Q is for Quaker State Motor Oil and the alphabet game. Seventeenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!
The late 1950s and early 1960s were the inaugural years of serious family car travel in the U.S. Automobiles had become more comfortable and affordable — and were being pushed by the big carmakers.
Gasoline was also cheap, around 35 cents per gallon. And many postwar Baby Boom families were large, making cars the more economical way to go.
So my parents enthusiastically joined the trend — taking me, my brothers, and later my sisters on regular family car trips. And that meant piling into our new yellow and white Pontiac station wagon to hit the road.
The Pontiac joins the family
When we first moved to Endwell in 1957, our family car was a maroon Dodge — parked in the driveway on my Arriving in Endwell post. But three growing children cramped in a back seat didn’t make for pleasant car travel — so two years later Dad bought the yellow and white station wagon (shown above) that is still know in my family as “the Pontiac.”
And it was quite a car — roomy and comfortable with a flip-up, backward-facing seat under the trunk area where we kids could sit and wave at truck drivers behind us. Probably outrageously unsafe — but those were also the pre-seatbelt days.
Car games to pass the time
Mom would pack a box lunch and snacks — which we would eat en route or at a rest stop midway. But that still left the question of how to entertain three (and later five) children during a two-hour drive to visit the grandparents — or the whopping ten-hour drive to Cape Cod each summer. So we learned some educational car games to pass the time.
Alphabet game. We kids had to look out the car windows and identify things that matched each letter of the alphabet. The early letters went by quickly as we craned our necks and yelled out matches — A for auto, B for barn, etc. But the game always slowed later on. And as the letter Q approached, that meant only one thing — we kids had to spot a metal Quaker State Motor Oil sign nailed to a barn or gas station before we could keep going to Z.
License plate game. Another frequent car game during family road trips was to identify license plates from as many states as possible. There were always a lot of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania plates. But it was a big thrill when one of us spotted a plate from a faraway state — and as a bonus, we learned a bit of geography in the process.
“Copacetic, bury your horses!”
Yet another favorite, which was more competitive, was a game called Horse, Horse — the perfect long game for the cross-country drive to visit my maternal grandparents Boom and Gramps on the farm near Altamont, N.Y.
The way it worked was this: If you saw a field full of horses, you yelled out “Horse, Horse!” Whoever yelled first got the horses added to their score according to a seemingly-ever-changing point system — generally one point per black or brown horse, more points for a white horse, still more points for a spotted horse. So we kids did some frantic horse counting and point adding after each paddock along the way.
However, if you saw a cemetery and yelled out “Copacetic, bury your horses!” then everyone’s points were wiped out except yours. This game worked well in theory. But we visited Boom and Gramps so often that we kids had all the horse paddocks and cemeteries memorized. And my brother Mark liked to yell out “copacetic” as soon as we got into the general vicinity of a cemetery (without actually seeing it) — leading to disputes refereed by my mom.
Then there was that last horse paddock on Route 20 at the top of the hill above our grandparents’ farm — and it was a big one, too — that could win you the game even if all your horses had been wiped out by previous cemetery sightings!
So my siblings and I sat up tall to see it first and end the trip in triumph — never realizing that the real victory was a growing mastery of math and sportsmanship that we learned along the way.
Up next: R is for river rats and rabbit names. Please stop back!
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