March 6, 2012
It was a green ‘55 Chevy station wagon. My Dad bought it for me the previous summer. (We hardly had any money in 1969; I had none.) It was ugly but fun. We called it The Pickle.
In early February 1970, the Pickle and I were wending northward on the two lane ribbon from Bartlesville, OK to Wichita, KS where my fiancée was a student at Friends University. The purpose was to bring Annette back down to Bartlesville for the weekend college Valentine banquet.
I had just removed the snow tires, snow being long gone in Bartlesville. The ones I put back on the car were nearly treadless. Big deal. The roads were all dry.
Just north of Winfield, KS, the rain began. I passed a car at about 60 mph. The driver told me later he was concerned about that. Silly guy thought I was going too fast. I’d been on this road enough times to predict the next 4 curves at any point on the journey. On a very familiar section, I glided into a gentle, easy right-hander. It had been recently patched, but I didn’t know that. The patched area was a smooth, mostly tar, surface. The Pickle lost traction and got sideways.
The tires then encountered normal pavement and got their grip back. Get this: I left the road on the inside of the curve! Ever heard of that? Down the embankment. Up the other side, still trying to steer my way out of of my self-inflicted predicament. Back down that embankment. Doom approaching.
When the left front tire caught the slope back up to the highway (I’m currently below the road surface) it flipped me. Noise. Chaos. Rattles and bangs. Popped out windshield – one piece. Tire iron and huge jack levitating somewhere in back. No seatbelt (not invented yet in ’55 autos). Head banging on the left door post every time the thing took another roll for the top. That would be 3 times, because we rolled 2 ½, coming to a stop on the roof. That was the noisiest experience my ears had suffered in my 19 years.
The car had rolled along the bottom “V” of the two embankments, pinching the nose and rear of the car down into a goofy imitation of a pea pod. I was lying out full length on the roof, feet in the back cargo area, hands still gripping the steering wheel. The engine had stopped. Still, I reached up (not down) to the ignition key and turned it off.
I opened the door (yes, it worked fine) and climbed out, just as the trepidatious fellow I had recently passed tentatively drove onto the grassy shoulder. He said he was “never so glad to see a car door open” as when he saw me emerge from the broken, dripping Pickle. When I stood up, I noticed one front tire was still rotating. The windshield was lying in the grass on the bank a few yards away, barely cracked. The only personal damage was a slightly chipped tooth and a small bruise on my pelvis. Oh, and the pride.
I sold the thing to a junk dealer for $50. A bemused friend drove up from Bartlesville to get me to Wichita to meet my wondering future wife, and we all drove back in the dark. By then there was a blinding blizzard going on. This adventure took most of the night. (Wesley Goss, thank you, wherever you are.)
I did stop by the junkyard a few times on later trips to pay my respects to The Pickle. Somewhere in a box I still have a forlorn photo.