The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Royal (Auto) Affair, Part 2

I used my family's 1954 Dodge Royal for dates, errands, and cruising throughout my sophomore, junior, and senior years of HS. At one point in my junior year, I asked Dad to let me remove the hubs and paint the wheels like it was some kind of hot racing vehicle. He agreed as long as I put the hubcaps back on when I finished using the car.

I'd seen other cars at the drag strip with visibly striking painted wheels and I followed their design -- the wheel was divided into quarters like slicing a pie into four parts. Two opposite quarters were painted red and the other two opposite quarters were painted white. When the wheel rolled slowly the moving colors would flip around and be very visible.

Sometimes, cruising around with a couple of friends on a Saturday night I'd remove the oil bath air cleaner and carefully place it in the trunk on some newspaper. I never told Dad about this until much later. When you pressed the accelerator the engine noise sounded awesome (this is not a word I would have used then or like much now, but it seems appropriate in this context) as the hemi strained to suck in as much air as possible through the small two barrel carb.

From my red light experience with other teens, I knew the Dodge with its two speed powerflite automatic wasn't really that fast, but I liked the sound of that hemi when you got down on it. I knew it wasn't all that hot and I wasn't really a racer, but, what can I say, I enjoyed the idea of it. I didn't know this at the time and it may be an inaccurate observation now, but my fascination with drag racing and speed might have been a kind of compensation for the insecurities that most young males feel at that time in their lives.

Whatever. In the spring of '58 my friend and I popped the hubs, removed the air cleaner, and went out to the drag strip at Union Hill. Against all odds, I entered the car in the stock class under an assumed name, Wild Bill Cody.

The class I entered was dominated by the early hydramatic '50s Rocket Oldsmobiles. You remember those, I'm sure. They were very fast off the line. And, as luck would have it, the opponent I drew was driving one, a 1951 two door. It looked a lot like this one.

I should also note that this is the view I had of it as we got the signal to go. He was already two car lengths ahead of me by the time I'd gone 50 feet. So I just turned off the service road to the right and left the race. My ears still burn today as I remember the words of the announcer. "Looks like old Wild Bill has headed back to the corral."

Later that year, in the summer after graduation, my family moved to Texas. I had a good job driving a truck and I began saving money for college. But I did spend a little on some new cowboy boots and hat and some hot looking Moon hubs for the Dodge. Three weeks in TX and I was already a cowboy drag racer!

I had a friend in TX whose name was Red. He had a cool looking black '53
Ford two door. I remember helping him paint some slick looking flames over the head lights on the Ford.  One night we were eating a cheese burger in some diner and he nodded toward my Dodge parked outside. "How fast you think that thing'll go top end?" he asked. "Dunno," I said. "Let's find out," he said. "I know a safe place."

We drove out on a highway outside of town that leveled out for about three miles straight. It was a clear moon lit night and the concrete highway looked like a glowing ribbon of light. Red said, "Hit that sucker."

I mashed the accelerator to the floor and with one eye on the road and the other on the speedometer, I felt the car pick up speed. I pushed it up to 97 miles per hour. There was still a lot left, but I chickened out. Red was disappointed, but thinking back on it, not pressing my luck was probably wise. The car was four years old and the tires were bias plys and had some wear on them. A blowout would have been catastrophic.

That fall, I left for college and was "carless" for two years. Then in 1960 I got married and bought a Fiat. One out of those two decisions turned out great. Joyce and I have been happily married for 54 years this August. The Fiat however, is another story. A sad one.

Sorry, I just don't feel like talking about it here since I'm going on about the old Dodge Royal. But, there's another chapter to the Dodge Royal story which involves grad school. I'll be reporting on that in part 3 of this epistle.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Royal (Auto) Affair, Part I

In my adolescent years I was painfully shy, ignorant, naive, green as locust leaf in April, and probably much too aware of all these perceived shortcomings for my own good.

But somehow, someway, 1954 was a good year for me. At the age of 14, my education and experience of the world broadened considerably. The cause of this change in my personality was at least partially related to automobiles.

The family car in early 1954 was an old, gray '47 Plymouth 4-door Deluxe Sedan. (This isn't a photo of our car; ours had a big yellow plastic bug knocker mounted on the hood ornament, but, otherwise, it looked very similar. It even had those curb feelers like this one.)

I liked the way the '47 Plym looked, even though by '54 its "fastback" style had started to look dated. (I put that in quotation marks because it really was more of a "slowback" or "roundback" when compared to the '47 Chevy for example.)

The interior of the old Plymouth was IMHOP excellent bling, especially the metal wood grain dashboard which had about 67 lbs of chrome plating on various gratings, buttons, dials, etc. Today, such hard and shiny surfaces on a car dashboard would be considered a threat to human life as we know it and would lead to lawsuits and various government committees hell bent on making the manufacturer pay for creating such a death trap.

But I liked chrome. Love the shiny. At least on cars. Still do. The more the merrier. What can I say, I'm a child of the '50s.

The old '47 Plym, although only seven years old, was, however, not very dependable. We'd bought it from a relative which is another story and one I'm not going to tell here. The car had started to smoke a lot which as we all now know can lead to cancer in people and cars. It was that bluish kind of smoke that smelled like burning oil and rubber with a slight metallic odor mixed in.

Mother fussed about the car a lot and one spring day, Dad came home from a trip (he was a long haul trucker) and said, "get ready, we're going NEW car shopping." They were wonderful words for a 14 year old to hear and totally unexpected since Dad was not known for buying NEW cars. In fact, we'd never had one. The car before the Plymouth was a dependable but ugly as sin '39 Dodge 4-door, and the one before that had been a disastrous '37 Ford coupe with no back seat and a weak, worn out V8 60 motor.

Dad had said we were "going shopping, but he must've already had his mind made up, because we didn't really shop. We went straight down to the Dodge Dealer on Murfreesboro Road. My memory tells me it was the Beaman Dodge dealership, but I'm not completely sure about that.

The car he picked out was a wine red with cream top 1954 Dodge Royal with the hemi V8 and the 2 speed powerflite transmission. The bench seats front and rear were covered in a classy gray and maroon cloth with fine detail stitching. The dash was austere by '50s standards, but clean and efficient. Dad saved $83 by not getting a radio and as  a result my high school dates were all music-less, a tragedy in the sense that without a radio I had to talk more to fill up the awkward dead air on a first date.

Virgil Exner led the Chrysler Corporation design team that created all the Chrysler models including the '53 and '54 Dodges. The '54 was a clean and responsible facelift of the 1953 model. (I didn't know it then but wiki tells me that '53 hemi powered car had set 100 land and speed records at the Bonnevile salt flats.)

By today's standards, the car would be considered small. But it didn't feel that way since comparable Cheyvs, Fords, and Mercs of that year were about the same size. The rear passenger window had a nice Jaguar sedan like curve to it and the chrome sweep spear down the side was in my mind a cleaner line than the Buick sweep spear. One other detail that I remember clearly was the very small (one inch high) chrome fins that were mounted on top of the little kick up on the rear fender. Those little dwarf fins were a harbinger of things to come -- I'm referring to the Exner inspired, gradually soaring tailfins on the '56, the '57, the '58, and the '59 Dodges. They were there in miniature on our '54.

When my brother and I got out of school for the summer in '54, the family decided to take a trip in our new Dodge to NYC. We visited my Aunt Jo (Dad's sister) and her family who lived on Long Island. The pic below shows yours truly outside my Aunt's home. You might notice the pencil thin white belt and the white mocassin loafers, which I seem to recall being very popular HS fashions of the time. You might also notice that my Aunt and her husband Leonard owned a new '54 Ford which is parked behind our Dodge.

While in NYC, we went to Coney Island and saw the statue of Liberty. But the thing that I remember most is the night uncle Leonard took us to see the Dodgers play the Cubs at Ebbets field. All those heroes I'd only heretofore read about in the newspaper were there on the field, live -- Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Jackie Robinson--not to mention the Cubs' great, Ernie Banks. I was amazed at how small Ebbets Field was compared to the other major league parks I'd read about. It wasn't that much bigger than Nashville's Sulphur Dell where I'd watched the Vols play many times. It even felt a little like the old Dell. But it held quite a few more fans. And it was Ebbets field and I watched a game there! Not many left who can say that today.

It was a great trip and the new '54 Dodge Royal got us there and back in comfort and high style.

more later on the Royal at the local drag strip, looking hot in Texas, and in its beater days when I was in grad school...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Spring Flowers @ the Circle J

The flowers in our yard have been exceptional this year. Our neighbor gave us these state flower Iris bulbs over ten years ago and they are just now beginning to reach their aesthetic peak.
And Joyce's rose garden, with a huge carpet bush in the foreground and knockouts in the back, has exploded after a nice pruning in the late winter.
Like Lynn Anderson's pop/country song says, "I never promised you a rose garden." But Joyce, being an industrious lady, got us one anyway!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fathers' Day

My dad Mack B. Jewell, Jr. passed away in December of 2007 at the age of 90. He was quarterback on the Watertown Tigers team that went undefeated in 1937, beating both Wilson County powerhouses Mt. Juliet and Lebanon.  A true triple threat, he could run, pass, and kick. That would be kick as in drop-kick, a method of kicking extra points and field goals favored by many in those days when the shape of the football was more rounded and lacked the sharper ends of footballs in play today. In the pic, he's on the back row, far left, number 12.

In his 20s, 30s, and early 40s, he was a long haul truck driver. Here he is in his prime in 1957 at age 40. He put many, many blue highway miles on that big International V8 and his other truck, a cab-over White. In the pic you can see his ever present cigarette (Luckies or Camels) resting naturally between his fingers. At the age of 70, he got a warning from his doctor so he went cold turkey and stopped. As I said, he lived to be 90, so the cold turkey move was a good one.
And here he is in 1961, standing beside his dad, my Papa Jewell. That's Dad's sister and my aunt Imola who's holding my infant son Barry. They are laughing at something my Papa said; I can't remember what, but it must've been pretty funny.

Rest in peace, Dad.