Michael James : 1939 Hot Rod Ford Rolling Through Town

1939 hot rod Ford, Durango, Colorado, February 1989. Photo by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James’ Pictures from the Long Haul.

Pictures from the Long Haul:
1939 hot rod Ford rolling,
rumbling, and purring through town

By Michael James | The Rag Blog | April 23, 2013

[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about — and inspired by — those images. This photo will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James’ Pictures from the Long Haul.]

Hot rod cars, especially Fords, have always given me jolts of happiness. Discovering them and coming to love them coincided with early rebellion and working on cool.

I come out of the Downshifters Hot Rod Club. I helped found the Club in 1956. We met on Friday nights at the Westport (CT) YMCA: old business, new business, club plaques-jackets-and cards, new members, etc.

Our garage (except in summer) was the camp hall at the Y’s Camp Mahackeno. Together we worked on our hot rod and custom cars. And while we peeled out of zillions of places zillions of times and drove fast on occasion, we did discipline our members for such activities, as I was for peeling out of the Staples High parking lot.

Yes, those early rebellious rock-and-roll hot-rod-car teen years became constructively channeled by numerous people and community institutions in my New England hometown.

A picture of club members and their cars, standing by a statue commemorating the Revolutionary War, was published in the local Town Crier.

We learned about organization, publicity and promotion, how the town was run, and how cars work. And we learned about serving in the community. We held safety checks. We had a safety campaign, cautioning the commuters speeding to the train station for their commute to New York City.

We held rod and custom shows in the police parking lot, did car washes for charity, helped stranded motorists with broken cars or flat tires, and worked with clubs statewide (Nutmeg State Timing Association) campaigning for the state’s first drag strip.

We spoke to the Rotary Club, putting hot rodders in a positive light. And we got some satisfaction when the superintendent of schools — at a special dinner at the YMCA — presented us with an award from Parents’ Magazine, for being named one of America’s “fourteen outstanding youth groups in 1959.”

My attention is pretty much immediately captured when I see a modified machine. And that happened to me on a warm February afternoon in ’89 when I spotted this 1939 Ford panel truck as it rolled, rumbled, and purred through downtown Durango.

I had taken a tumble earlier in the day — crashed and rolled on a ski run up at Purgatory. I was in Durango as a guest of pal David Meggyesy at a National Football League Players’ Association event to benefit skiers with disabilities. Pro football players and disabled athletes were paired up for runs down the mountain.

After a lesson and a little practice I took the lift to the take-off spot for what turned out to be the most difficult ski run at Purgatory. My friend Guy Benjamin (quarterback for Stanford, SF 49ers, etc.) and a friend of his were both experienced in the art of speeding down a mountain. I was not.

Following them, I promptly crashed onto my left shoulder and rolled to a stop in the snow. I slowly tacked my way down the run to the bottom, and found a lift back to the top. Back top, wounded, I slowly descended down the other side to the lodge, falling once or twice.

My shoulder has never been the same. I have been working on it ever since, and I’m talking stretching, pulling, hanging, and all manner of manipulation. Lifting weights, doing the breaststroke, treading water, swinging my arm, getting acupuncture, and applying ice, heat, tiger balm, and lots of salves and elixirs. Yet while it remains restricted and is certainly deteriorated, the shoulder is working good enough to keep on going.

Working on my body reminds me of working on wonderful old hot rod clunkers back in the day. But now I’m a little less concerned with looking cool than with the keeping it running.

[Michael James is a former SDS national officer, the founder of Rising Up Angry, co-founder of Chicago’s Heartland Café (1976 and still going), and co-host of the Saturday morning (9-10 a.m. CDT) Live from the Heartland radio show, here and on YouTube. He is also president of the local progressive 49th Ward Democratic Party, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, a board member of Athletes United for Peace, and on the advisory panel of the organic watchdog organization, The Cornucopia Institute. He is reachable by one and all at michael@heartlandcafe.com. Find more articles by Michael James on The Rag Blog.]

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1 Response to Michael James : 1939 Hot Rod Ford Rolling Through Town

  1. Anonymous says:

    nice story to go with a cool photo. thanks rag blog

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