12 years ago
By Joseph Cyr

Staff Writer

    Nothing gives a 17- or 18-year-old the feeling of independence quite like their first automobile. For some, it is a handed down, worn-in vehicle that their parents or older sibling used for years. For others, it is bargain-bin used car or truck that may or may not pass inspection without a little tender loving care.

This new Plymouth Horizon was won by my mother on April Fools day, 1989. My first car was a 1979 Malibu, similar to the one below.

    I haven’t had very many vehicles in my lifetime, compared to others I know. In fact, I can still count on one hand the number of vehicles I have owned — five. There are those that like to trade a vehicle in every few years, but I am not one of those people. Instead, I tend to keep a vehicle for eight to 10 years before moving on to something else.


    Part of that is my disdain for change, but the other part is practicality. If I have a vehicle that is still running well, why get rid of it?

    I recently had to part with my beloved GMC Sonoma truck after seven years. I obtained the vehicle from my father, so there was some sentimentality attached to it for sure. It also had a remote starter, which came in pretty handy on many a cold winter morning.

    The vehicle was not without its limitations, though. Since it was an extended cab, small pickup, there was only room for three people. That meant, it was never used for family trips. And whenever someone did have to ride in the “back seat,” they had to sit sideways. I don’t know how many times my youngest daughter bonked her head on the back window from sitting in this awkward position.

    As much as I loved the vehicle, it had almost 100,000 miles on it and was 11 years old. The bigger problem was that it was rusting out from underneath me and I had a sneaking suspicion it probably would not pass another state inspection without some serious work.

    So I spent a couple months of scouring the Internet, reading reviews and weighing my options before making a purchase. I also drove my wife and coworkers crazy. “What do you think of this vehicle?” was uttered more than a few times. “Do you think this is the right decision?” was stated numerous times as well.

    I came to the conclusion that I wanted a 2012 Jeep Patriot. It was in my price range, had a cool name (since I am a diehard fan of the New England Patriots), and most importantly, I thought it just looked like a “me” vehicle. It’s funny how, for many, the way a vehicle looks is almost as important as how the vehicle runs.

    My first automobile was a 1979 Chevy Malibu that I purchased from a classmate, Bruce London, during my senior year of high school. I paid a grand total of $800 for it in October 1988. I only know this because my father still has the bill of sale.

    So many things simply did not work on the car, yet my father let me buy it anyway. First off, the horn didn’t work. Neither did most of the taillights. But after the first couple of nights of working on the wiring, my father finally felt it was “safe enough” for me to drive.

    The first thing I had to do, as most any teenager would agree, was to replace the vehicle’s stereo system. I purchased a top of the line (at that time) Pioneer stereo/cassette player from Shiretown Video and was ready to rock.

    The Malibu was not exactly what I would call a practical choice for a teenager. It was only a two-door, so there was very little room to bring along my friends. It was also a rear-wheel drive car, with a beefy V6 engine. That was great for the first few months I owned it. Step on the gas, and that car would move. I think I averaged around seven miles per gallon (yes seven) with that thing. Thank goodness this was a time when you could put $5 in the gas tank and have enough to ride the loop from the movie theater to McDonalds and back.

    However, once snow hit the ground, getting from my home to school was a challenge. I quickly discovered that real-wheel drive vehicles had trouble completing turns or getting started at stop signs. I can still recall turning the steering wheel to go from Military Street onto Burleigh Street only to have the car keep going straight down Main Street.

    That vehicle had a relatively short shelf life with me, as a brand new Plymouth Horizon replaced in 1989. My mother won the vehicle (yes people actually do win cars), as part of a promotion through WHOU and Northland Motors.

    Back then, there was a contest that people submitted their names and had to listen to the radio station to qualify. If your name was drawn, you had 100.1 minutes (I think) to call the station. Ironically enough, the drawing for the vehicle was held on Saturday, April 1 (April Fool’s Day), 1989. I can still remember hearing my mother tell me on the morning of the contest that she was going to go get the new car. In the days leading up to the drawing, she was convinced she was going to win the vehicle and give it to me, so I had something safe to take to college.

    I think there were 101 qualifiers in the contest who then had to come to the car dealership and draw a key out of a bucket. I didn’t go with my parents, because I didn’t want to be disappointed. A short time later, my father calls and says “Hey, come down here and pick up your new car.” I figured he was playing an April Fool’s joke on me so I hung up.

    A few minutes later he called back and said “No really, come down here.” I still didn’t believe him. It wasn’t until radio personality Darren Ingersol got on the phone that I believed them. I raced down the dealership and saw my mother holding the keys and smiling. “I told you I was going to win it” I seem to recall her saying.

    Since that car was a 5-speed manual transmission, I had no clue how to drive it, but proved to be a fast learner. It was a peppy little car that treated me well for 11 long years.

Distracted driving laws quickly changingg use of smartphones while driving

    (ARA) — Distracted driving is receiving lots of attention – in the media and in the legislature. One cause of distracted driving is use of electronic devices, and since January, new federal regulations prevent commercial drivers from holding mobile phones while driving. In many states and communities, local laws extend this restriction of talking or texting on mobile phones to include private citizens.
    Thirty-five states have banned texting while driving, and about a third of those also require phone usage to be hands-free.
    These laws are coming to light for good reason. More than 18 percent of fatalities in distraction-related crashes involved a mobile phone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And two-thirds of Americans report they support restricting the use of hand-held mobile phones will driving, according to a survey by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
    For businessmen and women, smartphones are a lifeline to getting business done – while on the road. The smartphone has become their entire office – handling phone calls, emails and viewing documents.
    Due to quickly advancing technology, people are more reliant on mobile phones for both personal and business use. Hands-free devices are allowing people to keep both hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, while still being able to take calls and handle email using their voice.
    The Plantronics Marque M155 Bluetooth headset is discreet and lightweight — a hand’s free device design to fit a smartphone user’s communication style. If a call were to come in while you’re behind the wheel, just say “answer” to hold the conversation. Texting, tweeting and managing emails also can be done using your voice so you can enjoy your ride and keep your eyes on the road.
    If you’re always on the go — whether it’s on the road or moving from one meeting to another — the Plantronics Voyager PRO HD offers maximum performance with crystal clear audio quality and extended battery life. The over-the-ear design is perfect for all-day wear so you can spend your day on the road without missing any of your work.
    April is Distracted Driving Month, making this a good time to review how hands-free devices on your mobile phone can help you stay more focused on the road in front of you. Visit the Plantronics blog at blogcentral.plantronics.com/distracted-driving to learn more about how laws are changing to reduce distracted driving events and keep roadways safer.

My First Car

    My first car was a red 1962 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible. It was the spring of 1970. I was 16 years old, had taken the driver’s ed class at Houlton High School, and got my license in June. I worked for Bates and Emerson farms in New Limerick through the previous winter and spring to earn the money to buy my little red sports car for (I think) $350 from Ralph Tozier, a foreign car mechanic on outer Court Street in Houlton.

    The car was inspected, and I registered it. But, it had a burnt valve, so it barely made it home to New Limerick. My father (one of the area’s best mechanics of the time) started right to work on it, and he had it purring like a kitten (can you really say that about a VW engine?) by the very next afternoon. I very soon discovered after beginning to drive it, that the front fenders over the headlights had only been layers of rust just waiting to be shaken loose; I repaired the resulting gaping holes myself with bondo.
    That little car was a lot of fun for a 16 year old to drive! I found it handled so well that I could slide around the 90-degree turn on the gravel-paved Back Ridge Road at close to 40 mph!!! (I guess some aspects of driver’s ed. hadn’t gotten through to me – or, did the little red sports car make me forgetful of them?) Anyway, I did have a lot of fun driving it all that summer. We had a drive through garage at home that made it seem all the more special, because larger cars could not turn tightly enough to drive out the back and turn between the buildings, but mine could!
    I was smart enough to realize that a rear-engined, air cooled, convertible would not be the most comfortable thing to drive in the winter in northern Maine. And, besides, by late autumn the little Ghia was in dire need of new suspension parts in the front end. I made a wise trade with George Devoe on B Road for a 1960 Chevy Bel Air sedan, a car far better suited to the coming cold and snow. But, I have often over the years since given forth with a long sigh as I recall the little red sports car.

— Gary E. Schillinger, Houlton, Maine

First car is Hodgdon woman’s ‘first love
Contributed photo


SPECIAL CAR — Sheila Murchie of Hodgdon sent a writeup and a picture of her first car — a 1964 GTO — for the May 2010 issue of County Crossroads magazine. This year she offers an update: “Thought you might be interested in the progress we have made on the old goat.
CarCare-Murchie-dcx1-pt-15We (she and husband Keith) did several shows last year, put on quite a few miles, traveled north, south and west! Had a great summer, many compliments and trophies, painted her GM white and clearcoat, and dedicated the lower half of my back to her (the whole car and the VIN number tattooed on my lower back). We can hardly wait for cruisin’ weather again! We are also building a ‘38 Chevy truck/street rod now, and hope to have it rollin’ by summer.”

PETE KENNEY of Linneus has been hot rodding, restoring and rebuilding cars for over 50 years. His latest completed project, but certainly not the last, is this bright orange, chopped and customized 1969 Volkswagen Type 3 lovingly called “Puddles