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Chapter 59

TWA and My 1938 Chevy

End of March, first of April 1953, my buddy Don Cox came by the Drive-in one Sunday afternoon. I was in the booth repairing speakers while my boss Mr. Jones, worked in the concession stand. Don started out by telling me I should return to California with him, that we could not only further our musical careers but make some good money as well. I told him I was working two jobs and making pretty good. I worked forty hours for Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing and the Drive-in at nights. He pulled out a check for forty hours that was more than I was making at two jobs. I unplugged the soldering iron, went in to the concession stand and told Mr. Jones that the following Thursday would be my last day.

I had a date with a girl from W-D on Friday. I came home to find Don waiting for me, ready to leave for California in his Uncle Jack's 1951 Mercury, a really nice car. We made it as far as Ranger before the car started to miss badly. We had to wait several hours for the Ford dealership to open but it only took a few minutes for the mechanic to find the points had broken in the distributor.

We made it to El Paso late that afternoon, on across New Mexico and Arizona and in to California early Monday morning. That afternoon Don took me to Colorado Fuel and Iron where he worked and I filled out an application. I reported for work the next afternoon on swing shift, working with Don and his Uncle Jack making galvanized wire. Very interesting but hot and dirty work. The pay was outstanding. We had an hourly wage plus bonus if we made quota and with a good crew, we made bonus every shift.

Don's mother and dad moved and four of us took over the house they had been living in. Me, Don, his twin Doyle and Uncle Jack. We were joined a month later by James Sims and Marshal Mitcham, two other friends from Weatherford. The arrangement really worked out well. Don and I did the cooking, Doyle and James kept house, Marshal and Uncle Jack bought the groceries and did the laundry and dry cleaning.

Uncle Jack was 27, we ranged in age from 18 to 20, so it was natural that he keep the money. We each put $20 in the pot every payday. That took care of rent, food and laundry with plenty left over for beer. We were having a blast. Six bachelors, on their own, no one to boss us.

Don had been given a 1938 Chevrolet two door sedan by his brother in law. We used it to drive to work and tour San Francisco. It only had one draw back. When we started up some of the numerous hills around the Bay Area, we either had to back up or push. Sometimes both. I suggested we replace the fuel pump but Don told me to stick with guitar picking and leave mechanical things to him. One night after an exhausting push up the last hill before we arrived back in South City where we lived, Don said, "For twenty-five bucks I would sell this $%&*!" I reached in my wallet, gave him twenty-five dollars and said, "Give me the pink slip."

Next morning I drove to a parts store, purchased a rebuilt fuel pump for about five dollars, installed it in the parking lot and drove away, looking for a hill. No problem. I could climb with the best. The engine had a little knock and I quizzed Don's brother in law, Jerry. He was a diesel mechanic for Greyhound Bus Lines and suggested replacing the rod bearings. He said if I helped he would do the job for twenty bucks. We dropped the pan, found the knocking bearing, and replaced all of them. Smooth little six but the paint was so faded it was hard to tell what the original color had been. For less than fifty bucks I had wheels so who cared about the paint.

Good thing I had the car because I was about to be laid off at Fuel & Iron. That is when I saw the ad for a truck driver at TWA. I applied, and with my previous experience in Weatherford got the job.

And a very important job it was. I was responsible for bulk fuel that was delivered by barge to the storage facility on the Bay and fueling aircraft, mostly Lockheed Constellations, Convair 440's. We also sold gas to Flying Tiger Airlines who flew surplus DC-3s and C-46s. When I fueled an aircraft, I drained a gallon of fuel from the sumps in to glass jugs and checked for water. I poured the sump gas in to a large holding tank and someone disposed of it. Never did find out, didn't care. One day, I asked the foreman if it would be all right if I used a couple of gallons of the sump gas for my car. He told me no problem since it was to be discarded anyway. He also suggested I add some ten weight oil to the fuel to keep from burning the valves in the little six. Now we are talking 115 octane, some of even higher rating. The first I tried, I don't think the starter turned more than twice before the engine caught. Prior to that it had been a little tricky and very cold natured. The gas solved that problem.

A situation developed with the girl I was dating and I decided to return to Texas. On the day I was to leave, we painted "TEXAS or BUST" on the back glass and I stopped by the Lone Ranger Bar & Grill for a going away party. Here I had one or two too many, left and somewhere after I crossed the Bay bridge wound up asleep in a beet field. No damage to me or the car but I found a motel, paid the man cash for a few hours sleep and headed out at mid morning. Somewhere in the valley I spotted a man on the side of the road thumbing a ride. Always had a soft spot for hitchhikers having done a lot of that in my time so I stopped. He wore clean khakis but smelled like disinfectant and rolled cigarettes from a sack of Bull Durham. Very polite and suggested we stop for coffee and maybe a piece of pie. I agreed and after we were seated he said, "You might not want to let me ride any further. I just got out of prison this morning." Dumb old me, I asked why he was in prison and he said, "Manslaughter." I was a little nervous but he said he was only going as far as Barstow, maybe fifty miles away so we continued on. He got out at the city limits and I breathed a little easier. On the other side of town, I saw a Marine with a duffel bag trying to catch a ride. I thought he would probably be a better passenger than the former inmate. I stopped and found out he was going home to North Carolina. I told him I would take him as far as Route 66 took me in to Texas and he couldn't have been happier.

We had a grand time until we reached the Painted Desert. I wanted to stop and take a look and his personality changed. He insisted we keep traveling and I told him, "Hey, you might have still been standing on that road if I hadn't given you a ride. Now either shut up or get out." He got out.

Two days later, I pulled in to Weatherford. Back at my old job at the Drive-in, I passed a used car lot that had a shiny 1941 Chevrolet four door sedan on the front line. Didn't take long to make a trade. I paid the man $125 difference and roared away. Every once in a while I would see the little set of wheels that had brought me home. Don't know how many times the used car guy sold it, different driver every time.

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