Brad was a funny sort of fellow. Judging by the worn leather face, with faint white traces of scars nestled deep in the eyebrows that looked like a couple of hairy caterpillars, and the long brown neck with bulging Adams apple that poked from the button up shirt you would guess his age at somewhere between sixty and two hundred. From the tattered and sweat stained shirt collar up to the brim of the sweat stained and tattered hat only the piercing blue eyes gave a hint of youth or even life. For all intents and purposes Brad had the face of an Egyptian mummy. He stood well over six foot tall but an exact height was tough to determine as he often leaned forward on one leg. To say his build was thin would be akin to saying Duluth is a bit chilly in the winter. I would be willing to bet he could have hidden behind a flag pole. Brad wasn’t sickly thin. It was more like jerky thin as he had dried under the desert sun for so many years there was a distinct similarity between him and his favorite snack. Brad was the only man I have ever known that could eat jerky with a plug of tobacco big enough to choke a squirrel in his cheek. He was also the only fellow that I have ever met that would smoke a home rolled cigarette, or Camel, while passing a plug of tobacco back and forth between his cheeks. He claimed to be a optimistic pessimist that started each day with meditation on the worst things that could befall him during the day. He said that the advantage to this type of thinking was regardless of how bad the day went, he was the only one smiling at the end because it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. He was slow to talk and slower to anger. His simple, homespun philosophy and logic gave the impression he was an intelligent, thinking man with little formal education. But on those long days during roundup when we would be on the range and on the trail eating dust for days on end, you knew his saddlebags were loaded with books by Plutarch and Pliny, and in Latin, or by men like Thomas Paine, Teddy Roosevelt, or Robert Service. But it was a well worn and weathered Bible he treasured most. See, Brad was not a man of formal education but he was a man with an inquisitive mind. He was also a man that loved to learn and was passionate about books. For him school, came to an abrupt end shortly after the eighth grade when his dad died in a mining accident and he picked up jobs to help his mom make ends meet. Then he lied abut his age and enlisted at the age of 17, the week after Pearl Harbor. He turned 18 on Guadalcanal and turned 19 in a hospital recovering from wounds. After the war he sought solace as a balm for his broken soul and found it in the life of a cowboy in Montana. From that day until I met him on the Sierra Mesa Ranch down near the Mexican border, that was the only life he had ever known. So, there I was, a green kid with a dream of being a cowboy and there he was, a man worn old before his time but at peace with the world and his place in it. Brad had only one speed regardless of how important a project was or who told him to do it, the one he set. But any job he did was done right and well. I remember a time that we were given the task of setting new posts and stringing wire in the brush thickets above the bottoms of the Mimbres River. During the first hours of the day my frustration with the old man began to grow as I was setting two poles on my side of the river for everyone of his. While I wolfed down my lunch in a hurry to get the job done, he lounged under a tree, read a book, smoked, and slowly chewed his burritos. When I dusted off my pants and went back to work, he looked at his pocket watch and read to the end of the chapter. By mid afternoon I was about played out. By late afternoon Brad had set his poles and was on my side of the river finishing the line. Then, when that task was done, without a word, he handed me the spool on a piece of pipe, and went to work stringing the wire. We were in the truck on the way back to the ranch when he spoke for the first time since lunch. He pushed his hat back on his head revealing snow white skin and thin wisps of greying hair, patted me on the shoulder, smiled a big grin, and said, “The good book says to meditate on whats good, pure, and lovely. All day I was trying to figure out what was good about stringing wire in that brush. Then it came to me, we had no clock to punch. Besides, if it wasn’t for work like that, how could a man ever look forward to death?” There were two kinds of people in Brad’s world, those he liked and those he didn’t. For reasons unknown, he liked me. One evening we were relaxing in the shade after unloading a truck full of hay into the barn when a big Lincoln Town Car came down the road and stopped in front of us in a cloud of dust that stuck to our sweat soaked shirts and damp faces. The driver, a fat man unused to work, rolled his window down and the cool breeze from that air conditioned car teased us with a hint of winter in the middle of summer. The question to Brad about where the man could find his boss was met with an appropriate response, at least appropriate as Brad saw it. He stood up straight and tall, dusted the hay from his shirt, wiped the sweat from his brow with a colorful handkerchief, sauntered to the side of the car, placed his arm on the door, spit in the dust, pushed his hat back on his head, leaned down, and said, “Well, that son of a bitch hasn’t been born yet. Now, the fellow I work for is at the end of the road in the big stone house.” There was no pretense in this man and if you look in the dictionary under the word honesty, I am quite sure you will find his picture. He was soft spoken but always got his point across without raising his voice or even using a great deal of profanity. I remember one time when I came back to the ranch after a long weekend with a new pair of boots. Without realizing it, I kept wiping the dust from them on the back of my pant legs. Well, after an hour or so of this, Brad walked up, and spit a stream of tobacco right across them. Then he smiled and said, “Now that you don’t have to worry about getting your pretty new shoes dirty maybe we can get some work done.” He was as tough as a bag of nails with a big and generous heart. Nobody went hungry when Brad was around, nobody was left thirsty, and no one slept in the rain if they didn’t mind spreading a bed roll on the stone floor in his cabin on the ranch. Brad and I polished saddle leather with the seat of our pants, strung a few hundred miles of wire, and played a few hundred games of chest in the year or so that we worked together. We also tried to drink the bar in Palomas, Mexico dry on occasion and marveled at the handiwork of God as we watched the snow fly from the flanks of Cooks Peak high above the Mimbres River Valley. There was a promise made of staying in touch when I left the ranch for a job in the mines at Hurley. But Brad moved south into Mexico and when the mines let everyone go, I began to drift. Memories of Brad and the lessons he taught quite often come to mind. Sometimes it comes with the scent of sage on a desert wind or in the stillness of the night where the only sound is the coyote on a distant hill. But thoughts of Brad, and men of his breed, come to mind most often when I look at the state of the nation today. And then I ask myself, I know they haven’t all died but where are they now?
If you didn’t defrost the freezer for five or ten years, and there were bits of broccoli and other debris encased in the layers of frost and discolored ice, I am quite sure it would look allot like the world I drove through that cold January morning on my way to Storm Lake to recover the seats for the van. It had been a number of years and at least two lifetimes since I had experienced winter landscapes like this and each mile was a reminder of why Kingman, Arizona was now my home. Over the years I have developed a bit of fondness for the mini van but they really make terrible snowmobiles and and even worse snow plows. That was the lesson learned as I attempted to force the van along what seemed to be endless miles of farm roads to the house where the van had been repossessed and where the missing seats were to be found. With the exception of a roadside mail box, and the passenger side mirror, I arrived unscathed only to discover the reason why the repo company had neglected to recover the seats with the voluntary surrender of the van. They were stored in the basement accessed by “A”, a side door under a leaking gutter that had transformed it and the stairs into a towering ice sculpture, or “B” a trap door in the dining room under a massive antique oak breakfront. Well, I wasn’t about to wait for spring thaw so that left the dining room. The ladies husband was gone for two weeks so she called the neighbor, who lived about five miles away, to see if their son was available. Waiting in the van until he arrived seemed the best option so I turned on the heater and waited. Then I rolled down the window to air out the van and I waited. Then I asked for a cup of coffee and waited. By the second hour I began to think of attacking the ice sculpture with a pick ax. By the third hour I began to wonder if the seats would really add value to the van. Shortly after this I had decided that they could keep the seats as souvenirs and the boss would just have to find a creative way to market the former custom van when the rusted remnants of a Ford truck crested the hill and slid into the yard. It was the neighbors son, the one with one eye, and one hand. This trip was getting better by the minute. Well, we gently removed the china from the breakfront, removed the drawers, put our backs into it, ended any chance that my son would have a sibling, and moved the ancient piece of furniture – two inches. On the third effort we could access the trap door – that was locked from the inside. I am not sure if it was the hysterical hyena laughter of the idiot savant, the neighbors boy, or the realization I was on day four of what was to be a four day odyssey and I was still in Iowa but my vision narrowed to a tunnel and from that point things went kind of hazy. With some rusty hacksaw blades recovered from the barn I sawed through the hasp, lowered myself into the dark, cold hole via what had once been a wooden ladder but was now a buffet for termites, and with flash light in hand, sought the seats in a sea of debris that included broken tools, a variety of automotive parts, most of a snow blower, a mummified cat, rolls of chicken wire, discarded building materials, and assorted odds and ends. There was everything you could imagine with the exception of seats for the van. With a bit of blood running down my forehead from an encounter with a nail, torn pants, and cobwebs in my hair, I began the ascent back into the world of the living through the hole in the dining room floor. I can’t quite be sure if I verbally expressed the profanity or if I merely thought it but when that lady looked at me and said, “I wonder if my husband put those seats in the barn?” something came out of my mouth. Yep, the seats were in the barn, under a tarp, right in front of the side door by the old grain bins. Yep, it was a ten minute job to toss them in the back of the van. Yep, it was now very late in the afternoon and the faint glow of the sun was vanishing to the west and the leaden winter skies were turning dark with a threat of snow. So, I imitated a sidewinder on drugs in retracing my tracks to the highway, found a truck stop type place in Cherokee where I topped off my tank as well as the one in the van, and rolled west on state highway 3. I hate driving at night in the winter with a passion but was determined to put miles between me and Storm Lake, Iowa. So, I pressed on into the night and the snow began to fall. Then the snow began to blow. Then the defroster fan quit and I replaced the fuse. The first time the van began to slide was when I crossed the Missouri River at Sioux City. The first time I got it do a full circle, and the first time I began to think of finding a place to wait out the night, was somewhere near Randolph, Nebraska. Somewhere between Randolph and Norfolk, highway 81 vanished. One minute it was a strip of black in a sea of white and then it was as white as the sea that surrounded it and the headlights merely illuminated the thickening curtain that embraced me. Again thoughts of stories by Jack London and poems by Robert Service began to dance in my head. With hands clinched to the wheel like the tongue to the sled in the middle of a blizzard, I fought to stay between the reflectors and mail boxes that snaked past as the speed had dropped to a crawl. Enhancing the sense I was the captain of the Titanic in search of an ice berg was the window falling down into the door, the oil light illuminating the instruments, and the passenger side wiper that flew into the night when the switch was turned to high. Now, Norfolk, Nebraska may not seem like heaven to many folks but the dim glow of that cities lights sure looked like the pearly gates to me that night. And I have to tell you, that truck stop coffee was some of the best I have ever had. Well, a night spent hunched over a table in a booth isn’t very restful. It is also a very good way to ensure you will be able to do a passable impersonation of the hunchback the next morning. By morning the storm had passed, most roads were closed, and the van was full of snow. However, the biggest concern was the simple fact the van had used more than four quarts of oil in less than five hundred miles. But my job was not to question why, so I bought a case of oil, shoveled the snow from the drivers seat, propped the stick back under the window glass, and when the roads opened, headed south on US 81. The drive across Nebraska and into Colorado was relatively uneventful, a welcome respite from the for first leg of the adventure. Drive awhile, replace the fuse. Drive awhile, add some oil, Drive awhile, put the window back up. Drive awhile, get something to eat. Rather than tackle the grades of the Rockies at night, I chose to wait it out at a motel in Denver. Now, why someone wanted the wheels off the van I will never know. They were chrome but not overly fancy. The tires were mismatched and weren’t even very good. I bet the look on my face was quite comical. There I stood in the parking lot, bag in hand, staring at a van with no wheels, sitting in the slush. I don’t remember being overly upset or even surprised. At this point I suppose it just seemed to be situation normal on the odyssey from Hell. Even the fact that the seats had been stolen out of the back and the radio pried from the dashboard didn’t seem to be a real issue. So, even though it was only about eight in the morning, I couldn’t decide whether to walk down the block to a cafe for breakfast or across the street to the bar for a beer. Well, I was a very blessed man even though at that point in my life things like blessings were considered blind luck. I had ordered breakfast, asked for a phone book, and began feeding the pay phone coins when the waitress told me that the owner of the wrecking yard down the road had just sat down at the counter. As it turned out, he not only had four wheels but they had almost new snow tires already mounted on them. Even better, they were in the back of his truck right outside! So, before it was even time for lunch, I was sailing through the Rockies repeating the Nebraska performance of changing fuses, adding oil, and getting a bite to eat. The day ended with me in Green River, Utah, and by the time the sunk sank into the west the following day, I was back in Kingman. It had been a grand adventure, one that often makes me smile. There would be many wild adventures with this job but none could ever top the quest for the missing seats, not the recovery of the bullet riddled Pathfinder without a muffler from Oklahoma City, or the upside down Geo Metro from Salt Lake City, or the flaming Dodge truck in Winnemuca.
Experiencing the fun of being stranded in Norfolk, Nebraska during a spring blizzard, a break down at Clines Corners in New Mexico on a cold winter night, and the simple pleasures of changing a tire in Oklahoma City, in mid January, in three inches of ice cold slush were among the highlights of job that combined the adventure and surprises of a road trip with adequate pay. The whole thing started simply enough, I was broke, out of work, and willing to do just about anything for money short of dancing naked on the street corner or teaching a pig to dance. So, I started washing vehicles on a car lot in mid December because no one was crazy enough to take the job. As luck would have it the owner had his fingers into a number of pies and once he found that I was somewhat versatile, he shuffled me here and there to fill holes in his various enterprises. I detailed vehicles, ran errands, assumed the position of lot manager, and even took care of the landscaping and sprinkler systems on occasion. I did just about everything short of selling cars but it was there I drew a line. I was desperate but still had scruples. On more than one occasion it has been suggested I take up cards as it seems bluffing seems to be a natural ability. So, when asked to take on the daunting task of transforming cars one owner away from the salvage yard into a saleable commodity even though my mechanical experience consisted solely of keeping my wrecks on the road, I leaped at the chance. My domain was the garage on a buy here – pay here pot lot where he sold the dregs of the barell trade in vehicles from his Chrysler dealership; well worn 1955 De Soto Firedome sedans, used and abused Corvairs, battered Gremlins, massive New Yorkers, and a herd of very well used trucks of every stripe. The work fit me to a “T”, no precision surgery for these vehicles, this was strictly triage where the goal was keep the patient alive long enough to last out a couple months of a pay by the week contract. As I mastered each new task the owner would find another slot for me. Then, one day, he called me into his office, handed me a one hundred dollar bill, told me to buy something nicer than overalls and blue denim shirts, shook my hand, and appointed me to the newly created recovery office. This was a fancy way of saying my job was to “A” repossess vehicles, and, “B” recover vehicles repossessed in other states when it was deemed the loss would be less by retrieving the vehicle and then reselling it. My office, literally a reupholstered men’s room, was as new as the job. The owner had recently purchased a closed Union 76 station on Route 66, expanded it with an addition, transformed it, including the former men’s room, into offices, and kept the garage as a service facility, a much better proposal than when I was working on cars outside under a carport. The old bathroom was carpeted and paneled, and had just enough room for a desk, and a two file cabinets used to obscure the urinal recessed in the floor that he didn’t want to spend money to remove. My time spent on the various Indian reservations in northern Arizona proved a valuable asset as those contacts made it possible for me to go places others simply weren’t allowed. My time spent haunting the bars of northern Arizona also proved a valuable asset as I knew people in low places and a few police officers well enough to call them by their first name. The grandest part of the job was in the recovery of vehicles. The market for a used vehicle varies in different parts of the country. So, a vehicle worth $5,000 in Arizona might only be worth $2,000 in North Dakota, especially after moths of neglect and abuse at the hands of an owner that knew they weren’t going to keep the vehicle anyway. Once it was determined the loss would be less to fetch it, bring it back to Arizona, and resell it, than sell it through auction where it was recovered, I was called in. Then I would be handed the necessary paper work, a company credit card, my plane or train ticket, and away I would go. One of the more memorable adventures was to recover a mini van, with more than 200,000 miles on the odometer, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in January. It started with a drive to the airport in Las Vegas during a blinding rain storm that resulted in a highway closure, detour through Laughlin in Nevada, and then lengthy flight delays. As I sat in the airport waiting for my flight to Kansas City, where I was to catch a commuter flight to Sioux Falls, a nagging thought that this trip was going to be one for the books began creeping into my mind. That thought became harder to deny with the plane being rerouted to St. Louis, a long delay, a puddle jumper to Kansas City, and then a bus to Sioux Falls. My one day trip had already stretched into two, I had lost a bag containing my overalls and gloves, and I arrived at my destination city shortly before midnight on an evening when the high temperature for the day had been nine degrees. The hotel, a Holiday Inn, was nice enough to pick me up which was the first bright spot on the trip. The driver was kind enough to stop at a fast food shop so I could stave off hunger until morning. Things were looking up. I awoke full of renewed hoped and with a sense of excitement and anticipation of the adventure ahead. That lasted all the way through my shower, breakfast, and check out. Then I called a cab and went to the storage company. The brake lights of the cab flashed for a moment in the early dawn light before the cab rounded a corner and vanished from sight. It was about that time I noticed the sign that read, “Closed – family emergency – call …” Now, I am not sure what the temperature was but knew that a man who looked for his long johns when the temperatures dropped below eighty degree’s was in serious trouble. So, I stashed my bag in the hedge out front, pulled my hat as low as it would go without my head poking through the top, jammed my hands in the coat pockets, and began walking in the direction I had came. Every Jack London story and Robert Service poem ever read began dancing in my head as I lost the feeling in my face, my toes, and a few other parts of my body that should never be that cold. As it turned out the walk to a convenience store with a phone was less than ten blocks but in that short time I was transformed into a human Popsicle; the brim of my hat was heavily frosted from my breath, I could hardly talk, I shook like a man after a week of hard drinking, and was afraid to pee because of what might break off. In the time it took me to down two or three coffees, the owner of the yard picked me up, approved the paper work, gave me a receipt for payment of storage, and took me out back to get the chariot that would take me home, a vehicle I had been told was dirty but not damaged, and that ran without major problems. It was only 9:00 in the morning and the day was already spiraling down at a high rate of speed; the drivers side window was down and the van was filled with snow, the seats had been replaced with a mound of garbage (the repo company had forgot to get the seats when recovering the van and the drivers seat had been stolen, or so the yard owner said), two tires were flat, and it had a dead battery. But the best was yet to come. In between coffee and trips to the office to warm up, we switched batteries, aired up the tires, poured five gallons of gas in the empty tank, and found a seat with two holes in the frame that matched the holes in the van, and bolted it down. Now, I was ready to roll. I bounced over the frozen furrows of tire tracks and onto the street before the drivers side window glass dropped into the door. I filled the tank with gas, purchased two tires, stopped at a farm supply store to buy overalls, a ski mask, gloves, several dozen air fresheners, a paint stirring stick to put under the window glass after removing the door panel, and a large ice scrapper, and almost made it back to the hotel before blowing a fuse and having the defroster fan quit. At the hotel that evening, after a brisk two block to the parts store for fuses, I planned a course of action, called the previous owner, talked them into giving up the seats, and got their address – in Storm Lake, Iowa. Then, I went to the lounge, ordered a beer, and entered deep meditation about the sins that led to this point in life. The next morning, after a hardy breakfast, I sailed across the snow covered hills under clear skies into a section of Iowa that was new to me. The old van ran surprisingly well, the glass only fell down occasionaly when the stick slipped, and the radio worked well. The sense was that the worst was behind me, now I could recover the seats and enjoy a winter cruise across the Great Plains. As it seems to have happened on that trip so many times, the sense of euphoria and peace was relatively short lived. This time it lasted all the way to Storm Lake.
It was another grand adventure on the promotional trail. The weather put a crimp in the original travel plans but often when we take to the road only the destination, or if we have a schedule, the time is set in stone.
The morning kicked off with the loading of the Jeep, and removal of a heavy frost from the windows as the temperatures hovered around the twenty degree mark. Then, long before sunrise we began the journey to another interview on AM Arizona in Prescott by rolling east on I-40. Time constraints and concerns about road conditions prompted the decision to take the generic path rather than our favored one which is Route 66. Initially we had hoped to take the Williamson Valley Road from Seligman to Prescott as it meets the pavement just a mile or so from the studio. As a bonus it shaves about twenty miles from the trip and saves us the pain of having to fight our way through morning traffic in the suburbia that has swept north from Prescott Valley, threatens to inundate the once quiet farming community of Chino Valley, and that is now lapping at Paulden. However, as everything from Fort Rock Road east was either snow covered or snow covered mudhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0760332215&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr, we postponed the Williamson Valley Road, as well as the Perkinsville Road from Jerome to Williams, adventure for another day. Perhaps we can find a way to tie it in with a drive along the frontier era Senator Highway from Prescott to Crown King on a day conducive to picnics and the avoidance of digging a Jeep from a mud bog. Patches of ice and thick banks of fog in the valleys kept the drive on normally boring I-40 interesting but we arrived unscathed and with five minutes to spare. As always, the discussion with Tonya and Lew was a spirited one that I hope encouraged folks to get out and explore a bit. It would also be nice if it spurred a few sales for Ghost Towns of the Southwest. Then we drove into downtown Prescott for lunch at the Peacock Room in the Hassayampa Inn. As always lunch surrounded by a near perfect glimpse into the world of 1927, and in the accompaniment of dearest friend, was a wonderful celebration of a beautiful day. If you are unfamiliar with the Prescott historic district, or the charms of the Hassayampa Inn, I strongly suggest you add it to your list of must see destinations. It is a short, relatively scenic detour from Route 66 accessed by taking state highway 89 south from Ashfork. With the exception of the styling of the automobiles crowding the curbs this is a mid size American city as it was circa 1955; a courthouse square flanked by hotels, restaurants, saloons, and shops. Imagine historic hotels that never succumbed to the decay that transformed them into flop houses, saloons unchanged in more than a century, or restaurants that appear to have been lifted from the pages of The Great Gatsby. Now, surround this with beautiful Victorian styled homes and forested mountains. That gives you a hint of why we rate Prescott very high on our list of favorite destinations.
Oak Creek Canyon
As Flagstaff was on our destination list, and the roads had been cleared of snow, we decided to give 89a a go for a change of pace. State highway 89a from Prescott Valley to Flagstaff is one of the most beautiful drives in the nation. Add a frosting of snow to the ghost city of Jerome and the red rock spires of Oak Creek Canyon, and deep snows to the forest on Mingus Mountain and at the head of the canyon, and you have an absolutely stunning drive.
Views from Jerome
The highway begins as a four lane in the suburban paradise of Prescott Valley but within a few miles it becomes a vintage two lane clinging to the steep slopes of Mingus Mountain as it twists and turns to the summit before repeating the process on the other side as it descends through old Jerome and into the Verve River Valley. With every turn the views become even more spectacular. For those familiar with Route 66 in western Arizona, specifically the western side of Sitgreaves Pass in the Black Mountains, imagine a city of multi storied hotels, stores, auto dealerships, variety stores, corporate office buildings, and all the trappings of a real city pasted on the roadsides of that highway. That is Jerome. Some of the curves are so sharp there are large mirrors to see what is coming around the corner. The hills are so steep you can walk into a restaurant at street level and without climbing a stair dine on a terrace three stories above the street behind the building. The old town of Jerome seems to be picking up steam as the narrow streets were full of people braving the cold, the shops seemed busy, and a U-Haul or two could be seen in front of recently renovated houses. Hailed as a ghost city since the population of more than 20,000 during the 1920s has dropped precipitously to something like 1,000, this mountainside wonder has views of the Verde River Valley rimmed by the red rock country of Sedona that are far beyond breathtaking. From Jerome we braved the future metropolis of Clarkdale and Cottonwood, rolled across a fast vanishing remnant of Arizona range lands, and into Sedona. Try as they might with architectural styling that mimic the era of the frontier and Spanish missions, Sedona would merely be another generic wonderland if it were not embraced by some of the most spectacular landscapes in Arizona. So, we seldom stop and instead immerse ourselves in the beauty of Oak Creek Canyon. Traffic is always an issue on the twisted, narrow two lane highway that winds to the head of the canyon but by far the most frustrating aspect is the difficulty of finding a place to pull off and savor the jaw dropping beauty that surrounds you.
The old McHat Inn on Route 66
As we neared Flagstaff the snow covered San Francisco Peaks began to dominate the skyline above the forest heavy with snow and adorned with long draping icicles. Set against a backdrop of crisp, blue skies they seemed almost unreal as though they were a three dimensional cutout of enormous size. As the hour was late, and the wet roads were again beginning to freeze, we decided to skip another aspect of our adventure, chasing Route 66 from Flagstaff to Williams. Instead we again took to the interstate and set out in search of dinner at The Pine Country Restaurant, one of our favorite Route 66 stops. The rest of our 398 mile adventure was rather anticlimactic. We hit Williams as the sun was sinking into the west under cold grey winter skies, and savored good coffee, excellent food, the wonderful atmosphere, and friendly staff of the restaurant before topping off the tank and heading west into the deepening night.
The morning drive had necessitated a drive on I-40 but even the weariness settling into our bones couldn’t keep us from a return trip on our little corner of asphalt heaven, Route 66 from the Crookton Road exit west of Ashfork to Kingman. The traffic was light and the drive under a dazzling star lit desert sky was the end to a perfect day.
If my schedule is tight, I generally don’t attend small local car shows. More often than not they are dominated by a sea of conformity masquerading as artistic expressions of individuality – various incarnations of the ’57 Chevy, vintage coupes with chopped tops and Chevrolet V8 engines under the hood, vintage Ford’s with chrome wheels and Chevy V8 engines under the hood, rare automobiles transformed into little more than vintage Ford’s or Chevies with Chevy V8 engines under the hood.
However, as this particular show was literally taking place in front of my office door, I saw no harm in checking out what was on display. Much to my surprise there was true individuality on display. Adding a new dimension to the term “custom” was a cut down mid ’50’s Willys wagon with an eight wheel drive, eight wheel steering configuration. To move the unusual creature long distances, the owner had created a custom hauler from a 1941 Chevy C.O.E. This vehicle was another manifestation of his creative genius.
Representing hot rodding circa 1955, there was a chop top 1952 Mercury sedan with hand painted flames. Interestingly enough the car had been modified almost a half century ago, still sported a flat head engine until this past summer (something that will be replaced this summer), and the current owner, looking all the part of a cast member of a James Dean movie, couldn’t have been over 25. Normally a retractable hardtop Ford would have grabbed my attention. But it was overshadowed by a 1933 Dodge coupe preserved in an arrested state of decay, and a 1955 Hudson Hornet driven in from Las Vegas.
For those who insist on modifying old cars to make them drivable or practical, I suggest you avoid talking to the owner of this Hudson if you see him at a car show. Last year he drove the car, without trouble, at or above highway speeds, to Spokane in Washington for a Hudson gathering. As the weather was superb, he continued to Canada and returned to Las Vegas via British Columbia. Of course he can also tell you stories of the recent trip to San Diego. Or the trip to San Francisco.
The 1933 Dodge is a local car that is a regular driver. Bone stock and outfitted with period details the car is as it would have appeared on a used car lot in about 1940; faded paint, a few dings, dented hubcaps, stained headliner. This is a car I could really get into. Perhaps my only modification would be to update the transmission to an overdrive system from about 1936. That would allow cruising at modern speeds without a great deal of strain on the engine. I suppose the lesson to be learned in all of this is that pleasant surprises are around us, if we just take the time to look.