Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

Chevy pickup (550x455)



At the Cruisin’ the Campus event recently, classic cars were parked along the circle drive at Emporia State University.

I stuck my head inside of an old Chevrolet and remembered the car interiors of my youth: the metal dashboard, AM radio, window crank handles, a bit of chrome trim – and best of all: that old-car smell.

There’s a somewhat pleasant odor that is specific to old cars and trucks; it’s probably just a combination of time and dust and grease, but you don’t get that real-car scent with vehicles these days.

I saw an old Chevy pickup at the car show, similar to one my dad drove. My dad’s truck was a late ‘40s model and it had a friendly face, big round fenders and a running board. On the dash, Dad kept a clipboard of lumberyard receipts. The pickup had a manual choke that was temperamental, and there were small holes in his floorboard.

My brother and I rode in the bed of that truck when we were old enough to not do stupid things. Because Dad used the pickup to move excess dirt from filled graves to a pile in the cemetery’s corner, there were always dirt clumps on the truck’s wooden bed. Leon and I liked to toss clods straight into the air, and because of the movement of the pickup, the dirt clods would explode on the roadway behind us. That’s how kids learned physics back in the day.

The first family car that I remember was a two-door, red ’60 Chevy Impala, a big-finned monster. During my pre-school years, any time that Mom had to slow down suddenly, her right arm automatically flung out in front of me to hold me in place. I’ll bet she was glad that our next car, a ’65 Dodge Coronet, came with seatbelts.

One of the vehicles at the ESU show was a Ford Falcon that looked like the one my cousin Mary drove. When Mary turned 16, she took Leon and me cruising on Main Street in Great Bend. The A&W on Tenth Street was the turnaround point and we’d stop during the evening for a mug of root beer. I was only 10, but I felt so grown up as we dragged Main after dark on summer nights.

Eventually, my friends and I got our own driver’s licenses and then the fun really began. Sisters Kim and Tracy Myers had a Suburban that they called Old Blue, and five or six of us girls rode around Pawnee Rock in that. Kim and Tracy liked driving on the snow so they could slide. Racing around snowy corners in a small town is a pretty good way to learn how to control a skid.

Bench seats – now whatever happened to those? You could get four teenage girls in the front seat of a car until someone came up with the idea of bucket seats. Bucket seats became a popular thing in the ‘70s, and you were considered pretty sporty if you had them. With that bucket seat wrapped around you, you felt like a race car driver.

After my maternal grandfather died in 1975, our family inherited Grandpa’s ’50 Studebaker and we brought it home from Arkansas. This was an ugly car, not pretty in any way. It was battleship gray and seemed like a gangster car, heavy and protected. The windows were set high on the doors – too high for me to drive with my elbow hanging out the window.

The old Studebaker wasn’t in the best of shape. I only drove it in town, around Pawnee Rock – the brakes were a little soft. Once when I pulled into our driveway, the brake went all the way to the floor. I felt a panicked adrenaline rush, but the car stopped right before it ran over the rose bushes and our white picket fence.

The car show at ESU had muscle cars, sports cars, family sedans – in various stages of restoration. Looking inside of them, I felt as if each car wanted to tell a story – maybe about a flat tire down at the river, or when a girl got her first kiss at the drive-in theater. All of those stories are surely still there, mixed in with that old-car smell.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh


  1. LOVED IT!!! And–“cruising on Main Street” –Gary & I still drag he “76 Strip” here in Branson on a regular basis!!! 🙂 Years ago– we would cruise between Strong City & Cottonwood Falls, Ks.– make the u-turn in front of the court house in CWF–& cruise down main st & to the old river bridge & around dead mans curve– over to Strong City– up on the hill to the Brown Derby & make the circle– back through Hill Cress & Strong City main st. &– back over to CWF!!!

  2. This is great. There’s an old truck like this in our town, and a drunk driver ran his car up a tree in the same yard last weekend. I think of all the stuff we got by with back in the day, and think how all the safety belts in the world don’t fix stupid. A little caution and a little respect and new cars become old, well loved barn dwellers sixty years later. Great post.

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