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There Go the Beetles

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VW Beetle that has seen better days near Hermann, Mo.

Before there were Honda’s and Toyota’s and  Datsun’s (known today as “Nissan’s”), there were VW Beetles roaming the streets of Springfield, Mo. where I grew up.

Or, at least, where I grew older.  The jury is still out on whether I ever grew up.

I had a family tie to the proliferation of Beetles.  My Dad helped populate the streets of Springfield with VW Beetles and VW busses and VW Karmann Ghias.  He was a salesman for McAllister VW in Springfield in the 60’s when VW beetles were a novelty, sometimes referred to as “pregnant roller skates”.

But they still sold like hotcakes.

Rather than the Beetles arriving at the dealership on an 18-wheel car hauler, salesmen from McAllister VW carpooled from Springfield to New Orleans.  There they would pick up a VW straight off the boat from Germany and drive it back to Springfield where it was cleaned up and sold.  Here is a postcard my Dad sent from New Orleans on such a trip.  It is postmarked June 19, 1962:

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My Dad never got rich selling VW’s, but our family always enjoyed the “Demo” vehicle he was furnished as a perk.  In the summer of 1962,  maybe ’63, we went on the only 2 week vacation our family ever took.  We rode in style in a brand-new VW Bus.  My brother and I each had our own row.  Along with two other families, we visited Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Mt. Rushmore, camping out 12 of 14 nights along the way.

After graduating from high school in 1966 and getting a job while deciding between Vietnam & college, I became the proud owner of a 1964 VW Karmann Ghia.  It already had 35,000 miles on it and cost me $1300.  Though it ended up being a great car, the engine went out the first weekend I owned it.  The dealership stood behind it and replaced it with a rebuilt engine.  It was a fun, stylish car with 2 bucket seats up front and an “emergency” back seat suitable only for small children, contortionists, or luggage.

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A faded Picture of my 1964 VW Karmann Ghia taken in the Smoky Mountains Jan. 3, 1967

Karmann Ghia’s weren’t all that plentiful or well-known, but I loved mine.  The engine – which featured a whopping 1.2 liters, 40-horsepower, & four-cylinders – was in the rear.  Maximum speed was around 80 mph.  To fill the gas tank required raising the hood.  In 1967, somewhere in the deep South, I pulled into a gas station, popped the hood, and waited for the attendant. In those days I could fill up the Ghia’s 10-gallon gas tank and get my windshield washed for  under three bucks.  Standing back to take a puzzled look at my car, the attendant asked “What the heck kind of car is this?  A Studebaker?”

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In the days before email I kept in touch with home via postcards & a 4 cent stamp. This postmark on this card is January 3, 1967

I explored 15 states in the 2 years I owned that Karmann Ghia.   It got 30 mpg and had AM radio.  It had no air conditioning and the worst heater of any car I’ve ever owned.  On an 11-state roadtrip I took in January of 1967, I drove 3000 miles and spent $32 on gas.  I could drive a hundred miles for about a buck.  What more could an 18-year old ask?

I sold mine and bought a Ford Mustang in 1968.  VW stopped making Karmann Ghia’s after 1974.  They were discontinued to make VW Sirocco’s.  Scirocco’s were discontinued in October, 2017.  And now VW has announced that the iconic VW Beetle will be discontinued after the 2019 model year.

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This 1959 VW ad was once recognized by Advertising Age as being the greatest ad of all time

In 1968 I heard the siren song of the Ford Mustang and said goodbye to my Karmann Ghia.  I replaced it with a blue-gray 1965 Ford Mustang with wheel covers modeled after the wheels on the Roman chariots in the movie Ben Hur.

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LOOK AT THOSE WHEELS!

Though the last VW I owned was during the Nixon Administration, I am sorry to see the Beetle go the way of the Studebaker.  The only good thing about that news for me is that it reduces the odds of me hearing the words “SLUG BUG!” followed by a whack on the arm.

Maybe they’ll be back.  There are lot’s of new cars on the road today that have been resurrected from the 1960’s.  Think Challenger and Charger and Camaro.  When asked if there was a chance that VW might one day produce Beetles again, a spokesperson replied “Never say never!”

As someone who grew up with Beetle’s in the 60’s, I’ll paraphrase Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart:  “They may take our Beetles, but they’ll never take our memories!”

A Short History of Hoods & Hoes in the Ozarks

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A Harmless Eastern Hognose Snake along the Katy Trail Near Jefferson City, Mo.

I was on my way to breakfast at Hyvee the other morning when I ran into a friend selling peanuts to benefit the Lion’s Club.  She made a request of me.  It had nothing to do with peanut sales.

“Quit posting pictures of snakes on Facebook!” she said emphatically.

Actually, the picture that raised her ire was posted 4 years ago and then recently reposted as a “memory” at Facebook’s suggestion.

Snakes fall into that category of things that I was scared of or disliked when I was younger, but that I now like or at least appreciate the benefit they provide.  Spinach and asparagus and Donald Trump also fall into that group.

The picture to which she referred was of an Eastern Hognose snake I encountered along the Katy Trail. It looks like a cobra but is actually the Barney Fife of the snake world.  When it feels threatened, it rears its head and does its best impression of a cobra.  If the threat continues, it will fake a seizure, throw up, poop or play dead.  Coincidentally, that’s exactly what I would have done if it had struck at my leg while I was taking its picture.

While the Eastern Hognose (aka “Spreadhead”) snake is harmless, in 1953 my hometown of Springfield, Mo. made snake headlines nationwide when a more lethal snake suddenly started showing up on lawns and in vacant lots.  It started when a resident used a garden hoe to kill a hooded Indian cobra they discovered in their front yard.  Then five more hooded cobras were dispatched with garden hoes the weapon of choice.  One was shot 5 times  but had to be finished off with a hoe.

Nervous residents watched their step.  Snake posse’s were formed to search for more cobras.

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Picture of a “Springfield Snake Posse” that appeared in LIFE magazine on Sept. 28, 1953.  How would you like to be the guys assigned to inspect the drain pipe?

Eleven cobras were eventually killed or captured in Springfield.  One still resides in Springfield.  It is preserved in a jar at the Drury University Science Center.

Suspicion on how cobra’s ended up slithering around Springfield centered on a pet store owned by Reo Mowrer near where the cobra’s began turning up.  Mowrer went to his grave in 1970 denying involvement in the appearance of the cobra’s.

In 1988, another suspect came to public attention.  Springfield resident Carl Barnett confessed to columnist Mike O”Brien of the Springfield News-Leader “I’m the one that done it.”

At age 14, Carl explained, he had bought an exotic fish from Mr. Mowrer’s pet shop.  When the fish died within 24 hours, Carl received an unsatisfactory customer service experience when he complained to Mr. Mowrer about the lack of longevity of the fish he purchased..

Per Carl, Mr. Mowrer responded “That’s tough, kid!  Get lost!”

Since complaining on social media was still decades in the future, Mr. Barnett did the next best thing.  He secretly opened a crate of what he said he thought were harmless snakes he found behind Mr. Mowrer’s pet shop and set them free.  When he realized what he had done after cobras started showing up in the area, he said he lived in fear that someone would find out he was responsible for the next 35 years.  He finally confessed when he was sure the statute of limitations had expired for his foolish act.

I tried unsuccessfully to find out if Mr. Barnett is still alive.  If he was 14 in 1953, he would be around 80 today.  If you know Carl Barnett, let me know.  35 years of living in fear is a high price to pay for a dead fish.

The lessons to be learned from this story?

  1.  Don’t leave your box of venomous hooded Indian cobras where others can get to them.
  2.  JUST REPLACE THE DANG FISH!
  3.  In a skirmish between a dangerous snake and an Ozarker with a hoe, bet on the hoe.
  4. It is not possible to eliminate selfies, fake friend requests or snake pics from Facebook.   You may not like it, but as Reo would advise, “That’s tough. kid!  Get lost!”
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Hooded Indian Cobra – NOT harmless, and not typically found in the Ozarks
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Reo Mowrer as pictured in the September 28, 1953 issue of LIFE magazine

The front & back cover of the September 28, 1953 Life magazine featuring  the article “An Ozark Town Hunts Cobras”.  Life and Luckies had a good run, but are both now pretty much history in the United States.

The Mouse That Will Change Your Life

As I continue my self-declared war on clutter in the areas of our home under my control (the garage, attic and my office), I am re-evaluating the necessity of each item I find.  Today, for example, I sorted through some magazines.

Let’s see . . . hummm.  Here is the July issue of Mechanix Illustrated.  Not July of last year.

July of 1956 – the same month Tom Hanks was born.  I was seven years old.

As I scanned the Table of Contents, I discovered one article that was exceptionally prescient.   It was titled “The Mouse That Will Change Your Life”.  It was written by O . O. Binder.

Mr. Binder wasn’t referring to the warm-blooded variety of  mouse, or even the computer mouse.  The mouse referred to in this article was an acronym for “Minimum Orbital Unmanned Satellite Earth”.

Mr. Binder made the correct prediction that “orbiting around the earth at the fantastic speed of 18,000 mph, the first space satellite will herald the beginning of a new era in 1957”.

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Mr Binder’s prediction was right on the money!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the United States that accomplished it.  On October 4, 1957, the Russians got the attention of the United States and the world  in a big way with the launch of Sputnik 1.  And, just like Mr. Binder predicted, it circled the globe at the fantastic speed of 18,000 mph.

I remember reclining under the stars on a Cub Scout campout and watching Sputnik streak across the night sky.  It could travel from horizon to horizon in only 7 minutes.

The U.S. wasn’t too far behind.  On January 31, 1958, we successfully launched Explorer 1.

Today there are 1,980 active satellites in orbit.

I think we can all agree that there is no way I can justify getting rid of this magazine.  I’ll leave that for my wife or son to do when I kick the bucket.

Simplifying is an ongoing struggle.  I am taking baby steps.

On Saturday afternoon, I dropped off a couple of bags of clothing at Goodwill.

It was my wife’s clothing.

But I drove.

I’d say we made some headway.

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Table of Contents from the July, 1956 issue of Mechanix Illustrated

 

 

 

 

The Simple Life

Baby Boomer’s parents & grandparents who lived through the Great Depression developed a simple lifestyle devoid of waste.  By necessity, they lived by 4 simple rules:

  1. Use it up.
  2. Wear it out.
  3. Make it do, or
  4. Do without.

I once met a guy who lived through the Great Depression who claimed he never threw anything away.  He swore he even had a box that was labeled “STRING TOO SHORT TO USE”.  I’m pretty sure he was exaggerating.

Pretty sure . . .

Since World War II ended and Baby Boomer started arriving, the race has been on to see who could accumulate the most “stuff”.  Now garages and basements are full of stuff and storage units proliferate so people can accumulate MORE stuff.

Which brings to mind the question, “what are we going do with all this stuff?”

I have been making a conscious effort to reduce the amount of stuff in our home.  I have been only moderately successful because, as I am sorting through all my “stuff”, I am invariably delayed reminiscing about the old stuff I uncover.

And then there is the dilemma  of choosing what to keep and what to discard.   My track record in this area is spotty.   It can be summarized in four categories:

  1.  Things I hadn’t used in years but needed the day after I discarded them.
  2. Things I mistakenly kept because I thought they would some day be valuable (think 8-track tapes).
  3. Things I discarded because I thought they weren’t worth keeping (think “baseball cards”)
  4. Things I discarded because I saw no value in retaining them and was correct (think “my wife’s stuff”).

Nevertheless, I remain committed to reducing clutter around our house by following the sage advice of experts who recommend “Do it in small chunks”.

Right now I believe I’ll go make a small chunk of ice cream disappear from our freezer.

some day all this will be yours

That Great, Gettin’ Up Morning

In my humble opinion, the 1989 Civil War movie Glory contains one of the greatest movie scenes ever filmed.  The men of the 54th Regiment, an African-American regiment, are gathered around a campfire contemplating the next days battle.

One of the soldiers is portrayed by Morgan Freeman.  The gist of the speech he gave has stuck with me for the past 30 years.

“If tomorrow is our great gettin’ up mornin’, if tomorrow we have to meet the Judgement Day . . . let our folks know we went down standin’ up!”

Those words were in my mind the night before two neighbors and I planned to scale three tiers of scaffolding and re-attach a 50-lb chandelier to a 21-foot ceiling.  For good measure we planned to replace two 25-year-old ceiling fans and add a new beam at the same time.  Though that was pretty much routine for my neighbors, I was nervous enough for all three of us.

Thus my flashback to the inspirational scene from Glory and my own personal recreation of the campfire prayer meeting the night before our attempt.

If you have five minutes, sit back, watch this video clip, and reflect on the bravery of the men of the 54th Regiment.

My neighbors arrived at 8 am sharp.

 

 

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(l-r) Skilled Craftsmen Tom & Bill with their Apprentice – Me

:IMG_2847Here is proof I helped.  That me in the middle.  Though I am supposed to be holding up the beam so it can be firmly secured by Tom & Bill, I appear to be holding on instead.

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The moment of truth as the rewired chandelier is gently guided back to its original perch.  My wife, Val, is taking the pictures.

When the fixture was firmly in place, it was time for the moment of truth.

We held our breath as the switch was flipped to turn on the 24 twinkling lights.

Nothing happened.

“Turn the dimmer switch up” suggested my wife.

Voila!

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Let There Be Light!

12 hours shy of three weeks since the fixture fell, it was back in place.

Thank God & Tom & Bill!  It turned out to be the chandelier’s great gettin’ up morning (afternoon, actually, by then) instead of mine.

Though the large fixture is now, I guess you could say, “well hung”, the grandkids, who used to sit under the light doing homework or coloring, now make sure now to avoid what turned out to be ground zero when the light came crashing down.

 

 

 

 

Things That Go Bump in the Night

On January 1, 1972, I began keeping a journal.  That was the year I planned to graduate from college,  get married, start a career and finish my six year obligation in the Army National Guard.  On the cover of my journal I inscribed my favorite Scottish prayer.

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Front cover of my Journal from New Years Day, 1972

I accomplished all of my goals for 1972.  AND – I’ve been really fortunate in the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties area since then.

But at 4:30 am on March 5, 2019, I took a hit in the “things that go bump in the night” category.  That was when my wife woke me from a sound sleep with the words “The chandelier fell off the ceiling!”

To which I alertly responded “HUH?”

She had been awakened by a rather large “bump in the night”.  When she went to investigate, she discovered the large chandelier that had been suspended from the 21-foot ceiling in our great room for the past 25 years was now residing on the floor of our great room.

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A Pretty Big Thing That Went Bump in the Night

The chandelier in question had been hanging from the ceiling of our home for approximately 219,000 hours (3,140,000 minutes)  when it succumbed to the law of gravity.   That’s a long time.  Maybe I’m overly demanding, but I still expected better.

It’s not the first time this large lighting fixture has been a source of trouble.  When we bought our home in 1998, the original owners (who had designed and built the home) were in the midst of a divorce.

“My wife spent our entire lighting allowance on that chandelier” lamented the husband.

As often happens in life, our calamity was caused when something little went awry  resulting in a chain reaction with disastrous results.

In this case, an apparently “too small” or “too weak” piece of metal that had been supporting the weight all these years suddenly snapped in half.  That left only a hanging electrical cord with frayed ends and a large void where once had hung a 50 lb chandelier sporting 24 twinkling lights.

Pictured above are the hanger that broke and the frayed cord where our chandelier once hung

Though I don’t recommend this as a way to start your day, looking on the bright side there are two things I’m  thankful for in the aftermath of the chandelier that waited for spring to fall:

  1.  No one was injured (or worse).  Our grandkids often use the coffee table beneath that light to color and do crafts; and
  2. When something like this happens at 4:30 am, you are almost guaranteed that your day has to get better from there.

Now for the challenging part – reattaching the chandelier to the ceiling.   I have put together a crack construction team of three:  two guys who know what they are doing and me.  The combined age of my team is just shy of 210 years.

What could possibly go wrong?

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First Step:  Assemble the scaffold.                                                                   Second Step:  Assemble the courage to climb the scaffold

Though I get little nervous standing on top of a 16-foot-tall platform that sways under my feet, I am a proponent of the philosophy “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain!”

Tomorrow I will put that philosophy to the test.

Worst case scenario, I won’t have to be concerned about “ghosties” any more.

I’ll be one.

If there is a next blog, I intend to title it “That Great Gettin’ Up Morning”.

If no more blogs are forthcoming, contact my wife if you are interested in buying a used chandelier.  CHEAP!

 

Bobby Doug – Meet Bobby Dean

Barely over a week ago I received an email from a man I had never met – Bobby Dean Rennick – inquiring about a distant relative of mine I had never met, six-time Indy 500 driver Jimmy Reece.

In 2012 I wrote a blog about Jimmy Reece and his untimely death at a race at the New Jersey State Fairgrounds on September 28, 1958.  Bobby Dean Rennick was at that race with his girlfriend, Maryanne.  The death of Jimmy Reece, whose name Bobby Dean didn’t even know at the time, had always haunted him.  After 60+ years he began to do some internet research on the long ago death of Jimmy Reece.  That led him to my blog and, subsequently, to me.

I’m glad it did.

As we began to exchange emails, I found out quite a bit about Bobby Dean.  He is 86 years old and a Korean war vet.  He resides in Gastonia, N.C.  Last summer my wife and I unknowingly visited his stomping grounds on a drive from Damascus, Va. to Myrtle Beach, N.C.  He was once near our home when he attended a family reunion in Warrensburg, Mo., 78 miles west of our home on Highway 50.  He likes to write and recently had an article published in a magazine named Southern So & So.  He once visited Renick, Mo., pop. 190, fifty-eight miles north of our home.  This past week in the Jefferson City News Tribune, I read the obituary of a man from Jefferson City who was to be buried in Gastonia, N.C., and the obituary of a man from Renick, Mo.  And Jefferson City’s former Fire Chief was named Bob Rennick.

What are the odds?

I also learned what my name would be if I’d been born a little deeper in the south.  Since my actual name is Robert Douglas, I’d probably be known as Bobby Doug.

Bobby Doug, meet Bobby Dean, a remarkably fit 86-year-old who spends an hour in the pool at the Gastonia Y four times a week.  And who is quite an internet sleuth at any age, but especially for an octogenarian.  Assisted by my genealogical genius wife, Val, Bobby Dean even tracked down Jimmy Reece’s widow and talked to her on the phone.

Bob occasionally has short articles published in the Southern So & So magazine, as in “Southern owned and Southern Operated”.  It is a magazine of people reminiscing about fond memories of long ago.  Unfortunately, in the last issue Bobby Dean’s story “Little People in a Box” was edged out by a story about “The Goat Man” for the cover article.

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Southern So & So magazine 

If you are interested in subscribing (like I did), send a check for $22 for 6 issues to:

Southern So & So, Richard Burns, Editor                                                                                           1739 University Ave – #177                                                                                                                   Oxford, MS. 38655

Tell them Bobby Dean sent you!

One last note.  In my last blog, I invited Maryanne, Bobby Dean’s date at the New Jersey State Fair race where Jimmy Reece died, to contact me if by some chance she read the blog.  A picture of her taken in 1958 standing in front of a 1958 Chevrolet convertible and beside a 1957 Ford convertible was in the blog.

I have some sad news.  According to her obituary, (which Bobby Dean tracked down this week) she passed away on January 22, 2016, in Newark, DE.  And I have some more news.  Her name wasn’t Maryanne.  It was Betty Anne (Kiesel) Cox.  She left behind her husband of 56 years, Robert.

Another Bobby!

R.I.P., Betty Anne.

Bobby Dean – you may have found out a bunch of stuff on Jimmy Reece on the internet, but maybe, just maybe, Betty Anne has now gotten to meet him

Betty Anne (aka Maryanne) Kiesel Cox

 

 

It Certainly Doesn’t Look Safer – But It Is!

On February 17, 2019, I flipped on the TV to see the end of the Daytona 500.  The race  was down to the final 10 laps.  The contenders were tightly bunched together at near full speed when driver Paul Menard nudged the right rear bumper of Matt DeBenedetto, the driver just ahead of him.  Suddenly I was watching the worst racing accident I had ever witnessed.  After the metal stopped grinding, the sparks stopped flying and the wheels stopped spinning, 21 of the 40 cars in the race were unable to continue.

” . . . I feel bad about that” said Menard, who started the chaos by bumping DeBenedetto’s bumper.

Amazingly, though  21 cars were so badly damaged they could not continue the race, no one was seriously injured.

Compare that to the 1955 Indy 500.  Of the 33 drivers that started that race, 17 would eventually die in racing accidents.

One of them was my granddad’s cousin, Jimmy Reece.  He raced in six Indy 500’s in the 1950’s, finishing in the Top 10 three times.  In 1958, Jimmy survived a crash that killed Indy 500 race favorite Pat O’Connor.   But on September 28, 1958, Jimmy’s luck ran out.  He was battling for the lead on the last lap of the 1958 Champ Car race at Trenton Speedway at the New Jersey State Fairgrounds when his car suddenly veered out of control and went airborne.  He was thrown from the car and died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.  I had just turned 10 years old when he died and I never had the opportunity to meet him.

But last Monday – out of the blue – I got an email and a call from a stranger who was a spectator in the crowd that witnessed the last race of Jimmy Reece on September 28, 1958.

The eyewitness to the six decade old fatal accident of Jimmy Reece is Bob Rennick of Gastonia, N.C.  Bob is 86 years old and tracked me down based on a blog I wrote almost 7 years ago about Jimmy Reece that is still a couple of pages deep on Google.

Pretty nice job of sleuthing, Bob!  With Bob’s permission, here is his story of the events that led him to the Trenton Speedway on September 28, 1958, the night Jimmy Reece died:

In 1958 when I lived on Tausig street in Bladensburg, Md, I made a late summer trip to Wildwood, NJ, a popular beach destination.  Accompanying me were a couple of guys I was living with and two or three others.  We went as a group and rented a place near the shore.  Next door was a house being rented by a group of girls.  Being neighborly, we introduced ourselves to the girls.  I happened to meet and be struck by a cute girl by the name of Maryanne with whom I spent a lot of time.  She lived in Marcus Hook, PA.  Later on I went up there to spend weekends with her a few times.

On one of those trips we went to the New Jersey state fair in Trenton.  It was the last day of the fair and there was an open wheel car race which we attended.  I don’t think they were called Indy cars in those days.  It was a hundred miler on a track of a mile or maybe less.  We watched from one of those old wooden grandstands and had fun.

On the last lap of the race one of the cars went out of control and shot up the track, busted through a short fence, and then flew through the air like a rocket.  There was no doubt in my mind the driver was not going to survive the landing.  I said to Maryanne “let’s get out of here”.  I felt sick to my stomach and didn’t want to stay for any public address announcements or anything else.

Over the years I thought about that incident and wondered what the driver’s name was and did he really die in the crash?  

Shortly after I got my first computer I tried to find some information about the race through Google but never had any luck.  I tried again recently and must have used the right key words because this time I found an article from the Reading Pa. Eagle newspaper that described the incident exactly as I remembered.  The driver’s name was Jimmy Reece from Oklahoma.  He had raced in the Indy 500 six times but had never won it.  The United States Air Force had furloughed him so he could drive in the 1952 Indy 500 where he finished 7th.

This event has been in and out of my mind for the past 60 years.  As I said, I was sure the driver was killed.  I’m sorry I never knew his name and that it took so long for me to find out his name and find out for certain what happened.

It didn’t work out between Maryanne and I, and I never thought about or wondered about her nearly as much as I did that race car driver.

My first cousin (twice removed) Jimmy Reece and the Indy Car that carried him to the hereafter

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A Picture of Bob’s old girlfriend Maryanne from 1958.  She is beautiful, but at my age that 1958 Chevrolet in the background is what caught my eye first.

 I am grateful to Bob Rennick for tracking me down and sharing his story.  I hope to one day meet him and thank him in person.  As a further testimony to Bob’s sleuthing ability, he and my wife managed to track down Jimmy Reece’s widow.  Like me, she was very interested in speaking to an eyewitness of the accident that claimed Jimmy’s life.  Sadly, both children of her marriage with Jimmy are deceased.

And finally, Maryanne from Marcus Hook,  PA – if you are reading this please contact me.  I’d like to feature you in my next blog.

(Hey, stranger things have happened!)