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While driving my van a few days ago, it stuttered a few times. This sent me into near panic. If the van dies, I am without wheels!
Sensing my concern, it resumed humming along as if nothing had happened.
Well, something did happen. That incident made me recall the periods in my life when I had no wheels.
When I started to drive, use of the family car was strictly controlled. A full description of the intended mission and a verbal passenger list required. Mission denied, alternatives were the bicycle and the streetcar in front of the house. Walking was a last-ditch option.
In the early ’40s, in college in California, transportation was no real problem. All of my fellow classmates had an automobile, and my sister and her husband were generous in allowing me to use their 1937 Plymouth coupe. Having no rumble seat, three could ride with little discomfort; however, four was a real squeeze.
By my second year in college, I had accumulated enough money from my part-time job to enable the purchase of a 1935 Plymouth four-door sedan.
Shortly after, World War II came along. When I enlisted, the Army Air Forces told me not to bring the automobile. I soon learned a new skill: hitchhiking.
Transferred to a new base, I was allowed to retrieve my automobile. Then came a transfer from California to Arizona, and the Air Force insisted I take the troop train.
My ration priority for tires and gasoline was so low it did not even have a number. There was no way, even if I could get the gasoline and tires, for me to move the automobile from California to Arizona. It was goodbye automobile.
When I returned from overseas, Barbara and I were married. The Air Force assigned me to the Long Beach (Calif.) Air Force base. Since public transport made my journey to and from the airbase easy, there was no real need for a car.
Discharged from the Air Force and while waiting to return to school, I resumed one of my prewar jobs, selling shoes, and Barbara got a bank job in Los Angeles. We did not need a car. I could walk a half-block, catch a bus and be deposited in front of the store. Barbara walked about a block and a half, caught the interurban to L.A. and walked a couple of blocks to the bank.
Wanting to visit our parents in Indiana, we decided the best way to get there was to buy an airplane and fly. Uncle Sam now had more airplanes than he really needed or wanted, so he sold them at an attractive price. I bought a basic trainer for $450. New, it cost about $30,000. To pick it up, a friend and I used our service-acquired skill of hitchhiking to go from Long Beach to north-central
We now had an airplane but no automobile, therefore we took the bus back and forth to the airport.
When I started school, there was little time for the airplane. Further, the airport raised the tie-down fees, and the county hounded us to pay property taxes on the airplane. The airplane went.
After walking and riding the interurban, buses and streetcars for a year-and-a-half to get to and from work and school, we acquired an automobile. Since 1947, except for a couple of years spent in Scotland, I have had at least one automobile. In Scotland, my employer supplied wheels.
After all these years, I am addicted to the automobile. My walking and hitchhiking skills have deteriorated, and there is not an interurban or streetcar anywhere near. Only the school bus goes by, and it will not pick me up.
I need my wheels!
John C. Walter, a Cummins Inc. retiree, is a member of a panel of community writers whose opinions appear weekly in The Republic. The opinions expressed are those of the writer. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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