Archived Story

A car named for a dead president passed by

Published 9:48am Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Column: Tales From Exit 22, by Al Batt

The day sagged in the middle like a cheap mattress.

I had put a saddle on my suitcase and was riding it home.

In a reflective moment, I realized how much better I was doing on my trip than Christopher Columbus did on his. Unlike Chris, I knew where I was headed. He wasn’t sure where he was putting himself.

It had been a good trip. Not perfect, but the purpose of life is progress, not perfection.

I’d been on the road for a week. That can be wearing.

I wasn’t sure that my day was being monitored for quality assurance, so I pulled off the interstate highway into a rest area.

Some people think a rest area is a rest home for older folks who like the outdoors. I may be one of those. I stopped to walk around. Clean out the cobwebs from the corners of my brain. A walk is effective at curbing drowsiness and sharpening alertness. I’m so appreciative of those good souls who maintain our rest areas. I walked the perimeter and marveled at the birds at the feeders.

“Looking at the birds, eh?” said another traveler.

I answered in the affirmative.

“Well, you sure have a good day for it,” he replied.

It was a good day for it. Feeling refreshed after my hike, I got back into my car and rejoined the rat race on the highway.

My thoughts were of getting home. I love to travel, but there are few things that can rival a homecoming. I love my wife and looked forward to seeing her. It’s good to see my hometown. It’s not large, but there is something comforting about going into town and quickly encountering 12.3 percent of the population. Hartland is no hill for a high stepper. I enjoy visiting with the good citizens of that city. I know that when I talk with Beth Knudson, I’ve had a near-Beth experience.

I drive a Pontiac. As I headed home, I heard a distant rumble. It wasn’t thunder. It wasn’t my stomach. I knew because I wasn’t thinking about yogurt-covered almonds.

The rumble became louder as a large Lincoln zoomed past me as if I were backing up. It was traveling at a speed that Abe Lincoln never dreamed of moving. I’d had my Mario Andrettied.

Not many cars named for a president have done well. The exception is Lincoln, named by its creator, Henry Leland, for the president he revered. In 1917, Leland gave the car the name of his hero who he once voted for. Leland was also the founder of Cadillac in 1902.

I’d think that naming a car after a president might spark sales, but history has proven otherwise.

Madison Motors Co. of Anderson, Ind., was named for our fourth president. The company produced the Dolly Madison between 1915 and 1919. There have been numerous ones by the name Washington Motor Co. The most successful featured the slogan, “The name that stands for character and strength.” That company folded in 1924. Marmon of Indianapolis named a car after Theodore Roosevelt in 1929. It proved unpopular. It should have been called the “Teddy Bear.”

There was a Jackson, Grant and Monroe. None of which found permanence in the automobile world.

I considered a Kia Kennedy, Toyota Truman, Audi Adams, Chrysler Clinton, Buick Buchanan, Cadillac Cleveland, Chevrolet Coolidge, Honda Hoover, Hyundai Harding, Mazda McKinley, GMC Garfield, Jeep Jefferson, Plymouth Pierce, and the Ford Ford.

I stopped to get gas. Mine is a great car and gets good mileage, but filling it with gas doubled its value. The gas was awfully high in price. I thought perhaps I was in the right church, but in the wrong pew, that another place would be cheaper. But down the road, I learned that all the gas stations had targeted the same price.

The high price of gas certainly has a detrimental impact on shelf sales for convenience stores. I looked at a woman at the next pump as her lovely face developed into more of a scowl with each click of the gas pump. I could tell what she was thinking, but dared not think it myself.

We lack willpower, but require horsepower because horses don’t provide carpower.

We get the best mileage when we don’t drive.

One day, cars will become so advanced that we will not need them.

Until then, maybe they will resurrect the Oldsmobile so that the Obama will be available in both a coupe and a sedan.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.