1997 Pioneer Pages article
by VICKI DAUTH
BACK TO THE PR-USA HOMEPAGE
Do you remember learning to drive? Do you remember when the livery stables and blacksmith shops in Paso Robles began to turn into automobile dealerships and gas stations? Do you remember having to tell your dad about that first mishap in the family automobile? Do you remember your first car?
Bud Schlegel can remember well the day he was squirrel hunting around the O'Donovan place in Creston and happened to see a stripped down 1913 Model T parked in a haystack. He was almost fifteen years old when he negotiated to buy the car that was not much more than "two seats and a gas tank" for $12.00. He had a great time racing the school bus into town from Creston and earning gas money by taking his friends for ten-cent rides to spin "brodies" on the road to the cemetery. This fine automobile met a rather sad end some time later. Bud's folks didn't want him to play football, so he took up the saxophone. While driving home one day from a music lesson with his shiny new saxophone tied in the passenger seat, he tipped over on a newly-graded road. The car was beyond repair, the saxophone was bent and the seat of Bud's new suit was ripped out. Perhaps he would've been safer on the football field!
Another Model T driver was Gil Leisy who learned to drive his father's 1919 car in the dirt at the Bakersfield airport. The car had to be cranked to start, and driving at night was interesting since the lights would dim whenever the car would slow down. The driver had to keep going at a good clip to keep the headlights bright.
It wasn't just the young fellows who had adventures on the road. Marilyn Kester Dauth remembers learning to drive around in circles at the Sacramento Ranch in her father's Model A pickup. She was about twelve at the time. Marian Claassen learned to drive at an even younger age. At about ten, she was driving one of the "funny Fords" that the Simmler School District provided for the ranch families on the Carissa Plains. Marian drove the six miles to school with her younger brother in the Model T with "Simmler School" written on the side. She remembered coming out of the school building one afternoon to find her "bus" was not there. The car was later found at Buttonwillow where one of the hobos who regularly traveled through the area had left it after "borrowing" the bus for a short trip. Marian was one of the few women of the time to own her own car. Her father had promised her a car when she graduated from college. She had fond memories of going to the C.H. Reed Ford dealership in San Luis Obispo in 1934 to order her brand new, bright red Ford with a V-8 engine and a rumble seat. Marian's first passenger in the new car was her very young cousin Sandra Branch Claassen who called out "Oopsy Doodle" every time they rounded a curve.
RESTORED AND CUSTOMIZED '34 FORD
Some local girls drove their family cars or their boyfriends' cars around the area's countryside. Very few remember getting driver's licenses. When she was about twelve, Eleanor Testerman Schlegel drove the familiy's 1924 Dodge touring car from their home at the Shandon Pump Station to town to go shopping or to Sunday School. Eleanor's mother never learned to drive and Eleanor's rather slow pace was fine with her, but Eleanor's younger brother and sisters used to sit in back and urge her to drive faster. In spite of her slow, careful driving Eleanor did manage to drive the Dodge right into one of the two backyard trees that she usually parked between.
Later, in high school, Eleanor Schlegel borrowed her boyfriend, Bud's car to go to school. She and her friend drove the black and tan 1931 Ford Victoria coupe all around town at lunch time. When it came time to go home, the girls didn't want Bud to find out how much they'd driven, so they backed the car home to keep the odometer from registering. They also were sure that saved them some gas.
Another group of high school couples who prefer to remain anonymous, remember going on a double date to a dance in Atascadero. One of the boys was taken off to San Luis by the police after being caught with a bottle down by Atascadero Lake. These being Prohibition years, imbibing was particularly frowned upon. The girls were not pleased either at having their date interrupted so they pushed the other young man into the rumble seat and closed the lid while they drove to San Luis to collect their friend. The young lady who told this story remarked that, "It's a good thing the Lord looks after fools and drunkards because that night there were fools in the front seat and you-know-who in the rumble seat!"
Dan Lewis also remembers having a little run-in with the authorities while he was driving his dad's 1918 Dodge. Dan and his friends were driving just a bit faster than the 25 mph speed limit when a motorcycle policeman pulled them over in Templeton. Dan got a ticket and had to appear before the Justice of the Peace. However, the Justice was on vacation, so it was some time before Dan got his day in court. He was only given a $5 fine though because the Justice told him the same thing had just happened to him on his vacation. Lucky timing for Dan!
Lester Dauth's first car was a 1934 Ford. He shared the black coupe with its red wheels with his brother, Raymond. They managed to share the car amicably, even using it for double dates with "San Luis girls." Some siblings were not so eager to share their transportation though Marilyn Dauth and her sister Carol Tucker used to ride to school with their older brother Alden Kester until he was too embarrassed to be seen with his sisters in the rumble seat. They then had to find another ride to school. Later Marilyn would aggravate her sister by riding all the way in the back of the family "woodie" while Carol drove. Thelma Freeman Rougeot Jardine managed to get along with her sister Ona while driving their family car to town from the Freeman home in Ranchita Canyon. Thelma read the instructions from the car owner's manual while her sister drove. Adella Testerman Dauth's older brother was supposed to give her a ride home from school in Geneseo each day. He would wait by the side of the road until she got up to the car door and then he would take off. She would catch up to him when he stopped a bit further on, but then off he would go again. It might have been easier if she'd planned to just walk all the way by herself in the first place.
Several Paso Roblans had auto adventures that they didn't want their parents to find out about. Gil Leisy remembers getting stuck in the river in his father's 1922 Ford. A friend with a truck came along and hooked a rope to the front axle to pull Gil out. He pulled alright, but the axle came right off and the car stayed in the river. All was eventually repaired before Gil's dad was any the wiser.
Then there were the two young men whose names will not be mentioned, who went out one evening and pushed one of their family's cars quietly down the street before they started it up. They drove down to the high school football field which at the time was all dirt and made a wonderful race track. They drove around and around the track and had a great time until they went over the bank and into a tree. The two joyriders slunk back home leaving the car with its nose in the tree. Neither remembers quite how or when their fathers discovered what had happened, but it was a long time before either young man was behind the wheel of a car again.
Ah, those automobile inspired memories! How many people remember buying Dodge from Booth Brothers on Thirteenth and Pine streets?
Or did your first car come from Turner Cadillac across from the park? Do you remember looking for the new model Chevys in the window of Melchior's or Nichol's on Thirteenth and Spring? Or were you a loyal Ford owner who shopped at Fisher and Harris on Thirteenth and Pine?
Did you ever have a job pumping gas at the Standard Station on the corner of Twelfth and Spring where there was a big map of the area on the adjoining wall of Lyle's Cafe? Or did you get your gas from Chuck Frazier's Mobil next to the old bowling alley? You sometimes had to leave your money on top of the pump if Chuck had gone off to fight a fire with the Paso Robles Volunteer Fire Department. Maybe you took your car to be serviced at the Pioneer Garage at Thirteenth and Spring. Bernie would always be there with a ready smile when he filled your car and washed your windshield.
PIONEER GARAGE IN THE OOOOLD DAYS
Do you remember piling the tent and bed rolls into the car for a family camping trip to the beach? Did you like pulling into Smith's Drive-in for a cherry coke on Saturday night? Were you one of the kids in pajamas in the back seat when your parents went to the Oaks Drive-In Theater? Remember the free suckers you got when you bought your tickets? Were you parked in a car on Terrace Hill when you got your first kiss? It has been said that California life revolves around the automobile, and it seems that here in Paso Robles that may very well be true.