Q: Greg in response to your recent column “Where have all the wagons gone,” I have a 1956 Ford Country Sedan wagon my parents bought new for $2,800. I acquired it in 1970 after the front crossmember rusted through and it had been sitting for a few years.
This rusting was an inherent problem due to drain holes back then, but thanks to a close neighbor who had a Ford Ranch Wagon with steering gear issues, I was able to fix the problem on my ’56 wagon.
I bought that wagon from my neighbor for only $5 (yes, $5) and salvaged the good crossmember. I then I chiseled out my Ford’s rusted crossmember, replaced it with the good one, and welded it all together. The other wagon went to the junkyard.
As for under the hood, the gas crisis of the early 1970s caused me to swap out the gas guzzling 312-inch V8 that burned a lot of oil and the Ford-O-Matic transmission. I then installed a Ford inline 223-inch six-cylinder with a three-speed overdrive manual. It was quite a project as I was in college at the time and I worked with basic tools and did all this in the driveway of our student rental house. Interesting is the old 312 was getting 12 MPG, while the 223 six w/overdrive gets 20-plus MPG on the road with radial tires. In addition to the new cross member, the front suspension has been totally reworked.
Other than the non-original engine and transmission and a re-upholstered front seat, my ’56 Ford Country Sedan is original and I even have the third row seat that was never used.
This family wagon made several trips from California to Iowa during the summers to visit relatives, along with camping trips to all points in California and the western states. It was the rig that my Mom always drove — including shopping, school, swim lessons, and taking us and friends fishing in Tiburon on SF Bay. The wagon’s headliner still has the telltale holes from fishing rods carelessly loaded for a day of fishing. A big fishing related incident occurred when our local Varney’s Hardware was out of frozen shrimp bait so we bought squid instead. Somehow, the mostly unused squid was forgotten when unloading after the trip and laid under the wagon’s back seat for a few days. It took a year for the smell to dissipate and the chemical reaction with the rubber flooring is still evident.
Summer trips were to Wesley, Iowa, where the Bohns (Dad) and the Bleichs (Mom) families lived. My brother Rich and I were born in Ames, Iowa. After Dad graduated from Iowa State in Mechanical Engineering, the family moved to Tiburon, California, and bought a new tract home for $12,500. With the family now at four boys in ‘56, Dad sold our family ‘52 Ford sedan to his brother and bought the new 1956 Ford Country Wagon.
Our wagon received a daily workout until that front crossmember failed in 1968 while Mom was driving me to work. We were going very slowly when it happened and dad came and rescued us. The ’56 wagon sat in our driveway until 1970 when I needed a car and figured out how to fix the frame.
The wagon was my daily driver after college taking me to work in Michigan, New Mexico, and finally Washington state until somewhat retired by 1980 when I had a truck and a sedan. The wagon’s survival can be attributed to being reliable and me not being able to afford anything else. Luckily, when I could finally afford another vehicle, I also had a place to keep the family ’56 Ford wagon.
I also have to mention a camping trailer my Dad made. The trailer pre-dates the wagon as he needed a trailer for the move from Iowa to California (towed with the ’52 Ford). The trailer is a simple 6W x 8L box style with heavy steel frame, split rim wheels, clear fir plank floor, sides, and tailgate. After the cross country trip, Dad fabricated removable cots from steel tube that fit over each wheel well. Cots are finished with grommeted canvas woven to the frames with rope and we used the trailer for many camping outings.
During demo of the family estate just a few years ago I was honored with acquiring the trailer (since I had the Ford ’56 wagon). Amazingly, and despite sitting outside for years, the wood is still in good condition and all the accompanying parts were secure the garage, including the cots. New tires, greasing the bearing, and reworking the lights was all it needed for the trip from California to Spokane (fully loaded with our share of the material to be moved). The ’56 wagon and trailer will be ready for a reunion camping trip soon.
Overall restoration on the ’56 wagon has been considered but will likely be left to someone down the road that won’t mind erasing the current condition and patina that makes the wagon special to me. Thanks for your interest.
— Jim Bohn, Spokane, Washington
A: Jim, letters like yours make my day, and the photos you sent show how well taken care of your family heirloom is. Best wishes to you, and send us some photos when you take that camping trip. Your well written family story is a moving tribute of how a station wagon (or car) can become part of the family and is a wonderful story to tell.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and other GateHouse Media publications.