Everybody who ever even heard of a Chevrolet Power-Glide, please raise their hands. Thank you. That was just a little experiment to see how many of you are going to appreciate this story. If you are male, born before 1945, and ever paid attention to cars beyond turning the ignition key and stepping on the gas, then this is for you.
In 1950, Chevrolet came out with a “revolutionary new transmission” in their cars. In fact, it was so revolutionary that they only made those cars for a couple years. This transmission was more aptly called the Power-Slide.
I suppose every car-manufacturer is entitled to one colossal boo-boo, and Chevy had not had one yet. Ford got along without one for a few more years, then launched the Edsel, which is still the champion. Chrysler had its Airstream and Airflow, soon forgotten. Chevy had a strong, smooth, dependable six-cylinder engine that has stood the storms of competition until this very time: 2002. But it never had been known for its blinding speed. The Power-Glide did not change that, except to make it worse.
Of course, every car-buyer had free choice. Nobody HAD to buy one. Common sense should have taught anyone to steer clear of that gutless wonder. But some (including me) learned that lesson by buying one! It was fine once you got it moving, but that little car just never got in a hurry. And if there is still one running somewhere, I’m sure it has never been any different.
We were living in Illinois, where I was in college, had not had a vacation in three years, and my parents, who lived at Loving, New Mexico, had only met their first grandchild, Scott, now four years old, once, when he was brand new. They were about to rebel, and we certainly were ready to make him familiar to them. After all, that boy was far and away the smartest, cutest, most precocious child WE had ever seen, and we were sure they would have the same idea. And they did!
However, my dad was not so impressed with my car. He said, “I’ve heard of these things. I guess the name Power-Glide is so they can abbreviate it to P G for pregnant.”
After three days at their house, we were on our way to El Paso, Texas to give all the aunts and cousins there a look at the newest Mr. Reeves. We left Loving about 10 a.m. and were leisurely cruising down the last foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains. Randy and I had forgotten what a stupendous sight Signal Peak, or El Capitan (the highest point in Texas), could be, and we were enjoying it. Scotty was too. He was really impressed, and wanted me to stop and let him go climb that mountain. Just then, something caught the corner of my eye, and I forgot all about mountains.
“What kind of car was that?” I asked wife, Randy.
“Car? What car?” was the only answer she gave me.
“Don’t be difficult. Your brother, Gordon, has a new, butter-yellow Buick. Remember? He wrote us enough about it. Well, something just zoomed by us in the other direction, and it was a beautiful yellow. I think it was a Buick.”
“You mean my brother who lives in Minnesota? What’s the connection?”
“Maybe there isn’t any. Weren’t they planning a vacation in California about now? I’ll bet that was them, on their way home. Whattayou think?”
“I think you’re nuts. Why would they come THIS way?” Randy was not biting.
“I think that was them. I’m gonna turn around and see if I can catch them.”
“Now I know you’re nuts. Fat chance of catching them in this speed-wagon, and them with a 10-minute head-start!”
“Well, I’m gonna try.” I turned around and started blasting back up the hill. Perhaps blasting is not the right word. Unless you think of poor old Santa, standing up in his sleigh, with his belly bouncing and his arms flailing, yelling, “All right you mangy squirrels with horns, We’ve gotta GO! NOW! Dad blast it, get with it!”
I was doing a little yelling myself, and I’ll have to give the old car some credit here. It was getting into the spirit of the race as the miles rolled by. I could see the yellow car occasionally, as it topped a rise. But it wasn’t getting any closer. Until the driver must have noticed the breathtaking scenery and slowed down just enough to gawk. That was when I began to believe we could do it. P G or not. I was actually gaining slightly. My speed had topped out in the low 80s, and as the hill got steeper, it was dropping off. But our yellow friend was definitely getting closer as he tried to drive and look. When we were within 100 yards or so, I saw a little blue huff of smoke from his tailpipe. I thought, Oh no, he’s seen us and is not about to let an upstart Chevy outrun him. We’ll never catch him now.
Randy thought she could see three people in the car, and they looked like Gordon, his wife, Marian, and a child. She started pounding on the dashboard, waving her arms and telling me to flash the lights and honk the horn. She said, “I believe it might just BE them.”
Scotty had never seen those people in his life, but he was yelling too. “Hurry up, Daddy, they’re getting away! That’s them, I know it is!”
Our only chance now was if we could attract their attention before they got too far ahead to see us. “I think they SEE us!” I yelled.
“I’m sure they do. Come on car, don’t desert us how!” Randy said. “You know I’ve always had faith in you.” Yeah, right.
The same kind of rioting was going on in the yellow Buick now, and Gordon steered his purring racer off to the side of the road. I parked behind him. The Chevy wasn’t exactly purring, but it wasn’t falling down, either.
Gordon greeted us with, “What on earth are you doing out here in the middle of this desert, riding on a roller skate? It was just pure coincidence that we came this way.” They were on their way back to Minnesota, but they never thought they might see anybody they knew. They didn’t know any of my folks, nor where they lived. But they had decided, somewhere back a few hundred miles, that they would make use of their National Parks map, stay overnight in Carlsbad, and go through the Caverns the next day.
Randy got them all soft drinks out of the trunk, where we had two full coolers. My dad had just butchered a big yearling a few days before, and had loaded one of the coolers with choice steaks and other goodies for us to take to my Aunt Helen, to feed us while we were there. The meat was covered with a blanket, to preserve the ice.
Little Cathy had good eyes. She said, “What’s under the blanket?” Randy told her it was steaks and stuff for Aunt Helen, and I explained she was Scotty’s aunt. Of course, under the circumstances, we needed another hour or so to visit and catch up. Out there in the middle of nowhere, without even a place to sit down, with night coming and all, Randy and I came up with a wild idea, and both of us mentioned it at the same time. She said, “Is there any way we could cook up some of those steaks?”
I was sure we couldn’t, but I said, “Let’s try to think up something.”
The first thing we needed was a fire, for light as much as anything. I got Randy, Marian and the kids picking up sticks to build a fire, cautioning them to be very careful about snakes.
Gordy was half serious when he asked, “I’ve heard people say you can burn cow chips. There’s plenty of them here.”
I told him, “Yeah, they’re fine when you’ve got kettles to cook your food in, but I don’t think I’d want to broil meat a few inches above a cow-chip fire. A lot of dust and sparks fly up from them.” He said, “Oh.”
But there were quite a few scraps of barbed wire lying around, as if somebody had torn down a fence and never built it back. I figured we could maybe twist up a sort of basket from that, swing it between two car bumpers, ten feet or so apart, use our headlights for lights, and get by that way. We’d probably get a year’s supply of zinc out of the galvanized wire, and iron out of the rusty wire, and get just about finished cooking the meat before something went wrong and dropped those luscious steaks into the dirt.
Crazy as it sounds, that’s exactly what we did, all except for the part about dropping any meat in the dirt. Some of the best steaks I ever ate! (Some people, with sensitive stomachs, may have had their doubts, but they never said a word. They ATE.)
After we had eaten every bite of meat (and that was all we had with us), and visiting for an hour or so, we had two sound-asleep kids stowed in our cars, and we put out our fire and went in our separate directions: They headed on for Carlsbad and we for El Paso.
Randy and I got our heads together. She was thinking just what I was: What do we tell Aunt Helen? She knows my dad would never send us to her house and not include some good stuff like you can’t get at any store. And Scott would blab. No chance except for me to go to Tony’s, a market where she had traded for 40 years, and tell him we had to have the best he had. No problem!
The brave little Chevy was never quite the same, but I was pleased with the way she performed on that special occasion.
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