Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Car stories July 22, 2022

I expect the driver of this 1956 Plymouth Plaza has stories to share about the vintage car he drove to the Faribault car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

ATTENDING THE July 15 Downtown Faribault Car Cruise Night prompted the stories I am about to share. Experiences create stories, which help us to understand and connect with one another. What are your car memories?

Mine are of my bachelor Uncle Mike’s blue-green Nash Rambler, a small (for 1960) boxy car. He didn’t need a roomy car. I remember the Rambler for its size, its color and its name. And its novelty among all the Chevys and Fords.

And then there was Grandpa Bode’s salmon-hued car, make and model unknown to me then and now. The color imprints upon my mind as does the rapid blink-blink-blink of the blinker. If I heard the sound now, I would still recognize it. But to describe the distinct blink proves impossible. I remember also the clear plastic that covered the seats and how, on hot summer days, the bumpy plastic stuck to my legs.

Heading north on Central Avenue in Faribault near the end of the July 15 Downtown Car Cruise Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Grandma Kletscher drove a boat of a car. Large, white. Occasionally she threaded a garden hose into the exhaust pipe, started the car and gassed the moles tunneling through her yard. She was stubborn, determined, innovative. I recall, too, riding with her in that car to nearby Belview to shop for fabric at the general store. She would choose yardage for shapeless dresses I stitched for her. Simple. Zipper tracing down the back. Darts at the bustline. Short-sleeves. Basic dresses to cover her stout frame.

I recall, too, my dad’s 1959 black-and-white Chevy Impala, our family car until he sold it to a neighbor boy and later wished he hadn’t.

Dad liked spacious Impalas. I remember his second Impala, blue in color, and how our family of eight, plus Grandpa, piled inside for our once-a-year trip to visit relatives in The Cities. We packed like sardines, shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip with no wiggle room between kids. If not for the excitement of actually leaving the farm for some distant travel, I doubt we would have managed the miles. But the adventure kept us focused as we watched for the Flying Red Horse and Caterpillar landmarks, our GPS of sorts along with a paper road map pulled from the glove box.

All the vehicles along Central Avenue hold stories. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

And then there was my first car, a 1976 yellow Mercury Comet purchased right after my graduation from college. It soon garnered the nickname, Vomit. Two flat tires on the day I bought the former rental car from Florida should have sent me back to the Minnesota dealer. The car seemed to have endless mechanical and other problems. A door that wouldn’t close all the way in the depths of winter. A black interior that heated like a sauna in the summer. And too many other issues that fit the Vomit moniker.

Yet, my Vomit with the “press” sticker adhered to the windshield got me to where I needed to be during my early days as a newspaper reporter: chasing fire trucks, interviewing sources, attending endless local government and school board meetings, trying to source information about a murder in New Ulm, covering a homecoming celebration in Odin in 1981 for Bruce Laingen, an American diplomat held hostage in Iran for 444 days…

Those are my car stories. We all have them. What are yours?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


21 Responses to “Car stories”

  1. beth Says:

    I love car stories, each one evokes so many instant memories, both good and bad, and they never fade with time. great post –

  2. Having a ‘car story’ seems to be part of America, doesn’t it? I rememeber days and days in the back of the family station wagon as my family traveled across the US.

    • Ah, the station wagon, so iconic America during a certain time period. Sounds like you have some good road trip/vacation memories.

      Because I grew up on a dairy farm, my childhood vacations were limited to two: one to Duluth at age four and another to the Black Hills of South Dakota when I was elementary-aged. The trips to Minneapolis were typically day or an overnight stay, not “vacations.” My uncles would milk the cows short term. My parents also vacationed occasionally with my younger siblings, leaving the three oldest of us to run the farm (including milking the cows) in their absence.

  3. Valerie Says:

    I don’t know much about cars. I do remember we got a brand new car once – a ’65 Ford Galaxie. It was a very big deal, therefore I remember the year and model! 😉

  4. OMW – Vomit for a car name?!? I remember the purple yes purple Impala we had. I loved my first car which was a 1984 Buick Regal light grey/silver and it had the mother of pearl Buick emblem hubcap covers. I still like the classic cars and would love to have an old school Bronco some day. Happy Day – Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

  5. Ruth Says:

    My family had a Dodge Wayfarer in the fifties. It was gray. Cloth seats. You could sit up front , no belts, between two adults. Erika’s Uncle Frank restores vintage cars and I am in awe. Your car cruise night invoked lots of remembering.

  6. 1971 VW Super Beatle was my first car. Had to pop the clutch to get it started. Guys in the high school parking lot would volunteer to push it as I popped the clutch and it popped into existence.😂🤣 I pretty much remember most guys I dated by the cars they drove…hummmm…maybe too many to mention here.
    Nice blog and cool that you did the reporting on the New Ulm resident.

    • It sounds like you have lots of car stories from high school.

      Yes, when I worked for the Mankato Free Press, I covered a lot of interesting stories, like the murder in New Ulm.

      • Not just high school. I was single for many years owned a few beater cars and a few new ones (new is never worth the money!) I have a few car related stories for sure.
        You should write a book about your journalism stories and adventures, I think so much has changed and small town news is still news.

      • Yes, much has changed in journalism. Many small town newspapers are now owned, not locally, but by corporations. Still, independent publishers exist and there’s reason to be thankful for that to truly keep the focus local.

  7. Sandra Says:

    Fun series on the “Cruise”. North St. Paul has one every Fri., but historic Faribault is so much prettier. Dad’s pride and joy, besides his family, was the Nash he paid cash for new, big deal for a German immigrant. My fav picture is of me helping (?) wash the car I ultimately inherited. Probably still driving around White Bear Lake. I never see Nash at these “shows” of vintage cars. picture https://tinyurl.com/3e4cxs4y Again, yes, Faribault Tourism should have you on staff!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.