Quaker State Motor Oil and the alphabet car game #AtoZChallenge

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.

Our family’s yellow and white Pontiac station wagon (1959). Our new car is shown here in my grandparents’ driveway at their Altamont, N.Y. farm. The Pontiac was 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. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

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.

Quaker State Motor Oil sign — pretty much the only item that matched letter Q in our alphabet car game.

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.

https://pixabay.com/photos/landscape-nature-horses-meadows-2984704/
Horses in a meadow. By yelling “Horse, Horse!” when spotting horses from our car, we kids could accumulate points toward a total score on long road trips. The horses shown here might have been worth 26 points — 1 point for the brown, 10 points for the white and 15 points for the spotted — based on an ever-changing point system. Photo: Pixabay

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.

https://pixabay.com/photos/church-graveyard-cemetery-snow-717830/
Rural cemetery. Spotting a cemetery and yelling “Copacetic, bury your horses!” wiped out everyone else’s Horse, Horse points. And my brother Mark liked to yell out as we neared (but before he saw) a cemetery along the familiar route to our grandparents’ house, requiring my mom to referee. Photo: Pixabay

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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11 thoughts on “Quaker State Motor Oil and the alphabet car game #AtoZChallenge”

  1. With five kids in our family, we also needed games to keep us from fighting on a long trip. We always played the license plate game and my wife and I still play it to this day. As soon as we start out on a long trip we start looking, the only difference being that now, instead of writing them down, we enter them into an Ipad. We’ve never gotten all 50 states, even on a cross-country trip, but we did see both Alaska and Hawaii.

  2. You were learning heaps without realising and developing your memories. We didn’t own a car but we only played “I spy with my little eye” on trips…someone nominated the letter and the others had to guess the right thing. My grandchildren play Spotto which gets them scores for yellow cars and a variation that adds points for luxury vehicles….mind you the big name vehicles may well have cost less than their own family’s tricked out 4WD

    1. So true, Pauleen. Being a schoolteacher, my mother had many tricks up her sleeve — and I suspect she introduced these games as learning tools (unbeknownst to us, of course).

  3. We had a station wagon too. I don’t remember long car trips, but we use to take it to the drive-in. We would pile pillows and blankets in the way back and bring lots of snacks. It was always a lot of fun. Weekends In Maine

    1. Ah, yes the drive in — we used to go there, too. And they may be making a comeback during the quarantine since the regular theaters are closed.

  4. I remember singing alot in the car. I don’t really remember playing any of the games you mentioned, although I have heard about them so often from those who did that sometimes I think we did.

    1. We sang in the car as well — but that came later when my sisters were a bit older and we could hold forth in four-part harmony directed by my music teacher mother.

  5. I think I may have played a few word games in my family, and certainly taught my sons several as we did a lot of traveling on the road. One was naming different things and the next person had to use the last letter of the word the person before had named. Another was 20 questions, “Is it bigger than a breadbox?” and then trying to teach kids what a breadbox was!

    1. Very funny about the breadbox! Interesting to hear there were even more car games besides the ones my siblings and I played. I wonder if there was a handbook?

  6. What fun games you played on your car trips. Love the horse one!
    Since we were Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in our family we sang campfire songs on our trips. Not that we had great voices, but we had lots of fun. There was one song where you added in someone’s name and found a word to rhyme it. As we got older I learned to play the ukulele and we sang folk songs, like Four Strong Winds.
    As an adult driving my kids all down the east coast to Florida to visit their grandparents I always had a mixed tape we could all sing along with.

    1. Yes, we sang as well when my sisters got older. By then, the Sound of Music had come out — and we learned to harmonize all of the songs under my music-teacher Mom’s direction.

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