Archive for the ‘Ford’ Category

Sometimes, losing is the best thing that can happen to you.

Take, for instance, the Beatles (who seem to be showing up around here a lot lately, but bear with me).

If they’d been signed by one of the record labels that rejected them, they would probably have been assigned to a producer who strictly chose their songs and selected one of them to become the frontman at the expense of the rest. Instead, it was their good fortune to land at EMI, where George Martin recognized their developing talent and gave them wide rein to create.

This week, we catch up with my grandpa as he dreams about something he won’t get and doesn’t know he doesn’t want:


May 29, 1972. Mets win one, Yanks win two.

I would love to know who in the Stamford area was giving away a Pinto, and who won it. I’d even hoped to track them down and ask them how the car worked out for them.

Unfortunately, this is one of those moments where the publications I have access to don’t give me any clear answers.

The drawing doesn’t seem to have been a national event: It wasn’t mentioned in several Chicago Tribune issues in that time frame. Even the Bridgeport Post, which is occasionally good for stray tidbits, doesn’t turn up anything relevant.

I did find something similar in some newspapers from Long Island around the same time. Suburbia Federal Savings Bank gave away a gold ’72 Pinto in July of that year as part of its 50th anniversary celebration.

I’m guessing whatever drawing my grandpa took part in was along the same lines. Maybe it was his bank. Maybe it was his grocery store. Maybe it was even the local dealer where he bought his Fords.

A Pinto would have been an ideal car for any business publicizing a big event to give away — sporty, relatively inexpensive, and fairly popular (Ford sold more than 480,000 of them in 1972.)

So, I’ll presume that some store or company in Stamford did just that, and that my grandpa did enough business with them to have his name in the hat when the big day came.

Since I’ve been writing this blog for five years now, and you’ve never read anything about my grandpa’s Ford Pinto, you know how this particular story works out.

You also know the Pinto had a famously unsafe design, plus poor build quality as well. (According to Wikipedia, six months after the car was introduced, Ford was forced to recall all 220,000 Pintos on the road to address a problem with potential ignition of fuel vapors in the engine.)

The odds were probably slim that my grandpa would have been caught in one of those infamous flaming rear-end crashes, had he won the Pinto drawing.

But, given the Pinto’s sloppy reliability record, it probably wouldn’t have been a better car than the reliable ’69 Fairlane he was driving at the time (and continued to drive into the 1980s). Plus, my grandma and great-grandma wouldn’t have relished climbing into and out of the back seat of a two-door car.

So, he won by losing. And somebody else in Stamford … well, again, I’d love to know how things worked out for them.

But, that’s a story for somebody else at some other time, I guess.


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Time to get in the car. Grab a seat by the window, and settle in. This is going to be a long, long blog post.

The good news? You don’t have to buckle up if you want. This is 1975, you see.

Specifically, it’s Friday, May 23, 1975. My grandparents and great-grandma are about to spend (almost) 10 hours (mostly) in a car, driving from the southwestern edge of Connecticut to (almost) the shores of Lake Ontario.

And we’re all going to ride with them, as I re-create the sights and sounds of an all-day interstate car trip with the Blumenau family elders as faithfully as I can.

Don’t worry — you’ll get a chance to pee.

May 23, 1975.

May 23, 1975. Yanks and Mets win.

Your vehicle for the trip will be a 1969 Ford Fairlane 500, somewhere between cream and pale green in color. It was extensively described in this earlier post, if you want to go have a look at it. It’s reliable and well-kept, though the vinyl upholstery might get a little squirmworthy after seven or eight hours on a sunny day. There is, of course, no air conditioning.

(My grandpa — he’ll do all the driving — has one of those plastic seat inserts that cab drivers use to get just the tiniest bit of airspace between one’s arse and the vinyl. Being The Man has its perks.)

Your fellow passengers will be my grandmother, Corine, in the front seat and my great-grandma, Pauline (known in the family as Grossee, short for the German Grossmutter) in the back. There’s plenty of room; you can stretch your legs.

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step on the gas pedal.

And this journey starts on the back roads — specifically, on Long Ridge Road (a.k.a. Connecticut Route 104), which my grandfather takes across the Rippowam and Mianus rivers and over the state line, roughly 13 miles to the little town of Bedford, New York.

Once in wealthy Westchester County, the roads gradually start to get bigger. State Route 172 westbound from Bedford feeds into Route 684 northbound, which connects in turn to Interstate 84.

I-84 wends westbound through the quiet southern chunk of New York state between Westchester County and Woodstock, occasionally watched over by wary staties in ungainly yellow-and-blue Dodge Monacos. The Fairlane does nothing to attract their attention, and they take no notice of it.

Doing a responsible 60 mph or so, the Fairlane crosses the north-south Taconic Parkway in the company of Ramblers and Mercurys, then sits in a bottleneck until it finally gets a chance to  soar over the Hudson River on the 12-year-old but already overcrowded Newburgh-Beacon Bridge.

Around this time, you start to notice that the ride lacks for interpersonal stimulation.

My grandfather is largely content to focus on his duties as driver. My great-grandma — while ordinarily affable — clams up during car trips, reluctant to do anything that might distract the driver. And my grandmother’s bursts of chattiness are hindered by her deafness and the engine noise, which conspire to turn any conversation into an adventure.

For a time, the putative conversation turns to the Blumenaus’ beloved grandchildren — one four-and-a-half, the other not yet two — who are waiting for them in western New York. The kids are still at ages when life consists of one big discovery after another, and the members of the traveling party look forward to hearing about the latest.

At the otherwise unremarkable downstate town of Middletown, N.Y., my grandpa turns onto New York State Route 17.

Route 17 carries the big cream-colored car north through Catskills towns like Wurtsboro, Monticello and Liberty. Even at this late date, it is possible to see both billboards for Borscht Belt resorts and the fading resorts themselves from the highway. Billboards for Monticello Raceway are also frequent, some of which feature neon horses waiting for nightfall to come out and trot.

Route 17 flirts with the Pennsylvania state line in the towns of Hancock and Deposit, where my father was stranded for a night in April 1972 by an unseasonally heavy storm en route to Stamford to play organ at my Uncle T.J.’s wedding. No doubt that story comes up among the travelers.

Route 17 meets Route 81 North near the city of Binghamton, and my grandpa turns onto still another major interstate. Traffic is again heavy in spots: It’s Memorial Day weekend, and even in the early afternoon, people are trying to get somewhere else.

By this time, you and your fellow occupants of the Fairlane are hungry and need a break. Once back on a big highway, you start looking for an opportunity to get off the road. (Being frugal Yankees, my grandparents and great-grandmother have packed their own lunches, so the enticements of McDonald’s hold no appeal to them.)

Unfortunately, the nearest rest stop on northbound I-81 is several miles behind you, just north of the New York-Pennsylvania line. You have to wait 30-odd miles until the town of Homer, near the colleges-and-farms burg of Cortland, for a proper rest area.

Once there, you hit the bathroom, claim a shady picnic table and settle down to your delayed repast — ham sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise, apples, and a thermos full of lemonade. The family chats and eats without hurry, oblivious to the cars and trucks grinding past to their own destinations. You make a note to pack some sriracha for the return trip, to lend your sammich something resembling flavor.

At some length, everyone bundles themselves back into the waiting Fairlane. The windows have been closed, and the air has become hot and thick inside, and scented with vinyl. Fighting the urge to drowse, the family sets off again.

But only for a short time. This is 1975, after all, and you’re riding in an American car with at least a V6 engine in stop-start traffic. So my grandfather grabs the first opportunity to pull off the highway again and refill his tank at some small-town gas station, perhaps in a town like Homer, Tully or Preble. He pays cash.

The Fairlane creeps north gradually toward Syracuse. It is roughly 5:15 p.m. by the time you reach the Salt City, and Memorial Day traffic combines with the regular Friday-afternoon drive-time exodus to choke the roads.

The worst of it is leaving the city — not coming into it, as the Fairlane is — but as my grandpa hangs his final left turn onto the New York State Thruway westbound, the pace of traffic slows a bit.

From Syracuse it is a straight shot westbound to Rochester, the last real leg of the trip, roughly an hour-and-a-half in regular traffic. My grandfather, his right foot perhaps getting heavier, manages to make it in more or less that time. (Perhaps there is another bathroom break, quicker this time, somewhere along the Thruway.)

At 7 p.m. or so, as the skies hint at their eventual darkening, you get off at Thruway Exit 45, Route 490, Rochester.

And about 15 minutes later, my grandpa’s Fairlane  is in the driveway of his son’s suburban home at 50 Timberbrook Lane, Penfield. A late dinner and family comforts await. The trip is over.

Get out. Stretch your legs. Relax and enjoy.

In three days or so, you’ll be doing it again, the other way.

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Forty years ago this month, my mom set out for an appointment in the family Ford Maverick. She was running late, and put on the gas to make up time.

It didn’t work out.

Just the way it happens in driver’s-ed movies, my mom’s haste got her into a nasty accident. The car was totaled, and she got banged up pretty badly — broken ribs, bruises, that kind of thing.

Nothing life-threatening, but bad enough that she couldn’t hold her adorable almost-three-month-old son for a little while, which I’m sure seemed like a fate worse than death.

With time, my mom got over her injuries. And ever since, she’s been careful not to try to make up time on the road — a lesson she’s also tried to pass along to her kids. (One of ’em listened, more or less, usually.)

The Ford Maverick leaving Hope Street in happier times, spring 1971.

The Ford Maverick leaving Hope Street in happier times, spring 1971.

As you might imagine, my mom’s injuries immediately drew my grandparents into action. My dad had to go to work, after all. And even if he’d taken time off, he’d have been challenged to care for a two-year-old and an infant, not to mention his injured wife.

(It is an accepted part of family lore that my dad never changed a diaper, and apparently he wiggled through my mom’s downtime without breaking that streak. Well played, Seventies Dad.)

The arrival of the family cavalry made for some unusual and even touching entries on my grandpa’s calendars.

September 28, 1973.

September 28, 1973. I assume everything is squiggled out on the 27th because the plans, whatever they were, got abruptly canceled.

Corine (it was family habit to spell it “Koreen”) was my paternal grandma — the wife of the guy who kept the calendars — while Tom was my maternal grandfather.

They weren’t common travel partners, at least not without their significant others in tow.

But Corine couldn’t drive. Someone had to take her to Penfield, and I think my other grandma was already there.

So, Koreen and Tom set out on what must have been an interesting (and long) car trip.

(If you look at the entry for Sept. 29 close up, you can see the word “PENFIELD?” erased. I guess the Stamfordians must have been making their mutual assistance plans from day to day.)

Two days later, we find a poignant calendar entry:

September 30, 1973.

September 30, 1973. The Yankees play, and lose, their last game at the original, pre-renovation Yankee Stadium.

My grandparents were close throughout their married life, and I cannot imagine there were too many times over their nearly 60 years of marriage when they went to bed in different states.

I wonder what that phone call was like, and whether my grandfather let any tenderness show, or whether he kept a stiff upper lip.

They remained separated for a full week (including another phone call), until my grandpa and great-grandma made their way to Penfield to supplement the war effort.

October 5, 1973.

October 5, 1973.

I didn’t take a pic of the rest of the calendar, so I don’t know how long everyone stayed. I see weather on the calendar the following week, which suggests my grandpa was back in Stamford by then.

Eventually, life got back to normal for the Blumenau family — thanks to the sacrifices of some branches.

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Last week, I told you about one of the loves of my grandfather’s life circa 1969 — his brand-new, eagerly anticipated Ford Fairlane 500.

This week, we follow him as he grits his teeth, swallows hard, and thinks about handing the keys over to the other love of his life — my grandmother.

May 6, 1969.

May 6, 1969. (With special bonus content: May 5 and 7.)

I’ve been writing this blog for a good 20 months now … and my total failure to define, describe or otherwise flesh out my grandmother in this space has been an ongoing source of frustration for me.

Corine Mae Blumenau, nee Wambolt, was kindly, good-humored, a skilled baker, deaf as a stone post, and prone to occasional periods of depression.

As a child, I witnessed all of these qualities but the last; and all except the deafness have manifested themselves in me as an adult. (Classifying myself as “kindly” may be giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I suppose.)

Genealogy was her chosen habit. And it is her family’s lineage that connects a 21st-century salaryman to the earliest days of colonial America, through distant ancestors like William Keeney (born 1601, Leicestershire, England; died 1675, New London, Conn.) and Levi Beebe (born 1743, East Haddam, Conn.; died 1817, Richmond, Mass.; served as a corporal in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.)

Corine Blumenau and her adorable grandchildren. Stamford, Connecticut, 1975.

Corine Blumenau and her adorable grandchildren. Stamford, Connecticut, 1975.

My grandma worked until she got married. It was a point of pride to my grandfather that he make enough money to support them, and they dated for several years until he felt comfortable that he could do so.

I am not entirely sure he did her a solid. I think my grandma’s worldview in her homemaker years was somewhat limited, and she would have benefited from engaging a little more with the larger world.

She was the only one of my grandparents who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in her final years; and while social interaction and intellectual challenge have not been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, more of both might have helped her.

(In fairness, millions of other women of her generation chose the same path — homemaking, not Alzheimer’s. I have no evidence to indicate she was anything but agreeable with her switch from working woman to homemaker.)

As far as I know, my grandma never had a driver’s license. I know I never saw her drive, and I do not think she was ever legally able to.

This suited her personality — though I find it difficult to find the exact words to describe why.

Was she ditzy or airheaded? No. But, I could easily imagine her rear-ending somebody because she’d seen a good price for ground beef advertised in a store window, and had started thinking about how she might put it to use.

Was she nervous? Not in a chronic fingernail-biting sense. But, I can easily imagine her going 10 mph under the speed limit — on a street marked for 30 — just to be totally sure she didn’t hit anything.

My aunt and grandma, passengers, 1959.

My aunt and grandma, passengers, 1959.

While my grandma might not have been cut out for driving, she did make some attempts to learn.

My grandfather’s calendar headers for October 1968 and March 1969 both feature notations about my grandma taking, or signing up for, driving lessons.

And the calendar entry that started us off, 500 words or so ago, indicates she went so far as to get behind the wheel and give it her best.

October 1968.

October 1968.

I don’t know at what point the Corine Blumenau Driving Experiment failed. I’m not sure if she ever took a driver’s test, or whether the whole idea was abandoned after a few lessons.

I don’t think the topic was ever raised after 1969, though — or if it was, I don’t remember it ever showing up on the calendar.

My grandfather remained the sole operator of the family celery wagon for the remainder of his life, and they managed to get by with that. My grandma retained firm control over the cooking and cleaning, with help from my great-grandmother.

And that, in the Blumenau household, was the way of things.

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This week in 1969, my grandfather entered into a close relationship that would last for more than a decade.

It was something he’d craved for a while. And it brought him prolonged satisfaction, even pleasure, during a time of great change in his life.

No, no, it wasn’t what you’re thinking.

January 4, 1969.

January 4, 1969.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site that my grandpa was a Ford loyalist for much of his adult life.

And I’ve written before about his evident excitement about taking delivery of a new car — which, granted, is a pretty cool experience.

In the Sixties, my grandfather fell into a pattern of buying a new Ford every four years. He would drive the new one, while the old one went off to college with one of his kids.

First, there was a ’61 Fairlane, the arse end of which is pictured in this post. Then, there was a ’65 Fairlane, which was discussed at some length in the post linked two paragraphs ago.

Documentary evidence suggests this pattern was not coincidental, and my grandpa was plenty aware that 1969 would bring another trip to the dealership:

September 26, 1968.

September 26, 1968.

I love this detail — how my grandpa not only knew about the announcement of the next year’s cars, but put it on his calendar as a personal highlight of the day.

It must have been an exquisite buildup between September 1968, when Ford announced the new line, and January 1969, when my grandpa finally went in to pick his out. Perhaps his dreams were only further fired by commercials like this one:

When the big day finally came, though, my grandfather proved to be a man of noteworthy fidelity. He opted for his third straight Fairlane,  in a color that the interwebs tell me was probably Wimbledon White.

The '69 Fairlane 500.

The ’69 Fairlane 500, in the driveway at 1107 Hope Street, shortly before my grandpa got rid of it. Looks like someone kissed him a little bit on that back panel, right near the bumper, where the red reflector is.

It looks cop-car big in this picture, but I remember it (through a kid’s eyes) seeming modestly midsized.

The Fairlane certainly wasn’t the biggest car in Ford’s 1969 line; at least one other model, the Galaxie, had it beat for size. So did the Plymouth Satellite my folks drove, and the Chevy Impala my other grandparents drove.

The Fairlane didn’t go in for flash, with only that S-thing on the rear pillar to break up the plain, classic straight lines. This was not a car that would have drawn Smokey Bear’s attention on any American interstate of the 1970s.

I note, though, that my grandpa opted for the Fairlane 500, as opposed to the base run-of-the-mill Fairlane. You can see the model designation on the rear panel.

Not sure what those extra three numbers gave him — it certainly wasn’t sporty trim, a plush interior, or racier lines. Maybe a bigger engine? (He wouldn’t have wanted for power in any event. The base Fairlane came with a 302 cubic-inch V8, and 390- and 428-cubic-inch V8s were optional.)

Once my grandpa had ordered his dreamboat, then came the really hard part: He had to wait for it. Apparently he didn’t choose one off the lot; he had to wait for it to be assembled and shipped from Ford’s Lorain Assembly plant, near Cleveland.

And then, l0ve came to town.

February 14, 1969.

February 14, 1969. What’s that? He drew the heart for Valentine’s Day? I don’t buy it.

Somehow, he held out another four days before going to pick it up, by which time he was so excited that he couldn’t spell “Fairlane”:

February 18, 1969.

February 18, 1969. Lent began the next day; I do not think my grandfather gave up driving.

And as he got to know his new car, it showed up from time to time on his calendar:

February 28, 1969. Halcyon days for celery wagons.

February 28, 1969. Halcyon days for celery wagons.

The ’69 Fairlane served my grandparents and great-grandma for 13 years, during which time my grandpa retired, had a heart attack, became a grandfather three times over, turned 60 and then 70, and experienced any number of smaller events previously documented on this blog. The car went from an eagerly anticipated novelty to practically a member of the family.

When my grandpa finally gave in and bought his next new car, he passed the Fairlane to my Aunt Elaine and Uncle Steve, who wrung a few more years out of it. If memory serves, the engine kept running but the body finally started to go, so they got rid of it.

The Fairlane in harness.

The celery wagon in harness, at a rest stop somewhere between Stamford and Rochester.

The ’69 Fairlane was neither the most colorful nor the most storied car in Blumenau family history, but it may have been the longest-tenured.

Which is a nice enough note on which to end an automotive love story.

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