A Faulty Gas Gauge and Worn Tires

Clabe and Leora Wilson with their first granddaughter, August 1944, Minburn, Iowa

Doris Neal came back to Iowa to have her first baby in the spring of 1944. The little town of Marfa, Texas, was so crowded that people even lived in the hospital, so when Warren was between classes teaching advanced cadets, he and Doris took the train home. Doris stayed with her folks, Clabe and Leora Wilson, on a farm near Minburn. 

Baby Joy was born two days before D-Day in Dexter, delivered by Dr. Keith Chapler–who’d patched up the brother of Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie and Clyde notoriety) in 1933. After the normal ten days in the hospital for a new mother, they spent the next few weeks on the Minburn farm.

While Warren was in for the baby’s birth, he bought a 1939 Chevy from Russell Horn, the Dexter banker. Warren flew back to the Marfa Air Base with another instructor, leaving the Chevy with his dad to make sure it was ready to travel to Texas.

That August, Warren caught a hop to Iowa between classes, loaded everything into the Chevy (which they dubbed the C-39), and headed for Texas with his little family. The first night they’d stayed at a “not very nice cabin camp” at Ottawa, Kansas, according to Doris, but the next one at Oklahoma City even had a bath. The nicest was at Brady, Texas, new and really swanky, she said, with venetian blinds, a sparkly bath, and was air conditioned!

They arrived in Brady too late to see her brother Junior at the base, so they drove out the next morning. Junior was at athletics and Doris said she could locate him right away. “He was the best built kid of the bunch. He is getting along swell, has a tan a-plenty, and is crazy about flying.” When they got back on the road, they passed the athletic field again and honked. Junior waved.

Lt. Warren and Doris Neal, ready to head to Marfa, Texas, August 1944, in their used car

Junior wrote home that they’d stopped while he was playing a hard game of basketball and he was all sweaty, so he just shook hands with them. Joy looked like Doris, he noted, and even smiled a little for him. And that “fifteen minutes wasn’t very long to get to talk to each other, but that’s the way it goes.”

The right rear tire on the Chevy held up for 750 miles, until they got into Texas. It hadn’t flattened, but Warren noticed that a cut in it was larger and beginning to bulge. Warren changed the tire, hoping the spare would get them on into a town. They stopped for ice cream in a small town about fifty miles down the road. Someone on the street pointed out that a tire was nearly flat, the one he’d just put on, so he whipped around to an oil station. Rubber was needed for the war effort and new tires were just impossible to get. The tread was pretty thin but he had it pumped up and it carried them on to Marfa.

But the gas gauge never did work right. Warren thought he had enough gas to make it home, but ran out two miles from the field about 9:00 at night. He left Doris and the baby in the dark car and hitch-hiked the ten miles to Marfa. It took nearly an hour and a half.

He located fellow instructor who took him for a can of gas and drove him back to the car. Warren was glad they hadn’t run out where it was fifty miles between towns. The gas gauge said “empty” all the way down, so they’d had to guess how much was left.

“That’s better than the Plymouth,” Doris quipped, “driving all the way to Texas on empty–ha.”



  1. Ahh! Baby Joy! It was interesting to read the details of the trip your parents took when you were a baby to relocate. I’m sure your mother held you the whole time!

      • I have a photo album “My Rides: The good, the bad, the ugly”. I’ve owned exactly forty cars (so far) and although I don’t have a picture of every one of them, I do have dates, prices and a brief note for them. Not sure where the Christian witness would fit in (surely not stewardship!) but it’s an idea worth mulling over. What do you think?
        BTW, stand by for a brief post this Friday.

      • Keep mulling. It could certainly have an impact at the end about storing up treasure in heaven instead. I’ve done one blog post about our vehicles, and one about Dad’s. Brief posts are good. I noticed you didn’t have one last week.

  2. Oh, and my Grandpa Frohlich owned a “39 Chevy. After he had a stoke, I would sneak that car out of the garage and drive it up and down the street. That was years before I had a driver’s license.
    That tale may be in my book.

  3. We’re so spoiled, aren’t we?! Our grandparents would marvel at the “swanky” advantages we consider commonplace today. “Progress” has been so rapid. My grandmother (born 1890) would have marveled at the news that the Wright Brothers had actually gone airborne at Kitty Hawk in 1903. She was still with us in 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

    • Thank you for your note, Nancy. Grandma Leora was also born in 1890, lived (still in her own home) to the age of 97! She and her mother flew to California I think for her mother’s 90th birthday, if I remember right! Leora’s only living sister and two brothers lived in S. California.

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