motel and arranged for us to have a nice dinner at a nearby cafe. He paid for everything. The Chief was mollified, some, but he didn't believe they would ever be able to fix the car up to his satisfaction in less than two or three days.
The next morning, we got a call from the Boss who told the Chief that a car would be by to pick us up at noon and take us to the Chevy dealer...the boss said our Chevy would be as good as new. The Chief doubted it but we all packed into the car at noon and rode to the dealership. Right there in front of the showroom was a shiny, bright, good as new Forest Green '55 Chevy sporting its new front fender that was a perfect color match and everything.
Total cost to us: zero. And after profusely thanking everyone who was involved with the repairs and painting and especially the boss, we were back on the road just shy of twenty-four hours after the truck rolled into us.
We didn't make it out of Kentucky that night. It was raining so hard that the Chief finally gave up; he couldn't see, the roads were flooding, and it was only going to get worse. So the Chief found a decent-looking motel and called it a night. I remember that, running from the car to the door of the motel, I went from bone-dry to so soaking wet I may as well have been in a swimming pool in just a few seconds. My shoes and socks and pants and everything were sopping wet. We got into the room and stripped off our clothes, wrapped ourselves in towels, and hung our wet stuff all over the motel room to dry. It was not just raining, either, it was bone-chilling cold.
In the morning we dressed and packed and went out to the car with our bags to find the parking lot resembled a skating rink more than anything. And our beautiful Chevy sat stuck in a puddle that had frozen overnight. Almost all the other travelers were in the same boat (no pun intended). It took a couple hours to break up the ice enough to drive out of that lot. We made it out of Kentucky that day...the Chief said we would if we had to drive all night...he was tired of the Blue Grass State.
I don't recall crossing the Mississippi; I think we must have done it at Memphis but I honestly have no recollection of it...just an endless road with fields on either side - nothing interesting to a kid.
Somewhere in the middle of Kansas my mom, Betty Lou, told the Chief that he looked tired and she would be happy to drive for a while. While Betty Lou drove by herself a lot, it was very unusual for the Chief to give up "the Con" (Navy-talk for passing control to another) to anyone. She said that she would just drive to those hills up ahead, so he could catch a short nap. Those "hills" she referred to turned out to be the Rocky Mountains, which were in Colorado but apparently visible from a looooonnnngg way off. We stopped that night still in Kansas, and nowhere near those hills.
The next morning I remember clearly as it played an essential part in the legend created that day. I insisted on sausage and pancakes for breakfast. The proprietors were proud of their homemade, special recipe sausage...and proud they should have been, it was spicy and tasty and very filling. We stopped in Denver for lunch. The Chief struck up a conversation with a couple of Colorado State Patrol officers about the weather and the road conditions up ahead. They told him that we should get to going if we wanted to get through the passes that day; the weather would be closing in that afternoon.
The Chief urged us to finish up so we could get going. I had my footlong hot dog down before my little sister finished whatever she was having, so we packed hers to finish in the car. That should tell you how desparately the Chief wanted to get on the road...to that very day, NO ONE had ever had permission to eat or drink anything in the beautiful new Chevy.
From my earliest memories, I have always been prone to motion-sickness. The need to hurry caused the Chief to push it through the curves, the weather was closing in and the road was winding and the heater was on too high (to accomodate Betty Lou and my little sister) and somewhere on that snowy, twisting, mountain road I hurled it all over the back seat...the pancakes, the sausage, the foot-long, and anything else that might have been in there. It was bad.
The Chief pulled off the highway and found a wide spot to pull over and begin the process of cleaning up. The lasting memory of the next hour or so was Betty Lou and Little Sister standing beside the car huddled and bundled into our handy car blanket, the Chief barely able to keep from hurling himself, cleaning the beautiful new Chevy with napkins, rags, paper towels, and whatever else he could scrounge up. We didn't have any water so he was using snow to do the cleaning. And I was standing there, in nothing but his peacoat and my sox between me and the blowing snow, everything else having been way too thoroughly contaminated, apologizing and crying and feeling generally miserable for being the cause of everyone's discomfort.
The Chief was a detail guy...when we were allowed back in the car, it was clean, no trace of the bio-hazardous tragedy that had transpired. The heater soon got us all more comfortable and the Chief carefully got us back on the highway. The road was by this time snow-covered and slick, but the Chief was determined to keep going, besides, there was nowhere to stop. The snow kept getting worse; at times we could barely see the road markers at all. We got over the top of the grade with daylight fading and the trip down was almost totally dark. There were times when we slid and skidded, but the Chief always had that steady look that said he was in control. Betty Lou never once suggested otherwise, either, not a single show of nerves or fear...she had complete confidence in the Chief's abilities.
We were almost down the grade when we saw flashing red lights ahead. The State Patrol had the road blocked...on the other side. They stopped us and asked where we had come from and when the Chief explained, the Officer said that they had closed that side probably about the time we were in the clean-up project, that somehow we had managed to get around the roadblock. The Patrolman laughed and told the Chief that he might as well go on ahead; the worst was behind us.
A couple of days later we rolled into San Diego. In 1958 we took the old Chevy to Japan, where her upholstery was redone and her paint renewed. In 1961 a couple of Sailors on the Grapple in Hawaii did some tricks on that little V-8 engine and when the Chief retired from the Navy in San Diego, we were still driving the old Chevy around. I learned to drive in that car. Went on my first unchaperoned date in it. In high school, it was the closest to "cool" that I ever got, driving around in my dad's '55 Chevy.
I joined the Army in 1964 and while I was stationed in Germany in 1965, he took it to Tijuana and sold it for $75.00.