Running On The Memories

Cleve Curtis talks with Steve Hartman on "Assignment America."
At the 56th Annual fall meet of the Horseless Carriage Club, an antique car show in western Connecticut, most of the cars were meticulously restored - real stand-outs.

Which is why one special car really stood out.

"The paints all worn out, the cotton is coming out of the seats, there's a hole in the running board," Cleve Curtis says. "It's the worst looking car at every car show."

A boy paused to check out the car. "Yuck," he says.

And yet the judges are always impressed with Curtis' old Ford Model A, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports.

"I won 15 trophies so far with it," Curtis says.

How come he wins?

"Because of the story," he says.

The story is about why Cleve Curtis held onto the same car - his first car - for more than 70 years now.

"Which is, every word of it's true," he says.

He bought it in 1937, used, paid all of $10 - it was a lot for a 15-year-old kid in the depression. Curtis says he got the money selling junk he found in trash piles. And for fuel, he stole his dad's moonshine.

"I put that booze in the gas tank and son of a gun it run good!" Curtis says.

It's a shame you don't still have the still.

"I still got it!" he says. "It smelled nice when it was burning. The exhaust - you'd like to stand there and keep whiffing it."

And that's not the best part of his story.

His wife, he talks about her very nicely.

"Oh she was an absolute jewel," Curtis says.

What was it about her that made her so special?

"She didn't drink, smoke or swear," he deadpans.

A true angel. Curtis shows Hartman a picture of his wife.

"Well worn out. I've been carrying that since '39," he says.

Her name was Dorothy.

"There she is, the day we got married," with the car right behind her, Curtis says. And "there she is with my two daughters."

They were married 55 years, and Curtis says they went to a lot of places in that car. Most notably - first base.

"She was sitting right here and I was parked across the street from her house," he says.

It was his first kiss.

"What a feeling that was, I tell ya." he says. "Jesus - all the bells rang."

Curtis says he knew right then he'd marry that girl and offered up a symbol of his commitment.

"I had a little jack knife and I carved my initials and I said, 'You carve your initials,'" he said. "And I'm glad them initials are still in the steering wheel. Even though she's gone - there's that memory."

She died in 1998 after 56 years of wedded bliss.

"A lot of good memories - very good memories," as Curtis puts it.

And that's the story Curtis has been telling at antique car shows across Connecticut. Now he's up to 16 trophies.

Of course the hardware isn't why he comes to the car shows. For Curtis, it's just another chance to go for a weekend drive with his loved one - and his car.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.