Pat graduated from El Dorado High School in El Dorado, Kansas in May of 1955. She wanted to get right to work and start earning her way in life. The Wichita Business College was offering a 3 month “crash” course during the summer with a guarantee of employment after successful completion of the course. Pat and her friends Charlotte and Susie elected to take the book-keeping and accounting course and get their working lives started. The school was set up so that if you failed, you had to take the course again. The girls had taken some business classes in high school so were able to breeze right through the course.
The Placement Counselor had noticed that Pat and Charlotte were pretty close and one day called them into her office and asked if they would like to work together. They thought it would be great if it were possible. The counselor said she had already spoken to an employer that was looking for two new people and would hire them both.
Upon completion of school, Pat and Charlotte went to work in the Auditing Department at Sears Roebuck and Company and Susie went to work at Macy’s. The girls were sharing an apartment and getting adjusted to living on their own. Transportation to and from work was possible through the city bus system though it ate up a lot of their spare time. In Pat and Charlotte’s case, the morning bus schedule was easy and caused no problems. However, the evening schedule was a drag in that they had to wait an hour to catch their bus. Going home to El Dorado for the weekend was hard because they had to hope that someone they knew was going that way and would also be able to bring them back.
After being on her job for a while and settled into her apartment and the routine of living on her own and paying bills, Pat decided it was time to buy a car. She enlisted the help of her step-dad, Eddie, who was a fair shade-tree mechanic and for a short time had sold used cars. Pat got home on a weekend and she and Eddie headed for a used car lot on south Main, there in El Dorado. Eddie knew one of the men that worked there and explained to the guy that they were looking for a very reliable car that Pat could drive to work without worrying about it. The salesman said he had the perfect car for her and that it was the most reliable car on the lot. He led them to this car that turned out to be a 1947 Studebaker! What? Was this guy nuts? Maybe we should talk about Studebakers for a minute while you get over the shock. There were five Studebaker brothers (and five sisters). Two of the brothers were blacksmiths and foundry men in South Bend, Indiana who started a company in 1852 making the metal parts for freight wagons. Another brother was in Placerville, California making wheelbarrows for the gold rush miners. He did well and saved up $8,000 and returned home to South Bend and helped the other brothers expand their business to the manufacturing of complete wagons. While building wagons for farmers, miners, and the military, they were also building a reputation for quality and reliability.
In 1902, the company produced a car with an electric motor and in 1904, a car with a gasoline engine. The company continued to build cars and trucks until WWII when they concentrated on the war effort, building great numbers of Army trucks and personnel carriers. Coming out of WWII, the company prepared for the post-war automotive sales surge with radical new designs. When the 1947 Studebaker was introduced, people couldn’t believe their eyes. Due to the radical departure from conventional General Motors and Ford styling, it looked more like a space ship out of a Buck Rogers comic book or like some kid’s idea of what futuristic cars should be like. The flat trunk lid looked so much like the engine hood you couldn’t tell if the thing was coming or going.
Back on the Used Car lot, Pat and Eddie looked the car over. It started easily, ran smoothly and quietly and was a solid, well-built car. The interior was spotless and was upholstered with quality fabrics. After a test drive, Pat and Eddie were convinced they had found a good car. So, now we have a 17-year-old girl that came in looking for a chic set of wheels, picking a
gray Studebaker. Who would have thought?
Pat was able to purchase the car on easy terms. The total price was $150.00. She put $30.00 down and payed it off at $15.00 per month. This was a little tight as she only made $45.00 a week and had to cover all of her living expenses out of what she was earning. One of the good things, at the time, was that gasoline was only $.17 per gallon.
Over the next few weeks the girls all had their 18th birthdays. Pat wanted to take a trip in her “new” car and, being all grown up now, the girls decided to go to Kansas City and dine at the well- known Italian Gardens Restaurant. The ladies wanted to avoid the embarrassment of showing ID so were decked out in their most mature-looking outfits and had applied make-up to match. The trip to Kansas City was uneventful and they had no trouble finding the Italian Gardens. Once in the restaurant, they were seated, examined the menu, and were ready to order when the waiter returned. They gave their orders and the waiter asked if they would enjoy a glass of wine. They all agreed that would be nice and then, the waiter asked if they would like a carafe. Having no idea what a carafe was but wanting to appear cool, they all said “Each, please”. Well, after eating their lunches and drinking their carafe of wine, they got up to leave. For some reason, they found that standing was a very difficult task. Pat realized that she was in no condition to drive. They talked it over and decided that the smartest thing they could do would be to take in a movie and sober up before heading for home.
There you have it…a first car and a first grown-up trip. Pat was ready to be on her own and took seriously the responsibilities of an adult and car owner. And, now that she knew what a carafe was, never had that problem again. The Studebaker was great and never failed her once.
Dave and Pat Thomas
September 2, 2016