Pictured is the columnist’s 1984 Ford Thunderbird.
Pictured is the columnist’s 1984 Ford Thunderbird.
“She had a classic beauty that everyone could see. I was the last to meet her, but she gave her life to me. She may be rusted iron, but to me she’s solid gold, and I just can’t hold the tears back, ’cause Betsy’s growing old.”
– From “The Ballad of Ole Betsy” (1963) by The Beach Boys

Ladies and gentlemen, just leave it to The Beach Boys to write a love song about a car. And over the past few weeks, that love song’s been on my playlist more than usual.

In the ballad, “Ole Betsy” is a 1932 automobile, perhaps a Ford, who has “been more loyal than any friend could be.” My “Ole Betsy” is a 1984 Ford Thunderbird that I owned for more than a quarter of a century – but only drove for a couple of years.

The T-bird wasn’t my first car, or second, and I’ve owned some that I’ve driven a lot more and a lot longer, but as long as I live, there will never be another like her. When I was in high school, I drove an old, brown Mercury Zephyr. I have fond memories of that car, like the time I told two or three people I’d take them home after school, and my brother told two or three people I’d take them home after school, and my sister told two or three people I’d take them home after school. So when the final bell rang, I pulled out of campus with a dozen or more people jammed in the car.

We all thought it was hilarious to have so many of us packed into the Mercury, but I drove past my aunt and she wasn’t as amused and let my folks know about our shenanigans. Yes, I was rather fond of that old Zephyr that shook when it hit 60 mph and was often tricky to start up, but she wasn’t my “Ole Betsy.”

I met my “Ole Betsy” in 1992, and it was love at first sight. Dad bought her off of his boss for $1,200, if memory serves, and she had low miles, a 3.8 liter V6 engine and was a sharp burgundy inside and out. This was the first car I had ever driven where when I stepped on the gas, she would “get up and go.” And she came into my life at perhaps the perfect time.

During the spring of ’92, I took a lifeguarding class at Ohio State because I thought it would be cool to be a lifeguard. My instructor told me he didn’t think I was a “strong enough swimmer” to pass the test, but being stubborn, I swam lap after lap and mile after mile at the old pool at old Larkins Hall for hours on end. Lo and behold, I became a strong enough swimmer, passed the course, became a certified lifeguard and got a job making $4.25 an hour out at Woodland Lake Leisure Resort off of West Deadfall Road.

Until that time in my life, I was pretty shy, but those three summers in the sun at Woodland Lake helped me come out of my shell and gave me confidence I never had before, and I’d like to think my Thunderbird played a part in that transformation.

Those summers are ones I will never forget. Driving up and down S.R. 73 or S.R. 247, through Berryville and Folsom, windows down, music playing from the cassette deck, hopping the hill.

As she sat in the parking lot, I worked the water slide, walked around the pools, handed out putt-putt golf clubs and golf balls to the youngsters and would smile and tell them to have a good time. I ran horseshoe tournaments, made pancakes and sausage for Sunday breakfast for the campers and was the deejay for dances in the old pavilion.

All the while, she was my ride – until she wasn’t.

In the fall of ’93, I was headed back to Ohio State after a weekend home, and a mile or two north of Leesburg, several deer ran into U.S. Route 62. She missed the first deer, but not the second. She wasn’t as pretty after that, but I still loved her. Dad and I made a trip to the junkyard and found what we needed to patch her up. Now she had an orange hood with hail damage, a black and gray passenger side fender and her grill was half burgundy and half white, but she was good to go again – or so we thought.

We had patched her up, but what we missed was a slow leak in the radiator the deer must have caused, and I’ll never forget the day driving along 161 in Columbus and seeing white smoke billowing out the back of the T-bird. Not good. We needed a new engine, and Dad got one from the junkyard, but the T-bird’s 3.8 was fuel-injected and the one we bought apparently was not, so after hours and hours of work in the barn, we decided the “new”
engine just wouldn’t work.

I never drove her again. She sat and waited, and sat some more. I would get a bucket of water and a sponge and would clean her up when she got dirty and hoped that one day Dad and I would get back to fixing her up. One day, I took the bucket and sponge out to her for the last time.

She sat, and days became years and years became decades. I would walk past her and say hello. I knew I would never drive her again, but it was still nice to see her and remember the good times and those golden days in the sun. A few weeks ago, I took her license plates off, and the year 1994 was the expiration tag on the back. Dad and I tried to take the hubcaps off for me to save and hang in the garage, but they wouldn’t come off. He used the tractor to get her off the ground and out of the weeds and told me while we’re at it, we could haul her off to the junkyard.

I really didn’t want to but said yes. We got the hubcaps off, along with the steering wheel, and got her loaded onto a trailer. With her title in my hand, I watched as she was on the highway for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.

We had our share of “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and I recalled the good times as I watched as Dad took my T-bird away. She was rusted iron, but she was, indeed, solid gold. The tears came a few minutes after I signed the title away.

Goodbye, “Ole Betsy.” I miss you already.

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at roush_steve@msn.com.