#345–Angels of the road . . .

Sometimes when I feel the world is going to hell in a hand basket, one of my mom’s sayings, it’s nice to remember times when certain situations reaffirmed my faith in humanity. Here are three:

Big Blue

Bam! A blow out! Then the sickening sound of driving on a flat––blubba, blubba––which only lasted a few seconds before Walt found a spot to pull off. It happened on a curve, and he really worked to keep the car under control.

Walt loved his ’62 Chevy Impala 409/409. It was the smoothest car I ever rode in.

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. It was back in the early 1990s and Walt, my late husband, and I were headed to a car show in Springfield, Oregon. Walt was driving his most prized possession—Big Blue—his ’62 Chevy 409 that he had owned since it was new. Nearly all 409s had been raced to the point of being wrecked or having a blown engine. Big Blue was an original car with its original engine––a rarity.

We were taking the ’62, Chevy, Impala, hardtop convertible, Super Sport, 409 model with its 409 engine to a really big car show on this 4th of July weekend. It was Sunday, and the car show was the next day.

The powerful 409 engine. Walt had taken it all apart and put it back together and was very pleased when no parts were left over.

Almost as soon as Walt shut off the engine, an oncoming car skidded to a stop and two burly guys raced up to us. They had seen the blow-out and wanted to help. They were also drooling over the car.

Walt got out the jack and spare, the young men got to work, and I dashed off to retrieve the hubcap that I had seen fly across the road .

I was looking for one of Big Blue’s special, spinner hubcaps. And I saw it in a muddy ditch guarded by two snarling dogs on the other side of a flimsy wire fence. I carefully made my way into the muck, all the while making nice to the dogs. I retrieved the dripping, muddy mess of a hubcap and left the dogs still snarling.

By the time, I’d found a plastic bag to put it in, the two guys were nearly done. In no time it seemed, we were back on the road. It was absolutely unbelievable how quickly they appeared and got the tire changed. When offered payment for their efforts, they said to pay it forward. Angels of the road, for sure.

On display at the car show where it placed a winner inspite of the blow out.

The spare was not a white-wall like the others, and after washing the hubcap in the motel room, we saw that it was a bit dinged. Since it was Sunday on a holiday weekend, no tire stores were open to replace the tire before the show. We did have time, thank goodness, to clean and detail the car. Even with the mismatched tires and dinged hubcap, Big Blue earned many points and won an award.

By the end of the show, it seemed like everyone stopped by to see the car that survived a blow out and still placed a winner.

Big Blue was becoming well known, which we discovered one day on our way to a previous show. We had stopped for gas at a station visible from the road, when a passing car slammed on its brakes, flipped a U, and pulled up behind us. The driver ran up and asked, “Is that Big Blue?” An article I had written had recently been published in Late Great Chevy magazine.Who knew!

Toyota Flatbed  

Years before Big Blue’s blow out about 1980 when we were still living in San Jose, California, Walt and I were heading to Southern Oregon for a camping trip along the Rogue River.

His Toyota flatbed with side rails was used to transport his bike and those of his biking buddies. He loved this one-of-a-kind truck.

We were in his ’76 Toyota pickup flatbed. It was a one-of-kind truck. Originally, it had been built as part of an RV to support a large camper, but the camper portion had been damaged. So, this little truck with a big engine for the RV had been modified with a custom flatbed with side rails. When Walt saw it on a used-car lot, it was love at first sight, and he bought it. It was perfect for hauling his motorcycles and dirt bike.

On this camping trip, we’d made it on I-5 to between Weed and Shasta. We were at fairly high elevation and beginning the climb over the Siskiyous, when Walt noticed the engine was overheating. We stopped under an overpass. It was summer and quite warm, so the shade was appreciated.

The radiator was steaming away, so Walt kept his distance. This was long before cell phones. So, we waited for a California Highway Patrol officer to come along, and Walt put out a flare.

Arrival day when we moved to Oregon in October 1985. The Toyota is full of stuff and also pulled the motorcycle trailer with the Kawasaki 900. Notice Big Blue exiting the moving van where it traveled with the furniture. It always received special treatment.

After awhile, a young couple in a homemade camper stopped to see if they could help. Enough time had passed that the radiator cap could be safely removed. The young man went back to his camper, rummaged around, and returned with two jugs of water. He and Walt refilled the radiator. Problem solved. Afterwards, we hung out for awhile, sharing some snacks we had with them. Then Walt offered payment, which they gratefully accepted. Looking back, they were probably homeless, living out of their camper. What are the odds that someone would come along and have exactly what we needed? More angels of the road, indeed!

Kawasaki 900

Besides Big Blue and the flatbed, Walt loved his motorcycles. On Sunday afternoons, we would sometimes go for a ride on backroads on his Kawasaki 900. It had a back rest that made it comfy for me to ride along. That was in the mid- ‘80s.

This Kawasaki 900 is similar to the one Walt had.

Walt liked working on his vehicles. And he had bought and installed a new hydraulic suspension system for his Kawasaki. He had taken some short test rides but wanted to take a longer trip to see how it worked. So, we headed to Morgan Hill area to visit our friends––Jay and Shirley––who lived out of town on a couple acres. Jay also had bikes and was Walt’s riding buddy.

We stuck to backroads, and the ride was super smooth; we loved it. Then within a couple miles of our destination, the system failed and there was no more suspension. It became a very rough ride. Walt pulled over and turned off the engine. I got off and went in search of a house with a phone. Nearby, were some posh houses. I knocked on a door, nobody answered. At the third try, someone answered and let me in to call our friends. Jay said he would head out soon, looking for us in his pickup.

Walt was happiest when he was working on one of his vehicles.

When I got back, a couple on a similar bike had stopped to help. We all exchanged bike stories while we waited. This couple wasn’t leaving until help had arrived. Bikers are like that.

Before long, Jay appeared in his big truck. The problem now became how to get the bike into the back of his truck. Jay had no ramp. We looked around. Up the road was a bank that might work. Walt rode the bike up the road to a slope to the top of the bank and rode along to where it almost matched up with the height of the back end of the truck. Then it took all three guys to work the motorcycle into the back of the truck and snug it down. Jay only had one big strap to secure the bike. So, the trip to Jay’s place was very slow going.

Walt and I rode with Jay while the other couple followed along behind, keeping an eye on the Kawasaki. Shirley met us at their home, and had lunch ready for all of us.  

After lunch, the other couple went on their way with our heartfelt thanks, and Jay and Walt added more straps to really secure the bike. Jay drove us back home to San Jose, where Walt had a ramp to unload the Kawasaki. I fixed dinner, and Jay stayed to eat before heading back. It had been quite a day for all of us with more than one angel to the rescue.

Remembering these three experiences really does help reinforce my belief in the basic goodness of people, even when the daily news is so bad!

About crossingsauthor

Judy Fleagle spent 22 years teaching 1st and 2nd grades and 21 years as editor/staff writer with Oregon Coast and Northwest Travel magazines.Since 2009, she has written five books: "Crossings: McCullough's Coastal Bridges," "The Crossings Guide to Oregon's Coastal Spans," "Around Florence," "Devil Cat and Other Colorful Animals I Have Known," and "The Oregon Coast Guide to the UNEXPECTED!!!."
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