Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Even with Wireman’s words, it was a sad and defeated caravan that headed back up I-67 to Bradford – and really, they had not expected it any other way. It had been a long shot, and not unexpectedly it had failed.
Ray led the way, towing the travel trailer behind his truck, followed by Ted towing the enclosed trailer with the race car, and Ginger brought up the rear in her Gremlin. Sometime, she thought, she needed to have a good, serious discussion with Ray about his decision to not take the job with Wireman. That seemed to indicate a lot of things to her, maybe too many things, and she felt like she needed to be sure she wasn’t reading something into the decision that really wasn’t there.
Packing up hadn’t gone as carefully as it could have, but for the most part they had been beyond caring; they just wanted to get out of the place, in spite of the good, if unexpected, final outcome for Ted. One of the things they missed was dinner, but apparently nobody felt much like stopping to eat. It gets dark late in May in that part of the world, but the sun had long set by the time Ray led the way into the driveway of his parents’ house. They pulled around the side of the shop, got out, and just let things sit until they could deal with it another day.
Mel and Arlene heard their arrival, of course, and came out of the house to greet them. “We heard it on the radio,” Mel announced. “Sorry about that, Ted. We know you gave it your best shot.”
“Well, I figured that would happen,” Ted shrugged. “Really, I wasn’t expecting much different. But there is a bright side, believe it or not.”
“Have you eaten?” Arlene asked, getting down to basics. “You must have hustled to get loaded and be back here this soon.”
“No,” Ray admitted. “I didn’t feel much like eating, and I guess nobody else did, either. I don’t know if anyone else is interested, but I was giving some thought to heading down to the Chicago for something.”
“We could do that quicker than if I threw something together here,” Arlene admitted. “Let’s just take my car.”
A few minutes later they were sitting around one of the big tables at the familiar Chicago Inn. “So,” Mel said finally, “Ted, you said there was a bright side. What happened?”
Ted and Ray briefly told the story of Wireman’s offers to both of them. “You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather,” Ted admitted. “One minute I’m feeling like a total failure, and the next minute I’ve got a shot at a dream ride. If this works out, every penny I spent will have been worth it.”
“Well, it’s up to you whether it works out or not,” Mel told him. “So what’s the plan? When are you going back down?”
“A couple days,” Ted told him. “I think I need a breather from the place, and a chance to get things back into perspective. I really should be back for carburetion day, not that there will be any need for my being there, just to get to know Wireman’s people a little bit and try to be of any help I can. Probably not much, but I should be there.”
“You’re going to leave the car here, then?” Mel asked.
“Well, yeah,” Ted grinned. “In fact, I’m thinking I’d leave it here a little more permanently than you think. How’d you like to have the last Offenhauser-powered car to attempt to qualify for the Indy 500 for your race car museum?”
“Ted?” The surprise was evident on Mel’s face.
“I don’t know what else I’d do with it,” Ted grinned, “but if you’re going to build that museum, it might be a good addition.”
“I’ve put that off for years,” Mel said. “It might be a while longer before it gets built, but if you want to leave it with me, I’m not going to turn you down.”
“I had an idea about that on the way back,” Ray mused. “You remember when we were testing it here, and you were thinking that if we tweaked on it just a little bit there was a good chance you could get the track record down into the twelves?”
“Yeah, you said we’d better not mess with it, so we wouldn’t have to unmess with it down there,” Ted grinned. “Yeah, that might make a pretty good way for it to go out.”
“You’re saying at intermission, as a special draw?” Mel asked, a little amazed at the direction the discussion had taken.
“Yeah, something like that,” Ray admitted. “Probably do a test run in the afternoon practice, tweak on it a little bit, crank the down force up a bit. I think there’s a set of gears that are a slightly higher ratio than the ones we used, that’d help the time a little bit, too.”
“Yeah, we might draw some admissions, at that,” Mel nodded. “I’m thinking maybe not next Saturday, what with the race on Sunday, and no time to promote it. Maybe a week from Saturday.”
“Sounds like it would work for me,” Ted agreed. “I can’t think of anything I’d be doing then, unless Wireman comes up with something. But Mel, that’s not all the good news.”
“Yeah,” he grinned, “but Ginger should be the one to tell you.”
“Ginger, tell me what?” Mel smiled.
“Earlier today I was talking with a guy whose dad has a 255 Offy,” she replied with no little excitement. “He thinks his dad would sell it, maybe at a good price.”
“Good God, I hope you got his phone number,” Mel said, eyeing the phone in the lobby.
“I did, both the guy I talked to and his dad,” Ginger told him. “Mel, even though there’s a time difference between here and Oklahoma, it’s really a little late to be calling.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Mel agreed, visibly tempering his enthusiasm. “Boy, if that works out, it really could change things. I’m going to have to push a pencil around a bit on that the next few days. Another week and school will be out for the summer, and things might come along a little differently than I figured.”
“You mean about the museum?” Ray asked.
“Well, yeah,” Mel said. “Look, Ray, maybe this isn’t the time to talk about it but the cat has sort of stuck his head out of the bag anyway. I’m surprised you didn’t take Wireman’s offer.”
“I thought about it real fast,” Ray admitted. “I mean, I could get it back, I suppose, but if I took it I’d just be another line mechanic, not even a car chief. That’s just a little bit too big of a step down from being a chief mechanic on an Indy car, even a long shot like we had. Don’t get me wrong, I realize where he’s coming from, but when I balance it with things that could happen if I stay here, well, staying here edged things out.” He glanced at Ginger and smiled, which told her a lot, indeed.
“Good,” Mel said. “Now that we’ve got that settled, I’ve got an idea I’ve been playing around with, and maybe this is a good time to at least bounce the rough edges of it off on you.”
“Something involving me, I take it.”
“Very much so. Look, think for a second where I’m coming from on this. I’ve got a year and a week until I retire. You know I’m starting to get pretty darn sick of classrooms. I used to like being an auto shop teacher, but when they moved the auto shop classes down to the county vocational center and I became a history and government teacher, well, I’ve mostly been putting in my time. I’ll have my thirty in next year, and that gives me full retirement, so I figure that I might as well get out of there while the getting is good.”
“None of that is any surprise,” Ray nodded. “I’ve been hearing that for years.”
“Well, yeah,” Mel said, “but there’s a twist to it now. You know I’ve enjoyed working in the shop on car projects over the years more than I have teaching. The problem is that the shop is crowded, it’s been a pain in the butt to get along without a lift, it costs a ton to heat it in the winter, and I’m sure you can add to the list.”
“No question about that,” Ray nodded. “You’ve got all that stuff, including a ton of machine tools there’s no room for. I’m guessing you’re saying that you want a new shop.”
“Got it the first time,” Mel smiled. “The hell of it is, it’s a hard thing to justify by itself, especially if I’m just using it for the hell of it. If I’m going to put that kind of money into a dream building, I’ve got to see some money coming out of it. What I’ve been kicking around is building a big, modern steel building over around the entrance road to the little track, so we get all the activity out of the front yard. You and I could go partners in the deal; we could keep it separate from the track, even make the property separate from the farm. Then, what we do is start Austin Auto Service or Speedway Auto Service or whatever we want to call it. We won’t do oil changes and tire rotation and that kind of service-station stuff. We’ll keep it to restorations, major projects, and a speed shop, building cars and engines when people want them. We’ll still have the track we have to run, but I’m figuring on letting you do more of the management. That way I can back out of it a little. In the winter, I can concentrate on my hobby restorations, and back you up in the shop, especially in the summer when you have to concentrate on the track.”
“Yeah,” Ray nodded. “That might work.”
“I’m sure it will work,” Mel told him. “Hell, I turn down business every day because I just don’t have the time or the shop space to deal with it. It’s a little hard to say how things will go, but I’ll tell you that we could use a good body man almost immediately, especially one who knows painting and restorations. People are getting more interested in classic cars, and sometimes the people who want to collect them aren’t all that much on restoring them.”
“It sounds like it has a lot of potential,” Ray agreed. “In fact, it sounds so good it surprises me that you haven’t gone ahead with it already.”
“I haven’t for a couple reasons,” Mel said. “The first being that I haven’t been close enough to retirement. Even if we agreed tonight to get going on the building, it could be next fall before it gets built. Even if it was ready to go that quickly it would take a while to get things started, but the timing is right to get going on it now. The second part of the problem was that I wasn’t sure you were willing to stay here, because I can’t justify the cost of the building just for myself. I’m not sure I want to work that hard while I’m retired.”
“You’re right, that does make things look a little different,” Ray admitted. “So how are you planning on paying for this building?”
“Go to the bank, naturally,” Mel said. “It’s going to take a little juggling of money to make everything work out, but the house and the track are paid for and have been for a few years, so it’s a little simpler. It’s just that having Ted give me his Indy car and now finding out that there may be an engine for the Old Soldier after all is changing things again. It puts the museum a little higher up on the priority list.”
“It’s like this,” Arlene explained. “Right at the moment we have one relatively small project we’re already committed to, the new concession stand at the little track. That comes out of track profits, there’s never been any question about that. But after tonight, we have three projects we have to consider, that is, the shop, the museum, and the back pit concession stand and restroom. In my mind, there’s no question that the shop will pay for itself, so I don’t have any problem justifying it to the bank. Realistically, the museum and the back pit concession stands aren’t going to be big revenue producers. I really have a hard time justifying the back pit concession stand from a revenue standpoint, but there’s no question it’s badly needed from a customer service standpoint. The museum will draw a little traffic, but really not enough to pay for itself. I’m thinking we just have it open to people who come in the gate of the big track, as part of the admission. I don’t think we’d get enough revenue out of the museum to hire someone to sell the extra tickets, at least most of the time when the big track is open.”
“Then don’t bother,” Ginger suggested. “Use the museum as an excuse to raise the front gate price, to maybe five-fifty, or even six bucks. A buck isn’t going to cut the traffic down much, especially since you can advertise the museum as part of the gate price. That would also help cover the cost of the back pit improvements.”
“Yeah, you might be right,” Arlene said after thinking about it for a moment. “Look, we can’t decide anything tonight beyond what’s already been settled on. We need to get first things first, and the first thing I can think of is to figure out what we’re going to want in the museum, the back pit building, and the shop. At the moment they’re all pipe dreams. Once we have an idea what we want, we can call someone in to give us some estimates. Once we know how much it’s going to cost, then we can figure out how we’re going to pay for it.”
“Maybe it would be worthwhile to do all three buildings at once,” Mel suggested. “I mean, once we have the contractors on site, and all.”
“We can’t know that now,” Arlene shook her head, “but it might be something to consider. We’ll just have to take it one step at a time.”
Ginger was exhausted after the long day she’d had, but there was no way she was going to sleep alone this night. Though she and Ray had only spent a few nights together, and mostly just sleeping at that, she felt like that was where she really was supposed to be. Ray didn’t raise any question about it, either, other than to say, “I think we both know what we’d like to be doing, but if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve decided to hold off, I think I’d be too damn tired to do anything about it, anyway.”
“Yeah, me too,” she agreed. “Just hold me, Ray.”
They were silent for a while – too tired to sleep, and of course, both their minds were working. “Ray,” she whispered finally, “I’m glad you decided not to take that job with Wireman.”
“I think I’m glad, too,” he whispered back. “God, that was tempting, but I took a look at you and knew it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. That’s a hell of a life, Ginger. I did enough of it in NASCAR to know it. Maybe we could have worked things out anyway, but the chances of it were a hell of a lot less.”
“You don’t mind coming back here, then?”
“Not really,” he said. “I may take T.J. up on his offer to work down there for him in May, but that wouldn’t be a big deal. It’d just keep my foot in the door, and give me an occasional taste of the big time.” He let out a sigh, and was silent for a moment. Ginger wondered if perhaps he had fallen asleep before he continued, “I mean, a lot went through my mind. On the one hand, there was the chance to do what I always thought I wanted to do. On the other hand there was the chance to build a regular life. I wasn’t expecting that, and I hope I made the right decision.”
“I think you did, Ray,” she smiled. “I think you did.”
After the excitement of Sunday, it was a little hard to go back to work on Monday. By now most of Ginger’s regular chores had become routine. She had some flexibility in when she did what she had to do, so that inside chores could be kept for bad weather, but with several nice days forecast she decided to mix up some of the inside and outside chores. Either kind seemed prosaic after the excitement of bump day at the Brickyard.
It was late in the afternoon when Ginger drove the pickup down to the house for dinner. As she parked the truck in the yard, she noticed that Ray and Ted were busy on the Modified in the shop. Since it was still a little early, she decided to see what they’d been up to.
She heard Mel on the phone back in the office, but couldn’t quite make out what he was saying. It turned out that Ray had finished the engine, and the two of them had hung it in the chassis. Though still in primer, the Mod was beginning to look like a race car, and she got the impression that the two had been giving some consideration to taking it up to the big track for some testing after dinner. “So I take it you’ve found something to do?” she teased Ray.
“Oh, yeah,” he said; the sound was muffled since he was under the jacked up car, working on something down there. “I actually did work on some of the track vehicles this morning, sharpened the blades on the mowers, and did some other routine maintenance, but I thought maybe I could get this thing wrapped up and out of the shop just to give me a little more room.”
“You don’t want to do that,” she teased. “If you finish that, then your dad will be rolling the F-100 back in here.”
“Not right away,” she heard Mel say from behind her. “With any kind of luck the next car in here is going to be the Old Soldier.”
“I take it you got hold of that guy,” Ray piped up from under the Mod. “Did you make a deal?”
“Yeah, and for a hell of a lot less than I ever dreamed,” Mel shook his head. “Ginger, I really have to thank you for using your head when you got to talking to that guy down at Indy. You have no idea how long I’ve been looking for a mill for that thing. It’s got to be about eight years now.”
“Is it going to be any good?” Ted asked.
“Don’t know,” Mel shrugged. “Max, the guy who has it, doesn’t know either. He says it was running when he yanked it out of that sprinter close to fifteen years ago. It’s just been sitting in the shop under a tarp since. He says he thinks it’s still in good shape, but there’s no way of telling.”
“Odds are it’s going to take a rebuild if it’s going to run at all,” Ray’s voice came from under the car.
“Well, you’re probably right,” Mel said. “When we get it up here we can give it a good looking over. If it’s beyond hope, we can still buff it up some and put it in the Old Soldier so it at least has a mill in it. On the other hand, if it looks like it can be revived, we might as well take the time to do it even if it takes all winter.”
“Hope it doesn’t take that long,” Ray commented. “We’re going to have a hell of a lot else to do. Whatever happens, parts are really going to be an issue.”
“Maybe not,” Mel told him. “Max says he’s got quite an inventory of spare stuff, some of it still in the original boxes. Rings, bearings, and other rebuild parts.”
“Shit, that puts a different spin on things,” Ray agreed. “Worth taking a look at, anyway. When are you heading down to get it?”
“Next week, I guess,” Mel shook his head. “I can’t go this week, what with school wrapping up, and Max isn’t going to be around anyway. He’s taking off for a long weekend, racing and some family stuff. The hell of it is I can’t really go next week, either. I’ve got some closeout stuff to do over at the school, and some other things I can’t get out off.” He stopped for a moment looking thoughtful, then went on, “Maybe you and Ginger might like to go down and get it. What with everything, it probably would take at least three days.”
“Don’t see any reason why not,” Ray replied. “Ginger, what do you think?”
Ginger thought a hell of a lot of the idea, especially since their self-imposed waiting period would be expiring by the weekend. That meant at least two motel nights – it could not be better! “It probably would be all right if we can juggle things around right,” she said trying to cover up her excitement. “Let’s face it, we’re going to be gone Sunday again. I take it this Max guy is going to be gone for the holiday on Monday, so we’re probably looking at Tuesday after work before we could see him.”
“Yeah, probably,” Mel nodded.
“Well, that’d give us maybe half a day Monday so Ray can do anything that really needs to get done and I could close the books for the weekend,” she said. “We could get out of here around midday, stop short somewhere, and make it down there to be there after work on Tuesday. We ought to be able to make it back Wednesday night, maybe along Thursday morning sometime if it gets late. It’d mean a lot of work to get ready for Saturday but we could do it.”
“Yeah,” Ray’s voice came from under the Modified. “That sounds like it might work. It’s a hell of a long haul down there, but with the two of us to drive it might not be all that bad.” As Ginger watched, he shoved several tools out onto the concrete, then rolled the creeper out from under the car. He turned to Ginger, gave her a wink that wouldn’t be seen by anyone else, and asked, “You don’t mind, do you Ginger? I could go by myself if I had to.”
“No, I don’t mind,” she grinned back, understanding that he had the same thoughts as she had. “A good road trip could be a lot of fun.”