By Sidney Underwood
This adventure occurred during the summer of 1967 and involved a co-worker and myself. Although the event that I am about to describe happened over 48 years ago, I still remember most of the details. It happened during a day at work as we were both employed by the Welfare Dept. in Grantsville, WV.
If that co-worker should find out that I wrote this piece about him, he just might come looking for me. He would say that he meant no harm and that sometimes he thought that I had a tendency to get too uptight about things. In truth, he probably doesn't remember any of it, but I sure do.
It happened because he and I were scheduled to go to a meeting at the Welfare District Office that day in Vienna north of Parkersburg. I don't remember the details of why we had to go, but I do remember telling him that I was willing to drive my Corvair and he could ride shotgun since we were expected to double up on trips to save the state's travel money.
His name was Archie Davis and I have not seen him in over forty five years because he soon moved on to another job. I do know that he was from Clarksburg and his father was in the retail tire business. He was married and his wife was finishing her degree at Glenville State College.
Archie said that he would prefer to drive and I could ride with him. He had a Volkswagon Karman-Ghia sports car. I had heard from other workers that he knew how to put a car down the road. Reluctantly, I agreed to go with him and, as I would soon learn, he definitely knew how to put a car down the road.
I consider myself to be a good driver but not a good fast driver like Tom and Dick Ullumn who were my neighbors for many years. I cannot count the times when I would be driving somewhere and one of those brothers would suddenly appear in my rear view mirror.
They would follow me a short distance and when the opportunity arose, zip around me with a wave or honk of horn and soon be out of sight. One time coming home on the Creston straight I decided to see if I could keep up. Within a few miles I realized that I could not do it. So, I'm comfortable with the fact that I am not a fast driver and at my age, never will be.
I was curious as to how Archie's car would handle and I suspected that he was a good fast driver like the Ulum brothers. At 8:00 AM that morning we signed out for the District Office. We walked out on Main Street to his car parked across from the office facing west. If you have ever seen a Karman-Ghia, you would remember it. The car had an air cooled engine in the back similar to the Volkswagon Beetle. But, it was rather unique in that it looked like a small sports car and had more sophisticated components in the suspension and larger brakes.
The air cooled engine had been tweaked to produce more horsepower and it had a different carburetor The car was designed by the Italian stylist, Ghia, and the body built by the German coach builder, Karmann. So the name was rather obvious. Back in the day, it retailed for almost twice what you would pay for a regular beetle. I think the production run lasted from 1955 through 1974 and Archie's car was a 1965 model.
I was somewhat apprehensive when I got in his car. The bucket seat cradled me and was very supportive. I buckled my seatbelt which was a new safety feature at the time, one that I would really appreciate in a few minutes. We started out and I watched as Archie started shifting the manual transmission through the gears gaining speed.
By the time we passed the old Boy Scout Camp at the west end of town on Rt#5, we were going 50 mph. I noted that the car had a good suspension as we travelled over several rough places in the road near Leaf Bank. We were running along at 60mph when we approached the sharp curve near Cabot Yard.
I mentioned to Archie that he might want to slow down as that turn could be tricky and many wrecks had occurred there over the years. When there was no response from him and before I could think of anything else worthwhile to say, we were whistling past Furr's car lot.
I didn't realize that I was holding my breath until I exhaled and started breathing in short ragged gasps of air. We had taken that Cabot Yard turn at 60 mph. The Nighcut hill was upon us now and I held my breath again and gripped the handle above the door as we entered the turn.
I saw Archie shift to a lower gear. Suddenly it felt like we had achieved lift off as we passed the Hill Top Beer Joint. I remember thinking that if I somehow survived this trip, I would never ride with him again.
It is a terrible feeling to be trapped in a car as an unwilling passenger when the car is being driven at a high rate of speed. If you are reading this, I hope you never have that experience. You can't just open the door and step out although that thought did cross my mind.
The feeling of helplessness is overpowering and there is a constant lump in your throat as your heart beats wildly and you desperately wish you were someplace else. And it is so tiring to constantly be in misery thinking that death and destruction awaits around every turn.
Boy, was I in misery and we had just started. We had a long way to go if we didn't wreck somewhere. It was unfolding almost like a nightmare.
Going downhill past the Big Root intersection, I suddenly saw that we were about to overtake a really big truck. I yelled out, "Watch out for the truck!" Luckily for us, Archie had good reflexes and hit the brakes and my seatbelt bit into my body and we managed to not hit the back of the truck, or worse, run under it.
I think the truck had W. B. Gibson, Grantsville, W.Va written on the back of it. In fact, I'm sure of it because the letters were really big and right there in front of me. We followed it on down the road at about 35 mph and it seemed like we were not even moving.
I relaxed somewhat but that was short lived when Archie passed the truck near the Lewis Smith residence.
I told Archie that we had plenty of time and didn't have to be there until 10:00AM thinking that I could reason with him so he might slow down. He looked over at me and said not to worry, that he was in complete control.
He said that his car wasn't all that fast anyway because the top speed was only 87 mph and he had run it up to that point many times. For whatever reason, his words did not reassure me all that much concerning our current situation. When I looked at him, I could see that he was grinning at me and enjoying my misery.
You know how some people have to look at you when they are talking. Archie was like that. It was somewhat disconcerting at 55mph, but downright scary at 65 or above.
I decided to stop talking hoping he would watch the road instead of looking over at me. After a pause, he looked over and asked why I had suddenly gotten so quiet.
Before I could answer, we hit the first expansion joint on the Annamoriah Bridge with a boom that compressed the suspension. In a heartbeat we thumped the other one as we headed into the turn before the Annamoriah Hill.
Archie shifted the little car again and we surged to the top flying by several cars parked near the road. I had this fleeting thought that we would eventually overtake someone and he would be forced to slow down. But, to my dismay, the road ahead was clear and unobstructed.
When we entered the sweeping turn on the Annamoriah Flat with the engine making that air-cooled thrumming sound behind us, I saw that we were running 65 mph.
It was then that I realized my right hand was aching from the death grip on the handle above my door. I forced myself to release it and immediately regretted that decision as we started the long downhill approach to the Creston Bridge.
I held my breath again and was relieved to see no cars on the bridge when we thumped onto it. His car did a little sideways hop that put us over the centerline. Archie grinned and gathered it up and on down the Creston Straight we went.
I knew I had to do something because I was starting to suffer from oxygen deprivation every time we rounded a turn, so I decided to try a different approach. I started talking about how well his car handled and how well he drove the thing.
I pointed out that I had neighbors who were good fast drivers, but that I could not quite get the hang of it. I hoped this appeasing business would flatter his ego enough so that he would not have to continue proving how fast he could drive.
When I was learning to drive, the first thing my Dad taught me was to look down the road as far as you can see. He said that new drivers make the mistake of watching the road just beyond the hood of the car which shortens their field of view.
He said that a good driver must anticipate what lies ahead. Remembering his words, I anticipated like I had never anticipated before and I was getting eye strain from trying to see around turns.
My strategy seemed to be working because Archie brought the car down to normal speed until we hit the Burning Springs Straight. For a distance of about a mile and a half the road is flat and nearly straight.
Archie stated that he wanted to prove to me that 87 was as fast as his car would go. I told him that he really didn't need to do that. Frozen in place, I watched as he reached that terminal speed at the halfway point of the straight.
When he released the accelerator, we started losing speed, but not enough to make the turn. At the last second he hit the brakes then released them and was back on the accelerator as we entered that turn at a speed that made the tires howl.
In all earnestness, I said rather loudly, "As GOD is my witness, 87mph is the true and correct top speed, now please do not show me that again!" Archie was amused by my plea. He asked me if I was relaxed now. I lied and said that I was.
It gladdened my heart when we caught up with several cars a few moments later and were forced to follow at a moderate speed. There were several places where Archie attempted to pass slower cars but, thankfully, I saw oncoming traffic each time and made a point of mentioning it to him.
He made a smart remark about not needing his mother-in-law to direct him since he had me. He laughed at his own joke, but I didn't see the humor in it.
When we reached the Elizabeth Bridge, Archie asked me which way I wanted to go. Knowing that Rt #14 and the Newark Road were both crooked, it seemed like a devil's choice to me. For whatever reason, I said I preferred the Newark route.
We started in that direction following several cars. That part of our trip was uneventful until we stopped at Fought's General Store in Newark.
Archie said he had never been in the place and wanted to check it out. We climbed the steps and went inside. We each bought a coke which we retrieved from an old chest type cold water soft drink machine.
Since we had made terrific time, we had several minutes to walk around in the store and look at items ranging from Wheeling Steel kerosene cans to a curved section of Colby cheese in a large circular container on the counter. You could order the cheese by slice and watch as it was being cut for you.
We looked at the work boots, overalls, hardware items and just about everything needed for living out in the country. The proprietor told us the store had been there since 1850. A few minutes later, we stepped outside and sat on the bench finishing our cokes while watching the cars go by below us.
Back on the road we soon came to the intersection of Rt#47. Because there was heavier traffic including big trucks, we just drifted along at the speed limit catching the trucks on the hills and crawling along behind them. On the straightaways there was constant oncoming traffic so we were forced to stay in line.
We arrived in Parkersburg shortly after 9:30 AM. 15 minutes later we were at the District Office. Archie told me to pay close attention and take good notes because he thought he might take a short nap when the program started. The thing with Archie was that you never really knew if he was kidding or not. I assured him that I was wide awake as the morning trip had me really alert.
The meeting that day was like so many others. We socialized with fellow workers from the counties of Gilmer, Jackson, Ritchie, Roane, Wirt and Wood before the meeting was called to order. Generally these meetings involved policy changes or new regulations enacted by the State or Federal Government.
Our speakers were from the State Office in Charleston. We broke for lunch and resumed in the afternoon. Each worker was given a packet of new material to take home. About 3:00 PM, Archie and I started watching the clock on the wall. The question and answer session began and there were several clarification questions asked and answered.
Archie and I were itching to get out of there because we had a 55 mile drive, but the Wood County crew kept asking questions hoping that if they extended the meeting long enough, they would not have to return to their local offices that day. We had seen them pull that stunt many times before. Finally at 4:00 PM the meeting was adjourned and everybody started home.
Driving back, Archie seemed to be in no particular hurry and we drifted along at 55 MPH which was so different from our fast paced morning commute. Archie made a comment that a beer certainly would taste good on this hot day and I agreed.
We remembered passing a place called the Alibi Inn on Rt. #47 that morning and decided to stop on our way home. We saw several cars and pickup trucks parked outside when we arrived. Once inside, the air conditioning felt good in the darkened interior. We sat at the bar and heard the clink of pool balls behind us as an impromptu tournament was taking place.
There were several men sitting at the bar with us and they looked to be working class people stopping for a beer on their way home. The ambiance of the place was made complete when George Jones started singing a sad country song from a juke box.
Before I knew it, I had a long neck bottle of beer sitting in front of me courtesy of Archie. I sipped my Rolling Rock and listened to the music. Archie took a drink of his beer and remarked that the best country songs are sad songs about lost love.
More than one man, he said, had sat at a bar just like this one and cried in his beer when hearing someone like George Jones sing a sad love song. Archie continued by saying that almost everyone has a story of lost love to tell, but only song writers were able to express it in music.
I was seeing a more somber side to Archie now. A side that he had not exhibited before. I thought about asking him if he had a story concerning lost love, but decided not to as I was only 25 and had not had that experience yet.
Since Archie had bought me a beer, I thought it only right to buy one for him. My second beer didn't taste quite as good as the first one, but I was more relaxed now and we made idle conversation about many things that I absolutely cannot remember. Occasionally we would hear good natured ribbing from the participants behind us at the pool table.
The rest of this story is somewhat hazy because we might have each had another beer or two. I do remember suggesting that we start for home as we had been there for most of an hour. I offered to drive, but again he refused saying that he would do the driving.
Back on the road, Archie turned on the radio and selected a country music station. He looked at me and asked if I had any singing ability. I replied that I sang in the shower, but that was about it.
I think the song that started us singing together was the Walbash Cannonball sung by Roy Acuff which was and stilll is a country classic.
We started right in singing along with ole Roy. It was funny how uninhibited I was now and I thought we sang well together. How silly it was of me to have been so concerned that morning about Archie's driving. Yes, we had run pretty hard, but nothing bad had happened. He was right, sometimes I do have a tendency to get too uptight.
I think we sang several songs together and eased the rest of the way home never going faster than 45MPH. When we arrived back in Grantsville on Mill Street to my car, I was surprised that I was unsteady after getting out of his car because I felt really good.
I extended my hands outward and walked sort of sideways toward my car. Archie yelled out to me that I walked just like John Wayne.
He laughed again at his own joke. I laughed and thought it was funny, too. I turned around facing him and pretended to make a fast draw. I knew enough to be careful and drove home slowly.