Sunday, June 24, 2012

1966: Demolition Derby

There was a loud, THUMP, a rattling of metal, the sound of branches and twigs being broken, a THUD, then silence.  Everyone in the beer garden, stood there staring at the car that had just careened past us, down the embankment and nosed itself into a flat area, its rear end pointing up at a 45 degree angle.  The silence was broken by an expletive from the driver, our fraternity brother Jack Rodman, and we all burst out laughing.

Jack drove an old 1949 Plymouth two-door coupe.  It was a broken down heap, which was held together by chewing gum and baling wire.  The tires were bald, the brakes were shot, there were holes in the upholstery, the floorboard was rusted through and the engine backfired every time he turned off the key.  Jack, whose blood alcohol level would have made him over the legal limit in any state by modern standards, had tried to brake his car at the back of the parking lot.  Brakes failing, it careened over the curb, ran down the steep embankment and was now stuck on the hillside below the beer garden.

Jack extricated himself and hurled expletives at his ride as he kicked the right front fender into submission.  “That’s it!”, Jack said as he laboriously climbed the hill into the beer garden.  He popped the top on a Pearl beer out of the ice tub, clearly not his first of the night.  “Anyone who wants that  car can have it.”, he slurred, “The pink slip is in the glovebox”.   Actually, I was game for that.

I had a few day’s break before semester started so I inspected Jack’s car and determined the only thing wrong was it needed to be towed out of the precarious position it was in, a new battery and a tune up.   I got a used battery from the garage for $ 2.00 and a set of spark plugs from the parts house at my cost…$ .85 each.  I also splurged and got a new set of points and a condenser.  One hour later, with the help of a borrowed pick-up and chain, courtesy of my boss, I had the old Plymouth towed up to our parking lot and fired up like new. 

I confirmed with the still hung over Jack that we had a deal on the car.  He told me, from his face-down prone and hung-over position, I could stick that car where the sun doesn’t shine for all he cared, or words to that effect.  I then went to find some brothers who wanted to go joy riding.  I told them we were going to drive up into the country and tear this car up, a little end of summer blowout.  My roommate Gene signed on as did one of my other fraternity brothers, Randy Shoup. 

Randy was a hayseed.  He came to UT off a dairy farm outside of Waco, TX.  He was 6’1” with the broadest shoulders I had ever seen and a triangle physique, meaning his chest measured about 55” with a 24” waist.  He was a naturally strong brut from his years of slinging 80 pound canisters on the milk trucks and 75 pound hay bales on the feed wagons all day long, 24/7, from the time he was 8 years old.  Randy had one of the most even dispositions of anyone you could imagine.  He was quiet, and calm most of the time.  He was polite and respectful, befitting his country upbringing.  He was blonde with chiseled features and a peaceful countenance, which belied his strength of nature.  Randy wouldn’t say “poop” if he had a mouthful.

The brother’s all witnessed an example of Randy’s strength when our fraternity got into an argument with the Kappa Alpha’s, who were across the street from our fraternity house.  The KA’s had the Dixie flag on a pole and a cannon in there front yard and every time Texas won a football game, they would run up the flag and fire the cannon at midnight to celebrate.  Most of the time they shot cotton wading, but this one time, they loaded the cannon with beer cans and shot them at our house.  This led to a confrontation of mostly drunk brothers from both sides in the middle of the street in the middle of the night.

Brian Beach was leading the charge for DU, jumping up into the face of several KA’s and challenging them to disrespect us again.  The Kappa’s had one member who must have been a descendent of Goliath. He was at least 6’8” and big as a house.  He decided he was going to get into Randy’s face.  Big mistake.

He pushed Randy but Randy stood his ground, not even moving from the force of the much larger man’s thrust.  “Ah’m tellin’ ya, don’t do that” Randy said, calmly.  This brought hoots and hollers from all the Kappa’s who heard.  The giant tried to push him again.  It was like pushing on the rock of Gibraltar.  “Ah asked you not to do that”, Randy said, quietly, looking up into the face of his much bigger tormentor. 

Now, everyone forgot their own challengers and gathered around this brewing two-man confrontation.  Then the giant implied Randy’s parent were never married as he again tried to shove him off his feet.  “This is your last warnin’”, Randy said, again barely moving from the man’s powerful chuck.  To his detriment, the huge man reared back determined to put Randy down.  With a move so quick that most spectators later confessed they never saw it, Randy brought his clenched fist up from his waist in a upper cut that caught the big man squarely on his jaw.  POW!

The crowd gasped as one, thinking that Randy was now surely going to be a dead man.  Instead, the big man leaned slightly forward. His eyes, glazed at first, rolled back up into his head and his whole rigid body, like the felling of a 200 year old redwood, toppled stiffly backward crashing onto the road…..knocked dead cold out.  Randy took a step forward over his foe and said in his soft drawl, “An’ if ya git up, ah’ll have ta put ya in the hospital”.  Goliath never heard a word of it.

So gentle Randy was up for a little car bashing that day.  Randy, Gene and I headed out for the hills west of Austin.  We drove up past the low water bridges and started looking for off-the- road trails.  I was driving faster than I should have been on all this loose gravel and was running the car into bushes and small cedars mowing them down, my passengers whooping it up and encouraging me to do more damage. 

Then I saw a mesquite tree that was about eight inches around at the base.  I headed for it and hit it squarely with the front fender on the passenger side.  With a horrific crunch the tree pealed the fender right off the car.  We stopped about thirty feet up the road and went back to look at the damage, hollering and doing the high five.  The fender was lying next to the mangled tree.  “Should we put it in the trunk” Gene asked. 

“Shoot no, leave it” I said as we raced back to the car.

We jumped back in and continued our one car versus nature demolition derby.  We lost the front bumper next to a cedar tree and then crunched the driver side fender on a small mesquite.  I directed the car back to the main road and all of a sudden it died.  The second hand battery I had put in it was on its last legs, indicating that the generator was probably not working.

We got out of the car and picked up big stones on the side of the road and began throwing them at the car, denting body panels and breaking windows.  Suddenly, a pick-up truck came up behind us and pulled to a stop.  The driver got out and said, “What are y’all doin”?”  We explained that our car had died.  He looked at the nearly destroyed vehicle and scratched his head but offered some jumper cables. We took advantage of his hospitality and soon our partially destroyed wreck was back on the demolition trail. 

At an open field just above the low water bridges on Balcones Road there was a huge live oak tree.  It was the loan tree in a clear area about the size of a football field.  “Hey,” I said, “let’s see if we can knock that tree down”.  There was unanimous consent.  Now, this tree had a trunk that was about one foot thick but we were undeterred.  We argued about who was going to drive to take it out and who was going to watch.  We drew straws and Randy won the driver role. 

I told them just like demolition derby we needed to protect the radiator so we needed to drive in reverse and mow the tree down with the rear of the car.  They enthusiastically agreed.  So we drove the car out into the field and positioned it about 50 yards from the tree.  Randy got behind the wheel and Gene and I got off a ways to watch.  Randy had one hand on the wheel and one over the seat looking to the rear so he could guide the car into the tree. 

Gene and I both shouted “Go” at the same time and Randy floored the accelerator.  The field was full of ruts so Randy was bumping the car along, tires spinning and got it up to what I guessed was about 35 MPH.   He aimed it perfectly and struck the tree dead center of the rear bumper with the pedal to the metal.  The crashing sounds of crunching metal echoed through the canyon but the leaves on the tree barely moved and the tree just quivered a little. 

Gene and I stood there in disbelief.  It seemed like forever that we just gazed at the scene of mangled steel until the sound of some doves cooing off their roost brought us back to reality.  We raced toward the car.  The rear of the car was literally wrapped around the tree.  The tree was now imbedded well into the trunk of the car, the rear bumper bent in a perfect U-shape.  Gas was leaking onto the ground and all we could hear was Randy groaning inside the car.

We looked in the window and Randy was lying on the seat moaning a muffled, drawn-out “shee-at".  Suffering from what turned out to be a decent case of whip-lash, Randy, obviously, had finally had more than a mouthful of poop.

The battery had been knocked loose from its hold-down strap, flown backward, crushing the distributor cap and resided upside-down, draining its battery acid onto the spark plug wires.  Game over.  We pushed the car out to the road and let it coast on its own down a fairly steep hill where it ran into the creek.  We left it there and hitch-hiked home.

Two days later a wrecking yard called Jack and told him they had towed his car into their place of business at the request of the sheriff's office.  They told him he could claim it for $ 52.00 in towing charges.  He told them no thanks, they could keep it and hung up the phone.  Demolition Derby days were over.  

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