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Holiday Gift Memories

For the second year in a row, several readers answered Old Car Weekly's call for stories of their favorite childhood automotive-related gift found under the Christmas tree.
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Bill Walsh gained a love of old trucks at a young
age after receiving a cast-iron toy truck as a
Christmas gift more than 60 years ago. He
named his toy “My Red Truck,” and still has the
cherished gift.

Bill Walsh of Aurora, Ill., contributed his Christmas gift memory story too late to join the rest of the wonderful reader memories found in this issue. But, his story so well defines what many of us experienced as our entry into—and continued love of—the fascinating world of vintage automobiles, that the Old Cars Weekly staff decided to give Mr. Walsh’s story the lead page for this, our Christmas day-dated issue.

We’re certain you’ll enjoy reading these cherished memories of past Christmas gifts, and find a bit of yourselves in one or more of the stories.

The staff of Old Cars Weekly hopes that every reader will receive a special holiday gift: rekindling the memory of that first automotive toy is something we can all enjoy.

The gift that keeps on giving...

My love for old trucks began at an early age. As long as I can remember, one of my favorite childhood toys was a truck that I had named “My Red Truck.” According to a family story, I received the truck as a Christmas gift when I was young. I don’t remember the gift part, I just remember always owning it.

Today, more than 60 years after I received the gift, My Red Truck sits on a book shelf. Styled after the 1930s pickups, it is five inches long and made of cast iron. It is still coated with the paint that my young hands applied years ago. The old toy deserves its place of honor on the shelf because at one time it had little rest.

During those early childhood years, I played indoor and outdoor games with My Red Truck. It hauled sand, dirt, stones, walnuts and toy parts. Without a doubt, its most challenging task was to transport most of my weight when I drove it. (I used to lean on the truck with my hands and push it around the yard, an activity that eventually broke both the front axle and axle bracket.

My father came to the rescue when he welded the bracket and replaced the axle with a bolt. He also recommended that I not play the driving game any longer. I followed his advice, and My Red Truck continued to serve me well.

In time, I quit playing with toy cars and trucks, but my interest in old pickup trucks never waned. If I saw an old pickup on the road, I always gave it a second look. Also, whenever I visited a cruise or car show, I was drawn to the old trucks. My wife and daughter supported my interest by giving me antique truck books and calendars.

Thus, in the fall of 2005, they were not surprised when I announced that I had found an old pickup that needed to be saved. It was a rusty 1950 Chevrolet 3600 with two flat tires, a brake pedal that went straight to the floor and an engine that barely ran. With my wife and daughter’s blessings, I purchased the truck and towed it home. As soon as my daughter set eyes upon it, she named it “Ol’ Blu.”

I’ve owned Ol’ Blu for three years, and I’ve learned that I still enjoy playing with trucks—the only thing I did was replace My Red Truck with Ol’ Blu.

Bill's love of old pickups continues today with his
restored 1950 Chevy 3600 that he has dubbed “Ol’ Blu.”

And the winner is....

One lucky contributor was selected to receive a gift package that will make his 2008 holiday season one to remember. The recipient is...
Larry Lange, Gaithersburg, Maryland

Enjoy his story, that follows:

For Christmas 1958 (when I was 11 years old), my “big gift from Santa” was a remote-controlled 1958 Ford Skyliner convertible. I suppose it can be considered a Japanese “tin type” car, as it is all metal. The remote control is, of course, “hard wired” ... a cable comes out from beneath the little Ford’s rear bumper to the remote control (it too, is all metal), which holds two D cell batteries.

The remote has a small steering wheel on top to turn the front wheels (the toy never did steer particularly well), and two small white unlabeled buttons. Again, just below the Ford’s rear bumper is a little rod. Pulled out, these two white buttons control the Skyliner’s top “folding” into the trunk (actually, the top, which has no rear window, is one piece—when the one white button on the remote is pushed, the trunk lid lifts, the top moves down two rails into the trunk, and the trunk lid closes; the other button opens the trunk lid, the top moves up the rails, and the trunk lid closes). When the small rod on the rear of the car is pushed in, the same two white buttons control the forward and reverse movement of the Ford.

A childhood Christmas gift, this 50-year-old tin-toy
remote-controlled 1958 Ford Skyliner is owned by
Larry Lange of Maryland. It still works, too.

The car’s top is white, the body is a medium orange color, and the interior is lithographed. Yes, I still have this little car, and it still works almost like new.

In 1999, the Antiques Roadshow came to Baltimore (an hour’s drive from my home). I took my toy ’58 Ford and showed it to the guy assigned to its toy section. He asked me if I had the original box, which I do not (Santa never left his “big gift” to me in a box, nor wrapped).

The Antiques Roadshow guy carefully examined my toy ’58 Skyliner under a black light, and was amazed at what good shape it was in. He commented that it was unusual that he could find no manufacturer’s name anywhere on it. He estimated its value (in 1999) at about $125—if I had the original box, that estimated value would have been $150 to $175. He asked me if I knew how much my Mom paid for this toy in 1958? I had no idea, but would guess it had probably been in the $10 to $15 price range when new.

My toy 1958 Ford Skyliner sits proudly on a bookcase with all my other model cars. Difficult to believe this little toy has been my favorite holiday automotive-related gift for the last 50 years!

James Roth, Denver, Colorado
When I was six years old, I received a pair of yellow slippers that looked like a race car, complete with silver exhaust pipes. The shoe box was decorated like a garage that a real race car would be stored in. This gift was given to me by Bob, a longtime family friend. His automobile of choice was a Packard until he had to “downgrade” to Cadillacs. I still have toy cowboy guns that Santa used to give out, but not the slippers or that wonderful box.

Today, when I see a Packard, I can re-live the excitement of when the biggest Packard man I’ll ever know, wished me a Merry Christmas 57 years ago with a race car. Just ask the kid who owned one, it was great!

Robert Seese, Gainesville, Florida
It was Christmas 1950, and I was 14 years old. There had always been toy cars and trucks under the tree on past Christmas mornings, but now I had arrived at that awkward age — too old for toys and not old enough to own a car. 

As an avid reader of Hot Rod and the other fledgling car magazines beginning to appear on newsstands, I was learning things about what made cars run and what made them run faster. But, I had not yet turned my first wrench or busted my first knuckle. That began not with a Christmas gift I received; it began with a Christmas gift received by a neighbor boy.

My ritual on Christmas morning for as long as I could remember was to open my presents and then rush next door to see what my best friend Phillip received. I clearly recall that my big present that year was a long-desired (and with new shortages for the Korean conflict still-hard-to-get) number 9 Erector set. I am sure Phil got a bunch of neat stuff, but I don’t really remember. What I do remember is that his older brother Carl received only two gifts: a left grille half and a bumper. 

Just a few weeks earlier, Carl had smashed the left corner of his 1940 Oldsmobile business coupe. Damage was confined to the fender, bumper, grille, headlight and radiator. The Olds was in the backyard waiting for the northern Indiana winter to give way to spring so its pitiful condition could be corrected. 

Carl was ecstatically happy as he showed off the beautiful new chrome parts. The important thing personally is that I understood why these parts for his car were the absolute best gift he could have received. I told Carl I would really like to help him repair the Oldsmobile and he shrugged and said, ‘Sure, as soon as it warms up.’

When the snow started to melt, Carl took me with him to local junkyards (as everyone called them in those days) to find a fender and other needed parts. He then introduced me to the art of using persuasion and language in removing rusted parts, followed by the way to install new parts with limited tools.

Because of that experience it was only a few months later that I acquired a sad hulk of an engineless 1932 Ford coupe that I turned into a channeled rod with the help of some buddies, a chain over a tree limb and a long-block from Montgomery Ward. Today it would be called a “rat rod,” but back then it was a just a typical everyday backyard-built hot rod that I drove only (well, pretty much only) through the alleys until I turned the license-eligible age of 16.

Dozens of auto rebuilds have followed over the many years since. I have never outgrown wanting to have an auto project in progress, but I have outgrown the desire to deal with a lot of rust, grease and mess. Consequently, my current project is the build of a Factory Five replica 1965 Cobra roadster using all new parts. It is going to be a really great car that I know I will enjoy and at this advanced stage of life, will likely be my last project. Well, Factory Five did send me a brochure the other day on its new replica ’33 hot rod kit. Man, that would be great with a ’49 Merc flathead complete with repro vintage speed equipment. So, maybe there is just one more automobile project on the horizon.

Randy Ray, Gurnee, Illinois
My memory is firmly embedded and is easily recognizable. I was six years old in 1965, and I received a Strombecker 1:32-scale slot car race set. It had two cars, a red Ferrari that, in hindsight, was most likely a GTO or 250 GTB, and a black Jaguar XKE coupe. In Strombecker world, the Jag was faster than the Ferrari.

Think about age six, you’re at the age of expanding your capabilities, putting the track together and driving the cars while the controller gets hot in your hand and you can smell the electrical box. Wow!

When my parents downsized, I found the track and it resides in my basement in the original, but well-worn box. I am now a relatively hard core auto enthusiast with two Pontiac GTOs, and am a board member of the Cruisin’ Tigers GTO Club in Chicago.

Rick Porris, Erie, Pennsylvania
The green pedal car with the opening trunk, the fire engine pedal car, Matchbox cars, the wonderful Marx Toys, dealer promo models and the crash car that I rebuilt after it flew apart upon impact all provided hours of fun that “fueled” my love for cars. There were just too many of these great toys to single out only one.

I was actually born with the automobile-obsessive gene. My mother’s father was a Pontiac dealer in Erie, Pa., and my dad worked for his uncle, a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer in Cleveland, Ohio.

I entered this world in 1957 which may explain my adoration for the iconic ’57 Chevy. It still remains a medical mystery that I was born without chrome tailfins! As a two year old, I would accompany my grandfather to the dealership. The entire facility was a giant toy box. I spent many hours working and playing there as I honed my love affair with automobiles.

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Rick Porris’ first car, a 1971 Pontiac
Firebird Esprit coupe.

The only photograph I could find is the enclosed one of my favorite “toy.” This 1971 Pontiac Firebird Esprit was my first car. It was gold just like the one on “The Rockford Files” television show starring James Garner. The front clip was smashed, but Dad had it rebuilt for me. Nothing made me feel like the king of the road like the roar of the 350 under the hood.

Like 99 percent of the people reading this, I still wish I had my first car.

Dean S. Probst, Jefferson, Wisconsin
On or about Christmas of 1937, my Dad, a local auto dealer, came home with a big brown paper bag containing a old pressed tin truck, that he had found in the trunk of a car that was traded in at his garage. I was fascinated with it. I couldn’t wait for spring to come so I could play with it up and down the sidewalk in front of our house. This truck remained my favorite toy for many years.

A “hand-me-down” toy, this 1929 Buddy L Express
was restored and is cared for by Dean Probst of Wisconsin.

We moved into a new house in the late 1940s, and the truck disappeared. I thought it was left behind (maybe in the attic of the old house I was born in).

When my brother passed away, my sister-in-law asked if there was anything I would like before she sold things at a household sale. I went and looked, and found some of my Dad’s advertising signs, and the Buddy L Express truck that I loved as a young boy.

Now restored, it holds special memories for me. This truck wasn’t exactly a Christmas present, but came to me at a time when Christmas presents consisted of things like warm socks or other practical items. The truck is a hand-me-down 1929 Buddy L Express, and was eight years old when I first saw it. I have built and owned many hot rod, custom and collector cars in my time, but I still treasure my ’29 Buddy L.

Phil Haper, Lafayette, Indiana

It was Christmas of 1966, and my ’65 Chevy Corvair convertible was 20 months old. It had become obvious that I wasn’t going to trade it in in the near future. It was my third new Corvair in as many years, and after that many times buying basically the same car, the list of options/price/desirability was well sorted out.

I couldn’t afford a Yenko Stinger Corvair or a new Porsche Super 90, so the new-for-’65 suspension Corvair with the factory four-carb engine was the logical choice.

To get what I really wanted, a true dual purpose daily driver/Autocross car took a special order, and a little more than five weeks for delivery. The year and a half of use I’d enjoyed to that point had built admiration for what I feel today, 43 years later, that Corvair continues to be the best American car I’ve ever owned.

At the time, my friend Don raced an MGB in SCCA G Production class. (The Yenko was also newly added to the race-legal ranks of the SCCA). Don and my wife combined some money and imagination and as a Christmas gift ordered me a roll bar for my Corvair convertible. Don told me later that it was a B&B roll bar from New Jersey, made to specs provided by Don Yenko for the Stinger. Its engineering left no doubt on my part. Installation took me a good half day because I wanted to retain the backseat for use by the kids as well as not end up with the car having an unfinished appearance.

Everything went back together exactly as it had come apart, with the most severe modification required being the trimming of the back seat armrest for clearance of one of the roll bar’s support bars that bolted to the rear wheel well (completely hidden by the back seat).

When completed, it looked as if General Motors had done the installation, and in the 42 years that it’s been that way, I haven’t changed a thing.

The roll bar was an outstanding gift, and remains a reminder of my first wife and my friend Don.

Dave Tiffe, Cleveland, Ohio
My favorite toy was a 1949 Dodge tow truck. I still vividly remember it had a green cab and a white bed. I’m pretty sure it read “Cities Service” on its sides. I loved that truck. I’ve casually looked at toy guides, but have never seen one since. I no longer have it because I had brothers and sisters, and I gave them my toys as I got older. But I sure wish I had some of those toys now.

When I grew up, guess what? I went into the tow truck business. Guess what colors adorned my real tow truck? Green and white. I was not successful with my business, as there was too much competition. This was in the early 1970s, and every corner gas station had a tow truck, and everyone was willing to cut the other guy’s price. It was long hours and short pay, so after a few years I gave it up.

But I’m grateful for all the customers I had.

Daniel G. Lowney, North Stonington, Connecticut
Family, friends and relatives have told me that they could not remember a time in my life when I was not involved in some way with cars. By age five, I could identify all of the major years and makes of cars on the road, mainly through comparison with a set of small molded plastic toy cars from the 1950s that had the make and year embossed on their underside.

In the early and mid-1960s, I built dozens of plastic model car kits. In the 1970s, I bought and drove a Mopar muscle car and customized several Dodge vans. In the 1980s, I began restoring 1955-’57 Chevys and first-generation Corvettes. My hobby interests today include modifying modern Chevy muscle cars and expanding a collection of die-cast models.

Daniel Lowney of Connecticut received this
Structo hydraulic dump truck as a Christmas
gift in the 1950s. He still owns it today.

When I look back to where this all started, I think mainly of one Christmas present I received from my parents back in the 1950s. I can still remember, just like many other children of the time, poring over the toy section of the Christmas catalogs from Sears or Western Auto to check out all of the new and exciting toys. And I can recall opening this Christmas present on the floor of the living room, under the tree on Christmas morning, after wondering all night what it could be.

This one I knew was special, just because of the size of the box. Most of my toys until that time were small, approximately 1:64-, 1:43- or 1:32-scale by today’s standards. But this box was bigger. I expected that this would be a toy that would represent a move towards some type of new discoveries, not really understanding what those might be. I was not disappointed. My Christmas present that year was a large Structo hydraulic dump truck, red and white with a trip lever on one side that “hydraulically” lifted the dump body and made noise just like the real thing.

The Structo dump truck was and still is a special toy from my youth. I have faithfully carried it along with other cherished items for about 50 years, and pull it out occasionally at Christmastime to recall that morning when I first opened and played with it on my parents’ living room floor. Undoubtedly, this Christmas present from the past shaped my future automotive hobby interests and my career, and will remain with me for years to come.

Adam Kuntzelman, Ft. Madison, Iowa

I’ve been an automobile kid since before kindergarten. I can remember receiving all kinds of Hot Wheels and other miniature die-cast toy cars that, today, would be worth a fortune had I kept them. I also remember having different model kits all over my room.

My models were a variety, including a Chevy K-Blazer police truck that my Mom and I built together in 1982. I was seven, and it was my first model kit, and is the most memorable Christmas gift my Mom gave me. I sure would like to find another model kit like that again, and sit down with my Mom to relive that moment from Christmas 1982. The difference would be that my modeling skills are better, since I continue to build them to this day.

Lynn Mosher, Atascadero, California
I suspect that my story is a little bit different from many other kids at the time. It was 1950, and I was 12. I really wanted some kind of engine to work on and run. There were not any lawnmower dealers anywhere I could walk or ride my bike to in the Irondequoit suburb of Rochester N.Y., but because of the large bay nearby (Irondequoit Bay), there were outboard motor and boat dealers.

I walked into a Mercury dealer building and was looking at the small used outboard motors. A salesman (probably the owner) came over to talk and mentioned that one of the motors was a Lawson and was an air-cooled four-stroke and he wanted $25 for it. I, of course, went home and told my mother all about it. That was a lot of money in those days.

Christmas morning there was a used outboard motor under the Christmas tree. What a surprise. I bet I had that motor apart and together 20 times. I had a metal garbage can filled with water and a sawhorse on which to mount the motor. A year and a half later, I got a Whizzer motor and drive system (parts in a box) that I put on my Shelby bike. It took a new exhaust valve, ignition parts, respoking the rear wheel with heavy-duty spokes and then I was the terror of the neighborhood.

I became an automotive teacher and taught altogether 34 years.

Chuck Klein, Georgetown, Ohio
(Editor’s Note: The author of the following story admitted it didn’t occur at Christmastime, but he was so enthused about sharing his memories that he asked for latitude in the rules. Not wanting to be Scrooge-like, the staff found the story quite enjoyable and agreed, what the heck, it’s Christmas and it’s all about giving....)

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Chuck Klein’s neighbors (l-to-r) Bruno,
Hank and Carl sitting on their jitney.
Note the rope steering at far left.

I was about 12 (1954) when a couple of neighbor kids and I built a jitney out of scrap 2x4s, plywood and toy wagon wheels. Soon tiring of pushing this heavy beast back up the hills we had coasted down, I convinced the father of one of the boys to sell me his old lawn mower. With used bolts, bailing wire and a pulley found in the garage, we were able to mount the mower’s Briggs & Stratton, 2-hp, horizontal-shaft engine to the jitney. Though it was sans any form of braking ability and there was no “clutch,” we had a lot of fun that summer.

That summer was also the time when I became responsible for cutting the grass, not only on our three-acre suburban home, but at my father’s manufacturing plant situated on twelve acres of grass and field. The home mower was a walk-behind, 4-hp, reel-type, 24-inch self-propelled mower (large for that era). Reel mowers wouldn’t cut wet or tall grass or some weed species. To cut the factory grass areas there was a 36-inch Whirlwind mower with an 8-hp Wisconsin engine and a sulky.

Because the Whirlwind was a rotary cutter and would cut weeds and tall, wet grass, I began hauling it from the plant to home in a single axle trailer pulled by the company International Farmall tractor (with sickle bar for weed control). This was way cool. Here I was, at 12 years of age, “driving” a stick-shift vehicle on the public roads at least once per week! Okay, so it was a tractor and only a mile away, but for a 12-year-old, it was as good as the real thing.

Now that the reel-type mower was no longer needed, I rigged a toy wagon behind — just like a sulky — and then used it to “drive” around the neighborhood. It didn’t last long, as full-throttle operation, after I disconnected the governor, soon causing the connecting rod to break, sending pieces through the crankcase. (Surely you wouldn’t expect a 12-year-old to run at anything other than as-fast-as-it-will-go?)
For my 15th birthday (March 1957), my father bought me a well-used 1952 Crosley sedan and a Almquist fiberglas body. He indicated that if I wanted my own car when I turned 16, this was it. I could drive the un-cool Crosley or I could make a real sports car. The magazine ads and advertising flyer that came with the Almquist body touted a 14 hour “average” installation time on a stock Crosley frame (boy, was I naive).
Once the “old” body was removed, a buddy and I hoisted the new body onto the chassis. If we positioned the tires in the wheel wells, the engine didn’t fit the hood opening and the new body on a stock frame was far too high and would look dumb. I was stuck, as the old body had been trashed getting it off due to all the rust.

It took the full year, until my 16th birthday, to “Z” and “C” the frame and move the engine down and back. I think, in retrospect, my father knew what he was doing as not only did I learn mechanical skills, but the project kept me busy and out of trouble (at least until the car was done). Since this modified sports car was without a heater or top, and my father was impressed enough with my handiwork, he gave me my sister’s 1957 Ford — after buying her a ’58 Corvette (both automatics, damn).

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Klein’s unfinished Almquist-bodied Crosley.
Doors were later added, but were solid as the car
was so low you could step over the side. Ground
clearance was fewer than four inches. Klein
borrowed his father’s license plate (QCK 1957)
for test driving the sports car. Note the “frenched”

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