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.
.... There is more of this story ...