Memoires 24

BOYS AND THEIR TOYS:

Part of every boy’s life in the 1950s and 60s was a car. Back east many schools, for lack of parking space, forbade underclassman to drive but at BYU there were no such restrictions. Many a lad and gal loaded up their car and drove to BYU for their freshman year and beyond. On our dorm floor Jim Kimmel had driven his two-tone blue 1956 Chevy from Sacramento, Jon (had the “H” knocked out of him we’d say) Sabourin had a red ’48 Chevy with the column gear shift flipped over to the opposite side so he could shift it left handed, Bill Heineke from Salt Lake City with a '49 Chevy, John Shaw from Montpelier, ID and his red Corvair, and Kermit Hollingshead came from Kansas in his 1957 Ford hardtop that he had named (by painting the name on the side of the car) “Miss Carriage.”

 

The car meant freedom and those of us who did not own one were glad to chip in for gas when we’d load up the car and leave town for a weekend or holiday. One weekend Kermit was willing to take a group to L.A. We all had a good time – so good in fact that we spent all our money and did not have enough to pay for gas to get home. That fact became evident when the engine began to sputter somewhere in Southern Utah, several hundred miles from Provo. What to do? We pulled the car to the side of the road and spotted a tractor in a nearby field. All five of us pushed the Ford up the tractor and we scouted around until we found a length of hose. Benny the Leech said he had siphoned gas many times in New York and there was nothing to it.

 

After getting a mouthful of horrible tasting liquid the flow began and we emptied the contents of the tractor tank into the Ford. Who knew it was diesel? And who knew that diesel does not as a proper fuel to use in a car designed to run on gasoline? Certainly we didn’t. The car sputtered and stammered and Kermit was barely able to make it go beyond 15 miles per hour as we limped back into Provo. Another lesson learned. Thou shalt not steal (at least not fuel that will ruin an angine).

 

Sandy discovered his love for cars after he moved from the dorm to Mrs. Shaw’s off campus basement apartment. Neither of us had any mechanical knowledge but during the semester at Mrs. Shaw’s house Sandy bought probably a dozen cars at an average cost of $100 to $150 each. We would drive them until they quit running, then take them to the junk yard and sell them for $25-$30 if all the windows were intact. We decided to take one of the cars to Los Angeles to see an old girlfriend of Sandy’s. They had dated until she dropped out of school and they eventually married and divorced. Kathy’s father was a German immigrant who had developed and patented a small part that was used in military rocketry. The government contracts made him a very wealthy man and he moved his family to a beautiful large house on a huge lot on a hill in Van Nuys, in an area of L.A. called “The Valley.” Her family lived on a hillside in a huge home that had a gated entry and was located next door to cowboy actor Chill Wills.

 

On this particular day we took Sandy’s 1957 Chevy. Since neither of us had any cash for gas we also took a student who was headed home for the weekend and agreed to pay for gas in exchange for the ride. We left in the late afternoon to cross the desert at night, and stopped in Las Vegas for gas and to fill up on a 24-hour buffet meal for 99 cents. Our pit stop in Vegas was usually the Silver Slipper, located next door to the Last Frontier. It had a Mobile gas station in front and was then owned by Bo Belinsky, the so-called “Bad Boy of Baseball." We had no interest in gambling, only fueling our car and ourselves. The all-you-can-eat buffets of Las Vegas were heaven to constantly starving college students.

 

Somewhere outside Riverside, or perhaps it was “San Berdoo” (San Bernardino), the car began to make an awful racket and eventually ground to a halt. It was about 3 a.m. and we were in the midst of a barrio. Fortunately Sandy was fluent in Spanish. Unfortunately none of us looked like we belonged in the barrio. We left the car in the parking lot of what appeared to be a car repair shop, noted the name, and hiked toward a nearby freeway onramp. Our passenger found a pay phone and called a family member to come pick him up and Sandy and I stuck out thumbs out on the freeway onramp. Before long a very old truck picked us up and the driver said he was going to the San Fernando Valley. What a stroke of good fortune! The rickety old truck crept along as other traffic whizzed by even at that early hour. One thing about Los Angeles, anytime day or night the freeways are busy. Where does everybody go??? I suspect there are thousands of people who do nothing but drive the freeways 24 hours per day.

 

The old codger asked if we liked dogs and for some reason I took him for a dog hater so I said, “No, I hate them.” The truck ground to a halt and he ordered us out on the spot, mumbling something about damn dog haters then he continued down the freeway. Sandy asked hoe I missed all the dog cages in the bed of the truck.

 

It took us hours to get another ride. The Highway Patrol chased us off the freeway and threatened to give us a ticket if he saw us there again, as “pedestrians have no business on a freeway.” We finally managed to get a few more rides to the general vicinity and about 10:00 a.m. Sandy phoned Kathy to come pick us up.

 

Since Sandy was comfortable at Kathy’s parent’s house he decided to stay for a while but I felt I needed to get back to Provo. He and Kathy took me down to the train station and I spent what little money I had left on a ticket to Delta, Utah. That was still about 80 miles shy of Provo but it was all I could afford and I figured I could thumb the rest of the way.

 

When the train stopped and the conductor bid me adieu, I was expecting a train depot, but instead it was just a wide spot in the tracks. I thumbed all day without catching a single ride, except for one farmer who took me about a quarter mile then turned off on a dirt road. Finally it began to get dark. I was hungry and when the sun dropped behind the mountains I began to chill. I was in the middle of nowhere on a highway with very few cars. I had walked and thumbed probably several miles during the day, and I was becoming depressed fast. It must have been 7 or 8:00 when I walked up to a farmhouse and knocked on the door prepared to beg for a little food or water, but the people inside refused to open the door and threatened me with a gun if I didn’t leave. I told them I was a BYU student, hoping that would carry some sway, and asked, through the closed door if they could call Kathy Jones (the girl I’d dated the previous summer and the only phone number I could remember) and I shouted her phone number through the closed door. I asked them to ask her if she would come to pick me up, and that I’d wait on the highway. I didn’t know if they would call or not but a couple of hours later Kathy and her father pulled up in his old pickup truck. I was shivering from the cold and just sat in a stupor all the way back to Provo. The entire experience was what we called in those days, a real downer. I thanked them profusely when they dropped my off at Mrs. Shaw’s basement apartment. Sandy arrived several days later. The rest of the semester I buckled down and studied, waiting for the semester to end.

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Comments (1)

  1. moonwind

    Wow! What a nightmare to be stuck in the middle of no where! Thankfully, Kathy cared enough to pick you up. All of those cars, was great to read about.

    December 03, 2010
  2. Memoires

    I was at my lowedt ebb when she and her father pulled up. What a nightmare.

    Cars were such a cheap commodity then. They coupld be purchased for as little as $50 (well used), gas was cheap, $ 0.25 per gallon or less, and tires, which wore out in an average of 10,000 miles could be puchased for as little as $5.00 each (used or retreads). Of course, as college students we didn’t even think of carrying insurance.

    December 03, 2010
  3. Memoires

    (make that “at my lowest ebb”)

    December 03, 2010
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