Crash at the Track

As my octogenarianism grows into its fifth year, my mind continues to wonder as I wander.
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Ford cars were part of my life in high school. The ’41, the pickup I crashed, several Model As, and the 1932 Ford two-door which two friends and I pooled part-time income to buy for racing. One George’s father was an aircraft mechanic and built the rollover cage for us. He also supplied the aviation four-point aviation safety harness.

I’m sure someone somewhere has a picture of that car, but who knows? Anyway, our first race day was a Sunday. In those days, such activities were akin to sacrilege. Except for diving to Minneapolis for a major league baseball game of course.

Dean and I cruised the gut and other places in my 1941 Ford to advertise the July 18, 1954 event. I have to say an octogenarian however – it may have been Dean’s 41 Ford.
Well, the Alexandria Stock Car Association rule was that the cars bodies had to be 1930s models, but the engines could be up to 1946. We had an 85 hp V8 but talked about upgrading to a 90 hp – the most popular Ford engine at the time.
The three of us took turns driving the races at the Douglas County Fairgrounds track. I don’t remember much about the season, but that summer was my only one.

One of the Sundays, I was holding my own against older much more experienced drivers. I was riding rather high into the first corner and trying to turn closer to the inside of the dirt oval. An experienced driver maneuvered me off the track. I went end over end. Those who were watching said I flipped once in the air and two more times contacting the ground.

Yes. I did wet myself. But the four-point harness and roll cage kept me from physical injury.

I raced only one more time – mostly to prove I could, but I also left for National Guard camp the next week and the car was inoperative when I got back.

Another Car Wreck

As my octogenarianism grows into its fifth year, my mind continues to wonder as I wander.
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I didn’t have a collision with another car until I was an experienced driver.

My first afore mentioned ‘practical’ car was 41 Ford 2-door sedan. My aunt insisted that she carry the rarely gifted flat of thirty eggs when we were returning to town from one of our occasional visits to Grandpa’s farm. The jugs of raw milk and freshly picked vegetables were carefully packed in the trunk of the two-door sedan.

There were ten of us in the car. Mother, Aunt, and I had the front seat. My six younger siblings and toddler cousin were tightly crammed into the back. Seatbelts were for race cars in those days; overpacking a passenger car wasn’t wise, but neither was it against the law.

There were ridges of gravel on the road except in places where a vehicle had met another and one or both pulled aside. The loose gravel ridges between and outside the ruts were tire deep in many places, so turning to the side to meet another vehicle safely required a good bit of skill and experience. Ditches on either side of the road were nearly as deep as a boy was tall and there was little slope before the drop-off into cattails or tall grass.

We were nearing an intersection and I thought it would be wise to steer the car to near the edge of the road in case someone turned facing us and would need room to pass. As I turned to the right, I shifted down to second gear and gave the V8 engine a little extra gas to get over the gravel ridges. My foot was still on the accelerator pedal when the partly turned front wheels were forced full right by the very loose gravel.

My attempt to straighten the car was in vain. I didn’t have the strength to keep the front wheels from following the path I’d started, and the gravel took control of their direction. I thought gunning the engine and turning the steering wheel a hard left would help.


Before I could recover and straighten the car, it was fully into the ditch at about a 30-degree tilt. We were all scrunched and tangled together, but uninjured.

After I shut off the engine, there was complete silence until Mother asked if everyone was OK, but no one except Aunt said anything. She was pressed against the passenger side door by Mother and holding the egg tray horizontal and partly outside the window. She yelled, “I saved the eggs.”

I don’t remember how we got out of the car but exiting through the passenger side door was impossible. A farmer pulled the car out of the ditch with his tractor.

There was no real damage other than weeds and grass caught between the running board and fenders and a slightly bent trim piece.

First Car Wreck

As my octogenarianism grows into its fifth year, my mind continues to wonder as I wander.
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Most people remember their first car wreck – I certainly do.

Remember my writing about the man who taught me how to pour babbitt bearings. The 1935 or 1936 Ford 1I don’t remember which wasn’t in tremendous shape body-wise, but he kept it well tuned. I tried several times to get him to sell it to me. In retrospect, I don’t know how I would have paid for it. And perhaps my widowed mother didn’t think it would be practical for me to get a truck when there were eight in the family.

It certainly would have been a coup d’état for me. In my pre-action imagination, the eighty-five horsepower V8 would be replaced with a Ford 90 or even a 110 hp Mercury engine. It was a cool vehicle for the mid-1950s and is still today.

I used it several times, if I remember the first time was when I towed the Model A hulk to the wrecking yard. And I used it to haul the lumber for the ice boat2I may blog that story sometime.. With his permission and my plot to own it, I started taking it to a friend’s place where his dad had an auto body shop. There were several not too serious dents in the truck, and I told my neighbor I could repair them. And I did learn how to fill or pop dents and spray paint using his vehicle as the object.

I’ll admit to going a little too fast on my way to the body shop one day. I started to slide in loose gravel but couldn’t regain control. Headed for the ditch and a driveway over a culvert, I pulled myself tight to the steering wheel. I broke my nose, but it was straightened from a previous football injury.

I walked to the shop, then my friend and I towed the truck to Neighbor’s place and parked it where the hulk had been. It was extremely hard to tell him what I had done. I offered to buy the truck again and at the price he could get if it weren’t damaged. He still wouldn’t sell it and said, I could repair it as compensation. I scrounged and bought parts, including a front axle and did the body work at the body shop.

I’m not sure what ever happened to the truck. I got a more practical car and my having a crowd-drawing vehicle fantasy faded for a while. 3Even in those days I had a drifting mind.

First Car

As my octogenarianism grows into its fifth year, my mind continues to wonder as I wander.
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My first car was going to be the coolest in town. Many of the coolest old cars of today are the ones we rejected when we were in our teens.
To be seen in a pre-WWII Plymouth sedan or other ‘granny car’ wasn’t cool. Now one like that can get over $10,000 on the open market. Even some of the other transports of that time are worth far more than then.

There were two cars in town that nearly every one of my peers and I wanted. The owner of a café frequented by teens had a four-door 1939 or 1940 Ford phaeton convertible. The other was a seldom driven 1941 Ford coupe owned by the spinster head librarian at the city library.

My first car never ran, but it didn’t cost much either.
Like many boys with a new license and visions of having something cool to drive, I got a free hulk from a neighbor. A few bucks at a wrecking yard got me a windshield from a 1935 Auburn Phaeton. How cool to have a rumble seated roadster with a custom windshield.

Our neighbor landlord had been a Ford mechanic and taught me how to pour babbitt bearings. I started to re-assemble the engine so I could sell it and get a V8 for what would be the coolest roadster in town.

Mother convinced me I was pounding sand into a sink hole, so I sold the hulk and partly assembled engine to the junk dealer. But I kept the Auburn windshield for several years.

Driver Education

As my octogenarianism grows into its fifth year, my mind continues to wonder as I wander.
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Seventy years ago I started paying serious attention to cars.

I learned some of the basics of driving when I was eleven. Not on the road, but in a North Dakota farmer’s field. The farmer hired me for $2.00 a day to drive his tractor and pull a combine for harvesting oats and wheat. This is not the time to discuss child labor! In ten days, I had enough to buy over 100 gallons of gas if I’d had a car.

I was sure I’d get to drive his truck alongside the combine and take grain to the elevator a few miles away the next summer. Underage farm kids had implied but not necessarily legal permission to drive with that purpose. Legal or not, it was a very common practice. But we moved.

The summer after my 14th birthday in Minnesota, I anticipated getting a learner permit, but with no family vehicle, I couldn’t even cheat at some time behind the wheel. Well, one of the farm kids I’d met in high school had been driving an on the farm only unlicensed pickup since he was about ten. I’d talked about my tractor work and he invited me to practice with the 1930s something REO.

I’m sure that his dad knew, but he never said anything about my friend stopping their newer truck a half mile away from the farm with a load of farm product and letting me take the wheel. That was good practice for me, but certainly not legal for either of us. As tempting as it was, we didn’t stop at the A&W or sneak a drive through town.

I got my official Minnesota Driver Leaner Permit in October 1951. My mother, legally blind, wasn’t licensed in Minnesota and as I said before we didn’t have a family car. We had a car in ND, and she drove it to MN. The prospect of getting legal experience was as bright as a snowless winter in MN.

My only option was to sign up for official driver education offered by the school as soon as the snow was mostly off the ground the spring of 1952.

My mouth got in the way of what the rest of me could do quite well. Parallel parking was done with posts at the corners of an on-street parking place. I’m not sure just what I said, but it was something like, “Mr. Xxxx, I believe it’s ridiculous to park with sticks when the real test would be to have some wrecking yard cars parked for us to get in between.”

The instructor’s look told me I should keep quiet, but I added as I completed the maneuver into the space, “How many times have you had to park between sticks.”

He got out and told me I was more than a foot from the curb to which I said something about the street-side posts being much more than a car’s width from the curb, so I’d actually parked correctly. I did a recovery and asked if he’d show me how to get closer to the curb. He hit the front stick twice, then sent me home.

I got a letter authorizing me to take the state patrol test and the next week two junkers were parked the required six inches from the curb in front and in back of the driver education practice spot.

Sixty-nine years ago this month I got my Minnesota Driver License.


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