I like cars; and while I’ve known many a ‘car guy’ and ‘car gal’ in my lifetime, I could never claim to be that caliber of car enthusiast. However, that doesn’t diminish my genuine and
expanding appreciation for classic cars.
Of course working in the Wisconsin community that hosts the legendary Iola Old Car Show each July makes it difficult not to have some fondness for classic automobiles. Yet, my appreciation for cars began long before I could drive one of my own, and it began with pedal cars. I realize for some that’s like comparing apples and oranges, and I respect that viewpoint; but, I also believe I am not alone when I say I have as much of a soft spot for pedal cars as I do my dream car, a 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396. In both instances, be it pedal or high performance, they represent for me, freedom, exploration, adventure, and respect and admiration for a time long past.
While researching the topic of pedal cars for the cover story in the May 28 issue of Antique Trader, I found myself immersed in the nostalgia, including that of my own childhood and that “first car.”
There were two, and they weren’t actually mine, but like so many people they were hand-me-down cars I borrowed. By the time my cousin Patrick and I, the “babies” of the extended family on my mom’s side, received our turn at the pedals of the steel pedal cars at my grandparents' farm, they had already served many drivers.
The paint on the cars was faded, chipped, and rust was starting to appear, but I remember how exciting it was to have my Grandpa Leo bring the cars out to the steps of the house for us to drive. The yellow car had retained its color a bit better than the other one, which if memory serves, was orange – but it could have been a red pedal car softened to a burnt orange color courtesy of sunshine and rain. Regardless, they were something special to behold.
I recall sliding into the seat, careful not to rub up against any sharp edges to avoid any scratches to my legs (since I was clearly a fashionista in my halter top and diaper back then, as is demonstrated in the photo below). However, taking extra precautions to keep clear of any sharp edges was worth it, in order to stay a bit cooler in the hot summer sun as we pedaled our way up and down the driveway.
I’d say we ‘raced’ the cars, but again, there’s only so much speed one can attain peddling barefoot on a gravel driveway. Plus, the recollection of these days differs, depending on who you ask. I recall it was all Patrick and I 'fueling' this awesome cruisers. However, another cousin distinctly recalls being 'asked' (aka told) to push us. Which would explain the speeds we were able to reach. It didn’t matter how fast we were able to go, or how far, it was simply the opportunity to get behind the wheel and experience some freedom and adventure. Even if the adventure just included a trip to the end of the driveway, before turning around and then making a pit stop at the corner of the pig pen to call the pigs, which often lead to a quick sprint into the barn and up the ladder to the hay loft to see what was
what, then on to a slow cruise past the old shed to admire grandpa’s tractor and to sneak a peek at my Uncle Chuck's little red car forever parked in a brush of poison ivy. As the afternoon would go on we’d travel this same route again and again, discovering new things each time, I’m sure.
For me, a semi-only child (with sisters older in age) the pedal car adventures were as much, and most likely a bit more, about the company I kept than the cars themselves. As I said, Patrick and I were the babies of the family, he being a couple of years older than I, and although the older cousins always went out of their way to include me, entertain me, and encourage me to be myself, the friendship I shared with the “older baby of the family” always made me feel like I wasn’t just a tag-along, but an equal.
There were more than a few times he helped me get my pedal car out of the high grass near the ditch (where we weren’t supposed to be in the first place); assured me that while there most likely were mice in the corn crib they wouldn’t bite; reminded me to keep my fingers away from the pigs – because they may bite; joined me in changing the record album so our grandma (who had suffered a stroke) could listen to John Denver sing about being a 'country boy,' as she sat comfortably on the living room couch; and he even conveniently ‘failed to recall’ if I was indeed in the raspberry bushes (again, someplace I shouldn’t have been), when my mom would ask.
While it has been more than 35 years since Patrick first introduced me to the happiness pedal cars provide, my admiration for him and pedal cars hasn’t waned a bit. In fact, it’s grown exponentially. I admire the way he ‘shows up’ for the people in his life, his ability to be silly and playful with his two daughters and nieces and nephews, his consistent efforts to better himself in various ways, and his steadfast love and appreciation for his wife, his mom, and siblings. Plus, I believe if I were to get stuck in the high grass again or questioned about raspberry bush infiltration even today, he’d still have my back, as I would his.
That’s why I love pedal cars.