It looks like it is my turn to write a Director’s article again. Those of you who have been reading my “Seattle or Bust” series might think that I would just finish that story off as my August contribution to the Airhorn, but au contraire, I decided to relate another one of my Corvair stories. The “Seattle or Bust” series will continue elsewhere in these pages (and I promise it will come to an end—eventually).
I think I’ll call this story, “Two ‘Vairs, a Keg, and a Blizzard”…
It was the winter of ’76–’77. My job at B.F. Goodrich Chemical Co. (we’re the guys without a blimp!) had just gone away, when, due to totally foreseen circumstances, Corporate in Akron decided to shut down our plant in Chicago Heights, IL in an attempt to keep our sister plant in Gloucester, MA open.
It didn’t work, they shut down three years later.
But, back to my story. My good friend (and longtime CCE member) Greg LaCosse was home for the holidays from his studies at ASU in Tempe, AZ. As I had nothing going on for a while, I agreed to join him on his trip back to school—maybe the job situation was better in the desert (at this point the country was transitioning from “there used to be a Ford in your future” to “Full Peanut”).
Our friend Roger Harris (another long-time CCE member) provided a sweetener: He would pay for gas and lodging for my return trip if I brought back a couple of rust-free Arizona Corvairs. Done!
Roger had arranged for me to acquire a late model Corsa from a fellow (who I shall refer to as “Arizona Swifty” for reasons that will soon become apparent). This car was a turn-key runner, and I was to have use of said car during my stay in the Phoenix area while Greg was returning to classes. The second was to be a “pushmobile” that was towable but still rust-free. Roger’s plan was to build one of the cars for himself, and the other for some lucky Corvair aficionado, whose purchase price would cover the cost of the one Roger wanted to rebuild for himself.
Bringing my own late model trailer hitch and towbar. I was ready for anything—or so I thought.
The first thing I discovered upon my arrival in the Valley of the Sun, was that Arizona Swifty had sold the running Corsa while Greg and I were traveling down I-40. I really had little cause for complaint, as Roger had not sent Swifty any earnest money—Roger was unaware that there were others interested in the car, but it would have been nice to know. Furthermore, he had no more running Corvairs—his rather large collection was a pile of cars without engines and a few repairable engines without cars. We went over to another guy in the local club who had (and still has) a number of cars and a huge pile of parts. The two of them tried to sell me a New York car that had plenty of rust in all the usual places—I demurred.
Back at Swifty’s place, I finally agreed to a late coupe with no interior, no engine, a four speed, marginal tires, and a 95HP engine with a broken carburetor mount on the intake manifold. Of course, this meant that I would be spending some time getting the vehicle assembled rather than looking for jobs or seeing the sights. A second car that was at least towable was selected—still, no interior, but there was little that needed to be done.
A few days later, I had a car that would run, but it was no beauty. With only a driver’s seat inside, I figured that I did not need much else. The heater worked (good thing, as this was the end of January) but the battery needed to be replaced. Swifty complained mightily at this, but I was adamant—this guy was getting a fair amount of money for a lot of MY work, and I had no desire to be taken any more.
To be continued
In last month’s Airhorn, I began a new Corvair story concerning a trip to Arizona I made back in the winter of ‘76-77, bringing back two Corvairs for my friend Roger Harris (a long ago CCE member). We’ll pick up right where I left off, starting the trip home…
When it came time for me to return to the “Land o’ Frost,” I piled my gear into the trunk of the driver car, and a keg of Coor’s Banquet beer into the trunk of the towed car—after all the temps were in the mid 70’s, and I would be driving with few stops—or so I thought.
I should mention that, back in those days, Coor’s was ONLY sold west of Nebraska—many folks would pay for their western trips by bringing back “bootlegged” cases of Coor’s and selling them at inflated prices. I was going them one better—I was going to have a party with a whole keg! To this day, Coor’s Original banquet beer is one of my favorites, but don’t try to give me one of those “Silver Bullets”, I cannot stand them—and, oddly enough, that is the ONLY Coors available in most Chicago area bars—go figure.
Shortly after leaving Arizona, I discovered that the reason the battery was having trouble starting the car was that the starter was pretty well shot—it worked OK when the engine was cold, but it was very “iffy” when warm. Still, I figured that I would be able to deal with that—all I would have to do was wait it out.
Or so I thought.
I stopped at a roadside parking area for tractor-trailers in the New Mexico mountains for a quick nap. Prudence dictated that I park the car so that I could let the car roll forward downhill to start it—just in case. After a refreshing break, I discovered that the engine was now TOO COLD for the starter to work, so I merely released the parking brake and dumped the clutch. Off I went.
Traveling through Oklahoma, I was pulled over by an OK State trooper who demanded to know (in a thick Southwest accent), “Where’s your tags?”
Tags? What do you mean by tags?, I asked.
“TAGS FOR YOUR CAR, YOU IDIOT!”
“Oh, you mean plates?” I had never heard the term “tags” used for license plates before.
Indeed, I had removed the plates that came with the car, but still had them in my possession. I figured that I did not want to be caught with invalid plates from another owner—that was big trouble in Illinois, but I did not realize that in Arizona, the plates went with the car, not with the owner, so they were still considered valid. After convincing the trooper that I was merely stupid, and not a miscreant, he allowed me to continue without a ticket, but he warned me, “I don’t think you’re going to get the rest of the way home without a violation.”
I continued on. As I was traveling into Missouri, I tried to get some weather reports for the Chicago area. The reason for this was that, as the sun went down and the outside temperature started to drop, the heater blower of the car I was driving suddenly went, “Gaaack!” and ceased to function. I pulled into a gas station around midnight and the helpful attendants pulled my shivering frozen body out of the car and into the station, where they poured hot coffee into me, giving me a much needed revival. The only weather information they had for me wasn’t good—a big blizzard was heading down out of Canadia (where the Canadans live).
I drove into increasingly bitter cold, and the only weather report I was able to hear referenced -100F wind chills. That did not sound good, but I had no alternative, and I pressed on.
I crossed the Mississippi in St. Louis and headed north on I-55. Cold as all getout, but no snow—yet. At least the sun was up.
I got to our proud state capitol, Springfield, and now it started to snow—frankly, it was pretty bad and getting worse, but I had never failed to arrive anywhere I was going just due to weather, so I kept going. Suddenly, traffic stopped, and an Illinois State Trooper took note of the lack of “tags” on the cars I was transporting. I explained to him my situation and he relented, remarking “I’d be surprised if you make it all the way home without a ticket.”
He then advised me that I-55 was closed Northbound.
The rest of the story next month.
The last two months, I have been relating my story of transporting two restorable Corvairs from Arizona to long ago CCE member Roger Harris, who then lived in Janesville, WI. After assembling a driveable car from parts in Phoenix, I proceeded to tow a second ‘Vair, and placed a keg of Coor’s Original Banquet Beer (at that time still not sold east of Wyoming) in the trunk, for a great “welcome home” party.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature conspired with the Corvair Gods (a notoriously fickle bunch at the best of times!) and sent me a blizzard, right about the time that the heater blower went GAAACCKK!
At the end of last month’s part, I had made it into Illinois before the heavy snow began, and was moving smoothly along Interstate 55, when traffic came to a halt. An Illinois State trooper took note of the lack of plates on the cars in my possession, but was apparently too busy to issue me any citations (perhaps he was also feeling charitable for this half frozen, starving dimbulb who begged to sit in his warm patrol car for a few minutes.) He warned me that it was unlikely that I would reach my destination without any tickets. He also informed me that I-55 was closed north of where I was.
The story continues…
Considering that the Interstate was closed, I decided that the only thing to do was to take the surface roads—the trooper hadn’t said anything about those. As I continued to wend my way northward, I began to encounter snowdrifts across the roads. I hit the first ones at a low speed and was able to ram through pretty easily, but, as the drifts got larger, I found that I had to hit them at increasing speeds, until I realized I was skating over the larger ones at almost 60MPH! I got out and checked the towbar and vehicles—all still OK.
After a while, I decided to head east, towards I-55—maybe I had gotten past the closed section. I was still hitting snowdrifts but the next one was too much—I ALMOST made it through!
Fortunately, a farmer came by with his tractor—he had been pulling stuck motorists out all day. We hooked up his chain and the cars came out easily. He told me that I-55 was a short distance ahead, so I drove on.
I got back on the Interstate and drove north until traffic stopped again. A well bundled State Trooper walked up to my car(s) and said, “What the Hell are you doing here? I told you the interstate was closed!”
I was preparing to explain (at least I was sitting in a nice warm squad car!) when the call came over the police radio that everyone on I-55 was to proceed to the Dixon truck stop (site of a pretty good Route 66 Museum) and to spend the night at the nearby National Guard Armory.
I sheepishly drove the still running Corvair to the truck stop and shut it off. I went inside the truck stop, got a cup of coffee and waited for the next bus to the armory (I had just missed one). While I was waiting, there was a general announcement, “I-55 is now open to Interstate 80!”
I rushed back to the Corvair—was the engine too hot to start? Was it too cold? Luckily, I was in the middle of the approximately five minute window when the bad starter would work. Off I went.
The trip north on I-55 was, frankly, sobering. Cars and trucks were buried in the 8–12 foot high drifts on both sides of the single lane. If anybody broke down, there was no place to pull over. Thank God no one (especially me!) had any problems—I got to I-80 and made it home around dark.
The next day, I put a booster on the battery, started the car, and proceeded to head up to Janesville, WI, to deliver the cars to Roger (I had stepped on the scale in my bathroom—I had lost 15 pounds in 48 hours!). I was less than ten miles from the Wisconsin state line, when I suddenly saw red lights in my rear view mirror—an Illinois State Trooper was pulling me over!
You might guess he was pulling me over for lack of “tags”. You would be correct. This time I did get the ticket, but at least Roger got his cars, Ed Wargo got a very nice rust free Arizona Corsa (haven’t seen it in a while, Ed!), and I learned a few lessons about transporting cars cross-country in the winter.
Oh, that keg of Coors? Apparently the thermal mass of the beer was insufficient to keep it liquid—it froze solid, and blew out the bunghole. Roger found a lot of foam in the trunk, and when he thawed out some of the remaining beer, it was flat.