Verna and the Coronet

When Verna married my first husband, Larry, to become my children’s step-mother, she became a person of major significance in our family. She was an avid Republican, a born-again Christian, and she had a strong belief in family values.

Verna had been brought up by her “Aunt Goldie,” and the time came, in 1964, that Aunt Goldie became bedridden in a nursing home in Hemet, a two hour drive from West Los Angeles where Larry and Verna lived.

Verna had never learned to drive, but she was determined to visit her Aunt Goldie every week, so she took lessons and got her driver’s license. She was looking for a cheapie clunker to buy when her favorite radio station, KNX, announced a Freeway Derby and the winner would get a new 1965 Dodge Coronet Convertible, Dodge’s muscle car of the year.

Larry and Verna Baldwin
Larry and Verna Baldwin

The details of the Freeway Derby were based on two facts: one, a six mile section of the Highway Five Freeway, still under construction, rose high into the air, and then came to an abrupt end, awaiting the completion of the southbound section to meet it, and two, it was an election year.

The Derby consisted of an elephant and a donkey racing up the unfinished freeway segment for the six miles. The radio contestants were to send in postcards declaring which animal would be the winner, and the person nearest to guessing the elapsed time of the race would win the 1965 Dodge Coronet Convertible.

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Verna knew that God had presented her with this as an opportunity to get a good automobile so that she could safely and comfortably visit her Aunt Goldie every week. She did a good deal of research. First, because she was a staunch Republican she considered only that the elephant would win. She talked to zoo­keepers, listened to KNX to see what hints they provided, and sent in a dozen post cards with guesses on the amounts of time.

The last day of the contest she was sending in two more postcards—figuring that if the elephant walked three miles per hour, and the distance was six miles, the elephant would make it in two hours. She was about to mail in that postcard saying two hours when Larry suggested, “Don’t make it exactly two hours—make it one hour and fifty-eight minutes and some seconds. She took his advice.

The day of the announcement of the winner she stayed home expecting a phone call any minute. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon KNX called her. The elephant had won in one hour, fifty-eight minutes, and thirty-six seconds. She told them she had been waiting all day for their call.

After that, she did, indeed, drive to Hemet in her new Coronet to visit her Aunt Goldie every week for two years, until Aunt Goldie died. After that, Verna felt that since this car was a gift from God, she owed its use to good deeds, and for several years used it to deliver Meals for Shut-Ins every week.

Then came the day her husband, Larry, came home and told her he had gotten a traffic ticket for driving too slowly on the Freeway. She never did tell him that on that same day she had gotten a traffic ticket for speeding on that same freeway in her Coronet.

Verna and the Dodge Coronet
Verna and the Dodge Coronet

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They kept that automobile in top condition for twenty-four years. The first work that was needed was at 230,000 miles when it needed a valve job. At 287,000 miles the first work on the engine was due.

She drove it with joy for twenty-four years. In one more year it would be considered a Classic. But one evening she was coming home, taking the nearest off-ramp, when a drunk driver tried to get onto the freeway by that same off-ramp. The Dodge was totaled.

As reprisal she joined MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and worked with them as a volunteer for the rest of her life.

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