It never failed to amaze me when I would pick our kids up after school. Scores of large, powerful vehicles - SUVs, pickups, sports cars, luxury sedans -would pour out of the parking lot. The first time I witnessed this phenomena, I thought, "Whoa, teachers must do pretty well!"
But closer observation revealed that the vehicles were piloted by pimple-faced high school kids! Many of the cars cost more than our house and were much nicer than any set of wheels we could ever afford.
Certainly most of these spiffy vehicles were financed by First National Bank of Mom and Dad. Either that, or the hormone-addled humanoids driving them were secretly trading mortgage-backed derivatives during study hall.
Which reminds me of my first car, a 1959 Ford that I purchased for the princely sum of $15.
There were some minor problems that would explain this economical price tag. The main one was that the car had neither motor nor transmission.
The old Ford had sat in a weed patch for some time. Its owners were excellent salesmen, waxing eloquent about the custom body work (dings and dents that would be impossible to replicate) and how lucky I was to find a car that had been pre-rusted. But I didn't care. I needed a car.
This was during a dark time in our nation's history. It was an era when teenaged females would openly and legally discriminate against teenaged males who didn't have wheels. Woe betide the car-less guy who phoned a girl for a date! She would say she was sorry, but that she planned to wash her hair that weekend. And the following weekend and the one after that.
It was very discouraging for guys who didn't own a car. But borrowing your parents' vehicle for dating purposes was even worse, akin to smearing on a thick, stinky layer of anti-cool.
Careful observation of the ecosystem at our school revealed that guys with cars got girls. Owning a car would open the door to the world of dating!
Which brought me to that mud-brown 1959 Ford. It just so happened that we had a Ford station wagon that had been in a wreck but still had a functional engine and transmission. I could combine the two and make one car! In my mind's eye, I could already see girls lining up for a ride in my studly steed.
Our farm lacked shop facilities, but I was able to talk Palmer Eidet, my high school ag teacher, into letting me work on my car in the ag shop. I think he saw the desperation of my situation and took pity.
I toiled over that car at every available moment. The engine and transmission transplant finally complete, the patient roared to life amidst a billow of blue smoke.
My car moved under its own power! At last I had wheels! Herds of girls would soon be lining up to take a spin!
But the old Ford still had some issues. For instance, its carpet was shot, so I replaced it with some elegant emerald-green indoor-outdoor carpeting scavenged from a home remodeling project. And the Ford's rust holes let in so much dust that driving down a gravel road made the car's interior look like a miniature dust storm. Outfitting the car with dust masks would have been the right thing to do, but I figured it might adversely affect my dating situation.
The old Ford's wipers were powered by vacuum. When you floored the accelerator, the wipers would stop; if you let up on the gas, they would wipe the windshield at Warp 10. It was weird and embarrassing.
But I finally got a date! As the appointed evening approached, I became as nervous as a blindfolded man walking barefooted in a roomful of mousetraps.
I picked up my date and things went well - for a few miles. As we motored along, the engine suddenly began to make a strange popping sound.
Investigation revealed that one of the spark plugs had fallen out. Fortunately, it was found dangling in the spark plug wire. Luckier still was that I had a wrench to reinstall the AWOL plug.
A little bit later the car began to shimmy and shake, and I discovered that I had neglected to fully tighten the lug nuts on a back wheel. This situation was quickly remedied, and we resumed our journey.
The date must have gone OK, because the girl actually went out with me a few more times. The old Ford had successfully ushered me into the world of dating!
And that was worth every penny of that $15.