Above Photo:  Kurt’s ’63 in tow at the Little Czech Bakery

Some Award’s You’d Rather Not Win

by Kurt Wetterling, Arlington, Texas

Originally published in the March-April 2001 issue of Continental Comments (Issue # 239).
Reprinted from the Continental Gazette, newsletter of the North Texas Region.

The Salado event is one I look forward to every year, the 2000 one being no exception. My wife and kids seem to always have activities planned they can’t break themselves away from so it has become a tradition for my dad to make the drive  down with me, providing a perfect opportunity for male bonding while making the three hour or so drive south from the metroplex. As has been a custom for several years, a group of North Texas members meets in the Albertson’s parking lot in Duncanville and caravans to West, where we stop for fuel, Czech pastries and ‘car talk’. This year we had eight cars in the caravan, the oldest being Jake Fleming’s ‘41 Lincoln-Zephyr, the newest being Gary and Doris Watson’s ‘90s Town Car. The theory in caravaning has always been “safety in numbers”.

With the usual chit-chat out of the way we headed south on 1-35 by about 9:35 early Friday morning. We were pulling into the parking lot of The Little Czech Bakery a short hour and a half later, parking our Lincolns right in front of the bakery, drawing a crowd of admiring patrons. Everyone fueled their cars, had a cup or two of coffee and enjoyed the baked goods that West is famous for. Time came to head out for the last half of the journey and we all made our way out to our cars and headed out of the parking lot, one by one. Well, almost all of us. I was the last to join the line up because my ‘63 Lincoln Continental wouldn’t start. I didn’t worry too much about it at first because I saw Joe Hill and Jake Fleming still in the  parking lot so I knew I wouldn’t be stranded. Or at least I thought I wouldn’t be. Within minutes, both Joe and Jake drove off to join the rest of the group not realizing I was having mechanical difficulties and wasn’t with the group ahead. So much for “safety in numbers!”

Thinking that perhaps the carburetor had flooded attempting to start the car, my dad and I elected to let it sit, cool off and let any accumulated gas evaporate before we tried starting it again. Dad bought a can of aerosol starter to see if that would make a difference once it was time to try again. While getting spark, the car would still not turn over. Rather than waste any more time I headed out on foot across 1-35 to a Goodyear Service Center to see if a mechanic might be available. It turns out he had just gone to lunch, but they recommended I go to the local Ford dealer for help. He was located just a short couple of blocks further south on 1-35. I headed south on foot.

Once at the dealership, I explained my predicament and asked if they had someone they could send down to attempt to get the car started. “We don’t have any personnel we can send out, we’ll have to tow the car back to the dealership and try to work on it here”, they explained. “So be it” I answered, “but let’s not waste any time. I don’t want the rest of my group to get worried when I don’t show up.” (Like that was ever going to happen!) I hopped into the wrecker and went back to my stranded Lincoln and sun-burned dad.

Little time was wasted in getting the rear end of the Lincoln mounted on the tow bar and soon we were off, leaving a crowd of onlookers behind at the bakery who weren’t nearly as admiring as they had been two hours earlier. We headed south on the access road and began to turn into the driveway of the dealership, a narrow, uphill affair. About then the tow truck jumped up in the air and a loud banging sound went off behind us. Sadly, my ‘63 Continental convertible had fallen off the tow truck, the tow bar becoming lodged in the leaf springs of the car making it impossible to move. I jumped out of the wrecker (I know why they call them wreckers now) and looked down the driver’s side of the car looking for any signs of damage. Counting my blessings, I barely even felt the wrecker driver tug at my sleeve and pull me over to the passenger side of the car.

I wasn’t sure if it was my heart or a Czech pastry in my throat as I looked at the bent sheet metal, twisted rocker moldings and crumpled wheel well chrome from where the tow bar had jammed itself into the side of my car. All of a sudden the fact that it wouldn’t start two minutes earlier was a rather unimportant fact. The wrecker driver headed up the hill on foot to get help and notify the manager that he might want to make himself available. Shortly, a crew of men showed up with hydraulic jacks, etc. and began the process of surgically removing the tow bar from my undercarriage while the wrecker driver began searching through the paper for help wanted ads. I sat on the curb and pondered what I had done to anger the car show gods in such a way that they would show me such disfavor. In the short span of less than two hours I had encountered mechanical difficulties, been abandoned by the rest of my entire group and seen my car subjected to the worst damage I had seen since the engine caught fire on my way home from purchasing the car six years ago.

Finally the car was dislodged from the wrecker and was on its way to the service bay. I was on my way to the manager’s office. “I sure am sorry,” he said. Somehow I didn’t sense the passion in his voice I had hoped for. (I was thinking more along the lines of an offer from him to take his own life as a token of the dealership’s undying sorrow and regret of the pain they had caused. Okay, so I over-reacted at first.) “We don’t have a body shop” he replied. “What do you mean, you don’t have a body shop. You’re a Ford dealer. What happens when someone buys a new Ford and it gets wrecked?” “We take it to the Chevy dealer to be fixed” he admitted. “Well, get in your car and I’ll follow you to the Chevy dealer. I’m not leaving this town without an estimate of what it is going to cost to repair this car.”

And off we went. Him in his Ford, my dad and I in my Lincoln to see what the Chevy dealer’s estimate would be to fix the car that the wrecker had dumped in the driveway. Once there, I was instructed to pull it up on a lift so that the  undercarriage could be inspected for damage. In attempting to do so… the car wouldn’t start. After repeated attempts, I got out of the car and suggested that the service manager get a couple of his highly trained staff over to the Chevy dealer to start the car they had just fixed so that I could get an estimate of the body damage and be on my way. You can imagine the crowd of Chevy repairmen who gathered around to watch as the Ford crew went to work on my Lincoln. I’ll leave the comments that went back and forth to your imagination.

Again, they got it started. Up on the rack it went. Damage was confined to body work, the undercarriage came out of the deal unscathed. A written estimate was worked up and handed to me along with the business card of the manager. “I want something more than just your card”, I told him. “We’ve been here for 25 years” he reassured me. “I’ve only been here two hours, and it hasn’t been all that pleasant. Give me something in writing.” He wrote on the back of the estimate that the dealer ship would accept all liability, signed it, handed it back and we were on our way. Or so we thought. The car wouldn’t start. Again the Ford crew dove under the hood and went to work, this time blaming the problem on a vacuum in the gas line not allowing fuel to get to the fuel pump. Whatever. I just wanted out of West. Motor still running, Dad and I jumped in and put it in gear. “Are we going to Salado or back to Arlington?” Dad asked. “What else could possibly happen? We’re going to this show if it kills us!”

The next hour and a half was completely uneventful. We cruised down 1-35 at 70 miles an hour all the way to Salado. We exited at Salado, crossed over the overpass and actually had the Stage Coach Inn in our sights when the car died. We literally coasted all the way down the hill, into the parking lot and into the first available open space. My dad and I looked at each other and I said, “Well, at least we know we won’t have to sleep in the car.” Neither of us had much humor left.

Once word got out on the trials and tribulations of the trip from West, Lincoln club members surrounded my crippled Continental and over the next two hours diagnosed the problem for what it really was, a fuel pump with a valve stuck in the closed position and proceeded to actually rebuild it in the parking lot with tools from Jim Raymond’s trunk and the expertise of new Houston member Michael Calistrat and Jake Fleming, the rest of us holding flashlights. Thus were the highs and lows of last year’s Salado trip. Wrecked and abandoned in West. Repaired and rejuvenated in Salado. And the proud winner of the C. Michael Black Hard Luck Award for 2000. I just can’t wait till next year.

Kurt and his Dad with the car as Salado and the car finally on display at Salado.


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