We had several significant events at the farm this past weekend. One of them was this. The return of Grandpa’s 1951 Chevy.
I’ve been a tinkerer all my life. When I was young, I’d routinely take anything interesting apart to figure out how it worked. I almost always got things back together (and working) as well. So it might not surprise you all to know that as well as home improvement projects, I’m also not entirely afraid to take on a car project.
The green Chevy had been around the farm longer than I had. I don’t ever remember it being driven much, but I always knew it was important. See, it belonged to my Great-Grandfather. When he died, it passed to Grandpa and his brother, jointly. And when his brother died, it went to Grandpa.
Some years ago, Grandpa was deciding what to do with that car that had been his Dad’s. It hadn’t run for quite a while. The last evidence of it running, actually, was a parade sign in the front seat from the 80s declaring my Great-Grandmother the town’s “Oldest Resident.”
The car needed work. The motor was stuck, the brakes were frozen, the gas tank rotted out, the muffler rotted off. In truth, it reminded me JUST A LITTLE like the scene from “Ghostbusters” when Ray brings back the car that will become “Ecto1.”
But, it was easy to tell that, when Grandpa talked about it, he hated the thought of letting it go or scrapping it. So, I did what anybody would. I paid Grandpa too much money to buy his broken car.
Here are some shots of it from 2008 when Dad and my brother and I went out, with a U-Haul trailer, to pick it up.
Bit by bit, and with lots of help from my Dad and my excellent friends (and excellent mechanics), Kirt and Guy, we got the old car up and running and ready for its first trip back home. It did clean up pretty darn well.
Up and running, it needed a name. Every important car does. I’ve named several, though not all, of the cars I’ve owned. If they’ve earned a name, they’ve earned a place in my heart.
Naming is a difficult process. There’s a whole process to anthropomorphizing a vehicle. First, you need to decide if it’s a boy or a girl.
You gotta go with your gut on this. You have to considering the car, consider it’s condition, consider the life it led before it became yours. This isn’t some showroom beauty. It’s not flawless. It’s in really good shape, but it’s been driven. It’s been used as a tool. For me, my gut said, this car’s gotta be a boy.
So, thinking about the era, I immediately thought of famous actors from the time. I’m a huge fan of Humphrey Bogart. I love “Casablanca.” I love “The Maltese Falcon.” I love “The African Queen.” The list goes on. So I thought about it. My favorite characters Bogart played have been tough, experienced, both rugged and polished, and a bit sentimental.
Perfect. “Humphrey” it was.
Driving Humphrey out to see Grandpa the first time was a treat. Seeing Grandpa behind the wheel again made it all worth it.
The car made it that day. But it didn’t always. In fact, driving the 60 miles from my house to the farm was always stressful. It’s broken down either on the way to or from the farm so many times I can’t even count them all.
At Grandpa’s funeral, I relayed the story of one memorable time that I got it out to the farm just fine, but, as Grandpa and I got in to drive it around, the battery died. So what does he do? He hops out to push start it. There was my, almost 90 year old Grandpa, pushing his Dad’s car in the yard.
And we did get it going that day, but when we did, we were both mad and Grandpa told me, “I’m sorry I ever got you into all this. I never should’ve sold you this stupid car” to which I replied, “Nah, Grandpa. We’re just not there yet. I’m not sorry. It’s worth it.”
For the record, the last time I drove the car out to see Grandpa before he died, it ran just fine both ways.
At the funeral I also explained that now that Grandpa was gone, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with that car and I.
Because the truth was; every time Grandpa asked me if it was worth it, I told him it was. But I wasn’t talking about the car. After everything that car has put me through, I wasn’t even sure I liked that car anymore. But I really did love my grandpa.
And so, Humphrey sat in storage all spring. I hadn’t been to the storage space to check on him or fire him up or drive him around. My heart wasn’t in it. But there’s been some talk about me driving that car in the hometown parade coming up in a couple weeks, so if that was going to happen, it was time to get him home.
I found him in the storage space, safe and sound. Even though I’d left him the whole winter with the battery cable connected, the car started right up. However, in the spirit of maintaining our love-hate relationship, before I could get through town and onto the Interstate, a screw hit the top of my foot and I suddenly found I could only shift into 3rd gear.
See that screw at the right? That’s the screw that holds the shifter onto the steering column. When that fell out, I couldn’t shift correctly.
But, I managed to limp it into a parking lot and reinstall the screw. A quick fix. Just a little reminder that neglecting the car does have a consequence. But this one was gentle.
And so, you guys, for the first time driving down the road in that car, I was confident it was going to be fine. For the first time I wasn’t worried that it was going to break down. For the first time, I just enjoyed the drive. It was a beautiful day, once I got off the Interstate, I had the road to myself. I imagined how many times this old car had been down this stretch of highway and I was glad to be on it.
Wheeling Humphrey into the farmyard for the first time, knowing Grandpa was gone, was emotional for me. But with everything else we’re doing with the farm, to have Humphrey home again brought a sense of closure. Of rightness.
I realize, now, that I do value the car. And I hope that, somehow, it brings Grandpa peace to know Humphrey’s home.