Selected Published Stories

by Chuck Klein, © 2016



LAST KNIGHT, January 1993

THE VETTE, June 1993

THE PICK-UP, Feburary 1994 

TRAIN RUN, September 1993

AMERICA, August 1993

THE HERO, May 1993


MY GIRL, January 1994






The young man, in his late teens, pulled into the driveway, eager to show his father and great grandfather his latest acquisition, a '32 Ford. Almost at the same time a delivery man arrived with a package. Taking the carefully wrapped box, with the word "FRAGILE" stamped in red on all sides, into the library of the ancient tudor style house, he approached a much older man seated in a leather wingback.


 Pop." Then a little louder, "Grandpa, come outside for a minute I want to show you my new car. It's got all the extras."

 The old timer knew cars. He had studied, and in some cases rubbed shoulders with, the best of the early engineers, customizers and racers.  Men with the immortalized names of Iskenderian, Duntov, Barris, Fangio, Vukovich....
 After the ritualistic inspection of the male bonding medium the two men returned to the den where the younger remembered the package. "I almost forgot, Pop, this came for you a little while ago."

 "What is it Sonny?" the old man asked, settling into his overstuffed chair.

 "I don't know Pop. It's from some law office back east and it sounds like it has liquid in it. You getting your Geritol by mail now?" The great grandson joked.

 Staring at the proffered package the old man pushed back further into the cushions of the chair as if trying to distance himself from it. His mouth dropped open... "oh my God", escaped in an barely audible, raspy whisper.

 "Grandpa, what's wrong? Are you okay?" The young gentleman crossed the room to take this ancient man's hand and search his frightened stare. "What is it, Pop?"

 As recollections of events, forever melded to the sentimental portions of his mind, were forced to the present, the great grandfather's eyes soon began refocusing to a new intensity. "Get a couple of glasses and some ice, Sonny - and call your Dad in here. I've got a story to tell you."

 A man with graying hair and his teenage son watched the great grandfather, in his 96th year, carefully and ceremoniously unwrap the package. Inside, sealed and encased in a solid wood box with a glass front panel, was a bottle of whisky. Attached to the outside of this shrine was a small brass hammer and a pouch. From this pouch he pulled a sheet of paper containing a list of names - names that had lines drawn through each, save one.
 It was a very long time ago that they had met for the last time - a sort of reunion and farewell to one of the members who had but a short time to live.

 Pretensions and pressures were checked at the door that night. Whatever problems they faced outside seemed far away and not important. Maybe it was seeing a "best" friend for the first time in two or three decades or just that deep feeling that only comes from the knowledge that to this group each truly belonged. They all knew that this assembly was just this night only and never again would they all be together. Maybe it came with the understanding that these were their roots and the distinct sensation of having come home again. Perhaps it was the familiarity and companionship of old friends, whose dues were also paid in full. It was a most memorable occasion.
 It wasn't a large gathering, but 21 men out of a possible 36 wasn't too bad for an informal reunion. Some had died, some couldn't be found, most were graying and pot bellied, but all had, at one time, belonged to the KNIGHTS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. Born so many years ago in a back alley garage of a Midwestern American city, The KNIGHTS hot rod club was not unlike other clubs of guys of that era. Back when rock & roll was in its infancy and fast cars had to be built by hand, the members bonded together to learn, help each other and talk engines, cars and speed. It was exciting being the center of attention during this era of historic automotive and musical upheaval.

...Big Bopper and Ben E. King

 "Here, you do it Sonny," the old man said handing the brass hammer to his great grandson.

Uncapping the bottle, which had been freed by breaking the glass front and without lifting his eyes from the list, the old man in his articulate way, began to pour forth a tale as if he had been rehearsing it all his life.

 "Moonie, that's what they called me because I was the first to have Moon wheel covers on my rod, a '34 roadster that I had stuffed a Caddy engine into. It had a dropped front axle, chopped windshield and sported three-duces on the engine. Though I never got it completely finished it ran one-oh-three point six in the quarter mile. Not that this was the fastest in the club, but still very respectable. I didn't drive the roadster on the street much because something was always breaking so I kept a stock '39 Ford as my everyday car. The '39 was battered and shabby and second gear was stripped but, it ran quite reliably - those old flatheads would just run forever. The only thing I hated about that old relic was the hot, scratchy mohair seats. I got my share of carpet burns on my elbow trying to put my arm around a girl.

 "Ah...the girls. It seems that we built and raced the cars to impress the girls and then whenever one of the guys had made enough of an impression she'd up and marry him and that would be the end of his hot rodding. Brides and all the 'comes-with' things associated with marriage probably contributed more to the demise of hot rodders and their clubs than anything else.

 "You boys should have seen my bride! She was just about the prettiest thing that ever rode shotgun in an open roadster. I met her at a club dance - a sock hop we called it. She wore dungarees with the cuffs rolled up, in giant folds, almost to her knees. Her oversized shirt must have been her daddy's white dress button-down which also had huge folds of the sleeves all the way up her arm. The shirt tails were tied in a knot at her tiny waist, the slightest view of smooth soft skin barely visible. She wore her hair in a flip and she just had that fresh scrubbed look about her. Quite the opposite of me with my axle greased ducktails and form-fitted pink shirt with string tie and pleated slacks of charcoal gray. We rocked and rolled to the likes of Fat's Domino, Dale Wright, Buddy Holly and Larry Williams and when she put her head under my chin to 'Sixteen Candles' I knew it was something special. It was. Last week it would have been our 72nd anniversary...if she were still alive."

 "Grandpa," the impatient teenager interrupted, "What about the bottle?"

 "I'm comin' to that, Sonny. Don't rush me. Like I was sayin', it was at this gathering when we all got together for that one last time to say goodbye to Freddie. Now, nothing lasts forever, and by age 50 Freddie had developed a terminal case of cancer. Knowing that he was a short timer he kept himself busy hunting us down and planning this assembly to unite us for one last time and to establish his gift as a tontine - the bottle from which we are drinking at this very moment. He said he won the fifth at a club dance and being a teetotaler, just put it away. Freddie was Jewish and for that solemn affair he gave us a little insight into these ancient teachings. It was such a somber and commemorative occasion that I still remember his final words to us. Here was this dying compatriot, frail and weak, who looked each one of us in the eye as he decreed: 'In our faith it is believed that on Rosh Hashana, the New Year, it is written; on Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, it is sealed:

How many shall pass on,
How many shall come to be,
Who shall live to see ripe age,
And who shall not,
Who shall live,
And who shall die;

 and so it must be, that only the last surviving member of THE KNIGHTS, the KNIGHTS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, may toast his fellow members with - and savor the nectar of this - this last man bottle.'"

 With a sigh of finality his still steady hand, rough, dried and cracked like a cheap paint job that had crystallized, picked up the small doubles glass. Using both hands, and not unlike how one would make an offering, raised the glass to just slightly above his head whispering, "I'll see you soon fellahs, keep 'em tuned up."

 Warmed by the energy of the aged whiskey the old man rose from the security of his wingback and shuffled to the leaded windows overlooking the springtime embraced driveway. Just for an instant he was sure he saw Freddie waving from his NINETEEN thirty-two Ford, the one with the hopped-up Chevy engine and the plaque that said KNIGHTS, dangling from the back bumper. But, a deliberate wipe of the hand across his tear filling eyes revealed it was only his great grandson's...brand new TWENTY thirty-two Ford.

Author’s Note: The story is true inasmuch as there is a KNIGHTS of the 20th CENTURY hot rod club (est. 1955), we did have a reunion and we do have a tontine.




 As it got closer his suspicions were confirmed - it was a vintage Corvette. Too bad he wasn't driving his old Vette. It could be a fun run over these delightfully twisty and hilly country roads in the outback of the great state of Indiana. Within minutes, on a long straight stretch, the silver, with white inset, fifty-nine/sixty two-seater made its bid to pass.
 The familiar rumble of the twin-pipes only made the longing, the recollections, even stronger. What surprised him was that the driver was a lady, a smart looking young lady with long, flame-red hair that trailed out over the rear deck of her open roadster.

 Memories of another redhead in a Corvette, back when the Vette was new, quickened his pulse and flooded his mind. She gave a quick look and a smile at midpoint, just as she smacked third gear and dumped a set of quads. And with a chirp of rubber she was gone.

 A glance at his speedometer told him that the little excitement had caused him to push his seventy-two El Camino to well above the legal limit. Ah, there was a time when he would have relished a high speed run, but at fifty-three years of age and driving a "stocker," Jack Cambry knew better.

 Twenty miles on down the road he still couldn't shake the memory of Natalie. It came back in a rush overwhelming his mind - everything from her in-bred sophistication, to the time in the back seat of her fifty-five Bel-Air; strains of "their song," the Crew Cuts, Angels in the Sky, playing softly over the radio. He hadn't thought of her in a long time and was confused as to why her familiarity - the longing - was so strong. Perhaps it was the guilt that ground the spider gears of his mind.

 She had a long pony tail the first time they met. He had just transferred to a new school and she had come over to him during that first recess. He was lonely and scared but she flipped her pony tail and just said, "Hi, I'm Natalie and I hope you like it here," or something to that effect. Her hair was a soothing deep auburn not the fire red of a Rita Hayworth. They were standing under the pavilion watching the sixth graders in a game of kickball.

 She was nice and very pretty but he never let on that he thought so...must have been afraid of getting teased or just too young or something. Funny how some recollections are crystal clear and others are hazy. Their first date hadn't been for four more years until they were sixteen and he had wheels. Now that he thought about it she was his first real date. Oh, he'd met girls at the Saturday matinee and even kissed a few at games of post office or spin the bottle. But Natalie was the first real date. He couldn't remember how they came to go out; maybe it was when a gang of kids were all standing around the soda fountain at Richter's Pharmacy talking about the up-coming sock hop. Yeah, that was it. She said to nobody in particular, but she was looking at him, that she wanted to go but didn't have a ride.

 He laughed to himself remembering that first date. Why she ever went out with him again after he made a total fool of himself was a mystery. He had tried to ace some cat in a '52 Olds at a stop light, but stalled by dumping the clutch on an under revved engine. Not very cool on a first date. But, the car was cool, as only a Corvette could be.

In conversations oblivious to others
twice his hand she did touch.
That caused a quickened heart
which he liked very much.

 She was some dish. Not only was she tom-boyish good-looking, but she had a `55 Chev. She had removed the hood and trunk ornaments in preparation for a nose and deck job on this Power-pack stick and had installed spinner hubcaps and a chrome air cleaner herself. She knew more about cars than most guys. She was perfect. Even at sixteen and until they parted at eighteen they fit together, like a valve to a keeper or a connecting rod to a wrist pin.

 They had such fun together, he, Natalie and the Vette. They almost never missed a Sunday at the drag strip. He'd be stuck in "B" Sports Car against a lot of usually faster machines and she'd run his Corvette in the Powder Puff class and pull trophy most every time.


 How'd it happen? They'd dated - gone steady actually - broken up, then got back together just before his car club's annual dance.  Yeah, it was the evening of the Knights' big dance when he got pulled by Herb's '57 Fury that everyone had said was a dog. It was no stocker. To this day he was sure Herb had an Isky Five-Cycle cam and maybe more cubes than came from the factory.

 He was angry all evening and when they all stopped at Spooner's drive-in for an after-dance Coke he had tried to put the make on Herb's date. That was also the night Natalie had picked to tell him her Dad had been transferred out of state. He had only meant to get back at Herb for goading him into a race that was a set-up in the first place.

 Though they saw each other a few more times before he left for college and she for Chicago, he never really got a chance to apologize or anything. The next year was a little hazy. He had gotten involved with some chick at OSU, rushed a fraternity and flunked out of school. Next thing he knew he was in the Navy.

 Wow, the parade of memories from just seeing an old car - an old Corvette - driven by a red headed honey! Oh, he'd thought about her, especially when the loneliness of military life had almost consumed him and again when he committed himself to marriage.

 He believed he had really been in love with Sue Ellen, but, Natalie was always somewhere deep in the reserve fuel tank of his mind. When Sue Ellen left him (maybe he never was completely committed to her) he had hunted for Natalie. The search only lasted until he learned she was married.


 The yellow diamond shaped sign indicated a right followed by a left, both with a suggested safe speed of forty. He knew he wasn't in a Corvette and he wasn't a teen-ager, but the urge was too great as he set the classic pick-up into the first bend at a little over 70. He rode it through on rails pretending it was a four wheel drift, getting hard on the gas at the apex of each turn. It felt good; engine, speed, noise and...memories.

 Daydreaming sure does help while the miles away. Already he was over halfway to Chicago. It had been such a beautiful day that he had driven the old way through the countryside of farm belt America, the route before the Interstate.

 Slowing for a small burg he noticed the silver and white Vette parked at the side of a Shell station. Well, he needed gas anyway, and Shell was one of the cards he carried. It sure wouldn't hurt to take a few minutes to look at the vehicle of the past hour's recollections.

 A cursory exam of the sports car yielded the knowledge that it was a 1959 model and had a 6500 RPM red line on the tach which indicated it came with a factory 270 or 290 horsepower engine. Absorbed in a world of automobilia he didn't see her until she was standing right next to him.

  "Excuse me, sir. I'd like to get into my car."

 She couldn't have been much more than twenty-five and could have passed as Natalie's twin if it were thirty plus years ago.

 "I'm sorry. I was just admiring your Vette. Had it long?"

 "Well, we've owned it for about five years but it was only in the last six months that we've had the time and money to get it into running shape," she said with a smile that showed a slight over bite.

 "You are a credit to Corvette owners of old by the way you handled it back there on the open road. Drove like a pro or your daddy owns the road," he joked, trying to expand the moment.

 "Wrong on both counts, mister. I'm not a professional and my daddy died last year. So if you'll excuse me...."

 "I'm sorry for intruding. It's just that this car stirred thoughts of another Corvette and another red head too many years ago. The car got traded and the red head...I guess she's lost forever."

 She reached for the door handle, stopped, turned toward him and said, "No, I'm the one who should be sorry. I'm not in a good mood. I just broke up with my boyfriend. I know you old timers get all twisted out of shape at the sight of machines like this. Uh, the car has the original two-eighty-three engine, bored sixty thousandths over, twin four barrels and an oh-two-seven, solid-lifter, Duntov cam powered through a four-speed transmission and three-seventy rear axle.

 "Say, you do know your stuff. Learn it from your dad?  He asked, trying not to sound conciliatory.

 "I learned mostly from my mom. It's her car and we made a project of rebuilding it. We had the mechanical work done at a shop in Louisville, that's where my mom's from. We did the interior and all the body work ourselves, except the final paint," the red haired beauty stated proudly.

 At the mention of Louisville and a widow who knew cars, a chill with the speed of a small-block Chevy, swept over him. An intense smile exposed a face full of age lines as his clear hazel eyes studied her features - red hair, the slightly up-turned nose, the high cheek bones and that slight overbite with very small teeth....

 "Why are you looking at me like that? Are you going to hit on me, pal? Come on, let me get into my car I've got places to go," she scolded, brushing past him to vault into the driver’s seat.

 "I'm, I'm sorry," he stammered. " you mother's name, Wilson?"

 "No, Her name's Minderman. Now please let me go." She twisted the key firing up all eight cylinders with the unmistakably familiar throaty roar of the short-stroke Chevy.

 With a rap of the accelerator that sent the little engine revving past three grand she lifted the "T" handle and slapped the lever into reverse. He stepped back, smarting from the false and brash accusation, still overwhelmed by the memories and similarities. He looked at his shoes waiting for her to back away.

 The Vette, engine loping at seven-fifty RPM, didn't move. He snuck a glance. Maybe he was still in her way. Boy was he embarrassed. The girl with Rita Hayworth hair and the features of a teenage lost love was staring at him, mouth agape.
 Barely audible, over the rumble of the two-seventy, he heard her say, "Yes. You mean my mother's maiden name? Yeah, it was Wilson. Did you know her?" She turned her head as if checking the rear view mirror then turned back again, eyes wide. "Oh wow! If your name's Jack then my mom's been looking for you."




 From some quarry deep in Wisconsin, via cavernous ships, came the iron ore. Compounded, mixed and incorporated with other raw ingredients from mines as far away as the continent of Africa; the River Rouge's open hearth furnaces formed the very heart of America's rolling stock. But it took the conscientious and loving care of the meticulous assembly line workers to collate these unique organs and create the real soul of each vehicle.

 Early in January, 1937, number 3846, a pick-up truck, received its "soul". She came down the line and under the tender guardianship of the day shift, was bestowed the larger 85 horsepower V8 engine, Vermillion Red paint with black stripe and black "solid" wheels.


 I felt good and rode proud and tall on the train to St. Louis where an elderly gentleman gently drove me to the show room at the Ford dealership just west of downtown. I didn't have to wait long, like the plainer coupes and sedans, some of which had to remain out in the rain and cold. On January 22, Number 3846, that's me, became the property of Mr. Silas T. Wentworth, a lanky and muscular farmer from up-state Missouri.

 Silas T., his wife, Priscilla, and their son, Jamie, took pride in their first "new" car. The depression had been difficult but through hard work and very austere living they prospered. I heard Silas T. talking about how I, as their new addition to the family, would enable him to increase his market deliveries three fold over the horse and wagon.

 Even hauling hogs to market was no strain for my powerful flathead engine, and return trips, empty except for a few supplies, made life easy and enjoyable. Mr. Wentworth. changed my oil and greased me on a very regular basis and Jamie kept me clean. The missus even made seat covers for me.

 Things changed in 1940. Jamie turned 16 and began driving me to school and other places. Silas T. bought a heavy duty, dual-rear-wheel truck that soon became the pride of the family. Jamie was hard on me with all his quick starts and fast driving, but I knew I was having a better life than some of the others I'd see stuck by the roadway or - in junk yards! Once, when we went to town, I saw a sedan that had been right behind me on the assembly line. That sedan was now a police car with a spot light and a two-tone paint job. And, even though she was just a sedan, she turned up her nose at common pick-ups.

 Jamie had a special girl and they often went out for rides together, only they spent more time parking than actually riding. They talked of marriage and how he was sure his dad would give him the pick-up and sign on a note so as he could buy the old Potter place.

 We had a lot of fun, the three of us. Jamie and I once raced a Chevrolet out on the East River Road. We sprayed gravel all over that snooty looking Chevy, and doing almost 90, beat him by a country mile! Mabel, that's his girl, made him promise never to do that again because they would need me for farm use.

 It was in my bed, on blanket covered straw, during the summer of 1942, they got engaged. Mabel was scared but Jamie promised to love her forever. They talked about the kids they wanted and how they would fix up the old Potter place, even a stall in the barn for me, when he got back.

 It all seemed so perfect except that I was getting tired and one of my springs was starting to sag a little. Jamie sure looked sharp in that uniform with all those shiny buttons. I don't know why everyone was crying, even Mabel. The two men drove me to town. They shook hands, hugged, and Jamie patted me on my fender before he got into a bus. Silas T. brought me back, parked me in the lean-to where the surrey used to be, and disconnected my battery.

 It was a long time before anyone opened that barn door again. Silas T. Wentworth, on that cold and windy day, looked gaunt and sad. A plump pimply faced kid, Mr. Wentworth called him Butch, kicked my tires, shook my fenders and looked me over then handed my first master a check. The next day Butch returned, winched me onto a trailer, and took me back into the big city.

 Much to my surprise Butch began cleaning me and showing me off to his friends who came to visit the garage. It seems the garage is the headquarters for the Piston Busters Car Club. It wasn't long before Butch and friends had yanked my old and tired engine and with a little drilling, grinding and welding - the welding hurt - installed an almost new Corvette engine! Wow! Butch sanded off the old faded paint and applied a bright yellow primer, converted to hydraulic brakes and added fancy chrome wheels with new white-wall tires. Boy, if only my old assembly line mates could see me now! I'll bet even the police car would be envious.

 Every time we went to the Big Boy drive-in all the other guys would gather around and admire me. Sundays, we'd go to the drag strip, and though it pained me to have that much pressure put on my rails, I loved it. Sometimes we even brought home a trophy! The speeds we reached were far more than Jamie and I had ever dreamed. Things weren't all that great though. A few of my body mounts were wearing out and the high output V8 engine, twisting against my rusty frame, gave me a lot of twinges. I was sure that someday I wouldn't be able to keep it together.

 Other than that, life was pretty good - at least I didn't have to haul any smelly ol' hogs or dusty hay. But I did carry a few kegs of beer and a bunch of club members more than once. Butch always kept me in a garage and never let anyone else drive me, 'cept Carrie, his girl, and that was only on one occasion.

 Late in the spring of '60 we were coming out of a high speed turn on the new subdivision road when one of my shock mounts broke. It caused me to lose control and we slammed into a stone wall bending my front axle and crumpling one fender. Butch broke my windshield with his head and leaked a sticky red oil all over my cowl and hood. He lay there for a long time before one of those stuck-up police cars and a shiny new ambulance arrived. Then things happened pretty fast and next thing I know they tow me to, of all places, a junk yard!

 With a half century's worth of the formerly new and proud modes of transportation to trade stories with, I was never lonely. And though I was not happy with my situation at least I had had a more complete and exciting life than most of the other "junkers". But, I still had a lot of life left in me and I didn't want to spend forever with these rusty heaps.

 Oh, sometimes somebody would come and look me over - shake me or kick my now flat tires, but mostly they just wanted my parts. As the years rolled by I lost my steering wheel, the good front fender, my radiator, engine - it was only a Chevy - and other items. My interior rotted away and the faded yellow primer - Butch never did get around to that metal flake paint job he had promised - rusted through in many places. At least I had the other cars to keep me company not like being shut in the Wentworth barn all alone. A once majestic LaSalle, the leader of the yard, because of the shade from a Maple tree that grew out of his trunk, became my best friend. He loved to tell of the times he chauffeured the Mayor and his important guests and friends around.

 Sometimes you get lucky. I had never resigned myself to the junk yard mentality of my fellow prisoners as I always believed I'd be rescued. It was hot, late in the fall of 1989, when I winked a goodbye to the huge LaSalle. Norm, a jovial man who looked to be almost as old as Silas T. had looked the last time I saw him, carefully loaded me onto a trailer.
 My next home was, well, better than the factory. It was clean, brightly lighted and had some very sophisticated tools and machinery. I just knew Norm and I were going be the best of friends. It took over two years, but in that time I was reborn! Even my assembly line mates would hardly recognize me. Normie  - that's what his wife calls him - took me all apart, I mean every nut, bolt, flange, bushing - everything. He stripped my metal bare and then what he didn't primer and paint he chromed. I also received new fiberglass fenders, a new dropped front axle, a chopped top - it only hurt a little - rolled & pleated Naugahyde interior and - ugh - another Chevy engine, but complete with supercharger. I loved it. I wanted to go by the junk yard and show-off.

 In no time at all Normie sold me to a man who I'm ashamed to identify. A man whose smile never reaches his eyes. Almost every weekend he loads me into a closed trailer and tows me to a car show. He ropes me off so none of the countless admirers can caress my 27 hand-rubbed coats of lacquer or fondle my cute little stainless and wood steering wheel. Ah, this should be the life, no more hauling of any kind, frame stressing races or even getting rained on. Only trouble is I hate it. My engine, even though it's not a Ford, has never been started. Once when he had me sitting in his driveway a few of his friends came by in "real" hot-rods with engines that worked - I was so embarrassed. I long for just sitting at a Big Boy and maybe a few wheel spins in the lot, the wind at 100 per or the pleasure of a master who knows how to handle a street rod.

 Say...if you see me at one of those frilly, trailer-queen, car shows, make my owner an offer he can't refuse, put some guts in my mill and let’s do it! I won't let you down.




He drove a hot rod Ford
That could lay a fat black patch.
That punk was a fool
Whose daring had no match.

 Bonnie Sue knew, deep down, that he wasn't a "bad kid," but some of her friends and especially her mom didn't see it that way. Tommy, she felt, was just frustrated, though she wasn't sure what it was that he was so antsy about. He didn't do well in school, but he was very smart. He had, after all, figured out, without any help, how to take his car motor all apart and put it back together again. Besides, he had said he loved her. True, it was only once and in a fit of passion. It was on a Friday night, last month, at the drive-in. It was one of those Francis the Talking Mule flicks. The movie was boring so they just made out. Tommy kept trying to touch her where she didn't think he should. They fought, she cried, and Tommy said, "I really love you, Bonnie Sue, I mean it."

 Bonnie Sue was sure that if only they could both finish school, get married (and Tommy in a good job) she'd be able to change his fast driving ways and other things that might need adjustments. Right now all she wanted was for her man to be here.

 Tommy, at 16 and a half, was one of the more dedicated and speed crazed hot rodders in his sophomore class. Though he had never applied to one of the hot rod clubs for membership he was always thinking about joining - if they would take him. That was the rub. He'd already had two tickets for speeding and he had a reputation for fast driving on city streets. Hot rod clubs frowned on "squirrels," as they called them. He had never shied away from a traffic light race even when Bonnie Sue pouted about his high speed drags. Trouble was, he couldn't figure her out. She was pretty enough but she was always talking about love and all that mushy stuff and she only sometimes seemed to enjoy the drag racing - legal or otherwise. On their first few dates she had been all excited about his races even going so far as to taunt one of her girlfriends because this friend's steady drove a stocker.

 But he was really burned up that she had so little regard for the fact that he held the record for the Train Run and now must defend that honor. Johnny Medford, with his daddy's brand new '55 Olds 88, had bested Tommy's record by at least 50 yards. For Tommy to let this go unchallenged would be like wearing your sister's bloomers or something equally unthinkable.

 The troubles with Bonnie Sue culminated last night as they sat sipping Cokes in the lot of the West Chester Pike Bun Boy. Removing his arm from her shoulders to light a Lucky, Tommy asked, while trying to make it sound like a casual mention, "You want to ride with me when I go for the Train Run record tomorrow night?"

 "Oh, Tommy, you're not going to do that again are you?" Not waiting for an answer she continued while tossing her pony tailed head in a dignified affront, "Tommy, I swear you're going to kill yourself one of these days with all this crazy...."

 "Come on Baby I just have ta do it, ya dig. I'm not gonna to be no chicken hearted punk. I'll be the coolest cat in town if I beat that harry-high-schooler in his daddy's stocker."

 "Oh Tommy, it's so dangerous I just worry that you'll be killed and I won't have you. I think you're the coolest guy at North Anderson anyway. Winning The Run can't make you any better in my eyes. Please, just for me don't do it," Bonnie Sue pleaded, all pouty faced.

 "Aw, don't cry honey. I know you dig me and all, but this is something I just have to do. Besides it should be a snap. The last time I ended up backing off before the tracks, I had so much reserve power. And since then I've added dual points.  And, hey, I'll put in new plugs in the morning to be extra safe! Don't worry," Tommy boasted, flicking his butt out the window of his faded black-topped '51 Ford with custom wheel covers.

 The object of his non-romantic desires, the '51, sported two-deuces with chrome racing air cleaners and glass-packed dual exhaust. It was not only fast but it sounded cool. In addition to the Mallory distributor he had recently added, he was planning to install Offenhauser high compression heads and maybe a Clay-Smith cam. His after school job at Wylie's Pure Oil Station didn't allow for many luxuries even though he was the highest paid of all the part-timers at $1.10 per hour.

  The rest of the evening was like, no-wheres-ville. They ended up, as they always did after a date, parked at the old abandoned army base down near the feed mill. Every time he tried to put the move on Bonnie Sue she'd scrunch up closer to her door and whimper about how she just wasn't in the mood. Chicks! Who could understand them? What kind of mood could she be in parked in a lover's lane? He took her straight home, not even walking her to the door. Then he pealed out because he knew it would make her angry.

 Saturday, Train Run day, was chilly for September in Texas. Tommy had managed to install the new plugs between pumping gas and oil changes at Wylie's service station. The powerful flathead was running cherry and sounding very sweet. The soon-to-be nosed and decked rod had even gotten a wax job, compliments of the kids who hung out at the station. Kids, of course, meant anyone who wasn't old enough to have a driver’s license. These youngsters, in hopes of being able to get a ride to the race area, would do almost anything for the privilege of seeing one of their idols in a run against death.

 Just before quitting time, Johnny, riding in Delbert's straight eight Pontiac because his dad had stripped him of his driving rights upon finding out about the Train Run, stopped in at Wylie's.

 "Hey Mr. Cool, I hear tell that you're gonna try to beat my record tonight?" Johnny sneered.

 "Yeah, that's right sonny and I'll do it in a rod I built myself, not in my daddy’s stocker," Tommy shot right back in a menacing tone.

 "Why, I ought to climb out of here and...."

 "Okay, Okay, punks. Enough of this tough-guy talk. Do you guys wanna belly-ache or race," Delbert demanded, taking control of the pre-race details. "Now listen up: me and Harry as witnesses, plus about a dozen kids, watched Johnny here, beat the train from the no passing sign through the intersection. Now if you want to beat this record you must start at the end of the guard rail. Ya dig, Tommy?"

 "Well, I was thinking about starting halfway between the sign and the rail and...."

 "No, no that won't do. You have to use a permanent fixture, dig. Otherwise cats would be claiming to have started at all kinds of locations and the record would be muddied. We talked about it and that's the way it has to be. So, unless you're yellow we'll see ya five minutes before the eight-three-eight," Delbert stated.

 Curling his lip, Tommy spat, "I ain't yella - I'll be there."

 He didn't have time to be nervous only time to shower, change clothes and chow down with his mom and sister before heading for Bonnie Sue's.

 She wouldn't get into the car unless Tommy promised not to race the train, almost tearfully pleading - promising anything if he wouldn't make The Run. Too late. Even the thought of anything with Bonnie Sue didn't change his mind, though for a moment or two he had his doubts.

Tires squealing and defiance in his eyes
With his girl he had a fight
he cut out for the showdown as she cried,
"I know I'll grieve if you race this race tonight"

 They were waiting for him, a dozen or so classmates, buddies and kids all lined up on the grass strip that lay between the road and the tracks of the mainline. Some of the kids, seeing the empty passenger seat, offered or begged to ride shotgun for this run for the record.

 By 8:47 no sound akin to a train had been heard - the eight-three-eight was late! However, all was well and tension was relieved within a few minutes as the sound of number eight-three-eight, out of Wichita Falls, pierced the cool evening air. Without any discussion two of the spectator cars pulled onto the concrete blocking the highway so that no other vehicles could get in the way. Tommy moved the '51 to the point adjacent with the end of the guard rail, rapped the accelerator a few times and stared down the straight-away.

 A little over a mile away the slightly curving tracks met and crossed the highway. All he had to do was beat the train to this point and he would again be top rodder at North Anderson High and surely Bonnie Sue's faith in his abilities would be returned.

 The plume of thick gray smoke could be seen superimposed on the clear twilight sky from over a mile away and long before the west bound express itself was visible. Tommy raced the engine again and again wishing he had a tach to more accurately gauge the speed of his mill. Some of the kids were jumping up and down with excitement. Delbert stood slack jawed and Johnny sat, wide eyed, glad it wasn't him this time.

 The importance of the lateness of the eight-three-eight didn't register with Tommy as he readied himself for a good clean start. Glancing over his shoulder to the tracks he timed the dumping of the clutch to the exact moment the locomotive was even with him and the guard rail. The huge 4-6-4 iron monster, oblivious to its place in the destiny of that night, overshadowed the gathering of children playing with their toys.

 Tires spinning, the little flathead strained in first gear, as the train roared by. A speed shift to second brought a chirp of rubber and Tommy felt a twinge of pride as the force of acceleration pushed him into the seat back. Just when it seemed that the engine was about to explode he power shifted into third. Now topping 70 miles per hour he dared a glance at the rushing sound to his right - the sound of a death knell?

 Tommy was horrified to see that he was just now beginning to pass the speeding train. He was sure he should have been equal to the engine by now, but he was at least one car plus the tender behind. He pushed harder on the gas pedal and strained to hear if his engine had a miss or something. Ninety, 95, the needle swept past the 100 MPH mark and still he was not in front. The convergence, the intersection of death, was dead ahead. Where was the miscalculation? Did someone move the guard rail? Was the train running faster than its usual 60 MPH? Yeah! that's it. The train was late so they're running faster to make up for lost time. Flashing through his jumbled mind were thoughts of clamping on the binders and turning into the double barbed wire fence to his left - taunts of chicken - yellow - Bonnie Sue....

He slammed the massive locomotive
that was doin' better than 70 per
and when they pulled him from the carnage
his last thoughts were of her.





 Those few words, on the corn dust colored telegram, informing Bucky of his cancelled liberty, had just about ruined all plans for his fourth-of-July weekend celebration. Bucky, a nickname earned for staying on a not-to-tame horse at age six, and not for his slight overbite, was all set to spend the four-day weekend with Katy. Man, it just wasn't fair!
 He knew the possibility of a shortened furlough and had taken the chance when a hop had become available to Chicago. It had been only a few days since he had thumbed from O'Hare to his parents’ home in Emporia. Now all he had left was one day - one day in which to spend more time with his girl, ready his '55 and catch a few hours of shut-eye. Then it was 30 hours to the base, if he pushed it. He had decided on his last liberty that he wanted his car on base with him.

 Also parked in the detached garage behind the white frame house was a gift from his Uncle Bill, a partially disassembled '34 Chevy Town Coach. Uncle Bill abandoned it to him when the clutch went out. Uncle Bill was really his Great Uncle who preferred his horsepower one or two at a time - as in front of a carriage. The clutch gave out because first gear was stripped and Uncle Bill thought it wouldn't hurt to just forgo first and start slowly in second gear. But drive train didn't matter because he planned to use the engine and transmission he had salvaged from his Dad's wrecked Caddy. Just as soon as his tour was complete he was going to transform that rusty old trunkless Chevy into the coolest hot rod Emporia would ever see.

 The '55 Chev had been the first thing he attended to upon arriving home. He had hoped to have time to install a Corvette solid lifter cam to compliment the two-fours he had bolted on last year. He already had the 097 cam, so if he took it with him maybe he could find a place to work on it during off time while on shore duty.
 It only took a jump start and air in two of the tires to put the mildly customized rod back into action. The second thing he had done was to visit Katy. She had been his girl since junior high when he had fought Stevie Bilkus after Stevie called her a stuck up old maid. He hadn't really wanted to win her over then; it was more a matter of exercising an excuse to whip Stevie.

 Katy had gotten a job with the telephone exchange after graduation and had promised to wait for his enlistment to end so they could get married. Buck, that's what he called himself, though no one else did, except Katy, wasn't sure he wanted to get married so soon. Not that Katy wouldn't make a fine wife, its just that, well, he still had cars to build, places to go, wild oats to sow and you know, other stuff to do. Of course, if he let her get away she'd be hard to replace - she could have been a Breck girl. Katy had volumes of smooth silky blond hair that wound around her head and neck in giant curls like the chrome bumper on a '57 Olds. Besides her cover-girl good looks, she could cook! Meat loaf stuffed with hardboiled egg and mashed potatoes with thick gravy were her specialty - and his favorite.
 The first set of fireworks, those put on by the local Chamber of Commerce at the high school ball field (the field where he had played two years as second string linebacker and Katy had been a cheerleader) was the best he'd seen the town do. It was fun, and comforting too, squeezing into the packed bleachers with so many long time familiar old classmates, neighbors and friends.

 The second set of "fireworks" topped the first set by a mile. Katy had wrapped herself around him the minute the '55 had settled in at the local passion pit. Her softness and passion was only tempered by her tenacious reluctance to "go all the way". He thought that since a war was always possible and he could get killed she should show her love and devotion. No soap. He had tried that line before joining the Navy, but she was just as adamant now as then - not before marriage - period! Not that he was a virgin or anything, his shipmates had taken care of that at a brothel at Subic Bay.
 Thoughts of "fireworks" filled his mind as he nosed Black Beauty, the five-five, onto the highway at dawn's sparkling glow. He inhaled deeply, completely filling his lungs, like a carburetor sucking air at peak RPM. His mental capacity flooded with patriotic thoughts as his mind’s eye superimposed last night's fireworks on the clear Kansas sky.

OH BEAUTIFUL FOR SPACIOUS SKIES.  This canopy, so immense, it expands as high as the heavens and as broad as needed, not unlike a blanket of freedom, to cover Americans wherever they might be. The courageous blue makes up the bed for the stars of our flag and the blood red sunsets remind us, daily, of lives surrendered to protect the men, women and children of this vast beauty.  

 Winding second gear to 80 he dusted off a string of six cars, slammed into third and didn't back off until the needle crested 100. It felt good being an American, serving his country and protecting the ones he loved. The farm-fresh scented air of America's cereal bowl, forced through fully cranked opened cozy wings, fortified his euphoric pride.

FOR AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN. Gold nuggets of life sustaining sustenance on whose shoulders all of those who seek the protection of the spacious skies depend.

 The twin quads, allowing the little two-sixty-five - V8 to loaf along at 80+ in the speed-limitless flats of eastern Colorado, got him to within sight of the magnificent Rockies well before sunset. Buck was again stirred to his deep love of God and country.

FOR PURPLE MOUNTAIN MAJESTIES: Forging straight up from the great plains of gilded grain, like a church spire paying homage to the heavens, these rugged resplendent pinnacles symbolize the strength and tenacity of the spacious sky people.

 Turning South to catch U.S. 66 he marveled at the abundance of good will in each town he passed as other drivers and pedestrians alike waved or tipped a cap to him.

ABOVE THE FRUITED PLAIN: Scattered among the violet mountains and meadows of wheat are the bounteous production yards of the fruits of American ingenuity and manufacturing. In the history of the world these plains and majestic plateaus have yielded the highest standards of excellence and an excellent people.

 Spending tens of hours alone on America's highways after a night of pitching woo and witnessing aerial displays of "bombs bursting in air" can sober even the most dedicated of hot rodders. Somewhere between Santa Fe and Flagstaff, Buck realized that some dreams were meant to be just that and if he was going to sow any wild oats he'd better do it in a hurry. If the Navy keeps its promise he'll be 21 when he's released and old enough to stop playing and start earning his way in this wonderful country.

 Last night Katy had told him that she couldn't, or did she say wouldn't, wait forever. One thing sure, the Town Coach could wait, forever if necessary. He'd had his fun with cars. All through high school he had belonged to a car club and had helped build some of the fastest rods between the Rockies and the Mississippi.

 Say, maybe he could use some of his machinist skills he was learning, courtesy of his Uncle Sam, and his automobile savvy to start a little business of his own. Yeah, that's it, a custom rod shop. No wait, a new car dealership that sponsored race cars. The possibilities were endless - only in America.

AMERICA - AMERICA: Saying it once isn't enough. To be an American is to be strong and fair, and honest and wise, and humanistic and realistic, and all the other virtuous attributes of those under the protection of the spacious skies.

 He could see it all quite clearly now. Katy waiting behind a picket fence, two or three future rodders tugging at her apron strings, as he arrived home nightly in the latest model car from his prosperous agency. They would sit in rocking chairs on the porch every night after dinner and nod hellos to passing neighbors. Each Sunday they'd walk their children to the church where the minister would always point out some good deed he or Katy had done for the little town.

GOD SHED HIS GRACE ON THEE: The Lord truly has blessed us with his benevolence, a covenant with all Americans, to do right by thee and thou and you and me.

 Behind the cottage they called home would be his personal experimental garage where some of the hottest rods in the world would be built. He would open the shop to high school kids so they too could learn hot rodding.

AND CROWN THY GOOD WITH BROTHERHOOD: As we keep the compact with God so shall he continue to bestow the munificence that comes from loving and understanding, and helping our brothers and sisters.

 Thump, thump, wump...flap, flap.... The reality of a flat tire brought Buck down from his supercharged castles in the clouds. It was almost 06:00 Saturday. His daydreaming had caused him to slow his pace and now he was at least three hours from the station.

 With the flat tire riding shotgun, because he didn't want to take the time to repack the trunk, he brought the nosed and decked, two door hardtop to peak RPM in first and second as he struggled to set his mind to the business at hand.

 Arriving with only a piston stroke or two to spare he vowed to write Katy that night and tell of his dreams and how much of a part he hoped she'd play in them. The view of the fleet, back-dropped by the morning glow of the Pacific, further cemented Buck's faith in himself, his country and the future.

FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA: Not just from Maine to Hawaii or Alaska to Florida, but to wherever those whose roots stem from the fruited plains, the fields of grain or the majestic mountains. For it is the duty of all Americans, an obligation that evolves from a pact with God, to stay the course and expand the spacious skies of brotherhood and freedom.




 He hadn't been back to his old home town in over twenty years and then it was only for a funeral. The rolling hills of the asphalt interstate looked like the flat side of a giant blower belt cut and thrown casually across the beautiful south central Ohio farm land. He laughed to himself at his unintentional play on words; a blower belt draped around the "farm belt" of the nation. Crossing the county line, his county line, brought a flood of memories. Memories of fun, simpler times and the race; the race for life. Where was it - the spot where the old road had been sliced by this modern highway?

 Daydreaming was brought to a rapid halt by the sound of a siren attached to blue and red flashing lights. A quick glance at the speedometer confirmed his suspicions that it was he, for whom the sirens tolled. Swell. Welcome home hero. That's what you get for getting all melancholy while piloting a high powered sports car.
 Down shifting his fully restored seventy-four, 454 Corvette he pulled to the side of the road adjacent to what appeared to be the remnants of an old two lane highway. The narrow strip of weed-sprouting black-top was now nothing more than a very long driveway for what looked like the south field to the Mulhouser farm. He wondered if any of the same family farmed it now.

 "I've stopped you for exceeding the posted speed limit, sir. May I please see your operator's license," the Deputy Sheriff monotoned.

 "I'm sorry officer. I guess I wasn't paying attention," he stated truthfully while searching his wallet - hoping that the license hadn't expired. "Is that the Mulhouser farm over there?" Nodding toward the fields of soybean, the Vette driver asked.

 "Used to be. Fellah by the name of Krantz, from up around Columbus, owns it along with about three other farms around here. Absentee owner. Has a family by the name of,'ll come to me in a minute, tenant farming it now."
 Handing the license to the officer he noted a slight pot belly contained by a sharply creased and neat shirt. This smart looking uniform was embellished with the standard polished brass accompaniments plus gold sergeant stripes. The deputy looked to be in his thirties though his graying hair could place him closer to forty. The neatly lettered name tag, Sgt. Vogt, jarred him. Might be, but Vogt was a common name in this area.

 "You from these parts, Mr. Sampson?"

 "I was born and raised not far from the old Mulhouser place. Lived here till I went away to college. First time I've been back in twenty years," the Corvette man said. Remembrances of a young, dying mother bounced around in the combustion chambers of his mind like a broken connecting rod in a V8 engine - jagged edges tearing away pieces of the past.

 He had been called a hero by some and a crazy fool by others. The county newspaper covered the incident with only a one quarter column saying they were afraid that publicity of that kind would only encourage others to ignore proper procedures.

 After graduating from high school he had worked that summer, the summer of fifty-seven, on the Keaton farm. He, and the rest of the farm hands, had just taken a lunch break when the young and very pregnant kitchen helper, white as a sheet and holding a towel under her tummy, stumbled into the mud room.

 Returning the driver's license, the deputy asked, "Sampson. Seems I should know that name. You have any kin here?"
 Blinking his eyes to snap back to the present he responded slowly, "Not any more. I was an only child, my mother died in seventy-two. My father lives with me."

 "I'm not going to cite you, but I am going to run your VIN number through our computer," the officer said in his official tone as he copied the VIN on his note pad. It'll only take a second or two if the system's up.

 As the deputy turned toward his cruiser, Kent Sampson turned to the old stretch of blacktop and back four decades. "Help, please! I fell. I think I'm hemorrhaging!" The mother-to-be gasped as she surged into the kitchen. It only took Mr. Keaton a few seconds to sum up the situation. Knowing that the volunteer ambulance was at least 20 minutes away and the ride to the nearest hospital was over half an hour farther he looked to his young summer helper, "Son, will that hot rod of yours make it to the County Hospital over to Skeetersville any faster than ma old wagon?" The calmness of his employer strengthened him as he shook his head up and down stammering, "Yes sir, Yes sir."

 "Well, bring it up here to the back door while the missus and I carry her out. The "missus", blood up to her elbows, was stuffing another towel between the neighbor's wife's legs all the while cooing a soothing message of all's well.
 He remembered running to his rod with the only thought in his mind, did he have enough gas for a mercy run to the county seat in the next county over. He'd spent the past year building his pride and joy - a 1935 Ford, three-window coupe. He had, with the help of various hot rod magazine articles, chopped the top, channeled the body, dropped the front axle, installed a LaSalle transmission and hopped up a swapped engine.

 He'd done his work well. The full race flat-head fired on the first crank of the starter. Twin pipes, grumbling through Glass-pacs, boosted his confidence as he slipped the tires gently across the gravel barn yard.

 There was barely enough room for two, much less a pregnant woman in the altered coupe's tiny interior. As the missus packed towels, Mr. Keaton gripped his arm and in a low steady voice intoned, "Son, she may not pull through, but there's a chance you can save the baby. But you've got to step on it. I'll call over to the hospital and tell 'em you're ah comin'."

 He spun gravel all the way to the blacktop, turned east and got on it hard barely getting into third gear before having to shut down for the first set of 'S' bends. Today, he realized, would be the test of his handiwork as he set the little coupe into the first sweeping turn. At the apex, inside front tire on the dirt berm, he poured the coal to the mighty Mercury flathead. The rear tires howled in protest as the power curve of the Clay-Smith cam let in all the fuel the over-sized pistons could suck through the polished ports.

 There was no traffic and he used all the roadway he dared. For the next few minutes his concentration was so intense that he hadn't had time to check his gauges much less the condition of his passenger. Just ahead loomed the narrow chicane, the right followed by a hard left at the Mulhouser farm, that led to the only section of completed interstate in Spartan County. There he would have a chance to check everything.

 Tires baying in dissent, young Kent brought his primer-red rod down to just under thirty-five from well above seventy for the first bend. He powered out of the final curve, tires squealing and engine screaming, to catch a glimpse of old mister Mulhouser out of the corner of his eye. The third generation farmer displayed his disgust at the speeding hot rod by shaking his fist at Kent from atop his John Deere.

 Within minutes he was slamming the gear shift into high for the longest straight stretch of the run. Pleased at the sound of the three Stromberg ninety-sevens whooshing air through wide open butterflies he took the time to check the gauges. Oil: eighty pounds; temp: almost 200; fuel: cresting the empty mark; tach: 4200 and climbing slowly; speedometer mounting steadily at 105. He looked to the little lady. Clutching her blood soaked towels, she forced a cringing smile that mocked her vacant stare.

 One hundred and fifteen - one-twenty - one-twenty-two. The steering felt light and there was a pronounced vibration. He backed down to just under 120 and the vibration slackened. Water temp hovering at 210, he passed the new green sign: Skeetersville Exit - 5 miles. He was over half way there but, even at 120 miles per hour it felt extremely slow - time wise. Every attempt to go above 122 the vibration increased alarmingly. It must be those old wire wheels. He'd hand tightened each spoke and wire brushed them down to bare metal but still, true run-out was difficult to attain on those old wheels. He wished he'd had the money to buy new chrome-plated Dayton Wires or polished mags.

 Drivers of the few cars he passed, at over twice their speed, stared wide-eyed and slack jawed at him. None dared to race him.

 Slowing for the end of the divided highway gave him a final chance to study the interior. All okay except the temperature gauge. Maybe he had blown a head gasket which could, at these speeds, seize his perfectly rebuilt engine in short order. No question though, he would have to keep it floored.

  After the zig-zag he ran a short straight tight in second gear and then had to double clutch down into first for the hairpin leading to the final set of 'S' bends. A quick glance at his passenger brought terror to his already over excited mind. Her head was listing at an unnatural angle, tongue visible and eyes half closed. He dared to take his hand from the wheel to shake her. "Lady. Lady," he screamed over the din of the high revving engine as he shook her near wrist. The entire arm flopped like an old heater hose. They were now down to minutes. He pushed the little copper wheeled coupe to its limit at each turn heading into the final straight. Here he'd have to open her up all the way, damn the temperature! Damn the vibration!

 The newspaper reported that from the time the call was logged at the hospital to the minute the fender-less hot rod, smoke pouring from its hoodless engine, screeched to a halt at the back door of the emergency room only seventeen minutes had lapsed. The reporter believed it to be a mistake but, young tow-headed Kent Sampson, knew better. The account further noted that Mrs. Vogt died in surgery but the premature baby boy was saved. The Vogt family called him a hero and named the boy James Kent in his honor. The doctor unequivocally stated that had they arrived only a few minutes later the child would not have survived. Contrarily, the police chief admonished his deed threatening to take him to jail if he ever did it again.


 Sergeant Vogt jarred him into the present with the news that his Vette wasn't on the NCIC hot list. He had broken into a damp sweat, not for fear of the car being stolen, but from reliving the old memories.

 Clearing his throat, "Say...ah, Sergeant, is your name, by any chance, James Kent Vogt?"

 "Why no, but my little brother was James Kent. How could you know him?"

 "Well, ah, I sort of met him once. Knew his mother too, but it was a long time ago. Whatever became of him?"

 The officer stroked his chin while eyeing this stranger who was inquiring about his brother and a mother he never knew. "James Kent was a volunteer firefighter. He died a little over two years ago, saving a child from a burning building. Now how could you possibly know my mothe...OH MAN! The name didn't register until just now. Why, why, you're the kid...the hero, who drove a hot rod Ford from the old Keaton place to Skeetersville in seventeen minutes to save his life. Let me shake your hand Mr. KENT Sampson and say thanks, thanks very much."

 Uncomfortable as it was, Kent twisted in his seat extending his hand for the obligatory grasp. "I'm sorry to learn of your brother's death...." After the brief awkward silence that imprisoned the grown men in their own revelations, Kent continued, "Whatever happened to the Keaton's, and that police chief and do you know what became of my coupe?"

 "The last I saw of your car...say, it's almost my quitting time. Why don't you come on over to the house and we can catch you up on all these things. I'm sure my brother's family would like to meet you.




Atop the control tower
at any drag race
runs the announcer's mouth
at a constant and fever pace.

 "Hey, is this thing on? Hello... Hello.... Allllright we got the power. How 'bout it race fans. Are all you cats and chicks having a good time? Sure 'nuff, this the Ol' Isky  comin' at ya from atop the control tower. Crazy man.

 "Welcome to the Beechmont Dragway a project of SOTA, the Southern Ohio Timing Association, and all the affiliated clubs in the area. This is a National Hot Rod Association sanctioned strip, sure 'nuff, and we will be going by their rules. Do ya dig, man.

 "N.H.R.A. strips mean only one person will be allowed in any car during any run - qualifying, grudge or elimination. All open bodied cars must have safety belts and roll bars. No snap on hub caps on any cars. With the exception of stock and gas classes all cars must be equipped with flywheel shields. Open or altered class drivers must wear a safety approved helmet and goggles. If you have any questions see the Strip Marshal in the staging area.

 "First off we have a few announcements. The ice man hasn't made the scene yet so if you're in need of a cold Coke or somethin' you're gonna have to wait. He is expected within the hour. Next all you cats who plan on racing today please use gate "B" as in baby, baby, baby. And, for you squirrels and shot-rodders, no pealing out on the return strip. No trophies will be awarded in classes with fewer than two cars and for the first time trophies will be awarded for the new classifications of "A" through "E" Stock AUTOMATIC. Powder Puffs will be run after top eliminator.

 "Attention all you good lookin' chicks. We're going to have a short-shorts contest a little later on. Don't sweat it, just mosey on down to the control tower so as ol' Isky can rest his eyes on fine lookin' chicks, sure 'nuff. The winner of the contest will get to hand out the trophies to the winners in each class. Oh yeah, the Times-Star is expected to be here for the top eliminator run and trophy presentation. So ya might get your picture in the newspaper. Crazy man.

 "Well, lookie here. There's a cat with a chick on each arm. There must be some dragstrip rule against that. Sure 'nuff, I'll look it up. My the red head is...yeah I'm talking about you - Hi baby come up and see ol' Isky if he doesn't pay enough attention to ya, ya dig?

 "From now until two o'clock we will have tune-up runs and grudge matches. If you want to run a grudge match please be sure and let the flagman know before approaching the line.

 "I've just been informed that Bob 'Cookie' Cook and his Red Monster has arrived at the inspection station. This is going to be a swell day. The Red Monster, in case some of you clods don't know, is a jet engine powered "A" Dragster that was one of the first machines to break one-fifty-five for the standing quarter mile. Rumor has it he's set to try one-six-oh today!

 "Well, look what just burned rubber all the way to the starting line: Tiny's "B" Altered Coupe. Sounds good, but then all Chevy's sound good to a GMC man. Whoa...he almost let it get away from him. Better try feathering the gas if you can't get slicks on that thing. We don't have a back-up flagman today so try to take it easy, okay guys! Besides, Marty is a little hung over and really isn't in the mood to make an ambulance run, sure 'nuff. Tiny's run was one-oh-two point six.

 "Big Bart's "D" Gas '49 Ford is coming into the staging area now. Ol' Isky was there when BB christened her on Reading Road a few days ago. That flathead's sporting eight-deuces, and a poked and stroked Merc engine, sure 'nuff. Ah...the sound of a flathead is still sweet music even to this die hard Chevy man. Uh, oh. Looks like somethin' broke. I don't see any smoke so it must be in the drive train. Put back in the mud, or put a Chevy in it, sure 'nuff.

 "I don't know how many of you cats can see over to the south end of the pit area, but there's this chick that's been just chewin' some cat out, for what seems like the longest time. He better listen up real good 'cuz she's one good lookin' little lady. Got a long pony tail that just keeps bouncin' up and down as she shakes her finger at him. I don't know what she's sayin' or what he did. He's just standin' there with his head hung down, a wrench in one hand and leaning up against a "B" Altered Coupe. Man, she's really giving it to him, sure 'nuff.

 "All right it's time for the contest. All you chicks in short-short attire come on down to just under the control tower. Oh, I see we've already got a bevy of beauties here now, sure 'nuff. My, oh my, we do have some lovelies here today. Now, if I was the judge, I'd pick the first one who climbs up into this tower with me, sure 'nuff.

 "Sorry for the distraction. While my attention was on more pleasant things the "B" Altered Coupe of the cat from Middletown, the one who was getting chewed out by that cute little blond, turned a one-oh-nine, three. That will make quite an interesting race against Tiny's rod in the trophy run. It appears that they are the only two in that class today. Now, wait a minute. I don't know what's goin' on but the chick who was ballin' out the Middletown cat in the pits a little while ago is now holding hands with Tiny! This has all the makings of the race of the day. Altered Coupe against Altered Coupe and maybe the winner gets the girl, sure 'nuff.

 "Allllright! They have selected the trophy girl and is she a honey. Ol' Isky's gonna have a personal interview with her a little later. I'll tell ya all about it...tomorrow.

 "If you cats and chicks will turn your attention to the staging area there's one cherry "B" Street Roadster revvin' up. Man, he must have a thousand hand rubbed coats of candy apple red lacquer on that machine. We'll know in a minute if it runs as good as it looks. Sounds good, here's the flag. He got off the line okay. It appears to have three-two's on an overhead valve something - got a little rubber in second gear - hold your horses, times coming in up...see ya later alligator, ninety-six point three! Not bad. Bet it'll run the pants off anything Harry High-school can borrow from his daddy, sure 'nuff.

 "They have just informed me that the elimination runs begin in thirty minutes. The ice man has arrived - cold Cokes and Pepsi's now available at the concession stand. So, ol' Isky, sure 'nuff, is gonna take a break. Gonna make like a tree and leaf, put an egg in my shoe and beat it, if ya dig what I mean. Crazy man.


 "Ol' Isky's back and ready for the final elimination runs of the day. Looks like same old same fifty-seven Chev verses fifty-seven Chev for Super Stock. We've got two fuelies. The near lane, a two-door One-Fifty and the other a convertible that's had a nose and deck job. Man, they sure can burn those tires. Looks like the convertible got half a car on the start but here comes the two-door. Ninety-two point seven to the far lane, crazy man.

 "The trophies will be presented by the winner of our short-shorts contest, Miss Shirley Cravens of Hartwell. Shirley's a Junior at Woodward High. She's also jail bait fellahs, so don't even think about it, sure 'nuff!

 "We're now set for the Altered Coupe trophy run and I don't know about you cats, but I want to know who gets the chick with the pony tail. I wonder if one cat knows that the other cat is trying to cut his time or who the chick came with in the first place. Crazy man.

 "Hold everything. Paul, Marty, fellow Knights, any available members of the day crew. Please head for the staging area. The two Altered Coupe drivers know of each other, sure 'nuff, sure 'nuff. They're out of their cars and, for the moment, just shouting back and forth. We don't want any fisticuffs here so if you guys can hear me; knock it off, ya dig.

 "You guys in the staging area just hold your horses 'till things get settled down. This isn't 'Rebel Without A Cause' - we don't want any rumbles.

 "Alright the Strip Marshal is there and all is okay. This run is going to be one hot race. I'd give next week's pay to know who Pony Tail is rooting for.

 "Tiny's machine is a '41 Willy's that's been chopped and sectioned. The red primer leaves a lot to be desired - beauty wise. But, knowing Tiny, the paint job, if he ever gets around to it, will be as good as his engine work. The mill is a two-eighty-three Chevy with Lathum Supercharger, Iskenderian five-cycle cam and Mallory ignition.

 "This info just in on the hep cat from Middletown. He's piloting a three-window '32 Ford that's been chopped, channeled and finished with a beautiful orange and red flame job over royal blue lacquer. Twin four barrel carbs power his naturally aspired fifty-six Caddy engine. Word is he did all the work, including the paint, except the flame job, himself. The transmission....

  'They're at the starting line. Look at the flames shooting from the collector pipes on the near lane Chevy powered Willy's. The noise from that little Chevy is sure 'nuff deafening. Pony tail is motionless on the sideline, hands pressing against her ears like everyone else.

 "It's a fair start! The Caddy powered rod shoots to a early lead - the far lane coupe over spins, billows of smoke coming from his tires as he fights for traction - mid-point the blown two-eighty-three rockets ahead but the torque of the big caddy pulls him even - at the line it's, it's...the near lane at one, one, two, six a new track record for "B" Altered Coupe. Sure 'nuff, folks.

 "Hang tight now. Top Eliminator contenders, the Red Monster and a Chrysler powered "A" Dragster, are lining up in the staging area now.

 "Hey you guys, clear the return lane for the two altered coupes. How 'bout a big hand for them. That was some race, record and all. Maybe Shirley will give each of them a kiss along with the trophy - if pony tail doesn't mind, sure 'nuff. Say what happened to her? The two coupe drivers are standing side by side and she's no where to be found.

 "If you can hear me over the dragster's roar, the far lane holds Bob Cook's Allis Chalmers powered set of rails. He's going for the track record of one-fifty-nine while trying to stave off the challenge for Top Eliminator from Billy Anders' blown and injected Chrysler Hemi... they're off - Anders has the lead but here comes the jet powered Red Monster - it's the near lane, but, the Red Monster has cracked the one-sixty limit. Anders beat the Monster to the finish line but Cookie has a new track record of one-sixty-one point eight. Crazy man.

 "While we wait for the trophy winner and the track record holder to come by the control tower for their awards I have a few final announcements to make. The Southern Ohio Timing Association wishes to thank...."




Those of us
Weaned on rock & roll;
Have had it melded
To our very soul.

 "Well...why don't you just go over and ask her out, man?" Chet chided.

 "Ah, man. What if she puts me down. How 'bout if you ask her friend Bonnie to ask her if she'd go out with me," Terry pleaded to his buddy.

 "Come-on, you chicken? The worst that'll happen is you'll end up the laughing stock of Crestview High," Chet rubbed it in.

 "She sure is some good looking chick," Terry quietly dreamed out loud while sucking on the last of a Coke. "Some buddy you are."

 Friday night, after the game, the place was packed. Terry was lucky and had found an "A-Bomb" stool, the red Naugahyde topped chrome pedestal type of bar stools that resembled the mushrooming bomb. Chet, standing next to his fellow sophomore and jostling for position with the throngs of other kids knocked loudly on the Formica counter top to attract the notice of the overburdened waitress. The knock caught Brittney's attention causing her to look directly at Terry. Instinctively and before he had time to flush he gave a quick smile then half turned to his pal with a look of contempt.

 Brittney, seated in one of the red and white high-back booths, returned his ice breaker with shy down-casting of her soft blue eyes.

 One of the football players, a large one, took another's letter sweater and began an impromptu game of keep-away. The white wool garment, emblazoned with a huge blue "C" on each pocket, was passed from student to student amid boisterous shouts of the gridiron players. Terry waited for the noise to subside, before inserting a dime into the counter top jukebox for Bobby Freeman's, DO YOU WANNA DANCE. Rehearsing what he was going to say while inspecting the pleats on his school slacks, Terry brushed his crew-cut with the palm of his hand and forced himself to start for the booth.


 "Hey, Pete. I just came from inside and that Brittney chick is in there. She's in a booth over by the kitchen door," Alan advised, sliding into the passenger seat of the mildly customized '51 Chevy convertible.

 "Yeah? Who's she with?" Pete asked, opening the door carefully so as not to knock the curb service tray that perched atop the partially raised window.

 "She's not with anybody - just a bunch of girls. Before you go chasin' after that sweet young thing would you mind turning on the head lamps so as I can get a Coke or somethin'?"

 Now standing outside the car, Pete had to reach through the open cozy wing to flip the custom light switch illuminating the chrome plated half-shielded and frenched head lights. "Turn 'em off when the car-hop comes - batteries ain't cheap."

 "I dig ya, man," Alan said, slipping behind the wheel.

 Pete was a Junior at rival Jackson Central High and had only briefly met the diminutive pony-tailed Brittney. It was a Crestview open house last week that he and a few of his fellow car club members, the High-Lifters, had crashed hoping to meet new chicks. She was wearing saddle shoes, a pink angora sweater and a heavy, dark, rust colored skirt, that stopped just above her white ankle socks. She wasn't what you'd call built, but she had bright red lips and great big light blue eyes that were always looking up from a downcast slightly cocked head. She had been dancing with two other girls and Pete just stepped between them, took her hand, spun her once, and as Jerry Lee Lewis's GREAT BALLS OF FIRE blasted from the speaker system, danced her into a corner.

 To the Chantels, MAYBE, she told him, as they slow danced, she was 15, lived on Harpers Point, her mom was picking her up and she liked cool cars. He really wanted to go out with her not only because she was pretty in a cute sort of way, but it was cool to date chicks from Crestview.

 Before they parted he told her to be at the Burger Boy on Friday night. He didn't ask her, he told her knowing it was best to establish who was in control. He had heard the car club's President expound on the importance of always keeping chicks in line and wanted to try out an older man's wisdom. She didn't say anything to his demand - but she didn't say she wouldn't. All she did was lower her head, tilt it a little, and look up at him with those huge eyes and a piston melting smile.

 With the comb from the back pocket of his jeans, Pete smoothed his ducktail while walking toward the restaurant. A fellow rodder called from his '58 Bonny Tri-Power, with Olds Fiesta hubcaps, wanting to know if Pete was taking a date to the strip Sunday and did he want to double. Pete told him he'd let him know.

 Before entering the restaurant, the Jac-Cen-Hi junior lit a fresh Camel from the pack in the pocket of his club jacket. Some of the guys always kept their fags rolled up in their t-shirt sleeves, but Pete thought that was uncool, especially if you're trying to make it with a chick. In the reflection in the plate glass front windows he could see his rod. It had taken all of his money from his part time job and most of his time but it was worth it if chicks dug it. He had installed lowering blocks on the rear, nosed and decked the hood and trunk, frenched the head and tail lights, removed the outside door handles and rigged solenoids under the front fender to operate the doors. The car was still in primer but he had drawn the outlines for the flame job he was planning to do after another pay day or two. The interior was rolled and pleated, black corduroy with pink accent panels. Someday he was going to chop the top and slip an Olds Rocket "88" under the hood.

 Inside the rowdy Burger Boy the Harry-high-schoolers crowded Pete into Terry as both boys, oblivious to each others intentions, headed in the same direction.

 Terry arrived ahead of his competition, but Brittney recognized Pete first with an, I'm-glad-to-see-you-smile, and a bat-of-the-eye-lashes.

 With Bobby Freeman pleading on the loud speakers, Terry, trying to act cool by shaking his shoulders and squinting his eyes to mimic the crooner, whispered, "Do ya wanna dance?"

 Brittney, giggled, looked to her girl friends for support then to Pete for an instant before taking another sip on her Cherry Coke. Terry, still mocking the vocalist of the jukebox, began to feel a little silly, but nonetheless, mouthed the request a second time, ready to bop on out of there if she ignored him again.

 "Dance? Here?" The pert blonde asked looking up from those robin's egg blues.

 Straightening up and folding his arms in order to flex his biceps, Terry continued, "Well, if you want to Miss Cohen. But I was really hoping I might take you to the Phi Ep sock hop tomorrow night and dance with you there."
 Pete, suddenly realizing that this songster, this imposter, was trying to cut his time, half shouted. "Hey Brittney, come outside a minute, I want to talk to ya."

 Another sip of the virgin Coke, a few giggles and glances to compatriots, Brittney, keeping her head down, looked up out of the corner of her eye at Pete, "Please, I'm having a Coke with my friends. Why don't you come back later...Peter."
 Pete, ruffled at being rebuked, sized up the kid standing next to him with a look of disdain. Though the kid was a little beefier he was about the same height. Pete shoved him, but not too hard, saying, "Stay away from my girl, pal. Beat it."
 Terry, with two years of gym team competition under his belt, felt his muscles harden. Though he had never been in a fight he was reasonably sure of himself. Without looking at his attacker he intoned, "Watch who you're shovin', PAL." The word pal was spit out with emphasis but not too much acid; he really didn't want to fight.

 Pete, also not actually looking for a fistfight, looked to Brittney saying, "I'll be in my rod. So whenever you're finished with your Coke come on out. But, I ain't waitin' forever, baby." To Terry, he leaned closer, surprised to get a whiff of Sportsman D-Bar, the same deodorant he used, "I mean what I said, pal."

 Terry balled his fists and turned to face this threat as Pete pivoted toward the door. The girls giggled. The closer Pete got to the door the more Terry's chest puffed up. Finally, confident the threat had passed, he resumed his attention for the favor of the perky teenager.

 Miss Brittney Cohen, feigning indifference to the dangerous conditions that had almost been brought to a head on her account, huddled with her booth mates giggling and talking in whispers.

 Confidence, overloading his normally bashful demeanor, allowed Terry to again ask, and in a louder voice, "Excuse me. Could I take you to the hop tomorrow night? I'd really like to...Brittney" The last sentence said a little softer.

 "Oh yes, I'd love to go. But, I'd like to know who I'm going with. I've seen you at school but I don't know your name. Are you in the Fraternity?" she asked, sweet as cream.

 With visions of ecstasy flashing through his mind and adrenaline surging through his body Terry stammered, "I'm sorry, I'm, I'm Terry Motch and yes I'm in Phi Ep - well I'm not actually in the fraternity yet, but, I am going to rush Phi Ep. If you give me your phone number I'll call you tomorrow morning and let you know what time I'll pick you up."
 Wow! He could hardly believe it. He had stolen the best lookin' chick in the place right from under the nose of a leather-jacket-wearin', ducktailed hot rodder. His girl my eye! Nevertheless, Terry, not wishing to push his luck, hopped into his stock '53 Chevy and cut out.

 Pete, angry at the way things turned out and mystified as to what a chick like Brittney could possibly see in that other cat, sulked for a few minutes...until the young lady with the pony tail and the shy blue eyes settled into the black rolled and pleated corduroy.

We builders of hot rod cars,
With twin carbs and dual exhaust,
Know true, true love better,
Than all others on which it is lost.