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Posts Tagged ‘1965’

This week’s post is dedicated to anyone who’s ever thought, “They don’t build ’em like they used to.”

March 1, 1965

On Monday, March 1, 1965, my grandfather proudly took possession of a brand-new Ford.

It was a Fairlane, his first car with power brakes and power steering, not to mention a smooth, powerful 289 V8 engine. Not the sexiest ride, perhaps, but a fine example of why people get nostalgic for Detroit’s vaunted Good Old Days.

The arrival of a newly purchased car is always a big deal, especially when it’s fresh off the production line, and I’m sure my grandpa looked forward to many miles of driving. His excitement practically explodes off the page.

His excitement might have started fading as early as Thursday, March 4, when he found himself back at the dealership:

March 4, 1965.

My grandfather was not a risk-taker, behind the wheel or anywhere else, so I can’t fathom him doing anything that would have blown out his shock absorbers in four days of driving. I can only assume the car came off the line with a couple of defects, and that my grandpa made a 100-mile stop just to get the first batch of bugs ironed out.

From my point of view as a nearly-forty-something, this seems absurd: A brand-new car shouldn’t need any repairs. For the extra money it costs to buy new, you should be able to count on some period of flawless operation.

But I’ve heard other stories like my grandfather’s. A co-worker once told me he bought a car (Buick, I think) in the mid-’80s and was issued a checklist of potential faults. The idea was that he would drive the car for a little while, check off all the stuff that didn’t work or didn’t fit right, then bring it back to the dealer to get those faults repaired. It was simply expected that some glitches would be found.

At any rate, my grandfather’s honeymoon with his new Fairlane lingered at least until May 25, 1965. It might have ended that day, though.

May 25, 1965.

Now, my grandpa owned two Fords at that time — the new ’65, and a ’61 that started the year with 43,000 miles on it. I was going to give the ’65 the benefit of the doubt and assume the older car had the carburetor leak.

But my dad told me the ’61 Ford was at college with him in the spring of 1965. A carburetor leak “would have been my problem, not his,” my dad said. And since my dad went to college in Troy, N.Y., the ’61 Ford would not have been towed to Stamford Motors.

So there we have it — a car less than two months old, making a second trip for repairs, this time with a show-stopping engine defect. Nice.

A few years later, Arthur Hailey’s novel “Wheels” popularized the concept of “Monday and Friday cars” — the notion that cars built immediately before or after a weekend were poorly assembled because of high absenteeism and lack of attention.

Perhaps the ’65 Fairlane was a Monday or Friday car — though in those days, American carmakers had plenty of production problems from Tuesday to Thursday, too.

Ford’s acceptance of sloppy quality control later came back to cost it dearly. Seven years to the week after my grandpa’s carburetor problem, another new Ford with a carburetor defect would cause significant financial and PR damage for the company.

On May 28, 1972, a Ford Pinto stalled out in traffic on a California freeway, was rear-ended, and burst into flames. The car — bought new the previous November — had suffered from chronic stalling and other problems that several trips to the garage had failed to repair. After the accident, the stalling problem was traced to the carburetor.

The crash was the genesis of Grimshaw vs. Ford Motor Co., the legal case that accused Ford of willfully ignoring hazardous flaws in the Pinto’s fuel-tank design. The publicity surrounding the case would forever brand the Pinto as a firetrap and FoMoCo executives as callous, though of course the company disputed both conclusions.

Ford held on to my grandfather as a customer through 1969, when he bought another Fairlane — this time a homey cream-colored sedan. He passed the ’65 down to my Aunt Elaine, who used it for several years.

(Loyal readers may remember that the ’65 Fairlane appeared in two previous posts on this blog — breaking down in Vermont in 1967, and being stolen in Boston in 1971.)

The ’69 model served him well until the early ’80s, when my grandpa broke with decades of tradition and bought a Chrysler product instead of a Ford. He would go so far as to buy a Honda before being prevailed upon to turn in his keys in the ’90s. (Edit: I have my family history wrong. See the Comments for a correction.)

I would have been interested to see how my grandfather rated the cars he owned over the decades, and where the ’65 Fairlane ranked among them. Perhaps it was one of his favorites.

But if it were, that impression would not have been based on its first two months.

Come back tomorrow for a related quick-hit post.

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This post was originally written last October, but was bumped by breaking news for a post about Kodak. I rescheduled it for this week — just in time for Kodak bankruptcy rumors to hit the world anew. Timing is everything.

I wonder what my grandfather would have made of digital cameras.

He was an avid photographer whose pictures have already illustrated, and greatly improved, a number of my blog entries. (You can click here and here to see some of his artsier compositions.)

Dropping in a new roll, 1969.

Personally, I love digital cameras because they give me much crisper shots than I’ve ever gotten. I never learned to use good film SLRs when I was younger, so my only cameras growing up were cheap point-and-shoots that took mediocre pictures.

Today I can go to Citizens Bank Park, sit in seats so far away they might as well be in Conshohocken, and use (at best) a mid-level digital point-and-shoot to take a picture of a home-plate celebration clear enough to tell one player from another:

May 2010. Click to see larger - it looks a little better that way. Taken from Section 955 or someplace like that.

My grandfather might have enjoyed the effortlessness of digital photography. As a thrifty sort, he definitely would have enjoyed not having to pay to get his pictures developed.

As a perfectionist, he would have liked the freedom to wipe his less successful shots and keep only the good ones.

And, as a creative type who occasionally painted or manipulated his pictures, he might have done some interesting stuff with Photoshop or other photo-editing software.

But, as a craftsman, he would have still kept and used a film SLR from time to time, I think. I believe the process of thinking through and changing his camera settings would still have appealed to him. He expected more from the photographic experience than just pointing and shooting.

This week’s calendar entry, from 1965, gives a hint of his attachment to the old-school art of photography:

Oct. 3, 1965

Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of the picture(s) my grandfather took that day. (I’m guessing the church in question was the Methodist church across the street from his house, the one mentioned in the “Loyalty Sunday” entry of last November. It had the smallest of playgrounds, where my brother and I sometimes played as kids.)

But whatever it was, it meant enough to him that he documented his camera settings and the time of the shoot, presumably to help him evaluate the finished shots and give him guidance for future pictures.

Had he taken his “church pic” with a digital camera — particularly a point-and-shoot — it probably wouldn’t have made enough of an impression on him to write on his calendar. With an SLR, though, the thought process resonated enough with him to make him write it down.

As I’ve mentioned, I still have an old film SLR (a Pentax K1000) that my grandfather used. If I lived any closer to Stamford, it would be fun to take it to the church, replicate his settings some early October afternoon, and see what I got.

I still have a couple of recipes from my grandmothers, and enjoy making them from time to time. What I have here is a recipe of sorts from my grandfather — for art, not food. Start with two pinches of f-stop, mix in a dash of shutter speed and blend with 2 p.m. worth of autumnal natural light. Then shoot, develop and serve.

I’m not as comfortable behind the shutter as I am in front of the stove, so I can’t duplicate it. But it’s still kinda cool to have it, and to imagine the knowledge and the craftsman’s care that went into creating it.

Come back tomorrow for a vaguely related bonus post.

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Bristling with merriment, full of good will,

As long as it’s up, there’s a holiday still.

Raise a tall fir or a small simulation; then

Ready yourself for the anticipation.

You know what I’m saying? Here’s more explanation:

 

Mass now ’round the Christmas tree, lively and bright,

And join in the chorus of Yuletide delight.

Napped with bright tinsel and shining glass balls,

In living room, dining room, front room or hall.

Let’s look at a gallery this midnight clear,

Of Christmas trees doodled with love and good cheer.

“We wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.”

Dec. 25, 1961

Dec. 25, 1962

Dec. 25, 1965

Dec. 25, 1966

Dec. 25, 1973

And a bonus picture from 1107 Hope Street, Christmas 1957:

Dec. 25, 1957

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I always enjoy it when a calendar entry takes me to a place I never experienced firsthand.

And this week we’re setting the Tardis for a most colorful location –a Sixties college fraternity in all its chug-all-night, twist-and-shout glory.

Specifically, we’re headed to the Sigma Chi house at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, a place where America’s future engineers worked hard and played harder:

Dec. 11, 1965. Four days earlier in 1941, the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.

(Why Sweetheart Weekend is on my grandpa’s calendar is an open question, as he did not go. My dad thinks my Aunt Elaine might have visited that weekend as a date for one of his fellow Sigs.)

My intro to this post is actually misleading. Sweetheart Weekend was — and probably still is — a formal Saturday night dinner-dance held at a local country club, not a beer-swilling basement hoedown.

But there were plenty of parties at Sigma Chi in the Sixties. (As my dad likes to say, “Some people don’t realize that ‘Animal House’ was a documentary.”)

And besides, this calendar entry made my mind ramble past a specific event and dwell on the broader subject of Greek life — which is, for the most part, a mystery to me.

Where I went to school, fraternities and sororities made up a small part of the social pecking order. In a city throbbing with students and nightlife, Greek organizations seemed kind of irrelevant. Only a small percentage of students belonged.

I was not among those pledging or rushing. Fraternities seemed best-suited to little college towns where you had to make your own fun, not cities like Boston.

Also,  I might have bought into an opinion I heard many times freshman year in floor-lounge and cafeteria chats — that fraternities were for people who couldn’t find friends anywhere else or, worse, for people willing to “buy their friends.”

I would later fall into an organization — the student newspaper — that served as a sort of co-ed fraternity/sorority for the hardcore staffers who essentially lived there. Some of my best college party memories involve dancing atop the newsroom desks where, not long before, I was making phone calls to nail down a story.

But the Daily Free Press (which was always accused of anti-Greek bias in its news coverage, and maybe correctly) didn’t have the traditions of a Greek organization. There were no formals, no Sweetheart Weekend, no community service and no pledge/rush process.

I didn’t get a broader view of Greek life until I visited my dad’s old fraternity house in Troy. I’ve been there twice, but a visit last year for a reunion weekend particularly opened my eyes to the lasting connections that a fraternity can foster.

Looking at the old photo albums and overhearing these guys talk, it was clear to me that the traditions and responsibilities of a fraternity had bonded them in a lifelong way. Clearly, these were not bought friendships, nor shallow connections that ran out when the kegs did.

Nor were these guys paying lip service to their fraternity traditions. They wouldn’t have been there 45 years after graduating if they didn’t care. The fraternity experience  improved them in some intangible way, and it still means something to them.

These connections are not limited to Sigma Chi, nor even to fraternities. Before writing this entry, I spoke at some length with an old friend (we’ll call her “Goofy,” her sorority nickname) who was a Delta Gamma at American University in the Nineties.

My friend talked about how difficult it was to bring 80 young women to an agreement, and how Greek life taught her to build consensus at a time in her life when she was also learning to be independent.

She told me about enjoying fall sorority football games. “It was serious,” she said, proudly. “We had a playbook!”

And she told me about how Delta Gammas from multiple classes joined together to raise money and support for a fellow DG fighting an aggressive form of cancer. (Unfortunately, my friend’s friend passed away over the weekend. A support site for her can be viewed here.)

Having heard and observed these stories of Greek connections, I don’t personally regret not rushing. I’m not sure how a fraternity would have fit into my college experience.

But I have a newly acquired respect for the Greek system that I didn’t have when I was 20. It’s not really about rich kids play-dressing in Greek letters and making everyone else knock to get into their treehouse.

It’s about personal connections, and maintaining and honoring tradition … things a family-history blogger can appreciate.

That said, I do still cling to one rule about fraternities and sororities that I learned in the Daily Free Press newsroom:

Don’t call them ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters’ unless they’re related.

Sorry, Dad and Goofy. I have my own deep-rooted college traditions by which I have to abide.

Come back tomorrow for a special coda, featuring value-added multimedia content. Trust me — you won’t want to miss it.

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I mentioned last week that my grandfather had lived through some of the darkest days of 20th-century America.

I guess this week’s calendar entry counts as another one.

Nov. 9, 1965

Unlike some other events I’ve covered in this space, I can guesstimate what my grandfather would have been up to when the lights went out.

He would have been at home unwinding in the time between work and dinner, possibly reading the afternoon Stamford Advocate.

My grandfather lived a short distance from work — I believe he walked there and back, and also walked home for lunch. So he would have been safely home at 5:28 p.m., not stuck in traffic or on a commuter train.

I would also be willing to bet that, until 5:28 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1965, my grandfather had never thought too deeply about the workings of the Northeastern regional power grid. My grandpa and millions of others got an education in the days following Nov. 9, when news stories explained how a human error by a power-plant worker in Ontario left 30 million people without electricity on a chill autumn evening.

As it turned out, a safety relay at the Canadian plant — designed to protect a transmission line against overloading — had been set too low.  A surge of power on the grid tripped the relay, which took out the transmission line as a protective step. The surge of power then traveled onto other transmission lines throughout the Northeast, overloading them and tripping their relays as well. Within 15 minutes of the first problem in Ontario, millions of people on the Eastern Seaboard were in the dark.

My grandfather might not have gotten a warm dinner that night, but he did better than a lot of other people: His power was restored in time to heat the house before bed. Some parts of New York City were not returned to normal until 7 a.m. the following day.

My Aunt Elaine was commuting to college in New Haven, and remembers the blackout as follows:

I  carpooled with a group of girls and when we were driving back home in the evening, there were no lights on the streets or houses! A kid (who was a couple years older than me), who lived across the street, was directing traffic with flashlights. This was interesting in that he usually  got into trouble, but now he had taken on this responsibility. When I returned home, your Grandma & Grandpa and Grossee were using candles for light. As we sat around the table and ate dinner, it somehow became apparent that the blackout was widespread, but none of us knew why. I think we were tossing around ideas of the cause, half in jest and half in anxiety, like attack from another country or extraterrestrials. I don’t remember when we learned about what was really happening.

I’m quite sure it was your grandfather who came up with the idea that it could be extraterrestrials that caused the blackout. He was reserved but could come up with some humorously wild ideas. 

I just asked your Uncle Steve, and he said he was on his way home from his commute to/from college in Brooklyn on the eve of the blackout. I hadn’t met him yet. How’s that for synchronicity!

My dad, meanwhile, was a grad student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He gathered a couple of friends and drove up as high as he could in his car:

We turned the radio (AM) on, found a few stations broadcasting on emergency power, and because of the absence of other stations, were able to pick up Big Dan Ingram from WABC in New York City.  Because Big Dan was working with minimal electricity, all the special boost effects on his voice weren’t operating and he sounded surprisingly thin and normal!

(Someone, incidentally, was making tape of WABC while the power dwindled and finally petered out. A recording of Ingram gamely ad-libbing while his studio equipment runs gradually slower and slower can be heard here.)

My dad continues:

This was a simpler time in history.  Yeh, Kennedy had been killed and Vietnam was heating up, but it was still essentially the extension of the prosperous, peaceful Eisenhower years.  There was absolutely no fear, just a techie discussion of what could have happened to take the whole power grid down (more than one of us were electrical engineering majors, I think).  Thought of terrorism never occurred to us, or – I don’t think – to anyone else in the country. 
We drove over to the Sigma Chi house at one point, where we joined other brothers walking door to door in the neighborhood handing out candles and matches (no idea where they came from – we must have had them).  Sigma Chi needed all the good PR in the ‘hood we could muster, and so we did stuff like this when the opportunity arose.  I stopped enjoying the riding around when someone figured out that you couldn’t pump gas without power, and I wanted to save some.  I honestly don’t remember when the power came back on; I THINK it was later that night.

My mom, meanwhile, was also in college at Boston University. One of her floormates tied up the only available phone by calling her family in South Carolina and talking at length about her social life. That irritated the others on the floor, who wanted to call their own families and let them know they were OK.

My mom specifically noted that she had school as usual the next day, even though no one had gotten any work done.

For all the impact the blackout made at the time, and all the memories it engendered, it seems in retrospect like life went back to normal pretty quickly.

(Contrary to popular legend, there was not a mini-baby boom nine months after the blackout. The aphrodisiac powers of being without electricity tend to be greatly overrated.)

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