My Love Affair With Studebakers, Part Three

The beginning of my senior year in college, Fall, 1967. The Vietnam War raging and by now I had become a full-blown radical, a one-person SDS chapter, at tiny, conservative Western State College, tucked away in the Colorado mountains. Basically a ski college (which I didn’t figure out til after I graduated), the students uninterested in US and world events and apathetic regarding the war. A few of us tried to gin-up protests and demonstrations, and one professor came up with a “teach-in” but everything went nowhere.

I received a summons to the Dean’s office. Oh no, what now?

“Well, John, you have a National Defense Student Loan, which explicitly forbids having a car while being a student. And we see you now have a car.”

Of course I had a car, and what a car, my Studebaker Lark. Anyone who could scrape up enough money for wheels had a car and it was an open secret that the NDSL rule against cars was never enforced. Never. But now it was being enforced against me, and only me. Complete discrimination based on my antiwar activity.

In the previous summer when I bought the car, I had no idea what a mighty monster I had. Then my brother Mike, who was working at a carpet company, as a present installed rich thick green carpeting to match the dark green of the Studie. (Mike had a friend who worked in a bank and had given him a few sturdy bank bags for currency that Mike used to carry his lunch. Mike had accidentally left the bags on the back seat.) Once I had a radiator problem and the mechanic who fixed it said, “You know, this car has the same radiator as a Mercedes.” That settled it, I had a plush, secret Mercedes in disguise. Really, I thought, a Rolls Royce.

One day my little brother Bill, my “Pard,” was loading his BB rifle, one that used a small CO2 air compressor. I was downstairs reading. Dad was out, Mom was in the kitchen, Suddenly I heard Mom scream. Bill had shot himself in the eye. I raced upstairs, picked Bill up, said, “Call the E.R. at Fitz.” Fitz being the Army hospital base a few miles away. We had lived on the base until Dad retired and I knew every inch of the hospital. “The number is 366-0100.” (I still remember it now, just like that.)

I picked up Bill somehow, ordinarily I wouldn’t have been strong enough. He was holding a dish towel to his eye. I put him in the passenger seat of the Studie, sitting in the driveway, and took off, flooring it as soon as I got off our street, Ursula, and onto Baranmor Parkway. Wow! This thing was moving, the scenery was coming toward me incredibly fast, but the car was totally silent. There weren’t any traffic lights and I made the mile to Peoria Street, the feeder street into Fitz, in no time. I blasted down Peoria, now having to maneuver around traffic, but still getting to the Fitz gate in what I’m sure was an all-time record. Now that I was over 18, I was no longer a military dependent and had to explain to the MP at the gate that my dad was a retired officer and that I had to get my brother, who was a military dependent, to the E.R. as soon as possible. I asked him to alert the E.R. and took off, not waiting for official permission to proceed.

I knew how to get to the driveway at the back entrance of the hospital, it took just a minute. I took Bill into the hospital and into the E.R. Luckily, he had his wallet with his dependent ID card in his jeans. Quickly, he was on an exam table in the small E.R. It turned out he had not shot himself in the eye but that the CO2 compressor had exploded and had hit him right above the eye socket. He was injured but his eye was okay and he wouldn’t lose any vision, the doctor said. Relieved, I eased out of the E.R. to move the car into a parking area.

Only to find two large MPs waiting for me. They had seen the Studie in the hospital’s back driveway, parked haphazardly, its doors open, and bank cash bags in the back seat. They thought they had a big one—that they’d nabbed an injured bank robber. It took a lot of talking and they even interrogated poor Bill, while in pain on the E.R. table, before they decided to believe us.

In coming back to WSC for the new school year, which would be my last, I was driving the Studie on a rural highway, being held up by a slowpoke flatlander. I was finally able to pass, moved into the opposite lane and immediately saw a car in the distance coming at me. There was enough time to pass, I thought, if I did it quickly. So I floored it. This time, I noticed what seemed to be a little bump under the gas pedal and I pushed it even harder. (Overdrive, I would learn later.) The car simply took off, like a jet airplane. Was like the hyperdrive scene I would later see in Star Wars.

So this was the car WSC was taking away from me, a secret Mercedes that was, even better, a secret jet. What to do? I couldn’t sell it—it would be too much hassle and whatever I would be able to get for it wouldn’t be enough. So I checked with my brother Tom at Colorado University. We agreed on a price of a bottle of Chivas Regal scotch and one dollar (to satisfy the DMV).

Long live Studies!

About johnwagner

John Wagner is a retired lawyer and the author of: 1. Troubled Mission: Fighting For Love, Spirituality, and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru, a memoir about his human rights work in Peru 2. Baby Boomer Army Brat, a coming-of-age memoir

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