“Willy” (i.e. a Willy’s jeep station wagon, the family car) dies, destroyed in a track fire at the El tracks.
Willy, our beloved 1951 Willy’s jeep station wagon was parked in the IIT faculty parking lot adjacent to the 35th street station of the Chicago Transit Authority elevated train (The El). A cigarette tossed on the wooden cross ties started a fire that destroyed the station and 29 cars underneath, including Willy. We could see the smoke from home in Hyde Park, 3 miles away. We went without a car for several years, until finally buying Andy and Nadine Ungar’s 1963 Rambler.
I wrote an essay for my high school English class about Willy’s demise. It was probably the best piece of “creative” writing (as opposed to the usual standard English assignments) that I did in high school.
if i had known what a willy looked like i would have rounded the corners and used the right color. green or blue? mom, hubbie?
We bought Willy second-hand about 1955, the first car we ever bought (it was two-toned gray, Margie). The two front seats were fine for Thea and me, three small children easily fit on the back seat, and there was considerable storage space behind the back seat. We had an old bureau and I took off everything but the top and sides. It was just the right size to fit in the back of the jeep. When we went on a camping trip we would store all of our camping stuff under the bureau top and put an old crib mattress on top of it. The children took turns lying on it as we drove, and occasionally I would take a turn and actually nap while Thea drove. (This was before anyone had ever heard of seat belts). We called it our Pajama Wagon.
As the children grew older they grew bigger and the necessary camping stuff grew bigger. I took all of the shelves from a big old bookcase and secured it to suction bars on the top of Willy. It made a commodious top-carrier. We loaded it in place with our gear and covered it with a canvas groundcloth which we wanted for our campsite anyhow. It considerably reduced our already slow uphill speed on the highways and raised havoc with our gas mileage, but it got us and our belongings to our campsite and back. Our camping policy was to pick a good camping spot somewhere and settle in. If it was more than one day’s journey from home, we put up at a motel on the way there and back. We had spent the night at a motel in West Virginia en route to a Pennsylvania national forest. In the morning we loaded up Willy and drove around to the front of the motel to settle our bill and be on our way. Well, Willy alone would have fit under the lighted sign across the drive at the entrance; Willy plus top carrier did not, even at a moderately high speed! After the noise and some screams and “Wot happened?”, Willy and all passengers were fine, the motel sign was smashed, the top carrier was in the drive with one side partly off and contents somewhat scattered in the drive. That’s when I became a fan of Allstate Insurance. A phone call brought an agent to the motel, Thea showed him our papers and answered his questions. By the time I had made the top carrier serviceable, remounted it, and reloaded it, the agent had given the motel owner a check for the broken sign and we were on our way.
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