LITTLE TOOT & MY LOVE OF CARS
I love cars! Brooke Smith—a close friend of my father’s owned the Lincoln dealership in Brunswick and Portland, Maine. Brooke sold dad a Lincoln Continental in 1946. Dad grew up in Brunswick where his father was a dentist. Brooke lived across the street from grandpa. We visited Brunswick often. We drove together from our home in Connecticut to Maine. Dad was teaching me how to fly, as he also owned his own private plane after World War II, but weather precluded our flying—and we often drove.
Brooke Smith had a daughter named Polly. Polly, at age ten, was driving her folk’s Jeep in their back yard. I was eleven and fascinated with Polly and her Jeep. One day she told me she’d teach me how to drive. Wow, I was eager and learned fast. Within a couple of weeks I was driving Polly’s Jeep through the woods and my own father was delighted. He told me, “We’ll get blocks to put on the brake and clutch and you can practice your driving on the Maine Turnpike—while I take my nap.” We did that and although I looked very young we never were stopped. For years, I drove my dad’s Lincoln Continental up and down that turnpike when we visited grandpa, where dad would improve on the lessons Polly had given me.
My older sister, Wendy, was dating an English medical student, John Sterling Meyer, at McGill Medical School, in Montreal, Canada, in 1947-48. Wendy and I had the same father with her mother being my father’s first wife. Wendy and Dr. John Meyer would later marry. John had bought a new 1947 English Standard convertible—built in Coventry, England. He drove the hell out of that car, driving back and forth between Montreal and Boston, where Wendy was working on her master’s degree in anthropology.
Wendy and John visited dad and mom in Moosup, Connecticut with that nifty little English car and dad saw an opportunity for his twins to have their own car. They planned to trade their Standard for another car. Dad was a master at family car-swaps. He usually swapped cars to enable him to upgrade his own car and I remember his either trading or swapping cars almost every other year for most of his life.
Dad worked out a car-swap with John. Our family got a two-door English Standard, and Wendy and John received an almost new Mercury convertible. The Standard was essentially for my twin sister, Mercy, and me—we were fourteen, not old enough to legally drive but excited at having our own little car. We called it LITTLE TOOT. For one year, our Little Toot was raised on blocks in the Haskell garage in Moosup, Connecticut, waiting for the Haskell Twins to grow old enough to drive.
On vacations from the private schools where Mercy and I went (Roger’s Hall and Tabor) I drove this car up and down our driveway. Mercy enjoyed the prospect of having our own transportation but fortunately for me, she deferred the driving and care of our car to me.
At age 16 (1949) Mercy and I passed our license tests and were finally able to legally drive our Little Toot. In my senior year at Tabor, Dad worked out an arrangement with the Tabor headmaster and my navigation teacher for me to drive our car to the school and store it in a garage owned by Howard Johnson. Yes, the Howard Johnson of the famous restaurant chain. Howard Johnson lived in Marion, Massachusetts—where Tabor was located. My teacher was Mr. Johnson’s yacht captain during the summer.
I wasn’t allowed to drive Little Toot at Tabor but one Sunday, my roommate, Dave Hill, who was also a car-fanatic, and I walked the seven miles to Howard Johnson’s garage just to start my car to charge the battery. We also had to walk the seven miles back to school and got back just before check-in for Sunday vespers.
Mercy and I were delighted to have Little Toot to drive summers on Cape Cod. I learned how to take care of engines as our brother-in-law had really driven that car roughly. I found out all about automobile engines as our Standard developed lots of troubles—from cracked head-gaskets, to broken starters, and generators. I ordered these parts from England and found various garages to fix it. I washed the car almost every day, polished it often, and even bought a new convertible top to keep it as spotless as possible.
We transported our friends all over the Cape—at one point we had eight to ten of our friends in that car. It had bucket seats in front and a small back seat but we packed them in and went everywhere—often with the top down. We loved Little Too!
Eventually I traded Little Toot for a Ford at my Tabor Academy graduation in June of 1952. I was so sad to lose our very first car but realized that between my brother-in-law and Mercy and me, we’d driven that car to its maximum. What a nifty car Little Toot was for the Haskell Twins.!