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A headshot picture of Brian Brennan grinning
Those Were Great Days
By Brian Brennan

n absolute fact. Get two hot rodders together and there will be an abundance of entertaining stories. Over time these yarns would be embellished, accessorized with additional “facts,” and, in general, sound better each and every time they are told.

Another fact. Hot rodders as they age become much better at telling these chronicles. This is generally the result of “enhancements” or not remembering if we have told the accounts or not. Of course our buddy can’t remember either. We remember the hard and fast rule, let him ramble on to see if he has added any additional heretofore misremembered facts. Totally entertaining.

I was telling fellow scribe Gerry Burger how Ron Ceridono is a great storyteller. Most times I’m pretty sure it’s the same anecdotes but Ceridono is so creative that he comes up with “new facts” that give the narrative an air of freshness. This led to a time when Burger and I were talking about summer vacations, remote control TVs, and our first jobs. I know I have told everyone this story, but what the heck I’ll throw in a few new details.

My parents never took a vacation, at least one where I was present. But I do remember summer vacations with our neighbors. I called them my Auntie Dale and Uncle Walter all my life until they died. Didn’t really matter that they weren’t relatives they treated me like one of their own: yelling, taking swings at me, and threatening to leave me at the next gas station. So, I felt like I was with family.

The following story came to mind because of our most recent project in the tech center. (We removed an aged-out roof on our project ’55 Chevy wagon and replaced it with another of dubious lineage.) This was back in the mid to late ’50s and our Chevy wagon didn’t have A/C but the windows worked just fine. We also figured out that you could leave the liftgate portion open and get great flowthrough ventilation. You could also die from carbon monoxide poisoning, but the adults thought that was a fair trade. (Fast-forward through your own kids and a few grandkids and I can see the rationale.) I learned to identify carbon monoxide smells immediately and realized how it would “knock me down.” We would start in SoCal and take the inland route up to Canada, making sure to visit many of the national parks. The way home took us along the coast, again visiting many of the beach parks.

Burger had a similar remembrance of such a time.

“Our only ‘real vacations’ were visiting family in Massachusetts and Maine, generally a four-day weekend type of thing. I remember we stopped in motels, going to the office and saying ‘I’d like to see a room.’ They’d show you a room, then if it was clean, you pay one night, get up in the morning and just leave the key in the door and depart. We always looked for the big sign: COLOR TV.”

Speaking of TV. Both Gerry and I recalled how our households had remote controls long before there were such. Both of us were the ordained “channel turner”—of course you didn’t touch anything until instructed to do so. As Gerry pointed out, there were other commands too: “Turn it up, turn it down, adjust the color it’s too blue, it’s too red,” and, of course, vertical hold required a delicate touch. And the random command, “Let’s see if there is anything on in color.”

I can remember when I would react slowly and not turn from one channel to the next quickly enough. I’ve had more pillows and empty cracker boxes thrown at me to last a lifetime.

Then there was the obligatory gas station job every car guy in the world has had. For me it was a small station with a couple of islands and two bays. Both Gerry and I agree that it wasn’t a “good” gas station without some form of race car. It would be resting in one of the stalls or parked outside up tight against the building. In my area of growing up it most likely was a drag car. This was driven by our proximity to Lions Drag Strip or later Orange County Raceway.

I remember washing windshields, checking oil, and checking tire pressures. As Gerry pointed out you hadn’t earned your “pump jockey” stripes if you couldn’t immediately recognize where all the filler necks were located on ’50s and ’60s cars. Those were the days when it might be hidden behind a license plate, possibly a taillight, or some other area that gave no indication of what lies behind. And then you best know if it were on the driver or passenger side of the car. It was particularly awkward when the driver would pull up to the pump and the fill neck would be on the other side. Stretching the hose over the trunk without scratching or causing any paint damage was always a breath holder.

I’m pretty sure we will never see those amazing days again. Those were great days.

Modern Rodding
VOLUME 3 • ISSUE 19 • 2022