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

 Note: Searching for this car: 1952 Crosley with Almquist body. VIN: CD 402576

Contact: Chuck Klein, cklein@chuckkleinauthor.com

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

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

 

Note: Searching for this car: 1952 Crosley with Almquist body. VIN: CD 402576 Contact: Chuck Klein, cklein@chuckkleinauthor.com

 

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

  

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

 Truckin’ – Circa 1960

© Chuck Klein, 2017