“In the picture there’s a fender of our old Chevrolet,— song lyrics, “The Picture” by Loudon Wainwright
Or Pontiac, our dad would know, surely, he could say.”
“Can you tell me what kind of car this is,” the email message began. “I’ve been going through old family pictures. The young girl in this one is my mom, and that’s her grandmother in the middle. I’m not sure who the others are, and I have no idea what the occasion was.”
An obsession with anything automotive and nostalgic extends to my delight in old family photos with a car as the centerpiece, but gathering everybody around a vehicle sure has provided for fascinating old snapshots of history. You’ve seen them. Some in which folks lined up alongside an automobile for a group shot. Others, perhaps a young man with or without his girlfriend, fiancé or wife, and more often than not with a foot propped on the bumper as he smiled at the camera. The classic historical auto poses have to be the many images of bank robber Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame posing with a car while brandishing weapons.
I’ve imagined any number of explanations. One might be the pride families took in owning an automobile, particularly in a time period when family cars were not commonplace. And for many who did own one, it was nothing more than a well-worn used car. But the photos proclaimed, “by golly, we have a car.”
Even Kodak moments by more prominent families dressed in dapper-looking duds displayed an evident pride in featuring their ride. Decked out their finest attire and posing next to a Cadillac or a Packard exuded a “Gray Poupon” moment seeming to say, “But of course, we have a very nice car.”
Maybe other times it was simply because everyone was loading up to go home after a quick overnight visit with family or friends when Aunt Lucille, as my grandmother used to say, had just “struck” a picture while the family was all in one place.
Pictures were important because travel even for short distances was difficult. We think nothing today of driving 60 miles on four-lane highways for dinner, shopping, or a movie, but in those days a work week was six long days and roads connecting loved ones were often little more than gravel or mud. Even short trips by today’s standards were often delayed 80 years ago by bad roads, flat tires, rainy weather or loose livestock.
As for the family photo my friend sent inquiring about the car, I was happy to inform her that it was a 1937 Dodge. Did I know that off the top of my head? Heavens no. I don’t even know why I go from one room to another these days.
But the detective part was the fun. Enlarging the photo sufficiently to loosely identify the shape of the hood ornament, I searched the internet locating one with the same general shape. Detail in the photo was lacking but locating one with a similar profile implicated a Dodge. The general design of the car, headlights, wheels, etc. spoke mid to late 30s to me. Using 1937 as the midpoint of that time frame, photos of a ’37 Dodge rendered features identical to the car in the photo: hood shape, hood vents, hubcaps, and window posts were a perfect match.
Therefore, I was happy to inform my friend that I’m betting my money on the correct identification of the car in her photo to be a 1937 Dodge.
Everyone in the old sepia toned photo was wearing a smile and was dressed nicely. There was no evidence of traveling such as suitcases, so I’m guessing a journey was not in store. They didn’t look much like bank robbers to me, and since the pose also didn’t appear to be staged as bragging rights to display the Dodge, there was only one logical conclusion in my mind,
My money was on the hunch that Aunt Lucille had just struck again.
© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.