The only real remembrance I have of those early years is of coming home from school one day and yelling to my Mother as she was hanging up clothes that I had been exposed to the measles at school. I was standing out in the street and she screamed at me to wait and not come across the little footbridge into the house. She called my Dad to come and pick me up and I stayed with my Grandpa and Grandma Kimes’ farm until I was over the measles. For you see my youngest sister Nancy was sick at home with whooping cough and pneumonia and they did not want her exposed to any thing else. My Siblings were; Carol Ann was born on March 10, 1931, Nancy Lee was born on March 9, 1934 and Joe Scott was born on May 16, 1938. Daddy worked at the Conoco service station at the intersection of Main Street and the old 275 Highway at the time I was born. He worked there and also drove a fuel truck for Contois Bros. He delivered fuel to farms and some construction sites. I remember the old soft drink machine suspended the bottles by their necks and the guys used to put watermelons and cantaloupes in the cooler also to get them cool.
The only other remembrance I have was my folks telling me that I used to run in the house and tell them when a "TEELY" car went by. Meaning a Model T. I don't remember much else about that house except Daddy burning tumbleweeds in the back yard. I believe that Daddy and some friends used to put firecrackers under cans and blow them up in the air. I do remember that there was a storm cellar out back. In that country there were cyclones and tornadoes and they did a lot of damage. There were some tornadoes when we lived there but I don't believe any of them came close to town. My wife, Mitzie, researched the genealogy records and determined that we came from Johannes Keim. He was born in Landau Speier Germany in 1675. Emigrant’s names often were changed like Kime and then later the “s” was added.
My mother’s father, Grandpa Chace was involved in many businesses while living in Clearwater. Some documentation is in the Clearwater Centennial book. When Mitzie and I were in Clearwater in 2001 for the High School Reunion and to visit Aunt Ruth, we visited the local library and read many of the old 1920 – 1921 newspapers. Grandpa Chace evidently owned several farms and acreage and someone said he traded a lot.
In 1920 he went into partnership with a lady in a meat market in Neligh. Later in the paper it stated that he had gotten out of that because it was just too far to go back and forth. Neligh is 8 miles from Clearwater. Of course in 1921 that may have been quite a chore. He also delivered mail on a rural route out of Clearwater. I know he drove his old 1935 Plymouth and I suspect that in earlier days he used a team of horses and a buggy.
We understand that Grandpa Chace had the first automobile in Clearwater. It was a Chevrolet Baby Grand. He taught my mother to drive when she was 12 years old.
We moved across the street from the old home place the last of April (1935) when Nancy was one year old and lived in what was called the Wolfe house. The only thing I remember is my sister Carol Ann following me to school which was just a few blocks away, so Mother tied her up to the clothesline with a long leash/rope. We did have boarders there and I met a lady a few years ago who had lived with us probably while going to school in town. We also had some construction men who I believe were working on the highway.
Clearwater is a small town located near the east edge of the Nebraska sand hills. It is pretty flat in that area with a few small hills. The surrounding area is all farmland. Corn was the main crop in that area. There was a square wooden bandstand in the middle of the main intersection in town. It was built up off the ground so everyone could see and hear the band. Saturday night most farmers came to town and they had a band concert in that bandstand. Many men in town played in the band including Grandpa Chace and our Father. My Dad played the cornet in the town band.
In April of 1938 (just before Joe was born) we moved down to Grandfather Chace's 40-acre farm on the edge of town. The northern boundary was the Elkhorn River. His farm was kitty-corner to the town on the north east corner of the town. The money situation was quite grim for our folks. We ate a lot of navy beans and sometimes if we were lucky there was ham too. We always ate but know it was a stretch for Mother to feed us.
My folks had a 1930 Model A Ford sedan but it was up on blocks. I don't remember it ever running as long as we lived there. No tires. I used to set in it and go through the motions of driving. I probably put on a lot of miles and never went anywhere. But, it was fun. There was a large dent in the back of the car because our Mother had used the car once to stop a team of horses that were running away. That happened in town. When I lived in Nebraska I never went any further from home than to Norfolk to the east or Atkinson to the west which is about 50 miles from Clearwater. I have traveled many, many miles since then.
We all went to the County Fair in Neligh once and they had auto races on the dirt track and they had an auto thrill show. We got some good ideas from that and soon were jumping over ramps with our bicycles and wagons. We even piled up cardboard boxes and crashed through them just like the cars. We did that down the road from the house at the second bridge where there was a hill that we could get going pretty fast on.
Of course that area of the country had the seasons. The most memorable were the winters. My Dad had to drain the engine coolant from Grandpa's Plymouth because in those days we couldn't afford antifreeze. In the morning he would pour hot water in the radiator and having shaken down the coals in the wood-burning kitchen stove, he would place that pan under the oil pan of the car. Sometimes even that failed and we would have to walk to school. We walked over crusted snowdrifts that were 8 to 10 feet deep. It was about 1 mile to the school. Teachers were very good at recognizing frostbite, and thawing out the children.
The town dump was down on the river and I used to scour the area for scrap metal. I would haul it up to the house in a little wagon and when there was enough, Daddy would haul it in a truck to Ashcrafts in town and sell it. I ordered a 22-caliber single shot rifle from Sears, Roebuck and Co. and paid only $9.50 for it. I hauled a lot of scrap metal to pay for that rifle.
Hal Thompson’s Dad, Uncle Tommy, used to sell Maytag washing machines and Maytag had a little go-cart powered by a small gasoline engine and they had it there during the summers. The kids would ride it all over the place.
I graduated from the eighth grade in Clearwater. Mary Purcell my teacher also taught our Mother when she was in the eighth grade. That school went from Kindergarten through High School, all in one building. I remember when it was hot and humid that it was very difficult to study. No air in those days. Now they have a modern building with air-conditioning.
There was little work in Nebraska during the early 1940’s so my Dad went to aircraft manufacturing school in Norfolk. He and his long time friend Charles Nolze came to California in early 1942 and went to work at the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, California. They were building the B17 bombers at that time. The rest of our family came to California in June 1942 as soon as school was out. Our Mother also went to work at Douglas Aircraft. She worked there for many years on the B-17 aircraft.
I was 14 years old when we moved to California and Joe was only four. We stayed with George and Edna Buss' (my Mother’s cousin) in Lynwood, California for a few weeks and then my folks bought a house at 5958 Amos Avenue in Bellflower. I think they paid $99 down and payments of $42 a month. There were anti-aircraft guns down at the south end of our street. They also had those large searchlights to look for enemy planes. We rode busses to high school. I used to deliver newspapers in our area. I had a double route and we used to take out the back seat of our ’34 Plymouth and filled it to the top with papers.
Recently I found an old scrapbook with airplane pictures and also the 1946 through 1948 Indianapolis races. I must have saved every newspaper clipping I could find. These were the first races following World War II.
Dad worked at Douglas when we came to California and later he worked at Vultee in Downey and then went to North American Aviation in 1947. He worked for them until he retired. Mom had worked at Douglas also and then worked at various places. She worked at a hamburger stand for a time and then went to the Salvation Army store and worked there as manager for several years. When Daddy and I both worked at NAA in Long Beach, we sometimes rode home with different people. One night we were setting at the dinner table and we realized that neither one of us had brought the car home. It was sitting in the parking lot at work. I went to Excelsior Union High School in Norwalk. When I signed up for classes I didn't know the system that well because in Nebraska you really took college preparatory classes in grammar school. I took quite a few shop classes and actually built my first hot rod in auto shop class. I worked on the Public Address System crew and did quite a bit of work in the auditorium with the stage crew. We used to play records for the students during the noon dances held in the Girl's Gym. Harry James, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey etc. were popular during that period. Many of the students went to work in the fields after school. We went in the school busses and we were cutting spinach for harvest.
I joined the Civil Air Patrol and also the California Cadets. We had military type training and some of the time I was drilling the cadets. I went to Long Beach Air Force Base for a week and while there I took my first ever airplane ride. That was in a DC3. I was involved with cars for many years and I even taught basic auto mechanics when I was in the Army. Our family had a 1934 Plymouth four door sedan during this time. My Dad had an accident one night and had run into the back of a gasoline tanker stopped at a railroad crossing. He hit it pretty hard and the engine was pushed back to the front seat. The frame was bent so bad that the frame under the rear motor mounts touched the ground and the front wheels at full droop were off the ground. We bought another identical car and I took the engine and body out/off the first one and made a good car out of all the various parts. That was my introduction to things mechanical. This all happened when I was 15 years old. My folks bought me a Sears’s socket set and I still have a few of those sockets. We used that old car for several years as during the war you couldn't buy anything. I ran kerosene in the Plymouth because of the shortage and rationing of gasoline. I kept weaning it until it would run on 100% kerosene. I wonder if my Dad really knew what I was doing.
My first car was a single seat chassis without an engine that I had purchased. I bought a 1928 Chevrolet coupe and removed the 4 cylinder engine and transmission and then sold what was left for $15, which was what I had paid for the whole car in the first place. Later on I replaced that engine with a Model B Ford flathead. Then the body was changed to a 27 T (picture with Truman) and then even later that was replaced with a 27 T bucket with a 32 Cadillac gas tank, which made what we called a modified. We ran SCTA and ran 95-100+ mph. I have many dash plaques from there. I ran 4 bangers for years and it was hard to go 100MPH. One time at El Mirage one of our club members didn’t show so I ran our 1956 Buick (stock) and went 106 mph. Around 1947-48, I worked with Bill Finley when he ran his Cragar powered track roadster. I was a mechanic for Bill. We ran at tracks in Fresno, Las Vegas, Culver City, Huntington Beach, Gilmore Stadium and Balboa Stadium in San Diego. I obtained an old dirt track sprint car and ran that at the dry lakes and Bonneville for several years. First I ran a Ford 4-cylinder block with various flatheads like Winfield and then went to overhead with a Cragar.
I belonged to a car club named the Wheelers. Warren Marquez, Dave Ratliff, Don Gilchrist, Bob and Jack Butler, Jim Seabridge, Joe Lippi and the Bottema brothers were some names that I remember. We were all from the Bellflower, Norwalk and North Long Beach area. We ran at the El Mirage dry lake with the Southern California Timing Association. (SCTA) I was on the Board of Directors for SCTA and I worked the technical inspection area for the cars. My Dad used to go to the races with us. I think he enjoyed being with us as we were doing something that we wanted to do. I have a program from a SCTA lake meet that he had written down the times in. Richard Course, a classmate from Excelsior used to go with me and helped work on my car a lot. I met Dave Ratliff in 1940’s after WWII. I joined the Wheelers, a SCTA club where he was a member. Dave was a strong force in the Wheelers club for many years. Dave ran a 1932 roadster with a Cord engine with a centrifugal supercharger. Later he ran a Mercury flathead in that roadster. Over the years we helped each other with our cars. Once I ran his roadster at El Mirage while Dave, suffering with poison ivy was in the back seat of our sedan.
In 1949 Dave, Julian Doty and I went to Bonneville for the first Speed Weeks and ran my old dirt car with Don Gilchrist’s flathead Mercury engine. Dave was listed as the driver on the entry blank. We took turns, Dave and I driving the car at the Salt. Some of my pictures of that first meet are in Louise Noeth’s Bonneville book. We had no break in time on the engine so we drove it on the highway from Mojave, California to Tonopah, Nevada. A picture of Dave driving down the highway is in Louise’s Bonneville book. We ran 136.15 mph and placed 2nd in the race car class. If you ever see the movie, ”World’s Fastest Indian,” you will get a sense of us going to the Salt that first time. It was an adventure just to get there. In 1954 we ran Dave’s Mercury flathead engine in my car again at Bonneville. We went 136 + and broke the transmission. I had followed Dave Ratliff’s progress over the years at Bonneville and was very happy when he finally went 200. I watched his speeds when they were posted on the SCTA website. My wife and I were invited to Bonneville in 1998 when they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first speed week. We spent time with Dave at that meet. My wife had attended meets in the 1950’s and many times in the ‘60’s as I was on the Art Arfons crew when he was running for the Land Speed Records. In 1998 my wife was impressed with the shades and the tarps on the ground in the pits. We also enjoyed the possibility of going to town (Wendover) and having a good lunch at a nice restaurant.
I sincerely believe that Dave was one of our true pioneers in hot rodding. No big money but much innovation. He had his own flow bench in his garage and did a lot with injectors and pistons. He did a lot with very little. I understand when Dave and Mary Ann Ratliff looked at the Norco house that Dave walked out back. He saw a large backyard and a barn large enough to hold several cars and he said, “We’ll buy it.” I know that Dave showed much ingenuity because instead of buying a quick-change rear end with a straddle mount pinion he built blocks of steel to reinforce the housing of his old quick change. The SCTA ran at the Bonneville Salt Flats for the first time in 1949 and we installed a flathead Ford engine that belonged to Don Gilchrist. We broke in the engine by driving the car on the highway from Mojave to Tonopah, Nevada. We ran 136.15 mph on the salt. Dave Ratliff, Julian Doty and I camped out on the salt that first year. A windstorm came up the first night and blew the top right off the Union 76 tent we were sleeping in. Gene Hersom and I built a sports car with one/half of a Dusenberg dual overhead cam 8-cylinder engine. We thought about running in the Mexican road race but that never happened. We tried to run at March Air Force Base and then again at Palm Springs. Not too successful. We ran it at the Salt flats in 1953. I don't know the speed.
Dave Ratliff ran his flathead Ford in the car in 1953 and we went 153 mph. We had a special gear in the transmission to give us an overdrive and that failed and put us on the trailer. The gear had been welded but was not heat-treated to harden it. I wasn’t smart enough to know that it should have been done. I bought the Harvey Haller/Frank Breene belly tank chassis from Frank. I replaced the entire frame and running gear except the quick-change rear end and the tank body. I originally ran the flat head engine from Moose Bice's track car at El Mirage and also ran at several drag strips including Lions in Long Beach. I was usually the only car in class so I got a trophy each time I ran. Once as we were putting the car on the trailer, Mickey Thompson, the track manager, came over and asked that I run off with him. He just wanted to put on a little show for the spectators. I had been running about 110 mph and he had been running about 150 mph. Remember these were the days of flagmen to start the races. We got up on the line already to go and when I thought the flagman was thinking about raising the green flag, I went as hard as I could. Of course Mickey was left setting at the starting line. He then took off and passed me about half-track. When we stopped he jumped out of his car mad as heck and he ran over and said, "What did you do that for?" I said, " Well, I knew that you could beat me so I just left when I thought the starter was thinking about raising the flag." He didn't think it was funny. We also ran a SCTA meet at the Colton drag strip. I ran a track roadster for Moose Bise around ’54 or “55. Willie Drown drove it.
In 1956 we installed Ed Johnson's Buick engine with 6 Strombergs, a Dave Ratliff built distributor and a racing camshaft in my belly tank and ran the 1956 meet at Bonneville. The car went 193 mph. The car had a blue and yellow paint job and was sponsored by the Mobil Station in Lakewood. I had gone 175 mph. Lynn Yakel and I drove up in my Buick. We took two youngsters, Jim Travis and Bob Opperman with us. Lynn and I thought they were too young to even drive the Buick. Now they are both active in racing. Lynn Yakel went 184 mph and the water tank did not relieve pressure so the tank swelled up and the water pump wore a hole in it. Lynn got wet and then he said that I was mad at him for going faster than I did and we had to go back home for work and I never had a chance to go faster than him. We laugh about it now. Bill Fowler drove it the fastest when it went 193 mph. We put Bob Opperman's Buick nail-head in the tank for the 1957 Bonneville meet. It ran 193 before it blew up. We just never made that 200-mph goal. The fastest speed that I drove the car was 175 mph. The car was painted red for this meet. I personally never went over 200 mph, but that is ok. The speed we obtained was good for the time and I am satisfied that we had a good time.
In 1960 Lynn Yakel and I went to the salt to spectate and we found that not having a car in competition was very boring. We met Fred Larsen and Don Cummins from La Mirada, where we lived at the time and talked to them quite a bit. Fred and Don were running a modified roadster. Later they built a real nice streamliner and Lynn designed a body for it. Lynn Yakel and I met Art Arfons at Bonneville in 1961 when he was running his Allison powered streamliner. He was short of crewmembers and they needed help so we helped. Lynn and I were just there to spectate that year. I worked with Art the next year 1962 at Bonneville when he ran the Cyclops car with the J47 jet engine. After each and every run he would comment that we should have checked the oil level in that side tank. He always said that but we never saw him check it. I think he was just pulling our legs. He ran that car at drag strips and when he was in Long Beach, California at the Lions drag strip we had him and his crew come to our home for dinner. There was some controversy when June, Art’s wife heard that they went to Kay and Mitzie’s for dinner.
During the middle 1960’s I worked at Deist and we built the parachutes for his car. George Callaway and I went to Bonneville and serviced the parachutes for Art’s car. I was at every land speed record run except the time he crashed in 1966. I couldn’t get off work at that time. I was sure glad I was not there. Art and I both drove Pontiacs for the 1965 Mobil Economy run from Los Angeles to New York City. Don Francisco was our team manager. Art was doing tractor pulling for awhile and once he was in Los Angeles at the sports arena. I went by to visit him and while I was there the local Fire Marshall came by and wanted to see how he made the flames come out of his jet engines. Art showed him and then the Marshall said don’t do that again as your flames went clear up to the scoreboard in the arena. My brother Joe and I went to Bonneville in October 1990 to the World Finals. Art was there to run his Green Monster #27. He had heart problems previously and would experience blackouts of his eyes upon acceleration. He decided to not run any more. I went to visit Art at his shop in Akron, Ohio in 2005. We had a very good visit. He showed me a lot of his pet projects. He liked to work with and run aircraft engines. He had several. He did so very much with so little.
I helped Lynn Yakel in 1962 when he had purchased a 300SL Gullwing Mercedes. I helped prepare the car and he ran it on the salt. It went about 145 mph. For helping prepare it, he let me drive it every other time. We really couldn't out do each other. But, we sure had a lot of fun. In 1963 I started helping out down at Dan Gurney's shop when he first started out on his own. Bill Fowler was his only paid crewmember and Ken Deringer and I volunteered our time to prepare his Lotus 19B. It was the first one built for a V-8 engine. It had a 289 ci Ford. Bob Opperman helped us out and we took it to the Bahamas in 1963 for the Nassau Speed Week. The following February Bill and I took the car to Daytona for the race there. Dan did not win the race because a gear broke in the car. He had a heated race with AJ Foyt until the car broke. It was really a thrill to hear the big NASCAR machines. They really sounded impressive. My Daddy and I used to go to Riverside and set in the S's and watch those powerful machines go by. My Dad really enjoyed those races. We had gone to the very first Riverside race of sport cars and then the last race in 1988 when the Winston Cup stock cars ran. Dave took me to the last race and Rusty Wallace won it.
In 1964 Art Arfons took his new jet-powered car to the Bonneville Salt Flats to run for the land speed record. I worked for Jim Deist and had made the parachutes for Art’s car. Mitzie, Dan and I went up to help. Art and Craig Breedlove kept breaking the record until Breedlove finally went over 600 mph. Art actually held the World Land Speed Record for three different times. A film crew from Scotland came and interviewed me for 3 hours for a TV documentary in 2004. My efforts with Art Arfons and other land speed efforts was the subject. I gave them some 8mm film which was taken by Mitzie of Art’s car and runs at Bonneville during the 1964 – 65 timeframe. The title is, “In Search of Speed, The Battle of Bonneville.”
I went to work for Jerry Eisert down in Costa Mesa early in 1965. He had a crew and they were building a Indy racecar for Frank Harrison from Chattanooga, Tennessee. We worked/thrashed night and day for several weeks getting ready to go to the Indianapolis Speedway. We didn’t know for a while who was going to go with the car as not everyone that worked there was to get to go. I was chosen and that fulfilled a lifelong dream to go to the Speedway and be in the garage area and the pits. We took the new car and also a Lotus 18 chassis with a Chevy in it. Both cars were powered with turbo-charged Chevrolets. Skip Hudson, a southern California sports car guy was the driver for the new car and Lee Roy Yarbrough, a NASCAR driver drove the other car. Neither car qualified so I sat in the stands and watched the race. I sat right behind Bill Finley’s pit. I had worked on Bill’s hot-rod track roadster back in the 1947-48 timeframe. We went to Milwaukee the next week and raced both cars. Al Unser and Johnny Rutherford were the drivers. My car the older one with Johnny driving had an oil leak and caught fire during the race. Not much damage occurred. I had been gone from home a month so I left and towed the Lotus car home. Danny had his first birthday while I was gone and I was very home sick. No one should miss his son’s 1st birthday. I did bring home a souvenir from Indianapolis. One of the original bricks that made up the track. Among my souvenirs also is a set of Drake-Offenhauser brand new pistons.
There was quite a battle for the land speed record that year between the Arfons brothers and Craig Breedlove. I worked for Jim Deist on parachute jobs including the chutes for Art and Walt Arfons. Art’s chute system was activated by a steel slug blown out with an explosive charge and that pulled out a drogue chute which pulled out the parachute bag. The chute was reefed to start and a reefing line cutter then cut that and then the chute blossomed out to its full size. This system worked several times at speeds in excess of 500 mph. George Callaway and I went to the Salt once to supply parachutes for Walt’s car with Paula Murphy driving to try and set a women’s speed record. It kept raining and we were there for a week. They finally ran and she ran into the water and got the chutes wet. We changed them out for the return run. I think she went 240+ mph average. Jim and Marion flew home with Don Francisco and when I took them out to the Salt to leave there was absolutely nothing out there but me. As they left I stood there and watched them fly off toward Ely and it was an eerie and lonely feeling.
I was frustrated because they could be home in a few hours and we were looking at a twelve-hour drive. We left Wendover and soon ran into snow and when we went through Ely we didn’t know it but they were grounded because of weather. We beat them home by a couple of days. We hit a deer and when we had gotten stopped and got out we were on a road with black ice. The road dropped off about 15 feet on each side and when we realized what could have happened if I had swerved, I got the shakes. The angels were looking after us that time. I went to Detroit once to visit Lynn and Roberta Yakel and while there I drove four different alternative fuel vehicles. I just drove them around a block or two. Several years later Art Arfons came up to the October World Finals speed trials with a new smaller jet powered car to break the record once again. Joe and I were there doing patrol duty then. Art had trouble with his eyes. Under acceleration they would begin to get red and then he would black out. Part of the trouble may have been the solid aluminum wheels causing excessive vibration on the rough salt. His son was there but Art said he would never put anyone else in the car. He did make some runs over 300 mph.
During the 1998 Speed Week they had a reunion for all who had made the trek to the salt in 1949. Alex Xydias put together a deal and they had a couple of receptions and a banquet for the “49ers.” Mitzie and I went and had a real good time and I met Louise Noeth (an author) at the meet and she was looking for pictures of the ’49 meet. I gave her several and she included a couple in her new Bonneville books. Recently I was looking through some old papers that Mother had saved and I believe that she had cut out and saved every newspaper clipping that had my name on things I had worked on. Articles about the Mobil Economy Run, Baja, Art Arfons and various race teams etc. As you can tell cars have been a big part of my life for many years. I know that when we were racing at the lakes that all of my money went in to the car. In 2004 there was an exhibit of landspeed cars at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles. I had given several photos to Louise Noeth and when we went to the exhibit the first time I walked in and behind Tom Beatty’s tank and Ab Jenkins’ Mormon Meteor was a picture about 10 feet square. It was of the sign at the entrance of the Bonneville Salt Flats and my car was parked in front of the sign. I was really surprised as I didn’t remember ever seeing that picture before. When I left that night I told a man at the door that it felt funny to go to a museum and see my picture on the wall.
Before the exhibit closed I took Dan and Dave up to see it. I showed them a picture of us with the tank and Dan asked, “How old was I at that time?” I said about 28 and he said I sure looked young. Yep!! Roberta Yakel passed away from leukemia in 2005 and they had a memorial service for her at the Dearborn Inn in Detroit on June 25. I went to it and spent several days visiting/bench racing with Lynn. I also went over and spent some time with Art Arfons. Neither of them are in good health and I wanted to spend some time with them. The trip was very worth while. Art Arfons and I both drove Pontiacs for the 1965 Mobil Economy run from Los Angeles to New York City. Don Francisco was our team manager. Art was doing tractor pulling for awhile and once he was in Los Angeles at the sports arena. I went by to visit him and while I was there the local Fire Marshall came by and wanted to see how he made the flames come out of his jet engines. Art showed him and then the Marshall said don’t do that again as your flames went clear up to the scoreboard in the arena.
My brother Joe and I went to Bonneville in October 1990 to the World Finals. Art was there to run his Green Monster #27. He had heart problems previously and would experience blackouts of his eyes upon acceleration. He decided to not run any more. I went to visit Art at his shop in Akron, Ohio in 2005. We had a very good visit. He showed me a lot of his pet projects. He liked to work with and run aircraft engines. He had several. He did so very much with so little.
In 1968 when I was working at Eisert Racing Enterprises, we decided to enter one of our dune buggies in the Baja 1000. The road to La Paz, which becomes no more than a rugged trail 160 miles south of Ensenada, is little improved over the route traveled by the padres on burro two and three centuries ago. And, in some places, most in fact it's even worse. The car was prepared the best we knew how and we even had to buy a new Corvair to get an engine. Ted Sutton, one of the mechanics in the shop had a 140A Cessna airplane and they decided that he and I would go and be support for our car. We obtained the auto editor of the Los Angeles Times Bob Thomas as the driver and Mike Jones who was the general manager of the Orange County Raceway to be the co-driver. We had a pickup truck with two men to trailer the car to Ensenada and follow the course to support the racecar. Initially we thought we would be gone about two days and then we would be back at the shop in Costa Mesa. Ha Ha!! Ted had an all metal Cessna 140. It had a full panel of instruments and very good radios. Ted and I flew in his little plane down to Tijuana and went through the customs procedure. Not too complicated. I believe we paid a landing fee of $.60. We flew on down to Ensenada and landed at the airport. If you don't speak Spanish they don't acknowledge you on the air, they just ignore you.
We went back to town and got a motel for the evening and the next morning got up early and started to the airport to get the plane ready to go. Our cab had a flat tire and the driver insisted that he replace it. So, we watched him and the cars as they sped down the highway. We finally got to the airport and it was a bit of mayhem. As we were taxing out to the runway to depart, someone came down the taxiway towards us and took off right over our heads. We finally took off and started south along the right hand side of the course as we were supposed to do and the cowling on the plane came loose and started flapping up and down. This was just the right one-half of the cowl but it made a lot of terrible noise and rivets and screws were popping out and hitting the windshield. Ted slipped the plane sideways. As long as he could keep it side slipping the cowl would stay down. Not too bad a deal. On final approach when he straightened out then it began to bang again but he was able to get down on the ground quite quickly and safely.
We turned off the runway to the right where there were some Mexican Air Force personnel and some T-28 airplanes. Several soldiers came out and talked to us but we couldn't speak their language. Motions were made and it appeared they would help us. First they pushed the Cessna over and into their hangar. They did all of the effort and wouldn't let us help. Finally an officer came out who spoke English. He said that they would get some sheet metal screws and fasten the cowling down. He asked if we wanted a coke, so we accepted. He wandered off as well as all the other soldiers. All of sudden Ted and I noticed that soldiers with rifles were patrolling across the open door of the hangar. Whoops? What's going on here we asked? They were gone for what seemed like an hour. Then the soldiers came back with a small ladder, a very large drill motor, 350-rpm job, and some tools and fasteners. The way this works, is one man places the ladder, another man mounts the ladder and drills the holes, and the next man goes up the ladder and installs the screws. And this is the way the job was done. Well, it worked anyway. We thanked all of them and left.
By the time we got down to the next checkpoint and landed our car had already passed and started toward the interior. I believe that running on that course was the equivalent of lifting your car 20-30 feet into the air and dropping it at least several times per mile. Wow was it rough. In fact of the 233 vehicles who started this event only 25 will end up in La Paz. I was glad that we were in the airplane and not on the ground. We had an aircraft receiver/transmitter in the truck but never were able to communicate with the ground crew. We flew on to Santa Ines, which is sort of an oasis in that desert. We had looked for our car on the way but missed it. The car was bright yellow but still difficult to identify from the air. We waited for several hours and finally decided to go back up and search once again. The windshield of the plane had gotten a pretty good coat of dust from setting by the strip because many planes and helicopters were flying around. We went back along the trail and spotted our guys stopped. They made some hand signals that something was awry with the suspension. I made a note on a small clipboard and dropped it to them. I almost hit them, though. When we returned to the Santa Inez airstrip we were going to land right into the setting sun. We couldn't see a thing through the windshield except the sun shining off the tops of the aircraft that were setting along the runway. Ted had to look out the side. He was confused and started to land with the aircraft on his left and they should have been on the right. As we passed the water tank I realized we were going in wrong and started to yell at him we kind of argued for a bit and then he swung over and we went right down the runway. If we had continued on the way he started we would have set down right on the checkpoint where there were probably 40-50 people. But, we didn't. The angels were looking after us that time, again.
The race drivers drove on into Santa Ines and Ted and the ground crew worked and welded half of the night. When it was repaired I had them sleep in the $.50 bunks we had rented in the bunkhouse and Ted and I slept on their cots out in the open. The next morning Bob and Mike got back on the course and took off for point’s south. A landing strip at Punta Prieta was a one-of-a-kind. The runway was all soft sand and had a kink in the middle. It also had a fair sized hill at one end and some giant saguaro cactus at the other. We landed there several times. That was a genuine thrill. We flew south the next morning and landed at a small airstrip at Rosarito. The car had badly broken the suspension up in a canyon a few miles south of there. Our driver, Bob Thomas had left in someone else's plane for El Arco, but Mike Jones was still there. I had Ted take Mike and ferry him over to El Arco where he could get a ride home. I had been doing the navigating for Ted so when they took off, Ted said "Which way do we go?" Mike said "I don't know how to navigate". So Ted said "You fly the airplane and I'll read the maps. The problem was that Mike did not know how to fly. Well, they made it anyway. I got a ride up to where the car was and did some quick fixes and drove it back down to the village. I parked next to a man's house and surveyed the damage. We needed to remove a broken off bolt so I could replace it with a spare. The bolt was pressed into a steel tube. We couldn't get it apart so the man and some kids and I went across the street where there was a forge. He had the kids get sticks and we cranked up the forge and got that piece red-hot but never budged it. When I got back home we found that it had been assembled with a 40-ton hydraulic press.
Late in the afternoon the man of the house in Rosarito came and said "Coffee". You see none of the people there can speak English, and I sure couldn't speak Spanish. We went in the house and his wife brought some coffee. Then she brought some soup with seafood in it and the dinner. When he and I got through eating and had some more coffee and he had a cigarette then the wife and children ate. The whole family never ate together. He and I always ate first and then the wife and kids ate. I went out in a little bit and started to roll out my sleeping bag on the ground alongside of the car. He came over and picked it up and put it up on the porch. They had an open porch and two of the small children slept there. He just put two of the kids in bed together and I slept in the other bed. When Ted took Mike to El Arco, he got turned around and was lost. He flew to another little village named Villa Jesus Maria and spent the night. The next morning we were up and about and Ted flew over and circled and headed back north towards Santa Inez. He was looking for our guys in the truck who would be coming down to take the car back. He didn't find them and came back later in the day.
We actually stayed there or at least I did for a couple of days. The people we stayed with had several children. They wore t-shirts and jeans and had good tennis shoes. The children all attended school in the village. The children there really had a desire to learn to speak English. We spent several hours on the front porch as they pored over a English-Spanish dictionary that had well-rounded corners from much use. Ted offered to take one of the kids for an airplane ride. They did a lot of giggling and fooling around but finally one said he would go. He got in and Ted said as the engine started he got a little pale-faced. When they took off he got real pale-faced and just wanted to go back. I'll bet he remembers that ride even now. Their house was made of brick with a cement floor. Some of the windows were out and some of the screens were holy or not there at all. When you ate you sometimes had to blow the flies off before you put the food in your mouth. One day I asked what the meat we were eating was and he said something that sounded like "burro". I didn't ask anymore. I know that beef in Spanish is baca. They did have a lot of meat hanging out in the yard drying. I suspect that it was beef. The man there was a cowboy and I believe they had cattle in the hills south of the town.
One interesting thing there was their market. The door was open during the day but no one tended the store. The villagers went in and got what they needed and wrote it down in a little book. I would say that the people there were very honest. In fact we left one day and I had left my personal camera and one from the shop laying on my bed. This was on the open porch and right out in the open. When I came back they were hanging in a net over the bed because I had not made the bed when I left and the lady of the house did it for me. We decided to go look again for our other crew members and flew back to Santa Ines. Ted remarked that he had always wanted to be a bush pilot and now he was one. I remember that we were cruising along when all of sudden we hit an updraft. Ted idled back the engine but we were climbing at a pretty fast rate. He had me note the drop in temperature as we rose, it was drastic. We were passing a peak off to the east of us and were going up just like the slope of the peak. We rose a couple of thousand feet I believe. What bothered me was what was going to happen when we got to the other side of that peak where it went down. Oddly it didn't do anything we just maintained that altitude. What a thrill.
We went back to Santa Ines and rented a bed in the bunkhouse for the night. ($.50) That included a shower. I hadn't had a shower or a bath for several days and we were pretty grimy (make that very, very grimy). In the apple orchard stood some pieces of corrugated iron around the shower. A faucet was nearby and a smudge pot with a salamander made of copper tubing in the smokestack. There was a valve on the showerhead and if you opened it up the water came out faster but was cooler. If you closed it down so it was slower then it was hotter. Pretty ingenious. That probably was the best shower I ever had. I even had a brand new Iskenderian Baja 1000 T-shirt to put on. The next morning we flew back to Rosarito and found that our guys had come late in the day and then taken off in the evening with the car. We had missed them on the way down because they got off track and had gone west to the ocean just before they got to El Rosario.
We found out later that they had gone east and returned through San Felipe and then gone north and taken a road over to Ensenada. In looking for them in one day we made eleven hops although some were short, it is tiring and stressful for the pilot especially. You could read that also dangerous. While flying over one airstrip we saw a yellow Pontiac that had been providing radio communications back to the states. We landed there after receiving a caution from the flying Doctor that was on the ground giving out Polio vaccine to the children. He cautioned us to watch for a ditch at each end of the runway and for cows that regularly walked out in front of you while landing or taking off. I talked to Jerry at the shop then and requested that they just send our checks to Baja as we were having so much fun. We needed oil for the plane and the Doctor told us to go to his place and he would furnish some. He was connected with a tomato-packing house that had headquarters in Buena Park. He was not home when we got there so they gave us some cokes and then suggested that we go over to the packing plant for the oil. It was a quarter of a mile away and the runways were in perfect line. We went there and got oil and they also gassed us up. No charge of course. We ended up in San Quintin and spent our first night of the week in a motel.