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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Of Course Boomers Had Driveways!

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution was underway and the country was shifting from an agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing. Populations shifted from farms to cities and as immigrants came in, these cities grew. Housing was quickly built to accommodate the influx of workers that would signal the nation’s progress up until the Great Depression. Since the automobile was a new invention, it was purchased by upper class citizens who could afford it, so working class people in working class houses had no need for driveways. In fact, only about a third of city dwellers owned their own homes at that time. Many boomers — especially early boomers — will recall living in this type of urban housing.

Henry Ford tried to change all that by producing a car he felt everyone could afford. To make sure his workers could afford it themselves, he instituted a $5 a day wage that was unheard of at the time. Of course, that wage was not granted equally among his employees, but that is a matter for another time. The spread of the Model T into the 1920s initiated the first working class houses built in cities, with personal driveways attached.

The wealthy always had driveways, though not in the sense that boomers might recall. For centuries, the driveway up to the manor was an important path, intended to impress and reveal the occupants’ status, education and wealth. The end of the driveway was usually a circle from which visitors and owners could be dropped off at the front door. The carriage and horse were then stowed in the stables away from the main house.

Driveways in rural communities were most often dirt or gravel, and were more for moving farm equipment than the family car — which was most often a pickup truck, as soon as they became available in the 1920s. Barns and sheds housed the equipment necessary for the main job, so any auto or truck was going to reside outside on or near the driveway.

The rise of the driveway slowly continued as new housing was built before World War II; a new status symbol for a generation that grew up riding streetcars and city buses, a driveway indicated a certain level of modernity and upward mobility in a rising middle class. It was in this era where the driveway was treated as part of the house’s landscape; instead of a concrete slab, it was composed of two strips separated at a wide enough distance for a car’s wheels to tread, with a grass median between the concrete.

It was after the War that the driveway really came into its own. Returning soldiers got married and started families, which signaled the dawn of the Boomer Generation. Housing was an immediate concern, but cities were crowded, with little or no land for these new families. New suburbs were the answer, where land was readily available and inexpensive, or at least affordable with GI veteran assistance programs. Since a worker’s commute was now a serious concern, the fathers of boomers making the move to the suburbs had to own a car. Virtually all of the houses built in the late 1940s and into the ’50s featured a place for the family car, as a “standard feature.” Some driveways led to a garage behind the house, but most stopped at the back end of the house. In just two generations, the evolution of the driveway had come from a centuries-old symbol of “to the manor born” to one of middle class, utilitarian car-parking slab.

A typical car parked in a Midwest driveway, circa 1950s

At this point, the vast majority of families owned one car. For boomers growing up in these houses, the driveway was empty all day since their fathers took the car to work, so it became a boomer play space. Girls might draw hopscotch games in chalk on the family driveway, while boys were rolling homemade go-karts up and down. Many boomers (including Mister Boomer) recall flipping hula hoops up and down the driveway, or roller skating — with metal skates — back and forth.

Driveways became personal and an integral part of the house, as was the family car parked on it. In the early days in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, less than a third of homes had garages, where a driveway extended to the garage positioned in the yard behind the house. As the 1960s pushed on, several of his neighbors had single-car garages built, all the more to leave the driveway empty. That space was soon needed as boomers grew and got cars of their own. For Mister Boomer in his mid-boomer era, it was practically a rite of passage to acquire a car shortly after getting a drivers’ license. Driveways would have to serve for parking at least two cars; at one point in Mister Boomers’ house, there were three cars for household members, two of which resided in the driveway. With no garage, it was a constant shuffle to move vehicles so that one or the other could exit.

While we often consider certain television programs, toys, fashions or music as defining symbols of the Boomer Generation, Mister Boomer humbly submits that the driveway was an important part of the culture that molded our generation.

What memories do you have of your families’ driveways, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Cars,Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

Mister Boomer Turns Six

It’s our anniversary! We’re starting our sixth year of talkin’ ’bout our generation at misterboomer.com. A look back at the posts that marked the beginning of each of our new years reveals our mission to explore the personal connections we boomers had to the historical revolution that was the post-war years. This week, click the title of these previous postings and recall where you were when …

2010: The Sweet Taste of Success
Remember when we were young, and sugar was a good thing? Companies, in fact, thought so much of sugar that they could openly advertise their products as made with the real deal. No one advertised with more gusto than the cereal companies, and of course, we all remember those classic commercials for Sugar Pops, Sugar Frosted Flakes and Sugar Smacks.

2011: Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning
Yes, we are old enough to remember when air conditioning first began to be popular in new cars.

2012: Boomers and Pens: A Nib and a Click
Boomers lived directly in the path of the changeover from fountain pen to ballpoint pen and on to disposable pen.

2013: Boomers Said: “A Penny for Your Shoes”
Legend has it placing a “lucky penny” in a shoe was derived from the practice of putting a penny in a bride’s shoe on her wedding day to give the couple good luck and wealth. The penny loafer became a big deal for early boomers when Ivy League students began wearing them with their khakis.

2014: Boomers Said, “Let’s All Go to the Movies!”
Going to the movies was a real event for Baby Boomers. Movies and matinees and drive-ins … oh my!

2015: The Boomer Era Had Its Scandals
It’s hard to see any media these days without running into some sort of corruption and scandal. Yet we tend to forget that this is nothing new; the boomer era had its share of political, corporate and personal scandals as well. Two of the most famous involve the entertainment industry: the Quiz Show Scandal and the Payola Scandal.

Keep coming back to misterboomer.com each week for a look back at the way we were, how we grew, and who we became because of it all. Subscribe to the RSS feed and get notification whenever a new post is published. And, tell all your friends and neighbors to drop in through the Facebook link, too! Thank you for five memory-packed years!

posted by Mister B in Cars,Fashion,Film & Movies,Fun,Getting Older,Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Mister Boomer Turns Six

Boomers’ Fathers Were Handy Men

As Led Zeppelin put it, In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man. Mister Boomer, like most other boomer boys, were told that being a man meant knowing something about fixing things around the house, and in the car. Boomers’ fathers were handy men. That’s not to say they were all proficient at the job at hand, but home repair and most car repair was thought of as, first, a do-it-yourself job.

Chances are, our grandfathers didn’t have much choice. The world was a different place during the Industrial Revolution. Most newly-minted adults of that era grew up in rural settings, so by the time they migrated to cities to work in the first factories, they were already well versed in the use of tools. It’s only natural that they would teach their sons the same knowledge that they had acquired. The Depression added another layer of personal responsibility for household fixes, since money was tight. Our fathers would learn directly and by example that it was a man’s job to keep things in working order, whether it was a door hinge, light switch or washing machine. While it is pure speculation as to whether the notion of “men work with tools; women, in the kitchen” began around this “every man is a handy man” idea, or originated generations earlier, we know our grandfathers and fathers were handy men.

So our fathers may have become handy because their fathers were handy, out of financial necessity or the social morés surrounding the definition of manhood. Consequently, they all had workbenches and tools. For most boomer boys, tools is where it all started. Boomers’ dads would teach them the difference between a claw and a ball pein hammer; a crescent and an adjustable wrench; a flathead and a Philips screwdriver; and metal and wood screws. By the time a boomer had his first shop class in school, most would have already had basic knowledge of hand tools. Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer were given a “junior” tool kit for Christmas before they were ten.

Men ruled the roost in their workbench area the way women controlled the kitchen environment. For Mister Boomer, his father’s workbench was in the basement since they did not have a garage. It was a strange and confusing place for a young Mister B. While some fathers were fastidious in the neatness of their workspace, Mister B’s dad was more casual in his approach. Instead of a place for everything, and everything in its place, his attitude was more of drop-and-go. So just about everything permanently resided on the workbench itself. Car fan belts shared space with cigar boxes filled with nuts, bolts and screws, sandpaper sat alongside cans of lubricating oil and bag after bag maintained their vigilance for years, with some containing nothing more than a store receipt, while others held plumbing washers or car clamps. This laisse faire attitude was evolutionary as Mister B and Brother Boomer grew.

Unlike the flotsam and jetsam of parts, his tools were handled with a great deal of respect. Assorted saws hung on an adjacent wall, while planes, hammers, wrenches and screwdrivers were housed in an old toolbox. A vise was attached to the end of the seven-foot long, homemade workbench constructed entirely of two-by-fours. In the early sixties, his father attempted to neaten up the bench, possibly at the urging of his mother. He gathered every empty coffee can (unless it was the designated grease can for the stove) and used them for nuts, bolts, screws and nails. At one point he must have seen another man’s work area, because he constructed a nail and screw storage system on the ceiling beams of the basement. The lids of empty medium-size jelly or Bosco jars were screwed to strips of lumber. The glass jars could then be filled with whatever items one wanted, and conveniently screwed back to the matching lid. The system worked perfectly as long as one was diligent in using it. He wasn’t.

Mister B’s dad wasn’t particularly suited for many home fix-up jobs, but he did them anyway. Some things he did in a haphazard manner, while others he was very good at. When new hallway carpeting meant bedroom doors wouldn’t close, he removed the doors, took them to the basement and planed the bottoms until they worked. Once the gas dryer stopped working, and he constructed a Rube Goldberg contraption of assorted belts that allowed it to continue its appliance life.

Along the way, Mister B and Brother Boomer began their indoctrination by first “holding the flashlight.” Later, tasks were increased until the three would work on projects together by the time they were in their teens. After learning more routine jobs of battery post cleaning, brake fluid, transmission fluid and antifreeze replacement, the boys would move on to spark plug and fan belt replacement. The biggest job Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer attempted on their own was the replacement of a water pump in their father’s Ford. Brother Boomer told Mister B to take responsibility for the gasket, which meant scraping off the old and seating the new. The problem was, he was admonished that no scratches could be made in the metal or the possibility of leakage would occur. Somehow, Mister B prevailed.

Even though boomer boys had this fix-it background, a good many boomer males did not follow through to doing their own home and car repair as adults, let alone pass on the knowledge to their children. While some boomers ran with the handy man idea, desk jobs and leisure time drew many boomer males away from the generations-old edict and they hired the jobs out. Mister B was never all that confident in his handyman ability, so he thinks twice before attempting things on his own to this day.

By the time the seventies became the eighties, women could be as proficient as men in household fixes. But in the 1950s and ’60s, it was a man’s job.

How about it, boomers? Was your dad handy and did he teach you to be the same?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Grew Up With Two-Tone Cars

Henry Ford’s Model T wasn’t the first car in America, but is considered the first affordable mass produced car. In his 1909 autobiography, Ford said he told his team that “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Despite the pronouncement, the first Model Ts built from 1908 to 1913 weren’t offered in black, but rather, grey, green, blue, and red, depending on the car’s style. It wasn’t until 1914 that Ford established the black-only Model T, which continued through 1927. Ford’s color choice had everything to do with cost and production. If all cars were painted black, there would only be the need for one paint and one area for painting along a production line.

Other auto manufacturers — and there were dozens — weren’t so limiting with their color choices. By the1920s, all car manufacturers were offering a multitude of colors. Cars like those produced by Duesenberg helped establish red or yellow as the colors of choice for sporty and fast cars, while green became a common color for touring cars, often associated with wealth. By the 1930s the roadways were filled with cars in a rainbow explosion of color. World War II helped change that.

At the advent of the U.S. involvement in the War all car factories shifted to the war effort to manufacture trucks, tanks and bomber planes. After the War, rather than pick up where they left off, cars became more basic once again, generally available in dark shades usually associated with earlier times as the companies ramped up their production capabilities. By the 1950s, the growing Boomer Generation enabled car makers to get back in the color game in a big way.

Soldiers home from the War got married and had children, creating the Baby Boom. This surge in marriages and population growth prompted an explosion in housing that established the suburbs, and, without the availability of urban mass transit, a strong auto market. By the mid-50s, auto makers were advertising affordable models as “second cars,” available in pastel colors meant to attract the women who found themselves home alone when their husbands drove off to work in their only family car.

Though two-toned cars had appeared throughout the history of the American automobile, most agree that the zenith of two-toned cars hit the showrooms between 1955-57. Virtually every manufacturer offered two-toned cars in a wide variety of shades and tints, among them Chrysler, Chevy, Ford, DeSoto, Plymouth, Cadillac, Dodge, Studebaker, Buick, Oldsmobile and many more. Unlike the two-toned cars of earlier decades, though, these new two-toned vehicles distributed colors all around the vehicle, rather than merely a hood, trunk or roof in a contrasting color. They were designed to illicit feelings of progress and the future, with sleek lines and plenty of gleaming chrome. It was the adding of chrome moldings that often served as the outline of shapes along the sides of the cars, creating color panels. Interiors and convertible tops could be coordinated to contrast with the body colors or match them, which was a relatively new approach to car design.

This 1955 DeSoto FireDome illustrates the transitional styling of early 1950s autos to the sleeker, flatter sides of mid-50s design. It also clearly shows an imaginative two-toned color breakdown, in shades not seen before that era.

This 1955 DeSoto FireDome illustrates the transitional styling of early 1950s autos to the sleeker, flatter sides of mid-50s design. It also clearly shows an imaginative two-toned color breakdown, in shades not seen before that era.

Chevrolet embraced the two-tone styling wholeheartedly to introduce its newly designed 1955 model. Gone were the bulbous fenders and rounded hoods of the post-war years in favor of flatter body panels, sculpted fenders and shaped bumpers and tail lights. Chevy had worked with DuPont and Ditzler to create a plethora of color choices, including metallic and metal flake varieties. By 1957 Chevy offered as many as 15 two-tone paint schemes, including the classic red and white still sought after in 1957 Chevys.

Though Mister Boomer was a wee lad in the mid-50s, he distinctly remembers the two-tone cars because his father and several uncles had one. Mister B’s dad traded in his bulbous 1950 Ford, with its chrome bullet in the middle of its grill, for a brand-new 1956 Chevy in white and green. Mister B and Brother Boomer also loved the car’s styling because a rear tail light — itself a streamlined red plastic bullet shape nestled in a chrome cradle — swung open to reveal the gas cap.

Mister Boomer’s uncles chose two-toned Chevys and Fords, ranging from a red and white 1955 Chevy Bel Air to a 1955 blue and white Ford Victoria; a classic 1957 Chevy in red and white to one of Mister B’s favorite car memories, a 1955 Chevy Bel Air in grey and pink. It’s hard to say why Mister B recalls these family cars so vividly, but chances are the two-toned paint schemes had a lot to do with them being etched into his long-term memories.

Manufacturers continued to offer two-toned cars throughout the fifties, but by 1959, the solid color car — punctuated by chrome — became the norm. Today many car manufacturers are once again dabbling in two-tone paint schemes. Most often, it takes the shape of a lighter roof color. Will this catch on to become a new trend or are two-toned cars best left as the memories of an era when the future looked bright and anything seemed possible?

Did your family have a two-toned car, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Cars,Pop Culture History,Technology,Uncategorized and have Comment (1)

Boomer Boys Brought On the Noise

Have you noticed how quiet cars run these days? It’s hard to know a hybrid engine is even running when you are standing next to one, and even the standard internal combustion engines are so quiet driving down a street that the main sounds you’ll hear are the tires rolling across the pavement.

Compare that to cars in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Everyday cars made their own noises, which became the number one diagnostic tool for skilled mechanics. The squeak of a fan belt, clunk of a transmission or metallic tap, tap, tap of tappets that needed an adjustment could be ascertained simply by listening to an engine idle and accelerate.

For early boomers boys, the idea was to have their vehicles make as much noise as possible, with the goal being to make their cars sound like race cars. Beginning in the hot rod era of the ’50s and ’60s, the guttural brap, brap, brap of an idling engine gave way to an earth-shaking roar when the driver put the pedal to the metal. Long before pollution concerns and catalytic converter requirements, it was common for boomers to remove mufflers from their “ride” altogether, or to install custom mufflers that were specifically designed to elicit a powerful noise. Thrush was a popular brand of mufflers for early boomers, not only for their decibel-inducing mufflers, but for their woodpecker logo. The high-performance company’s mufflers appeared on the scene in 1966, while two years later, Cherry Bomb mufflers became a competitor.

Then, like now, young boys liked stickers. Mister Boomer recalls the free automotive-based stickers that came his way from neighborhood kids and gas station visits, including the Thrush woodpecker logo, National Hot Rod Association, Valvoline motor oil, STP, and AC spark plugs. Perhaps it was inspiration from these stickers, and the noise generated from older boomers’ cars, that inspired younger boomers to clasp baseball cards to their bicycle wheel spokes. Mister Boomer followed suit on occasion. First he’d carefully look through his baseball card collection and choose a duplicate or the card of an inconsequential player. Then, grabbing a clothespin out of the fabric bag that contained them that was suspended from the backyard clothesline, he would bend the card about a quarter inch and wrap it over his bicycle’s front fork. The bulk of the card was situated so it was in the spokes. Once the card was secured with the clothespin, the resulting sound as the wheel rotated was more like a spin on The Wheel of Fortune than a race car, but it was cool to pre-teen boomer boys in the fifties and sixties.

Mister Boomer has read that in Japan, some municipalities are pondering requiring cars — especially electric models — to install systems that would broadcast sounds as a car approached. This would not only assist the visually impaired, but also all other pedestrians as well as motorists needing to check their blind spots. In true Japanese fashion, a variety of sounds are being tested as possible candidates for gaining attention as cars approach an intersection or one another, including vintage engine sounds, ringtone-like blips, electronic rhythms and bird chirps. Should this notion find its way to our shores, Mister Boomer has a few other sounds he’d like to toss into the mix; How about a 427 Chevy engine powered through a Thrush muffler, a 426 Dodge Hemi, a tri-carb 409 GTO or a ’60s Mustang with a 389 engine and four-on-the-floor transmission? If that won’t work, could we try the sound of a baseball card clasped to the fork of a bicycle?

Did you bring on the noise on your bike or car, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Cars,Pop Culture History,Technology and have Comment (1)

Boomers Loved the Ford Mustang

On April 17, 1964 the Ford Motor Company introduced the Mustang at the New York World’s Fair. To say it was an instant hit would be an understatement. First conceived as a two-seater sports car in 1961, by the end of 1962 Ford vice president Lee Iococca outlined his vision for the car, code named T-5: it should seat four people, be no longer than 110 inches, cost under $2500 and have plenty of options for growing Baby Boomers as well as mothers looking for a second family car.

The result was what Ford advertising described as “the car you design yourself.” Iococca and Ford had created the “pony” class of automobile, a small car like a sports car but with a long hood and shorter rear deck. Since the car was intended to please coming-of-age Baby Boomers — the first car to be designed with this generation in mind — as well as families looking for a second car, one of the top innovations of the vehicle was the variety of options for engine, transmission, drivetrain, interior and exterior trims. Buyers could outfit the car like a plain, practical small family car or customize it with a high-performance package that brought it to muscle car status. It came in a coupe or convertible style, with a starting price of $2368. The cost was kept lower by basing the car on the Ford Falcon frame and drivetrain.

After projecting sales of 100,000 units for the first year, Ford sold 22,000 Mustangs on the first day, and reached the one millionth sale just 18 months later. The car’s popularity spanned the generations, as boomers, young families, people looking for a practical second car and older people all fell in love with the styling. Why wouldn’t they? There was nothing else like it on the road.

Mister Boomer does not recall the first time he heard about the Ford Mustang. As a pre-teen himself, it was probably from the TV commercials that Ford had blanketed the airwaves with during the Mustang’s inaugural week. It could have just as easily been on the pages of Look or Life magazine, as Mister B’s family had subscriptions to both. He, like other boomer boys, thought the car was cool, but it was when Brother Boomer bought a used Mustang that Mister B felt a visceral connection to the car.

Brother Boomer bought a 1965 Mustang in the summer of 1968. As soon as he pulled into the driveway, the car gleamed with its Silver Blue metallic paint. It had a 289 cubic inch engine with a 3-speed manual transmission, a white vinyl interior and white vinyl top. Mister Boomer’s brother spent every spare second polishing every nook and cranny of that car, from waxing and polishing the car and chrome bumpers to the Pledge he used on the white vinyl interior. At twilight the effect made the car glow as if it had a light all its own. That was it; Mister B was smitten.

Brother Boomer further tricked out the car by dropping in a 4-speed and having the 2-barrel carburetor rejetted so it was the same as a 4-barrel. The distributor and timing were customized as was the suspension and exhaust. Chrome reverse wheels replaced the standard (already cool) Mustang hubcaps. Brother Boomer raced it at a nearby dragway on summer weekends, ultimately winning a trophy for his division.

 

Brother Boomer sits on his used 1965 Mustang, circa 1969, holding the trophy he won for racing the car.

Brother Boomer sits on his used 1965 Mustang, circa 1969, holding the trophy he won for racing the car.

It was a great car to be seen in, despite the bumpy ride experienced in the back seat. The 8-track tape player installed in the glove compartment added to the joie de vivre. It was also the first car Mister B rode in on a double date. His brother had invited him to a double date to the drive-in theater. The year was 1969, and Mister B found a date willing to go. The two couples rode to the drive-in, Brother Boomer behind the wheel and his date (who ultimately married Brother Boomer) in the bucket seat next to him, while Mister B occupied the back bench seat with his date. Once they arrived in the theater and parked the car, Brother Boomer asked Mister B to switch with him. Mister B had finally gotten the chance to sit behind the wheel of this cool Mustang, but the car was parked, with a speaker box hanging from the driver’s side window. His date was now a bucket seat away, with a gear shift in between them. In the end it didn’t matter, as the movie they went to see was Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, as impressionable a movie to a teenage Mister Boomer as when his brother took him to see Thunderball four years earlier.

Mister Boomer’s sister also had a Ford Mustang. She got Mister B’s father to co-sign a loan for a 1966 yellow fastback model with a black vinyl interior somewhere in the early 1970s. She only had the car a year and a half when a motorcyclist plowed into the side of the car, hastening its demise.

Mister B finally had a chance to own a Mustang after he was out of college and working full-time for a couple of years. For his first new car, Mister B bought a 1977 Mustang hatchback. Mister B loved the car, but unfortunately, it was a lemon. Within four days it was back in the dealership, with issues ranging from loose oil pan bolts to needing parts in the distributor. Since the car was new, the parts hadn’t even been issued yet, so it was a good thing Mister B hadn’t sold his old Ford for that first month. The car was in the shop six times in the first year alone, so by 1979, he traded it in. Despite the setbacks, Mister B would definitely own a vintage Mustang today if he had the funds.

What memories of the Ford Mustang come back to you, boomers?

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