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A Man & His First Car!

Dallas A. Dixon BIO

After graduating from high school in Grundy Center, Iowa, in 1961, Dallas spent four years in the U.S. Navy, including three years aboard the submarine USS Bang. With an Honourable Discharge in hand, Dallas returned to Iowa and found employment by working at the lowest position on a land survey crew. Dallas married Rita and they eventually became the parents of two daughters. In 1985, after the further education of hard knocks and several thousand hours of home study, Dallas had the privilege of becoming licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in the State of Iowa. Dallas retired in 1999. Dallas and Rita reside in Waterloo, Iowa. By the fall of 2011, Dallas had written and published 2 books. He is currently contemplating (part-time) another book.

D-Dixon-my-carD-Dixon-my-carIn the spring of 1959, about 6 months before my seventeenth birthday, I asked my parents if I could buy a car. Mom remained silent, but Dad quickly asked, “Do you have enough money to buy a car?” “I believe so,” I replied. “Do you have enough money to pay for car insurance and license plates?” asked Dad with a smile. “You will also need enough money for gas, oil, maintenance, etc.” “I have been working and saving my money since I was twelve,” I replied, “and as you know, I work at the Standard Oil Station 3 or 4 nights a week as well as several hours during the weekends. I earn a dollar an hour, so I should be able to afford a car, at least a very old car.” “Okay, then,” Dad replied. “If you think you can afford a car, I will be glad to help you shop for one.”

A few days later, Dad and I went to Cedar Falls, Iowa. After visiting a few car dealerships and looking at several used cars, I selected a 1950 Ford, even though it had some rusted out holes in the rear fenders, front fenders, and underneath the doors, but it was within my budget of 200 dollars. The car contained a 95 horsepower, I-6 flat-head engine and a 3 speed manual transmission with overdrive. The car did not have power steering or power brakes, but sported an AM radio. I felt nearly ecstatic as I drove my first car from Cedar Falls to Grundy Center, all the while thinking, Wow! Owning my very own car is really great.

About a month later, the engine began missing and sputtering, running very roughly, so I drove the car to Wilbur’s house one evening and asked Wilbur, one of my neighbors, if he could tell me what was wrong with the engine. Wilbur worked as a mechanic at the local GM dealership, so it did not take him long to inform me that the car engine needed a valve job. He said that if I was going to do that, I might as well overhaul the entire engine. I asked Wilbur how much an overhaul would cost. He gave me an estimated price, and I quickly replied that I could not afford to pay that much money. Then, he said that if I were willing to do all the labor, it would cut the cost by more than half. I replied that I would do the labor, so Wilbur said that he would ask his boss, the GM dealership owner, if I could dismantle the Ford inside of the GM garage. Wilbur said that I could use all his tools and said that he would instruct me on how to do everything. The next day, Wilbur told me that his boss had agreed, so I asked Bill, one of my friends and neighbors, if he would help me with the Ford. Bill agreed to help me, so a few days later we took the Ford uptown to the GM garage and began removing parts from the Ford. Our good neighbor, Wilbur, worked on other car engines, but paused long enough to instruct Bill and me as we slowly removed the radiator and other parts so that we could remove the Ford’s engine. Two weeks later, my Ford contained a newly overhauled engine, and a new clutch. Fortunately, I only had to pay for the parts, which saved a lot of money. I thanked Wilbur, Bill, and the owner of the GM dealership many times before I drove the car out of the garage.

My money seemed to be disappearing faster since I had purchased the car, so I found another job working part-time at a very small Texaco gas station during the nights and weekends when I did not work at the Standard Oil Station. The car was mechanically sound after the overhaul, but needed substantial bodywork, so I approached Glen, the owner of a local body shop, and asked him if he needed any part-time help. Glen said that he had been looking for someone to work part-time, but he wanted someone who was an adult, not a kid my age. We talked for a while and after Glen looked at my Ford, he said that perhaps I could work for him when he needed the help, and then in my spare time I could do the bodywork on my Ford. Glen offered to pay one dollar an hour for my labor, and said that he would sell me the parts and materials for my car at his cost. I thought that sounded fair, so I began working at the body shop six days a week. Over the next few months, I spent many hours doing bodywork, mostly wet-sanding and masking cars so that Glen could paint them. I also spent many hours doing bodywork on my Ford, including customizing it, and shortly before I began my senior year in high school, Glen spray-painted my Ford with two coats of beautiful light-green enamel paint. When I began my senior year of high school, I could only work at the body shop during after school hours and on Saturdays. I occasionally played hooky from my senior year of school, so that I could work at the body shop. I learned a few years later that I should have stayed in class and made more of an effort in high school while I had the chance. I continued working at both gas stations during my senior year, but only on nights and Sundays, because I worked almost every Saturday at the body shop.

My customized Ford appeared very sharp with the new, light-green paint job. At about 9 p.m. one Saturday, not long after my seventeenth birthday, I parked my Ford on the street in front of my friend’s home and went with him and his father on their rural milk route to help them collect fresh milk from dairy farmers. We finished the route three hours later and as we arrived next to my car, I noticed what appeared to be steam exiting through the Ford’s partially opened side-windows. At first, I thought it was from humidity, but as soon as I opened the front car door, the backseat burst into flames. My friend’s father, who also worked as a volunteer firefighter, jumped into the car, removed the backseat, and threw it onto the street. The backseat had a two feet diameter hole burned into it. Then, I remembered that I had thrown a cigarette out of the open front window just before I had parked the car. The cigarette must have blown back into the car and landed on the backseat. I called the insurance man the following Monday and after he inspected the car, he offered to total the car and pay me a hundred dollars.

After Dad and I argued with the insurance agent for a while, he agreed to pay me a hundred dollars and said that I could keep the car. I spent the next three months completely redoing the Ford’s interior. I purchased used seats and door panels at a local junkyard, but bought a brand-new headliner. The hardest part was scrubbing the Ford’s interior, trying to get the smell of burning upholstery to disappear. By the spring of 1961, I had the entire interior finished and it appeared immaculate.

I left home for the US Navy in May of 1961, but the Ford remained at my parents' property until sometime in 1964 when I asked Dad during a phone call if he would sell the car for me. I was overseas when Dad sold the Ford. I did not see that Ford again until one day in the mid-1990s when I was working with a land survey crew in downtown Waterloo. I noticed a Ford parked inside an automobile restoration shop, so I took a few minutes off from surveying to look at the Ford, and soon discovered it to be the same 1950 Ford. To this day, I am very careful about extinguishing my cigarettes in the ashtray instead of throwing them out through the open car window. The best part is that I learned a lot about bodywork and mechanical work during the time I owned the Ford, and that helped me save a lot of money through the years as I worked on other cars I owned.

By Dallas A. Dixon

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