Chasing Down the Three-Oh-Nine
Editors Note: The following is a passage from Roger Jetter’s new book “Fast Cars, 4-Speeds, and Fist Fights.”
Running about 65 per and some distance ahead of us, we could see the train’s caboose red taillight blinking in and out thru the trees. “Shakes” was trying his damnedest to catch it… I now know he’s nuts. Over the rush of cold night air coming in the vent windows, he calmly told me he’d done this a time or three. Did I believe him? Even money… his just-off-the-floor showroom new 1962 409” had plenty of juice… and top end… maybe he would catch it.
He’d traded his ’60 in on it… wanted one of those stripped down two-door Biscaynes with a niner, four-speed, Posi… a sleeper… to blow minds… the Chevy dealership couldn’t special order that one… but they said the Bel Air hardtop they could get was just as hot… at least that line of corporate BS stuck with him until the ’62 was setting on his driveway. I always thot ’62 bubble tops were ugly… figured GM had too many windshields and backlights left over from 1961 and had to use them up since they redesigned the Impala’s top to look like a convertible… and what better than to try to slide it by on a cheaper model? Guess that’s what makes them so rare and desirable these days… or, GM upper management wasn’t too sure the new convertible look was going to sell that well and were hedging their corporate bets… aaaaaaaaahhh, look, I’m off trak already.
The B.A. was red… obnoxious red… look-at-me-red… I-ain’t-doing-anything-wrong-honest-officer red and sported a set of those hot new gray 5-spoke mag wheels and blackwalls… get this… blakwalls in a whitewall mindset kinda crowd? U-u-uglyyyy! The front end set higher than the rear… the factory’s pseudo drag race look with dual exhausts exiting just behind the rear wheel wells… they get the stance right and fall down on the exhausts… but hey, what do I know?
The ’62 floated concrete hiway joints close to 90… and gained… headed for home on Hiway 30. We’d chased some chippies (females) in the larger town of Carroll (28 miles from my home town) and were trying to catch the Illinois Central freight train. Just east of the small town of Vail (7 miles from my Iowa hometown… and no, not Vail, ColoRODo!). We did…”Shakes” matter-of-factly said he’d beat these trains home on several different nights… and got close a time or three… wanted me to put up some cash on if he could or couldn’t tonite.
What am I, stupid? Got it tattooed across my forehead? “No man, if you said you did it, that’s good enuff for me.”
He elaborated… said he could give any freight train a head start and still beat it to town, turn south across the tracks in front of it and be parked in his driveway by the time it rolled past his house…and our town wasn’t very big! It sounded reckless to me… but my ol’ ’57 sure couldn’t do that… the train engineer would have to give ME a head start!!
“Tell you what,” he said. “Let’s make next Friday’s run to Carroll more interesting…”
Had no idea what he was talking about. “I’m listening.”
“We’re playing Kuemper next week, right?”
“So? I’m not up for going to Carroll just to watch a football game in the snow and cold… there’s got to some warm companionship, and beer, involved in this somehow.”
“OK, OK… I know some of the Kuemper girls… we’ll grab a couple sixes, go hang out, eventually we’ll get a couple in the car.”
“I’m in. What’s it gonna cost me?”
“Couple of sixes anyway,” Shakes said. “And grease my palm with a twenty if I win. Deal?”
“Sure, why not… and if you lose? What do I get?”
“Lucky,” he said.
Guess I didn’t really know what he meant by that…
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