There’s an independent film that’s making the rounds on the regional film circuit. There have been some one-off showings, and a few awards have been garnered. I haven’t seen it yet. “Wagonmasters” (www.Wagonmastersthemovie.com) is a documentary of the life and times of the American car, the Station Wagon – how it came to be, how it became ingrained into American society and culture, and how it fell out of favor and essentially ceased to be….almost. I grew up in station wagons – there were 6 kids in our family and there were times when we were older that we took TWO cars on vacation, simply because we had to. Then came the van, but that’s a different story.
The first wagon I remember was a maroon wagon – I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4. I think it was a Ford, because that’s all my Dad ever drove (aside from the 1965 Pontiac Catalina he had “inherited” from our Uncle Jack when we needed a second car, but that, again, is a different story) The first new car I remember getting was bought right off the lot, in the days when you could get a car right off the lot that wasn’t loaded to the gills with every gizmo on the options list. Our 1968 Ford Ranch Wagon had no A/C, an AM radio, a 390 cubic inch V8, and an automatic transmission. The seats were benches, and in the “way back” or “roost” (as we called it) were flip-up seats, facing each other, that could fit 4 kids – or 2 adults if you were in an absolute bind for space. Ford didn’t change the architecture of their full size wagons much over the years – I owned a 1988 Ford Crown Vic Wagon right after getting married, and the interior layout was, while being much more plush, essentially the same.
The Pontiac eventually gave out, and my folks were forced to buy another “sweet” Station Wagon right off the lot – again, from Jericho Motors in Mineola, NY. (There were other Ford Dealers closer than this dealership, but this is where they went. This time, it was a yellow Ford LTD Station Wagon (It may have been a Country Squire – not sure) with the wood grain paneling on the side – the archetypal “Family Truckster” except still with no A/C, with an AM radio, and with hidden headlights. Our naming nomenclature for the cars was very creative – The Green Station Wagon and The Yellow Station Wagon. Pretty original, eh?
In 1974, we went to Western Canada (Alberta and BC – my Mom’s home turf) and visited for a summer – while there we rented (you guessed it) a Station Wagon. Again – AM Radio but this one had A/C (and I think my Mom liked having A/C, because in 1979, after the green 1968 finally keeled over, he went and ORDERED a car from a dealership – a 1979 Ford Super Wagon (this is the 1-ton van with a full passenger interior – think of a church bus) pretty much loaded with every option EXCEPT 4-wheel drive (yeah, they used to offer that) and a second gas tank (which he kicked himself for not ordering once gas rationing was happening in the early 1980’s). I wound up taking my road test for my driver’s license in that van – February 1982 – the morning after a blizzard that closed the schools. DMV was still operating and the road test proctors were NOT happy.
When we had the Station Wagons, they were part of the family – they took us to Burger King, McDonald’s, Roosevelt Field Mall, vacation, apple picking, church, pretty much everywhere we went. The brought new bikes home from the bike store; they took us to see Santa at A&S in Manhassett; they took us to Pennsylvania (more times than I can remember); up and down the east coast. One summer, my Dad bought CB’s, had them installed in the cars, and we convoyed to summer vacation in Pennsylvania, talking back and forth the whole way. Our station wagons were magical conveyances, but not magical enough to get us to the Happiest Place on Earth.
They never took us to Walt Disney World.
When I grew up, got married, and had a family, we bought a Station Wagon – a 1993 Ford Escort Wagon with a 5 speed. That was a fun wagon. We also had a 1987 Mercury Sable Wagon (my wife LOVED that car), the 1988 Ford Crown Vic mentioned above, and a Subaru Outback Wagon, which we had on a lease, and a 1996 Buick Roadmaster Wagon which DID NOT love us and left us stranded in Blythe, CA (look it up – it’s in the middle of nowhere) on our way to Disneyland in 2003.
I still love Station Wagons, but today I rock the current equivalent – a 1999 Chevy Minivan with a surfboard on the roof.
Thanks for reading.