Yesterday my wife and I were at a storage facility on U.S. Route 129 (or is it US 64, or US 74, or all three) when we heard tires squealing across the way. I looked up and saw a pickup hauling a trailer, and the trailer was fishtailing. The truck went off the road, went down an embankment and hit a tree. Ka-thud. I thought whoever was in it could have been seriously injured, so I called 911. Well, two guys in the truck got out, got on their cell phones, and before CHP arrived, there was already two tow trucks and another pickup there. As we left, we saw a CHP SUV heading toward the crash, hopefully to put on its lights and allow the trailer and truck to be pulled out of the ravine.
I suspect that the truck’s front right tire blew out, thus causing it to lurch to the right. That, in turn, would cause the trailer to fishtail. It is possible that having the trailer behind the truck slowed it down enough so that when it hit the tree, it wasn’t going so fast that the passengers would have been killed.
So, that reminded me of something that happened to me many, many years ago. In 1966 I bought a 1950 Buick Super for $100 (that is $895 in today’s dollars). Because I was paying my own way through college, that $100 was a fortune to me.
Let me give you a few “features” of that car.
It had a 2-speed transmission – slow to accelerate and slower to accelerate.
It had a radio that was at least one cubic foot big. I used to get pleasure from going to auto stores with my tubes to test them when the radio needed to be repaired. (I wonder if you can still test tubes anywhere).
It had a 263 cubic inch straight-8 engine (pretty big, eh?) that put out 124 horsepower (pretty pathetic). I think our old Subaru had more horsepower than that and it was a 4-cylinder engine.
It had vacuum-powered windshield wipers that with a wide-open throttle (i.e.; when you are accelerating) the wipers would slow down or even stop. That created some pretty dangerous situations.
It had knee-action shock absorbers. I knew one was broken but, even after scouring the JC Whitney catalog month after month, I could not find any (you can find them on eBay now). I didn’t worry too much – the only negative effect was that the car would rock back and forth on occasion.
Anyway, I could never afford to repair the car. Taking it to a Buick dealer was out of the question.
So, one day I was traveling down the leftmost lane on Route 3 in New Jersey. Route 3 is one of the worst highways in New Jersey, a state filled with miserable highways. Back then, Route 3 had a grass divider between the East-West lanes, something that probably kept me from getting killed.
While I was driving, my front left tire blew out (because, I learned later, the broken shock and rocking wore down the front left tire). I managed to stop the car before going into oncoming traffic and then, because New Jersey drivers actually slowed down to let me get across the road (say what you will about people from New Jersey – the have empathy for people in crappy cars).
So, because my emergency brake did not work (of course), I had to back my car up against a utility pole to keep it from rolling backward when I jacked it up to change the tire. I backed up enough to tap the pole, heard a loud “BOOM” and smelled ozone. Suddenly, alarms went off in a building across the highway. When I looked up, I saw that some power lines that started on my side and went across the highway were waving around. Apparently, when I tapped the pole, it caused the wires to flex and touch, thereby short-circuiting the electric flow. That set off the alarms in the building across the street.
I saw people flooding out of the building and realized that they might soon figure what happened. I changed the tire as quickly as I could, not an easy task when the tires, with rims, weighed at least fifty pounds (no exaggeration – Buick did everything it could to increase the weight of that monster). I got out of the area just as the fire trucks were arriving.
This, of course, happened in the summer, so by the end of the ordeal I was sweaty, dirty and still filled with terror at the thought of going into oncoming traffic. A few minutes after leaving, I was laughing.
Eventually the freeze plugs on the Buick popped out, so that was it – on to the junk yard.
I have lots of 1950 Buick stories – this is the most interesting.