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First Car – My Very Own Days of Thunder

Car designers are just going to have to come up with an automobile that outlasts the payments.  ~Erma Bombeck

Ryan showing off his 1967 Chevelle. He loved that car!

A little while back we received the movie Days of Thunderwith Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman from Netflix. Anytime we talk about that movie, a huge smile surfaces from everyone. You see Ryan loved that flick, that and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Dick Van Dyke!  It wasn’t his top favorites because the script was a piece of literary genius, nor was the cinematography revolutionary, nor was the acting exceptional. Nope, Ryan loved it because it involved racing cars. That’s it!

Ryan, being one of the 75 million NASCAR fans, loved racing. In fact, he even raced his own 1967 Chevelle locally in Jennerstown and in Keystone. If my memory serves me correctly he won a few times.  I’m guessing Ryan loved racing so much because of his love of cars and working on them, mechanically speaking. That’s a whole other topic, but putting it simply Ryan new how to work on vehicles, fix them and drive them.

About the same time I got my drivers license, my Uncle Tex passed away.  Being my grandpap Chester’s brother, he came from an era of large automobiles, big!.  Upon his passing, Uncle Tex left behind a few cars, some where nicer than others. One happened to be a 1976 Buick Limited.  I sincerely can’t remember the exact year, but mom and I knew it was in the mid 1970’s.  Regardless, the car, besides being large and showing its age, was not wanted by anyone in the family.

Since I was without wheels and just passed my driving test, my cousins approached me and asked if I wanted the Buick. Incidentally, Uncle Tex’s grandson, my cousin Timmy took me to get my license.  My answer…heck ya! It was black with red interior. The solid steel frame was built like a tank that could have been mistaken for a hurse. It had a bench seat in the front and the back and being an automatic, I was told was a luxurious feature at the time.  Great!  I didn’t care what it looked like, or if it was a stick or automatic, I could drive either and I wanted car freedom.

tape recorder Aunt Heather Piper
Same tape player Nicole had & I used in my first car, since it didn’t have a radio.

Was it slightly rusted and worn down? Yes it was, and I totally loved it!  There were only two major items that needed to be addressed.  The most important, it didn’t have a radio!  Well, I couldn’t certainly go cruising around without tunes!  Immediately fixing that poor situation, I took my sister’s old tape player and set it on the front seat to play tapes.  Anyone who rode with me, not only was my co-pilot but they were also acting DJ.  That was still the era when we would make mixed tapes for each other, so the music selection was not at a shortage. Yes CDs were around and gaining in popularity, but tapes were still as equally as popular. The next big item was the gas gauge. It was broken, meaning the needle never moved with or without gas in the tank. To fix this dilemma was going to be costly so mom showed me how to record my mileage in a notebook she got me. Every time I filled up at the gas station, I was suppose to record the date and my mileage. Then, I could gauge how much fuel was floating around in the tank. Seems pretty simple, yet see if a teenager was going to be that detailed. Nope, not me.

There were a number of occasions that I ran out of gas. I never really fretted much over it. Back then, cell phones may have just started to show up in cars, but nothing like they are today. Once Black Beauty, that was her name, would suck the gas tank dry, I would pull over and continue on foot to the nearest house to use their phone. Luckily, every time I called, which maybe amounted to two or three times, Ryan was there and he came with a gas tank to get me going again to the nearest gas station. Ryan never seemed to mind or gave the appearance that he was put out by my requests. In fact, he would laugh at me and was always quick with his rescue missions. Although I must say, I know he gave me the typical grin with the eye roll.

Kyle riding his bike c. 2003

On a side note, I don’t think Ryan had his license at some point when I called upon him, just realizing that fact now. Ryan was twenty-one months younger than me. That explains why he didn’t mind coming to my aide, he wasn’t technically allowed to drive yet. Well, I still appreciated him regardless.

Not being a mechanic so bear with me, for the details may be off. It started one bright sunny day. Really! It was a beautiful day and to heed my mom’s warnings of my continuous efforts of running out of gas, technically her treats of me being stranded one day, I decided to pull over at a local gas station. It was off the clover leaf, between Latrobe and Youngstown. The gas station is no longer there, but the building is. After filling up, well not literally, Black Beauty had such a large gas tank, I don’t think I ever really filled it up, so after ensuring I wouldn’t get stranded within the next few miles I was ready to head out.

As I brought the engine to a roar, smoke started pouring out of my exhaust. What the heck? I was afraid to put the car in drive, so I sat there for a few minutes thinking the smoke was going to clear out.  To be honest, I thought some gas managed to spill down over the exhaust and was burning off.  Well, it didn’t stop!  In fact, the smoke got worse the longer I sat till it engulfed the entire gas station with a wall of smoke!  Yikes!  Eventually, I left and noticed the smoke wasn’t bad until I sat at a red light, then my car would become invisible by the polluted air.

After finishing my errands, since I wasn’t far from mom and dad’s house, I made my way home.  No one was there as I arrived and by the time the household was full of bodies, I had forgotten about my car issue.  That is, until I walked in on Ryan telling mom and dad some story about a gas station being smoked out and really laughing about it.  What? Was that too coincidental?

1975-Buick-Limited-Aunt Heather Piper
This is a 1975 Buick Limited… this was not my car, I couldn’t find a picture of it, but that’s what it resembled.

Ryan went on about someone smoking out the gas station.  He was really cracking up.  He said he couldn’t even see the gas pumps or the other cars. What? I turned to him and asked if he was talking about the same gas station I was, the very same one I had my incidence earlier.  He confirmed my suspicion!  In shock, I said, “Ryan that was me!” Being as baffled as I was, he said, “That was you causing all that smoke?” After we sorted out the details and realized we were both talking about the same gas station, the same wall of smoke at the same time, Ryan laughed and said, “It looked like Days of Thunder!”

Clearly that was not what I wanted to hear.  I said, “I can’t believe you drove right past me without stopping to help!” He defended himself by saying, “Heather I didn’t know that was you, I just saw smoke filling up the gas station!” Did I believe him? Yes, he would have stopped to help me if he knew, but that didn’t make his laughter toward me easier to take.

Evidently, I blew a head gasket or two in my car. Eventually, dad and Ryan fixed the problem, but up until then, I smoked out my fellow road warriors when I approached a red light or lingered too long at a stop sign. Pulling up to a friend’s house to pick them up with the car idling, forget it.  That was out of the question.

My first car, Black Beauty was awesome! My sister never drove it, she was afraid of the size of the old Buick. Ryan and I didn’t care, and mom and dad certainly didn’t have a problem with us driving around in the beast.  It was wheels and not much could have happened with that much steel separating us from a potential collision.  Let’s not forget, it was my first car that was FREE.  If there were dents or any additional damage to the car, no one cared.

Black Beauty gave me a few good years before meeting the junk yard.  I got a call when I was in Ontario, Canada on a band trip saying she rolled out for the last time.  Actually it was Ryan who informed me the car had expired.  I wasn’t happy about the situation and I especially wasn’t happy to hear Ryan was driving the car around while I was away, but I didn’t care.  I considered it his too.  I’ll never forget my first car!  What an experience!

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Theme Song

Published inBooks, Movies, ShowsCommon SenseEducation & LearningFamilyNewsObservation & ImaginationPatienceReminiscingTravels

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