Apr 20, 2016

Good Lord, Emmett...

1954 Buick Special 4-door Sedan
I went to high school with a young man named Dennis Luebke.  His family had moved to Schenectady from Wisconsin.  His mother and dad had that delightful sing-songy Wisconsin accent that always reminds me of the Lawrence Welk Show.  Dennis' father, Emmett, had earned his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Wisconsin and he worked on highly classified nuclear programs at the General Electric Research Laboratories and at the Knolls Atomic Power Lab, both of which were located in Schenectady.  The family lived on the corner of Nott Street and Lexington Avenue, in a modest but comfortable home.  I could often be found there on Saturday mornings enjoying breakfast with the Luebke family.

In 1954, Mrs. Luebke, Nora, got a new car, a 1954 Buick Special with the new 264-cu.in. V-8, rated at 150 hp with the automatic transmission.  It would go from 0 to 60 mph in about 11 seconds.  In 1954, that was amazing. In 1956, when that car still smelled new, Dennis got his driver's license.  The whole gang knew that there were two really fast cars in our group -- Luebke's '54 Buick and a '56 Pontiac owned by Cliff Johnson's Dad.  I was relegated to a '53 Mercury that my family was driving, powered by the last of the flatheads.  I wouldn't even dare to compete with that nail head-powered Buick!

Fonda Dragway in its Heyday
One night, Dennis got to borrow the Buick and our group decided it would be brilliant to go to Fonda, New York, to the drag strip to see "what it could do" in the quarter mile.  What could possibly go wrong?  We piled into our respective vehicles and headed for Fonda.  We pooled a few bucks for Dennis' entry fee and he was ready to race.  For a little extra advantage, Dennis took the air cleaner off the carburetor and placed it on the floor behind the driver's seat.  We all knew that this would let the Carter 2-barrel carburetor "breathe" better.  He made 2 or 3 runs down the quarter-mile track and turned in respectable times for a sedan with an automatic transmission.  And after enjoying the drags, we all headed home.

The next morning, I rode my bike up to the Luebke's to scrounge a little breakfast.  As we were sitting around the table, with Emmett reading his morning paper, Nora stepped out into the garage to get something.  Almost immediately, she rushed back, saying with her inimitable lilt, "Good Lord, Emmett, he's got hav da motor in da back seat!"  Dennis had forgotten to put the air cleaner back on the engine!

There was some intense explaining -- something about increased fuel efficiency if you ran the car without the air cleaner.  I have always suspected that Emmett knew exactly what had happened.  Mrs. Luebke -- maybe not so much.

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