Monday, September 20, 2010

Tiny houses and raggedy old cars

February 14, 2008
Today, in a conversation with another old guy about my own age, we stumbled on two subjects that stirred a wave of nostalgia, and at the risk of boring the readers senseless, I just had to throw it out here. The subjects are being young and poor and living in tiny crude conditions, and Rambler cars. Still awake? Good. First, living not-so-large:
Long ago in another life, I was fresh out of high school, and scored a good job that made neccessary a move to Bessemer, a town some 30 miles from the ‘rent’s castle. After a couple months in a "residential motel", I located a a little house thing in the expansive back yard of a larger house in Lakewood, a somewhat upscale area of Bessemer. The large house was occupied by an elderly lady and her daughter, who were related to one of my new coworkers, and thus my connection. I suspect that the little building was once quarters for a servant of some kind, though I never verified that. What I could verify was that the place was tiny. I have read that the average American home has become 55% larger since 1970, and as my dwelling in this place ran from late 1970 to early 1973, this is a good starting point. I was unrolling an expansive $50 a month plus utilities for this place, an appreciable sum in those days. The outside dimensions of this entire building were 18X18 feet, so allow for the thickness of walls, and you have an idea of the inside dimensions. I have tried to draw up a representation of the floor plan below, to scale +/- my ineptness. Here it is:
As you can see, it was a main room, a tiny "one butt" kitchen, and a tiny bathroom with a tub/shower. The furnishings in the main room were a double bed with bookcase headboard, an easychair, a small chest of drawers, a narrow-but-tall set of bookshelves, and a little folding-leaf table with two chairs. My expansive collection of electronics in the little place were an AM/FM table radio and a tube-type Hallicrafters shortwave receiver that lived in the bookcase headboard, and a 12-inch B/W TV with rabbit-ear antenna that lived in the passover between the main room and kitchen. The table was normally occupied by a typewriter, in this case an early Brother electric portable. The kitchen contained an "apartment sized" gas range, a 9-ft fridge, and a single-bowl sink. Note that this is drawn more-or-less to scale, and under the counter opposite the range was a 3′ wide empty space, a good thing since the aisle was too narrow to allow opening the oven door, so it had to open into the empty space under the counter. The fridge had a freezer compartment that would hold two ice trays, two TV dinners, and four chicken pot pies. It would teach you to live minimally. In the upper right corner of the drawing is a space marked "storage" - this was not accessible from inside, only from outside through a metal roll-up door. This was a 3.5X6′ space occupied by the 30-gal gas water heater. The place must have been well insulated; low in the wall by the bed was a small AC/heat motel-room style unit, and it did a bang-up job of climate control. Beside the little building was a storage shed for lawn care stuff, and I unrolled an extra $5/month to store my toolbox and scooter in it. (I had at the time a Vespa Rally 200 scooter, but that is another episode) I lived here for 2 1/2 years, no regrets.
Now the Rambler thing. The fellow I was talking to today has a 22 yr old son with an odd thing for bizzare 1960s cars, and has scored a 1966 AMC-Rambler American station wagon that he is resurrecting. That started the nostalgia wave - at the time, 1970, I sold off my insurance-problem 1967 442, and rolled phat in a 1965 Rambler Classic 660 sedan.
This is not mine (I don't have any photos of mine) but is just like mine - Classic 660 4-door. It was a nice car, with good radio, and was stone reliable, comfortable, and had a good heater. For some reason, the original owner had ordered it with 660 package, which was nice, automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, AM/FM radio with four speakers, and … no A/C. No idea why, but there it was. It was, as I say, a nice comfortable car with acceptable handling, quiet and rattle-free, but it was a gross polluter and a death trap - and I would like to have it back today.
Gross pollution - it was a carb, points-and-condensor engine that ran on leaded gas, and after a tune-up, was in perfect tune for probably about 100 miles, after which it spewed noxious environment-killing toxins at an increasing rate until the next tune-up, about 10,000 miles. It had no catalyst, no evaporative control, no PCV.
Death trap - It had lap-only seat belts, no airbags, no guard beams in the doors, no collapsible steering column, no crush zones in the frame, drum brakes all around, and a dashboard that was mostly metal, with sharp things and metal knobs everywhere. It rolled on bias-ply tires. The 1963 AMC-Rambler Classic line, only two years before this, was Motor Trend’s Car Of The Year. Times have changed.
Ramblers and I go back; a cousin of mine had a 1968 Rambler American in high school, and his mother was a Rambler fan, owning a string of them through the 50s, 60s, and 70s. My own Classic was eventually traded on a 1970 AMC Rebel, with 401 V8 and all the goodies, and yes, it had A/C…

No comments:

Post a Comment