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Interstate Travel Memories of the 1980s

Paul has driven across the United States on interstate highways. Some of his best memories are from the 1980s.

Interstate Travel Memories of the 1980s

The Pennsylvania Turnpike

The Pennsylvania Turnpike

In July 1979, I had just returned to Wisconsin after having lived in Taiwan from 1973 to 1979. After purchasing a 1971 Dodge Polara, I drove it extensively on interstate highways while starting life again in the United States.

My first long trip was to Toledo, Ohio, where I lived from August 1979 until December 1980. After getting a job in Maryland, I drove east to the Baltimore area.

While living in Maryland, I traveled between Baltimore and Ohio a lot during the early 1980s because I still had a house in Toledo.

I also often traveled back to Wisconsin throughout the 80s to visit my parents who lived on a farm near Burlington.

Considering all of the problems I had with the Dodge Polara, it is amazing the number of trips I was able to make with this vehicle. After it became undrivable in July 1981, dad gave me a 1969 Oldsmobile which I used until buying a Dodge Omni 024 in October 1982.

In this article, I recall unusual experiences and mishaps encountered in my interstate travel on the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes during the 1980s.

Buying and Driving a 1971 Dodge Polara

1971 Dodge Polara

1971 Dodge Polara

Shortly after returning to the United States in July 1979, dad helped me find a used car for sale. It was a 1971 light green Dodge Polara that didn't have any rust on its bottom. We never checked out the engine and I paid $500 for a car with 80,000 miles on it.

Now I had a vehicle. I needed one because my wife and I had plans to visit my old college roommate in Adrian, Michigan.

After driving to Adrian, we were forced to settle in nearby Toledo, Ohio, from August 1979 until December 1980. Then, I got a job in the Baltimore, Maryland area. My Polara held up in a drivable condition until July 1981.

Map of Pennsylvania and Maryland

Map of Pennsylvania and Maryland

Map of Ohio


Driving Between Toledo and Severn, Maryland

My first road trip from Toledo, Ohio, to Severn, Maryland, was the second-longest in my life. It was about 480 miles in length and took me around eight hours by car. Driving interstate highways almost all of the way, I passed through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

Leaving Toledo, I-80E, also known as the Ohio Turnpike, took me past Sandusky, Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown to the Pennsylvania state border where I merged on to I-76E in the direction of Pittsburg. The total distance traveled was 166 miles.

After entering I-76E I was on the Pennsylvania turnpike. I followed I-76E over mountain roads for 184 miles until I got off at exit 161 towards I-70 at Breezewood, Pennsylvania.

The final leg of my journey on I-70 carried me past Hancock, Pennsylvania, Hagerstown, and Frederick Maryland until reaching US 29 and state highway 175 which brought me to Severn. The total distance traveled was about 130 miles.

Major Problems While Driving My Dodge Polara — 1979–1981

My Dodge Polara afforded two years of transportation from July 1979 until July 1981. It was not a perfect two years because I had problems with the car during the time I drove it.

My first major problem occurred in December 1979. The timing belt broke making it impossible to start the Polara's engine. After I got that repaired, I was able to make a roundtrip journey between Toledo and Wisconsin as well as three roundtrips between Maryland and Toledo before running into other major repairs.

A week before making a trip back to Wisconsin in July 1981, my engine badly needed a major overhaul. Unfortunately, the Polara only lasted until I got to Toledo on my way back to Wisconsin.

What follows are my mishaps with the Polara on the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes from November 1980 until July 1981.

Mishaps on the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes — 1980–1981

From November 1980 until July 1981, I made three and one-half roundtrips between Toledo and Severn, Maryland. During each roundtrip on the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes, I encountered car problems and mishaps. Five of the most memorable are detailed as follows.

1. Defroster and Heater Problems on Pennsylvania Turnpike

Over Thanksgiving weekend in November 1980, I made my first trip out to Maryland. I had just accepted a job with the federal government in the Baltimore area beginning on December 8. The purpose of this trip was house-hunting.

My wife and I departed Toledo at about 2:30 after Thanksgiving dinner. Our trip was smooth and fine until we hit the Pennsylvania Turnpike and were just past the Pittsburg exits. It must have been around 7:00 in the evening when the heater and defroster stopped working. Besides feeling cold in the car, ice was building up on the windshield making it impossible for me to see while driving. After finding the nearest exit with motels, I got off the Turnpike and we spent the night in a motel. Repairs to the heater and defroster had to wait until the next morning.

2. Running out of Gas on the Ohio Turnpike

During the first week of January 1981, I had to make a trip back to Toledo to settle on a house we had purchased in November 1980. While driving at night between Cleveland and Sandusky on the Ohio Turnpike, I ran out of gas about five miles from a rest stop with service stations. Fortunately, a passing motorist saw my car and stopped. He gave me a ride to the nearest service station where I was able to purchase a gallon of gas. This same good Samaritan then gave me a ride back to my car. Thankfully, I was able to get the gas in a hurry because my wife and two boys were shivering in the car when I returned.

3. A Flat Tire on the Pennsylvania Turnpike

During the second week of January, I had to make yet another trip back to Toledo. The purpose of this trip was to evict the tenant renting my house. I had no problems on the way out to Toledo. On the way back to Maryland, however, I had a flat tire on the Pennsylvania Turnpike just past the Bedford exit. It was cold and snowing as I changed a rear left tire on the side of a mountain road.

4. The Muffler Falls off my Car

In July 1981, I made my last long trip with the Dodge Polara. The plan was to drive out to see my parents who lived in southeastern Wisconsin. As I was driving on the Ohio Turnpike near the Akron area, I heard a loud noise from the rear exhaust system. After stopping, I noticed that the muffler had fallen off. Now I had to hope that the police would not stop me until I got a new muffler on the Polara.

5. The Steering Mechanism of the Polara is Broken

As I approached Toledo, I noticed that the Polara was getting harder and harder to steer. After I found a repair shop in Toledo, a mechanic gave me some bad news. The steering mechanism was broken and beyond repair. He advised me not to drive the car and to park it. After I parked the Polara in the garage of my Toledo house, my brother came from Wisconsin and gave my family and me a ride to my parent's farm.

Driving Through Pennsylvania Turnpike Tunnels

Ohio Turnpike Westbound Exit 91 to Exit 81

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Paul Richard Kuehn

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