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From the desk of Dora DePaoli, Staff writer: The family metal

October 19, 2001

While together this summer, the kids were discussing some of the cars our family had over the years.

When my late husband and I started dating he drove a 1947 cream-colored Chevy sedan. It belonged to his father. A bit later he had a '51 Chevy and by the time we were married we had a beautiful blue and white two-door Olds 88.

The 1955 Olds bit the dust when my husband collided with a heavy mail truck at a blind intersection in West Los Angeles. The accident occurred while he was on his way to take the final exam at UCLA for his master's degree.

By the time our first child was walking we were cruising around in a bright red 1957 Ford Fairlane station wagon. This was followed some years later by a 1964 powder blue Ford station wagon. That one lasted until Steve, our eldest, was in high school. It was often full of teenage boys. Our son, Tony, also remembered taking a few jaunts in it while puffing on cigars.

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While living in West L.A. we bought a 1965 Ford F-100 pickup. Most weekends it was on loan to teachers who worked with my husband. Everyone loved that truck. Many years later he gave it to his nephew, Eddy DePaoli. Eddy had it painted blue and gold in Mexicali. Eventually Eddy gave it to his brother, Bucky. Bucky put a new motor and transmission in it and painted it blue and silver. With recent suspension modifications, the 36-year-old vehicle is being used as a pre-runner at off-road races. It's painted gray now but will soon be white and silver.

In 1971 we bought a bright yellow Volksbus. Friends in Malibu raved about the reliability of the vehicle and convinced us to buy one. The buses were favorites of the hippies in the 1960s, our friends were already on their second one and were delighted with it. They may have been dependable in the cool air above Malibu, but ours was a lemon below sea level.

On our way to the beach for our summer vacation the Volksbus barely made it up Mountain Springs grade. Steve remarked that he saw some ants passing us. His father was not amused. It conked out regularly, once at the intersection of Fourth and Main in El Centro. That day I put on the flashing lights and left the car where it was, hoping it would be stolen.

One hot Saturday in August my husband drove the cursed vehicle to our church camp at Lake Arrowhead to pick up our daughter Mary and her classmate Miriam Rubin. He took along Tony and his friend Jimmy Henry. Passing through Indio the car quit in the middle of the street.

He had it towed to a garage belonging to a pair of Japanese men. Although the garage was closed, one of the owners happened to be there that day. While the kids played around in the old junk cars, the owner worked on the bus. My husband said the elderly Japanese did more with a screwdriver than any of the other mechanics he had tried.

Thirty years ago we didn't carry credit cards and my husband was a bit strapped for cash that day. He said to the owner: "If the bill is more than $30, I am in trouble." He didn't even have a check. The trusting owner let my husband mail him a check.

In 1973 we got rid of the Volksbus and bought a used, pale yellow Cadillac from Womack-Mitchell. It was my favorite car. Big and roomy like a boat, it was comfortable and a joy to drive. Tony remembered driving it to homecoming and prom dates. The caddy was finally replaced by a 1981 Mazda, another dependable car. It was pressed into further service when our last child was in college and we got a 1985 Mazda. That car was driven many years before being donated to a worthy cause.

The only car we had stolen was a restored 1965 Mustang. That hurt. My father had been the original owner and our daughter, Mary, was so happy to take it to college. It was stolen from the street near her dorm at USC.

Over the years we've had several pickups: a Datsun, a Dodge and a couple Chevrolets. Our club cab was nicknamed the "Blue Sled." We got it right about the time we bought our travel trailer. That truck was absolutely worthless in the sand. Over the years we were towed by just about all our camping buddies, plus a few strangers. After we got a four-wheel drive truck with a winch, my husband was able to reciprocate. He loved rainy days and went looking for people to pull out of the mud.

My husband occasionally said he was qualified to run Bay Area Rapid Transit because of all the transportation problems he had to deal with over the years.

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