Mystery Of The 1960 Ford

short stories

Doug Alt

 

My First Car

It was the Summer of 1965. I was nearly finished college, and needed temporary “wheels” that could carry me through a few months of selling Wear-Ever cookware in NJ, then 3 months of Student Teaching in Florida during the Winter of 1966, and then, on through the Summer of 1966 – until I could start my first full-time teaching job in September 1966, expecting that at that point I would be able to afford a more “upscale” automobile.

Enter: Jimmy McCormick

A Morganville (NJ) neighbor, Jimmy “Mac” was a mechanic who had a shop at his house were he worked on race cars, including one that my brother Ted raced at New Egypt Speedway.

I would occasionally drop in to watch some of the racing preparations. When I mentioned that I was looking for some cheap transportation, he replied that he might have something that would work.

He had a 1960 Ford “business coupe” (the cheapest, no-frills model that Ford made) that he had acquired for next-to-nothing, due to it needing “some work.”

What kind of “work”?

Well, this car had been parked in the lot of the Ye Cottage Inn restaurant in Keyport the year before, when a hurricane came along and floated it off the parking lot and out into the Raritan Bay a bit, where it proceeded to sink.

When it was pulled out a few days later, Jimmy acquired it as a “junk”,  thinking that some of the mechanical parts might be salvagable for use on other cars he worked on.

Some months after the car arrived in Jimmy’s back yard, almost as a lark,  he decided to see if he could get the car to start up, since there didn’t seem to be any visual damage to the car. After oiling the insides of the pistons, changing all the fluids in the car (transmission and rear axle oils, coolant, etc.) and installing a fresh battery – Bingo! He soon had a working automobile!

With the caveat that, although the car was functioning OK now, but with no way to know if the salt water might have wreaked some kind of hidden damage, he proposed that, if I could come up with $300 bucks, I could be behind the wheel for as long as luck held out!

It was a deal that I could afford at the moment, and, that I couldn’t refuse.

I went on to drive that car 40,000 miles during the ensuing 15 months, with the only abnormal expense being the replacement of the rear axle – and that had a little story of its own…

The Georgia Thrill-Ride

While doing my Student Teaching in Sarasota, Florida during the Winter of 1966, there was an occasion when I had to make a quick trip back home to New Jersey. I was cruising northward on US 301 at about 90 MPH through a remote rural section of northern Georgia, when the salt water of Raritan Bay caught up to me – the salt-rusted gears in the rear axle gave up the ghost with an explosive “Bang”, locking the rear wheels instantly, and sending me on a thrilling slide for a few hundred feet down the highway and then about 30 feet off to the side. Luckily, the road had wide, grassy sides, and I hit nothing during the wild ride.

My heart sank, realizing that I didn’t have enough money for any emergency repairs like this. I had gas, food and toll money, but that was about it.

Luck was with me that day however, as my slide had come to a halt in front of the entrance to an auto wrecking yard, complete with used car parts for sale and a repair shop right on the premises! The owner had happened to see my dramatic entrance to his front yard, and was already walking over to talk to me a bit.

He turned out to be very sympathetic to my happenstance, and, in no time at all, my car was towed around back to the shop, a suitable rear axle was located and pulled out of one of the wrecks in the junkyard, the repair was completed and he sent me on my way about two hours later, asking me only for a ridiculously small sum of money. (I seem to recall that it was on the order of $20, or some such.)

That car went on to serve me well until the Summer of 1966.

It was in July ’66 that the “Mystery Of The 1960 Ford” presented itself.

The Creepy Summer Night

For the first 13 years of my life, my immediate family and I lived with my Grandparents in their house on a small farm located on Rt. 79 in Morganville.

Then, in 1956, my Mom and Dad were able to buy a house of their own on Tennent Rd. where we lived while I was going through High School and College.

During the Winter of 1966, when I was Student Teaching in Florida, my Grandma died.

Upon returning to NJ in April ’66, my Grandpa was living all alone in the  big 4-bedroom, 2-kitchen farm house that I had also formerly called “home”. We soon struck a deal in which I would become a “boarder”, thereby enabling me to gain some independence with my first “pad” of my own and, at the same time, providing some moral support for Grandpa.

On one particularly hot, humid July night, at about 3:00 AM, I was awakened by the sound of a car horn beeping continuously. Upon looking out my bedroom window, it appeared that it was MY car, parked in the driveway in front of the house, that was doing the beeping!

My first thought was that someone I knew had been out carousing until the wee hours and was intent on wrecking my sleep with some immature “fun”. In those days, we left the cars unlocked, with windows open all night, and the culprit could have been leaning through the window of my car and pressing on the horn.

Once I got my eyeglasses on however, I found that no one was visible in, or around, my car. Hmmmm…?

At that point some creepy notions entered my head. I became worried that someone might not have known that my elderly Grandfather had someone younger who had recently moved in with him at the house and that they were using the car horn tactic to lure a feeble old man out of the house to attack him, or rob him, or something worse!

My first impulse was to locate some “protection”. All I could come up with was an old baseball bat, but at least I would be armed with something before stepping out of the house to investigate.

As I moved out of the house stealthily through the kitchen door, using all the best military and cop techniques of checking to each side carefully as a precaution against being “jumped”, I noticed that the headlights on my car had come on, while the horn continued to sound constantly.

By that point, the hairs on the back of my neck had really gone up, and I was frantically scanning all the bushes and shadows around the house to detect some nefareous character, all the while wondering, “what kind of a strategy is this person, or persons, ultimately planning?”

I circled warily around the far side of my car, at a respectable distance, to look for who was hiding there. Nobody to be found. Nothing.

What the…?

By that point, I observed smoke curling out from under the hood of the car, and a minute or two later, some flames became visible!

I had a fire extinguisher mounted on the transmission hump of the car (Mr. “Boyscout” here…) and was able to grab it, pop the hood open, and get the fire extinguished before it became a real blaze.

It gradually became apparent that some of the electrical wiring insulation had deteriorated, and the extremely humid air of the hot July day had condensed onto the wiring as the night air cooled, and the moisture had created a short circuit that sparked its way into a real fire.

The salt water of Raritan Bay had caught up to me and my 1960 Ford once more, and had, this time, caused terminal damage. The motor compartment was beyond repair.

But wait, THIS was NOT the “Mystery of The 1960 Ford”…


The real mystery arises the next day, as I went through the car to clean out any of my personal stuff that might have been in there, before the tow truck arrived to cart it off to a junkyard. To make sure that nothing important of mine might have slipped down behind the rear seat cushion, I decided to have a look under the seat. The bench-type seats in cars like that were just held in place with friction clips, so, with one strong tug, the entire lower part of  the seat popped right out of the clips, enabling me to take the seat bottom completely out of the car.

Then, my eyes really popped!

In the space under where the seat cushion had been, there were a couple hundred hard rolls!

Yes, as in “baked goods”! Now, some people call them “Kaiser rolls”, but in New Jersey we call them “hard rolls”. And these specimens were now really HARD, having apparently been riding along behind me for the entire 15 months that I had owned the car! (I certainly had not put them there myself!)

In fact, as I pondered the situation a bit more, I figured that they must have been in the car when it had been submerged in the salt water of the Raritan Bay. And, since it had been SALT water, there must have been a preservative effect, as the rolls had not mildewed or rotted or smelled bad – they were perfectly preserved, albeit totally stale, almost to the point of seeming petrified.

And now, finally, we get to the real mystery:

WHY were 200 hard rolls hidden under the back seat of that car in the first place?????