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New car smell fills fall air

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By W.B. Evans

Fall has arrived. The leaves are turning colors and my sweater feels just right during my morning walks to school.

Leaves and cooler days are fairly obvious signs that summer is slipping away.

What’s happening downtown is another visible reminder, and that’s what has gotten the attention of boys of all ages.

Mr. Burns, whose Chevrolet place is across the road from the courthouse, and Mr. Brigman’s Ford dealership at the corner of Catawba and Arch streets are getting ready for the new 1940 models.

There hasn’t been any new car pictures in magazines or newspapers and both dealers have covered their showroom windows with thick, brown kraft paper.

There’s plenty of reason to be excited.

We’re about to welcome in a brand new decade and everybody is eagerly awaiting glimpses of the latest in transportation. The rumor is the new 1940 models will reflect major changes from the previous year.

As usual, I have devised a rather ingenious plan to see ’em before anybody else does. Right now, I’m walking to Grandmother Evans just about every afternoon to sorta help feed and water her chickens and to lend a hand with other outdoor chores.

Due to its proximity to the railroad depot, that lets me keep a close eye on things.

Most of the new models will arrive by rail car and I’ll be able to sneak a peek when they get unloaded on the concrete ramps down at the Market Street tracks about dusk dark and then driven to the two dealerships.

Finally, my well-designed plan is paying off.

Right now, there are two closed boxcars parked beside the ramps.

And I gotta feeling there are new cars inside of both of them.

I was hunkered down in the tall grass on the high bank next to grandmother’s and had a perfect view of the area.

Sure as shooting, as the sun faded behind the oil mill, a couple small trucks pulled up to the box cars and fellas opened the big doors.

I had struck the mother lode. Cars were loaded in the box cars on metal racks and it took those fellas a bit of doing to get them out on the dock.

Yes sir, those 1940s sure are a lot different from the 1939s, I thought, as I watched the going-ons from my high-grass hiding place.

Bless Pete, the headlights are molded into the front fenders and the running boards gone. Why, they even replaced the wire-spoked wheels with solid metal ones covered by shiny, round hubcaps.

As soon as the fellas got the new models unloaded, they quickly drove them down Market Street toward the dealerships.

I was feeling pretty good about things as I headed back to a coop of clucking chickens.

I had just pulled off a coupe-spying coup and had seen the new models before anyone else. 

It would take the car dealers a couple of days to get them all gussied up and on the showroom floors.

But it didn’t take that long to draw a crowd. The line had already formed when me and Daddy got to the Chevrolet place.

Mr. Dobson was busy as a bee showing off the new models.

The Special Deluxe, with all of that extra chrome and stuff caught my eye. I was sold on it and sure wanted Daddy to get that one. I told him that was the one for us. But he decided to go look over the new Fords, too.

I couldn’t get over how flashy the new 1940s models were in comparison to our 1937 two-door Chevrolet.

“Son, maybe we can get a new one next year,” Daddy said.

But that never happened.

It didn’t take too long to learn that the war that started in December 1941 half a world away was bigger that the shiny cars and bicycles in my dreams.

That 1937 Chevrolet stayed parked in our driveway until one day in 1946 when Daddy drove up in a new Stylemaster black Burns’ Chevrolet.

It had that new car smell, too. We kept it until 1947 when it was traded for a Pontiac.

“Old Betsy,” our 1939 Dodge, hung around until 1949 when it was traded for a new Plymouth at Craig Motor Company. They had just hired this young mechanic named Sonny Bowers as the service manager.

Sonny was home from the war and had spent the better part of the early 1940s working on the fighter airplanes that I had only flew in my dreams.

The car lot that Sonny – who recently died – ran for so many years is no more.

Over the years, dealerships have changed hands. Some brands no longer exist.

Automobile prices have jumped sky high and we still rush out to see what the manufacturers have come up with.

But it’s not the same. New cars don’t have any secrecy about them at all. We’re bombarded with images of them long before they reach showroom floors.

I’d still like to hide in the grass for a glimpse of them at the big railroad depot, but it’s gone, too.

You know, it’s a pretty trying time for the entire automobile industry. Lots of things have changed. All except one.

They’ve cornered the market on that all-important “new car smell.”

As long as they have that, folks will come into showrooms and some will leave in brand new models, with their noses full of it.