In the 1960’s, Dad was partial to the Buick Electra. We had a 1963 convertible, then a 1965 convertible. By 1969, we had graduated to a beautiful Electra 225 four door, charcoal green with white interior. Its 430 cubic inch V-8 360 horsepower engine topped out at about 125 miles per hour, 0-60 in 7.2 seconds, getting about 12 miles to the gallon at about 35 cents a gallon. It was a huge car–spanning almost 19 feet in length with a 25-gallon gas tank. My friend Sonny and I used to joke that the trunk of the car was like a ballroom dance floor. This was the car that I took to my driver’s test in 1971 and I passed the parallel parking on the first try. Dad let me drive this car to places like 4-H meetings. Oh, what he didn’t know.
I was the type of kid that knew my limitations, learning from watching my brothers. Oldest brother Chuck was pretty ornery. He and his friends played a lot of risky pranks on people, but he knew just how far to take it. And he didn’t get caught. In other words, he was responsibly irresponsible. My next oldest brother Larry was a different story. It seemed that no matter what he did, he didn’t get away with it. From coming in late after curfew and backing the car into the tractor to getting a tattoo at the circus, it just seemed that Larry was destined to get caught at any mischief he did. In his defense, he might say that he wasn’t as sneaky as Chuck and more upfront about his adventures. Nonetheless, I adopted the approach of knowing my limitations and never pushing it too far. But that didn’t always save me.
One night, a bunch of us that showed horses together decided to meet up. And I got to drive. It was a mixed group of about seven people. We went to one of the friend’s house, got some pizza and Coca Cola, and were just generally laughing and poking fun at one another. Then it was time to go home. So we all packed up in that Buick. My friend Lee, who was always an instigator, suggested a back way to drop off the Andrews sisters at their home. Well, that old dark narrow country road had a bridge over a creek. This bridge rose up at quite an angle and it gave us a little thrill crossing it at about 30 miles per hour. And everybody wanted to “jump” the bridge again, only a little faster. And that’s one time that I became irresponsibly irresponsible. We turned around in some driveway to a cornfield and headed toward the bridge.
By the time we hit that bridge, we were doing about 70. That old Buick flew about 20 feet in the air before we slammed down. Our laughing suddenly became dead quiet with the surprising force of the car landing so hard that it bottomed out. As I cautiously drove on in silence, we heard something dragging. It was the muffler, and I knew I was in big trouble. Lee and I got out and looked under the car. He burned his hand trying to shove the pipe in place. We found a coat hanger in the trunk, which we rigged to hold up the muffler till I got home. Thinking about the Commandment, “Thou shalt not lie” all the way home, I had to get my story together. I ended up telling Dad we had seven people in the car and it bottomed out over the bridge and the muffler came loose. After some lecturing, to my relief he accepted my explanation and we fixed the muffler. I guess the truth, well mostly the truth, doesn’t hurt that bad. But lesson learned.