A FINANCIAL WINDFALL FOR THE WHITE FAMILY
Late in that spring of 1949, my father’s friend John Stewart had come to the house several weekends and we’d worked together to finish the Jeep engine. Occasionally Mr. Jewell had joined us. It had again become an exciting project for me. Mr. Stewart had taken the time to ascertain the correct factory paint colors for the engine and accessory pieces. As I recall, we may have taken an occasional liberty with one or two of the external items. (I’m pretty sure Jeeps didn’t have high gloss red generators & starters!!)
We’d built a heavy wooden skid for the engine, and when it was finished it looked absolutely splendid in a pale metallic green with glossy black and red external pieces.
I came home each day and would sneak a glance at it.
Then, Mr. Stewart put an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper and almost immediately the Jeep engine sold for $85.00 which was a staggering amount of additional income for the White family.
ENTERING THE AMERICAN WORKFORCE
In that summer of 1949, my Mother had arranged for me to work my entire summer away at the meager age of 11! I was to be employed at a nearby upscale summer day camp. I was to press my shoulder to the grindstone each weekday so that my wretched little sister could attend the camp, at no charge! At the end of the camp season, after weeks and weeks of treacherous labor, I was to receive an additional sum of $30.00 over and above Mary’s camp tuition! That’s right, $30!
That transition to becoming a paid employee at age 11 was pretty severe. I wasn’t toting much of an employment dossier. Mowing lawns and shoveling snow in the neighborhood were my paid employment highlights.
To compound matters, I would be working among campers who were not only my own age, but both younger, and older. Finally, I was not only shy, but I was certain anyone who came near me could just tell: “his father is dead”. It was going to take a while to get that out of my head.
The camp director’s name was Thornton, and I soon came to understand why he was known as “Snortin’ Thornton” among the camp staff. I would be the youngest worker in the camp. Among my duties, I might be cleaning up a camp project room when the next class would arrive. At first no one paid much attention to me, but then as the season progressed I was turning up everywhere around the camp grounds doing work. After a while it seemed to annoy some of the campers.
I distinctly remember cleaning up the project room one morning as a class of kids my age came in. A camper said to another:
“Who’s that kid, he’s everywhere . . .”
“He works here. You’ve seen him, dummy; he brings the milk up the hill in the wheelbarrow every day at lunch.” said the other one. “Oh, that’s the kid . . .”
Delivering those milk cartons at the lunch hour for the entire camp each day was a nerve wracking deal. Imagine a substantial grassy hillside surrounded by beautiful rolling lawns, tennis courts, two swimming pools, etc. The hill rose sharply, finishing with a steep rocky path rising straight up to a gazebo at the summit. I had to load and wrestle an old wooden sided wheelbarrow filled with cases of half pint bottles of milk across the lawn, up the hill and finally up the step rocky path to the gazebo.
All the campers were sprawled all over the hill eating their lunches and they would allow me just enough space to attempt a full press run with my two-ton load to the top. Stopping, stumbling, or doing anything to show that I was killing myself was totally out of the question.
Every day I was terrified that either I wouldn’t make it or the damn wheelbarrow would tip over dumping all the milk bottles. Upon reaching the summit it was then my responsibility to make sure that no one had more than one bottle of milk, which generally wasn’t much of an issue.
Each day, I would sit up there in the gazebo and eat my same two tomato and lettuce sandwiches on white bread, that mom made and drink my allotted pint of milk. Rarely did any of the campers speak to me. Following lunch I would clean up the entire hillside where the campers always left remnants of their lunches.
I might add, I don’t recall seeing any of that $30 at the end of the camp season, either!
MORANO BROTHERS GARAGE
In spite of my work schedule at the camp, I was still able to “hack around” a bit throughout the summer, riding my bicycle further and further from home.
In the process I discovered the Morano Brothers garage in Erdenheim, just five miles from home. What caught my eye as I rode past on my bicycle, was the sight of an Offy powered midget racing car parked just inside the front door. I pulled up short, and edged up to the doorway.
Morano Brothers Garage was the quintessential American automobile repair garage, run by the two Morano brothers; blustery Joe, and his quiet brother, Mike. Joe ran the front of the garage with a lot of supercharged energy, too much noise, and bad cigars. Joe had the ability to show a customer that doing it “Joe’s way” was the only way. Mike, his older brother, was tall, gray haired, quiet, and an enormously accomplished mechanic. To this day Joe and Mike’s sons continue to run this classic American repair facility.
What put Morano’s over the top for me was the fact that the midget racer in the building was raced by Len Duncan, the great midget racing driver. As accomplished as Duncan was as a race driver, Len was proudest of the fact that President Harry Truman had handpicked him as the President’s personal driver during a post war tour of Europe! Len worked at Morano’s during the week when he wasn’t racing an ARDC midget event. And I was watching him drive and win at Hatfield Speedway Saturday nights with John Jewell.
I found a lumpy way of introducing myself to Duncan and telling him I’d watched him at Hatfield, and that I was a fan. Len was an engaging character, short in stature at maybe 5’7”, muscular build, handsome, with a faint resemblance to Clark Gable. He couldn’t have been nicer to me.
His Ken Brenn owned Kurtis Kraft Offy was always spotlessly on display in the number one slot, just inside the front door of Morano’s, next to the office. The customers were fascinated with it, and the race car’s presence was probably responsible for more than a few people leaving their cars there for repair.
That Kurtis Kraft Offy along with Len Duncan was responsible for this kid hanging around the garage a good deal. I would ask Joe Morano or Len Duncan if there was anything I could do to help, and occasionally, I was set to an insignificant task, which was of vast significance to me! I became a bit of a garage “groupie.” Duncan had a great sense of humor and somehow endured my hanging around.
At the races, I now had two drivers to root for.
One summer afternoon I heard from Len Duncan about an upcoming race at the fabled Langhorne Speedway. It was just outside Philadelphia. Langhorne was the fastest, meanest dirt mile in America, and it was only 30 miles away! “Big Cars” ran there, the AAA Champ cars with big name Indianapolis drivers wheeling the cars. I immediately set about “selling” John Jewell, and anyone else I knew on taking me up to Bucks County to Langhorne.
My mother had long since gotten over her brief infatuation with the wild NASCAR race she’d attended in Daytona, now taking a somewhat dim view of my undying lust for all things automotive. Particularly auto racing!
Langhorne was the Philadelphia area’s only true championship caliber racetrack. I got so hooked on Langhorne that if I couldn’t find anyone to take me to the track I’d hitchhike the twenty-five plus miles from home to get there. That bit of ride bumming to Langhorne involved quite a few different rides, what with all the directional changes it took to get to that track. I’d do anything to get to Langhorne for a race.
I even went to “The World’s First Triple Title Program” at Langhorne on August 6, 1951. Fred “Jiggs” Peters won the midget race, “Iron” Mike Magill won the big car event, and Wally Campbell took the modified stock car victory. Memory tells me that the promoters, Fried and Gerber had so many races scheduled that we watched the first races in the morning! 40,000 fans were there! It was a hell of a long day; definitely the Thanksgiving feast of auto racing!
But, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here . . .
The auto racing movie “The Big Wheel” with Mickey Rooney came out on the Silver screen, and I must have seen it 110 times.
THE 1949 INDIANAPOLIS 500
With my new found interest in auto racing, I quickly learned that the Indianapolis 500 mile race was the Holy Grail of automobile racing in America. Even our Philadelphia Newspapers would carry the news of the practice and qualifying all through the month of May each year. In those days 150,000 fans would turn up at the Speedway for the opening day of qualifying!
Someone said you could pick up the live broadcast of the race from a small AM station out of Camden, New Jersey. For that 1949 Indianapolis 500, I carefully compiled a chart of all 33 starters to track the leaders throughout the race. Exactly how I planned to do that I hadn’t quite worked out by race day, but I would be on duty throughout the race with no interruptions!
That Memorial Day in 1949 was a perfect spring day, and I was stationed at my desk with the bedroom window open, desperately trying to hang on to the scratchy AM signal coming out of my tiny radio. Sid Collins and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway radio broadcasters were simply terrific. No broadcast team has ever equaled the superb work that that radio team did. They brought you into the Speedway with them. I remember
feeling as though I was seated in the first turn with a sweeping view into the short chute leading to turn two. Their perfectly seamless style where they’d hand off to each other all the way around the famed oval was pure magic.
For a young boy at his desk, with his small radio just barely hanging on to the broadcast, that great announcing team always managed to keep you on the edge of your seat. Bill Holland won that race, and I wondered if he would ever come east to race in our area. I remember those Indianapolis 500 broadcasts fondly.
MY FIRST “REAL” MODIFIED WHEELS . . .
With my friends spread out through our rural neighborhoods your bicycle was both necessary, and, if it was slick enough, may reflect how cool you were. (Or, so we all thought . . .)
After a few false starts, I was able to establish myself as a kid with a pretty slick bicycle. My bicycle had been given to me by my Dad and he had taught me how to maintain it and keep it clean. It was a semi cool 26” single speed bike that was pretty standard all the way through. It wasn’t a Schwinn, or one of the top ranked bikes, but it would roll down the road pretty well and I kept it neat as a pin, well oiled and aired up.
Initially, I went through a brief, thoroughly dumb period of “customizing” my bike through the use of secondhand white handlebar grips with red, white and blue streamers, a pair of dented, but matched battery powered twin handlebar lights, accompanied by a series of tastefully placed reflectors. I tooled around thinking I was pretty hot stuff.
Then one Saturday, I came across a group of slightly older guys in a nearby neighborhood who had totally stripped their bikes for speed. They were constantly devising competition events of all types with their bikes. Some of their events were pretty hairy! My goofy streamers, reflectors, etc. looked pretty fruity compared to these pared down street racers. So when I
continued to come across these guys, I’d ditch my bike behind a bush, and ease up to their bikes to check what it was they had done to modify them.
I was looking at some very swoopy handlebars, some custom, some merely flipped upside down. All the handlebars, however, were set way down low, ala a board track racer. Most had little potato chip front fenders and minimal coverage at the rear. The real hot dogs among the bicycle racers were switching out sprockets, using smaller ones for “dig-out” events, and big overdriving units for flat out top speed.
The new European multi-speeds weren’t available to guys like us at the time. Besides, what were then known as “English” bikes in those days, were “Sissy bikes.”
The effects of my keen interest in auto racing and hot rods definitely drew me to the boys who were modifying their bikes into lightweight racers. I could see that the “hot rod” chain sprocket switch out took some talent, along with the need for a full set of chain tools for lengthening and shortening, as the need arose.
Since I was on the fringe of all that, had no chain tools, and was terrified of blowing apart a sprocket assembly, I opted for the cosmetics (more precisely the lack thereof) and 55 pounds of air pressure in my tires. My stock handlebars were pretty cool, so I just flipped them over, made a cool “potato chip” front fender and another for the rear. I then painted the entire bike a sinister black. All of my “work” was being done in Dad’s shop, as I was again very comfortable working in there.
I was asked to join the “racing” group and proceeded to participate in some bicycle shenanigans that were utterly crazy. No doubt about it, that era was the beginning of my “hot rod” efforts.
One of our periodic racing events was run over a two and one-half mile road course, on public roads. It was a largely downhill, flat out, race that we would stage at my friend Heb Fricke’s house on Edann Road in North Hills. The Fricke house was on the crest of a substantial hill and the
route we had chosen wound rapidly downhill, straight across an intersection at Station Avenue, which was a busy road that, of course, had the right of way.
To overcome the trivial “right of way” obstacle, we would position two of our pals at the intersection. They would literally stop the traffic on Station Avenue to allow the gang of racing hoodlums to streak across the busy intersection. They always gave the motorists a wave of thanks . . .
The pack of racers would then proceed to tear down through the streets of a vast new development of ranch style homes. Those developments of multiple, inexpensive, tract homes were an entirely new thing for our country neighborhoods. As kids, we loathed these housing
developments, largely because they ate up our wonderful woods, open fields, and secret places. We did an awful lot to hassle the new kids that had moved in. It was our turf, and they needed to realize that. The developers had screwed it up for us, and we foolishly acted like the new kids themselves had built the developments! We had no earthly reason to behave the way we did, but it was our neighborhood, and what the hell were they doing here anyway? However, we didn’t hesitate to use the hell out of their newly paved streets. On reflection, those new people had probably moved from “the city” to get away from punks like us who were now terrorizing their new suburban neighborhoods!
All that aside, those races were run at frightening velocities, and if two bikes touched or someone overcooked a corner, the results were usually spectacular, with a fair amount of accompanying “recovery” dramatics from the ensuing wrecks. The guys with the tallest gears would always win, if their riders didn’t go down.
One of the roads in that “development” came to an abrupt end almost behind our home, against a stoutly built wooden barrier, perhaps five feet tall. Ten or twelve feet past the barrier, at roughly the same level, there was an earthen bank where the undeveloped land continued.
generate, hit the ramp at full tilt and sail across the canyon, land beautifully, lock the rear brake and swing the back end around.
I was undecided as to whether or not I should casually spit on the ground after my incredible stunt.
Gery’s mom would surely see the amazing stunt and realize that I was the slickest kid ever. I would be the first dude that “shot the gap.” All in all, I’d be coolest cat in town.
Well, I came at that ramp at the highest speed I could muster, and the closer I got, the thinner the ramp got! By the time I hit the base of that damn ramp, those 2X12’s had visually shrunken to, what looked to be, no more than 2 inches wide!
I hit the bottom at nearly full tilt, and as I rose up the ramp my nerve diminished at an alarming rate as I realized it would be nearly impossible to stay on the board, let alone hit the top at a sufficient speed to leap the chasm. I couldn’t stop…where would I put a foot down? Off the end of the ramp I went, and the nose immediately started down. My front wheel hit the far bank first. No, not at the top, maybe two feet down from the top! Yes, the bank was perfectly vertical and the ensuing mess wasn’t pretty. I was launched from the bike like the proverbial clown out of a circus cannon, my face seemed to lead the way along the rocky, clay surface. I ended up in a jumbled, bleeding heap.
Crying was out of the question with Gery’s mom watching. I decided to act like I had been killed.
Double dumb idea ‘cause here came Gery’s Mom! She was so kind to the bleeding, scraped up fool of a kid and made sure I got home safely. My stunt career was irreparably damaged . . .
Enough with boys behaving foolishly . . .
Bicycles were pretty much the way all pre-16 year olds had to get around. So you made every effort to keep your bike in top running shape.
Families in the early fifties rarely had multiple vehicles. If they had an automobile at all, the father generally took it to work. No mini-vans, no SUV’s. Car pools were scarce.
Moms were generally not taking their little dears to soccer, ballet, junior Pilates, Little League, art classes, pre-school yoga, pottery class, or any of today’s endless after school activities.
You either went to school on the school bus, walked, or rode your bike. If you had “stuff” after school, you came home on the one “sports” bus, which left the school at 6PM sharp!
CHRISTMAS, 1949 . . . ANOTHER TURNING POINT!
December of 1949 rolled around. It was our first family Christmas holiday without Dad, and we were, plain and simple, poor. My sister Mary Linden had come home for the Christmas week and, of course, was receiving far more attention than I, which was irritating to say the least. During my sister’s, oh so wonderful stay, with everyone fawning over her, I chose to maximize the sadness of it all for poor Kirk.
Scarcely a soul took the time to devote a moment’s attention to me. It was fairly easy that Christmas of 1949 for Kirk to wander into a morass of self-pity. I was a master at conjuring motion picture scenarios that would capture me on film as a downtrodden waif, barely making my way toward a cold wintry sunset in a rapidly fading light, often with a full orchestra behind me. The audiences would be dabbing their tears, as the curtains slowly descended.
Christmas day 1949 came, and it was time to open the family gifts. I had saved money for my Christmas gifts and remember having had an awful time trying to determine what to buy for Mother. In early December I
had taken the bus to the nearby town of Glenside, and ended up in the vast Glenside Hardware store. Naturally, I first checked out the huge array of fantastic tools of all kinds that they had in stock and on display.
In wandering through the store I came upon the cooking ware section, and discovered that I could buy a substantial number of bright aluminum pots, pans, muffin tins, etc. for not very much money. Well, $5.63 sent me out the door with a tremendous batch of great shiny cookware. If sheer volume had anything to do with gift giving, I would be the very best of Christmas boys!
On that Christmas day, my sister had received all manner of wonderful gifts and plenty of them. There was no end to Mary Linden’s gifts.
Mother was an absolute star about her aluminum windfall, and she received many thoughtful gifts from her friends and our family in Wisconsin.
I, on the other hand, was receiving handkerchiefs, new black socks, a shirt, a sweater, and two pair of corduroy pants. Hmm, possibly my edgy behavior through the year had something to do with this.
Very clearly I remember that the gift giving had reached an end. Mother and Mary Linden were cheery and going over their gifts. I got up to get some bags to collect all the wrappings.
(At that point, as I slowly rose from the floor, my meager Christmas over, woeful music began faintly from very far away. A symphony orchestra was slowly building this utterly perfect, sad scenario to a dramatic crescendo, and the movie cameras silently swooped in focusing on the bent figure of the downtrodden, 11 year old boy in rags, wandering into a crimson Christmas sunset (in deep snow,) carrying the Christmas trash, all of this being captured for the silver screen, as finally the first of
several gauzy, opaque, curtains descended slowly toward the theater stage . . .)
Mother’s voice startled me: “There’s another gift tucked back behind the tree.”
I’d seen it; no wrapping, no tag; it was merely your standard brown shipping box, maybe 15 inches square. I was sure it was a case of home canned tomatoes or peaches, for “The Family” . . . I reached way back behind the tree, and dragged the box out and sliding it toward Mother . . .
“I believe it may be for you” she said, sounding just the slightest bit weary of my 40 piece orchestra and my dramatic slide toward the sunset. “Mr. Sulky Face” lackadaisically opened the box, lifting the flaps without really peering in. I pulled out a bunch of excelsior, finally looking down . . .
I could not believe my eyes!
Staring back at me was the brilliant lithographed top of the set box for a Cox Thimble Drome Special, gas engined tether racing car! The complete set up. Bright red racing car, engine, tether set up, fuel, instructions, everything!
I looked up, with what had to be, the most surprised look of any child anywhere on earth that Christmas Day.
“Your father’s friends at Leeds & Northrup got together and purchased that race car for you. John Stewart brought it late last evening.” If those engineers at Leeds & Northrup had shadowed my every move from the moment my Dad died, they could not have come up with anything that would have been more thrilling for me. I had read the advertisements for the Cox Thimble Dromes, Ohlsson & Rice racers, and the McCoy “Real McCoy” mite racers in all of the Hobby magazines. They were wickedly expensive for a boy like me. I had never even allowed myself to dream about one. And, now I had my own, this Christmas Day!!
And on that special Christmas Day, I may have also learned a bit about sulky behavior. (Well, actually, I’m still quite good at it!) A great many Christmases have elapsed since that one in 1949. Only once has a gift meant so much to me as that one did. But that’s a tale for another time . . .
As time went by, I think Mother may have had some misgivings about the Thimble Drome. I had cleared a circle in the basement, filled a bucket with heavy stone, found an 18 x 1 inch round brass bar in Dad’s supply of bar stock. I chucked it up in the lathe and ran a groove in it near the top to locate the tether wire. I then proceeded to run that sucker as often as I could without driving Mother berserk. She had to be incredibly tolerant as that “airplane fuel” stank to high heaven and the noise of the little car was deafening!
I quickly found the Keswick Cycle Shop in north Glenside. They were not only a comprehensive bicycle shop, they carried a full line of top model airplanes, tether boats, and all types of top quality gas engined tether racers. If I had a dollar for every time I visited that shop, I’d have all the money in the world. I was able to only look at and admire the big Dooling’s, Bremer’s, Fox cars, etc. They were completely out of my league. The shop even had a JL Engineering Special tether car available at $125.00! But, they also had the full range of mite cars, including Cox Thimble Drome, Ohlsson & Rice, and McCoy.
60 to 70 foot circle. But then I took it a step further; once the racer was up to speed I would ease down on my back. Literally lying in the center of our neighborhood “track” and with my right hand only, I was whipping the car with one hand around the 70 foot track. None of my pals seemed to be able to master the technique. I practiced relentlessly, and I was usually the quickest, at our “Championship” events.
WINNING A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP AUTOMOBILE COMPETITION (KIND OF . . .)
Late in the summer each year, there was The Philadelphia Sportsman Show which took place over several days downtown in Philadelphia’s Convention Hall. In the past, I had gone twice with dad. I had really liked taking the train into the city in the late afternoon with Dad, and going to that show. It had everything. They would construct a five foot deep 200 X 100 foot pool. In the pool they would demonstrate small power craft, canoes, have fly fishing casting contests, and my personal favorite, the log rolling contests. There were many new boats, outboard motors, fishing gear, camping supplies, etc. I loved the display booths, their products, the bright lights, all of it.
Well, that late summer of 1950, on a Friday afternoon, I hopped on the train to take in the latest that the “Sportsman” show had to offer. As usual I was totally dazzled and watched the demonstrations and competition at the big pool.
Late in the afternoon, when I should have been thinking about going home, I was wandering through the various halls and came upon an open area where they were holding a speed contest using the Cox Thimble Drome tether racers.
Well, that caught my attention real quickly. I stopped and watched the boys and one girl whip the cars around as fast as they could. Each contestant got to call out to the timer when they felt they had attained their
top speed, and they’d then be timed for five laps. All of them were whipping the car, first with one hand, and then quickly handing off to the other hand.
I was intimidated by the large crowd, but finally I asked an “official” what you had to do to join in. I knew those kids weren’t nearly as fast as I was with my one handed method. After a bit I was beckoned onto the “race track.” I stepped into the ring, so to speak.
The great thing about the “track’ was that it was polished concrete, and was smooth as glass. The car they gave us to race was a well used Cox Thimble Drome Champion. It was rough cosmetically, but well oiled, so instead of kneeling like everyone else for their run, I sat down on the floor and got the car moving quickly enough that the centrifugal force began to force the car out far enough to be steady on the track circle. I then lay back, flat on my back, keeping the tether handle in my right hand; I began to whip the car around the track as quickly as I could.
The race car was flying, and I called out for my 5 timed laps. It was all over in a flash. I got a round of applause, a few whistles, and then someone shouted out:
“Hey, that ain’t legal. He can’t race ‘dat car like ‘dat. That ain’t the way you run ‘em.”
The governing official said I could race it any way I pleased as long as the car stayed on the track itself. The official then came over to me and said: “Kid, you’re quickest by a big margin. You here with your Dad?”
“Uh, no . . .”
“Well, its 5:45 now, were gonna’ give out the trophy and the first place prize is a new Thimble Drome Champion to the quickest time at 9 PM. If you can be back here at 8:45, you might be the winner.”
Well, that was all terrific, but I hadn’t really told Mother I was taking the train by myself into West Philly, and I surely wasn’t allowed at age 12 to wander the streets of west Philadelphia, back to The Reading Terminal and then take a train home at 9:30 at night. That would land me back at the house at, like 10:30. . . And yet . . . there I was on the very brink of winning a World Championship auto racing competition. I couldn’t let the auto racing world down. This competition was sponsored by the nationally recognized “Philadelphia Inquirer” newspaper, and a nationally famous race car manufacturer. Roy Cox Thimble Drome, out of Santa Ana, California, needed me to carry the day for the company! Didn’t they? This wasn’t a matter, of choice. It was simply my duty to garner this prize.
Well, I returned at the appointed hour. Not so many people were there, but the official and a representative from the Thimble Drome Company were there. No one had even approached my time, and at the stroke of 9 PM the competition was closed and I had won the prize, a small trophy, an “Official Certificate,” and best of all a brand new Thimble Drome Champion in brilliant yellow over red! The guy from Thimble Drome asked me to show him how the heck I ran that car so darn fast. I showed him quickly, and ran for the train. As I left the big, soon to be darkened, convention hall, most of the crowd was gone and they were closing up for the night. I remember thinking how much I’d wished my Dad was with me.
Mom was still at dinner with friends when I got home, so the new “Cox Motor Racing Champion of the World,” went to bed, unpunished.
The next morning a buddy called; my name was in the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper for my win. . . I’m sure you’ve all seen the article!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Coming next: “Hot Rods” and “the Grand Conflagration”.
Chapter 4 - March 15, 2016
Once I had hitchhiked my way to the track but didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket. Because it was a champ car race, the tickets were more money than I had. I wasn’t about to go home so I bided my time until a family with two boys close to my age approached the wooden booth where the ticket stubs were taken. Just as the father handed in the tickets I joined up with the two boys and earnestly babbled words at them trying to ingratiate myself, choosing the moment "we" were passing, as a group through the gate. As soon as we were inside and clear of the fence I took off like a shot. I ran as far as I could and turned and watched the family move off to their seats which appeared to be virtually at the start-finish line. I’m not sure they ever knew what transpired at the gate. I made my way into the upper reaches of the stands in the fourth turn area. I loved that track!
(Recently, I purchased an extensive black & white auto racing photography collection that included several images of Langhorne. In the photograph shown I was actually in those fourth turn grandstands in 1950 when Lloyd King captured the great Jack McGrath prior to one of the races!)
The bicycle gang had long eyed that chasm as something of a serious challenge. After a while earnest planning for an assault, via a launched bicycle, was underway. It was determined that a long lumber plank ramp would have to lead the daredevil to the top of the barrier, where the rider and bike would soar skyward, and heroically ford the “Canyon of Death”.
Any materials we bikers had access to generally belonged to someone else and we would have to “borrow” them from nearby construction sources. We helped ourselves to a couple of 2X12 boards and a half dozen cinderblocks from another project. We ran the first board to a height of 3 cinderblocks, backed by 3 more, and ran the second 2X12 to the top of the “End of Road” barrier, leaving only the gaping chasm to deal with.
It happened that my close friend Gery Conover lived in the home closest to the “chasm”. Gery’s mom was the most beautiful lady I had ever seen. I had a huge crush on her.
Late on a cloudy, cold, school day afternoon, I was riding aimlessly back there alone. The rest of the gang was elsewhere. We had put the ramp up several days before, but no one wanted to be the first to try it. We had had some tactical sessions going over what it would take to pull it off. Motorcycle jumping had not made its way to Oreland. We had no references, and God knows we didn’t know a thing about the world of physics or the laws thereof.
So riding in lazy circles I figured that right then might be a good time to give the stunt a shot. None of the “Peanut Gallery” was around to kick up any of the verbal nonsense that goes with that sort of deal.
Gery’s mom was not only at home, she was in their yard doing some gardening!
So here’s the scenario I envisioned . . . I would casually ride my bike back up the street, turn and head back at the highest speed I could
I bought some of the CO2 powered Monogram Midget wire racers at 50 cents or so.
During that following summer of 1950, I saved enough money to buy one of the very detailed Ohlsson & Rice tether cars. I could only afford the “string” version. The .29 gas engine powered model was way beyond my reach at nearly $20.00.
I had gotten very proficient with the string tether racers. I had mastered a technique where I would get the car speeding with one hand handing off to the other, which was the accepted way of racing them using a
"#78 is the Ohlsson & Rice.
The other two are CO2 powered model racers."