It seems like only last week Chicken Little was proclaiming impending doom on the horizon as we sped towards the dawn of a new era and the arrival of Y2K. It seems like only yesterday we were celebrating the arrival of 2009 and here we are on the threshold of 2010 awaiting the arrival of doomsday in 2012.
My how time flies when your having fun! The speed with which days seem to pass astounds me and leaves me with a growing clarity in the understanding of just how short life really is as well as the importance of making every day count.
I suppose a certain degree of this growing awareness about the ticking clock over my shoulder that counts down the time that remains is resultant of the loss of two very good friends this year. Both men lived long and full lives but still in retrospect their time here seems so short.
Jasper “Johnny” Fleming was born in 1919. His life bridged the gap between the distant past and the modern era as his grandfather was a slave, he served in a segregated Navy during World War II and lived to see an American of African ancestry become president.
He was born into a poor share cropping family in Arkansas but Johnny quickly moved beyond those narrow confines by joining the Navy. Whenever this topic was broached his eyes would fill with a haunted look as he told of a sudden change in orders that resulted in several classmates and friends being assigned to the USS Arizona in the summer of 1941 while he received east coast duty.
During the war he endured numerous escorts of supply ships to Murmansk in Russia across the U-boat infested North Atlantic and, later, relatively easy duty in the Mediterranean Sea based in Italy. After the war he worked for the federal government in New York City, moved west to Kingman with the Job Corps in the 1960s, got a job with the Santa Fe Railroad, retired and took a part time position with Martin Swanty Chrysler as a handyman, a job he kept until he was 86 years of age!
H.P. Pemberton was one of those larger than life characters that fills a room with his presence but is never noticed in a crowd. It was automobiles that first brought this soft spoken man from the mountains of Tennessee and I together as he was a master mechanic with an incredible array of knowledge on vintage cars stored in his mind.
On our first encounter he was assisting a frustrated friend that was having difficulties in regards to getting his 1936 Terraplane to run. The second encounter was when a friend broke down in Kingman with his 1950 De Soto. In both instances H.P. came to the rescue.
My crazy schedule prevented as much interaction as I would have liked. Still, the time I had with H.P. was almost magical as it seemed every visit was stepping through a portal into another time.
On one visit I found him lowering a refurbished Model T engine into a bare frame utilizing a chain fall hung from a tree. With simple hand tools he had transformed a pile of discarded parts into the finest running Model T engine I have ever heard.
He was not a collector and aside from the lowly Model T had no particular affection for a particular brand of automobile. He reminded me of an old school watch maker as it was the beauty of things mechanical that seemed to motivate him.
When he passed away this year a 1973 Citoren SM with 6,500 original miles resided in his garage (he was a Citroen dealer for a brief time) and a 1968 model sat outside awaiting his attention. The afore mentioned Model T dominated the yard as this was his priority since summer was fast approaching and he planned to drive home to Tennessee via US 66!
His expertise and easy going manner were well known among local collectors of antique vehicles or odd ball equipment. Two years ago he assisted a local collector with the retrieval of a pair of Hupmobiles from Oklahoma and then resurrected their mechanics setting timing, valve lash and other intricacies from memory. The last project was the engine and transmission rebuild on a very rare Federal truck.
Old cars and trucks were seldom discarded unless they were traded for something more interesting. Scattered here and there were a wide array of cars. There was a 1931 Auburn purchased after mustering out of the Army in 1938, the car that broke down in Kingman as he traveled east on Route 66 and his first car given to him by his father, a 1910 Buick.
In one garage an early Saab station wagon kept company with a battered International Scout and a 1994 Cadillac. In the yard an old Suburban slumbered amongst a towering pile of discarded Model T components.
The passing of Johnny and H.P. mark the end of an era. We truly do not make them like this anymore and for this our nation suffers.
I suppose the moral, if there is one, of this somewhat dark tale is this – life is short. Enjoy every day, learn something new everyday, make it a goal to enrich the lives of those around you more than yourself, and do all you can to leave the place a bit better than it was when you got here.