The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

As some of you know, this will be the first winter that keeps me here in Minnesota for quite some time. The reason of course is  Hurricane Ian, which caused six feet plus of water over several counties around Ft. Myers, Florida, including my place.

So the first little bit below zero here the other night brought forth some memories, one of which involved the 1948 Studebaker that was my brother’s and my first car, back in 1961, in NE Iowa on the farm where we grew up.

This was before plug-in block heaters were invented. Maybe even before radiator hose heaters came about. All I remember having to help warm up a cold engine was an oil dipstick heater, which did about nothing as far as warming up the engine.

I remember dad talking about starting Ford Model As in the winter. Plus I have to add here that winters in Iowa could get cold, but never as insistently cold as here where we are now.

Dad said that they would drain the coolant out of the engine’s radiator system, and bring it into the house to keep it warm. I think they did that back then because antifreeze was probably expensive, and there was just water in the radiator. The depression that came just before cars became somewhat affordable affected everyone’s thinking. Even into the 50s, on the farm, money was tight.

So, water was just fine in that new fangled cooling system. Besides, they also still had horses around, even as I remember it, into the 50s. Horses would get you somewhere. Dad still ground cattle feed with a horse that walked around in a circle, turning the grinder, until almost 1950. (I remember riding on that horse. It was a good place to put a little child, up where you could see him, and he couldn’t get into any gears or stuff.)

So if it was real, real cold, heck, no one needed to go to town for anything anyway. 

What if there was an emergency? Ouch.

So there my brother and I were with that ‘48 Studebaker–which we called The Stud, to make up for the fact that it burned and leaked oil like there was no tomorrow, and was super ugly. When the first cold weather came, it of course wouldn’t start. It was Saturday. There was a sock hop in town which we just had to go to.

We had antifreeze in it, so that was taken care of. We also had that dipstick oil heater, which turned out to be a bad deal from Warshawsky’s Auto Catalog, as was most other stuff from there. (That was a fun auto supplier. You could buy Hollywood mufflers, fender skirts, musical horns, and lots of stuff. It became the JC Whitney name, later.)

So what to do. Dad had talked now and then about filling up a metal pan with coals and shoving it under the engine of old Model As. He wasn’t around, but my brother and I filled up a hog pan with corn cobs, soaked it in some fuel oil, lit it, and shoved it under The Stud’s oil pan.

(If you don’t know what a hog pan is, I’d guess you didn’t grow up on a farm. It was round, about 16 inches in diameter, four inch side walls, heavy metal.)

Then after shoving it under The Stud, we hightailed it back into the house, where it was warm.

Dad came in a bit later, and remarked casually as to how you wanted to let the corn cobs burn down to coals before you shoved it under a car. And, he added, as he nonchalantly reached for a cup of coffee, your car’s on fire.

All that oil that The Stud leaked had a helpful effect toward warming up the engine, if you’re an optimist and are looking on the brighter side of life. Longevity wise, maybe not so helpful.

All was fine. A little snow throwing. No sweat.

We’re pretty spoiled now, plug in cars and attached garages. Heck. Nothing to this winter stuff.