Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stick Shifts

Posted to OGR on 02/13/2011

It has been 30 years since I owned a car with a stick shift but back in the day they were more common than automatic transmissions. I learned to drive in my family car, a ’55 Chevy with a three gear stick shift on the column. That car had a bench front seat, which was great for my family. The six of us could load up 3 in the front and three in the back. But for me, the real advantage was when I was dating; my date could sit right next to me, not all the way across the car in a bucket seat. Looking back on it, I think those stick shifts were a safety feature; it was impossible to drive with one arm around your date. One of my friends tried to get his girl to shift for him, but that didn’t work out too well, it was too hard to coordinate. He even installed a brodie knob to help him steer with one hand. We called them “Necker Knobs”, “Suicide Knobs,” “Granny Knobs,” and “Steering Wheel Spinners.” They were eventually outlawed because they were too dangerous. I sometimes wonder if it was karma that bucket seats came in around the same time that stick shifts went out. That piece of serendipity probably saved millions of teen aged lives during the 70s.

Something else that has gone by the wayside is the full service gas station. They were everywhere, back in the day and were a source of many part time jobs for unskilled teenagers. Some of my friends worked in gas stations, pumping gas, checking oil, washing windshields and making eyes at the pretty girls who were in the cars with their families. Between customers, they would help the mechanics work on the cars. They changed oil and rotated tires and for some of them, began a life-long love affair with cars. They still change their own oil and do all of the maintenance on their cars. Although today, with computerization, working on your own car is becoming more difficult. I remember that unique smell of an old-timey gas station, leaded gas, rubber, oil and all. Speaking of gas, I can remember filling up my brother’s Mo-Ped for 30 cents. The tank held exactly a gallon, and we had to mix oil with it for the two stroke engine. We could ride for a week on a tank of gas. Just about the same as with my car today. But that is far as the similarity goes. It is not lost on me that gas is 10 times more expensive today. Oh MY!

Copyright 2011 Rick Wrigley

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