Jo Ann Jaacks: Gearheads run in the family

The family’s 1936 yellow Ford Cabriolet Roadster was reportedly painted baby blue when Jo Ann Jaacks’ brother was born.

I come from a gearhead family. The definition given by the Urban Slang dictionary is “mechanically inclined enthusiasts who as a hobby or pastime like to work on cars, performance equipment such as hot rods or race equipment.” This is my heritage.

In my hometown, my father owned the local filling station which in those days actually repaired cars as well. He also sporadically tinkered with an ancient tractor to keep it running, and haying, and even more sporadically worked on restoring his first car: a 1936 Ford Cabriolet roadster replete with running boards and a rumble seat. I have fond memories of joining my siblings in clambering all over that snappy yellow car while it was parked for years in our garage. Every so often, my father would push it out to the driveway, fuss under the hood for a few hours, and victoriously crank it up. My mother told us that when their first child was born — a boy — my father painted his beloved roadster baby blue to bring his wife and son home from the hospital. That’s a lovely family story, except a year later when I was born, the roadster was not transformed with a wash of pink. I don’t hold that against my brother John, or my father, but still.

I learned early about the importance of saving, and opened my first bank account when I won $500 for giving the correct answer to a puzzle in the Hartford Courant. I bought my first car when I graduated high school: a British Racing Blue Mustang Fastback. I didn’t know how to repair it; evidently I’d inherited the love-of-cars gene but not the mechanical skills to go with it.

I babied my Mustang with biweekly washings and had my father change the oil with unfailing regularity. I wasn’t in the same league as my younger sister who began collecting, and restoring, vintage classic cars such as a 1957 Thunderbird, 1966 GTO (the fastest car around in its day) and many more. I don’t know if that’s a hobby or a pastime, more of a family obsession. Eventually, she completely restored my father’s beloved yellow roadster and “gave” it to him as a Father’s Day present. Her daughter also took up the baton with her first vehicle purchase: a 1985 F250 monster truck named Big Blue that she’s had for 26 years.

It was a well-known secret that one of my brothers used to compete, and just as regularly win, drag-racing on a remote country road where the contenders had paint lines at a quarter-mile. And several years later, my younger brother raced professionally with his modified VW Rabbit at the Stafford Motor Speedway.

My sister built her home on the side of a mountain — the perfect setting to scramble up the old logging roads in a sturdy Quad. I shared a Facebook video of a small vehicle climbing a tall dirt mountain in a terrifying, circuitous ascend. Jokingly, I sent her the message: “Can your Quad do that? “ Her reply: “Not while I’m on it!”

My brother then posted the comment: “I could do it.” What else could I say but “OK, borrow her Quad and I’ll shoot the video.” Now I’m searching for a steep dirt mountain.

Connecticut Media Group