Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

A Ride to Virginia

Jim Graham

In late spring 1963, a month or so short of June Week with all its associated festivities, I realized I had a problem. Second-class cadets were not allowed to own cars, and I didn’t have any money to speak of to buy one with anyway. And what money I had I needed to pay for getting my fiancé from Virginia to Colorado and back for June Week and the Ring Dance. After all this time, Sandra and I were definitely going to both be at the Ring Dance, but we would need a way to get around that week, and to get home!! What to do, what to do…?

I concluded that I actually could buy a car—some car, any car—with about half the money needed for a plane ticket, and I could take care of getting us both back to Virginia after June Week, and have it available for June Week transportation as a bonus. So the plan was hatched. After walking Colfax Blvd miles one way and then the other, on several different Saturdays, stopping at every half-baked used car lot and looking at what was available, I finally settled on a Blue 1952 Plymouth sedan, available for $120. An older car, well-used, with something like 80K miles on it, it looked and sounded OK. I ought to be able to make this work! (But really, what did I know…?) It was still mid-May, so I stashed it on the street near Dave Lyman’s aunt’s home in South Denver just off Hampden Blvd. It would be there when I needed it, discreetly for June week, and then for the ride back to Virginia!! I noticed a light tapping coming from under the hood, but now I owned it, optimist that I was (and am).

So June Week comes and goes, no real issues… We pack our suitcases such as they were, and set off toward the east. By this time however, I realized that the previously quiet, sort-of subtle knocking sounds coming from under the hood had grown in volume over the several weeks since I purchased the car, and now they were taking on a life of their own. Loud, heavy knocking. (Again, what did I know…?) Well, I knew it was using a lot of oil, so I had actually loaded a full case of 40-weight oil and six bottles of STP in the trunk even before leaving Colorado Springs. By the time we got to Kit Carson, the engine sounded like it was going to come apart, and we stopped at a small country garage alongside US-40. I asked the mechanic there if he had any ideas. He said, “Well son, how far are you going?” I said “Virginia.” He looked at the other good-ol-boy beside him, and they both just laughed. I said, “Well, you may laugh, but we’re going to Virginia. Now, if you had to do that, how would you do it?” He said “Main bearings. Don’t drive over 35 mph.”

So that is what we did. Three long days, 16-17 hours a day, across the vast expanses of Kansas (even vaster at 35 mph!!). Up to 45 on the Kansas Turnpike (so we wouldn’t get a too-slow ticket…), then back down to 35. Across Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and finally late on the third day, into Virginia. We drove unceasingly, stopping only for gas, and at least twice that often, to add a quart of oil and a bottle of STP, and at the end of the day to wonder what the next day would bring. And the oil pressure needle was more or less continuously pegged on the bottom end of the gauge.

I sold that car in Virginia that same week to a guy who owned a junk yard. Got him to offer me $20 for it, but I didn’t have the title with me (what did I know…?). So he said—and get this: “You send me the title, and I’ll send you the $20.” I did, but he didn’t. It was a cheap lesson considering everything else that I learned from start to finish with that Blue 1952 Plymouth…
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