Early Stories of car, trucks and hot-rods published in various car magazines and books, 1990-2012.

 

LAST KNIGHT
© 1990, 2003 Chuck Klein

(First published, Street Rod Action, July, 1991)

In the beginning was Elvis and Smokey
the Everly's Richie and Fats
four-on-the-floor or three-on-the-tree
and DARLING COME SOFTLY TO ME....

 

 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
and LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING

 "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.

Chuck Klein is the author of Circa 1957 and The Way it Was, Nostalgic Tales of Hot Rods and Romance. Details about him and his books: www.chuckklein.com

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LIFE BEGINS, c. 1957
© Chuck Klein, 2012


 Pinned against the plastic seat covers, I could just barely see the speedometer from behind the huge tach that was clamped to the steering column; ninety, ninety-five, wham! He slammed the shift lever into third and still the force of acceleration kept me prisoner of the seat back. I peeked again. Holy cow, we were going over a hundred and then, just as suddenly as it had begun, we were back to sixty.

 "Jimanetly! Wow! Whattya have under the hood? Is this thing souped up or something? Holy Toledo," I sputtered.

 "Now don't tell your papa what we did, ya dig, or I might not get any supper," my cool cousin said with a grin.

 "Hey, no sweat, man, you think I'm crazy or somthin'? But tell me what made this thing so fast? It must have at least a four barrel on it? Doesn't it, Al?"

 "Yeah, it's got at least that," he said out of the corner of his mouth as he casually dusted off two little old ladies in a '51 DeSoto. "In fact it has three deuces, a three-quarter cam, dual points and dual pipes. I'd really let it all out for ya, but this things got to get me to California in the next week or so, ya dig?"

 I glanced at the driver, my cousin Alfred, whom I had just met for the first, and most likely last time as he was just passing through. He was pretty cool, but his car, the 1956 Chevy we were in, was the most!

  I was only fourteen years old then, in early 1957, but that event was the true beginning of life. It was akin to discovering Playboy magazine, rock & roll music or that you won’t go blind if you do keep doing it. And . . . on top of all this a couple of months later, for my fifteenth birthday, my father bought me a set of wheels!

 The wheels were attached to a l952 Crosley two door sedan with its tiny four cylinder engine that barely ran, and was a real dream to me. The dream being to convert this slow, top heavy, unattractive, little-old-lady's car into a screaming low slung sports car. To accomplish this would require replacing the metal body with a new, racing style fiberglass shell and hopping up the engine or maybe stuffing a V8 between the rails.

 The magazine advertisements for the plastic body declared the average installation time to be fourteen hours. They lied. My father must have known this because what could a fifteen-year-old, sans license, do with a real sports car? Of course, not having a license didn't stop me from putting a few "test" miles on the stocker during post midnight joy rides when all were asleep. Once actual construction began, the car would be totally undriveable - except in the various stages when tests were "required".

 By early summer I had the body off, the floor boards separated from it and faced the grinding task of cleaning the remains. The drudgery of this work was mind numbing and the dirt and filth was so heavy that I had to spend a good portion of each day just cleaning the garage. On one outside wall, under the double hung windows, was the heart of the workshop; a large work bench, some eight feet long. The bench was made of wood I swiped from one of the new houses they were building up the street. 

The fiberglass body arrived by late summer from Almquist and a quick check of the dimensions showed there was no way it would fit. There weren’t any instructions, just a copy of the invoice showing the amount of $295.00 had been paid. For the finished car to look right and handle correctly, the frame would have to be "Z'd" and "C'd" and the engine would have to be moved back and down, stuff I had only read about in hot rod magazines. If I mounted the body on the stock frame as indicated by the sales literature, the engine would not be in the center of the hood opening and the car would have a very high center of gravity. Definitely not the "low slung sports car" I imagined it should resemble. 

 Though it took all winter, by the arrival of the first day of spring and the approach of my16th birthday, the mechanics were done. I decided to take one final shakedown run before painting in case any major changes were required. After a brief warm up and a check of the recently installed S-W gauges, I headed for my test track – the non-dead-end portion of our neighborhood. At turn number one, I changed down into second and pushed the car through on rails not ready to try a full drift. Turn two was the same though I took up the entire width of the road. Accelerating into the back straight, the mufflerless exhaust produced an ear splitting pitch as the little four banger turned upwards of nine-thousand RPM.

 I was enjoying this so much, I decided to go again. The thought of disturbing any of the residents of this normally quiet street never occurred to me, at least not on the initial trip around.  Old lady Fritz, who lived just past turn two, had had time to get her broom ready when she heard me start my second circuit. Now here I was, coming out of a controlled slide with no place to go other than into a tree or right past where she stood, broom in hand. She gave a round house swipe at me and I could hear her screaming something as I double-clutched into third. Enough of this, I better get outta here.
 Within minutes the police pulled up. I approached the open window of the scout car just as Officer Bloomfield was saying into the mic, "Twenty-one, two-seven the Klein residence."

 "Two-seven, Twenty-one. Advise the subject if I catch him racing that thing, he's going straight to Juvenile," came the voice over the radio.

 "Twenty-one, okay," Officer Bloomfield replied.

 Uh, oh. I was in big trouble now. I could just see my chance of ever getting a license blown right out the tail pipe.

 "Chuck? It's Chuck, isn't it?" The uniformed cop asked.Circa 1957 front 2nd

 "Yes sir."

 "Maybe I better take a look at this thing you've been terrorizing the community with. Is that it?" He said, walking toward the open garage.
 I stood over to one side as he walked around my pride and joy which was alongside the work bench - the one made with stolen lumber. Maybe they were still looking for the thief? Sweat began to form on my forehead. The officer didn't say anything for the longest time, just peering into everything. Finally, he reached back to where his handcuffs were. I looked out the door at the woods. I could run and hide in one of the old tree houses, and when it got dark, thumb to Texas or someplace, anyplace. Thoughts of prison raced through my mind as he casually hitched his pants up and said, "Did you build this yourself?"

 "Yes sir," I stammered with a guilty quaver.

 "Pretty good. I wish I'd had been able to so something like this when I was younger. You've got quite a place here, with that work bench and all."
 He did know! Now the gears were going to grind. If I made a break for it, he might shoot me. I had visions of my body lying spread eagle on the driveway. I wondered if the bullet in my back would hurt more than the falling on the blacktop. I suddenly had an over-powering urge to fess up, but my throat was all choked and I couldn't speak.

 "Looks like you've done a lot of work on this, fellah," the cop commented, admiringly. Silence. "I'll tell you one thing, Chuck. You're pretty cool. There's no question that this engine has recently been run, I can feel the heat from here. And there's no doubt in my mind that this is the car Mrs. Fritz described as almost running her down. However, since I didn't see you driving it and you have had the presence of mind not to admit to anything, there's nothing I can do other than let you know that if we catch you, it'll be a citation at the least. And if Sergeant Prince catches you, well, you heard him on the radio. . . .
 I couldn't believe my ears as I stroked my chin and throat, feeling the blood returning and my head clearing. "Yes, sir," I said, in an almost normal voice.
I better get back on the air or the Sarge will come lookin' for me himself." I followed him to the cruiser and listened as he called in.

 "Twenty-one, two-six."

 "Two-six, Twenty-one. Were you able to catch the little whippersnapper?"

 "Negative. Subject vehicle was in garage, and I was unable to determine who the driver was." 

 

Post Script: I was too young to drive Sports Car Club of America races, but the little bomb pulled in a number of trophies at the local drag strip and . . . and by the time I was 18, headed for college and short of funds, I sold the car. Last I heard, c. 1962, it was running in SCCA races in North or South Carolina.  If anyone knows where it might be, I’d be much obliged for an e-mail.


Chuck Klein is the author of CIRCA 1957 and THE WAY IT WAS, Nostalgic Tales of Hot Rods and Romance. He may be contacted via his web site: www.chuckklein.com

  

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 Truckin’ – Circa 1960

Chuck Klein

Nineteen-fifty-eight found me sixteen and in possession of a driver's license, an automobile and a girl friend. Life doesn’t get any better than this. However, within two years I had contempt for the automobile, the police and the girl . . . well, maybe it was she who held the contempt. All was not lost. I now longed for the coveted Chauffer license. With that, I could operate semi-trucks - not that I knew how to drive one.  As a youngster, I had always fantasized being one of those real men handling these big rigs - backing them into tight spots, squeezing down narrow alleys and, air horns blasting, high-ballin' on the open road. 


 
The week I turned eighteen, I scanned the state booklet, memorized some statistics and, eureka, I'm a truck driver. Immediately thereafter, I stopped by my father's medium sized manufacturing company and told the general manager I was available should they need a backup truck driver. The factory, The Progress Lithographing Co., had a 1951 International semi with 32' single-axle trailer. He did ask if I knew how to drive it and I assured him, with fingers crossed, I did. He didn't ask how I learned, but since I was the owner's son and had cut the grass of the plant's 12 acre site for the past six summers with a side-sickle-bar cutter equipped Farmall, he obviously gave me the benefit of a doubt. 

Within a month the G.M. called to ask if I could make a rush-job run to Lebanon, Ohio. They needed delivery of about 10 tons of paper in a hurry. It was early morning and I was working on a term paper for my college history class when the call came. Guess who didn’t do well in history that semester? Though the chauffeur's test required knowledge of weights and size limits, I really had no firsthand experience or understanding of how much 10 tons is and what it was like to propel a 32' trailer so loaded.
 
I quickly sought out the company machinist, Obe, who had been most helpful in supplementing the mechanical skills I learned in high school shop classes. I knew Obe had driven the semi in the past, but had purposely allowed his chauffeur license to lapse because he didn't want to drive the truck after spending all day rigging machinery and such into it. The regular driver was only part time as there wasn't enough work. Our Cincinnati based paper convertor did most of its business at distances where it was more economical to utilize commercial haulers. Trucking with the company truck was usually just between the company's four plants, all located within 50 miles of each other. 
 

The tractor had just been serviced and this required hooking it up with the all-steel single-axle trailer. After sliding the fifth wheel onto the king pin, Obe showed me how to attach the glad-hands (air hoses), where to plug in the trailer lights and how to retract the dolly. It was a rainy afternoon, making my first attempts to back the trailer into the unlighted loading dock more difficult. I did find it easier than backing the short utility trailer behind the company Farmall tractor. It seems, the shorter the trailer, the harder it is to back up.
 
As soon as the shipping clerk waved that the rig was loaded, I started for the cab, only to have Obe hail me back to the dock. In a fatherly, but firm tone, he told me that it was I, not the loading party, who was responsible for the safety and security of the load. If the load shifts and is damaged or causes an accident, I will be the one held accountable. Cool. The loading guys were twice my age, but suddenly I’m the boss man! We walked into the trailer where Obe pointed out how loads should always be placed against the bulkhead in the front of the trailer and skids should be touching each other, nose to tail.
 
Obe, riding shotgun, joined me on this, my maiden voyage. He was along because we would have to load and return with some machinery. Following Obe’s instructions, I pulled out of the dock in low 2nd and then came to a stop on the level apron. Here he told me to set the air brakes – a chrome handle attached to the steering column – and then climb out to close the trailer doors.

There were no freeways open then requiring us to take U.S. 42 with its undulations and numerous traffic lights. I wasn’t complaining, as this gave me a lot of shifting practice. Because the highway was wet, I followed Obe’s advice to always first gingerly apply the trailer brakes before stepping on the cab brake pedal – this to avoid a jackknife. On the return trip, loaded with bulky, but light weight machinery (secured with chain and nailed to the wood trailer floor rails) I got another lesson. Starting down a long hill and with no other traffic in sight, Obe told me to slam on the cab brakes just short of locking the wheels and watch the rear view mirror. Most Cool! The trailer began coming over the center line as if trying to catch the tractor. Releasing the cab brakes, brought everything back into line. Next he had me apply only the trailer brakes. Though not as rapid deceleration when used in tandem with the cab brakes, the rig slowed and stayed in a straight line. 

I don't know now, and surely didn't know then the load limits of the rig, but I'm certain those limits were greatly exceeded more than once in the years I acted as relief driver. Because inter-plant shipping didn’t require weighing loads, how did I know? Most trucks are geared so low and have more torque than horsepower, they can usually start in second gear/hi-range. However, I hauled many loads so heavy that first gear/lo-range (bull-dog low, aka granny gear) was necessary to pull out of a loading dock. Sometimes, even on level roads, I could not even get into low 5th.
 
I joined the company full time in 1963 as a salesman. Though we now had an everyday driver he only drove the straight truck, thus if full loads or heavy machinery were involved, I had to double as the semi-driver. By now, the International’s clutch was slipping and the king pins were worn causing a shimmy. I had also noticed on trips in the ’51, the air pressure gauge indicated erratic readings. We worked a trade for an almost new 1963 Chevrolet tractor. On the ‘51s final voyage to the Chevrolet dealer, sans the trailer, the air pressure kept building toward the danger zone. As old as the truck was, I was indeed worried that an air line could burst so I drove in the outside lane just in case . . . and in-case happened.  Starting down a long hill into the city, I heard the unmistakable sound of a suddenly opened air line. Fighting panic and assuming the brakes had failed, I began edging toward the guard rail while split-shifting from high 5th to low 4th. As the engine screamed, I reached to yank on the emergency brake.

Flashing through my mind was the Hollywood “in-case” version of oil spray covering the windshield as the truck slammed cars and barriers before upending and bursting into flames. My imaginative thoughts were all for naught. In a few seconds, the “open line” stopped blowing air as I realized there must have been a pressure relief valve that was designed to pop before the air lines did.


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SIDEBAR:

The rig had the standard 5-speed crash box transmission and optional 2-speed electric shift rear axle. Today, every stick-shift transmission includes synchronizers to slow the gears and keep them from grinding during a shift. A crash box has no synchronizers – just cut gears. Thus to keep from grinding (crashing) the gears double-clutching is required. To change up, you have to shift into neutral, let the clutch out to slow the transmission gears down, shove in the clutch and move the shift lever to the higher gear. Down shifting also requires a move to neutral, but while the clutch is out (in neutral) – engine speed must be increased to match the transmission gear speed before again pressing in on the clutch and shifting to the lower gear. Utilizing a tachometer you can make perfect shifts (even without using the clutch!). But, a practiced ear and a “feel” will produce good enough shifts and at a much quicker pace. I had learned to drive a crash box with my first car, a 1952 Crosley which I converted to a fiberglass bodied sports car at age 15 – but that’s another story.
 
To shift to a higher rear axle ratio, after tripping the switch, entails only letting up on the throttle momentarily - the use of the clutch is not necessary. To shift to the lower rear axle speed while under a load, keep the gas pedal to the metal, trip the axle switch and quickly disengage/reengage the clutch. Shifting these old rigs is not so much the mechanics of engine/vehicle speed or the grade of the road as it is based on a feel or sense of when to shift.
 
Changing transmission gears and axle ratios at the same time is called split shifting. This trick maneuver requires all of the above directions to be done at the same time and in a most timely manner. If you try to hurry the split shift or act too slowly you could end up in nothing gear a potential disaster if heading down hill.
 

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 THE ANNOUNCER

 © Chuck Klein 2010

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...."

 **********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

 TRAIN RUN

Excerpted from THE WAY IT WAS, Nostalgic Tales of Hot Rods and Romance

 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 Tommy 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 girl friends 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 over the trunk of the flopped top of the faded black '51 Ford.

 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 top 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 door. Then he pealed out because he knew it would make her angry.

 Saturday, Train Run day, was chilly for a September day 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 drivers license. These kids, 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 the 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 4-8-4 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.

 The Way it Was

 Published 15 Feb 2014, NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD (http://www.nostalgiadragworld.com/)


DRAG STRIP, SUMMER 1957
© 2014 Chuck Klein

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

"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.”

 With the opening of the Beechmont Drag Strip in Cincinnati, Legal drag racing finally came of age in the Midwest. I was most fortunate to have been there. It all came about with one memorable meeting between S.O.T.A and a city police officer. It was believed mandatory to have the blessing of law enforcement and we, the local hot rodders who made up the Southern Ohio Timing Association, found a friend in motorcycle officer, Carl Poppe. After listening to our pleas and promises to curtail street racing, he agreed to represent us to the city council. It was a revelation. Though I was only 15 at the time, I was a junior member of The Knights of the 20th Century - one of the hot rod clubs that made up the timing association.


 The financing was done with the sale of bonds. However, we only raised enough money to pave the quarter mile thus the shut-down lanes were gravel and the return track was dirt. By opening day, though, late in the summer of 1957, we had had the return strip coated with copious amounts of used motor oil to keep the dust under control.


Early on it was Elvis and Smokey
the Everly's, Richie and Fats.
Four-on-the-floor or three-on-the-tree
and DARLING COME SOFTLY TO ME.

 My first chore was helping nail the roofing boards on the cinder block restroom. Other tasks included assisting the construction the announcer’s tower and clearing brush – with a shovel, pick-axe and grit.
 The spectator and pit areas were grass beaten into dirt which yielded great clouds of dust whenever the wind blew. But nobody really cared - we saw our hard work rewarded when we, at long last, reached the starting line. Club members who weren't racing, either because they didn't have their rod ready, or because, like me, weren’t old enough for a license, were still expected to work at the various posts. Not having a license didn't prevent my driving on the strip, because when an errand needed to be run from one end of the strip to the other, I was the first to volunteer to drive S.O.T.A.'s '52 Ford pick-up. I couldn't go over 10 MPH on the return lane for safety reasons, but on the strip I floored the old truck to reach the wild speed of at least 50 MPH!

Pony tails and fender skirts and
BABY LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL.
Ricky Nelson and Jackie Wilson, Little Richard and Jerry Lee,
Hootenannies and SHORT FAT FANNIE
and OH, OH TRAGEDY.

 In those early days my stature among schoolmates was greatly enhanced as I was acknowledged by some of the upper classmen, who had come to race their daddy's car. They'd just say, "Like how's it goin' Chuck?" as I painted the number and class on their window with Bon-ami shoe polish. It was really neat. Here I was, a fifteen-year-old with an official S.O.T.A . armband, a Knights T-shirt and rubbing shoulders with the gods of the local car world. It never occurred to me that perhaps it was these older classmates' stature that was increased; to them, maybe I was one of the gods. This lofty position was responsible for an introduction to Kathy, my first real true love.


 She was in the spectator section with a friend of a friend who introduced us. Actually, he was in last year's English class. He called to me as I was performing the task of patrolling the bystander barricade. I stopped and went over to where he and two girls were standing. I don't remember much of what was said after hearing the name Kathy. She was beautiful. 


 I'm not sure what came out of my mouth other than I had to finish walking the fence line to keep the fans from climbing on it, but she asked if she could walk with me. The race day was almost over, so we didn't get much of a chance to know each other while I completed my task. Mostly, we talked about what music we liked; yes, I liked Elvis, but thought Little Richard was the most. Kathy loved Elvis and Buddy Holly. We both agreed that Buddy Knox's rendition of "Party Doll" was better than Steve Lawrence's and anybody who didn't like Fats Domino was gone. Somewhere, man, a merry-go-round was spinning . . . and I was on it. I was cool enough to get her phone number, which she had to write on a dollar bill because neither one of us had any paper. Using lipstick she wrote her name on one side and her number on the other.

James Dean and YAKETY-YAK
and a screamin' tenor sax.
Three-twos and spinner caps,
drive-ins and glass packs.

 Ah, the summer of '57; girls, hot rods and rock & roll music. And nothing could sum it up better than the unofficial national anthem of the time: Chuck Berry's, "Maybellene!" I mean it had everything: an untrue woman who is caught by a V8 Ford, high speed on the open road, and a beat that made you want to get up and dance. The lyrics entwined a jilted lover in pursuit of his heart throb, Maybellene. His overheating hot rod loosing ground to her Cadillac - until it begins to rain. After the rain cools his engine, the heartsick hot rodder finally catches the Caddy at the top of a hill where he wails the rhetorical questions of unfaithfulness.


 The consensus was that a Cadillac, being the quality car that it was, would run a long way at a hundred per, but a Ford, even a V-8 Ford wouldn't. Hopping up a car for the quarter mile drag was one thing. But, it was entirely unrealistic to expect a hopped-up engine to stay cool at sustained high speed. The Ford had to have been a flat-head, as early overhead valve mills were dogs.


 The music was so important it was inseparable from us teen-agers. That song and others, such as "Black Denim Trousers," and "Tell Laura I love Her," were scenarios we daydreamed about.
 We literally lived, ate, slept, and breathed cars. We lived the lives of those depicted in the hot rod magazines and talked, studied and fantasized about cars, cars and cars. We ate with axle grease impregnated fingers, while we sat on dirty garage floors and loved every minute of it. We slept and dreamed of cars and we breathed the fumes of gas and oil, burned or unburned, that were as sweet a smell to us as Bordeaux was to a Rothschild.

Yeah, I was there in the beginning,
singing, dancing and spinning,
driving, racing and winning.

 By the mid 60s, the Beechmont Drag Strip, stripped of profitable income, had run its last run. But to those who had been there from the beginning the memories are still burning in the combustion chamber of our minds.

Chuck Klein is the author of CIRCA 1957 and THE WAY IT WAS, Nostalgic Tales of Hot Rods and Romance. He may be reached through his web site: www.chuckklein.com