I was looking at some 1960-ish photographs today, a few showing my family’s pale yellow beach wagon parked in the driveway. BEACH WAGON was the local (New England) term for what most people then called a “Station Wagon” (or a “Woody” if you lived in California). It was the stalwart and utilitarian motorized family vehicle of the 1960s larger-sized family (there were 5 kids and 2 adults in mine).
You don’t hear the term “Beach Wagon” used much these days, except when referring to small utility wagons used to transport vacation items from your vehicle (or house) to the lake or ocean water’s edge. The “Beach Wagon” has gone the way of the buggy whip because people now own SUVs, cruisers, or caravans.
Back in the 1960s when you squeezed enough people into the backseat of a beach wagon, they were perfectly secure. They wouldn’t be able to move until extricated with the parental version of the jaws of life (a firm yank of one kid’s arm).
I’m sure you are wondering where the term “beach wagon” originated. It actually was in use at least by 1862 when a beach wagon was the name for a style of horse-drawn open-air carriage. When vehicles became motorized, a few of the early ones also had the name “Beach Wagon.” Around the same time a device called a “beach wagon” was used to rescue passengers from stranded ships off the coast of New England, and it was also the name given to a covered wagon type of hut on wheels where people at the beach could change their clothes before and after bathing (see photograph)
By the 1950s and 60s the term was used mainly in New England to describe a station wagon-style automobile, often with wood as part of its upper veneer, outside or inside. With five children and a dog, the station wagon was a perfect choice.
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