It sure pays to be lucky

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By W.B. Evans

For some reason, boys of all ages (including me) have a lifelong fascination and obsession with automobiles.

It’s something we grew up with, or at least I did.

In back of our house was a magnificent, full-size garage complete with windows, a wooden floor, workbench and hinged doors.

To one side of it was a slanted shed where the Model A was kept.

We called it the “big car shed.” It was home to “Old Betsy,” our big, black four-door Dodge.

We always kept the garage doors closed up tight whenever Old Betsy was home.

I found that sort of puzzling, seeing how I always considered the big car shed as my headquarters. I constructed many of my inventions on the workbench.

It was a perfect place for a boy; if Old Betsy was gone, I would throw open the window and sweep the wooden floor clean to make my headquarters downright comfortable.

And sometimes – if I was extremely lucky – someone in the family would back out Old Betsy out of the big car shed so I could play inside of it.

Now, I learned early on that I wasn’t supposed to get inside the car all by myself.

Daddy’s reasoning was always the same, which didn’t always sit well with me.

“It’s not a play thing,” he would say. “Besides, you’ll get the seats dirty.”

But sometimes, boys will be boys. The fact that I didn’t always heed his fatherly instruction showed I was no exception to that notion; especially when it came to the car.

We were about to hit the road for a trip to Myrtle Beach, so the week before we left, Uncle Harry took Old Betsy to see Mr. Herbert Lane.

A skillful mechanic , Mr. Lane checked over the Dodge from front bumper to back, especially the fan belts and tires.

Mr. Lane had Old Betsy washed and waxed and she gleamed like new.

You know, folks never go on a vacation in a dirty car. So before Uncle Harry put the car in the big car shed, I swept the wooden floor to make sure it remained dirt-free.

I was proud to do my part before Old Betsy was rolled inside and the garage doors were shut tight.

But for some reason, the old girl kept calling to me. I had to see what she wanted.

The garage doors were locked up tight, but I was able to open that side window and climb inside.

Boy, I thought, as I stared at that four-wheeled wonder, she sure looks good.

With nothing better to do and little chance of getting caught, the boy came out in me, again.

I figured it would be OK to play inside the car. I quietly opened the door and slid behind the wheel. I was careful to not mess with the gearshift, which rose up from the floor, or pull any of the dashboard knobs.

Well, maybe not that careful.

Since it was dark inside the car shed, I figured it was a good idea to pull out the headlight switch. After all, everyone knows you can’t see very well in the dark when you are play driving. Plus, it was kind of fun mashing the floor-mounted dimmer switch beside the pedals.

Now as time passed, it got darker inside of the garage.

Figuring I had been in the car long enough, it was time for a new adventure.

To cover my tracks and to be on the safe side (something all the picture show cowboys did), I climbed, unnoticed, back out that side window.

You know, everything was fine until time to load up the car for vacation. When Uncle Harry swung open the garage doors, the early morning sun sparkled on Old Betsy’s waxed surface.

I stood there watching and waiting for a long time.

Old Betsy was waiting, too.

Uncle Harry didn’t look very pleased when he climbed from behind the wheel; he couldn’t get Old Betsy’s engine to “turn over.”

“The battery must be dead or something like that,” Uncle Harry muttered.

I could tell by Uncle Harry’s disgusted look that he wasn’t in his usual good mood. He was ready to pack up the car and head down the road, but his plan was delayed.

Now, in those days, cars were made a little different; you just didn’t pop open the hood and use jumper cables to start a dead battery.

First of all, the battery was mounted under the inside floor mat on the passenger side and was bolted down beneath a metal cover.

Secondly, nobody had jumper cables.

Uncle Harry went inside to call Mr. Lane, whose brother and business partner, Louis, came over to give the car a quick once-over.

The news was not good; Louis told Uncle Harry the battery was dead and it would take all day to charge it back up.

It seemed that the quickest solution to our dilemma was a new battery, which I don’t think had been budgeted for. Unexpected stuff is never in a budget.

Mr. Louis said he couldn’t understand why the battery went dead so fast, especially since he had just checked it out a few days earlier.

Then he uttered those dreaded words that made my heart flutter.

“Must’ve left the headlights on. That’ll kill a battery real quick,” he said.

Now wasn’t the time for me to play George Washington and place myself in imminent danger.

I just sort of ambled away from the impromptu gathering as they stared at the car.

Very shortly – after a new battery was installed – Old Betsy roared to life.

The car was loaded and we headed out the driveway, leaving behind red clay dirt for the white sands of the coast.

We hadn’t gone very far when Uncle Harry looked at me and spoke up.

“We’re lucky the battery went dead in the garage and not somewhere on the trip,” he said.

Not saying anything, I nodded in agreement and left the talking to the adults.

Yes sir, it sure pays to be lucky, I thought, as I stared out the window.