Welcome back, Brad Ferguson, with Part Two of "That Damn Hot Rod." Thanks for visiting the Window!
One Saturday morning around a quarter after eight, Frank and JD pulled up and tooted the horn. He didn't really have to honk the horn―I had heard him way before he got here! Pete said, "See ya later, Dad."
I saw them loading the lawnmower and hedge clippers in the back of Frank's pickup and Frank drove off with Pete right behind him. I figured Pete had two or three yard jobs that day and needed the help. I also wondered if JD was gonna be worth anything helping them. Ya see, earlier that summer, JD was caught egging cars and stealing hubcaps. He spent a month in the State Juvenile Detention Center. I did notice that JD was now wearing a regular shirt, his hair was cut off and in a flattop, and he was not wearing sunglasses. Maybe he learned his lesson and had straightened up. Time would tell.
I needed to go to the hardware store around 10:30 that morning to pick up a couple things. I got the wagon out and was heading down South Maple Street. I look up ahead and there was Pete's coupe and Frank's pickup parked right in front of old man Zimmermann's place. The Mansion is what I called it.
Now old man Zimmermann―that's a story to itself! He had started up the Ford dealership in the city around 1930. Called it Zimmermann Ford. He had built up the business through the years and it was now the second largest Ford dealership in the state. A real accomplishment there. But failing health and a gimpy leg had made him retire earlier than he would have liked to, so he handed down the dealership to his son Bob a couple years back. Some guys have all the luck.
Old man Zimmermann was kinda eccentric―the only car he owned was a black 1934 Ford Crown Victoria. He could have afforded a brand new top-of-the-line vehicle every year if he had wanted to―he had the money―but he kept the '34 and it was always clean and ran like a top.
About a year or so back, word had it that he and his son had gotten into a heated argument about the way Bob was making changes at the dealership. It resulted in a falling-out between them and they hadn't spoken to each other since. But old man Zimmermann was still aware of the goings-on at the dealership because of Howard. Howard Tomlinson was the chief mechanic there and had been hired by the old man on day one when the dealership opened. They were old buddies, and Howard would come over to the house and give him the poop as to what was going on down at the dealership. You could sometimes see them on a Sunday afternoon playing checkers on the front porch.
So, anyhow, old man Zimmermann had become pretty withdrawn after the falling-out with his son. He had let his beard grow and his hair was mostly unkempt. He stayed at the Mansion most of the time and let the yard go. It used to be well-manicured but now the bushes were overgrown, weeds were knee high, and the grass was nearly a foot tall. He had become sort of a recluse. Talk was that the neighbors in that ritzy neighborhood were pissed off about the unsightliness, but do you think they would lend him a hand to clean it all up? Nope. The self-centered rich bastards just bitched about their property value going down.
I was nearing the Mansion and I saw old man Zimmermann out on the front porch leaning on his fancy cane. And there in the yard were Pete and Frank and JD trimming the bushes and pulling the weeds. I blew the horn as I drove by, stuck my arm out the window, and waved to the boys. I figured this was a good gig for them. They ought to get paid pretty handsomely for this big job.
Pete and Frank pulled up to the house around dusk that evening and they took the lawn mower and hedge clippers out of the pickup and Frank and JD left. Pete put the lawnmower and clippers up in the garage and came drag-assin' into the house. I said, "Well, did ya get the place all cleaned up?"
Pete said, "Yep, it looks really good. I'm tired."
I said,"Did the old man pay you boys well?"
Pete said, "Well, Dad, he needed the help, so we just volunteered and done it for free."
I clinched down hard on my teeth to keep from blurting out what I was thinking as my blood pressure was rising.
Pete continued, "Ya know, Dad, it turns out that old man Zimmermann is pretty cool. When we were about done with his yard, he hobbled out to my hot rod and we started talking about cars and mechanics. Ya know, he really knows a lot about cars and engines."
I said, "Well, he oughta. He was in the car business for nearly 30 years."
Pete said, "His wife was real nice too. She made sandwiches and lemonade for us."
Pete said that the old man knew right away that the flathead wasn't the original engine and had started asking questions about what he had done mechanically to it. "I told him about how I rebuilt the engine at the machine shop and installed it and about the new clutch and new brakes. When I told him that I had taken two years of Auto Mechanics and Repair at Southside, he told me that Zimmermann Ford had brought Mr Yoemans up to speed before he started teaching the classes at school."
Pete went on, " He kept asking me about really technical things, Dad, like bearing clearances, valve lash, and ignition timing and stuff. I knew all the answers but it was almost like he was testing me or something."
Pete continued, "Dad, all those questions…it felt kinda weird, so I changed the subject to his 1934 Crown Victoria. He called it his 'baby' and told me to go to the garage and take a look if I wanted. So while Frank and JD finished up on the yard, I went to the garage and, Dad, you wouldn't believe it…that car has only 21,000 miles on it and it looks brand new. I told old man Zimmermann that I loved it and it was really impressive."
Pete said,"Then he asked me what my name was and when I told him, he just said 'Peter, eh? Good name' and turned around and went back into the house. That was kinda weird.”
I chuckled a little and told Pete not to be so hard on the old-timer; one of these days he would understand. Pete said, "I gotta take a shower and eat something. I'm starved".
I couldn't sleep too well that night, wondering how the Mansion looked now. You know how it is sometimes; you start thinking about something and ya can't get it out of your head and you just lay there in bed thinking.
I got up early Sunday morning, jumped in the wagon, and headed down South Maple. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the place. It was a total transformation...front yard looked great…even had blooming flowers planted. The boys had brought the Mansion back to its old glory.
It was three days later when Pete, and Mamma and I were sitting at the kitchen table and the phone rang. Pete got up and answered it. "Hello?...Yes…yes, sir, that's me....yes. Yes, sir, I'll be right there.” He hung up the phone, ran out the back door, jumped in his hot rod, and was gone before I even had a half a chance to ask him who it was.
I turned to the wife and said disgustedly, "Probably someone selling him some more damn hot rod parts."
Mamma just shook her head and said, "Now, John.”
Later that afternoon, Chickie was at the house. She and Mamma were in the kitchen while I was in the TV room trying to get the rabbit ears adjusted so I could watch Beat the Clock. Pete came home and came running into the house yelling, "DAD! DAD!"
I asked what all the excitement was about. With his arm tightly around Chickie, he said, " Guess what, guys. I got a new job...a full-time job. They hired me as a mechanic down at Zimmermann Ford. I can't believe it!”
I shook his hand and give him a big hug and congratulated him. Mamma joined in on the hug and gave him a kiss and said, "We're proud of you, son.” There we were, all four of us in a big group hug.
I ask him when he started work and he said, "Tomorrow morning. Howard, the chief mechanic, interviewed me and then took me for a tour of the shop and I met some of the mechanics there... boy, the shop is big... and they have all the modern equipment too. Then we went into the office and I met Bob Zimmermann and then Bob... I mean Mr. Zimmermann, asked me to go with him for lunch... well... actually, I took him.”
Pete was so excited and was talking a million miles an hour, but I managed to get a word in edgewise. "Wait a minute. You took him to lunch?"
Pete said that as they were walking outside Bob said that his father and him were talking again and his dad had told him all about Pete and the hot rod. Pete said,"Well, then, Mr. Zimmermann said he was so impressed that he just had to take a ride in it.”
I asked," Well....did he like it?"
Pete replied, "Dad, he had a smile on his face and was acting like a kid all the way!"
Just then Frank pulled up and Pete said, " Come on, Chickie. I gotta go tell Frank.” Chickie and Pete ran outside hand-in-hand.
The wife and I walked over to the kitchen window and with my arm around her we stood there watching the three of them. A million thoughts were running through my head, one of which was me being so foolish all these years to be wanting my son to be something he wasn't. He had known all along what his passion was. I leaned over and rested my head on Mamma's head and said, "I think our little boy is turning into a man.” As I watched Pete and Chickie and Frank celebrate, my eyes drifted over to the '32 coupe and a smile crept onto my face and my eyes become a little misty. That "damn hot rod”... today it was quite a pretty sight.