Paul S 1978 Chevrolet Corvette Pace Car 2dr Coupe

My First Car... At Age 12!

It was 1976 in northern Minnesota. My maternal grandfather had an old 1949 Ford Coupe my father had given to him after he bought a "new" 1958 Ford back in '63. Grandpa had always been a Buick man, so he parked the car near the edge of the woods at their cabin as he had intended to use that old Ford to drag logs out of the forest for firewood. His health was already in decline due to emphysema when he received it, so the car stayed in that spot for 13 years.

That summer, we went to visit my grandparents at the cabin on Elliot Lake. I sat at the kitchen table as Dad and Grandpa stood at the window staring out at that old car that had been sinking up to it's floorboards in the dirt. The floor was getting rusted through, the rocker panels almost gone. Grandpa said to Dad, "I guess I'll never get around to using that old Ford after all, so if you don't have any need for it and don't want it back, I'm going to have it hauled out of the yard for scrap."

Dad said he had no use for it, so upon that note Grandpa decided to let it go. I then stood up and asked, "Can I have it?"

Now Grandpa underestimated my knowledge about cars, not realizing how much time I spent with my dad in the garage as he had me assist him in numerous auto repair projects, when he said, "If you can drive it out of where it's parked, you can have it."

The car ran well when it was parked, but there it sat over a decade exposed to the elements of long, snowy winters, humid summers and sun.

The key was in it, but it had no battery. I borrowed the 6V battery from Grandpa's tractor in the shed, and replaced the dried, cracked plug wires with ones salvaged from some of Grandpa's old Buick parts cars he had stashed in the woods.

I got the musty smelling old Ford to turn over, but it wouldn't fire. I swear I saw those two men laughing as they watched from the cabin window.

Dad always taught me, "fuel & spark" so I poured a little gas from the lawnmower can down the throat of the carburetor. Still nothing. At this point I had lost my audience.

I removed the distributor cap and found the points to be pretty corroded, so I rounded up a piece of sandpaper and proceeded to clean the contacts.

I got the car to pop, and eventually start. It sounded like a stock car as the interior started to fill with blue exhaust from the rusted out muffler and sift up through the rusted out floor. I rolled down the windows and rocked that car back and forth by the three-on-the-tree in the sunken ruts trying to free it from the ground. Soon, I found an old tri-pod bumper jack and managed to get some firewood chunks under the tires.

The next thing Grandpa and Dad saw, I was driving hat old car across the lawn!

Grandpa kept his word and agreed to let me keep it.

Later that year, Grandpa hauled the car to their home outside of Chisholm where there were back roads that once led to mining housing neighborhoods long gone. There I could drive my new ride all over during my summer stays and not get caught since nobody ever ventured out there but a few who looked for places to do illegal dumping of unwanted appliances.

Eventually Grandpa found me a free '50 for parts, but not much ever became of that old '49 treasure besides memories. When I was 17, I drove it home to Duluth with intent to fix it up, but it was just too far gone. Sadly, they both went for scrap in the end. Worst of all, 2 working flat-head V8s went to waste. It wasn't until a couple years after when those engines became high in demand. I'm still kicking myself for not saving them!

At least I gave that old '49 a few more years of life and love.

1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    Bobbie Duluth July 12, 2014 at 10:22
    That is a very touching story. Shows a boy with lots of determination and respect for his grandpa and dad. Great story to share with your kids and family.

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