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A trip down Memory Lane

It was a question posted on Facebook that sent The Legal Genealogist down Memory Lane.

A question to the effect of: what was the first car you ever owned?

For me, in the summer of 1969, it was a tank.

Well, maybe not exactly, but…

1955 New Yorker

I had secured a summer internship with a newspaper in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, starting as soon as my college semester was over. Since I was at school, my father said he’d find me a car for the summer and I could pay for it out of my summer earnings.

I will never ever forget the day he called to say he’d bought me a car,

Now… think about this. It’s the summer of 1969. I’m thinking maybe a ’65 Mustang, right?

“What did you buy?” I asked.

“A Chrysler,” he replied.

My brain stuttered to a halt. That’s like a grown-up car. I don’t want a grown-up car. I want, well, a ’65 Mustang.

“A Chrysler? What kind of a Chrysler?”

“A Chrysler New Yorker,” he said.

And a terrible suspicion started seeping into my soul.

“What year is this Chrysler New Yorker?” I asked.

And, of course, he couldn’t simply answer the question.

“How old is your brother?” he asked in reply.

Now I have five brothers. I figured it wouldn’t be the one born in 1944, so I started from the other direction, with the youngest.

“Bill? 1964?”


“Warren? 1963?”


“Fred? 1960?”


That left Paul, born in 1955. And my immediate response was: “If it has tailfins, take it back. I won’t drive it.”

I didn’t actually see the car until the semester was over and I came home by train. The train station was a 90-second walk from our home in central New Jersey, and I remember being in awe as I walked up the street.

Because there, in front of our Dutch Colonial home, looking very much like the one you see in the image above, was a tank.

It was more than 18.2 feet long. More than 6.5 feet wide. As you can see, it was even a shade of green you might think a tank should be painted.

No tailfins, so I did drive it.

And, of course, I named him Sherman.

Sherman and I had some adventures for sure. The first one proved beyond a doubt that there are guardian angels for young fools. You see, Sherman was powered by a 354-cubic-inch Hemi V-8 engine. It was probably the most powerful car I ever owned. One day very soon after I got home that summer, I piled all five of my younger siblings in the car and took it out on the interstate to see how fast it would go. I lost my nerve and took my foot off the gas when the speedometer hit something around 110 miles an hour.

Today I shudder at the thought. If I had lost control for a nanosecond…

Yep. Guardian angels for sure.

Sherman and I learned the newspaper trade on the night shift — 7 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. — that summer. We went to council meetings and school board meetings and covered the street riots that hit our cities that summer.

Sherman and I discovered the joy of sitting at a stoplight late at night, often on the way home from that night shift, and having some punk pull up next to us and smirk, revving the engine in his hot car. (Always his, by the way. Other women never did this.) And when the light changed, that Hemi V-8 cranked in and we’d leave the punk in the dust.

Sherman and I covered a ton of miles together. Those summer nights were spent on the road for the newspaper, but there was enough free time in the daylight to take my younger siblings to the beach just about every sunny day. I’m not sure about the statute of limitations on government property damage so I won’t say just where it was that Sherman and I knocked a parking meeting clear out of the ground one day, concrete and all. I will say that I could never find the point of impact on Sherman’s tank-like bumper.

Yes, Sherman and I had a lot of adventures in many months of service before a part in the axle assembly went bad and couldn’t be replaced short of a machine shop. Parts for the axle on the 1955 Chrysler New Yorker not only weren’t interchangeable with other Chrysler products, they weren’t interchangeable first half of the model year to the second. (At least that’s what every junkyard within 500 miles told me.) Sherman found himself parted out; somebody paid more for the engine than I’d paid for the car, and rebuilt it into a boat engine.

Genealogy is, in large part, a matter of telling the stories of our families.

The cars we’ve owned are often a large part of those stories.

And no chapter in my cars-I’ve-owned book is as long or as rich as the story of Sherman.

A 1955 Chrysler New Yorker.

And my first car.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Remembering Sherman,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 15 May 2021).

Image: (alas, I don’t have an image of Sherman himself)

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