Thunder Butte

May 17, 2006

The Old Race Car

Riding Lindy on a hot summer day in 1935, we crisscrossed Thunder Butte Creek doing nothing in particular, just killing time and, of course, dreaming about the start of my first year of high school.

I didn’t really know what football was, having never seen a game. Football was not announced on the radio, there was no television, and I rarely saw a newspaper. My friend, Manny Barthold, had just graduated from high school. He had a football sweater and he said that football was a great sport for a man. So, of course, I would be a great football star—for I was a man and powerful, so that was what I would do.

At about this point in my day-dreaming, I spotted a piece of metal sticking out of the mud in the middle of the creek. You didn’t just ignore a piece of metal. I took my rope off the saddle and tossed a loop over the metal object, cinched the rope fast in a simple loop over the saddle horn and gave Lindy a nudge with my heel. Nothing! The thing wouldn’t budge. I took Lindy to the other side of the creek bed and tried again. This time, the object moved slightly. After a half hour of back and forth pulling, Lindy put all of his weight behind the effort and the object came free of the mud.

It just looked like a giant ball of mud. But, the object that I had first seen and roped was the reverse pedal on the transmission of a model "T" Ford engine and transmission. Without further examination, we headed for home, dragging the bouncing engine behind us for the next eight to ten miles. When I got home, the mud had dried and was pretty well beaten off the engine. My dad helped and we managed to get the old engine up on a couple of saw horses, where it sat for a week or so.

I kept eyeing an old "race-car" body that had been sitting, half buried in dirt down by Stove creek. Half of the engine was missing. It had one wheel and no tires. That old racer was a pretty miserable car, but I had an engine. Over the next month or so , I totally dismantled the model "T" engine, cleaned it with kerosene, pleaded with my brothers to find clean oil, which they managed to do, put it back to-gather, got it in to the old racer body, and started the search for old tires and wheels.

Eventually, just in time to prepare for high school in Lemmon, I cranked the old engine. With a lot of snorting, it started and I drove the whole miserable thing back to the ranch house. After a lot of cleaning, polishing, adjusting, and tuning, the old car was finally ready for school.

My Sister, Cece, was married and living in Lemmon then, so I was going to live with her and her husband while I attended high school. The day finally arrived with all my worldly possessions in the front seat with me, since there was no other storage space. The body was shaped like a shark. I cranked her up and off I was over the eighty miles of country roads in my race car to Lemmon and the life of a grown up.

Well, school started. I ran the wrong way with the football. I got in fights because they called me a cowboy or a pretty boy or whatever they thought would make me miserable. That problem soon got solved, though, when the older kids discovered that, although I didn’t know what to do with a football, I sure knew what to do with my fists. Then, there was the race car. I was greatly admired because I was the only kid in school with a car—and a race car to boot.

After a couple of weeks of riding this wave of popularity, some of us decided to visit Lemmon Lake, about ten miles out of Lemmon, in North Dakota. There were something like seven boys hanging on to the top side of the racer. We had a nice swim, and on the way back, we hit a patch of sand at the bottom of a long hill. The car jack-knifed, turning end over end about five times. The most severely injured was Pete Ginther, with a broken collar bone. Most of the kids had just gone flying off into the brush along side the road. We walked back to town and I never saw the old race car again.

--John Crowley
Mike Crowley Wednesday, May 17, 2006


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