Douglas L Perry, The Author blog

December 21, 2008

Another Story from the Midwest

Filed under: Stories — douglaslperry @ 7:23 pm
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In South Dakota you can drive at 14. I know that sounds nuts, but South Dakota is very rural. I am sure you can imagine what would happen if that were the case everywhere, but in my hometown there is a total of 6 stoplights. There’s a simple reason this was put into place, so that farm kids were allowed to drive farm machinery and help out their parents. 

Before you wonder if the South Dakota lawmakers are crazy, there are restrictions. Since I haven’t lived there for a long time, I’m not current, but when I was there the license was restricted so that you could only drive from 7am to 7pm. Not that it stopped us, but that was the rule.

I got my first car, a 1966 Dodge Charger when I was 14. A lot of you muscle car guys would kill to have that car today, and I had it when I was 14. Incredible. I got it for $650, which at the time was a good sum of money, but I had traded in a motorcycle that I had fixed earlier. 

I worked as an electrician for my father’s company and made pretty good money so I was one of the few, other than the rich kids, that could afford a car at that age. 

The car itself was pretty much a piece of junk. The body had a severe case of cancer, also known as rust, from the salt that’s used to keep ice off the road. The engine had seen many miles, but the biggest problem was the brakes. They barely worked. 

They were the old drum style and made an annoying metal on metal screech every time I used them. I knew it wouldn’t be long until they stopped working all together. 

Since I didn’t have that much money I decided to fix them myself. I hadn’t done much car maintenance, but I was mechanically inclined. The system was pretty simple when you got down to it, so I figured I could handle it. 

I installed the new brake shoes, connected all the crazy springs, installed the manual adjuster, and buttoned everything back up. I backed out of the driveway and took off down the street. The brakes didn’t make any noise and actually worked well. I was darn happy with my work. 

After a couple of turns, stops, and 3 more blocks I reached the stop sign at the only four lane major highway intersection near my house. I pressed on the brakes as I neared the stop sign. To my surprise the brake pedal went all the way to the floor and the car didn’t slow in the least. Luckily there was no one coming to my left, but when I looked across the freeway an 18 wheeler was bearing down from the right. 

I stepped on the emergency brake, but it also went all the way to the floor. It was connected to the rear brakes, which seemed to be the problem. 

I tried to judge whether the truck would beat me through the intersection or not, but at 14, I wasn’t a good enough driver to know. I slammed the shifter into low gear hoping that would slow the car a little, and luckily it did. I reached the far side of the intersection as the 18 wheeler filled my entire windshield. I steered hard to the right and missed the rear of the truck by a couple of feet. 

I rolled through the intersection and killed the engine. The car rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the road. 

With the adrenaline pumping like a fire hose, I think I probably sat there for at least five minutes trying to calm myself down. I walked home and got my brother to help me tow the car. 

I took it apart again and after some careful examination, I finally figured out that I hadn’t installed the manual adjuster properly. After a few times using the brakes, it had popped out, letting the brake cylinder go too far, and release all the brake pressure. Since they were all one system, I had no brakes on the front or rear. 

I continue to work on my cars to this day, but now I always get the shop manual so that I make sure the proper procedures are followed. 

When you only have nine lives, you don’t want to squander them by being stupid.

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1 Comment »

  1. Ack, that’s scary! I was not nearly so daring at fourteen. 🙂

    Comment by mousewords — December 22, 2008 @ 6:17 pm


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