R. Paul in his little Fire Chief car

RPM in his version of 'rosebud.'

I think that we Baby Boomers (the generation born between 1946, and 1964) had more patches of good times in our childhoods than just about any generation before us, and perhaps more than those after us as well.

Here is one of those idyllic patches of my early childhood. This looks like the late Spring or Summer of 1951, or 1952. I'm in my Fire Chief car. The heavy steel body of this car was painted bright red and the writing and lightning bolt on the side were bright yellow, the grille and headlights, etc. on the front were painted silver. Lots of bright colors that are attractive to a little kid. You can see from the car's bumper that it had crashed into many things. This car was indestructible. And of course the infamous bell is on the very front of the car.

This photograph was taken in Brooklyn's Prospect Park on a sunny, Summer day. I didn't get to ride around up there all that much because of the all steel car's weight. The steel was thicker than it is on any real car today, and the Fire Chief was really something laborious to drag uphill. And of course Park Slope is just one big hill! I got a lot of leg exercise pedalling this car up those hills, but I probably needed help from my mother, mostly, for part of the uphill climbs. Most of the time I only rode this car in front of the apartment building on 9th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues. But even then it was usually my mother who had to drag that steel car up and down the narrow flight of stairs whenever it left the apartment. She did not much enjoy it.

In the photograph the bell is still on the car. I was forbidden to ring that bell in the apartment. It was a tiny apartment and a ringing bell would really be an inescapable nuisance. But in Prospect Park it was something I could ring all I wanted. Sort of. After a while my father removed the bell from the car. Maybe I'd rung it in the apartment or something.

The car was still fun to ride in though. My mother said she felt I was safer in it than on my tricycle, also a heavy piece of steel, because I was surrounded by the body of the car. It was also more stable than the tricycle. I learned the physics of sharp turns from the concrete streets of Brooklyn; I could have used roll bars on that tricycle. I knew only one speed for my vehicles - as fast as possible. It was from my adventures on my wheeled vehicles that I first learned the phrase "Bat out of hell." I would frequently go uphill and aim my Fire Chief car down, shove it off with my feet for a faster initial push and then peddle like mad so that I could go as fast as possible. At high speeds I liked to steer back and forth just for the thrill of it.

The Fire Chief car lasted until I was just about too big to fit into it anymore, and then my parents gave it away to my younger girl cousin, Dotty. I don't know what happened to it after that. Dotty's parents might have thrown it away one of the times when they moved.

Perhaps this was my "Rosebud."

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All photographs and text copyright © 1998, R. Paul Martin