October 28, 2013

Vintage car a part of the family

By JULIE ROBINSON ROBARDS, Collections Reflections

---- — We’ve had a beautiful streak of autumn weather this October, especially during leaf-peeping season. So on one of those crisp, sunny days when the colors seemed so vibrant that they popped against the brilliant blue sky, I decided to set up a flea market table at one of the scenic roadside stops along Route 9N just outside of Keene Valley.

Knowing that my vintage car would attract attention and hopefully be good for business, I loaded her up with boxes of antiques and collectibles and set off to make a little extra spending money for an upcoming trip to Cape Cod.

Now my car isn’t just any old vintage car — she is a beloved family member with a personality all her own — and she has been in my family longer than I have. Her story begins back in Lyndonville, Vt., in the year 1954 when my 65-year-old widowed great-grandmother, Mayvelle Eaton, decided she needed a car “to go to the post office and store, so to be a little independent.”

There is no doubt that she was well-advised in her choice of vehicle. That year Dodge was celebrating its 40th anniversary with a trio of new model automobiles: the Royal, the Cornet and the Meadowbrook. The most conservative of the fleet — the two-tone green Meadowbrook — was priced at just under $2,000. On April 28, 1954, Great Grammie made her way to CH Goss Co. in St. Johnsbury, Vt., and took possession of her brand new car, which she named “Miss Dodge.”

Now Miss Dodge wasn’t the proverbial little old-lady car that was just driven back and forth to church on Sunday, but rather she went on wonderful trips through the Green Mountains of Vermont and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Every summer, Great Grammie would drive to Maine, collect her seven grandchildren and bring them back to Vermont for a visit.

Miss Dodge really got around; my Aunt Jeannie and Uncle Buck took her on their honeymoon, and she was also the first car my mother learned to drive back in 1968. I remember, as a child, riding in the back seat with my sister and brothers while my mom, who had just gotten her driver’s permit, drove Miss Dodge up Burke Mountain with Great Grammie coaching her, saying, “Give it a little gas, give it a little gas so it won’t stall.”

In a letter written to my mother, Rebecca, in 1970, Great Grammie, who was by then 81 years old, had given up driving and was ready to sell her beloved Miss Dodge. She wrote, “I shall cry, probably, when she leaves my barn for good, but you and Dick may have her for $400. Pay when you can. Take good care of my old girl. She’s always been greased every 1,000 miles, and has never refused to do what I asked of her.”

That spring my mother and dad, along with my little brother, Ricky, made the trip to Vermont. My Dad drove 16-year-old Miss Dodge back to our home in rural Maine, where she found a new lease on life. I fondly remember summertime day trips with the family, and later, when my mother began working at the public school, Miss Dodge was her transportation. By 1979, when Miss Dodge reached the age of 25 and was considered a classic car, she was taken out only for the occasional joy ride or vintage automobile show.

I have always loved Miss Dodge, and my heart was set on giving her a new home, so last year she came to live with me in the Adirondacks. I’m proud of the fact that she is in unrestored, original condition — with the exception of a paint job on some scratches Great Grammie put in her. She’s also just got a little more than 63,000 original miles on her rebuilt straight six engine. Miss Dodge has a fluid drive transmission — so I can start off in any gear — and she’s got three gears with the shifting lever on the column (we like to call that “three on the tree”). She rides like a dream; you feel like you’re floating.

Miss Dodge is as dependable as a 59-year-old car can be, and on the day I took her out for the money-making flea-market excursion she did her job. She attracted lots of attention. So much so that leaf-peeping photographers who stopped to take pictures of the scenic vista also found a subject in Miss Dodge. At one point, I moved her into the shade so a group of shutterbugs could have better light and background for their photos.

I didn’t make much money that afternoon selling my vintage treasures, but Miss Dodge was a real showstopper.

As for my trip to Cape Cod, while there, I visited former car-racer Bill Putnam at his classic automobile museum. Putnam owns more than 50 classic and antique sports cars ranging from Lotuses, Triumphs and Jaguars to MGs, Austin Healeys, Ferraris and more. They were flashy and fabulous, but I wouldn’t trade my old girl Miss Dodge for any or all of them.

Julie Robinson Robards is an antiques journalist and dealer living in Upper Jay. She is the author of two published books on celluloid, an advisor to several antique price guides and a writer for AntiqueWeek Newspaper since 1995. She may be reached through her website