Al January, a familiar sight walking the streets of downtown Creswell, was born in a car on the side of the road in Goshen on Highway 99, near where the old Market stands. His twin brother Ed was later born in the car on the way to a hospital.
Sitting in Blue Valley Bistro, Al January shuffled the stack of folders on the table in front of him and pulled out a yellowing news clip from 1947. “I guess it all started in that car,” he said.
“Stork ignores doctor’s date,” it read – “One son arrived en route at Creswell; the other at Goshen.”
“And… our mother wasn’t expecting twins,” said Ed January, the eldest brother, parked across the table from Al. “Because we’re born in the backseat of an automobile, I guess you could say we were infused with cars on the brain.”
And today, the twins turn 75, just a few miles from where it all began.
Picture it: you’re on the way to a routine prenatal check-up in Eugene, driving along Highway 99 – the only highway cutting through Lane County at the time. The main thoroughfare connecting Cottage Grove, Creswell and Springfield, when the major routes were two-lane and windy. Mrs. Elmer L. January sat in the passenger seat of her family’s 1936 Oldsmobile and, just as they crossed the tracks into Creswell, asked her husband to pull over. Ed January was born first. We can only imagine what unprintable and colorful language was exchanged.
The couple and their newborn hopped back on the road, still en route to Eugene, when Mrs. January hollered for the car to be pulled over yet again. Nearby in Goshen, Al January came next. As the story goes, Elmer January went into the Goshen tavern and asked to borrow a few towels. The now-doubled family continued on toward their scheduled appointment in Eugene.
It’s rare to give birth to twins when you aren’t expecting them. It’s even rarer to see a set of twins born in two different towns.
The Januarys are fifth-generation residents of Lane County, with relatives all over the state. Al, the self-proclaimed family historian, has traced their lineage to another set of twins who lived on the East Coast before the gold rush. Their relative, Jonathan January, followed gold all the way to San Francisco and eventually traversed the Jessie Applegate trail up to Oregon. Their first homestead was in the heart of modern-day Cottage Grove, where they owned and operated a grain mill.
Al is a collector of family history, along with antiques, stamps, coins and cars. “Have you ever seen a half-dime?” he asked me. “I have this one from 1854, when January first came to Oregon.” Jonathan January is recorded on one of the first Oregon censuses before the state was incorporated by the U.S. Government.
The twins grew up in Springfield, back when gas was 19 cents a gallon and when the city limits stretched from 28th Street to 71st. “Where we grew up on 53rd Street, looks very, very different now,” said Ed. “Our house used to be surrounded by hay fields. We would go pheasant hunting! It’s all residential now.”
The boys’ love of cars was reignited at Springfield High in 1963 when they learned to drive on a push-button automatic. They came into a 1946 Business Coupe, a vehicle designed for traveling salesmen with a flathead V8 three-speed engine – with, most importantly, no backseat. “When my mom found out about it, she would not let us drive,” Ed said, laughing. “It was a hot rod because of the granny two-speed rear end in it, and so she traded it in for a ’41 Chevy pickup we could drive anytime.”
“And what he didn’t tell you is we saved our nickels and dimes to buy the car for $100,” said Al, jumping in. “And we couldn’t drive it for a few days until we got insurance and the insurance is $120 – even more than the car!”
If the January brothers’ history has bullet points – stretching from their birth to their marriages to the arrival of their grandkids – it’s also got makes, models, drag races and crashes. The pair has collected and traded several hundred cars throughout their time on the road – each one a specific and vivid memory.
There’s the time when their mother drove through the window of old Court Wright’s market. “She was under the hood when she did it,” teased Al. “The throttle stuck and jumped into gear and went right through the front door. Right through their first cash register! Right where the McDonalds is now.”
There’s the time when Al outran a “stater” cop in the early hours of the morning. “About Albany, he came up next to me,” Al said. “I took off and left him. Now, a couple weeks later, my girlfriend at the time was with me, and we were headed to church. And I saw the same stater on the other side of the highway; we were going 60, right like we should have been.” The young couple stopped for breakfast at the TNR truck stop, and the officer sat at the other end of the restaurant, staring them down and drinking coffee. “Around Coburg, I put my arm around my girl, and he pulled us over. He asked me if I was driving this same car a couple of weeks ago. And he asked me if I knew how fast I was going. … I told him no,” Al said, grinning. Turns out, the cop “let him go” when his speedometer hit 140.
There’s the time when Al hit another one of his other brother’s cars outside a gas station downtown, ditching the totaled vehicle. “When the cops showed up, we told them, ‘Hey you know, it’s all in the family, we don’t need to get insurance or anything,’ so we just pulled one of the cars off the road and left it behind the gas station,” Al said, laughing. “I mean, everyone was so worried and we just laughed it off.”
After growing up in Springfield, the twins veered off onto different paths. Both men served in the military during the Vietnam era. Al was in the Air Force, and Ed was in the Army. But there’s one thing they can both agree on – their love for the ’59 Pontiac they convinced their mom to buy.
“She did not know what it had for an engine,” Ed said.
“She would not trade in our old car for one of the new ones, so she told us, go pick out one of those $500 cars over there,” Al finished.
“So, you know, we open the hood, shake our heads, open the hood, shake our heads, until we see the Pontiac,” Ed said.
“Five or six cars down the line we opened it up and saw three deuce carburetors and slammed the hood down real quick,” said Al. “Pure hot rod.”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” said Ed.
“The first car that really got me into it was a ’63 Tempest convertible with a small V8 three-speed stick that I got when we were first going together,” Ed said, gesturing to his wife Judy, seated beside him in the cafe. “It just progressed from there.”
Judy and Ed met in college while Judy was washing windows at Northwest Nazarene University. “I saw her and thought she was cute, so I wanted to mess with her a bit,” Ed said. So, in true January fashion, he wiped some spit on the window she was cleaning.
“It was cute, but I don’t know if I’d call it romantic,” Judy said.
As a wedding gift, Judy’s father gifted them a ’65 Chevelle Wagon. “We wouldn’t have had a car if he hadn’t given that to us,” she said. “When we got married, we had a $105 income between the both of us. That car was our lifeline in a lot of ways.” Today, Judy has two brand-new Mustangs, one with summer tires and one with winter, so she can take her pick.
But it’s a Thunderbird that warms her heart.
Ed and Judy’s daughter, Kerina Shanika January, passed away in her early 30s. Judy fondly remembers having “coupon competitions” with her daughter, seeing who could get the cheapest gallon of milk or carton of eggs. “She was just such a beautiful and kind person,” Judy said.
Shortly after Kerina’s passing, Judy and Ed bought a turquoise Thunderbird. “So we talked about it. We prayed about it, and decided, okay we need to get a car,” Ed said. “That’s the thing about this. The cute teenage girl over here. The sweet little granny over there and the grouchy old man mellows up because we have this common ground of interest. We have something to talk about now.”
The pair still live in Creswell. Ed and Al are heavily involved in the Springfield and Creswell Classic Car scenes, organizing rides and shows all over the area. And as Ed put it, it really “all started in that car.”
“We’ve had an interesting life, it’s been good. We’re not multimillionaires, but we’ve enjoyed life and we’ve gotten by,” Ed said.
“What he’s not telling you, is that we’re working on the second million because we’ve given up on the first!” Al said.