Four-wheeled freedom

Published 12:36 pm Saturday, April 5, 2014

 by James D. Howell

Our family has a new car. The year was successful on the farm and my father bought a 1949 Chevrolet Deluxe, four door. It’s black. It has a standard gearshift, a heater, and black wall tires. It holds the promise of adventure. Our truck will no longer be the vehicle of choice for family outings. My brother, who still lives on the farm, has married and the truck stays at his house.

My siblings and I keep the new car washed, at least once a week. My next older brother is deemed worthy to use the car during night time, when it’s not required by my father. He and the car seem to be gone a lot on weekends. Weekdays, everyone is working or at school and our new chariot stays parked in the yard.

I’ve been driving our truck on the farm for a couple of years and the transition to a car isn’t difficult. Farm kids learn to drive trucks and tractors at an early age; it frees up older, stronger hands for other work. I get to drive the car around the farm also, but I am not permitted to take it into town or drive on roads, at least, not to speak about.

I seem to be included in the workload of the new car. Another pair of hands is always welcomed when someone decides to give it a wax job; sometimes I’m invited in a more forceful manner and voice by my siblings. I generally try to avoid it if I can.

There seems to be several types of wax jobs, with Simonize being the most work and the most admired. A selection of auto waxes shows up on a shelf on our back porch, along with an assortment of rags. If the car is driven up on the grass, close by the holly tree in our back yard, the water hose will reach; it certainly makes the rinsing part go smoother. Sometimes my siblings and I rinse each other along with the car. Fun.

Our new car is much more comfortable than the truck, but it does have a few drawbacks. We have to think a little before trying some dirt roads that we would not fear in our truck, especially after rain or in winter. We cannot set out across fields carelessly.

A couple of my relatives live in houses at the end of long dirt paths, and when we visit, we sometimes find ourselves walking up to the house, instead of running the risk of getting stuck. Such problems are mere trifles compared to the pleasure and comfort of our new Chevy.

Our farm boasts a large gasoline storage tank, with a pump and hose attached. That gas finds its way into the car whenever the need arises. In the strictest sense, I think it’s illegal to use the gas for personal purposes, but nobody complains, and the car is filled regularly. It’s a benefit that I will cherish in a few years.

My father suffers an illness and is weakened somewhat as a result. It becomes my job to be his driver whenever we venture away from the farm in our neighborhood, even to the streets of Franklin and Courtland.

The legality of driving without a license isn’t mentioned too many times. Licenses are permitted for hardship cases and for farm operations and in 1952, I pass the tests and am legally licensed to drive in Virginia.

My horizons suddenly become limitless. I already know most roads in my community; I study maps and learn other places, like Holland, Sedley, Newsoms and Boykins. I can find my way to visit a brother in Chucatuck, through Windsor. Suffolk becomes a fairly familiar city. I feel a freedom of adventure.

Cars also show up in our neighbors’ yards. The Young family gets a Plymouth; another friends parents get a Dodge. A proliferation of cars fills the streets of Franklin.

The livery stables in downtown seem less busy; new parking areas are developed to accommodate the influx of shoppers. Auto dealerships start up in smaller and smaller communities. Service station business increases virtually overnight. Gravity flow gas pumps are replaced by smaller electric pumps.

My church has undergone a new building effort, its congregation grows, and my youth group travels to summer camps and visits other churches in Franklin, Holland, Suffolk and Norfolk. We learn from travel that churches and beliefs are not that much different, that love is a common denominator.

The car opens up new territory in all our lives. Gas is relatively inexpensive, and the pressures of a nation at war have been relieved. Newspapers and magazines show pictures and tell stories of places that are now reachable within a day’s roundtrip.

The spark of wanderlust is lit in my spirit.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at