The Vaults

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I bought a 1966 International Harvester Scout a few weeks back and had it towed to the shop for a guestimate on what it’s going to take to make road worthy, and off-road worthy, reminding me of past automotivational hijinks, thus the theme in the next installment of…

BL graduated high school knowing that if he headed straight to college he’d waste his time getting wasted and wasting his above-average intelligence. So instead of running off to UGA to end up as a drunk with a C average, he joined the navy. We, his friends, tried our best to talk him out of it, but I had to admire his guts. I had taken the path of least resistance – college. It meant I didn’t have to find a serious job and could party away the next indeterminable number of years.
BL spent his final summer of freedom working in a chicken processing plant in the chicken capitol of the world, Hall County. He and his brother had grisly tales of the place that are, thankfully, not party of this story.
BL had an early 80’s Ford LTD, not the titanic boats of the 60’s or 70’s, but more a large small car for those who wanted luxury but could only afford a Ford. It was a boxy, red thing with plenty of miles on it but in fair condition.
His car insurance was due to run out a couple of weeks before his fast-approaching departure date. He decided he’d have one last night of hell-raising fun in the LTD, then park it before heading off to boot camp. The idea spawned a saying, “If it ain’t dangerous it ain’t fun,” something we said repeatedly over the following days and years.
He mentioned his car to one of the more redneck guys at the chicken plant.
BL told the story that night. “The guy said, ‘Man, that thang has a 302 in it. That’s one hell of an engine, man,’” BL said, mimicked his coworker's thick southern accent, “Then he said, ‘Three-owh-two, bygawd – heyellllyeaahhh…’”
So the night of the grande finale came but the rest of our friends who had said they were up for the trip chickened out. They wouldn’t even show up to the shack to wish us good luck. So it was just BL and myself – and a couple of 12-packs of The Beast. We waited until the cover of darkness. There were only a few cops on duty at night in the entire county in those days and the dirt roads we’d be traveling weren’t on their route. And we wanted to minimize the chance of any other traffic. It got later and later as we got more and more intoxicated. Impatient, I was pushing for us to hit the road but BL stuck to his plan of staying off the streets until after midnight.
The witching hour, or close enough, finally arrived and we tossed the remainder of the beer in the back seat and took off. It was a mere quarter mile to the turn off where the gravel and dirt road began, an area some of the gang referred to as “Dog Country” due to all the dogs that liked to chase cars on those back roads. There were a few homes and farms back there but not much else.
As soon as the tires left the pavement they were spinning as BL gunned the engine. He rocketed down the hill, swerving through the turns, dust and gravel flying. He knew the road well and was prepared for the narrow bridge across the gully at the bottom of the hill. He nailed the center of it perfectly then swung the car to the left, heading down through the flat end of the valley.
“Three-owh-two, bygawd – heyellllyeaahhh!” he yelled.
“Shit, Clem, look out for them trees,” I yelled back in redneckese.
“I see’s ‘em, Zeek!” he yelled back.
We stuck to these exaggerated personalities for most of the night, yelling in a drawl as thick as we could muster, “Three-owh-two, bygawd – heyellllyeaahhh!”
The car slid sideways through turns, BL using a mix of skill and luck to keep the thing pointed in approximately the right direction. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. If someone were to return to their farm late that night there would've little we could’ve done to avoid them as we slid wide in the turns. Even on the straight-aways the road was narrow with ditches on either side. But we were lucky and eased through the turns as if in the midst of an off-road rally.
Soon the beers were gone.
“Let’s us go up town and get some more, Clem.”
”Naw, man, we got a taillight out and about to have no insurance, Zeek.”
”Shit, man, we need more Beast!”
“I can’t get a DUI a week before I join the navy. They’ll kick me out.”
”Come ON, I’ll drive!” I offered.
We traded places and I took it granny-speed into town. We hit the closest beer store for another 12-pack and slunk back out of town. Once we left the pavement again, BL took over and we were back in maniacal driving mode, beer cans rolling around in the floorboards and throats getting hoarse from all the yelling.
We approached a turn like any other we’d slid through, a bend to the left.
BL slid into it but around the corner came the surprise – a hairpin turn the other way. His hands were a blur as he whipped the steering wheel around but nothing could’ve straightened the heavy luxury car fast enough. The LTD was pointed in the right direction but still moving the wrong direction when we hit the embankment – WHUMP – not fast, but fast enough. The car died and the dust blew over us. The night was silent for a moment – until we started cackling with laughter.
BL reached for the key and started the thing up again. Warning lights came on but the engine rolled over, hesitated, then came to life. BL put it in gear and hit the gas.
The rear tire spun, spitting gravel, and the car lurched but would not go forward. He pushed the pedal to the floor but it was obvious we were just digging ourselves deeper.
I got out of the car for a look. We were in the ditch on one side and the other was digging up the loose dirt at the edge of the road.
“Hang on,” I said and climbed onto the trunk. “OK, hit it!”
“Man, that is stupid, you’re gonna bust your head,” BL said.
“No, it’s cool, go!” I yelled back, jumping up and down on the trunk to encourage traction.
BL hit the gas.
Fortunately this brilliant plan failed. The car remained unmoved.
“Just get out of the damn way,” BL yelled.
I hopped off and stepped back. BL put the LTD in reverse and gunned it. The car lurched backwards a foot or so. He slammed it back in drive and it lurched forward two feet, then reverse again for three feet more, then forward again and the car bounced free of the ditch. Brute force had won out.
“Three-owh-two, bygawd – heyellllyeaahhh!” we yelled simultaneously.
I ran over and hopped in the car. BL hit the gas but a few feet further hit the brakes.
“Somethin’s wrong,” he said.
It sounded like a flat tire. We climbed out and confirmed the rear left tire was flat as a pancake. We’d probably busted it when we impacted the embankment.
We dug into the trunk and pulled out the spare. As BL was jacking her up I heard a sound coming from the front of the car. I went around and listened.
The radiator was boiling so hard it was vibrating the car.
I giggled, “Ah, shit.”
We got it jacked up and looked under the car. A stream of fluid as big around as a pencil was flowing from somewhere. We looked closer and determined it to be transmission fluid. More giggling and cursing followed.
We put the spare on and let out the jack. The car settled – right down to the rim. The spare was as flat as the tire we’d just pulled off.
“Fuck it, we’ll get her home on the rim,” BL said.
We tossed the crap back in the trunk, took another slug of Beast and rolled on.
The flat lasted a while, rumbling like thunder, before it began to shred, trapped between steel and gravel. Scraps were slapping into the wheel well, making a horrible racket. They flew loose at random.
We passed a house. “Shit, that ain’t supposed to be there,” BL said.
“Uh… are we lost, Clem?”
“Uh… no. No. I don’t think so.”
Obviously we were.
“I think I missed a turn back there,” he said and pulled into a driveway to turn around.
He pushed the shifter but could not get the thing into reverse.
“I think she’s all out of tranny fluid, Clem,” I said.
“No shit,” he said, then resorted to slamming at the shifter.
We could be miles and miles from the shack. In the pre-cell phone days, this meant hours of walking, hopefully in the right direction, hopefully without encountering the packs of dogs that earned the area it’s nickname. We weren’t brave enough to stop at a the farmhouse or help. Who would offer it at 3 AM to a pair of drunks stumbling out of a car that had obviously already been wrecked once, steam pouring from under the hood, a trail of shredded tire behind it? We’d likely end up with our asses full of buckshot.
The car popped into reverse and we backed out into the road. He had an equally difficult time getting it back into drive. He grabbed the shifter with both hands and yanked on it two, three times before it crunched into gear.
We followed the trail of tire parts scattered all over the road back to the turn we'd missed.
“Yeah, this is it,” BL said.
“I fuckin’ hope so,” I responded. The last of the tire came off with a thunk. Things were actually quieter on just the steel rim. By then 4 of the 6 warning lights on the dash had been glowing steadily for half an hour or more.
I imagined giving up on the long walk home and just lying down in the ditch in drunken exhaustion to be woken up by the cops who are wondering why we had abandoned a wrecked LTD in the middle of the road half a mile back.

An eternity later we found the bridge and followed the road up the hill to blessed pavement. The back end slid around on a bit on the harder surface but BL managed to get it home. We giggled a bit as we got out of the thing and headed inside to sleep.

In the morning BL’s father was in the dining room with breakfast on the table.
What did you do you your car?” he said in his thick Southern accent with a tone that was more concerned than disapproval.
We both snickered. “Uh… I got a flat,” BL said, trying to be coy.
“You got more than a flat…” his father mumbled, shaking his head.
We went out and got a look at the thing. One front wheel was at an unnatural angle, bent inward. The spare’s rim was worn down, holding only a thread from the tire. There were a few dings and dents and it was dirty as hell. I don’t think we had even bothered to get the beer cans out of the thing.
A proud moment.

BL borrowed his father’s truck and took the flat LTD tire to the shop and it turned out we’d just popped it off the rim. They filled it and BL put it back on the car and drove it to his mother’s to let her sell it. A week or two later he was off to the navy. He finished near the top of his class in nuclear power school and impressed the faculty so much they made him a teacher there for a couple of years before he even took his first tour of duty on a submarine.

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