Summer means homemade cars, joyriding

By Bob Huber: Local Columnist

Then came the summer of 1943, and my friend Smooth Heine and I put together a genuine automobile on a budget of $3.67 — our life’s savings. We named it Clarence.

It was also the summer of our discontent, because we’d just begun to feel the first evil pangs of testosterone. We became convinced that if we drove around town in a real live car, trailing white scarves and harmonizing the refrain from “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” we could find girls eager to share tender kisses and other colorful pastimes.

So we shooed chickens and mice out of the carcass of a rusting Model T pickup truck on the Heine farm and scrubbed the motor, inside and out, with 20 Mule Team Borax. When we put everything back together and added oil, we had only a half dozen parts left over. We felt pretty good about that.

Then we installed seats made of wooden beer kegs from the local brewery and attached wheels off an ancient combine, circa 12th Century B.C. We were very upscale.

Next we inspected the brake bands, which were rusted through. We cleverly substituted spliced clothes hangers to pull blocks of wood against the wheels. We didn’t spend much time on them, because if the brakes failed, we figured to drag our feet.

Gears remained an enigma, leaving only one solution — ignore them. We put Clarence permanently in first gear, which provided athletic cranking and jackrabbit starts, because we didn’t know which foot peddle — it had three — was a clutch.

When we finally fired up Clarence for a test run around the Heine barn, smoke filled the cab like a boys’ restroom, but we didn’t mind. We knew gentle zephyrs whistling through holes in the canvas top would whisk away the fumes as well as any aromas left behind by former residents.

As we cruised around the Heine barnyard the Clarence occasionally broke wind, exploding in a teeth rattling KAH-BAM followed by a screeching PZZZZZT! When that happened, black goo belched out behind us, but we didn’t care. It added appeal.

Finally our vehicle was ready for the nation’s highways. It had the speed of a praying mantis and a gait of giraffe, but we painted it barn red anyway except for the fenders. We colored them a bilious green. To add a touch of elegance we mounted a rack of elk horns on the radiator.

It was then that I telephoned Patsy Pomeroy, the love of my life that summer, and she agreed to accompany us on Clarence’s maiden voyage, but only if she could wear my white scarf. Still, taking Patsy along was worrisome — we feared she might possess a parochial view of modern transportation, probably inherited.

But her shortcoming disappeared when she saw Clarence. She stopped abruptly, and her mouth hung open — I think the elk horns did it. She was so overwhelmed, she could only mutter, “Ulp! Ulp!” — obviously stunned by Clarence’s beauty.

So Smooth yanked the door open with a flourish — actually it came off in his hand — and I helped the zombied Patsy onto a beer keg and leaped in beside her. Smooth climbed into the truck bed.

As we started down the mountain I faced a stretch of the road called “Dead Man’s Curve,” but I wasn’t worried. I applied the brakes, but Clarence responded by jumping out of gear. The twang, when our makeshift brake bands gave way, had startled him.

We skidded sideways around Dead Man’s Curve, and Patsy covered her face and croaked, “Ulp! Ulp!” Smooth, clinging to the truck bed, cried, “Eeeaaugh! Eeeaaugh!”

Without going into lengthy narrative about our harrowing flight down the rest of the mountain and our pinball journey through town, we finally rolled to a stop on a steep hill, leaving behind an urban trail of goo, damaged lawns, and bilious green fenders.

That’s when I seized the moment. Backing Clarence against a tree, I slipped an arm around Patsy’s shoulder. Patsy had been sitting on her beer keg with her face covered, but when she felt my arm, her eyes popped open, and she shuddered.

Then with a determined “Ulp!” she flattened her ears and whapped me alongside the head. I reeled from this unique show of affection, but before I could respond fittingly, she kicked off the remaining door and stomped away, my white scarf flapping.

I still long for that memorable summer afternoon. That’s why, when schools let out each year, you’ll find me sitting on a beer keg in front of a roaring air conditioner, my white scarf flapping and a silly grin on my face.

Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.