The Grey Goose
I suppose that one of the most memorable things that happens to a teenager is when they get their permanent driver's license. For several years a young person will count down the months and days until they reach this memorable event. I remember when I turned fifteen in Tifton, Georgia, I immediately went and got my learner's license. That meant that I could drive but under the supervision of a person with a permanent license in the car with me. Each time my mother wanted to go somewhere, I would run to the car and get in the driver's seat before anyone else had time to leave the house for the trip. It was the greatest treat in the world to drive a car and I didn't miss an opportunity to do so. My family had a 1955 Oldsmobile Super 88. It was a great car that was sporty looking and it was also very fast.
The day came when I turned sixteen back in the last millennium. That very day, I was at the Georgia State Patrol office in Tifton to get my permanent driver's license. I passed the test with flying colors and then the proudest moment of my life to that point; I was handed my license! Man!! What a high time it was! I was somebody! I was a licensed driver with a permanent, adult license to prove it!! Now, I didn't have to have a licensed adult in the car with me. I could go anywhere I wanted and it was legal! It most certainly was a rite of passage for me and many others as they also gained their right to drive.
It wasn't long before I wanted my own car. That was a natural progression I suppose. Then I could drive myself to school and such as that. My father agreed and he got a friend of his who owned a used car lot to take me to the car sale in Macon, Georgia to purchase my first car. My father said: "Son, let Mr. Walker help you pick out a good car but don't you spend over $250.00!" He meant what he said so we tried to find an automobile for that price or less. One can tell that this was a long time ago because he thought $250.00 was a sufficient amount to spend on an automobile which was a "good" one. Well, we watched a number of cars go up for sale and they were all just over my budget. But Mr. Walker told me that there was one coming up that we should get. He said," it's a 1949 Ford and it's in good shape." That was good enough for me. So, when the car came across the auction floor we bought it....for $275.00!
I had never driven a "straight stick" automobile. Our family car had an automatic transmission so I had learned to drive on a car that did its own gear shifting. But, someone had to drive that little 1949 Ford home and it was me! I will never forget the experience. I knew a little about pushing the clutch in before changing the gear but the letting off of the clutch was the mystery as well as the position of each gear on the steering wheel column. By the time we got home about two hours later, I had become an expert on changing gears and manipulating the clutch. I thought that I had done something wonderful that day...I learned to drive a strait stick! It's amazing what one can do when they have to do it!
When my dad came home from work that evening, there was my little Ford sitting in the yard. He looked at it carefully and then with a big smile he said: "Mr. Walker steered you correctly son; this is a great little car. It's in good shape. How much did you spend on it?" I had been dreading all the way home having to tell him I had spent $275.00 for the car which was $25.00 over what he told me to spend. I said, "well, dad, I'm glad you like the car and you see what good shape it is in but we had to spend $275.00 for it." "Son, I told you not to spend over $250.00"! "But, you're the one that is going to have to pay for it so I guess its o.k." The next day I went to the Bank of Tifton and borrowed the money to pay for that little 1949 Ford four door. I remember how nice the loan officer, Mr. Frank Dunlap was to me as he warned me about borrowing money and about the importance of paying my payments on time. I remember that my monthly payments on that car was a whopping $28.00 a month. I had a job at a men's clothing store which paid me $28.00 a week so making my payment was no problem. Borrowing that money was the first experience I had ever had at banking, but as we all know from life experiences it would not be the last.
I kept that little Ford for about two years and then I sold it and brought a 1953 Plymouth. Now, this was the car we had so much fun with. It was painted a beige color but my high school friends named it "The Grey Goose." It was doing fine until I ran through a mud puddle one rainy day and I noticed that my feet got wet. After investigating I found that the floor board under the seat was rusted away and the seat frame was resting directly on the frame of the car. I had noticed that the seat seemed kinda low but to a kid wanting to buy certain car, it wasn't something to worry about. The seat would rock back and forth like a rocking chair. There were times when I would start off abruptly and the seat would rock back causing my foot to come off the accelerator and making the car "buck". When the seat would come forward, your foot would re-engage the gas pedal and the car would lurch forward causing the seat to rock backward again and here you would go....bucking down the street. You had to learn how to drive this baby! But everyone loved it. The Grey Goose wasn't very fast. In fact, it was what one would consider rather slow. But, the car was had a split manifold on it and she sure sounded good. My future wife, Carolyn and I used this car during most of our dating days. She even learned how to drive it so smoothly that it didn't buck on her at all. One night we were driving down a street in Tifton and came to a stop light. All of a sudden, the car cut off! I mean, it didn't have lights or anything! The horn wouldn't even blow! It was dead! But, after several experiences like this we knew what to do. I would get out of the car after pulling up the emergency brake and Carolyn would get in the driver's seat. I would raise the hood and "giggle" the battery cable while she tried to crank the car. It would usually start right up and away we would go with not a worry about where The Grey Goose might strand us next time. Well, she cranked right up when I "giggled" the cables and away we went. We didn't get but about one-fourth of a mile when the car began jerking and lurching like a bronco. So, I put on the brakes and stopped. When I came to a complete stop a huge cloud of acrid smoke came rushing by us. I quickly opened the hood and immediately I could hear the car sizzling down right behind the motor where it was bolted to the transmission. Smoke was boiling up and it was red down in that area of the car. It was just about to burst in flames. I had forgotten to release the emergency brake and the friction had caused things to get out of hand really quickly. A man was working at a service station about seventy-five yards away and he happened to see the dilemma we were in. He quickly grabbed a bucket of water and ran down to us and poured a five-gallon bucket on water down in the workings of the car. Steam boiled up from the bowels of the Grey Goose but that cooled things off and in a few minutes we took off again not worried about a thing. Oh, to be young again! That old 1953 Plymouth kept going for a long time and we all had a lot of fun in The Grey Goose.
I've thought about The Grey Goose over the years and how much fun we had in it. That car was virtually indestructible. It had its good times and its bad times but it always delivered us to our destinations. Maybe we weren't delivered in "style" but we got there! The Grey Goose was a regular visitor to the Varsity when Carolyn and I were on a date or when I would have a group of guys with me "cruising" Tifton. The Varsity was located on Seventh Street and it was a favorite place for teenage drivers to gather and have refreshments as well as show off their cars. On any given night there would be a lot of cars cruising that teenage nightspot looking for a parking place. The town cruising route for many was from the Varsity down Seventh Street, through downtown Tifton. Then a left on 12th Street to 20th Street. Down 20th Street to Tift Avenue. After a right turn on Tift, we would drive down by the Tifton Park to 7th Street (Hwy 82 E.). Then a right on 7th Street straight out to the Varsity again. After a coke and some Frenchfries the same route was travelled again several times in a night. It was a lot of fun and didn't cost a lot because gas was about 25 Cents a gallon at that time. I would get the fellows with me to chip in a quarter and with mine, we could buy four gallons of gas at Walker's Service Station and ride all night. Those days are gone for sure!
That little old car would be proud of itself if it knew that all these years later, I was still thinking of it and writing a "Recollections" piece describing our experiences with it. We always seemed to find a way to have fun in those days without drugs and alcohol and such and we certainly always had a great time when we were riding around in The Grey Goose!
William F. Harrell