When I was about 12, we had a 1957 Plymouth with tail-fins that made the old sedan look like some kind of futuristic boat. It was black with a shiny chrome strip that ran from headlight to tail fin. The chrome grill made the old Plymouth look like it was smiling when you looked at it from the front.
It had a motor as big as Texas and when you gave her the gas out on the highway, that baby would make the tires sing like a boy’s choir.
One Friday in mid January, it was warmer in the refrigerator than it was outside. Dad was on his way home from work when a dog ran out in front of him. He swerved to dodge the critter, got off the edge of the road, and hit a rock as big as a football.
He kept control, but he ruined a tire, and broke the torsion bar on the right front of the car. A torsion bar is part of the suspension, and even after dad changed the tire, the right front of the car drooped down like a dog that had been scolded.
That was on Friday afternoon and he managed to get the car home somehow but it had to be fixed before Monday morning because it was the only car we had and he depended it to get to work.
We borrowed Uncle Pete’s truck early the next morning and made the rounds at local junk yards. We found the part at Northcutt’s in West Jefferson and we were home before lunch.
The wind was out of the north and tiny flecks of ice ticked on the windshield.
Daddy put on his coveralls and started collecting the tools. He didn’t ask, but my brother Neil and I bundled up in some old clothes and went out to help him work on the old Plymouth.
Getting the old part off was easy, but putting the new one on was a bear. You had to jack the car up to exactly the right spot, and twist the hardened steel torsion bar to make it fit back into the assembly. Dad said some unkind words about the folks that designed that piece of engineering.
The first couple times we tried and failed, he simply blew like an old bull. The third time with no success, I learned a few words I’d never heard before. The longer we were out there, the colder it seemed to get. My fingers felt like Popsicles. About the fifth time we failed, he was cussing so fast it sounded like he was speaking in tongues.
Both Neil and I thought it was funny, but we didn’t dare laugh so daddy could hear us.
Then, good fortune smiled on us. The sun peeked from behind the clouds and the bar snapped into the assembly. A few minutes later, the old Plymouth was as good a new.
We hustled inside and gathered around the Stokermatic heater to thaw our hands and feet.
Soon after that, daddy traded the old Plymouth for a 1957 Buick Roadmaster. That baby guzzled gas, but it ran like a champ and never broke down and that made daddy a happy man.