One of my friends that I ran around with and got into trouble with was Eugene. There were a few others, however Eugene seemed to be the one that helped me create some of my greatest, craziest and fondest memories.
To say my teenage years were interesting would be an understatement. I grew up on a farm in Missouri during my high school years. We didn’t have all the luxuries kids have today, like cell phones and computers, so we had to come up with things to do. This is what happens when you leave farm boys to their own devices…
I’m going to give you a little background into my life, so the pieces will fit together. My family had some property up on the highway a few miles from our house. The property had two large buildings on it. In the smaller of the two, we had a convenience store called “Linda’s Nut House.” I know that’s a funny name, and I will probably write about how that name came to be in a future post. The other larger building was an auto shop that my dad ran. Since I had the availability of an auto shop, all the tools that you could think of and of course snacks from the store, I had friends come over to work on their cars after hours quite often. One of the main ones that showed up a lot was my friend Eugene and his ’65 Ford Mustang.
It was Sunday afternoon, and I was in the shop alone tinkering on my ’66 Ford Ranchero, when I saw that Eugene pulled up. He came in and told me that he had bought a new steering wheel for his car and asked if I would help him install it. “Of course” I told him. I had him pull his car in, and we went to work. I had changed out the steering wheel in my own car not too long before and knew exactly how to do it.
I gathered the tools we needed, and we removed his original steering wheel. I told him to get the new one. He reached in the back seat and pulled out the box with the new wheel in it and handed it to me. I set it aside and said that I needed the adapter box first. Eugene looked at me kind of funny and asked, “What adapter?” I told him the one that you put on the original bolt pattern, so his new GT steering wheel would bolt to it. “I don’t have an adapter” he said. “Well we can’t put it on without it” I explained.
There was only one auto parts store in our little town, and it was now closed. It wouldn’t be open until tomorrow, but we had school in the morning. Even though we didn’t live but about two miles apart, down a couple of dirt roads, we went to different high schools. This meant I wouldn’t be able to drive him to school, and there was nobody else around that neck of the woods that went to school with him. He absolutely refused to ride the school bus.
As we walked around the car, I was making fun of the situation, He did not see the comedy in this. I told him that we would just have to put the old one back on until he got the adapter we needed. He sat down in the driver’s seat with the new steering wheel in his hands and seemed to get an idea. This worried me. It always seemed like when he got an idea, I was about to get into trouble. He took the new steering wheel and stuck it onto the shaft. He then proceeded to turn the wheel back and forth, feeling the front tires turn under him. “Can’t I just drive it like this?” He asked. “I guess so, but there’s nothing holding it on but you. Any little bump and you’re going to be going down the road with it in your lap!” I answered with a laugh. My laughter soon turned into concern. He’s seriously thinking about this!
“It ain’t no big deal, Bill, I can get the adapter tomorrow and put it on tomorrow night.” He said. One thing I knew about my friend, when he decided to do something, it was going to happen. So he left the new one on there, fired up the Stang and backed it out of the garage. “Let’s take a run down the road and see how she does.” He said. “Why not?” I said. I got into the passenger seat and away we went.
I fully expected to be in a wreck, but I’ve been in worse situations. We went down the road a piece, and he held nothing back. Full speed ahead and worry about disaster when it happens, I guess. After going maybe five miles, he turned around and headed back. Maybe two miles back down the road, he told me it was working great and asked if I wanted to drive. “Sure.” I said. I figured he just wanted a second opinion. Going down the road at maybe fifty miles an hour, he pulls the steering wheel off and offers it to me! “Put that damn thing back on!” I exclaimed. It took him a couple of seconds, but he got it back on and said “Cool!” “Are you crazy?” I exclaimed. He laughed, which made me laugh. How I kept my underwear clean in that few seconds, I will never know.
A couple of days later, he did it to me again. “You haven’t got that adapter yet?” I asked. “Nope, having too much fun and besides, nobody can steal my car. Hell, I just take the steering wheel with me,” He said with a crooked smile.. He always had a way to make sense out of the dumbest things. After about the third time he did this, I didn’t panic anymore. I would even take the offered steering wheel, act like I was driving from the passenger seat for a second or two and hand it back to him to put back on going down the road. We actually got perfect at it and decided this would be fun to mess with other teens.
We were at a bonfire party where we met a couple of girls. Eugene asked if they would like to run to the store with us to pick up a couple of things? They said they would. So we piled into his car. We made the girls sit in the back seat. Our first victims! Going down the road, Eugene asked if I would like to drive. Of course my response was, “sure.” He pulls off the steering wheel and hands it to me. I made a couple of quick gestures like driving and handed it back to him. He puts it back on and everything was great! Well, except for the blood-curdling screams from the back seat, of course! It was kinda of funny, for a short period of time, these girls wanted to kill us. But after it was all said and done, they wanted to kiss us, and of course we let them. For some reason, girls like to be scared as long as everyone is okay afterwards. We used this tactic a couple more times on girls and sure enough, blood-curdling screams and then kisses. Oh, life was good!
The final time we used our little ‘you want to drive trick’ was with a guy we knew. His name was Floyd. Floyd drove this bright yellow beat up Ford pickup, and he was always running out of gas. He carried a five gallon gas can in the back of his truck all the time, so he could go get gas if and when he ran out. We never understood how one person could run out of gas so many times, but Floyd always was.
Eugene and I were running down a side road and there was Floyd. He had his pickup parked in the ditch and standing on the side of the road with that five gallon can of his. Eugene pulled up and asked if he was okay. Floyd said he ran out of gas and was wandering if we could take him down to the station and back. Eugene told him that he would. I opened the passenger door and pulled the seat forward so he could get in the back seat. Now Floyd was a mountain of a man and if you have seen the back seat of a ’65 mustang, you would know, there’s not much room at all. Floyd had to squeeze himself in and sit across both seats just to have enough room for his massive body and gas can which he sat in the floorboard.
We took him down to the filling station where he filled up his can. He set the can in the floorboard and crammed himself back in there. Eugene couldn’t help but to laugh on and off through this ordeal, and he had a very interesting laugh that made me laugh. On the way back to Floyd’s truck, Eugene smiled at me, and then the words came. “Bill, do you want to drive?” I gave the proper response, “sure”. Eugene pulled the steering wheel off and handed it to me. I did my little number, handed it back to him, and he went to put it back on. This time, it didn’t work! Neither one of us had thought about it, but before when we had done this little trick, it was either on a flat dirt road or the US highway which was also fairly flat. This time we were on a back paved road that was not flat. It was convexed. They design roads like this in cold climates to help snow and ice run off. When Eugene tried to put the wheel back on, he couldn’t because the shaft it goes on was turning since the wheels were following the drop of the road! We were heading into the ditch, and this was no small ditch either. Just beyond the ditch was a barbed wire fence that was coming up on my side in a hurry! Into the ditch we went and up the other side. Just before we hit the fence, Eugene was able to get the steering wheel back on and turned as hard as he could. This slung the car away from the fence back down to the bottom of the ditch where the car came to rest.
Eugene and I both bailed out of the car and because we had been involved many times with stupid things like this, our full focus was to check the car. Our health and well-being was never even a thought. Looking around both sides of the car and underneath, there was no damage. We always called this a successful wreck. By the time we got to the front of the car checking for damage, it dawned on me. I looked over the hood from my kneeling position and asked, “Hey Eugene, where’s Floyd?” We both looked back through the windshield. No Floyd. Did he get out? Neither one of us seen him get out. So where’s Floyd? We both got up off of our knees, walked back and looked into the back seat. There’s Floyd, this mountain of a man, bent over hugging that five gallon can of gasoline, tears streaming down his face. Eugene was the first to speak. “Are you okay, Floyd?” He asked. Floyd yelled,”You crazy A**h***s, we could have blown up!”
Now, let me point out before I tell you what I told Floyd at that moment. My dad was a mechanic. He taught me that it’s not the gas that blows up, it’s the fumes from the gas that causes explosions. “Floyd, is that gas can full?” I asked. He yelled, “Of course it’s full, you seen me fill it up!” “Well then you are safe because it’s the fumes that blow up and if the can is full, heh, no fumes.” I said with a half smile on my face. This did not help him feel any better. He squeezed out of the car, (which was like watching a hamster give birth to an elephant), grabbed his gas can and started walking toward the direction of his truck. “Hey Floyd, it’s still two miles to your truck. Are you sure you don’t want a ride?” Eugene asked with that undertone of his funny laugh. All we heard out of Floyd was a grunt as he kept walking. The next time we saw Floyd out of gas and offered him a ride, he refused. We never did our little trick again. I guess Floyd took all the fun out of it.
Years later after my time in the Navy, I went back to visit my friend Eugene. I asked if he still had the old Mustang. He raised the garage door and there on jack stands was the old girl herself. I had told alot of my shipmates about our adventures and a thought came to me. I walked over to the driver’s side of his car, reached in the window and grabbed the steering wheel. And guess what? It came off with a slight tug. My friend never did get that adapter kit. Good Ole’ Eugene.
I have many more stories of my adventures with Eugene along with some other friends that I will write about soon enough. We may be the reason they say don’t try this at home on those crazy television shows.
My friend Eugene is in Heaven now due to a boating accident years ago. I would like to dedicate this story to him. I miss you, my friend.
I hope you enjoyed this. Take care of yourselves and remember, we are all in this together.
(Floyd’s name was changed to hide his identity)