If your idea of a good time is rolling up miles on your street rod, seeing the country through a bug-covered windshield, and generally having a great time hanging out with the best like-minded folks on the planet, at least one of the legs of the STREET RODDER / PPG Road Tour should be on your summertime schedule. I was lucky enough again this year to draw the Vintage Air leg from San Antonio to the L.A. Roadsters Show & Swap Meet in Pomona, California. And while the beginning and end of this year's Vintage Air leg were the same as last, trail boss Rick Love made the middle substantially different this time around by leading us through New Mexico and Arizona on miles of fun-to-drive and scenic two-lanes. To make things even better, this year I got the chance to travel with the one and only Tom "Stroker McGurk" Medley in his '40 Ford coupe.
As usual, before we departed on Sunday, June 10, a few of the cars were attacked by gremlins, and Tom's '40 was one of them-the alternator decided to quit charging on the way to our motel Saturday night. That wouldn't normally be a big deal, but it was 10 p.m. and all the parts stores were closed, and we were planning to leave at 7 a.m., before any of them would be open. So, in true STREET RODDER style, we came up with an alternate alternator plan. George Packard fired up his Deuce coupe, and then his battery was swapped for Medley's so we could get to Rick's garage on the battery power. There, stashed under his workbench, was a slightly grimy-but-serviceable GM alternator; of course the wiring harness had to be modified, and the mounting ear had to be tapped to work the mounting bracket, but then if this street rod stuff was easy, everyone would do it. Slightly blurry-eyed from our repair session that lasted until the wee hours, we met the gang at Vintage Air on the appointed hour, hit Highway 90, and headed west.
Chick Koszis looks on as we try to jump-start Tom Medley's '40 Ford.
At our first gas stop in Uvalde, Texas, the gremlins returned, this time attacking Jimmie Vaughan's gorgeous Flathead-powered '32 Ford five-window. The alternator's mounting stud had pulled the threads in the intake manifold, and, as a result, the belt that runs the alternator and water pumps couldn't be tightened. But, like every other time we've seen a street rod have problems on the road, help came from everywhere. Fellow travelers, locals just driving by, and even the town policeman on patrol stopped to see what they could do to help. A trip to the local farm supply produced a bolt to replace the stud and we were on the road again.
For reasons I've never been able to figure out, there's always at least one street rod version of a Chinese fire drill on our segment of the tour, and this year was no different. After a lunch stop in Del Rio, Texas, Tom and I were among the last to leave, so of course we looked at this as a chance to turn the wick up on the '40 to catch the others. As we rounded a bend at speed, a gust of wind blew Tom's cap out the window, so of course we pulled over, turned around, and went back to look for a $9 hat. Over the years, Vintage Air's Jack Chisenhall and son Landis have followed the group to make sure no one with problems gets left behind, so they pulled over when they saw us turning around. By the time we found Tom's hat, reversed direction again, and were making tracks to catch up, the Chisenhalls had turned around and were coming back to check on us. Even as we passed at speed, we could all see the smiles on each other's faces; it doesn't take much to entertain street rodders.
At the end of the first day, Bob Jackson and Danny Zoeller compare notes while Jerry Dixey
A short detour off Highway 90 took us to the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center. Remarkably, the original building that was Bean's home of law west of the Pecos-as well as a bar and pool hall, among other things-still stands in the town he named after English actress Lillie Langtry, nicknamed the Jersey Lily. After checking out what was the Jersey Lily saloon, we opted for the offerings of the town's post office/store-soft drinks and ice cream push-ups-then it was on to our first night's stop in Fort Davis at the historic Hotel Limpia. That evening there was a car show and barbecue in the town square.
Monday morning we stopped just out of town to tour Fort Davis, said to be the best surviving 19th century military post. Active from 1854 to 1891, the fort was brought back from near ruin thanks to an ongoing national park service preservation and restoration program. The authentically restored barracks had everyone speculating what life must have been like back then.
San Antonio to Pomona Road Tour participants assembled at Vintage Air Sunday morning. Afte
As if to go from one extreme to another, our next stop was in Roswell, New Mexico. On the way into town, a number of sharp-eyed street rodders spotted a salvage yard full of vintage tin from the '40s, '50s, and '60s. Unfortunately a few herd of sheep were the only living things on the premises, so we had to be content looking at it all through a chain-link fence. A few more miles down the road we found the center of town and the International UFO Museum and Research Center. Evidently the last spaceship that landed in town was full to the brim with T-shirts and bumper stickers, and they're still trying to get rid of them. Somewhere there's a street rod plastered with a "My Other Car is a UFO" sticker, but don't blame us.
Tuesday we continued west through the rolling hills of New Mexico. After a lunch stop at K-Bob's in Socorro, we wound through the hills of "Billy the Kid" country, stopping in Capitan, the birthplace of none other than Smokey Bear. This was an interesting stop for those of us who could remember the "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires!" campaigns from the '50s. When the Smokey Bear fire prevention program began in the '40s, an illustration of Smokey, wearing jeans and a campaign hat, pouring a bucket of water on a campfire was used. Then, in 1950, a tiny, badly singed bear cub was found clinging to a tree during a blaze in the Capitan area. The little black bear was nursed back to health and became the living symbol of Smokey. He lived in the National Zoo until his death in 1975.
At our lunch stop earlier in the day, we were tipped off that Pie Town on the continental divide was a great place to check out; as you might guess, we packed the place. After this stop, Medley and I were among the last to get on the road, and as we crested a hill not far down the road we found the Road Tour coupe parked on the side of the road with our very own pavement pounder, Jerry Dixey, and STREET RODDER Publisher Tim Foss discussing the finer points of fuel management. After all the wisecracks like, "These guys know less about street rods together than they do individually," and, "Who was the genius that swapped the 16-gallon tank for a 12?" were over, we turned our attention to solving the problem at hand. By this time, the Chisenhalls were on the scene, but between all of us there wasn't a siphon hose or a can to put gas in. Around the time we were deciding who was going to get fuel, Seth Bradley and his father, John, pulled up in Seth's Deuce roadster. And, although the Bradleys couldn't help, they knew someone who could-Bob and Kathleen Jackson were just ahead of us in their '41 Dodge coupe and they had a full fuel can onboard.
Medley was busy signing Stroker McGurk art and an assortment of shirts all week. Kevin Hun
Even after a long day's drive, there always seems to be a get-together every evening in th
One look at the straw-stuffed mattresses in the restored Fort Davis barracks made most of
For the most part, breakdowns on the trip were relatively simple, but then a minor problem
Capitan, NM, is home of Smokey Bear. Rick is trying not to notice that Landis Chisenhall i
Pie Town is pretty much in the middle of nowhere on the Continental Divide. You can guess
The COE parked at Pie Town held some interesting vintage parts, such as a pair of wide-fiv
Medley was forced behind the first national street rod event, but he's still at it all the
While Foss and Dixey discussed the finer points of fuel management, Chisenhall was probabl
Every gas stop on the road tour turns into a local car show. This officer stopped to check
As the Bradleys took off in hot pursuit of fuel, the roadside discussion returned to why the coupe hadn't made it to the next gas stop. About the time the verdict was reached that the Deuce wasn't level last time it was filled-so even though the gauge read full, the tank was down just enough to make a difference-our rescuer showed up. But it wasn't any of our tour mates, rather the driver of a tool-and-welder-laden carnival repair truck pulling a caramel apple, candy, and cold drink trailer who stopped to help us out. The congenial carny drained a couple gallons of gas from the truck's tank into a container and we were soon on our way. Good thing, too, because what we didn't know was that the Jacksons had used their extra fuel, as they had run out as well. Needless to say, every gas tank was filled to the brim when we all met at the next station-particularly those who opted to take the 35-mile side trip through the Petrified Forest National Park.
Our evening stop was just off Route 66 at the historic Las Posada, the last great railroad hotel, in Winslow, Arizona. As it had played host to the likes of Bob Hope, John Wayne, "Hopalong" Cassidy, and others, the rooms were each named after a particular guest. Regrettably, unlike some hotel chains' advertising campaigns, I can tell you that staying in the Albert Einstein room has no noticeable effect.
Safety is forever a concern-Vaughn always made sure his guitar was buckled up.
At about this point in the trip, Medley and I began talking about how well things had gone for us up to that point-we both should have known better. After stopping to take photos of some of the cars passing by, I slipped behind the wheel of the coupe and hit the starter. When the small-block Chevy roared to life, it did just that ... it roared. The flange of the driver-side exhaust manifold had broken off and the engine was belching fire and fumes from what was left of a ram horn. While the rest of the group headed off to take the scenic Grand Canyon loop, we limped into Flagstaff, Arizona, in search of a sympathetic muffler shop. As luck would have it, we found Junior Sandoval's Muffler Magic. With Junior's street rod parked out front, and a customer's on the rack, we knew we were in the right spot.
As Travis Devening brazed the manifold together, we made another discovery: The vibration damper had just about worn a hole in the lower radiator hose. Of course none of the local parts houses had a hose that even resembled what we needed, so we improvised once more. Junior bent up a piece of tubing and we used two short sections of hose to connect to the water pump and radiator. With the coupe as good as new, and Medley's favorite tape of Louie Prima and Keely Smith cranked up, we caught up with the rest of the group as they were pulling into the night stop in Laughlin, Nevada, at the Aquarius Hotel. Along with everything else the casino had to offer, they provided us with roped-off covered parking.
Our best guess here is that Koszis and Dixey were dizzy from the height of the Hotel Limpi
On day five, we rolled through the desert across the border into California. As he had during most of the trip, Medley signed posters, T-shirts, old copies of Hot Rod magazine, and just about anything put before him at the lunch stop. A true legend in the hobby, at 87 years young, Medley is tough to keep up with. His enthusiasm has never waned, he has more energy than most people half his age, and everyone pays attention when he talks about hot rod history because he knows how it all came to be; after all, he experienced most of it firsthand.
After lunch we pulled off in Monrovia to check out Steve Metz's Staging Lane Productions; among other things, Steve is the maker of those cool desktop Muscle Machines. Virtually across the street is Mosher's Performance, a shop that specializes in Mopar wedge and Hemi cars. The place was packed with mind-blowing musclecars.
Although we had made it, the West Coast tour wasn't over yet. Friday morning the gang stopped at the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, then that afternoon we were off to the SO-CAL Speed Shop open house in Pomona. As if we hadn't had enough, the rest of the weekend was spent at the L.A. Roadsters Show & Swap Meet, where the club provided a special parking area for Road Tour participants.
As in years past, Jack Chisenhall, Rick Love, and the entire Vintage Air crew went out of their way to make their leg of the tour memorable for all the participants and we're looking forward to next year already. At this point, about all we can say is that the destination will be different in 2008, but we can guarantee getting there will be loads of fun, as always.
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Our tour cars out-numbered the "civilian vehicles" at most of the stops along the way, mak
Seth and John Bradley were with the tour for the start. They made a valiant effort to find
Dale, aka the carnival repair guy, stopped to drain off a couple gallons of gas to get Dix
There's no steam engine, but, as in days gone by, Love, Medley, Lark, and Vaughn tell stor
Bob and Kathleen Jackson towed a teardrop trailer behind their '41 Dodge coupe.
Such a fine sight to see-Cal and Kathy Williams' homebuilt '38 Ford leading the pack on th
We were lucky enough to find Muffler Magic in Flagstaff, AZ, when the exhaust manifold cam
We found a radiator hose that was about to fail when the '40 was on the rack to remove the
The L.A. Roadsters Show & Swap Meet was at the west end of our trip.
While rumors persist that the Road Tour has taken its toll on Dixey, we can report he's al