It was about this time of year 45 years ago when I experienced my first automobile accident. I was not injured so in that regard it was no big deal. The emotional trauma, however, left a lifetime scar.
You see, this accident involved my first new car when it was only six months old. Just six months!
The car? Well, think back to the 1968 Fords. This was a Galaxy 500XL, two-door fastback in metallic lime gold. I purchased it when my bright red 1965 Chevy pooped out on me. Though it was a great looking car, my naiveté as a car shopper prevented the realization the Chevy had been in a wreck. I suspect the odometer had been turned back, too.
The 1968 Ford was my fourth automobile but my first new car. I loved it. In fact, I probably loved it too much. It was a late November/early December Sunday; I don’t remember the exact date. I was living on my own in an apartment in Webster City and worked the morning shift at the local radio station that day. When my shift ended at 1 p.m. I headed east and south about 10 miles to my parents’ home where an uncle and aunt were Sunday dinner guests. I was looking forward to leftovers from Mom’s always excellent Sunday dinner and an afternoon with family.
It had been raining and snowing all morning and (former) U.S. 20 was wet but clear. When I turned south on a county blacktop there was slush on the road’s surface but I was in a hurry. The V-8 engine in my Ford was gutsy and so was I. Less than a mile south of U.S. 20 the tail end of my car began coming around and I was sliding down the road sideways. My gutsiness quickly turned to panic.
Suddenly, the car shot to the left and straddled the road ditch, the front end breaking through what appeared to be a new woven wire fence with strands of barbed wire at the top.
Seat belts were not yet common and when the car came to a stop my body didn’t. I flew across the bench seat up against the passenger door.
When I realized I wasn’t injured I crawled out of the car to inspect the damage. The front end was damaged some but the barbed wire had scratched the dickens out of the hood. In perspective, I was lucky. Lacking perspective, however, I was sick to my stomach. This was my new car and it was no longer perfect.
Realizing I had driven too fast in the slush I was angry with myself for being so stupid. My new car was no longer perfect.
Within a few minutes my parents’ neighbors came along. They stopped to be sure I was okay and then offered to drive me to a nearby farmhouse to call a wrecker. Remember, there were no cell phones in 1968.
Once the car was out of the ditch I continued to my parents’ home, totally disgusted with myself. I had lost my appetite so Mom’s Sunday dinner wasn’t the treat I had anticipated.
Early in the afternoon I headed back to my apartment where I laid on my couch and brooded. And brooded some more. I had no idea how long I had been brooding when the phone rang. It was my girlfriend (later to become my wife) wondering why I hadn’t shown up for a Sunday night date.
I was so upset I had forgotten about a date with a pretty girl. Stupid! But then I was responsible for damaging my beautiful new car. Even more stupid! Fortunately, my girlfriend understood (or at least tolerated) my anguish and accepted a rain check for later in the week.
As a young news reporter I knew the guys in the sheriff’s office. They had a great time teasing me when I stopped to file an accident report the next day. They threatened all sorts of wild charges but eventually let me off the hook. The most appropriate charge would have been driving while stupid. So that’s the story of my first brand new car and my first traffic accident. I have become a better driver over the years but I can still feel the pain of making that beautiful 1968 Ford less than perfect.