Getting Started & Finding My Way
(Part 15)

This is part 15 in a series of essays about when I was a young man (30+ years ago) trying to figure out how to “make it” in the world. Click HERE to go back to the beginning of the series.


When I was in high school and was about to get my driver’s license, I asked my stepfather if he would buy me a car. I told him that other kids in my class had cars that their parents bought them.

He told me that even if he could afford to buy me a car, he wouldn’t. He said I would have to earn the money and buy my own car. So I did.

When I was 18 years old and working at New Hope Mills (as discussed previously in this series) I bought a Plymouth Fury from the parents of a guy I worked with. It cost me two hundred bucks. I drove it home one Friday night, unlicensed, over back roads.

The next morning my father wanted to know where the car in the driveway came from. I told him I bought it. I’ll never forget his response:

“Take it back.”

I told him it was a good car and a good deal.

”Take it back. You can’t afford a car.”

So I took the car back. I didn’t even own it 24 hours.

But in the spring of 1978, after working ten months full-time on a nearby dairy farm I had saved enough money to finally buy myself a car, and pay my own auto insurance.

Saving money wasn’t hard during those months. I lived at home. I had no expenses. I took a simple lunch of sandwiches to work. I drank water from the milkhouse sink. When I got home from work each evening, all I wanted to do was go to bed and sleep. Then I got up the next day and repeated the process. Sundays were my day off. Marlene and I would get together and do something on Sundays. I was, like the farmers I worked for, pretty much wedded to the work of the farm for those months. You can save a lot of money when all you do is work and sleep and hardly ever go to town.

With enough money saved to pay cash for a decent car, I went to Ames Chevrolet in Cortland New York. The salesman steered me into a 1976 Chevelle sedan. It was not one of those sporty Chevelles. It was a big, four-door boat of a car. Here’s a picture of my first car. It looked like the model on the bottom (same color too) but it had a white top.


I’ll never forget how wonderful it felt to drive my "new" car home from Ames Chevrolet on a sunny spring day. I had worked very hard for that car. Things were looking up. Delayed gratification is a sweet thing.

The Chevelle proved to be a great car. Having my own wheels opened up a whole new world of options for me. But something else happened in the spring of 1978 that opened up more options and opportunities.

To be continued....
Click HERE to go to Part 16 of this series


P.S. My wife, Marlene, saved to buy her first car too. During high school she worked in the kitchen of a local nursing home after school and during summer vacations. She needed a car to get back & forth to community college and bought a Chevy Nova (another great car) the summer after high school graduation--two years before I got my car.

My oldest son is now 20 years old. When he was old enough to drive, I told him the only way he was going to get a car of his own was to work and save to get it. I got him a job at a local lumberyard. He worked part time for awhile as he went to school, then full time for a summer. He saved his money and was able to buy an old but reliable Honda Accord. But I paid his auto insurance (and, Wow, that's expensive!) My other two sons understand that they will have to earn their cars too. My stepfather was right thirty years ago when he said I couldn't afford that $100 Plymouth Fury, and I think he was right to tell me I had to earn my first car.

What was your first car? And did you have to earn the money to buy it?
Click HERE to go to Part 16 of this series


Dreamer said...

My first car was a 1976 Chevy Caprice. Four doors with rust spots down the drivers side were the trim was once attached. It was about the same color as your first car. The only thing great about it was the big powerful engine. Even a heavy old car like that could get up and go. I didn't have to buy it because it was an old junker that my dad had bought for my mom to drive while he put a new transmission and did other work on hers. It was good timing for me because about the time he was done with her car, I turned 16 and talked him into letting me drive the Chevy instead of selling it. I did buy my next car though, when I was only 18 and a brand new Saturn when I turned 19. Of course at 19 I had a full time job at a bank with my own health insurance and everything.

foutfolk said...

Wow! you got your first car early. My first car was a VW Golf and it was after I had married. I was 27 at the time. Prior to that it was the bus, walking, or a bike for me. About ten months into our marriage, my wife's VW bug was on the blink, so we bought the Golf new. We also bought a van when the number of children outgrew the number of seats in it! We kept it for 13 years until I totaled it one evening. Sad day for me. That year (2005) I bought a Volvo to get back and forth to work. Since we were moving to the East Coast, I sold it and plan not to own another personal car. So really, I have only bought one car for myself. How weird huh?

Anonymous said...

Oh My first car, well it wasn't really a car it was a 1978 Datsun Pick-up truck.. it was a really a big hunk of junk always breaking down on me... I was 16 years old and it was the summer of 1981; my mother loaned me the money and I paid her back diligently every week from my paycheck that summer. She also helped me with the insurance which I seem to remember was about 40 dollars a month...

I worked outside for the local parks and recreation dept and made $2.50 and hr... It was a great experience and I loved being outdoors and working hard keeping the local towns public areas and parks clean, mowed and looking great!!! I took great pride in that...

Anonymous said...

OOPs it was a 1968 Datsun not a 1978... I could never have bought something that new...

James said...

My pride and joy in High school was my 1952 International Pickup. Red and black. It was the first pickup my dad ever bought on the farm, and for some reason he put it in the back of the shop for 18 years when he was done using it. When I was 16, dad and I got it running again, and it became mine. (It was 40 years old and ran like a top too!) I drove it to school every day. My dad still has that old pickup today, under a tarp in the barn. Three years ago my wife and I drove away from our wedding in it. It still runs like a top.

Unknown said...

I never did get a car of my own. After I was married, my husband and I bought an avocado green 1972 Vega station wagon that we bought in Spain in 1982. That thing was a bomb, but it worked for us the whole time we were there and we sold it before coming back to the States. It was a stick-shift and that is what I learned to drive a stick on. It was nothing exciting or glamorous. It was my first car, but my husband's first car was a Chevy Nova which he souped up when he was in high school. When the police stopped him (and they knew him well) they always said, "So, where you headed now, Starsky!" LOL! He didn't always get stopped for breaking the law (although he did do that), but it seemed that his car attracted attention...

Thanks for the trips down memory lane with you. It triggers our own memories, also.

Yeoman said...

My first car was a 1958 Army Jeep.

When I was nearing the legal driving age I asked my father if I could get a car. He said yes. I hesitated, as in my mind, what I really meant, was whether or not he would buy me a car, which was not what I asked. After no further comment from him, I next asked how much I could spend, and was informed that was my problem, as he didn't intend to buy it for me. He also informed me I had to pay for the insurance for it.

That was quite deflating.

But, by the time I was nearly old enough to drive, I had the money to buy the Jeep and insure it, which I did.

There were a lot of valuable lessons associated with that. First of all, he was right to make me buy it and insure it. Secondly, the fact that the Jeep was over 20 years old at the time served to introduce me to automobile mechanics by necessity. I still work a little on my own vehicles, as I'm too cheap to take everything to a mechanic. That Jeep served to help me with that, cruddy vehicle that it was.

Also, it soon came to pass that I couldn't afford to keep it, as it was always breaking down. I sold it for twice what I had paid for it, but I lost money by owning it. That was a valuable economic lesson.

Since that time, I have had a lot of vehicles. I used to really like vehicles, but I've gotten over that. That early experience helped start me off on my education on vehicles, which has proven valuable, if not enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

1968 Ford 4 wheel drive, short-flatbed with a 400 cubic inch engine; It was a lot of truck to own. I was 15 years old and was already working full time as a carpenter for a historic home restoration company. So I justified (to myself) that having the truck was a need not just a want.

My Dad let me get the truck when I was 15 because it would give me enough time to take the whole thing apart, I mean "the whole thing" and get it back together. Between school and work It took me 1 1/2 years to get that beast back together; but because of the skills my Dad taught me I was able to get it done and have a first class truck when I was done.
The guy I bought the truck from for $150.00 bought the truck back from me for $4500.00 a couple years latter.