Growing up, our family vehicle was a Ford station wagon. This was before the introduction of the even cooler family van. My dad had two or three different models of wagons during the 1960s and 1970s but he routinely selected the color green and often the favored vehicle style had that fake wood paneling glued to the side panels. We rarely bought a new wagon but instead he invested in the gently worn models plucked carefully from the used car lot at the local dealer.
The wagon was used to transport the family around my hometown, to sports events at surrounding small towns and frequent week-end trips to Wichita for culture and entertainment. We would all six pile in the car early Saturday morning and drive the two hours to Wichita—usually with a packed schedule of activities planned for the day. Mom and Dad took ballroom dancing lessons, Hauck kids went to movies or hung out at the newly built indoor mall, and then we dined at an Italian or Chinese restaurant and then drove back to small town life in south, central Kansas. The drive home was often late at night and I would fall to sleep in the back of the wagon in the storage area. That was way before seat belt regulations passed.
One car trip back home from Wichita we stopped 20 miles short of our intended destination when our family wagon was blocked by a police road barricade and my dad arrested in handcuffs for participating in a high-speed chase with the local highway patrol. I remember waking up that night to a bright flashlight in my face and two police officers with guns drawn shouting loud demands that I did not understand. My dad got out of the car even when the police officer told him to stay in the car. He was lucky they did not shoot him on the spot because they were trigger happy that night. After much conversation and arguing, my dad was released from the cuffs and he got back into the car. The barricade was removed and we proceeded on our route with the police cars following closely behind us. I remember town folk passing us on the road with their faces smashed up to the windows and slowing down to rubber neck. Dad’s conversation back in the car ride centered around the importance of him continuing to drive (not Mom) and how he had been ordered to go directly to the police station in our home town for continued questioning. He was madder than hell. The whole time none of kids knew what had happened and why we were in trouble with the law but we didn’t ask one question and knew to stay mum.
The story that unfolded at the lawyer’s office many days later was that the police said they had been tracking our family station wagon for 30 miles or more and we had exceeded speeds of 100 mph for great distances on the two lane black top that connected Wichita to Medicine Lodge, Kansas. The officers had tried to slip down several country roads to cut us off but they were unable to catch us in our lightening-speed green Ford station wagon. This was the very same wagon that at any acceleration exceeding 70 mph, the chassis trembled so badly that it routinely made my brother, Ed, car sick, and the old beast had tires that blew out monthly because my Dad was a big believer in the value of retreads.
The police pressed charges against my dad and us kids were interviewed and counseled in preparation for a trial that was set at the courthouse of the neighboring county. My dad and the attorney had prepared all sorts of evidence of how the charges could not be possible based on the distance traveled between mileage signs, memories of other cars passing us that night, probable mistaken identification and carefully crafted documentation of events as they unfolded. The attorney was planning to call on us kids to testify.
The day the case came to trial, we all put on our Sunday best and drove the 20 miles over to neighboring county to testify. I was nervous even though they told me that I wouldn’t have to serve as a witness since I was asleep during the alleged high-speed chase and at an age where fact and fiction often intertwined. We sat in leather chairs waiting for the judge to arrive and the prosecuting attorney as well as the police officers who had been called as witnesses. We waited and waited and waited. Dad’s attorney left to make some telephone calls to find out what was the delay. Finally, the judge appeared and told us that our case was dismissed and we could all go home. The attorney said that the prosecutor and the witnesses had failed to show up so the case was closed.
I was relieved but my Dad was not satisfied. He wanted his day in court. After much gnashing of teeth and at the insistence of the calming voice of my mother, we all loaded back up in the wagon and headed toward home. This event was rehashed many times during the years I was growing up. We never did figure out what really happened that night but we had a lot of fun speculating about the car that got away and relished teasing our dad about the night he went on a high-speed chase with all of his kids in his 1966 Ford station wagon.