I was in my hometown of WaKeeney, Kansas, recently to visit a friend. He was restoring an early 60’s Chevy station wagon, which brought back some vivid childhood memories of my mother. She was quite the industrious woman, always on the go and always hauling something around. She had three wagons, all with distinct purposes:
The Candy Wagon. This was a brown, late 60’s Ford. She drove this to one of several small towns to service laundromats she owned. Every laundry in those days had both a coin operated pop and candy machine. One of my jobs was to service and refill both machines while my uncle Donnie performed repairs on the washers and dryers. I learned how a periodic little drop of oil in just the right spot kept those fascinating mechanisms working. I discovered it’s always the dime that gets stuck because it’s the smallest.
The back of this Ford was full of tools and replacement parts for the washers and dryers, PLUS boxes of candy and cases of bottled pop (hence the name “Candy Wagon”). All that weight inadvertently converted it to a low-rider. It was so full of stuff, the only place to sit was the front seat. On the way back from each service call, the passenger seat usually filled up with worn-out parts. So I did what any kid of that era would do–crawled clear in the back and lay on top of the candy boxes with my head positioned just under the rear window. I would stare at the western Kansas starlit night sky, devoid of any artificial light, and let my imagination run wild.
The Paper Wagon. Mom also had a big, blue, early 70’s Ford wagon. This was her main daily driver, but its real purpose was helping me with seven WaKeeney paper routes. At some point in time from the age of 10 to 14, I had every route in town–usually one, sometimes two. The newspaper was the Hays Daily News, located 30 miles away. The paper was promptly delivered by “Vic, the paper guy” every day (less Saturday) at 4 p.m. Vic’s wagon (also an inadvertent low-rider) was always a Chrysler with high miles, and replaced often. He would pull up in front of the shop and I would run out, grab the bundles, cut the twine and start rolling and rubber banding papers.
I usually serviced the route by bike, but on rainy days my mother stepped in to help. Being a woman always on the go, she figured we only had 20 to 30 minutes to get the route done. The key to her success was to accelerate fast and stop quickly. I would sit in the very back with the rear glass down, rain coming in, and sling papers at the various porches. It was like riding in the tilt-a-whirl at the county fair. Mom had her favorites around town. She would yell at me to jump out, run the paper up and put it inside the screen door. Often she would take off before I made it all the way back into the car. There was a rhythm to it, like getting on a horse that just started to run.
The Sunday Wagon. This was a mid-70’s tan Chevy with a jump seat for two in the very back. The best feature was electric rear window which you could open and close from the driver’s seat. I was old enough to drive at this point and sometimes with (and sometimes without) my mom’s permission, I would “borrow” it on Saturday night to drag main. At first my peers made fun of me. Then they discovered how cool it was with eight people in it. I was a hit. The electric rear window control allowed me to let guys and girls in or out at various stoplights on Main in Hays. Before heading home, I always took inventory and make sure I was returning with everyone I brought.
Weddings, funerals, Sunday family trips, and so forth, were purpose of this wagon. This was the wagon we all piled into on Sunday after church to ride to the Triangle Truck Stop for the best pancakes off I-70.
The best times, though, were watching the local fireworks displays while sitting on the tailgate with my whole family.
It’s no small wonder I married a woman who loves wagons too. We’re both glad to see the station wagon (aka crossover) starting to make its appearance on the streets again.