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How Lucy got her name

It was 1957. I'd owned my second car, a 1949 Pontiac sedan, only a few months when I drove a fellow forester from Dunlap, Tennessee, to Birmingham, Alabama, for his new job.

It rained all the way — the most rain I'd seen in my two years of driving, and there were times the wipers couldn't clear the windshield sufficiently to see properly. It was my first experience of driving by instinct, guessing where the road was.

Entering Birmingham city limits, the traffic slowed to a stop when I realized we were about to cross over a stream at a place where the culvert under the road was unable to carry all the water coming down the hillside. Most cars had diverted into a parking lot to turn around and not chance fording the stream, which had become about 100 feet wide as it rushed across the city street.

I asked Ken's advice, but he remanded the decision to me as to whether to try making it across the swiftly moving stream. I eased into the water, a novice at this sort of thing, but foolishly secure in the sturdy car's ability to make it through. We got as far as the deepest part of what, by now, seemed more like a river than a creek, when the river won the battle. My Pontiac died.

Ken and I sat there, looking blankly at each other, watching the water rising, seeping slowly onto the floorboard. I rolled my driver's side window up, the rushing stream already lapping at the top of the door below it. Suddenly, as a large truck drove slowly by in the opposite direction, we felt the car lift from the truck’s wake, float a foot or two toward the right edge of the road and a steep drop, then settle back onto the road again. How deep was the drop-off? We didn't wait to find out.

Briefly analyzing our situation, we agreed that there was nothing to do but get our clothes out of the suitcases on the rear seat, change into our bathing suits and push the car out of danger. This we did in record time, leaving our sneakers on to protect our feet. We crawled out the window on the lee side of the car and, waist-deep, went to the rear, started pushing the car and reached the "far shore" quickly.

Returning to the wheel, I tried cranking the engine to no avail. We lifted the hood, found some dry rags, and dried out the distributor cap as much as we were able. Leaving the car where we had pushed it, we returned to the "river" to help push another car out the same way. What the heck, we thought, since we were already wet, we might as well do some good while we're at it.

After our Good Samaritan deed, we decided to try the Pontiac's system again. Incredibly, it started! I think it maybe sputtered a bit, but within minutes we were once again purring along Birmingham’s streets on our way to the YMCA, Ken’s new home. The rain had stopped, and as we approached the Y, Ken suggested that I call the car "The Lusitania."

I laughed, changed it to the diminutive "Lucy," and she remained Lucy until the day I sold her.

— Don Dolan lives in Ashland.