By Thomas Zimmermann l Dec 31st, 2014 | As seen in Issue 213
“‘Go down to the basement, in the basement I said! Then you go find Moe. He’ll get you the gaskets for your old Studebaker! Go, already, I’m busy! Over that way!” the parts man was gesturing vaguely towards a corner of the store where a dark doorway beckoned.
I was here again, sitting in the overstuffed leather chair at my anything with an engine loving inlaws, listening to Pops-in-law explain his love affair with Studebakers. Well, pretty much all cars in general, actually.
“I’m pretty sure they were all named Moe, those old Jewish parts guys. The place was absolutely massive, an old red brick factory from the beginning of the century, and those guys had any part you could want. And if they didn’t have it, they would get it... Anything for a buck, but they worked for it, especially when they were getting parts for the Studebaker.”
Pops-in-law was regaling me with the story of his first Studebaker; a 1950 sedan, straight six, three on the tree, and built like a tank with the trademark Studebaker bullet nose.
“Yup, needed a head gasket set for it. So, we headed down these crickety old stairs to the basement, complete with the single 60 watt light bulb burning into the deep dark caverns. I didn’t even know the place had an underground, and it was at least as huge as the main floor! So, as me and my buddy are starting to get a little nervous about being down there, the oldest, skinniest, and wrinkliest old man appeared out of the darkness, hobbling slowly towards us. We were ready to bolt, he was so creepy and old looking.”
“Whaddya want, boys?” came the raspy, wheezing voice in the gloom, multiplying the get-me-outta-here factor by about a hundred, according to Pops.
“W-w-well, I need a head gasket set for my Studebaker... uhhh, sir?” came the tentative query from the then young man. I glanced over at Pops as he told the story, eyes lit up with the memory.
“Man, that dude was old... freaked us two right out. I wanted to book it, but I needed the gaskets.”
“Well, boys” Moe harrumphed, then taking a slow, deliberate and rattling breath, “let me see...”
Moe thought for a moment, hardly glancing around for what he wanted, then reached out to a shelf close to his right. Picking up a flat rectangular box, he blew what seemed to be an inch of dust from the top, clouding the already dim light and adding to the creep factor yet again. He lurched forward through the slowly dissipating cloud toward the boys, the box apparently almost heavy enough to topple the old man. He practically dropped the box in the startled boys hand with a sigh of relief at having relieved himself of the burden.
“Y-y-you mean that’s it? You don’t have to look up a part number or something?”
Old Moe snorted, “Whaddya mean, part number? I made those gaskets myself, you think I shouldn’t know where they are? Now, get outta here, I got work to do!”
The boys wasted no time scrambling back up the stairs to the promise of safety, and old Moe just seemed to disappear into the darkness, presumably to make more hand made gaskets.
Pops chuckled, enjoying the memory of two young men terrified of Old Moe.
“That old guy must’ve been a hundred! Well, anyway, I got the gasket set, and everything fit perfectly. No leaks or anything. Pretty good gasket maker I guess, Old Moe. That was my Tuesday car, by the way, the old Studebaker.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked Pops, generally trying to always figure out what he actually meant.
“I had enough cars for every day of the week,” Pops continued, hardly hearing me. “So, I’d drive the one at the front of the line on the street, then park it at the back, and just carry on that way until Saturday when I’d have to move them all back up the street in front of the house. Had a cool Capri Wagon in the lineup too. Sold that one to a guy I worked with for almost double the money I paid for it.” Pops was still relishing the memories of owning that many cars at once as I asked, “So, what about the Studebaker you have now? What’s the story with that?”
The rest of the story, so to speak, is that Pops always regretted selling his first Studebaker. Drove it forever, he said. Always missed it, and hoped one day to have another. That one day came about 4 years ago at an auction, almost 40 years after the original was purchased, with the burgundy Studebaker hoping to be bought by someone that would cherish and care for it. Pops was just the man to accomplish that task. At an as yet undisclosed price the Studebaker was acquired, and has lived a pampered life since, resting in a temperature controlled, concrete floored abode, enjoying retired life with Pops. Having a few quirks, such as an old school points setup in the ignition system and a carburetor with dried up gaskets has made driving this beauty a little challenging, but these issues will be rectified shortly with the help of yours truly. Starting a vehicle with these deficiencies, on the other hand, takes a bit of finesse and after playing with the choke, cranking it a few times and pumping the gas, Pops got the old cruiser started and running well enough for a short drive. There’s just something really awesome about watching an antique vehicle run down the driveway, proud owner grinning and patting the dash reassuringly as it makes its puttering, stuttering way, perhaps both driver and car reminiscing about days of the glorious past when life was easier, engines were simpler, and gas was oh so much cheaper!
After the short drive, Pops gently nestled the Studebaker into his reserved spot in the garage, promising to visit soon.
As we closed the door behind us and headed towards the house, he continued with another story about the original Stude.
“I had to replace a tie rod end once, and ended up at the same parts store. The guy at the counter just pointed to a set of stairs and said, ‘You’ll find all the tie rod ends on the second floor. Now go on, I got work to do!’
“So, we go upstairs, and right in the middle of the floor was a pile, just a huge pile almost up to my waist of tie rod ends! Took me about an hour of sorting through them all, but they had what I wanted. Crazy old guys in that store, I tell ya! But good deals, too.”
We were nearing the house, Pops walking in silent reminiscence, and me wondering what it would be like to live in that wonderful time when automobiles were still experimenting with style. The group of seven were out and about, running around the property and making the usual kid noises times seven, which gets pretty loud for Pops and resulted in him quickening his pace towards the door.
As I closed the door behind us, providing a sound barrier between us and the kids, Pops was already pouring another refreshment for the both of us.
“Say, did I ever tell you about the McLaughlin I once had?” he asked as he handed me another Jamaican specialty flavoured cola.
I was all ears, cause I knew it would be good, and I wasn’t too sure I knew what a McLaughlin was, either.