Brad Ferguson and I went to the same school from start to finish, although he was...ahem...older than me, so I really only knew him as Cindy's older brother. After I'd graduated and was enjoying being single--maybe a little too much--I met Duane Flaherty and a few of the guys he played music with. One of them was Brad. He was funny, smart, and scary talented. Fifty years later, he's still all that.
This is a short story he let me read and, when I begged, said I could use in the blog. It's in two parts--the other half will be here next Tuesday. I hope you enjoy it. I sure did.
...from the perspective of John Yorg:
It was 1958. My son Pete was a sophomore at Southside High School where I had been teaching history for 17 years. Teaching history isn't the most glamorous of jobs, but I enjoy it; it's my passion. I know I'm not gonna get rich teaching; so with a son, a car loan, and a mortgage, the wife had to take a job at Woolworth's to make ends meet more comfortably.
Mamma―that's my pet name for the wife―would take the station wagon to work and I'd walk to the school, as it was only four blocks from the house. I didn't mind the walk. I would think about teaching the day's classes on the way there and unwind on the way back. Sometimes Pete would walk with me.
Pete was a good boy―respectful, honest, and a hard worker. Since he was 10 he’d had a paper route and. He’d mowed yards in the summer ever since he was big enough to push the reel lawnmower. And save? Lordy, that boy wouldn't spend a penny…well, unless it was for a hot rod magazine. He would read those magazines from front to back, again and again. He was crazy about them Hot Rods.
When Pete was around 14, I asked him what he was gonna do with all that money he had been saving. He looked up from the magazine and replied, "Dad, I'm gonna buy a car when I get out of high school."
Hmmmm... I thought he would need to be running that paper route and mowing yards every day and night for 10 years to save up enough money for a car.
I wanted him to be saving for college to get a good education so he could land a decent paying job. That way he wouldn't have to struggle with money like Mamma and I had been doing for years. But college didn't interest Pete in the least. He hated history, hated government, and didn't care for English or economics, either, and those grades reflected that. Math was okay, but his passion at that time in his life was shop; he got straight As in shop. Lester Yoemans, the shop teacher, often told me how impressed he was with Pete's abilities and determination. My son had been practicing on welding in shop class and one day he brought home some of his samples. Now I had heard or read somewhere that a good weld should look like a row of coins and sure enough, Pete's welds looked like a stack of Mercury dimes all laid out.
That summer, Pete started running around with Frank, who was a new kid in town. Frank was 19 and worked in his uncle's machine shop. He drove a 1940 Ford pickup that was louder’n hell. I swear I could hear him coming from two blocks away even from inside the house. Had those spinner hubcaps and was painted a light grey primer. A hot rod.
I didn’t think much of Frank at first sight. He had greasy-looking hair combed back in a DA, a tee shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and was wearing sunglasses even though it was a cloudy day. Looked like a hoodlum. But I had second thoughts about him after Pete introduced him to me. Pete says, "Frank, this is my dad, John Yorg. Dad, this is Frank Kirkpatrick.”
Frank took off his sunglasses, looked me straight in the eyes, shook my hand firmly, and said, "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Yorg.” It was always Yes, Sir or No, Sir with Frank. He showed respect and character and that was good enough in my book.
Pete had a girlfriend now. Her name was Valerie, but Chickie is what everybody called her. He had taken her to a school sock hop last April and from then on they were going steady. Now, Chickie was a sweetie and she would come over when Pete wasn't busy. But that boy seemed to always have something going on. That summer he was mowing yards, working a few evening hours at the Piggly Wiggly stocking shelves, and would go with Frank to the machine shop whenever he didn't have a yard to mow. Since he was so busy, he and Chickie agreed that Sunday was "her" day. They always spent it together. My wife just loved Chickie from the get-go; they got along just peachy.
Now, I'll admit I am not mechanically inclined―I'm a history teacher, remember―so when Pete and Frank would talk about engine stuff and car modifications while going through hot rod magazines, I had no clue what they were talking about. But Pete was obviously learning a lot at the machine shop and from hanging around with Frank. Frank's uncle didn't pay Pete for any of the work that he did, and Pete never asked him to. He just wanted to learn. I think Frank's uncle was happy to be getting free labor. I didn't approve of that too much and told Pete so, but he would just say, "Ah, Dad."
The school board had voted that summer to try out a couple of new state-approved classes for the next school year. They called them Auto Mechanics and Auto Repair. They had sent Yoemans to the local car dealerships in town to get up to speed with the auto world so he could teach the classes. And guess who was the first one in line to sign up for those new classes! To no surprise, Pete got straight As.
Midway through the year, he was even helping Yoemans teach the younger students. One day ole Yo Yo and I were in the teachers’ lounge and he says, "Ya know, John, that boy of yours is smart as a whip in my auto class. People are always needing their cars worked on and a good hustling mechanic can make some decent money, ya know."
I just grunted and said, "I wish he'd put that kind of effort into the rest of his studies," and walked out.
The summer between his junior and senior year, Pete started giving my station wagon its tuneups, and he did real good, too; the wagon always ran great when he got done with it. It got better gas mileage, too, and with the price of gas at a ridiculous 30 cents a gallon…well, every bit helps. He changed my oil, too. When the brakes started squealing , we went to Western Auto together and bought brake shoes and he installed them on all four wheels. I just stood there and watched in amazement. How in the world he put all those parts back together right, I have no idea, but when he was done there were no extra parts left over and it stopped like it used to when it was new. Saved me a pretty penny, too. That summer, he tuned up a couple of my friends’ cars and changed oil for them. They paid him fairly and he was happy to do it.
Then Frank's little brother JD came over one day with Frank. JD was younger than Pete and combed his hair like Frank's and dressed just like Frank too. But JD was a little smartass. I figured JD stood for juvenile delinquent. I caught him in my junior high history class last year flipping rubber bands at a girl. As punishment, I made him write a 500-word essay on the history of rubber bands. After all, heh heh, I am a history teacher! The day he showed up at the house, Frank brought him over and introduced him to me. JD didn't shake my hand. He just said, ”Yeah, I know Mr. Yorg from school.” I had him pegged right: a juvenile delinquent.
Time was flying by. Pete had his driver's license and I let him drive the wagon here and there and take Chickie out on dates. He was a senior and before I knew it the prom came up and, of course, Chickie was right there on his arm. I could tell she was crazy about him. They were good for each other.
Then came graduation day. We had a little party for both Pete and Chickie at the house. Her parents and some high school friends came over and even Frank showed up. I was proud that my son graduated but was uneasy as to his future. It's a different world out there when you get out of school. Yes, I was uneasy.
The very next day I was outside dusting my roses when I heard this car a spittin' and sputterin' and blowing blue smoke out the back. It pulled into the driveway. It was Pete. I pointed at what was left of an old car and said, "What's this?”
Pete told me it was a 1932 Ford three-window coupe... that it was one of Frank's friends’ hot rods and he had lost patience with it because he couldn't get it running right. And then he dropped the bomb on me. "So I bought it. I'm gonna fix it up."
I flew off the handle. "Why in the hell are you wasting your hard-earned money on a piece of crap like that? I thought you knew better. The damn thing doesn't even have any fenders or a hood, and it smokes like a locomotive. If you were gonna buy a car, you should have bought Musselman's low-mileage '53 Plym―"
I might as well have been talking to the wall. Pete didn't hear a word I said. He already had his tools out and was tinkering away on the carburetor. I took in a deep breath and let it out easy. "Well, don't block me in. You can park it on the side of the driveway over there.". I went back to finish dusting my roses to calm down. Within 10 minutes Pete had the piece of crap running smoothly, but it was still billowing out blue smoke. I thought, well, maybe there won't be as many mosquitoes around this summer.
The little coupe was gone a week later. I figured the boy had finally came to his senses and gotten rid of the damn thing. I never said anything to him about it. I didn't want to come off with the ole “I told you so” speech. Pete never said anything to me about it, either. Frank would pick up Pete every morning on his way to work and bring him home after 4:00, then Pete would ride his bike to the Piggly Wiggly and get home around 11:00 pm. The boy was burning the candle at both ends.
About two weeks later I looked out the kitchen window and up pulled Pete in the '32 coupe hot rod. But this time it was a different story. The engine actually sounded great and was not blowing any smoke. Still a little loud for my taste but well, that's what kids like nowadays. The body was now in a black primer. Not only did it sound great; it wasn't an eyesore anymore. Looked pretty decent for a damn hot rod.
I walked out the back door and said in a questioning tone, "I thought you had gotten rid of it.” Pete proceeded to tell me that he had taken it over to Frank's, taken the original flathead engine out, and put in a 1941 Lincoln flathead that he had rebuilt at the machine shop. Well, that came as no surprise to me―he was just being himself and doing what he loved to do. I had my passion and he had his. I was definitely impressed and I told him so. He looked at me and said "Gee, thanks, Dad." He came in, cleaned himself up, and off he went to give Chickie her first ride in it.
Pete and Frank were sitting at the kitchen table one evening. I heard them talking. I came from around the corner and asked them if they were playing cards. Pete looks at Frank and then Pete said," No, Dad,why?"
I said, "Well, I heard you talking about three deuces and assumed tha―"
They both broke out in laughter. "No, Dad. Three deuces is three carburetors. I'm going to put three deuces on my hot rod."
I just shook my head and let it go. Why anyone would want to put three carburetors on their car when one works perfectly fine is beyond me. Guess I'm just getting old.
To be continued...