CHINO — On Tuesday, Aug. 5, they rumbled out of their Brattleboro, Vt., home in a pair of restored 1931 Model A Ford woody station wagons on the start of a dream drive across the United States.
Six days and 2,882 miles later, Albert Pemantel, 69, and his wife, Shirley, 61, arrived at their destination here looking spry enough to turn around and do it again.
"The only way to see the U.S.A. is in a Model A," said Albert, who spent 10 years restoring the cars he figures are worth about $15,000 each.
"I feel beautiful," said Shirley Pemantel, who drove the lead car on the journey. "He chased me all the way out here," she said.
The cars were gifts for their two daughters, Tess Dunhoff, 34, a Chino speech therapist, and Carol MacGregor, 40, a physical education teacher living in Huntington Beach.
At a welcoming party at the Dunhoff home Monday night, there was plenty to talk about. After all, the Pemantels had never before driven either car more than a few hundred miles.
In Oklahoma City, the couple encountered violent thunderstorms and had to snap on waterproof curtains that kept coming undone.
In Bluewater, N.M., a rat's nest was discovered floating in the gas tank of Shirley Pemantel's car.
On Sunday, Albert Pemantel sat on a bee in his car in Flagstaff, Ariz. "Oooh, boy! That hurt," he said, rubbing his backside.
Otherwise it was generally smooth sailing.
The couple averaged 17 miles a gallon and 400 miles a day chugging along the nation's highways at about 45 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h.
"At that speed, you can see things passing by and still watch the road," said Shirley Pemantel, a registered nurse at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. "But you don't want to go faster than that. The cars, they vibrate."
Albert Pemantel, a retired carpenter, figures that the seering heat of the Southern California desert would have caused the old cars to overheat had he not made some modifications.
"I replaced the normal two-bladed fans with four-bladed fans and moved the license plate from in front of the radiator to the bumper," he said.
"Just in case, I also brought a generator, a starter, a carburetor, a distributor, a fan belt, points, plugs and five gallons of water--you name it," he added. "Didn't even need to use a drop of water."
For the next two weeks, the Pemantels plan to relax with friends and relatives here.
On Tuesday, Aug. 26, they will fly home.
"If I had another Model A that ran as well as these two did," said Shirley Pemantel, "I'd drive back."