Sep 30, 2012

John Weathersby Declares War on Imports!!!

In 1978, shortly after Margo Burge and I started dating, we attended an airshow in Long Beach, Mississippi.  We had noted on the advertising posters that hot air balloon rides would be available.  Both of us thought it would be fun to take a ride suspended below a balloon.  On the day of the show, it was too windy to launch balloons, but that didn't stop us from pursuing the quest.

As we approached the fields where the show was being held, we spotted a bus with an attached trailer that had the words "Weathersby Balloon Enterprises, Indianola, MS."  As we approached the bus, the door opened and out stepped a person dressed in a very furry (and warm-looking) gorilla costume.  Almost immediately upon my inquiring about a balloon flight, that gorilla-person invited us into the air conditioned bus and offered us a drink.  This was at about 11:00 AM and it was clear that the folks on the bus had been enjoying their adult beverages for a while.  It was definitely "party time."

We were to learn that the gorilla man was John Weathersby, the owner of a Chevrolet dealership in the central Mississippi city of Indianola.  He was married to Sally Sayle Weathersby.  It turned out that he was also a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity and had graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1962, the same year I graduated from Rochester.  We were soul brothers!

A few weeks later, Margo and I drove to Indianola, where John had offered to take us up in a balloon, but again, it was too windy.  I did eventually get a balloon ride, but that's a story for another time.

John invited my brother and me to come to Indianola one weekend to witness his "War on Imports."  Let it be noted that John is a man with big ideas who is not shy about expressing them.  Chevrolet had just introduced the Chevette the previous year, and that had inspired John to go after the imports.  And in his typical way, he would do it in a spectacular fashion.

As Willy and I arrived in Indianola early on a sunny Saturday morning we noticed a lot of activity in the open field adjacent to John's dealership.  A light plane circled overhead trailing a banner that read "WAR ON IMPORTS!!!  WEATHERSBY CHEVROLET."  You could smell barbecue cooking and bleachers had been set up, along with a speaker's platform.  At one end of the field, there was a large circle in which was located a Fiat sedan.  A sign declared that only kids 12 years old and younger could use the provided sledgehammers to destroy the Fiat.  (By the end of the day there wasn't much left.)

The hapless Fiat
At one point, during the morning's festivities (while John was welcoming all comers over a PA system and roiling up the crowd with disparaging commentary about imported cars) someone drove a Renault onto field, followed by a local Fire Department entourage,  They doused the car with a flammable liquid and incinerated it to the cheers of the crowd.

The flammable Renault
There was a band concert by the local high school band, skydivers arrived around noon, and then it was time for the main event.  A fairly nice Volkswagen beetle (It had the fabric fold-back sunroof) was driven onto the field.  The crowd was asked to take their seats in the stands.  I heard a rumbling sound and wondered what it was.  Soon enough, two US Army National Guard tanks came around the corner and proceeded to opposite ends of the field.  John then introduced an army officer who was clearly the commanding officer of the crews in those tanks.  He stepped up to the microphone and commanded them to attack.  The two tanks rumbled toward the center of the field.  The first one to reach the VW proceeded to run one of his treads over the driver's side of the car.  Glass popped out of its frame as the car collapsed under the weight of the massive attacker.  Then the second tank followed suit, running it's tread over the passenger's side.  More noise, more glass, less car.

The car was now perhaps 18" high.  The tanks proceeded to a point near where the commanding officer was standing at the podium.  He turned to one of the tank personnel, whose head was emerging from the tank's hatch.  "Jimmy, grind that son-of-a-bitch into the ground!"  ("Ground" was pronounced in such an intense southern drawl that it seemed to have at least three syllables!)

Different car; Same concept...
The tank then proceeded to straddle the VW and commenced a left and right rotation by using its treads moving in opposite directions.  It twisted back and forth several times as the car simply got squashed into the soft ground.  The crowd went crazy!  John had won his war (at least for the moment).

Over the years I lost contact with John Weathersby.  I noted the other day that his dealership is no longer in business.  We all know the long-term effect that imported cars had on GM.  Yet I'll always recall with pleasure that sunny Mississippi afternoon when John waged his slightly crazy personal war to the delight of so many.

8-1-2015 Today I ran across the following obituary dated September 2015 from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:

John McDonald Weathersby


Funeral services for John McDonald Weathersby, 76, of Indianola will be at 1:00 p.m., Wednesday, September 30 at First Presbyterian Church, Indianola. He died peacefully Sunday, September 27 at his home. Burial will be at 5:00 p.m. at Oddfellows Cemetery, Lexington under the direction of Boone-Card Funeral Home, Indianola.

Well, we've come to the end of a long and interesting road. Mr. Weathersby, known far and wide as Trader John, was the owner of Weathersby Chevrolet in Indianola from 1967 until he retired in 2002. Weathersby was considered a Delta Legend for his outgoing, colorful personality and as the creative force behind countless wild promotional events and festivals that he organized, hosted and inspired throughout the region. He was an avid pilot, a pioneer in hot air ballooning, enjoyed scuba diving, camping, but most of all, he loved people, and they loved him. It has been said that Trader John squeezed more life out of his 76 years than others could do in multiple life times.

He is survived his wife, Jane, of more than 20 years; his three adult children, John M. Weathersby, Jr., Sayle Weathersby Roberts, and Rials McWilliams and their families. He loved his God, his family, his friends with intense passion and total abandon. There will never be another one like him. God's speed Trader John. You'll be missed, but in no way forgotten.

The family received friends Tuesday evening at John and Jane Weathersby's home.

John Weatersby has apparently flown his last balloon in this earthly sphere...  Godspeed, John, my brother.

1 comment:

Steve Wooten said...