Man, what a ride
"Have you heard the story of the hot rod race where the Fords and the Lincolns were setting the pace, that story's true I'm here to say, I was driving that Model A..."
That's how the song written by originally Charlie Ryan starts out. Whenever I hear it, though, I think of a '54 Chevrolet my cousin Randy had.
Randy brought the car home from State College and it sat for a few years before he started to rebuild it.
"Rebuilding" is somewhat misleading though. What he really did was gut it of all but the frame, floor and outer steel body.
Then he built a souped-up Chevrolet 350 motor and bolted it into the car.
"It's got a Lincoln motor and it's really souped up, that Model A Vitimix makes it look like a pup, it's got eight cylinders, uses them all. It's got overdrive, just won't stall."
The 54 had a bit of a bulldog appearance and if it had overdrive, I didn't know. With every step forward in the rebuilding process Randy would take me for a spin. I'd harness myself in and outwardly smile as I held on for dear life.
"With a four-barrel carb and a dual exhaust, and four-eleven gears you can really get lost, it's got safety tubes, but I ain't scared, the brakes are good, tires fair."
The 54 had the four-barrel carb and the dual exhaust. And Cousin Randy knew his way around the car. The brakes were good and the tires were fair.
After a long process of rebuilding and research by ace mechanic Rob, the '54 finally was certified as state inspected and after much longer research and paperwork, it was licensed and even insured.
And so came the day when Cousin Randy came by my house and asked if I wanted to ride along over to Eau Claire.
For some reason never clear to me, I agreed.
"Pulled out of San Pedro late one night. The moon and the stars was shinin' bright. We was drivin' up Grapevine Hill. Passing cars like they was standing still"
Well, it wasn't San Pedro, it was my driveway and it was the middle of the morning. We didn't go up Grapevine Hill, but instead we went up Emlenton Hill. There weren't any cars to pass on that hill, but that part is coming.
"All of a sudden in a wink of an eye, a Cadillac sedan passed us by I said, Boys, that's a mark for me!' By then the tail light was all you could see"
The engine in that old '54 was all beef and although I don't remember what style of shifter Randy had put in the car, I was under the impression I was should be impressed with it. I never did understand the hotrod business.
We hit State Route 38 and came up behind a car on a short, flat stretch of the road.
"Now the fellas was ribbin' me for bein' behind, so I thought I'd make the Lincoln unwind, took my foot off the gas and man alive, I shoved it on down into overdrive"
I wasn't ribbin' anyone. I was securely harnessed into the seat. But I knew when I saw that short passing zone and that slower moving car what was about happen. Sure enough Randy took his foot off the gas and he shoved it on down into overdrive.
"Wound it up to a hundred and ten, my speedometer said that I hit top end, my foot was glued like lead to the floor, that's all there is and there ain't no more"
I don't know what speed Randy wound it up to, but I know there was plenty more.
"Now, the boys all thought I'd lost my sense,
and telephone poles looked like a picket fence, they said, Slow down! I see spots!' The lines on the road just look like dots"
It's completely possible the telephone poles looked like a picket fence and the lines on the road looked like dots. I don't know. It was about that time I closed my eyes.
There was no back seat in the old '54. There nothing but a wide open space where the back seat used to be. There also was a lot of paper receipts, wrappers, dust, tools and other objects.
When Randy put the pedal to the floor and the '54 hit top end, all of the that paper and dust started to move freely around the interior of the car.
"Took a corner; sideswiped a truck, crossed my fingers just for luck, my fenders was clickin' the guardrail posts, the guy beside me was white as a ghost"
The faster the '54 went, the more it seemed to rise into the air and I wondered if the tires were touching the road. The paper and dust were blinding. Randy was running the '54 through its gears now and the engine was roaring. I would have crossed my fingers but I had somehow managed to dig them into the steel dashboard. And I'm sure I was as white as ghost.
"Smoke was comin' from out of the back, when I started to gain on that Cadillac. Knew I could catch him, I thought I could pass, Don't you know by then we'd be low on gas?"
It wasn't smoke pouring out of the 54, it was dust and dirt. The paper was still whipping around like shrapnel. We passed that other car in the wink of an eye. There was no telling what our gas situation was. The fuel tank was actually the old gasoline tank out of an old Oliver 60 tractor and it was bolted down in the trunk. The gas level was checked with a ruler before each trip.
"We had flames comin' from out of the side, feel the tension, Man! What a ride! I said, Look out, boys, I've got a license to fly!' And that Caddy pulled over and let us by"
The flames on the '54 were actually painted on and they looked good. The tension at least for me was intense. I did believe the car was starting to fly.
"Now all of a sudden she started to knockin,' And down in the dips she started to rockin,' I looked in my mirror; a red light was blinkin' The cops was after my Hot Rod Lincoln!"
There were no police and Randy backed off the gas and put the '54 back in our lane. We went on to the hardware store where I pulled my finger tips out of the dashboard and when my legs stopped shaking, I unstrapped myself and got out of the car.
"They arrested me and they put me in jail, and called my pappy to throw my bail, And he said, son, you're gonna' drive me to drinkin,' if you don't stop drivin' that hot...rod...Lincoln!"
The '54 is long gone now. But when I hear that song I instantly return to those few moments outside Eau Claire.
"Man, what a ride"n
The author is the editor of the Clarion News.