My childhood happened long before personal computers—before cell phones and before satellite TV. Heck, it was the 1950’s; there were no satellites because there was no space program! Dwight Eisenhower was the president and Detroit’s ‘big three’ dominated the automotive market and everything we had was made in the good ole’ US of A. But for me as a kid, there was nothing more important than cars. I’ve had a pre-occupation with cars for as long as I can remember. As a preschooler, a simple twig became a steering wheel and my PF Flyers could lay rubber in every gear!
I was the grade school kid with a Hot Rod Magazine hid in my geography book. I’m still confused about the shape of the states. Like, is it Nebraska that has chrome wheels or is that Iowa? I do know Idaho when I see it; it looks like a four speed on the floor.
But perhaps the thing I was proudest of was my ability to name the year and make of any hubcap I saw. (For those who aren’t familiar with hubcaps—they’re the shiny chrome covers once used to snap over otherwise, ugly steel wheels. Today most all cars come with snazzy cast-aluminum wheels).
Each time the Grubb family drove through Lancaster, I schooled myself in the art of hubcaps. Shielding my eyes from the upper part of each parked car we passed, I rehearsed the make, model and year of each car based on the delicate intricacies of its hubcaps. Today, cars will use the same body styling and, consequently, the same boring wheel year after year. But in the 50’s, Detroit was committed to restyling each production year as they skillfully crafted the art of planned obsolescence. Now when it came to the overall body styling, there was some overlap; the tail fin was a little taller than last year or a little lower. But the hubcaps? The hubcap was to the early automotive stylists what the serial number is to the US mint. Each year the hubcap was the one sure styling change for each model. And I was the self-appointed hubcap king!
My hubcap bible was the JC Whitney catalog. You automotive geeks all know about the JC Whitney Co. of Chicago, Illinois who, by the way, sent out a voluminous catalog printed on paper as thin as an onion skin and there smack dab in the middle of each volume was two full pages with the accurate artist renderings of every hubcap known to man. It was glorious! I would sit on the living room floor while pointing at each rendering, proudly announcing to myself the year and make of its respective model.
I was absolutely certain I was destined to use my incredible hubcap skills to serve my fellow mankind. “Well, officer…without question the bank robber made his getaway in a Hudson. It pitched its hubcap after hitting that curb. That’s it lying across the street. I know this, because that particular, dog-dish style center cap only came on a 51’ Pacemaker. And…wait a minute…what’s this? Aha! Just as I suspected, if you’ll look further down the street…there leaning beside that third lamppost is the accompanying outer-beauty ring, used exclusively on the rare but gorgeous Hudson Pacemaker convertible. Officer O’Malley…your bank robber is driving a 1951 Hudson Pacemaker convertible with its left front hubcap and beauty ring missing! My work is done here. Should you need other hubcaps professionally identified, I can be found at Risch’s soda fountain on Main.”
My earliest aspirations never came to fruition and my youthful love-affair of the American hubcap, like my high-school flattop, has receded from sight. Seen now, hanging like faded charms from the rusted corrugated tin fences of obsolete back-road junk yards, the once glorious hubcap has lost its luster.
In a day when automobiles were works of art, the hubcap served as its diamond lapel pin. Today lapel pins are no longer in fashion.
The precise design of each hubcap pointed to the greater design of the car it represented. Reminds me how important it is to do the same for our Lord…to be that one undeniable marker identifying who our Maker is.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
Have a great week! RG
Read Ron’s column, Simple Faith, each Saturday on the Faith Page (page 3) of the Lancaster Eagle Gazette, or visit www.lancastereaglegazette.com.