Returning from World War II, my father did what most returning veterans did: get a job and start a family, both of which he did with gusto, finishing his engineering degree at the University of Michigan and starting on with a small firm and marrying my mother.
Along the way he bought a new Buick and put a down payment on the family’s first home in Oxford, Michigan.
In 1949 my older brother was born, in 1950 my older sister was born and then along came myself in 1951.
Shortly before I was born, Dad’s living expenses were overpowering his income and he realized that the Buick was too expensive for a growing family. One day, he spotted a young fellow in town driving an old 1934 REO which he had purchased from an estate sale from a doctor who had recently passed away.
Dad had always liked the REO brand. They had a solid reputation and were bargains since the company had ceased producing cars at the end of 1936. He offered the Buick and remaining payments due on it for the REO and the deal was made.
The REO, having just one seat, was a bit tight with Dad, Mom, and the three of us kids. Although I don’t remember it, I was told that I usually was placed on my mother’s or my older brother’s lap during trips.
In 1953, the Michigan winter got the best of Dad and he slid the REO into a ditch, smashing the front bumper and fenders pretty badly.
Still fond of he, he didn’t junk it, just left it in the drive and bought a replacement car to drive.
Then, whenever we moved, the “Old Brown REO” was towed along, once to a farm where it was put in the barn where pigeons used it for target practice and us kids with the help of a rope dangling from the barn roof would run up the running board and fenders and swing into the hay pile.
Fast forward to 1974. I was 24, working at my first job (getting a steady paycheck which to me seemed huge) and the REO was languishing alongside the garage facing the back alley in our then home in the city of Ann Arbor. With the help of brothers and local neighbors, we pushed the old car into the back yard, filled the tank with fresh gas, put new spark plugs in it, bought a new 6-volt battery, cranked it over, and low and behold it started up engulfing the yard in a massive cloud of white smoke.
With Dad’s permission — he eventually just signed the title over to me — I embarked on getting the car restored. The biggest of the projects was the banging out of the fenders and repairing the front end. Other than the accident scars, the car was in relatively good shape having logged just 32,000 miles on the odometer. The 268-cubic-inch straight six chrome-nickel block and “shelf-shifter” 2-speed transmission worked as fine as during its heyday.
Again, another fast forward. My British wife (long story) and I are living in England and our REO is tagging along now on the tail end of a second frame-off restoration looking as good as new. It truly is a beautiful car and I’m honored to have had the privilege of keeping it alive and well.
— Al Parkes, Ann Arbor MI