Unnecessary Tale

Some tales don’t need to be told. This is one of them. This is not a tall tale, and I am not a teller of short tales. But I do dabble in the telling of tales of average size. This is a tale of moderate size, so…

I have had a strong affection for vehicles, cars and trucks and such, from an early age. My first memory of such was formed when our small family moved from a house in a small town, to a three-story row-house in a city. I was five years old. Our belongings were loaded into a “hanger truck”. Well, actually, a tractor-trailer that was normally used by a company that manufactured hangers. It had a very large picture of a hanger painted on the side of the trailer. I was in love with “hanger trucks”.

The move was made during WWII. A world of “black outs”, shortages, rationing and Victory Gardens. All the metal in the country was needed for the war effort. No new metal toys! So my dad built toys out of scrap wood. And the first toy? A wooden “hanger truck”. And then a complete army of jeeps and tanks and troop trucks, with cloth canopies! Vehicular love kicked into high gear.

Of course, the experience of actually driving a vehicle had to wait until I gained some stature. I had my foot-powered-scooter, a dangerous vehicle in its own right. Not too bad on the level, but propelled downhill at speed, it can behave erratically. People should not park their cars where children play! What’s a little dent in the back of a car anyway?

I spent years attached to a Schwinn, a reliable mode of transitional transportation. Over time it was tricked out with a light, a horn, a siren, a basket, saddle bags, an air pump, handle-tassels and a balloon in the spokes to provide the sound of a motor. That baby got me around well enough, but I longed for more.

I got my first chance to experience real driving, in my dad’s ‘51 Chevy, back and forth in the driveway. That ignited a fire in me that has never been extinguished. I got my license in a ‘53 Ford, and acquired my first car, a ‘49 Plymouth. I was out the door and jamming. That Plymouth saw a lot of living, some of which was barely lived through.

My first experience driving a truck came shortly after I got my license. My uncle had a ‘53 Chevy pickup. He hired me to deliver eggs on an egg route. His elderly and proper mother rode with me on my first trip, to teach me the route. At some point I noticed a look of terror on the poor ladies face. “You’re going too fast!” She cried. “You’re going 90 miles an hour!”. “Actually, I’m going 35. That’s the temperature gauge you’re looking at.”

My first new car was a black ‘63 Valiant. The first of a long line of cars, trucks and SUVS I have owned. I love to drive. I have driven all over this great country. And I love to buy cars. I am maybe one of the first, but certainly not the only, member of our family who has been infected by the buying bug. I doubt that, we as a family, could even remember and count all of the cars we have owned. It might be worth a try.

My affection for vehicles, and for driving, has produced many entertaining, and often exciting, experiences. Not the least of which was my first cross-country trip. Driving my ‘65 Bonneville convertible, top down, was a joy. Experiencing Route 66. Seeing the western desert for the first time, the mesas, the sunsets, the wild sand storms. Driving through open range at 125 mph. Coming over the crest of a hill, and into a herd of sheep. Flashing past a terrified Native American sheep herder, who most certainly was in immediate need of a change of pants.

My passion for driving inspired me to become a certified private driver education instructor, a side venture. I got my certification at the University of Massachusetts. My instructor was the author of the most popular driver safety textbook, Man & The Motorcar. His stories were priceless. On one occasion he was teaching a high school girl how to drive. She was driving, my instructor was in the front passenger seat, two other students sat in the back. This took place before driver ed cars had dual controls. The town where they were driving had steep hills. As they approached an intersection, they heard the blaring air horn of a tractor-trailer that had lost its brakes. It rushed into the intersection at high speed. The instructor and the rear seat students dove for the floor. After several moments they realized that they had not been hit. “What happened. How did you avoid that truck?” the instructor asked. “I think we went under it.” “What do you mean, you think we went under it?” “I closed my eyes”.

My love of driving got me a job driving a dump truck for a couple years. A ‘54 Chevy, five- yard beauty. Two of the most exciting years of my life. I had a later experience driving truck, but these two years were special. My boss taught me a lot of the tricks of the trade. He taught me how to drive into a delivery location, pick a point of reference (maybe a stone), and back in until my rear driver side wheel touched that stone. That put my truck in position to dump. He taught me how to drive through a muddy area without getting stuck. He taught me to apply the brakes before I approached a bad bump, then, releasing the brake, I could roll over the bump at slow speed. This prevents damage to the rear axle.

It was this last little trick that is featured in the final segment of this moderate tale. I had been hauling gravel for a couple of days. One day my axel had broken as I down-shifted on a steep uphill grade. This particular truck had had previous broken axles. My buddy attached a chain and dragged me up the hill and off the road. Mechanics came and repaired the axle. The next day I was back in the truck, hauling more gravel.

The gravel pit was high on the side of a mountain. A winding dirt road led from the pit to the valley below. This was my third trip of the day. My boss loaded my truck with gravel, and I started my trip out of the pit. Just below the pit, the road crossed a railroad track, a big bump. I applied the brakes and slowed to a near stop. I released the brakes and eased over the tracks. Crack! A loud noice, and the truck leaped forward! I pumped the brakes. Nothing! I tried to down-shift. No gears! I was free wheeling down the road. I picked up speed as I neared the first curve. Should I risk the curve or ditch the truck into the bank? I made the curve and plummeted downward. I surveyed my options in the valley below. Really only two were available. I could try to shoot off to the right between a couple of chicken coups. Pretty risky.

My other option was to take the chance that no car would be passing when I approached the T at the bottom of the road. I was flying. My rear axle was quickly sliding out of its housing, which had been partially cracked during the repair the day before. I held my breath. No cars. I shot through the intersection and into the cornfield beyond. The truck sank to its hubs in the soft soil. Boy, do I love to drive! And I still have a strong affection for vehicles, especially trucks.