REPRINTS


Cruising on Main with a 1937 Plymouth
Article and photos by Dick Jenkins

We're talking 1954, that's when cruising Main Street began for me. Unless there was a death in the family I knew where I would be on Thursday night. You could cruise Main at other times, but it just wasn't the same. Thursday nights were like Yankee Stadium during the World Series versus the regular season. I was a junior in high school and had recently tapped my tobacco-picking savings for seventy-five bucks to become the proud owner of a 1937 Plymouth, four-door sedan. The ultimate car in my estimation was a 1936 through a 1940 Ford coupe. It could be black or that nice deep maroon that Ford was spraying back in those days. If it were maroon you had your work cut out for you. Back then, maroon would oxidize something terrible. "Clear coat" hadn't been invented. You spent half your life with your hands in a can of polishing compound and Simonize to give your "bomb" that "cherry" appearance.

Once you got it to look presentable, priority two was to have it sound "tough". Your next item to budget was a glass-packed muffler. If your car couldn't "back off" you just weren't cutting it. In order to execute a proper back off when cruising Main you had to be running in the lower two gears. Gotta' get your engine revved to about 2000 rpm's, then draw your foot off the pedal, man. It began with a slight rumble like when you are gargling, then soon developed into a loud pop, pop like when pop corn begins to blossom. The intention was to turn heads.

"Sleepers" were a rather inexpensive accessory. Care to venture a guess as to what they were? Sleepers were a hold-over from the days of World War II when cars were required to cover the top half of the headlights to hide them from view of enemy airplanes, in case we were attacked by the Germans. By 1950 sleepers were no longer paint on the headlights they were chromed half circles that snapped under the dress ring that retained the headlights in their housing.  For five bucks you could get sleepers with a 3/8-inch diameter plastic rod that had a bright yellow bullet-shaped top. The bottom of the plastic rod was cut at a 45-degree angle. The rod was fastened perpendicular to the headlight or vertical, on the sleeper's edge and when the light's rays struck the beveled rod, light was sent up the rod illuminating the yellow tip. There's not many sights in the night that will surpass this, believe you me.

"Baby Moons" and "Full Moons" cost a bit more than sleepers. Baby Moons were a smaller version of Full Moons. If you guessed that they were upgraded replacements for standard manufactured hubcaps, give yourself a slap on the back. They came in one flavor, Chrome.

The ultimate in wheel-ware was the "Spinner Hub". It was similar to the Baby and Full Moons, except that it featured a single decorative bar that broke out of the spherical shape of the cap and ran nearly to the edge of the cap. Spinners enhanced the cap by giving you the feeling of motion. Spinners were the coolest of hubcaps.

Cat's Eye taillights were used as rear enhancers. They were replacements for standard factory taillight lenses. What made them cool? They had a blue lens embedded in the normal red taillight. The blue lens was situated in line with the brake light bulb. When you applied brakes a really cool blue light radiated outward. So now you looked cool both coming and going.

Of course, it was also cool to "burn rubber," "peel your tires," or "lay a strip," terms referring to a fast take-off, so fast that rubber from your tires would be left on the road. This was an urge most young male drivers couldn't resist. However, the noise and commotion were frowned on by Newt Taggart and other officers of the law. Sometimes we would get a talking-to a few days later. Officer Taggart would approach you with a pleasant smile and ask that you be a better citizen.

It never dawned on me back then, but now in retrospect I realize we were the cause of Manchester's biggest traffic jam every Thursday night. On a slow night, that is a night when no one shouted your name and beckoned you to the curb to chat and act cute with our girl classmates, you might make the trip from the center terminus to the Charter Oak terminus 5 times. That's 10 miles total around the circuit. The preferred route from Hartford to Providence was still Route 44 back then. Can you imagine the congestion caused at the center terminus by our steady flow of kids in their cool cars? 

Cruising came to an end as suddenly as a senior citizen's hot dog roast. At five minutes before 9 p.m., everything was normal and then Main Street went dark. You could fire a cannon down Main Street without fear of injuring anyone. See you next Thursday night 'round 7.

Dick Jenkins graduated from Manchester High School in 1955. For years he maintained a web site with pictures and stories of old-time Manchester. After he retired from webmaster work, Dick graciously agreed to turn over those pages to the Manchester Historical Society; msny of which have been reproduced in this "Reprints" section of this web site. You can access them by clicking REPRODUCED mhs1955.com PAGES. Dick now lives in Florida with his wife, Sandy.