Category Archives: Cars

Dad’s Homemade Tow Truck

My brother asked if there were pictures of Dad’s tow truck in Mom’s photo albums. We only found one, with Bing the service station dog inside.

It was an International pickup, 1941 I think, blue. He rebuilt it to take the wrecker.tow truck and bing may 1963

It had a 3 speed transmission. He put in a 4th speed. He mounted dual wheels on it. The fenders had to be extended. The strips welded in them never got painted. It wasn’t welded too good either. I can still see the holes, but it worked.

Dual exhaust coming out up behind the cab. The smoke would stream out of there. An orange flashing light on top. He put a switch for that under the dash.

For the wrecker, he started with a gearbox affair – small gear going to George's Esso Oxford and Wistow London ON July 1959a bigger to a bigger, about 4 sets of gears in there. Then he welded all the angle iron to put the cable on, the crank, all that stuff.

The cradle for hooking up cars was his own invention. It changed over time. First, it was a hand crank he welded on the side. You’d stand there and crank and crank and crank. The cars weren’t that heavy, it just took a lot. Eventually you’d get her up.

Then a Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine took the place of the George Anger in station July 1959crank. But that was a pain in the ass too. It had a pull start. Awkward and hard to start, but it was better than cranking.

The last one was a power take-off on the side of the transmission. That drove the gears that lifted the vehicle. It was the best deal. You could shove the lever forward and back and up she went.

Vacuum Snowplow

He built a snowplow for her. The plow was made out of an old culvert. He hooked it up to a vacuum system. He got that off a transport truck.

w-d-brown-1959 vacuum plow
My brother found this vacuum attachment at He says Dad put the vacuum under the hood, not out by the plow as here. (click to enlarge)

There’s a drum with a vacuum system to lift it. The engine creates a vacuum in the cylinder. The cylinder would lift the plow and gravity would lower it. The cold air hitting the hot valves would cause engine problems down the road. But it worked good. She barked though, loud!

I’ve never heard of anybody else ever doing that. I remember Dad and Jack talking about it, and the next thing I knew it was done. But I never saw them working on the truck. I don’t know how it got done. I likely saw, it just didn’t register.

She was a thing of beauty. If I had any idea where she was, maybe parked someplace, I’d have her back home and I’d be working on it.

Dad would be 99 today. Happy birthday, Georgie.


Jeep Rubicon grillI got me a Rubicon!  I’ve never had a Jeep, always wanted one.  In my head, I have a list of vehicles, or types of vehicles, that I want at some point in my life.  Big old tough 4 by 4 is now checked off.

It’s my new winter vehicle, used but in good shape.  The salesman at Elgin Chrysler seemed a bit surprised when he was talking about the fun of summer Jeep driving and we said, oh it’s just for winter.  You can see his point.  A young man, himself a Jeep driver: Jeff in front of Elgin Chrysler with Rubiconyes indeedy he’d be taking his Jeep down to Port in the summer.  Roof comes off, doors come off.  It’s a babe magnet.  He was too polite to look surprised at us buying it – clearly babe magnet is no longer part of our vehicular requirements, either ‘looking for’ or ‘being’.  Probably serious off-roading isn’t either.  But it’s still a thrill knowing you have the horse power and gear range to be able to.

Test-driving it, I was sold when I put it in 4 Low and felt the wheels grab the dirt road.  “Ok, I want this car.”  Until then, I’d been looking at where the dogs would ride, how they’d get in and out, where groceries would go.  But put her in 4 Low and she’s mine; Rubicon in front of Elgin Chryslerdogs and groceries can figure it out for themselves.

Ideally, a girl should have a Jeep in her early 30s – old enough to look capable of handling it and young enough to look really good doing so.  A friend of mine bought one, a CJ, white with black top, brand new when she was that age.  I was envious.  She looked fabulous in it.  Unfortunately, she didn’t have enough money to keep it supplied with gas and be able to pay any other bills so she sold it.  But that year of the white Jeep lives in my memory as well as hers.  It was hot, and so was she in it.

Other 4x4s

I drove a Suzuki 4 x4, precursor of the Samurai, at the time.  It too was fun – a dinky-toy Jeep.  I loved it, and the incarnations of the Suzuki 4 wheel drives after.  The Samurai and the Sidekick – drove them both.  I became disenchanted with the Suzukis after that, when they got bigger, more comfortable and ceased looking like tough little road warriors.

Jeep Rubicon beside MINIJeeps too have done that.  I had a rental Jeep Liberty once.  No thanks.  If I want a vehicle that drives like a car I’ll get a, well, car!  The Rubicon does not drive like a car.  It’s certainly more comfortable and better “appointed” inside than the old Jeeps, but it still drives like a tank.

You hear and feel the rumble of those big knobby tires.  You feel every kilometer of speed you are going.  The revs vibrate as you shift through 6 gears.  You feel the wind, you hear the rain, you are in direct contact with the road.  You are the Road Warrior.

St. Thomas Ford Plant

Selectivity tower at Ford plant erected 1968In Grade 11, at St. Thomas’ Arthur Voaden Secondary School, I was the only girl, and only Art student, in an English class with Shop boys. I had read most of the assigned books already, in school or on my own. So the teacher said for me to just get my papers in. If I had any questions, come to him. Then he left me alone and concentrated on the boys. There was one boy he left alone too, one who really had a hard time in school. He could read a little bit and should have had remedial help. But he wasn’t worried. His dad worked at Ford.

He and I sat in the very back row of desks and played tic-tac-toe during class. The teacher knew but he ignored what we were doing. We talked some, in low voices. I must have worried about how he was going to get through school and what he’d do after. He told me his dad could get him on at Ford and he’d make $20 an hour. It would be a job for life and it didn’t matter if he “couldn’t read too good.”

Over the years, I’ve wondered how he got on. I felt kind of sorry for him, until I moved back to St. Thomas and found out, yes, people at the Ford plant did make very good money and the jobs were pretty much for life. If that boy was hired at Ford, where, yes, children of employees did have a better chance, he’d have done a lot better financially than I had despite university degrees and having read The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Falcon on St. Thomas Ford assembly line 1968Until two years ago when Ford announced the Talbotville plant would close. The boy I knew is now probably retired with full pension. I wonder if his son followed him to Ford. If so, he may be one of those facing layoff with a good severance package but with the belief in the “forever” job gone forever.

Ford Plant Closure

Possibly the big suburban house, the big gas-guzzling Ford pickup in the driveway with the bumper sticker reading “Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign.” – all financed on expectations of overtime pay, all in jeopardy. Some will do ok, if they lived within their real means, and if they can think outside the factory environment and build a new job for themselves. Some, if they didn’t or can’t, will be in trouble.

The real estate market has been glutted with big, expensive new houses ever since Ford began the layoffs. Food bank usage has increased. We’ve seen that first-hand because we have a pet food donation programme and it can hardly keep up with the demand.

Restaurants, bars, stores – all are feeling the impact as people stop going out, stop buying. Everyone in the amalgamated municipality of Southwold will suffer with increased taxes to make up the shortfall caused by Ford no longer paying property and business taxes.

Out of a job yet bumper sticker on Ford pickup“Keep buying foreign” – not a lot of choice when the manufacturers move outside the country. A job forever? – not likely in “the new normal” of global economics.

I guess I’m glad I never had a job that was a sinecure, whether in a factory or government. You learn to expect job loss and be prepared for it. To my friend from Grade 11, dark hair and dark rimmed glasses, I hope you and your family are doing ok.

Fiat Bambina

new Fiat 500 - cute carIf I could possibly justify another teeny-weeny cute car, I’d get the new Fiat 500. I’ve only seen one around here, a silver grey one. I like the tv ads, and I’ve checked them out online since I first heard that Fiat/Chevrolet was going to remake the Bambina.

I was so much hoping they’d do a good job – keep the look and spirit of the original, as BMW did with the MINI. And Fiat, bless their hearts, did.

In the 1970s, in New Zealand, I had a 1965 Fiat 500. There, at the time, old Bambinas were the car of choice or, more accurately, no choice for students and others with no money. I learned to drive on that little car and my boyfriend’s parents’ 12-seater Land Rover. It was like switching between a Dinky Toy and a tank.

Bambino in Ponsonby, AucklandMy Bambina had the “suicide doors” that hinged at the rear (it was 6 months older than the last of those). The back seat would hold two adults as long as they didn’t demand a lot of legroom. Storage was under the hood and the 500 cc engine was in the rear.

It was two cylinder. In models like mine, both pistons went up and down in unison instead of alternating. That meant a lot of vibration, leading to engine parts and wires falling off.

Repairing an old cute car

My boyfriend and I bought a manual for it because we had no money for garage repairs. My father was a mechanic, but he was in Canada and he’d never seen an engine like that anyway. I drew pictures of it and mailed them to him to get his opinion on mechanical problems. But return mail took about 6 weeks so that wasn’t very efficient.

Fiat 500 with cats, Ponsonby, Auckland NZEventually we got so we could put blocks under the engine, haul the bumper off and push the body of the car away, fix it and put the car back together in a couple of hours. That was to replace the starter motor pins that sheared off regularly from the vibration. The starter motor was located at the front of the engine and there was no way to get in to it unless maybe you had a hoist.  We learned to tighten the starter motor every time before starting the car.

Wires also fell off, often at inopportune times like the middle of an intersection. I could push the car off the road by myself. And I learned which wires were more likely to fall off and where they belonged. We learned to check and tighten all wires and cables before starting the car.

But it was a good car. It took us and camping gear all over the North and South Islands one summer. It got crotchety and didn’t like the damp. On those days, it just wouldn’t start. It’s often damp and rainy in New Zealand. Finally, we just kept it for state, opting to walk or take the bus most of the time.

It’s the only car that I’ve known every inch of and known how to fix. And its engine was totally unlike any other, so that knowledge was not transferable. I’ve never had a car that frustrated me more, and I’ve never had a car I remembered with such love. I am so happy that they’re back.

The MINI Wave

MINI toys on MINI roofI’ve noticed something this year, or rather the lack of something.  MINI drivers in the London area are not waving at each other.  Forest City MINI Club, get the word out – we wave at each other.  We are MINI.

Just because MINI now has tv commercials, that does not mean that our cars are just like every other car out there.  We’re still distinct, we get attention, we’re still a community within the larger sedan and minivan driving population.

MINI toys following MINI, with poodleFirst thing I discovered, after buying our 2002 MINI in 2004, was everyone waved.  People walking down the street turned and waved.  Other drivers smiled and waved.  I thought I must know a lot more people than I thought I did.  So I’d wave back, thinking ‘oh dear who are you?’  Then I realized it was the car.

Responsibility of MINI drivers

That brought another driving responsibility – you have to be nice when you’re driving a MINI.  Sometimes, if someone had cut me off or done something stupid, I’d be cursing at them and wanting to make a rude gesture.  Then at the next light, I might be pulled up next to them, still mad, and they’d wave and smile and point to the car and smile more.  MINI pile on MINI roofHow can you then give them the finger?  You can’t, so you wave and smile back.

But even when the sight of a MINI became more commonplace and passersby stopped waving their arms off at you, MINI drivers still always waved.  Might be a full wave, maybe just a forefinger raised off the steering wheel, but it was an acknowledgement.

Until 2007 the closest MINI dealers to London/St. Thomas were in Waterloo and Windsor.  Either way, an hour drive.  So there weren’t many MINIs around here.  Having Grand Touring Auto, the BMW dealer, also open as MINI London was wonderful.  It made it easier to get your MINI fixed and your MINI fix.  And, as it should have, it increased the number of MINIs on roads around here.  Still, MINIs waved at MINIs.

Mini and me at MINI Waterloo - MINI DriversUntil this year.  I’ve noticed a lot more MINIs this summer and very, very few have waved back at me.  Especially in London.  In St. Thomas and Aylmer, yes, there is sometimes acknowledgement.  But London, no.  Come on, people.  We drive a car that has clubs and model toys.  We drive a car that looks cute in packs.  We recognize our fellow MINI drivers.

Interested in the Forest City MINI Club? Call MINI London for contact information.  The book below is really good on Mini’s history.


Car Music

I once had an old Chevy Monza hatchback, a ’75.  It came with a banged-in fender that didn’t seem worth fixing.  The rest of the body was so rusted that, well, what would be the point?

1975 Chevy MonzaThe car was bought as an immediate and probably short-term solution to my previous car dying at a time I had very little money.  But I quickly grew to love it.  It was my baby muscle car.

I realized that car needed rock and roll.  Until then, and since, my radio dial just stays on CBC.  It might flip from Radio One to Radio Two but that’s it.  But not for a Chevy Monza.  I had to search for a rock station that I could tolerate listening to.  It’s what the car wanted.

The car got something else in its life with me.  It was the exact same shade of orange as the City vehicles.  One day I came out to find very large City decals on both doors, the same as City dump trucks, pickups and cars had.  As I told the City workers that came to my door a couple weeks later to remove the decals, I don’t know where they came from.  The City workers used a blowtorch to take them off, which didn’t do a lot for the car’s paint job.

But for the time the decals were on the car, it was fun.  I could park anywhere.  I got very odd looks from City employees who saw it.  The condition of the car really was a disgrace.  I avoided driving it anywhere near City Hall, but the City officials still tracked me down and sent men to take my decals.  The car died forever not long after that.

I went back to CBC with my next cars.  There’s only been one car since then that my 2002 MINIdemanded its own music.  That’s my Mini Cooper S, and it’s only sporadic.  On sunny summer days, it wants old rock and roll.  The car and I welcome the first warm, sunny day with the Beach Boys.  I crank the volume and roll down the windows.  “Daddy took the T-bird away” and “Little Deuce Coupe” speak directly to my foot and gear-shifting hand.  I got six gears and I want to go through them as fast as possible.

Other than the Beach Boys, girl groups and Jerry Lee Lewis, the Mini is happy to listen to CBC Radio One and Two.  But hot summer days need summer music. And summer music makes me think fondly of a poor, battered up old Chevy Monza.

St. Thomas now has its own radio station – 94.1 FM on the dial.  I’ve got it in the presets, just in case. And, just in case you should want them, here are some classic songs to drive to.


Several years ago, I bought a two-year old car from a newspaper ad.  When I took it for a test drive, I couldn’t believe how clean and nice the inside was.  It was like a brand-new car.  The young woman selling it was also very neat and tidy.  She seemed like the sort that kept a car immaculate.

German Shepherd in back seat of car - cleanI had a very large German Shepherd who shed like crazy and liked to get muddy.  And, dog or no dog, I’ve never had a car that stayed clean for more than two days.  During our test drive, I started apologizing to the seller.  I told her about the dog, who was not with me, and that the car would not stay clean.  She said “oh, I usually have a mess in the car too.  Don’t worry about that.”  I thought sure, your mess would consist of one empty coffee cup carefully placed in the cup holder and maybe an empty water bottle rolling around.  My dear, you don’t know a messy car!

I bought the car and assured her that I would put proper covers on all the seats and floor so the dog didn’t mess them up.  I wanted to tell her that, if I were her, I wouldn’t sell the car to me.  She just took my cheque and wished me well.

I had the car for a long time.  It was always a mess.  I learned there was something called car detailing.  My in-laws did it with a van they were trying to sell.  The van came back looking brand-new.  I was impressed but it didn’t look that much different to me.  Their vehicles were always clean and like new inside anyway.

Then my husband and I borrowed my mother-in-law’s car for a trip to the States.  Our dog went with us – another German Shepherd who shed a lot and got sick on the trip.  Two weeks in the vehicle with dog hair, dog food, dog medicine, fast-food crumbs and wrappers, coffee spills, smoke.   My husband said it will clean up, don’t worry.  I thought we’ll have to buy an identical car and swap them and never ever let her see this one again.

Back home, we took it to a detailer.  I thought for what cleaning that car would cost we probably would be better off buying another one.  Next day, we picked it up.  It was like a brand-new car.  And it cost less than $200.  Before we gave the car back to my mother-in-law, I would sneak up on it and jump in and sniff to see if I could smell any trace of anything.  Only new, clean car smell.  I looked in every nook and cranny – not a crumb to be found.  I was gobsmacked.

And then I knew why my neat tidy young woman didn’t mind selling her neat tidy car to a slob.  It may indeed have been a pigsty when she drove it.  But she’d had it detailed.  What a truly wonderful discovery that was for me.