There really was no Gusher Gas Economy Run fifty years ago, and Lloyd "Balloonfoot" Bodine was the figment of the imagination of the editors of Road and Track magazine. The rest of this silliness is all mine.
My thanks to ErikThread and DaveT for their helpful and thoughtful editing and suggestions. Any errors are mine alone.
Chapter 1: Getting Acquainted
Now, there's some folks who'll tell you this is a work of fiction. Then there's others, like me, who'll swear on a stack of Gideons that it's the dead honest truth. How do I know? Well, I was there ... from the beginnin' to the end. Yes sir! I entered and ran the 1960 Gusher Gas Economy Run from Los Angeles to Chicago ... and I won!
You can look it up. My name will be right there under the Special Entry Category: Winner, Purvis Miles, 1953 Studebaker Starliner Coupe. I should have won an award for prettiest car in the run, but they didn't have no prize for that. Too bad. I still have that car, sittin' in my garage, as beautiful as the day it left South Bend. I'll probably keep it forever, supposin' I never drive it again. It'd be a cryin' shame to get it dirty.
It was coral red with a white top, whitewall tires, and full hubcaps. It even had a radio. Raymond Loewy really knew what he was doin' when he put pencil to paper and designed this baby. O'course, it had the little flathead six with an automatic transmission. I think that's why I got it so cheap. A V8 would have been a lot more dear, and we wouldn't have done so good in the "Gusher Gas." Then again, I didn't buy it to enter in the Gusher Gas, it just worked out that way. I'll tell you about it later.
I set about cleanin' it up and then takin' out all the stuff that added unnecessary weight. There were rules about that, so I was careful not to make any big mistakes. On the other hand, if you weren't cheatin' a little bit, you weren't tryin' hard enough. Big Lloyd Bodine wrote the book on skinnin' the rules to a fine edge. They didn't call him "Ballonfoot" for nothin' either. He could suck more miles out of a thimble-full of gas than any man alive. Some of us were thinkin' that we ought to just award him the trophy before we started, then see who'd come second.
Anyway, this story ain't about Lloyd, it's about me, my girl, my Studie, and the adventure we had that summer. Now I'm not a professional driver like Lloyd, or that low-life Curtis Dodge, or some of those other fellers. I just figured that if I had a plan, and had done a good job gettin' my car ready, I had a chance in the special category for older cars. They had some kind of formula worked out that took into account age, weight, type of motor, and a whole mess of other things that made it impossible to know how they would figure out who won.
Just the same, I wanted to try my luck, and Daddy and me worked all winter and most of the spring gettin' that car ready. We decided to trailer it out to Los Angeles. We lived in Busted Branch, New Mexico, so it was a long haul, but we couldn't take the chance of any unnecessary wear and tear on the car. In the meantime, we'd filled out the paperwork, sent in the entry form and our money, and sat back and waited for the big event.
The route was goin' to be a killer. From L.A. to Flagstaff, to Tucumcari, Wichita, Des Moines, and finally, Chicago. We'd be from twenty feet below sea level at one point, to over seven thousand above at another. It was going to severely test our machine, our tunin', and my drivin' skills. The good news was that there weren't no professional drivers in my category, so I wasn't up against impossible odds.
There was a nice prize at the end for the winner of my category. $3,000 was nothin' to sneeze at. Even if we finished third, we'd win $1,000, more than enough to cover our costs. Mind you, it wasn't anythin' like the kind of money the big boys in the factory cars would win. Just the same, it would more than pay for our trip and I'd have a fine car to show for it at the end. Daddy and I figured it was worth the effort.
I got to tell you about my Daddy, Hardy Miles. He wasn't book-smart or anythin', but I swear there weren't nobody smarter than him when it came to cars and trucks, or almost anythin' else that would move for that matter. Why only a few weeks ago, Orville Wilbur hauled his John Deere in to see if Daddy could figure out what was wrong with the power take-off. The nearest JD dealer was fifty miles down the road, so it made sense to check with us afore makin' that trek.
Well, I don't have to tell you that Daddy fixed that unit as good as new in less time than it takes to tell the tale. Natur'ly, Orville was pleased as punch, and said so to everyone he met for the next two weeks. Daddy always said word-o'-mouth was better than any damn newspaper advertisement. My ma, Leticia Miles, always agreed with Daddy. She'd been with him through thick and thin since before I was born.
Daddy was a farmer in Oklahoma until the economy went to hell thanks to them Demon-crats. He scraped out a livin' and didn't do too bad, all things considered. But when it got to the fact that he couldn't get paid for his crops 'cuz nobody had nothin' to pay with, well, he figured it was time to move on. He loaded Ma, my sister and me up, along with whatever else that old flat deck Ford truck would carry, and we took off west.
I was fifteen and my sister, Eunice, was almost fourteen when we stopped in Busted Branch for gas and some water for the truck. Daddy knew there was somethin' wrong with the old girl since it had been showin' signs of overheatin' for the last day or so. Bein' as careful as he was, he knew he couldn't trust it much further, so he decided we'd stop in this here town while he had a look at the engine to see what the matter was.
It didn't take him too long to figure out that the problem was with the water pump, and in fact, it was a seal that had given up sealin' and needed replacement. Naturally, there weren't no Ford dealer in this little town, so, bein' as smart as he was, he set about fixin' it hisself. He found a piece of gum rubber some place in the back of the garage we'd stopped at, got Ma's scissors out of her bag, and commenced to cuttin' an' shapin' a new seal. It worked like a hot damn, as you would expect.
Now, while all this was goin' on, the feller that ran the garage was watchin' to see what Daddy was up to. I could see him noddin' now and then, I figured he was agreein' with what Daddy was doin'. Seemed like I was right, too.
"Mister, you did a fine job with that water pump. You a licensed mechanic?" he finally asked Daddy.
"Nope. More like a jackleg mechanic," he said, lookin' all serious.
"Aw hell, you ain't no jackleg. You know what the hell you're doin' by the look o' things," the feller said, all serious like too.
Daddy didn't say nothin', just nodded at the feller.
"We ain't had a decent mechanic in this town fer over two years. You interested in a job?"
"What's it pay," Daddy asked right quick.
"Thirty-five a week and a place to sleep."
"I got a wife an' two kids. What's the place look like?"
The feller smiled. "It'll do you. It's upstairs over the garage. Two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, and a settin' room. Lived there my own self 'till my folks passed on and left me their place. Wanna have a look?"
"Sure do. Come on, Ma. Let's see what we got here."
Ma wasn't a real wordy person, so she just got out o' the truck and followed Daddy around the side of the garage to a set of stairs leadin' up. Eunice and I were right behind them.
"My name's Tucker Winslow," the feller said as we climbed the stairs.
Daddy stopped at the top of the stairs and shook Mr. Winslow's hand.
"I'm Hardy Miles. This here's my wife, Leticia, the boy is Purvis, and the girl is Eunice. Pleased to meet-cha, Mr. Winslow."
"Come on in, then, and have a look-see," Winslow said.
Well, when I looked inside, I knew almost right off that this was goin' to be our home for a while. I could see Ma sizin' up what needed cleanin' and all, but if Daddy was goin' to get this place for free, it weren't no big decision. On top o' that, I could see Daddy noddin' as he looked from room to room. We'd be livin' here for a spell, I knew.
That was near twenty-five years ago. Ma and Daddy got their own house now, with three bedrooms, even though Eunice got married off years ago, and I'm still livin' above the garage. I ain't never bin married, but I'm plannin' on fixin' that. I'll be forty soon enough, and time's a wastin'. Daddy bought in on the garage with Tucker Winslow, and between them, they got all the business worth havin' in Busted Branch. It's been a good twenty-five years, and Ma oft-times says it was the smartest thing we ever did.
That brings me to Wanda Blenkinsopp, and how she figures in this yarn.
Chapter 2: Wanda
If you asked any feller who'd stopped in Busted Branch and had a coffee or a meal at the Sip 'n Bite Café what they remembered most, you'd hear somethin' like this, "You mean the one with the big titties and the walk like her butt was gonna' hit both sides of the door frame as she were sashayin' by?"
Yep, they was talkin' about Wanda Blenkinsopp.
Now Wanda had been in town for a while. She moved here with her ole man near twelve years ago. Wally Blenkinsopp was some kind of salesman, he said. I don't figure he was too good at it, since Wanda was bringin' home most of the bacon it looked like. Wally would disappear for a couple of days, then show up with nothin' much in his pockets but dust.
Everyone knew Wanda was gettin' tired of the excuses, but no one figured on what happened next. One day, Wally took off on one of his so-called sales trips and never came back. Ain't nobody seen or heard from him since, and that includes Wanda.
Well now, Wanda was a fine lookin' woman; not even thirty back then. What got everyone's attention, of course, were them big titties when she were comin' at you and the swing in her butt when she were headin' away. She had a real nice face, a real nice smile, and a real nice disposition. So, it was jes' natural that all the single guys, and some of the others, started the hunt.
What surprised a lot of us was when Wanda pretty much shut the door on doin' any steppin' out with the locals. First off, she said she was still married to Wally, even if he did hit the road. Then, when she figured out that Wally wasn't comin' back, she said she was real picky about who she'd go out with. Can't say I blamed her. It weren't like the pickin's were all that plentiful.
If there was one feller that decided that he was gonna be the one for Wanda, it was Curtis Dodge. Curtis was a local boy who'd made it semi-big racin' stock cars in the south-east. He started off as a driver for Hudson, then got a ride with Plymouth, and finally whoever thought he could drive more than forty laps without wreckin'.
Back home in Broken Branch, Curtis was a big deal. Anywheres else, he weren't nobody special. But he was settin' his sights on Wanda, and every time he was in town, he was down to the Sip 'n Bite, stickin' his face in her direction, tryin' to get hisself a date. I got to hand it to Wanda, cuz she wouldn't give him the time o' day. That's when I knew that Wanda was one smart lady, and maybe that's when I fell in love with her.
Now Curtis weren't no genius, but after a while he clued into the fact that Wanda wasn't interested. What got him all bent outta shape was the fact that Wanda was makin' eyes at me. I plumb nearly fell over when I realized that she was interested in ME!
Curtis and me had a dislike for each other that went back to our grade ten school days. Not long after we arrived in Broken Branch, Curtis and me had a tussle over a young lady named Maggie Tolliver. I was kind of sweet on Maggie, and I wanted to ask her to the school Christmas dance. I was a little slow I guess, because Curtis asked her before I thought to do it. What caused the dust-up was Maggie tellin' Curtis no, and then tellin' me yes when I asked her the next day.
Me and Curtis were about the same size, but I had been puttin' in some hard days on the farm, and now at the gas station, so I was in pretty good shape. Curtis looked good, but I reckoned he was soft. When he got up close to my face and started chewin' on me, I pushed him away. He had god-awful breath.
Well, he didn't take kindly to that, so he took a swing, then I took a swing. He missed and I didn't. When he picked hisself up off the ground, he made sure I knew we wasn't goin' to be friends any time soon. Nothin's changed in more than twenty years.
So here I am with Wanda, and Curtis is still sniffin' around. You'd think he'd get the idea by now, but I guess he's a slow learner. Curtis has a white leather jacket he got when he was drivin' a Hudson Hornet a few years ago. He liked to wear it whenever he was around to show off what a big deal he was. You could see the sponsors' patches were startin' to fade, so you knew it weren't a new jacket.
Curtis was tellin' everyone who'd listen that he was drivin' a factory Plymouth in next year's Gusher Gas Economy Run, and he was sayin' he'd likely win if it weren't for Balloonfoot Bodine. When he commenced to sayin' that, Daddy and me had to laugh. He was already tellin' everyone he was beat before he crossed the startin' line.
What first got me and Wanda goin' was her askin' me if I was interested in girls.
"Hell, yes," I said. "Why'd you ask a damn fool question like that?" I was put off with her thinkin' I might be some momma's boy.
"Well, for one thing, you ain't never asked me for a date. For another, yer always polite around me and the other girls. No smart-ass remarks or nothin'."
"Wanda ... you had me fooled. I was sure you weren't datin' nobody on account you still bein' married to Wally. So, I figured there weren't no sense in me wastin' my time. As for the other thing, my folks would slap me upside the head if they heard me bein' disrespectful to any woman."
"I ain't steppin' out with anyone ... now," she said calmly. "I been tryin' to find a feller that I can trust. You've got a likely look about you, Purvis. Wally ain't comin' back after two years, and I have a hankerin' to find myself a man. Someone I can like ... maybe even love. The more I see you, the more I'm thinkin' you're the best chance I got."
"Well, that's mighty kind of you, Wanda. I'd be right proud to be your feller, but first I'd like to talk to Daddy and Ma about this. It's a big step for me and, with you still bein' married and this bein' a small town, I'd be more settled if they understood first off."
She nodded. "That's very thoughty of you, Purvis. Not many men would do that. I'm thinkin' I've made a good choice," she smiled.
"I'm thinkin' I might be the luckiest grease monkey in New Mexico," I grinned back at her.
Just the thought of gettin' my hands on that amazin' body was enough to get "Little Purvis" stirrin'. I didn't waste any time gettin' over to my folks house.
"Ma, Daddy, I been talkin' to Wanda Blenkinsopp. She's made it known that she's interested in seein' me ... you know ... social like. I'm sure interested in her too. But, bein's how she's still married and all, I thought I better talk it over with you first."
Ma never said a word, but that weren't a surprise. She'd always wait for Daddy's words first, knowin' how wise he was."
Daddy didn't say anythin' either, at first. He sat there scratchin' his chin and thinkin' for a bit. Finally, he looked at me and said, "Wanda talk to you first?"
"Yes, she did. Shocked the dickens outta me," I admitted.
"Figures. She's a good woman, Purvis. She's been as loyal to that no-account Wally for long enough. I don't suppose she can afford a divorce. Maybe the son-of-a-bitch will get run over or somethin'."
"Daddy!" Ma said sharply. "Don't you go sayin' things like that." Ma didn't cotton to violence or swearin'. Daddy and I saved the swearin' up for the garage.
"Sorry, Ma, but that feller done her wrong. Wanda's a good woman, like I said. I think her choosin' Purvis is good for both of them. 'Bout time Purvis found hisself a lady."
"There ain't no gossip about her around town, Purvis," Ma said. "She gets a lot of attention on account of her ... looks, but no one says nothin' bad about her. I think you could do a lot worse."
I nodded to them both. I was glad I'd come to talk to them about it. I had their blessin', so nothin' else was stoppin' us. I drove quick as I could over to Wanda's place and knocked on the door.
"Purvis? I didn't expect to see you. Come on in," she said.
"I just wanted to tell you that I had that talk with Ma and Daddy, and they said a lot of good things about you. They don't see anythin' to stop us steppin' out. If you haven't changed your mind, I'd be honored to be your escort," I grinned.
Wanda smiled. "I'm lookin' for more than just an escort, Purvis. I've been a married woman, and while Wally weren't much of a husband, I've bin doin' without him performin' his husbandly duties. Can I count on you to help me out there?"
"Yes ma'am! When would you like me to start?"
"Why, Purvis, now's as good a time as any," she smiled, takin' my hand and leadin' me back to the bedroom.
There ain't enough words in the dictionary to tell you what Wanda looked like when she got shut of her clothes. As good as she looked in that waitress uniform, it couldn't compare to how she looked nekkid. Them big ole titties were just sittin' up proud and swingin' back and forth as she moved around the room. "Little Purvis" was payin' close attention, standin' up straight.
"You've bin waitin' some time to see all this, haven't you Purvis?"
"Yes, ma'am, and it sure was worth the wait."
Wanda was walkin' around the bedroom, showin' off her body to me while I sat on the bed. What she was doin' was causin' me to worry just how long I'd be lastin' when it come time to perform. Just watchin' her move that butt of hers as she walked by was enough to give a dead man a stiffie, and I sure as hell weren't dead.
"You're not in any rush, are you Purvis?"
"No, ma'am. No rush at all."
"That's good," she said, pushin' me back on the bed and climbin' on top of me.
She sat down on me, rubbin' her privates up and down on my tallywacker. If she was to keep doin' this, I might not be lastin' too long at all. Hell, we might not even get started afore it was over.
"Wanda," I groaned, "you might want to get started soon. I don't want to hurry you none, but I'm plenty ready."
Just like that, she reached down and grabbed aholt of me, lifted up a smidge, then sank onto me like it was the easiest thing in the world. All the while, I had been massagin' those lovely big titties with my hands, bein' extra careful about bein' gentle with them. I was in seventh heaven ... maybe even eighth.
"What's your favorite way, Purvis?" she asked as she lifted up and down on me, not too fast, and not too slow.
"This is good," I gasped, "but I like it just about anyway you can want it."
"I'm pleased to hear that, cuz I do like variety. Do you like doin' some of that French stuff? You know, with the mouth and tongue and such?"
"Yes, ma'am, I surely do. I hope you like it too."
"I do, but I'm curious. Where'd you learn all that?"
"Why in France, of course. I was over there durin' the war. I had some very fine ladies teach me the important things about pleasin' someone like you. I hope you'll like them too."
"Purvis Miles, I do believe I've struck gold with you," she laughed. "I been waitin' all this time for a man who knew how to please me and along you come. I just wished I'd met you before that rascal Wally come along."
"I'm feelin' the same, Wanda. But ... like the feller says ... actions speak louder than words."
"Truer words were never spoke. Now why don't you just show me some of that learnin' you got in France?"
So I did. More than a couple of times as it turned out. We was pretty well tuckered out when all was said and done. Lyin' side-by-side, we got to talkin' for a spell.
"Wanda, I hope I didn't disappoint you, girl. I got to tell you this was just like a dream bein' here tonight."
"Purvis, you know you didn't disappoint me. You're just fishin' for compliments," she laughed softly.
"I suppose. But, you know, I got a thick skin, so you can tell when I'm not doin' so good. I can still learn, even though I'm thirty two."
"You've been teachin' me, Purvis. There ain't nothin' we done tonight that didn't please me all to hell. For one thing ... and I shouldn't ought to tell you this ... you're a whole mess bigger than Wally. I'm a big girl, and I need a big man. You're my man, Purvis. I hope to hell this goes on for a long time."
I could tell she was serious, so I rolled over and pulled her to me and gave a nice, warm, long kiss. I could see she was a happy lady, so naturally I was happy too. If I had any say in it, it would go on for a very long time.
Chapter 3: When I Was in the Army
When I was in the Army, I never dug a trench,
I used to bust my knuckles on a monkey wrench
I'd go to town to drink,
And give the girls a pinch,
I don't think they ever even noticed me.
John Prine, Fish & Whistle
My Daddy was too old and too valuable to the town to get into the Army when the war came about in 1941. He'd already served in the Great War, so he'd done his bit to save America. I was twenty when them Japs bombed Pearl Harbor and got us all in that mess for the next four years. I signed up for the Army 'cuz that's what Daddy did, and got sent off to Camp Hood, Texas, for my trainin'.
Now I'd heard tell that the Army wasn't too smart about usin' the talents a feller might have. You know, sendin' him to jump school when he was scared of heights, or makin' cooks outta guys what didn't have no taste buds. But lo and behold, I got attached to the 8th Engineering Battalion, Mechanized Division. They was goin' to make me a real bona fide mechanic.
For the next three years, I learned everythin' there was to know about fixin' anythin' that moved; from jeeps to tanks. On top of that, I learned how to read a shop manual, so's I could see how things were put together and such. That came in right handy when Daddy and I started workin' on automatic transmissions, them new-fangled air conditioners, and such.
I didn't get to see any close-up fightin', but I got to see plenty of where it had been. We landed in France just after D-Day, and I'll tell you, I ain't never seen a mess like that ... and I don't never want to see another one neither. There was dead bodies everywhere, and just about every buildin' was blowed up or shot full o' holes.
I didn't get too much time to be thinkin' about it, however. There was wrecked equipment everywhere we looked, and we had to get goin' and get as much of it back on the road as we could. We started with the tanks and ambulances and two-and-a-half tons to get things movin' again. We was robbin' parts and pieces off other wrecks just to make do, but we got 'er done. I think that was the first time I ever worked more than three days without stoppin' since we left Oklahoma.
After all that time sittin' on our butts, waitin' for somethin' to happen, it took a bit of gettin' used to. On top of that, we was livin' in tents, or bombed out houses, or any kind of shelter we could find as we moved from place to place. It was goin' to be like that for the next year.
While we was sittin' around in England before the big invasion, we got to know some of the girls in the little towns. We got to know them real good, if you know what I mean. They was lonely, I could tell, but we tried to keep them company whenever we could. When we got to France, why them French ladies was so glad to see us get rid them Germans, that they nearly loved us to death. That was where a couple of real fine mademoiselles taught me the extra things I needed to know about pleasin' the ladies.
I didn't get to see it all. I got myself a "Hollywood Wound" when a German 88 blew the hell out of our shack and peppered my back, butt, and legs with pieces of rock and metal. I was lucky it wasn't worse. Three of my buddies were killed, and two more were hurt bad. I had some muscle damage in my legs, and some rock fragments in my back near my backbone, so I was goin' back to England, then back to the USA to heal up. By the time I was mobile ag'in, it was all over but the shoutin'.
I got a purple heart, an honorable discharge, and bus ticket to Busted Branch. I also got a real good education about bein' a mechanic. Fact was, I'd be teachin' Daddy some new tricks when the time came. When I got off the bus, Ma and Daddy were right there with Tucker Winslow and Sheriff Dooley. I got a big ole kiss from Ma, and some real hearty handshakes from Daddy, Tucker and the Sheriff. Seems like I was some kind of hero, but I never knew why.
Chapter 4: Back Home Again
It took a couple of days for things to settle down, but soon enough, Daddy and I was back to runnin' the garage. Now while I was away, Tucker had bought another garage up in Fort Sumner, on Highway 60. It was a real good place for a station, and he got it cheap, he said. We was on Highway 20, near the junction of 285, so it was a good place to be as well. My legs weren't all healed up yet, so I had to set a spell now and then. But most times, I could get work done timely like.
I found out later that Tucker bought that station 'cause he didn't figure there'd be enough work for us all right off. With all the rationin' and shortages, people wasn't travellin' as much, and so we didn't have as many customers. He was right, and I came to realize Tucker was darn near as smart as Daddy. He still owned half the station, so we'd see him regular like, but he had some work to do to get the new station back up and runnin' good.
Tucker was a few years older than Daddy, but you'd never know it. He was wire thin, jackrabbit quick, and movin' every minute of the day. Daddy said he was the best man he ever seen with financin' and other money matters. More than once he helped Daddy with his taxes to make sure he weren't payin' too much. He told Daddy about all them loopholes he said that Daddy should use. Well, accordin' to Daddy, he saved a whole mess of taxes thanks to Tucker.
It took a couple of years before things got back to bein' where they were before the war. After that, they just got better and better. They were makin' and sellin' new cars again. Gas was plentiful and cheap. Best of all, we found a feller sellin' old Army vehicles. We got ourselves a four-ton wrecker dirt cheap. Now we could handle them big new highway trucks that was showin' up. We always had a spare battery, a couple of jerry cans of gas, and a heavy duty winch on the front to look after most emergencies.
My love life weren't nothin' to talk about, though. Busted Branch was a small town, and the pickin's were mighty slim. I had some good memories of my days in England and France, but that was years ago now, and I'd been gettin' a little tired of this dry spell. Besides, I was already thirty years old. Time to be getting' on with things.
Now, as I said before, there weren't nobody who didn't know who Wanda at the Sip 'n Bite was. Sam Turner was the owner and cook. Six days a week, breakfast and lunch, Sam was back in the kitchen, fixin' the food. And he was darn good at it too. He could whip up a mess of eggs, ham, hash browns, and toast in no time at all. Everybody said his chicken-fried steak was the best in the county.
But Sam never had it so good 'till Wanda answered the advertisement for a waitress in the front window of the cafe. Wanda had been a waitress before Wally showed up, so she knew what to do. Sam hired her right on the spot, supposin' she didn't know what the hell to do. He could see she was goin' to bring in customers by the carload, at least for a spell. When it turned out she was a darn good waitress to boot, well ... he just knew he was goin' to do fine.
When Wally took off, Sam was worried Wanda might leave too. But it didn't happen. He gave her a nice raise, and she was grateful, and she was stayin' for now. For the next two years, Wanda turned down more dates than the Army has boots. I was goin' in regular for breakfast now. Ma and Daddy had bought the old McAlister place just on the edge of town and moved in there. I decided to stay in the apartment above the garage. It just made sense, I figured.
I couldn't help but notice Wanda when she served me every mornin'. We got to talkin' now and then, and she was a nice lady with a hard luck story. Wally had taken every dime she had when he took off, and that's when I figured he weren't never comin' back. I didn't say so to Wanda. I didn't want t' hurt her feelin's. Over time, we got to bein' friendly with each other, but nothin' more than that. She was still holdin' out for Wally, and I was too scared to ask her out or anythin'. Then, like I already told you, everythin' changed.
Chapter 5: Tucker Makes a Call
Daddy and Tucker were the best of friends. I didn't know it at the time, but Tucker had been givin' my Daddy bigger shares of the Busted Branch station each year. He'd been doin' real well with both stations, and figured Daddy had earned anythin' he got. By the time we'd been there ten years, our share of the station rose up to 75%. It wouldn't be that long before Tucker would turn the whole station over to Daddy. He was makin' more money at the new station than he'd ever need, so it just seemed right to share the wealth with us.
Along about then, big ole Mobil come along and wanted us to sign up with them. At first we said no, on account of Daddy not wantin' to be beholden to no oil giant. But when he and Tucker set down to look at the contract and what Mobil was promisin', why they figured it made a lot of sense. Daddy said somethin' about promotional support, or somethin' like that. On top of that, we got some new signs and better yet, some shiny new pumps. Far as I could tell, we did real well on the deal.
Along with the shares from Tucker came a bigger share of the profits. That's how Daddy was able to buy that nice house for Ma and him. He also got hisself a nice new 1959 Ford Fairlane for him and Ma. They would ofttimes drive to Amarillo or Santa Fe for a little getaway. It was good to see them get some time to enjoy our success. Daddy had worked hard for it and he'd earned every last dime he made. Of course, I did real good too, with Daddy sharin' everythin' fifty-fifty.
We had a helper at the garage now. Red Mahoney was pumpin' gas and learnin' about the shop from Daddy and me. He was 18, fresh outta school, and eager as all get out. He weren't afraid of work, that's for sure. He was called Red because of his red hair, I reckon. His proper name was Carroll, but nobody had the nerve to call him that. He was as big as me, and plenty strong. I was about the same age as his Daddy, and I guess I sort of adopted him as a pretend son.
Things were goin' along just fine at the garage and at home. Wanda and me were about as happy as two people could be. We were kind of wonderin' what to do with ourselves now that we had a few dollars in the bank and some time to spend. That's when ole opportunity come a knockin'.
Tucker had been sellin' used cars at his garage. He was always lookin' for new things to make money with, and he didn't make too many mistakes either. He started off at Busted Branch sellin' them old canvas water bags that people hung on the front of their cars to keep the radiator full. Then he got in the candy and sodas since people were forever askin' him where they could get somethin' quick to eat. Well, it just got bigger from there.
Anyway, I got a call from Tucker one day in October.
"Purvis, I heard you was lookin' for a car for you and Wanda. You find anythin' yet?" he asked, straight off.
"Nope. Why? You got somethin' in mind?"
"I sure do. I just bought a 1953 Studebaker Starliner off a kid that was drafted into the Army. Got it at a real good price, too. It's in good shape. You might wanna come up here and have a look-see."
"That'd be a two door, right?"
"Yep. Automatic with a radio too. It's in good shape ... not too many miles. I think you and Wanda would look right handsome in this car."
"Well, Tucker, if you think it's worth the drive, why me n' Wanda will come up and have a look. You around after supper tonight?"
"I'll be here. I got it locked up in the garage, so come over to the house first. I'll go with you."
"See you about seven, then," I said, hangin' up after the usual pleasantries.
Well now, Wanda wouldn't know a Studebaker from a steam engine, but she was gettin' tired of ridin' around in my truck. It was time she got somethin' a little more befittin' her station in the town. I wasn't sure this was the right car, but if Tucker said it was worth lookin' at, then I would look.
Directly after supper, Wanda and me jumped in the old Fargo and headed for Fort Sumner.
"I sure hope this trip is worthwhile, Purvis. We'll be late gettin' home tonight as it is, and I've got the early shift at the diner in the mornin'."
"I've never known Tucker to steer us wrong yet, girl. Keep yer fingers crossed. This may be a winner."
It took a full hour to get up to Tucker's place. He didn't waste no time with chit-chat, but took us right down to the garage and turned on the lights. It was sittin' in the first bay, all shined up and lookin' pretty. Hell, it was the nicest lookin' car I'd ever seen. What surprised me, though, was Wanda.
"Oh, Purvis. It's beautiful. I've never seen a car this nice. It looks like one of them foreign sporty cars. And that red color with white top. Can I get in it?" she asked, turnin' to Tucker.
"Of course you can. Hell, Purvis, why don't you take it for a test drive. See how you like it for yourself."
Well, I did of course. I could tell Wanda loved the car. It had nice upholstery, and it rode and steered real good too. I figured it had a six in it when I started it up, and when I drove it down the highway, I was sure I was right. I did like the automatic transmission. I'd never driven one before, but it was dead simple. The only thing to get used to was tryin' to put the clutch in when there weren't no clutch. That took a little gettin' used to.
Well, there weren't no argument that we were goin' to buy the car, so it was a matter of how much. Tucker and me dickered a bit, but we came to an agreement, and I drove Wanda home in the truck, knowin' I would soon own a '53 Starliner coupe in coral red and cream white paint. It had 35,390 miles on it. The tires still looked good, and there wasn't a mark on it anyplace. That boy had looked after it real good.
Daddy drove me and Wanda back to Fort Sumner, and we cruised back down Highway 20 to Busted Branch in style. Wanda was real proud of that car, even though it weren't new. When we got to the garage, I was surprised that we hadn't even moved the needle on the gas gauge. I began to wonder if it was workin' right, but over the next week, I was satisfied it was okay. That car was real cheap on gas.
Now it didn't take Curtis Dodge long to figure out I had a car. He saw it out in front of the Sip 'n Bite one day and pretty quick found out it was Wanda's and mine. He looked it over, not sayin' too much, which was somethin' for Curtis. When I walked out of the café and saw him, I nodded but didn't say nothin'. We still weren't on speakin' terms.
"Where'd you git that cutie-pie little car, Purvis?" he started in.
I looked over at him and was about to say somethin' when Wanda came out from the diner. "He bought it for me, if'n it's any of your business," she said, givin' Curtis the evil eye.
"Yeah ... I figured that. Purvis more'n likely would favor a tractor," he laughed.
"You got nothin' else to do today, Dodge?" I growled, gettin' a mite irritated with him and his smart-assed remarks.
"Nope. Jest gettin' myself ready for the big Gusher Gas Economy Run next spring. Goin' into trainin' soon."
"What kind of trainin' do you need? Can't-cha tell the brake from the gas pedal yet?"
Well, Wanda bust out laughin' at that clever remark of mine, but Curtis turned about six shades of red before stompin' off to his car. When Wanda watched him go, she turned to me.
"What's all this Gusher Gas Economy thing about anyway, Purvis?"
"Well, it's a long trip across the U.S.A. to see who can get the furthest on the least amount of gas. There's a bunch of categories for each kind of car, so that it's fair to everyone," I explained.
"What do you get if you win?"
"A whole mess of money and your pitcher in the magazines."
"Can anybody join up?"
"Don't know, girl. Why'd you ask?"
"You bin tellin' me how good that fine new car you bought is. You said it didn't use no more gas than a baby sippin' through a straw. You're a real fine driver Purvis. Maybe you should get in that race and put an end to havin' to listen to Curtis Dodge shootin' his mouth off about it."
"Wanda, I don't know nothin' about who can go in and who can't. I'll have to call around a bit and see if it's possible. You really think I should go if I can?"
"Damn straight, Purvis. Between you and your daddy, you can figure a way to win that race hands down. I just know it."
I gave her a big smile and put my arm around her shoulder as we watched Curtis' dust disappear down the highway. "Well then, I guess I better get to findin' out about it."
I talked to Daddy first, and he was fine with the idea if'n I could get in. He'd help with tearin' down the engine and makin' sure it was runnin' as good as it could possibly run. I'd work on the transmission, since I got a shop manual from Studebaker for it. That Studie automatic was a solid little unit, and I had plans for it.
Most folks would say it was crazy to enter the Gusher Gas with an automatic. Everyone knew they was gas-burners, but I had a different idea from my days in the army. I knew somethin' about torque converters since they was used in tanks, so I was thinkin' maybe adjustin' the unit and changin' the drivin' style would make a difference.
After a couple of telephone calls, I got hold of a feller who knew all about the Gusher Gas and said he'd send me a bunch of information and forms for me to fill out. Turns out there was somethin' called a "Special Category" that allowed older cars, providin' they was more than five years old and had been made in the U.S.A. He said he was dang sure a 1953 Studebaker would qualify.