Studebaker Stories:

Gorges George: A Tale of a ’50 Champion

By Ron Dame, Asheville, NC

I remember the day I rolled off of the Studebaker assembly line in South Bend in late 1949. Sadly, like the rest of me, most of my memories are long gone.

I was Comanche Red! I do remember that! I can still look where my license tag was…and other places as well. Yes. Comanche Red. I remember being loaded onto the first and last train ride, along with my friends, Lenny the Land Cruiser, Vern, the ‘Vertible….and, what was her name? You know, the cute little Starlight Coupe? Oh, I wish I could remember.

I remember the ride… across the gentle rolling land south, bearing east somewhere around Knoxville. I can’t remember where I got off the train…was it Greenville? Pickens? Seneca? No matter, now. I met my new owners at the dealer, along with their kids, a boy and a girl. Their names are as long lost to me as my pretty chrome nose. BUT! I was that little family’s pride and joy! Their first new car ever, and in a place where a new car was something else! Even me! A simple little Champion 2-door sedan, no frills, not even a radio, I am sure. Of course, even as far in the sunny south as I was, the Climatizer kept me new owners toasty on those winter mornings. I wonder what happened to them all? Sadly, I have huge holes in my memory, bigger even that those in my poor left rear fender...What about me looks like a target or a deer to you?

I forget what happened to my new family, but as the years went by, I ended up with another family, up the escarpment into the high mountains and deep ravines of western NC. Poor as they were, they were able to trade a little bit of corn, both in the husk and in the jug, for me. No need for overdrive in this area, as my little 6 cylinder engine could barely pull me along the steep paths that passed for roads, deep in Transylvania County. Although they tried, the pressing needs of living kept my know owners from keeping me in my former glory. Slipping and sliding along the mud roads, my Planar suspension just was not up to the task of staying on course, and I collected my fair share of bumps and bruises; but I kept rolling on.

Later in the 50’s, some fellers (yeah, the accent rubbed in) came calling on these fine folks. Although they were happy in these closed in hills, the flash of real money was too much. A chance to move out of the hollers and into the big flashy new world. Big towns, too! Rosman…Brevard… Cashiers. Maybe even (do I dare say?) Hendersonville or even Asheville where even ordinary mountain folk could earn a living in one of those fancy manufacturing plants, instead of in the fields and woods. Who were these fancy guys flashing their money and wanting the land? Well, they wanted to bring prosperity to the region! By making electricity! They wanted to build some big dams and stop up all the water flowing from the springs and branches around here. They’d build a big lake! And they could use this stopped up water somehow to make electric lights glow in almost every house in the area! They’d call the lake Jocassee, after a Cherokee princess, rumored to have lived in the area long ago.

Well, my people really did not care about all of that. They were tired. Tired of eaking out an existence on this rough steep terrain. Tired of just making do. And tired of these big suits and their big ways and their fat wallets just itching to get this tired old logged out, worn out pile of rocks they called home.

I remember when the deal was struck. $10 an acre, and $15 for what little bottomland there was! Who could pass up the chance of taking these fools? Oh what a celebration there was that night! Fiddle music and dancing, a bit of ‘shine, and you name it! Don’t tell, but even the preacher showed up for a bit of the fun! It was a real throw down!

The next morning, the house was all packed up. There wasn’t much there, certainly my big sedan body could accommodate all they really needed. But they did not know what the new city life would be like. Did they need the wood cook stove? The plow? The tobacco baskets? It surely wouldn’t all fit in me! What they needed was a truck.

I try to forget when the first blow of the ax was made. Just behind my windshield. And the chopping continued, until the useless bulk of my body was unmercifully rolled off onto my roof. Needless to say, disconnected, my memory goes fuzzy. What happened to the rest of me? I don’t know. I rested here, on Duke Power land, without further molestation except for the occasional hunter who used me to sight his 30-ought-6. A few years ago, these big suits who took the land at a pittance from my owners decided they did not need this land after all, and a new deal was struck with North Carolina to sell the land for a State Park. Gorges State Park. This made no difference to me, as I was dismembered and laying on my roof, slowly waiting for the earth to reclaim me. I had no more life left. I was refuse. Junk.

Some hunter happened upon me and, and curious as to what kind of car I had been, rolled me back upright. There was not much left of me, and again, I was just left there, alone again. I must say it was peaceful, and I forgot my past. I just sat here watching the deer, the bears, the birds, and such, waiting to dissolve into the earth.

Today was different though. The sun came up as always, and the spring warmth and wet ground started the tin worms on their slow job of finishing me off. I did not care; in fact I relished the thought of the end.

But something was different today. People. From a distance I heard someone say ‘Studebaker!’ Old memories started flowing back. “Champion!” I heard one say. “ No! No way! How can you tell? There’s almost nothing left!” “Look at the curve of the fenders! The remains of the taillights! Look! Even the rear window regulator handles are there, and they are definitely Stude! Take a picture of me, sitting here where the front seat was.”

And so, once again, for only a moment, I was out on the road again, the pride and joy of my driver!

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