Last week I told you about a day when Lolly and I were quietly driving along one of the main streets of Columbus, Ohio, on our way back to the base, when a four-door sedan passed us in an intersection doing 45 to 50 miles an hour as people hung out its windows waving their arms and screaming, “LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT! LOOK OUT!”
Just moments later that car, now ahead of all the other traffic, ran straight through a red light, collided with a car in the intersection, mowed down a line of pedestrians crossing the road, and crashed through the diagonal doors of a corner drugstore.
We won’t go into the list of dead and injured, or the physical damage to cars and property. Why? The report Lolly and I read the next day in the paper was too horrible to repeat; and since this happened 54 years ago, I luckily don’t remember most of the details.
However, as far as you and I are concerned, what’s important about that accident is that it need never have happened. The same thing that happened to that car, something that set its engine running at its highest possible speed, had happened to me a few years earlier when I didn’t know much about cars; and a few seconds of ordinary common sense solved the problem.
I was driving on Sheppard AFB, Texas in 1957. I didn’t know much about cars back then because high school kids back in the 1940s didn’t give much thought to getting a driver’s license. Why bother? Who had a car? Not many people.
You see, most people couldn’t afford a car during The Depression, and when World War II came along the car manufacturers quit making civilian vehicles. They made nothing except military stuff from 1942 through 1945. In fact, out of all the male kids I knew in my 197-student high school graduating class in 1949, only one had a driver’s license.
With no car to drive if I got a license, I never bothered to get a license until 1954 when I was 22 years old; and that was after I had served my entire first hitch in the Air Force. So in 1957, with just three years behind the wheel, I didn’t have a clue what had happened when I stopped my beat up old 1950 Plymouth at a stop sign, turned right, and started to accelerate up a low hill.
Without warning, the car suddenly leapt forward as the engine roared and shot up from its low speed to all the way up to as fast as it could go. All I knew at that moment was (a) I was dead scared, and (b) I wanted to slow the car down. So I did what anyone would do. I stomped on the brake – hard!
After the brakes stopped the car, I again did the same thing anyone would have done. I put the car in neutral, steered it onto the soft shoulder, stopped, reached down, turned the key off, set the hand brake, got out, and looked under the hood.
It took just seconds to see that a thin metal rod coming up from the gas pedal was hanging loose because a small coil spring had broken. So I once again did what anyone else would have done. I twisted the first coil of the broken spring 90 degrees to make a new hook and reattached it.
Later, I had a new spring installed.
Just ordinary common sense, right?