Thursday, March 10, 2011

Western Auto and bikes...

The first job I remember my Daddy having was managing a Western Auto on the south side of Atlanta. For those of you who do not know that store -- it mostly sold automobile parts and accessories.

My dad worked for that store in the 1950s, but when corporate wished to move him from Atlanta to another city, he decided that he didn’t wish to uproot his wife and four children [they had moved from Jacksonville, Fla., and before that from St. Louis, MO.]. He quit the job with Western Auto, and he and my mother opened their own business, an employment agency called The Job Hunter.

I always liked the name of their business since my brother’s name was “Hunter,” and I somehow associated that name with the business. I was young; I knew just enough information to be mostly wrong.

Since that business never operated in the black, my father and mother closed their office and went back into fields they had been educated for --- my mom in nutrition and my dad in math education. Those stories, however, are for another blog. :)

I loved it when Daddy worked at Western Auto. On the weekends, I walked to his store, which was located in the Stewart-Lakewood shopping center and less than 1/4 miles from where we lived, and I strolled the aisles. I admired the shiny chrome of car parts, the cans of oil, the big car batteries, and the long, black smelly hoses. Whether it was a Pontiac or Buick or Oldsmobile or Rambler, Western Auto carried what they needed.

The store also had all kinds of automobile tires -- hanging ominously from a rack attached to the ceiling and making the store have this pungent rubber smell.

Cars in those days were not the purring motors with the computer hook up to diagnose problems that we have today, but were relatively uncomplicated machines that ran less than perfectly and had little annoying repairs. Flat tires, thrown rods, carburetors, or broken belts seemed the fare of these cars.

Actually, I have no idea what exactly were the most common repairs, but people worked on their cars in their garages and driveways -- and sometimes fixed 'em.


In retrospect, I find it kind of humorous now that my dad worked in that store since he didn’t care a fig for cars or working on them, but he was in management, and his work was less about auto parts and more about managing people and taking the money from the till to the bank.

I also loved Western Auto for their bike selection. In the front of the store were three or four rows of numerous new bikes, all colors of the rainbow -- red, blue, green, and yellow -- I loved touching and smelling their shiny newness , as they stood in orderly rows like soldiers with their kickstands holding them still.

When in the store, I would take it upon myself to straighten the bikes, and in doing so, I took the opportunity to sit on each of them and imagined myself owning one and coasting down the hill on my street, streamers waving, with all the envious eyes of my by-standing friends trained on me.

The problem was --- I never had a new bike. I had bike leftovers.

My parents were frugal because they had to be. Four children, a house payment, keeping a car running [we bought used mainly then], tithing, and of course, college funds, my parents were not ones to be buying me a new bike just because I wanted one.

I shared a bike with my sister, or I could ride one of my brothers’ bikes with the nerdy, huge, newspaper basket on the front, that looked, frankly, dumb to me if there were no papers to carry. Plus, a boy’s bike was a whole different “horse” to ride -- since it has two straight bars instead of the sloping bar of a girl’s bike. I had to turn the bike on its side, get it rolling, and then jump on the seat. There was no way for me to mount if from its kickstand position as they were tall, wieldy things, and I was small.

*imagines self as small*

This didn’t keep me from riding their bikes though, and I remember that I could only touch the pedals with the tips of my toes, which made pedaling a challenge. I also can’t tell you how many times I hit the curb riding one of my brother’s bikes and came slamming down on that center bar.

Yowser. No wonder I never had children.

My best friend, Marcie, however, always had not only the best toys, but she had tons of them.

She was the spoiled oldest child and the only girl in her family. She had several Barbies with all the special accessories -- Barbie houses and cars -- fabulous evening gowns and furs --- Barbie’s boyfriend Ken, her best friend Midge, Skipper and Scooter -- while I had one or two Barbies with clothes hand made by my doting aunts. No sparkles on my doll’s clothing, just regular dresses that looked like miniatures of my own clothes since the material usually came from a remnant of something made for me.

Marcie also had a beautiful, pink bike that I coveted, and because Marcie loved me, she let me ride it.

It was a baby pink Sting Ray --- it sat low and had a long, white banana seat and the wonderful sissy bar. [No bar to come flying down on when you hit a curb or came to a halting stop]. The butterfly handlebars came up to the hands, no bending down for them, and the sparkly silver streamers flowed out from the handle grips.

Now this was a bike, and Western Auto had many of them ---- but I never had one, even though I begged for one Christmas after Christmas -- even invoked Santa, whom by then I didn’t believe in, to please give me one.

Nope. Instead I had bike leftovers: my sister’s rickety, rusty, old grandma bicycle with sissy bar and antiquated hand bell thingy. Her bike had a crushed front, tire fin that sent it limping to the right, and a broken kickstand, that when I tried to park it somewhere, it fell over like a felled steer. The chain came off every few feet [it seemed], and the bike made this whistling noise [everybody knew when you were coming] when it got up to speed, which was rare.

It was lame and ugly, and so not a Sting Ray.

I only rode my sister's bike if I had to --- and sometimes I had to.

The one bonus to my sister's bike was, if I was in a hurry and what kid isn't, I didn’t take the time to bother, like other kids, with the kickstand - I would just lay it on its side sometimes with me on a dead run, leaving the bike abandoned and forlorn on the playground on in a friend's driveway or yard and never worrying about scratching its already lovely finish.


But Marcie was good to me, and we learned to ride her bike together ---- I was taller, and I would pedal with her behind me on that long, banana seat. We thought we were something as we rode around the neighborhood or to the shopping center for ├ęclairs and cherry Cokes --- on her fashionable Sting Ray... as we thought, the envy of all .....

but we also had some pretty awesome, bike “wrecks” --- and that’s for another blog.



  1. I am so glad that you had Marcie. You have blogged about her before. Do you still keep in touch with her? If not, you should contact her. I bet her memories are as lovely as yours.

  2. Isn't it funny how children see Daddy's work! My Dad was a Junior College professor for some years. He also took a weekend job as an usher at a movie theater -- for extra cash. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. I was so proud to walk down to the theater and see a movie.

  3. At the nearby local shopping center (anchored by the A&P), we had a Western Auto, right next to Beall's and the TG&Y dime stores. Western Auto always smelled like car tires. I loved that smell.

  4. From my friend, Gary, via email:

    I too have Western Auto memories. Dad would take the car in for service and I would also hang out and look at the new bikes. I also remember that rubber smell. And ashtrays. There were always men smoking out front and even inside in those days. (Second hand smoke be damned!!) When I got a little older they had a small waiting area with a black and white television that had a horrible picture or "rolled".
    All my siblings and I had Western Auto bikes. I think it was the 90 days same as cash policy that allowed my parents to get us one each when we reached a certain age. Santa brought them. I still have scars from the crashes; mostly when I was playing Evel Knievel and jumping small animals or ditches or whatever.
    A few years ago we bought our twins new Honda racing bikes with multiple speeds and shock absorbers. They hardly ever rode them. They laugh at me when I tell them about riding my ten speed for ten or fifteen miles away from my house when I was in Junior High.
    They missed out.
    This weekend I think I'll take them to the Goodyear auto center and hang out. Maybe I'll even start smoking again.

    and then after we responding in email, he gave a little more:

    I had forgotten about things like Western Auto. I don't know why dad took me and my brother-15 months older? The last thing I would want is some sniveling little kid at my feet.
    My uncle owned a car dealership and we used to go hang out there also. It was cool because my uncle used to buy us coca-colas and peanuts in the little bag. The guys in the shop would show us how you put the peanuts in your coke and drink it all at once.
    It was a big deal for someone to buy you a coke! We didn't have much money and only got coke on Friday nights when Mom didn't really cook. That was the night we had Hamburgers or hotdogs and occasionally Bar-b-que from a can. Always on wax paper so Mom didn't have dishes to do and always with potato chips as a side dish, pushed over into the corner of the wax paper. Sometimes Dad would surprise us with grape Nehi or Orange Crush!
    They only bought the one bag of chips. When we got older there was more availability of cokes and things. I guess they had a little more money. Now my kids go through six to ten bags of chips a week and we buy sodas by the twelve pack, two or three at a time.

  5. One of my Dad's first jobs in this country was working for a friend's
    business called Stereo House. They installed car stereos, alarms and
    always had extra car related materials like belts and tires on the
    racks too. I think there may have also been a small garage out back
    that another colleague rented to do some body work. The place was
    always packed.

    I'd wake up early on Saturday mornings when my mother wasn't going to
    make clean and head in with Dad, to, you know, see if I could help out
    with anything at the store. Dad was the accountant (but he'd help with
    parts too) so I mostly ran papers back and forth from one
    office/employee to the other. I'd straighten things out on shelves or
    vacuum the dark blue industrial carpet stained with car grease. I
    think for me it was more about the time spent with my dad rather than
    the shop itself. (Well, that and getting away from my mother for a few
    hours, LOL)

    I learned to ride a bike when I was eight, on my cousins pink one. It
    had a huge plastic basket in the front with plastic yellow daisies
    punched into it. I wish that thing had been made of straw because
    every time I fell off, my body would somehow propel itself forward and
    my forearms would catch the top of that plastic basket and oh man, how
    that hurt!

    I've never had my own bike. As one of four kids as well, I just never
    asked for one, thinking it'd be a hardship for my parents. My siblings
    each had one, having asked for them but I just couldn't do it. The
    funny thing is I would've actually ridden mine all over and did do
    that with my older brother's. I can probably count all the times my
    brothers and sister ever rode theirs COLLECTIVELY on one hand.

    Hmm...I think I may go get myself a bike this next pay day, LOL

    Oh! And I didn't have many Barbies either. My paternal grandmother
    made all of their outfits for me by hand from scraps but gosh, they
    were just beautiful and the quality of the Mattel line paled in
    comparison to hers. She even knit a few of the dresses and I kept them
    all, along with the dolls and Jill has them today.

  6. Uhm...not sure why the spacing on my last post is so off...sorry about that!

  7. This story made me think of going to see my Granny at the Dimestore where she worked.It was in one of the older buildings in Live Oak and it had hardwood floors.It had a comfortable feeling and smell.I wandered the toy isles for hours.

  8. Oh that picture took me back! I remember Western Auto very well! Once my Dad had a job at a pool hall downtown and I loved going in there. It was all so mysterious and dark (and he would give me a "milkshake" candy bar. Oh what wonderful memories.

    I feel bad you never had a new bike, but glad you had Marcie :-) I will never forget my shiny new schwinn when I was ten. I remember riding it around on Christmas morning in the cold, with my synthetic white fur coat!

    Oh the joy and wonder of all those memories, I am so glad God gave us those! Lori

  9. Nice memories! My sis worked at the WA in Milledgeville when it was in a two-story building. The upper story was for storage. I got a basketball goal from her for Christmas in '74. I had mixed feelings since it was packaged in a TV box. My fleeting glee diminished upon opening the box- but not too badly. I knew I was not a candidate for a TV.

    Remember the Truetone radios? Mom and Dad had one on their dresser for years.

    I miss Western Auto and its variety. Stores presently using the name are independently owned do it with the permission of the brand's owner (Advance). No longer is it the same WA.


  10. If it makes you feel any better, I had a shiny, new bike in 1971- a purple Schwinn, and someone stole it right out of our carport. I never learned to ride a bike without training wheels...but at least I have memories and 2 photos. (I think it was purchased at Western Auto or Lionel Leisure City- I lived off Buford Highway.)