Cars & stuff
By Marc Jennings
Here is a provocative statement that I know some of you will disagree with. In high school, at FHS, for the male members of the classes of ’64, ’65 and ’66 cars were more important than girls. OK, OK, this was not always true in all cases, but see if you can dispute this: there were more guys that wanted a car of their own than wanted a girl of their own. Think about that and tell me if you agree. And how about this: we guys spent way more time thinking and talking about cars than we did about girls. All right, it’s a close call, no matter how you slice it, right?
I just thought of something. Remember the Freshman Planning Committee? Its members were:
Barbara Solnik, Sandy Sturdivant, Doug Roof, Jim Holland, Bruce Watson, Dave Dolf, Dwight Woessner, Paula Cromer, Mike Levitt, Bonnie Bloom, Marlene Greenfield, Joyce Rossell, Dave Deinzer, Carol Sherer, Bev Werstuck, Janice Baron, Leslie Bacon, Ralph Bechtolt, Nancy Muse and Karen Morris. My question is: just exactly what did these folks plan? You know, I don’t think the plan was ever revealed. Don’t we have a right to know after 47 years?
Anyway, back to cars. Wait. Remember the Inter-Club Council? What did those guys do? In 1962-63 the president was Chuck Haacke (axe). I remember Chuck. Seemed like a cool guy but what was the purpose of this Council? You know, the Chess Club played chess, and the French Club spoke French, but what about the Inter-Club Council? As far as we know they could have been up to anything. It reminds me of our senior yearbook, if you notice, Jim Swanson and P. J. Shank are in a lot of club pictures. Actually, they weren’t in any clubs. When the announcement was made for members of Junior Council on World Affairs to report to the auditorium for their picture, Swanson and Shank would just get up and go. Nobody checked. So now they are immortalized as BMOC’s. And by the way, I noticed I was on the Projects Board. What was that? I don’t recall ever going to a meeting. The only projects I was working on then went to Meadowdale. And Tom Kender is in the Future Medical Careers Club, with a bunch of girls. This probably came in handy for Tom’s after-school job of washing out urine test bottles over at Miami Valley Hospital.
But, back to cars. Remember Russ Ammon-’63? He had this cherry 57 Chevy that was fire engine red. It was always perfect.
Kenny Garber-’63, drove a 1962 bronze Chevy 409. That’s right.
Chuck Hittle-’65, drove a 1963 Pontiac Tempest 326 cu. In. with a four speed. One day right after school was over and almost every kid at Fairview was somewhere between the Mascot and the school, Hittle backed out of the Mascot, revved up his engine, popped the clutch and smoked his tires up Hillcrest. It was the kind of performance and audience every guy dreamed of—until he missed his shift into second. There was a very loud “clunk” sound that everyone heard and the car rapidly slowed down. Hittle instantly went from very cool to laughingstock as the envious guys in the crowd showed him no mercy.
And then there was Larry Jaffe-64. He drove a 1963 Rose colored Pontiac
Grand Prix with a 4-speed. Very nice. Jaffe is the guy who was riding
shotgun one night at a traffic light. When the light turned green a drag
race broke out. Jaffe, his competitive juices flowing says, “Floor it! I’ll
pay for the damages!” This statement was repeated constantly by Scott
Kelso—who liked to repeat things until they became
institutionalized—whenever we were in a “driving fast” situation, which was
most of the time. Jaffe later got a 1964 Navy Grand Prix, but it was not as
cool as the 63, I didn’t think.
Bob Murdock lived on my street. He and Dave Todd and I hung out all the time in the eighth grade. But in high school, Bob got a girlfriend forever, and we didn’t see much of him. Bob worked after school at UPS where he made good money. He bought a 1963 Pontiac Catalina convertible with a 421 cu. in. engine and 4-speed. But, it was wasted because Bob was PW, as we used to say then. (PW was a term of affection that we sometimes used.)
Of course everyone knows what Steve Gershow drove: a white 1964 Mustang, 289 with 4-speed. It had a little silver disc on the brake pedal that stood for disc brakes in the front. Steve would have a car full of guys going somewhere and all of a sudden he would say, “Oh, I love this!” And turn up the radio as loud as it would go. That Steve was a real music lover cause he had a lot of favorites. I really liked Steve. He tried so hard.
Trowman had his Corvair and Swanson had his 1955 Chevy battlewagon that went everywhere, including many trips to Englewood Dam. For some reason we were forever going to Englewood Dam. There wasn’t a whole lot there—although it did have a curving downhill entrance drive that we used to skateboard down. One year we all had skateboards, and that year only. It wasn’t like today when the boards are big and sophisticated and you do tricks on them, and lots of guys end up on America’s Funniest Videos when they try to skateboard down a hand rail and slip and straddle the rail and we all go “Ouch!” No, ours were small and crude and the point was to ride them down a hill and stay on them. Helmets and knee and elbow pads had not been invented then and we would have laughed at anyone showing up dressed like a sissy. But you got going pretty fast down Englewood Dam drive and if you fell—you were in for a big hurt, but a great story with scabs to illustrate how you hit the pavement.
One night we decided to have a Road Race. I think we got the idea from either a Steve McQueen movie or James Garner. Anyway, there were no rules, just drive as fast as possible to Englewood Dam and back. There were maybe five or six cars involved and lots of guys riding along. Basically, everybody was in on it. It was just one of those ad hoc things we did all the time, only this time everything clicked into place to make it a real adventure. Unfortunately, I recall almost none of the details now, which is like the loss of a national treasure cause we talked about this event for years afterward. Later we tried to recreate the magic of that first race but it was a one-time deal. The only thing I remember was that it was scary as hell and there were many close calls. No one was killed, which was a miracle. I have a class picture from Gershow—you know the kind we signed and gave each other—and on the back he wrote “remember the Road Race”. Steve, I wish I could because that would be a story!
There was this girl. She wasn’t exactly the homecoming queen type and I don’t remember her name or where she went to school (everybody in our world either went to Fairview, Meadowdale or Colonel White—with an occasional Chaminade/Julienne). But she had a 1964 Pontiac GTO. 1964 was the first year for GTO’s and that year they were technically a Tempest with a GTO options package on them which included a 389 cu. in. engine. But I know a lot of guys who found this girl suddenly much more attractive. She had a friend whose name I do remember: Joyce Dorman. One night at Parkmoor Joyce shared a bit of high school wisdom with me when she told me, “the bigger the cushion, the better the pushin’”. I’m not exactly sure what that meant.
Tom Kender, senior year, had a Triumph Spitfire, a sports car. One Sunday afternoon three of us left Tom’s house and decided to go to Indian Lake. We must have flipped a coin because I sat doubled up in the tiny space behind the two front bucket seats all the way up and back. I put that one down on my list of things never to do again.
Don Moshos, senior year, had a silver 1966 Buick Gran Sport convertible, big engine and 4-speed. It was a very nice car but what I remember is not Don driving (he was always a quite sensible driver), but Wendy Moshos. She drove that car like it was on fire! If you ever climbed in that car with Wendy at the wheel, you had better be drunk; otherwise you might just end up squealing in fear like a girl.
Frederick Pike, Dog Leg Road, Peters Pike, the “Strawberry Patch” were all country roads that we were drawn to, I guess because they had the appearance of being deserted at night and they were a challenge to drive fast on. DeWeese Parkway, no, wait. That’s another story. Scott Kelso talked about Dog Leg Road incessantly. Sometimes I would say, “OK, Scott, let’s go to Dog Leg Road”.
One summer I dated a girl from Meadowdale. She had a very nice 1963 Pontiac Bonneville convertible. She would say, “Oh, Marc, why don’t you drive my car.” So this relationship, which should have lasted two weeks, tops, went on a bit longer.
You remember this light blue color that a lot of GM cars were painted, right? Well, somebody, I don’t remember who it was, had a 1963 Corvette Stingray painted this color. This was the coolest of the cool: a split-window fastback coupe. I saw this car a couple of times including once cruising at Parkmoor. Someone told me the urban legend about this car: about the night it was driven to Cincinnati at top speed, where the driver spun out. Then, wanting more speed, the driver immediately drove back to Dayton, pulled into Parkmoor, whereupon his engine caught fire. When you heard this story, you were left to imagine how fast this guy was going and how quickly he made the trip; you were thinking in terms of Mach 1.5.
Occasionally, guys (but not guys from Fairview) would weld “cut-outs” on to the portion of their exhaust pipes right behind the engine. The purpose of the cut-out was to uncap it, thereby bypassing the muffler. These short cut-outs would extend just a bit beyond the body of the car, behind the front tires. This was ostensibly for use at the drag strip—which of course, was cool. But in reality, the caps on the end of the cut-outs would be removed before the car pulled into Parkmoor. Then, this incredibly loud car would take a couple of circuits around Parkmoor (any more than two was dorky), revving his engine until everyone was looking, and then peel out on Main St. Cool.
One of the big debates in high school was: just exactly what is a “close ratio” manual transmission. I believed this was a pretty simple issue. Close ratio mean that the various gear ratios in this kind of transmission were closer together than normal, which would allow you to accelerate from a stop faster. Your shifts would also have to come closer together. But, despite what I thought was fairly obvious, there were great arguments about this, with some guys maintaining that it meant the gear shift was closer to the floorboards, or that the distance the gear shift had to travel from one gear to another was closer than normal. This is the kind of thing we spent hours talking about. No wonder we didn’t become National Merit Scholarship finalists.
Then there were the car-related urban legends. If you had a date and went to some deserted place to park and make out (which I never did), whether it was just the two people or two couples, someone would tell the story of the Hook Man. This was intended to make the girl scoot up to you real close for protection. But sometimes, depending on where you were, it could be pretty spooky—is what I’m told.
Then there was the Spanish Fly story. I never believed there was such a thing as Spanish Fly, but some guy my freshman year told me the story and told me the exact location this was supposed to have happened. If you have never heard the legend, I’m afraid I can’t tell it to you here. You will have to get another FHS classmate to disclose the lurid and shocking details, maybe in a letter or over the phone.
Some guys, like the ones I have mentioned, had their own cars. Some, like me, never had a car in high school but had to use the family car. So there was a limit to how messed up you could get your family car when you went out. In high school, our family car was awful. It was a white 1958 Ford Fairlane 500. With derision, I called it the fast, f-bomb, Ford Fairlane 500. And sometimes I added POS. We previously had one of the most beautiful cars that Ford or any other manufacturer ever made: a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria. It was a blue and white beauty that has stood the test of time. For some reason, that I know my father still regrets, he traded this lovely automobile for the crappy ’58. It was a dog from the day it rolled out of the Borcher’s Ford showroom. Seriously, parts started failing right away and within 18 months the car had started rusting all over. You remember how cars used to rust out. Anyway, I disliked the car as much as you could, considering I had to drive it when I went out. One bad thing was the gas gauge didn’t work, so I almost always had to put some gas in it when I drove (after I ran out of gas once on a deserted road). I finally totaled the car in a real nasty three car collision on Salem one rainy night. Put it out of its misery.
But, the ’58 helped me appreciate even more some of the nicer cars other people drove. One of the nicest I ever saw was the one Scott Kelso drove. It was a bronze colored 1961 Pontiac Ventura. The Ventura was only offered for a couple of years and I think it was supposed to be the sporty version of the full sized Pontiac. They are very rare now and the coupe version was a style that collectors call “bubble top”. Anyway, it had a 389 cu. in. engine (6.5 liters), and it was a screamer. Scott used to drive around at night seeing how many times he could “get rubber”, meaning spin his tires. At the end of the night Scott would give us a detailed report like: “I got a patch here and I got a patch there, and I got a really big patch over on Catalpa and Hillcrest.” Scott loved that car.
Of course Gary Goldflies father collected antique cars, and naturally, Gary drove a nice car, which I think was a 1964 Thunderbird. Dave Todd’s family had a 1960 white Pontiac Catalina, four-door, but Dave didn’t drive in high school. It’s funny how you began to think of your friends by their car. If you saw one around town you could recognize it instantly. We knew every model, every make and what cars came with what features. We knew the cars the girls at school drove too. Usually we also paid attention to a car’s trunk, because on occasion that is where we would ride as we entered the drive in.
The years we were at Fairview, cars began to come equipped with air conditioning. Now, the Dayton climate is not exactly tropical, but there were times you could really appreciate some cooler air than just rolling down the windows. The summer after our sophomore year about five or six of us took American History in summer school at Roosevelt, and we all car pooled. Just one of us had air conditioning, which was nice at noon, in July, on West Third Street.
I never had a car during high school, and I think most in our class did not. So when we got one I think it was pretty important to us. Down the road from me is a new Gwinnett County, GA high school. I drove by the other day and noticed first, the student parking lot is as big as the Montgomery County fairgrounds, and second, you should see the cars in there. There are more BMW’s than in Bavaria, there are Nissan Z’s, an occasional Mercedes, brand new pick-ups with giant tires, not to mention the modified Honda’s and Mazda’s and motorcycles. It is unbelievable. You can look in vain for a humble Chevy or Ford. Kids today! Geez.
I remember once when our kids were in high school in the 80’s in Louisville, KY. My son, Matthew, wanted to know which car he could drive to school the next day, for some reason he didn’t want to take the bus. I said, “why don’t you just walk?” He looked at me like I was an alien from outer space. “Walk?” He repeated the word like it was an ancient artifact just discovered by some archeologists. At FHS, I walked to school every day, whether it was raining, snowing, or 20 below zero. In fact, one day it was so cold they called off school—remember? What is the first thing we all did? That’s right, we left our houses looking for some place to congregate and have a party. It was too cold for school but we all walked over to Robin Graubarth’s house for an impromptu party (405 Hidden Woods Lane).
I’m going to skip the role cars played at FHS in dating and romance since this is a family-friendly story. But let me just say that in the summer, at the drive in, if you walked back to the congestion stand, you would occasionally see a car kind of gently moving back and forth, but you couldn’t see in it because all the windows were steamed up. I always wondered about that.
No matter what adventures we had in high school, a car or cars featured prominently in whatever happened. They were like additional characters that we knew and loved. We drove like maniacs a good bit of the time and somehow survived. Up the road from me, in Braselton, GA is the headquarters of a business named Year One. They supply parts all over the country for classic car restoration and building street rods. In the summer, every other Saturday, they have a cruise in and tons of cool old cars show up. They play a lot of the music we loved and sometimes I can imagine Kelso sitting in the 61 Pontiac, or Gershow in the Mustang, or Swanson in the 55 Chevy. I almost want to climb in one and drive fast to Englewood Dam and back.