Posted by: coastlinesproject | November 6, 2011

Beach Buggies, Dana Eldridge.

Thanks to CWR for spotting this.

Courtesy photo
From left, Jim Eldredge, Dana Eldridge and Westy Keene off-roading on Monomoy in a Model A Ford many years ago.

By Dana Eldridge
Wicked Local Cape Cod
Posted Nov 06, 2011 @ 07:04 AM

As I was driving on the beach the other day in our air-conditioned, heated vehicle, listening to the radio, totally insulated from the elements, I was thinking just how different beach driving used to be 60 years ago. Gadzooks, 60 years, that sounds like eons ago and I guess it was and is.

As soon as I received my driver’s license and could get to Stage Harbor some four miles distant, I had a rowboat on the shore and a beach car over on the island. And for me, beach car meant one type and one type only, a Ford Model A, that hard to kill, most basic car. These cars were at least 15 years old when we were able to afford them. What a great car to have for a starter beach car. Like nearly all cars of its day, it had one driving wheel (either of the back wheels) and about the simplest engine one could imagine. The gas tank was basically in the driver’s lap, making for a gravity flow gas feed; no balky fuel pumps to worry about. The rest of the assemblage was of the same most basic order. With only four spark plugs connected to the distributor by a strip of copper (no wires), troubleshooting was easy and direct.

And this was no small factor. Any breakdowns that you couldn’t fix on the spot meant you were faced with a long walk off the beach and another long walk back down the beach to the inert car that, by then, seemed to be taunting you with its inertness. So we fumbling, inept, junior league, fledgling drivers became fledgling mechanics as well.

In my experience at least, this Model A was a car one could love, not like today’s cars that seem to have a mind of their own. As we came to understand the ‘A’’s innards, we came to love its simplicity. Nothing was in the least bit complicated. It didn’t take us long to figure out how to repair it, to nurse it back to health. Faced with a five-mile walk in beach sand sharpens one’s mind wonderfully in regards to mechanics. The only times I remember this redoubtable car not coming through to carry us home was when Pete’s Model A self destructed down near the lighthouse – a piece of the tired motor came right through the side of the engine as if to see what was out there anyway. No easy fix there. That car is still there, entombed. On one other occasion I overworked my car to the extent it overheated and melted the condenser, a vital part of the primitive electrical system. No easy fix there either. But that was about it for all the years we drove those stalwart cars on the largely untrammeled sands of Monomoy. These cars were reliable with a capial R.

Often, we drove these cars (price about $25) through salt water with no thought to the corrosive effects of same. We were kids and low beach driving gave us a thrill. What matter the occasional wave washing up in our path. Drive on, drive on. And drive on we did.

The picture shows the stalwart Monomoy beachers, Jim Eldredge (front) and Westy Keene (rear) and myself in a more or less normal situation. This car after a year or so on the beach has lost a fender or two but is not that much different than when it came across Stage Harbor on an oyster scow. We did add a wooden roof so any passengers could ride above the greenhead flies that swarmed the island and our slow car.

As we didn’t always have another hand around to prop up the motor when we wanted to go somewhere; we learned to prop up the rear axle, dig out under the wheel and try to spin the wheel. It didn’t work very often, but often enough for us to keep trying. And of course if there was a handy and steep dune around, we could coast the tired car down and pop the clutch to make it start.

But the starting was never a problem; sometimes a struggle but the old car always started. We learned to equip the beach cars with 8.20×15 tires scrounged from local undertakers. Once those balloon tires were in place there was no stopping the Model A. We probably could have climbed trees with these cars, but alas, on Monomoy there were few trees. We tried just about everything else though. What fun we had, how lucky we were. And we had no clue just how lucky we were.

Dana Eldridge, a former teacher, is an interpreter for Cape Cod National Seashore and the author of three books, “Once Upon Cape Cod,” “Cape Cod Lucky” and “A Cape Cod Kinship: Two Centuries, Two Wars, Two Men.”


  1. lakers news alec baldwin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: