|The ’32 flathead with the
McCullogh blower in Bob’s coupe.
On that Sunday in May, 1952, my A-V8 was apart. My father was sick and I had skipped many days of school to work in his gas station in Oswego. I was driving a dull gray 1936 Buick sedan; I put a buck’s worth of gas in the tank and headed toward Scappoose, 30 miles distant. I drove, and fantasized about building a four carb intake for the Buick, and a header system; those changes would make it go. Or removing the entire body and running it as a chassis, such as Dick Kraft’s “Thing” which I’d seen in magazines.
I got to Scappoose and found the airport. There were only a few cars in sight. I knew the gate man and he let me in free. I parked in the spectator area and walked across the air strip to the pits, where one car was rapping its pipes. By noon there were perhaps 30 cars in the pits, and a short row of spectators’ cars on the other side of the track. Norm Cahill, one of the organizers, told me years later that the lawyer they met with to fill out the incorporation papers scoffed at the notion that anyone would pay a quarter to watch an old Ford go the quarter mile. And now, Norm said, look what drag racing has become.
I talked with several Road Angels and checked out their cars. Jim Beauvais had a ’40 Ford coupe with a newly-rebuilt 276 CID flathead. Danny Hanna had a primered ’36 roadster with a hopped-up flathead; he drove it hard, not worrying about breaking an axle so far from home. Thom Charters had a nearly-new Chev convertible, with lots of custom body work but a stock engine. Norm Cahill had his primered ’40 Merc convertible with a hopped-up and fully chromed flathead, and a set of wild duals using Rayjax mufflers.
There were other cars, street roadsters and chair cars. Most cars went between 80 and 90 mph, so that an early roadster and a new Olds 88 were turning the same speeds; no one got near the magic 100 mph mark. But it was exciting to see various cars peel out, wind up, hit second gear, the rear dropping and the nose up, heading toward the clocks. This was what guys had been doing on 82nd Ave., the long road between Oswego and Oregon City, and on the unfinished Banfield Freeway. The big difference was if you were street racing you could get a hefty fine or even lose your license; on the airstrip it was legal. And that was a big difference.
Another Road Angel, Bob Simonis, had a ’32 Ford 3-window in the pits and a bunch of club members were huddled around the engine. The coupe had been stripped and channeled; it still had the ’32 V-8 mill, a 21 stud flathead, apparently stock except for the McCullough supercharger, which was really impressive. The engine would start, run, then backfire and flutter to a stop. Club members offered their opinions. One thought it was that old ignition, another thought there was a vacuum line flaw, another suggested new spark plugs. Finally the consensus was that it was starved for gas. Bob was trying to figure out what to do so he could at least get back to Portland. I mentioned that my ’36 Buick had a bigger carb, a Stromberg EE, and we could take that off and bolt it on because it had the same 3-bolt pattern. Bob looked doubtful, and then another club member offered to tow the coupe back to Portland at the end of a rope, and Bob accepted.
Much later I thought what if I had switched carbs and stripped a fitting or something. I was out in the country, miles from home, alone, and I had no money. I was glad Bob hadn’t taken me up on my offer. But I did what I could; I had my camera and I took a photo of the engine.