The Good Old Days?

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
Since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow . . .

Today, Peg and I sat and watched the snow blowing outside our front window. We commiserated about winters past. My thoughts returned to 1961 the first winter I had as a married man. Barbara and I rented a three room apartment in Chicago on West 87th Street. The front of our house faced the border between Chicago and suburban Hometown, Illinois. We both worked and had long commutes. My drive(11.4 miles)took me to Danly Machine Company in Cicero, Illinois, Barb’s (12,5 miles)took her to the Westside VA (Veterans Affairs) Hospital in Chicago. I spent every dime I had to buy a used Volkswagen, and Barb did the same to buy her Uncle Tony’s 1954 Chrysler New Yorker. The apartment provided parking spaces perpendicular to 87 street which is a CTA(Chicago Transit Authority) commuter route for busses.

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Winter snow began in December with regular snowfalls followed by very cold temperatures. It snowed in January, February, March and April too for an accumulation of over 50 inches for the season (avg. Chicago snowfall is 39 inches). What I remember most was digging the cars out after the CTA snow plow pushed the snow off 87 street into a mound behind our cars. It seemed like every morning I’d be exercising by shoveling snow from behind two cars. In the evenings when returning from work we had to turn sharply and gun the car to plow through the mound to get back in. Many times my VW lifted off the ground and I had to shovel snow from under the car to get the wheels back onto the ground.

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The joy of owning a Volkswagen to save gas which was selling for under 2o cents per gallon at the time, was the German engineer’s idea of efficiency. VW’s used the air that cooled the engine to heat the car and to defrost the windows. It didn’t take me long to use my knowledge of thermodynamics to conclude that air-cooled engines don’t make it for heating in a Chicago winter. When it is thirty degrees outside and the engine transfers thirty degrees to the air, the passenger compartment gets sixty degree air. When the outside air is zero degrees the engine still puts in thirty degrees, and the driver gets a chilly thirty degree breeze blowing into his face. That winter we had ample days with sub-zero temperatures which meant scrapping ice off the inside of the windshield to see the road. I took a blanket with me to wrap my legs for warmth.

When the temperature dropped below fifteen degrees, I removed the battery from the bug and took it into the house to keep it warm and charged. How did I learn to do that? Trying to start a VW with a six volt system in sub-freezing temperatures is next to impossible. There was not enough power in a cold battery to turn over the engine. I learned another trick from the German mechanics when I complained about the terrible starting situation. “Did you put five weight oil in the engine? No, well no-wonder you have trouble, we always use five weight oil in the winter.”  Duhuh.

By the end of that winter I became proficient at dealing with both cars, what worked for the VW also worked for the Chrysler, and we somehow managed to survive.

“Why didn’t you take public transportation,” people would ask? I tried taking busses and the elevated, and learned that waiting for, and riding CTA buses in sub-zero was not fun. Even if I caught the buses without waiting, it took me two and a half hours to make it to work, and that was in an era when the CTA service was better than it is today.

Chicago1967_2000

Yes, I sang the song lyrics above while looking at the snow swirling about in a thirty mph wind and recalling the “good old days.” The only thing good about them is that they are old and gone forever.

One Response

  1. Bad memortes stay with you a long time.

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