Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


My photo
Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

One Morning in Maine

I met this 1930 Ford Model A Town Sedan outside the post office in Brooklin, Maine. It's a nearly-original car. Richard Hero, the owner, says his father bought it from the original owner in 1959.

The o.o. took delivery of the car in 1930 in Westborough, Mass. (BTW, Autoliterate found another 1930 Model A, a Cabriolet, in Nova Scotia a couple of weks back.) When the Heros got the sedan, it wore a layer of grey housepaint; the car was repainted its original colors in the mid-1970s.

The body has never been off the frame: all the welds are still there. It has been in Maine since 2006.
      If you've been following Autoliterate, you're aware we have a weakness for trucks, especially clean old Western machines. This International Harvester KB-5 was spotted at McVay's Garage in Blue Hill, Maine but it was wearing a South Dakota plate and, from the age and condition, we suspect it spent most of its life out there on the dry plains. Looks like a grain truck box, except there's no little door in the back to slide grain out of. It  probably was a farm truck, though; perhaps used for hauling livestock?

International Harvester's  K and KB trucks were introduced in the mid 1940s. In total there were 42 models, 142 different wheelbase lengths and load ratings ranging from 1/2 ton to 90,000 lbs. Acording to Wiki, the machines were known for durability, prewar design in a postwar era, and low price. The followup to the K, the KB, was introduced in 1947, with the characteristic difference being a widened lower grill appearing like "wings". The KB series went all the way up to KB-14.

And there's a graveyard of International Harvester KB's up in...where else? Saskatchewan. That prairie province seems to be the old truck center of the universe.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Brilliant Careerism, part 3.

Proposed book jacket design for US (Pantheon) edition of THE O'BRIENS, due out March 2012

My Brilliant Careerism, part 2.

PB profile in The Globe and Mail, Saturday July 30 2011:

Peter Behrens blends fact and fiction in family saga The OBriens ...
With his second novel, the Montreal-born writer brings his Irish-immigrant clan to life by uncovering his maternal grandfather's past.

Walkabout in Mar Vista

Our Southern California correspondants, Becky Smith and Craig Manning, live in Mar Vista, a wonderfully unknown neighborhood tucked in between Santa Monica airport and Venice Beach. Oh we miss Southern California and the layered assortment of aged vehicles parked on almost every block. Something about sun-faded near-originals, survivors that have lasted 30 years or more, warms the recycler's heart.
      We also appreciate well-restored cars & trucks though, to be honest, we find the most popular restorations--mid-50's Chevrolets--a bit...boring. Don't much go for the whole fuzzy-dice-on-the-mirror 1950s nostalgia thing: within Autoliterate's memory, Fifties Nostalgia commenced as an industry in about 1972, nearly forty years ago (remember Sha Na Na? and of course American Graffiti) and has lasted far too long.
        On the other hand you rarely see Plymouths as carefully tended as the 1968 Fury convertible Becky caught napping in Mar Vista last week:
     BTW, there seems to be a nice looking Fury convertible for sale at Car Gurus.

     Another find in Mar Vista: Craig Manning nabbed this SWB 1962 Ford F100 Custom Cab. We like everything about this truck. It's certainly been repainted: wonder if that turquoise was a factory color? If not, it should have been.

This 1959 Custom Cab was for sale in Vermont: looks like original paint, and may have been the original factory turquoise. The red wheels are great!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Model A and the Barracuda

Autoliterate has been traveling through eastern Canada on The O'Briens book tour,  keeping an eye out for machines, and meeting extraordinary people. At Grande Pre, Nova Scotia (Evangeline country) there was the original, unrestored Mercury M-3 pickup. A couple of days later, Autoliterate met Geanna and Larry Walker at a dinner party in Sandy Cove, N.S., on the Digby Neck.

Larry is a lobsterman and after he mentioned owning a couple of old cars we ducked out of the party, jumped into his minivan, and headed up the road to his barn. Where he swung open the door,

and backed out this 1930 Ford Model A convertible cabriolet.

            Nova Scotia is full of surprises.
            Lobster season on the Digby Neck runs from the last Monday in November to the last day of May, which is why you see a lot of Larry's gear in these photos. The lobster boats around here

 are much bigger than the Maine inshore boats---they work way offshore, and through the winter, when conditions out on the Bay of Fundy are much rougher than in summertime.
            We sped down to the wharf at Sandy Cove harbor. Larry opened another shed, and

backed out this 1966 Plymouth Barracuda.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Rambler, the Sommelier and You

A poem from Bruce Willard, referencing Rambler's legendary folding front seat.

The Rambler, the Sommelier and You

This is where we parked in the rain.
This is where we turned
off the Rambler’s vacuum wipers
and slotted open the windows
                         to hear the insects of summer.
This is where we folded down the seats
to hear the storm of adolescence.
Afterwards, the Rambler’s roof was a sky of stars -                                                                                                                          
enough for both of us
although I knew nothing of  yours,
or you of mine.
I did not know your favorite color or smell.
But I was a sommelier
                        just out of school with a new key
                        and a stash of Mateus, Catawba and Apple Wine
                        and you were taken by the list
of choices, tasting each
with non-committal patience
                         and I fumbled with the hardware of my youth.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Another shameless book plug

Peter Behrens and a great summer read

Behrens (c) Ryan Goodrich.jpgIf you were trying to describe Peter Behrens' latest novel, you would use words like "sweeping" and "epic". "The O'Briens" takes us from 1887 to 1960, and across North America and back. It continues the saga of the family that Peter Behrens brought to life in his first novel, "The Law of Dreams".
Peter Behrens lives in Maine with his wife and young son. But he was born in Montreal so we can claim him as our own.
Elizabeth spoke to him when he came through town. We didn't have time to play the full interview on the show so we've posted it here for your listening pleasure!

Trucks (and a Greavette) For Auction

This just in from our intrepid Northern California correspondent:

Left to right:
1936 Diamond T fire truck; 1947 Studebaker stakebed; 1936 Diamond T; 1947 Diamond T flathead; 1924 Reo tow truck.

Dennis Gibbs with a 1950 Diamond T dump truck, with 32,000 miles. Behind him: a 1955 Chevrolet tilt-bed tow truck, with 454-CID engine; behind that is a 1951 Diamond T with Cummins diesel engine.
OAKLAND, Calif. – They’re not for the faint of restoration heart, these trucks, but come Tuesday (July 12) they will all be up for auction – trucks from Diamond T, (here's another Diamond T---Autoliterate) Dodge, Studebaker, Federal and Reo, among others – and by the end of the day the decades-long collecting world of Dennis Gibbs will be  largely diminished. I went out to the San Francisco suburb of Castro Valley Sunday afternoon to have a look at a few of the trucks during an auction preview.On a slight uphill slope, shaded by a few trees, six trucks – ranging from a 1924 Reo tow truck to a 1947 Diamond T flathead – sat side-by-side, their noses pointed out, as if they wanted to crank up and start rolling down the half-mile-long winding driveway that leads up to this 110-acre property. About 100 yards away from the line of trucks was a 1936 Diamond T fire truck, not far from a Greavette  power boat that had seen better days, particularly when it was a contender in the annual wooden boat show (read Hacker, Chris Craft, Riva, etc.) held on Lake Tahoe each August.

Gibbs has been collecting things – mostly trucks and old house trailers – for some 35 years and they are spread out all over California. He lives in Castro Valley, where nearly 70 of the 131 auction lots were on haphazard display today – by haphazard, I mean they’re sitting where they were parked years ago – and they are a Project Guy’s dream. If you could get any one of them for a low bid, you would end up with something that’s pretty dry and with little, if any, rust. All you need is time and money. Other parts of the collection are in other California towns and the “Monk Boat and Floating House” are in Seattle.
Dennis Gibbs with a 1929 Dodge roadster that had been exported to Australia, then repatriated to the U.S. it has right-hand drive.
The auction came about because Gibbs has recently suffered severe financial problems caused by the credit crunch, he says, and the sale is part of a bankruptcy proceeding. The cars have to go. I asked Gibbs if he was going to be at the auction. He said he didn’t think so.

The auction starts at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Clars auction house here in Oakland, and the catalogue and more details can be seen here:

--Michael Taylor
Dennis Gibbs pointing out the lines of the Greavette power boat (needs substantial restoration).
(Greavette speedboats were made in, and for, the lake country of Southern Ontario. Here's a link to a Ontario boatbuilder--inner bay boats-- producing contemporary versions of the Greavettes)-Autoliterate

Friday, July 8, 2011

book tours & blogging

I'm on the road through eastern Canada, on a book tour, doing interviews and readings, and signing copies of my new novel THE O'Briens, whose official publication  date in Canada is tomorrow, July 9. ((Pub. date in the US (Pantheon) is March 2012)) Charles Foran has just published a review on the National Post website:

Book Review: The O'Briens, by Peter Behrens
National Post
His remarkable debut novel, The Law of Dreams, published in 2006 when the author was 52, told a harrowing tale of potato famine Ireland and coffin-ship ...

It  surprises some people I meet on the tour that  Autoliterate isn’t about books, or the literary life. Instead its subjects are “trucks, cars, highways”, and the aesthetics of these things.
          One of the reasons it’s not a book blog is there are so many good ones already out there. I started Autoliterate soon after reading Everyday Aesthetics by Yuriko Saito, who makes the point that everyday aesthetic experiences and concerns occupy a large part of our life. Because of their mundane nature, we tend not to pay much attention to these, let alone examine their significance. We usually only apply the aesthetic discourse to art.
        Why not explore the aesthetics of everyday things, especially things as dominant and powerful as trucks, cars, and highways? 
         That’s what autoliterate has been trying to do.
         A note on style.  When I write the blog I find myself using the royal “we”, which some people find tiresome. I never minded it, and still regret  the New Yorker dropping it. These days Talk of the Town pieces are signed, and runneth over with writerly reputation, ambition, and personality. I prefer the anonymous cloak of that we. 
          I’ve been crazy about old cars and trucks since I was a little boy. When I was five I could tell you the difference between a ’58 and a ’59 Chevy: I don’t know why. There’s an essay, Love Cars , where I try to explore this. My father had a cosmopolitan, urbane, European upbringing. He loved ships and sailboats, but couldn’t have cared less about cars. I grew up in Montreal, not an auto-centric city. In fact, Montreal probably has the highest proportion of non-drivers on the continent, except for Manhattan. Was I acting out rebellion, as a car guy...or was I just a boy-conformist, sniffing the (smoggy) air of the culture at large? I was certainly bored with the European modes of my family's Montreal existence--in our apartment, in our neighborhood. I wanted a taste of that great North American open road. I was happiest on family road trips.

  "PB, California, 1986"       JW Burleson photo ©2011
Highway mythology in North American life…I think the shape of the mythology has changed over the decades, and highways now often feel like the bars or walls of a prison. Massive highways rule our landscape now and the roads and the sometimes paranoid men who build them are way too influential. The interstate system has done all sorts of things to America, changed the way we live, in my lifetime. I think we ought to stop building them and I'll be happy when we start tearing them up and sowing the ground with trees, grases, crops--(as long as we don't sow more corn!)  
However my first major literary crush was Jack Kerouac. The title of my collection of stories was NIGHT DRIVING. Highways as avenues of escape have always had a hold on my imagination, likely going back to infant days, when my family would leave hot, humid, stinky Montreal in midsummer in our 1959 Catalina, and drive over the cool green mountains of New England, to the ocean beaches of southern Maine. 
                But my novels are not much interested in cars: THE LAW OF DREAMS happens in 1847, and many of the crucial scenes in THE O'BRIENS happen on trains. There is a bit of driving over New England mountains in The O'B's, but  Autoliterate is the garage where I usually keep my car/truck obsession.

I'm in Nova Scotia at the moment, with the brand-new, just-out novel, and a new camera,. I hope to shoot cars and trucks and roads. I'm in Tatamagouche, N.S. tonight, on the Northumberland Strait. Tomorrow I drive to Sandy Cove, N.S. which is on the Bay of Fundy shore. Details of the tour itinerary and appearances are up here.

BTW, if you want to hear me talk talk about my new novel, this Sunday, July 10, at 8:10 am EDT you can stream an interview I did for CBC Radio. They also post the audio on the program site ( and say it should appear by Sunday, or Monday at the latest.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Father, Cars, a Carolina BMW, and E.B. White

Autoliterate has a tiresome theory, first deployed in the essay Love Cars, explaining why many men are wildly attracted to the cars their fathers drove. The theory comes down to the sheer imprinting-on-boy-mind power of seeing dad's hands on the steering wheel; boy sensing that wheel was the center of power and control, & the most masculine object imaginable---boy yearning to get his own hands on the wheel and replace the old man. Later this is mixed with a powerful need to hold on to the old man, too. 
          Anyway, it's a theory.
         Meanwhile Autoliterate is pleased to post (below) some wonderful notes on the father/son/car theme by Bowman Gray. I first saw Bowman' 1972 BMW 3.0 CS (model series E9) in a grocery store parking lot in Maine, where it stood out on account of its handsome maroon paint, its fitness of form, and its North Carolina plates.
             First, some notes on the car from Bowman: "Originally equipped with a three litre dual carb six, producing about 180 hp. I stuffed a 3.5 from a 1989 635CSI with headers and a Schrick street cam to make about 250 hp. Also converted to a 5 speed from an automatic, changed the rear diff to a 3.64 vs the 3.46 and added the CSL front air dam (BMW only made 475 of the CSLs and somewhere around 11,000 of the CS and CSi coupes). The list will surely grow."

"When I was young, my father had a 1969 Bavaria in the same color scheme: Malaga with tan interior. Just before he died in 1985 he and I rode in a silver 3.0 that belonged to a friend. I fell in love. Imagine my surprise when a neighbor in Minnesota opened his garage one spring morning to expose a green tarp hugging very familiar lines under a stack of boxes. It had literally been there since 1985 when his dad bought the car from the original owner. Summer of 2005 we decided to move back to North Carolina. My most wonderful and intuitive wife looked at me and said "You know, if you don't buy that car, you will never forgive yourself." So, I bought it and she hasn't forgiven me since. Despite her graceful lines and pleasing purr, this car is rolling nostalgia. When I have my son with me, to borrow some of EB White's sentiment, I am not sure if I am my son  as a passenger or if I am my Father behind the wheel. It is truly amazing how these things become a part of who we are."  --Bowman Gray

It's interesting, and appropriate, that Bowman references the late E.B. White in his notes. Apart from authoring 2 children's classics, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little)  E.B White was one of the great American essayists and prose stylists (read his collection One Man's Meat), and a long-time resident of this Maine peninsula. 
      Which reminds us of an exciting event happening on our peninsula on July 28th:

      To support and celebrate the Peninsula Montessori School, 
                                                 5 authors 
                                                 Melissa Coleman
                                                 Jonathan Lethem
                                                 Ben Marcus
                                                 Bill Mayher
                                                 Martha White
                                                    will be 
                                           READING THE WHITES
on Thursday July 28, 7pm
at a private residence
700 Falls Bridge Rd (Rt 175), South Blue Hill, Maine
drinks & hors d'ouevres
suggested contribution $25/pp
for more info: