With a twist of the key, his 1956 Chevrolet purrs to life. And memories of high school come flooding back to Phil Thompson.
“I was a sophomore in 1966 and dad bought it for me and my brother,” Thompson said. “My brother was two grades ahead of me and we both drove it. When he graduated in ‘66, he went into the Marines and it evolved into my car.”
That car — a 1956, two-door post, pine crest green Chevy 150 — was the highlight of Thompson’s high school experience at Waco High School.
Fifty years later, that same Chevy will take Thompson to his class reunion this weekend.
“I think I am the only guy who still has his high school car,” Thompson, 67, said. “I grew up in Waco and in those days, parts of Waco now were literally undeveloped. That is pretty special, I think.”
Thompson is a 41-year veteran of the Waco Police Department, and his vintage Chevy took him to his first day of work as well as his last day. It took him to his 40th class reunion as well.
Tommy Rinewalt, Thompson’s lifelong friend and fellow Waco High Tiger, said he and Thompson both had 1956 Chevys during their high school years. Most of Rinewalt’s high school memories include the two-door sedan.
“I wish I would have kept mine, but I didn’t,” Rinewalt said. “When it was his day to drive, we drove around in his and when it was my day to drive, we drove around in mine. That car means a lot.”
Among the miles of memories on Waco streets, Rinewalt and Thompson remembered the local stops at Kim’s Diner and trips to the band room, where Thompson was drum major.
Thompson was one of 265 graduate of Waco High School in 1968. He joined the U.S. Marines at the age of 18. After serving in the Vietnam War for seven weeks and Okinawa for nearly a year as a clerical typist, he was discharged as a sergeant and returned to Waco.
“When I came back from overseas in October of 1970, me and my first wife drove it to North Carolina, where I spent about six months at Camp Lejeune,” Thompson said. “Then we came back to Waco and I kept a hold of that car.”
Thompson had plans to continue his apprenticeship at a local funeral home to become a mortician. Thompson’s brother was then a Waco police officer and Thompson also joined the force as a rookie officer.
“I drove it my first day to the police department in 1972 and I drove it on my last day in 2013,” Thompson said. “That car has a lot of memories in it.”
Thompson had the car completely refurbished for his 40th high school reunion. He has had the 235 cubic inch, 6-cyclinder engine completely rebuilt and the color matched to its original vintage green.
“All the years I’ve had it, it has always stayed garaged,” Thompson said. “Back in the day, I don’t think I would have gotten much for it and now, I am sure it is worth something, but I don’t know if I have want to sell it now.”