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Upon The Hoodmobile

Dick Stender

1937 Lincoln Model K Limousine

In every man’s life, there is a car that will forever remain burned in his memory, along with the times, places and friends that always are enmeshed in that kind of reverie.  I know that I had mine.  Well, not exclusively mine, because thee are probably a dozen of my old friends from Camp Hill who share equally vivid memories of the same car.

The Hoodmobile, as came to be known, became a part of our lives in 1954.  On a cool November day, Hardy Marshall, Hugh, several others and I, rode over to my grandfather’s office on the Hershey Road.  We had a weightlifting brace that needed some free welding.  We drove up behind the shop.  Out in front of us, in the middle of a big field, we saw this huge hulk of a car.  For the moment, we forgot about the welding and walked out to look at the car.  The closer we got, the louder and more frequent became the “Hot Damns” and “Holy Sh**!”  I have to tell you that it was love at first sight.  There in all its tarnished glory, was a 1937 Lincoln Model K Limousine.  1937, a vintage year for cars,  produced, in our minds, a good vintage of people - the car and most of us were the same age.

It was a faded black, with four tires flat or going flat.  There were two spare tires that nestled under covers in the front fender.  The headlights were shaped like an elegant shield, flanking a grill that was an expanse of real chrome.  The hood ornament was a figure of some animal, perhaps a greyhound, in full stride.  We opened the doors and the wild expressions, heard when we first saw the car, became a chorus!  We discovered a richly upholstered interior, with a huge back seat, pull-out jump seats and a roll up glass, dividing the passenger and driver compartments.  There was even a microphone in the back to talk to the driver, who sat behind a steering wheel that was easily twice as big as we had ever seen.   Maroon velvet curtains hung on every window. We hopped in and discovered that four of us could, with ease, sit on the front seat.

Hardy, the ace of aces, in terms of driving, was quick to open the hood.  It was hinged in the middle and about eight feet long.   With both sides open, it lent a avian look to the car, like an eagle about to take flight.   Leaning over the spare tires,  our eyes beheld a monster of an engine.  It was the legendary Lincoln V-12.  “My God!  A V-12!” Hardy gasped.  Considering that Steve’s car had only eight cylinders, we just knew that this was absolutely the most powerful engine in the Keystone State.  We all just stood there, in awe of this beautiful hunk of rubber and steel.  No one actually said anything, but in an instant, we all had the same thought – “Let’s buy it!”

In a body, we ran up to my grandfather’s office and asked about the old Lincoln.  He said that it belonged to one of the mechanics and had been sitting in the field for quite awhile.  We went to the shop and found the owner, a portly fellow, named Gene Hartman, who said the car was for sale.

With our hearts in our throats, the question was asked.  “How much?”

He looked us over and thought a minute and then said, “Would two hundrend and fifty dollars be OK?”

OK? OK? – Hell, that was a bargain.  At that time and place, we had perhaps twenty dollars between us all, but if he had said a thousand, we would have taken the plunge.   We told Gene that it was a deal and that we would be back tomorrow with the money.

We drove like fools to get back to Camp Hill and begin the fund raising.  At my house, I had a Cushman motor scooter that I was in the process of buying from Ed Garno.  I quickly sold it for seventy-five dollars.  Others did the same, selling things and begging from parents.  I think we would have parted with our souls to buy that old car.   Finally, that evening at Fickel’s, we gathered to count and recount our funds.  With the help of Hardy’s Aunt Mary, we had our car money.  Aunt Mary, who figured in much of what we did, is another story needing to be told.

Early the next afternoon, just as soon as school was out, we were off to claim our prize.  We took three carloads of friends and investors.  We also took tire pumps, tube patches, cans of oil and gas and a set of jumper cables.

At the shop, we paid Gene, got the title and then swarmed over that old hulk in the field.  The air was filled with the sounds of youthful profanity, the whoosh-hiss of tire pumps, the glug-glug of gas from a can and of wrenches turning.  We were were working harder than we had while in the employ of Old Man Funk, at his tree farm.  That, by the way, is another story that must soon come to these pages.

In spite of our exhaustive efforts, we could not get any pressure in the tires from those hand pumps.  Steve, our mechanic, suggested that I ask  for help from my grandfather’s shop.  I guess they felt sorry for us or maybe were exhausted from laughing at our up and down frenetic efforts with the hand pumps.  They would help.  So, at Steve’s direction, we jacked up that three ton monster and after jumping on the lug wrench, freed the tire.   It was about two hundred yards to the shop and the tires and rims each  weighed more than a hundred pounds.  We dragged, hauled, and shoved the tire to the shop, where with the right tools and an air compressor, it was patched and inflated -  and stayed inflated.  The tire was then rolled back to the car and mounted,   That procedure was repeated four times, the end of which saw us near death.

With the tires on and the car sitting erect,  we were overjoyed with just looking at that beautiful car.  But now came the real test –would it run?  We put our buck and a half worth of gas in the tank, about five gallons (that’s the truth) and Hardy, key in hand, climbed behind the wheel.  Steve checked and added some oil and then dribbled some gas in the carburetor.  We hooked the jumper cables to my old Dodge  In just a couple of turns, that old V-12 came to life, spewing out blue smoke and filling our ears and hearts with VVVarroooom sounds.  It ran!  It really ran!  Hardy, behind the wheel, shoved the floor shift into low gear and released the clutch.  It MOVED!  Our investment was looking good.

We picked up the tools and everyone who had not driven a car, jumped into the Lincoln for the ride back home.  Hardy eased her out on to the Hershey Road, spewing smoke like a steamer.  We drove down through Harrisburg, a procession of pride with Steve leading the way in his Ford.   Through town and across the river, that old beast running like a clock, all the while being chased by its signature plume of smoke.

First stop – Fickel’s!  We just had to show everyone our car.  We let a couple of the guys out on 22d Street, while Hardy took the Lincoln around the block to make its entrance.   We staked out a parking place, right in front, even asking some of the crowd to move their “ordinary” cars to make room.  How much room, we were soon to find out.

Hardy crept out of the alley by the post office and turned to come down Market Street, lights on and smoking like old “Engine 98.”  He stopped in front of us and the adventure of parallel parking twenty-two feet of car, began.  Those huge tires, on dry pavement, no power steering and a total absence of grease – well, turning the wheels while stationary, was a challenge.  Hardy strained and pulled, finally summoning Max to give him a hand in pulling the wheel around.  Now in reverse, the old limo began to move back, its great rear bumper approaching the curb.  Traffic on Market Street had stopped, partly due to the long front end of the Lincoln blocking the lane and partly because people were curious to see what was on fire and making all that smoke.

“Hold up, Hardy!  You’re going to hit the pole!” one of us yelled.

Thus began the ritual of parking the Hoodmobile, as it was named that very day by one of the gang.  A guide, front and rear, was required and an assistant drive, more aptly a “wheel puller”  was the minimum for curbside parking.

The OOOOHH’S and AAAAHH’S were manifest that evening at Fickel’s.  Everyone wanted to get in and play with all the gadgets, the jump seats, microphone and particularly the wind-up window separating the passengers from the driver.

The girls were awed, but one could see the trepidation in their hearts when they saw that big, wide back seat!  Fighting off boys in the back of a Ford was easy – this playground was like a Casbah bedroom.

Later that night, someone asked about license and registration.  Registration?  License?  Somehow we never reckoned with that cost, with that responsibility.

“Hey Deb, could you sign our registration papers?”  The question coming from “Lone,” one of our stalwhart leaders.

Debbie was a year older than us and was thought to be cute, sweet, popular, but just a bit reckless.

“Oh sure.  Where do I sign?”

Really!  Deb was now on the cutting edge of recklessness, as she took pen in hand and signed the registration slip.  We thanked her and promised to be careful and not cause her any problems.  Right!  And we would raise the Titanic and win a Nobel Prize!  I don’t think that we ever got insurance on the car.  Hell, the license plates were costly enough.  Besides, we didn’t own the car!

The following Saturday, we all gathered at Maxwell’s garage, behind their apartment, to clean up, fix up and shine up the old Hoodmobile.  A good washing revealed the ravages of age – deep scratches and flaws in the finish.  Max looked around his garage and found some black paint,  actually black stove paint.

In today’s world, that type of paint would be used on “stealth” aircraft, because it reflected no light.  It was absolutely dull -  totally flat!  It did however, hide the problems and a shine factor wasn’t important to us.

The tires on such an elegant car demanded to be white walls, and so, with more found paint – white house paint – we painted a broad whitewall on each tire.  We even put white sidewalls on the two fender covers that housed the spares.

The interior was vacuumed and cleaned and by early afternoon, we had finished.  We then made plans to drive to the Saturday night dance, the Youth Center, at the high school.  Because we wanted to park right in front, two of our guys went early and staked out thirty or forty feet at the curb.  They would also serve as front and rear guides for parking.

We all lived the role that a car like the Hoodmobile fosters and that night, as Hardy picked us up at our homes, dark shirts and even a fedora or two were the dress of choice.  As we climbed into the back door, trying to be cool and look sinister, we must have been a sight.  I remember my mother, watching from the porch and laughing her head off at her son and his friends, mimicking Al Capone and riding in a flat black, smoke belching old limo.

There were six or seven of us in the car as we headed to the school.  We drove down Chestnut Street, oblivous of staring people and also of the following cloud of  ... Those adults had no more understanding of our Hoodmobile than I have for today’s cultural fads.  It’s all a part of the gap between young and old – always has and always will! 

Hardy, with Max beside him to pull the wheel on those hellish low speed turns, turned at 24th Street.  Our reserved parking place was right at the door to the gym and was long enough to just drive in and nestle the curb.  We waited in the back seat till Hardy came around and opened the door for us.  Maybe we thought we were Capone,  Baby Face Nelson, Lucky Luciano or other desperado hoods of history.  We just knew that our car was “cool” and  so were we – so cool that we scared ourselves!

Immediately, all of the kids at the dance were an audience, awed and envious – not with us, but the car – it was the real star.  The junior high munchkins all walked around the monster and looked in the windows,  just dying to get in and sit where Ed Garno had been sitting.  Ed was a kind of cool, jock, student hero and used to adulation. 

Even Mr. Edmonds was interested and so we gave him the royal tour.  He had been a terror when we were in seventh grade, but now he treated us as “his boys” and we deeply respected him.  He got in the front seat, but his short stature prevented him from seeing over the dashboard.  “This is a real classic car, boys.  It should be in a museum!”  Mr. Edmonds was really impressed with the Hoodmobile,   We knew right then and there that we had made a wise purchase.   It had to be – Mr. Edmonds said so.   Although his ardor somewhat cooled when he learned that Debbie Hoover was “our” owner of record.

The Hoodmobile made several appearances at the Youth Center and was involved in other escapades, capers and skating trips to Silver Lake, most of them  documented in other chapters of this collection.   It wasn’t economical to run at 8 or 9 miles per gallon and with every gallon of gas, we had to add a quart of oil.  In spite of our love for that car, we did not keep it very long as the voice of common sense grew louder,  screaming, “Accident,”  Flat Tire,” “New Battery.”   We sold it for a pittance to the nephew of  the local Ford dealer and rumor has it that it ended up in Dearborn in the Ford Museum.  I’d like to go there and lift the back seat and see if there are any spruce needles or old cap guns left behind by some young men from Camp Hill.  

I dedicate this story to the memory of Hardy Marshall.  Like the Hoodmobile, Hardy is unforgettable and is really the genesis of this story.  He was a most special friend to one and all.  Be you a Jock, Scholar, Rascal – male or female – old or young,  Hardy offered his friendship.  At my last visit with him, in 1984, as I was preparing to go back to Germany for assignment, we sat in his house and shared our memories of  that old Lincoln, regretting that we weren’t smart enough to hold on to it.   I got up to leave, and said I would see him again, never thinking I wouldn’t.  As I walked to my car, he smiled and said, in true Hardy fashion, “Ahh Rev, those were the days!”   They were and it is impossible to remember the Hoodmobile without remembering Hardy.  He was the spirit of the Hoodmobile.  I loved Hardy Marshall.

Dick Stender
2006 from a 1998 story of the same name.
Copyright owned by the author.

 

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