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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

“Travels with Dad”

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

daughter of the Old-Timer



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My father drove a Volkswagen Beetle car for many years. He was way ahead of his time in thinking about gas mileage, and as a traveling social worker, the mileage checks went a lot further for his little car than they would for a larger, family-sized sedan.

The downside of this thrift was some pretty uncomfortable trips when I was small. We didn’t do much traveling outside of trips to see the relatives, but we really looked forward to those visits. Of course the novelty of a few days away from home was exciting, but we also genuinely loved to see family.

The Beetle had small front bucket seats. The backseat was also small, and in the very back of the passenger compartment was a small slot lined with extremely picky wool carpet. It was intended for a single suitcase (since the Beetle only had a tiny luggage “trunk” under the front hood,) but we used it as passenger space. It was called “the rumble seat.” There was, of course, no seat at all in the slot. Small as it was, it was the desired accommodation for small kids, since it was at least “your own space.” If the sun was high and overhead, the heat became nearly unbearable under the slanted rear window. Small price to pay for not having to sit for hours next to your annoying siblings. You could hear the rear mounted engine whining away right under you. Sometimes one of the youngest would ride all the way to Monroe, a journey of nearly five hours, on my Mom’s lap. No air conditioning, no radio.

My Dad has always been a firm believer in driving until he needed gas. Then he would stop, but not before, and not after. Now no one goes anywhere without a drink in their car’s cup holder - but if you were traveling with Dad you were expected to use the facilities before departure and then hold on until our destination was reached. There was no stopping and fooling around with him in the driver’s seat. Since the car got great mileage, that sometimes meant non-stop Peshtigo to Chicago a brutal trip of six hours or more.

My little brother often complained about being thirsty during these journeys so that problem was solved with a glass Mason jar with a metal screw-on lid filled with water. He needed help to hoist the jar up to get a drink. It usually resulted in quite a bit of spilled water as we bumped along on the road. Gave the sisters something to complain about. During his potty training, an additional innovation appeared - a potty chair wedged behind the driver’s seat on the floor of the back seat. Since my brother had short legs then, it didn’t cramp him too much to have it in front of him. And yes, eventually it got used while the car was in motion, resulting in more “sloshing around” and resulting complaints from the sisters.

Now you know why that “rumble seat” was popular for travel.

Since we moved to Oklahoma we’ve made dozens of trips up and down the interstate to visit. Since we have horses and a tractor we always have one big vehicle - so we make these trips in individual bucket seats, with individual climate control, entertainment systems, a cooler of snacks and drinks and even pillows and blankets.

My Dad always asks us what kind of mileage we get in our big trucks. Even if it was 2 miles per gallon, I’m not going back to a VW bug anytime soon. And when our kids used to complain about the long trips, I’d dredge up this story for them to teach them a lesson.


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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