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Essay: Misadventures in my first car

Model A Ford Club of Long Island drivers

Model A Ford Club of Long Island drivers at Islip Beach in Lake Ronkonkoma on April 26, 2015. Credit: James Carbone


The year was 1950. I was 18 years old, lived in Rosedale, Queens, had a driver’s license and a few dollars in my pocket from caddying. My friend Jay had a Model A Ford coupe with a rumble seat for sale: $50. I bought it. Insurance? Why? it wasn’t required, and my net worth was zero.

I was interested in Mary, a local girl, and thought I would impress her with my new possession. I asked her out for a little drive to the abandoned Curtis Airport in neighboring Valley Stream. Although the airport had closed many years earlier, the runways were still intact and easily accessible. I would show Mary how fast my little Model A could go.

The runway was about a half-mile long. At one end, feeling cleared for takeoff, I stomped on the accelerator. The little four-cylinder, 40-hp. engine chugged and strained to eventually reach 50 mph. The car had a throttle-control lever on the steering column. To ensure maximum speed, I advanced the lever.

As we neared the runway’s end, it was time to slow down. I took my foot off the gas pedal, stepped on the brake — and nothing happened.

Panicked, I pushed harder, and still nothing — even as the car neared the runway’s end.

Here I was trying to impress Mary, and I couldn’t even control my runaway car. After reaching the end, we plowed through high grass and headed for a road and an adjacent swamp. Would we hit a car? Would we swerve and wind up in the creek?

Sweat rolled down my forehead, and my white-knuckled hands had a death grip on the steering wheel until I realized the throttle lever had to be pulled back. As I did it, the car finally slowed to a stop. I tried to apologize for the incident, but Mary just stared at me and remained silent as I drove her home.

It was a neat little car and it ran well for about six months, until a foolish encounter at a bar.

I was at Killarney’s Bar in Laurelton one night and got into an argument with two men. These guys were no taller than 5 feet each, but specimens of compact muscle who played ferocious football in local leagues and partied with the same intensity.

Our harsh words resulted in a contest to see whose car could force the other’s vehicle backward in a nose-to-nose pushing contest. We staggered out of the bar, got in our respective vehicles, started the engines and hit the gas. The engines raced, exhaust pipes belched smoke and neither car moved.

It was a draw — but I lost. My Model A died on the spot. Don’t know whether it was the transmission, the clutch or something else, but something broke, and I had neither the knowledge nor money to fix it. I never drove that car again.

Shortly after that, I junked the Model A, dropped out of high school and joined the Army. And after the airport chaos, Mary never went out with me again.

 Reader Bill Domjan lives in Melville.