Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Just A Quick Ride Home

Through the years, I’ve been intrigued by the burning of tires. There is a bundle of energy packed into each black, round balloon that keeps cargo and people of the world rolling to their next destination.

I was in the tire business for 25 years or so, the last 20 were spent owning a Les Schwab Tire Center. Oh, the stories I could tell. Maybe I will one of these days.

I think my attraction to tires began when I was about the same height as a G78 x 15. That was 1960's tire lingo. Today we'd be talking a P215 75R15. And that size, like me, is becoming outdated.

In my early years, my buddy Brian and I became infatuated with the squealing errrch!, tires trying to grip the road and other visual effects generated when loads of power are poured into the little footprints on the bottom of tires contacting the road. The footprint surface area is relatively tiny but when power is applied to the drive line, the vehicle uses these little connection points to miraculously make a several thousand pound rig get up and go.

After spending years of our adolescence practicing with standard transmissions and gravel roads, we graduated into teen hood, automatic transmissions and black pavement. We soon discovered a great way to make our folks' late 60’s and early 70’s era station wagons put out the same sights and smells found on the ground floor of a Saturday night Texas drag strip.

I should mention at this point that Brian and I have repented of and kind of slightly vaguely sort of regret the mistakes we made, some of which may be sprinkled throughout this blog from time to time. This exact phrase and disclaimer should be remembered each time I talk about my younger-day goofs.

I believe we were in the ninth grade at the time of one very memorable attempted burnout. Brian’s mom had driven us home from a wrestling match in Ritzville that we’d both participated in. She was in a hurry to get home so we stopped at their house. She got out and told Brian to drive me home. We lived a couple of miles away and since we’d been driving around our parent's farms since we were 4 or 5, this was no big deal.

However, once we got out on the main road, Brian kindly offered to show me how powerful their new hemi-powered Dodge Polaris station wagon was. “Sounds like fun!” I said.
Brian was my friend and I hated to disagree with him, mainly because he was tougher than I. Besides, I had heard a lot about how powerful those Dodge hemi's were. This was my opportunity to see one in action, up close and personal.

That poor Dodge. You’ll hear about additional pains we inflicted on it in later pages. Remember, this was a brand new car.

It was dark, probably about 10:00 at night. Brian stopped the car halfway between Cook’s house and my house, shifted the tranny into neutral, and revved the engine. I don’t mean he inched a few hundred RPM’s on. I mean he put his foot, his lead shoe and the severely compressed gas pedal through the floor.

The motor soon began screaming like a banshee! Even I, the wild child I was, immediately lost all faith that we would experience a pleasant burnout that evening. I was no mechanic but I had an overwhelming feeling in my inner being that it would end in disaster. I decided to tell him that he should ease up on the gas pedal a bit.

“Brian, I think that’s a little too much throttle.” I meekly called out. He didn’t hear a thing. He was one focused driver. His ears were marveling at the exciting engine roar while his eyes proudly watched the tachometer spin around on its' second or third revolution.

I screamed “Hey, Cook, she's gonna blow!” But it was too late.

At the height of the revs, way past what the Dodge engineers envisioned when they originally put a pencil to the power train performance projections, Brian pulled the gearshift down into the D position. On a normal day, D stood for Drive. On this particular night, D stood for Dumb or Demolish or Darnbigtrouble, most likely all three.

There was an ultra-loud BANG and smoke filled the cockpit. If I remember correctly, the engine whimpered and died. Quiet silence and loads of smoke filled the area in and around the car. We both knew the car was done for the night and thought maybe we were in the same boat.

Specifically, we weren’t sure just what the problem was but deep in our hearts, we knew a cataclysmic event had just transpired and we were smack dab in the middle of it. We walked back to Cook’s in the winter dark to see if they had another rig that could take me home.

As we walked, even though it was a cold evening in November, we had time to pull some brain cells out of the freezer and let them thaw. After thawing, we cooked up a scenario of baloney until it was baked just right.

I remembered that we had actually passed a dead dog on the road just before we had attempted our dragster impersonation. A conveniently placed excuse for us (but not for the dog), we delivered a tall but believable tale to Brian’s dad, Vern, that we had stopped to check on the dead canine and then noticed car headlights coming quickly up behind us.

This is a fairly gross picture of the dead dog after my wife edited it-kinda like she did with a magic marker on a calendar I got from the auto parts store a few years ago.

“So what were we to do?” we innocently asked Brian’s dad. It was obvious. We did the same thing that any other good and careful young men would do. We quickly said a little prayer for the dog, kicked him to make sure he was dead and then jumped back in the car, all while in a hurry to get moving and accelerate out of the way of the approaching (albeit imaginary) car.

Brian shifted a smidgen back into the truth zone by stating that when we took off, the car made a little "Poof" noise, and then just quit.

Vern towed the car to a shop the next morning. We heard later that the mechanic who fixed the drive train said that with the extensive damage that was done, he figured the only way it could have happened was for someone to be driving 60 mph down the road and then shift the car into reverse while maintaining full throttle.

We assured Vern that the car was definitely never shifted into reverse.


ginny said...

Nice, Ben.

James Daniel Simmons said...

I remember when you visited our farm in Salmon that it didn't take you long, while pressing the limits of our motorcycles and your ability to hold wheelies forever, before you decorated yourself with a barbwire fence and a ditch or both; your amazing wheelies ended in an instant in one colossal wreck. I vaguely remember that your dad was saying something like, "If we and the 3000 guardian angels who are assigned to him can just keep him alive until his brain catches up to his pedal-to-the-metal personality, he might just survive his teens:)

I have more understanding for your father after having survived a teen who destroyed every motorcycle and car he ever owned, as well as a few of my own. And could he weave a story! You cannot imagine the prayers offered in his behalf when he became an avid and highly skilled rock climber. The first time I watched him climb, I watched him fall 40 feet landing on his back on a boulder after his belayer's gregory failed. He gets us an reassures me that the chances of that ever happening again are about one in a million. Great!

We heard that all those guardian angels that used to be assigned to you had been reassigned to our son. They are good; he is now anxiously engaged in the Houston South Mission channeling his own "pedal-to-the-metal" spirit into a real growing experience that he absolutely loves.

Keep up the good writing Ben!

brent said...

I've heard you tell this one before but I still cried reading it. Good one.

Brian and Jennifer said...

Oh, you two were naughty!