Jun 29, 2016

Robert and Ruth L.

I first attended an AA group in Fayetteville, Tennessee, in 1982.  It would be over a year before I would find sobriety.  Nonetheless, I attended meetings at the Fayetteville Group off and on for the next several months.  They met on Tuesday and Friday each week at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church on Washington Street. (At a later date, the meetings changed to Mondays and Thursdays when a couple of members had sons who were playing high school football.  Those games were on Friday nights.)

From the very first time I attended a meeting of this AA group, there were two people who always could be found there.  In the AA meeting, Robert L. was always present, and in the Alanon meeting, which took place at the same time in a different room, you could always find Robert's wife, Ruth.  Not long after I started attending, someone shared with me that Robert had over 33 years of sobriety.  He had gotten sober in 1949.

I simply didn't believe it.  Nobody could possibly call themselves an alcoholic and go 33 years without a drink!  I figured that Robert L. was some kind of a plant or fraud used to lure newcomers into AA by giving them false hope.  I couldn't even imagine the idea of years of sobriety.  It just didn't seem possible.

A few days ago, I looked at a calendar and noticed that I'm only a few weeks from my 33rd AA birthday.  I have a whole different view of the late Robert L.  I believe he had over 40 years' sobriety when he passed away.  He and his beautiful wife kept the flame of love and hope burning for many years in the little AA group in Fayetteville.  God bless them both.

Jun 24, 2016

A Restoration Excursion...

You need gas tanks?  We got gas tanks!
In the Fall of 1997, I was working in San Antonio, Texas, opening a new office for my employer.  I was also embarking on the restoration of my 1932 Plymouth coupe to have it ready to compete in the 1998 Great American Race.  I had no idea what parts I might need, so I was in a general search mode, seeking any information that I could find on spare parts.  One day, while using the search engine Alta Vista, I ran across a posting that a gentleman outside of St. Louis, Missouri, was in the process of dismantling a 1932 Model PB Plymouth to create a hot rod.  He wanted to sell all the parts he didn't intend to use -- engine, transmission, front and rear suspension, wheels, steering column, radiator, gas tank, etc.  I immediately contacted the fellow and offered him $1,000 for the whole lot.  He immediately accepted.  I had my truck in San Antonio and was planning to drive home for Thanksgiving break.  What could be simpler -- merely go home by way of St. Louis!

I told Margo about the find and about my planned expedition.  She immediately suggested that she fly to San Antonio a few days before my planned departure, and that we make a mini-vacation out of the trip.  She came to San Antonio and around the 20th of November, we headed for St. Louis.  We arrived a couple days later at the gent's house.  He had an extremely steep concrete driveway and I backed down to his garage entrance wondering if I'd ever be able to get out without a tow truck.

He came out, introduced himself, and opened his garage door to reveal my treasure.  His very nice '32 Plymouth sedan sat on jack stands on one side of the shop.  My pile of parts was on the other side.  All he intended to use were the frame and body and interior.  Everything else would go.  We spent the next couple of hours loading this massive quantity of parts into the truck's bed.  It looked like a gypsy wagon when we finished, but amazingly, it all fit -- wheels, axles, and all.
Margo and Batty the Wonder Dog proudly display a truckload of Plymouth parts during our first Great Race.
The trip to St, Louis yielded a load bigger than this!
As I got in the cab to attempt the ascent up the driveway, he suddenly said, "Hey, I almost forgot to mention.  I bought my car from a doctor in York, Pennsylvania.  He said he had a couple more engines that were part of the deal.  Since I have no use for them, you can have them if you don't mind going that far to pick them up.  I can just call him and explain that you're going to pick up "my" engines."   This obviously called for another "expedition."

As it turned out, Margo had been planning for us to go to Ohio at Christmas to spend Christmas day with her good friend, Pam Chismar, and her family.  What could be simpler than to follow this up with a short jaunt across Pennsylvania to pick up a couple engines.  To make things even more interesting, my new Hemmings Motor News had arrived when we got in from St. Louis.  I found an ad for some free Model PB Plymouth parts outside of Pittsburgh and immediately called the owner and committed to picking them up.  This stash included a gas tank, front axle, and rear end.

We went to Pam's for Christmas, driving an empty pickup, except for the pulleys and ropes I had brought to maneuver some 600-lb. engines into my truck.  The day after Christmas, we proceeded to Pittsburgh where we met my new best friend and picked up the parts we had been promised.  It turned out that this fellow was a Chrysler restorer who had acquired these parts in a swap deal and had no use for them.  He was glad to see them fall into the hands of a Plymouth restorer.

We left Pittsburgh, headed for York and arrived at our Motel well after dark.  I called the doctor, with whom I had made prior arrangements, to get directions to his place (remember, this is pre-GPS travel).  The next morning, Margo was in terrible shape with a flu-like ailment.  She remained in the Motel, while I went to a lumber yard to buy a couple 2 x 12's to make into a ramp and proceeded to the doctor's barn.  It had started snowing hard.  I entered the barn, searched every room, and found no parts.  I was heartbroken.  I finally decided to call the doctor again to confirm the location.  This barn was one in which the rear of the barn abutted a berm that ascended to what amounted to the second floor.  He informed me that I needed to drive around to the rear of the barn and up the berm to the rear door.  There I would find the engines.

I drove to the rear and had a terrible time ascending the slope because by now there were a couple of inches of snow on the ground.  Finally, with a running start in reverse, I made it to the top of the berm, since I wanted the bed of the truck facing the door.  Over the next couple of hours, I dragged and winched three engines, in various states of completeness, into my truck.  I lashed everything down and headed down the slope.  Soon I was on a paved highway, but the snow was really building up.

The view on I-81
After returning to the motel and listening to a weather report, Margo and I decided to head south to try and beat the arriving blizzard.  We went by a pharmacy and got her some cough and cold medication and headed west to get to Interstate 81.  As we drove south, conditions deteriorated.  Traffic slowed due to the icy conditions.  By nightfall, we heard many reports of road closures.  We got off the interstate at Wytheville and fortunately found a motel with an available room.  By morning, the interstate was completely shut down.  We got Margo to a local doctor for some treatment better than over-the-counter.  The next day, we headed south again and made it all the way home.

Fast forward to 2016:  I have saved those rare 80-year old engines for the last 19 years.  I built small wooden dollies on which each one rests, so that I can conveniently move them about my shop.  They are in exactly the condition they were in when I acquired them, always having been stored inside.

A fairly incomplete engine

A fairly complete engine
 Last Monday, I had a "hit" on my Google Alert for the term "1932 Plymouth."  It turned out to be a Craigslist ad from Long Island, New York, that stated, "WANTED 1932 Plymouth Roadster Engine WANTED, Please email me if you are looking to sell."  I immediately contacted the owner.  It seems that his son was driving the car and threw a rod which punctured the side of the engine block.  Not good.  We're currently working out a deal, determining which engine makes the most sense for him, agreeing on an appropriate price, and figuring out the best way to ship the engine to Long Island.

Who knows -- I may start recouping some of the costs of that memorable winter trip...

And below is the car that needs a new "heart:"