LUDWIG REMEMBERING: What it was like driving around Chewelah

(GENO LUDWIG/Chewelah Independent)

BACK IN THE DAY: Cruising around Chewelah was a pastime in its own…

Driving around Chewelah often reminds me of events that occurred in specific places when I was younger. For example, when I drive past the God Fearing Brothers Auto Sales lot at the corner of Main Street and Highway 395, I always look to see if the black Dodge Charger is still sitting there. But, it also brings back teenage memories of when the place used to be Ole Alm’s Chevron Station.

Two of my friends worked at Ole’s, which was a hangout for our small group when one of the two were on duty in the evenings and on weekends. I’ll call them Rick and Rob. Rick had a two-tone blue 1954 Ford with a flathead engine. He wanted to make it go faster, so he bought a used intake manifold that mounted three two-barrel carburetors. I was among two or three of his buddies who were helping and giving advice to the upgrade. However, when the project was completed, the car would not start.

We kept pouring gasoline into the mouth of the carburetors in an effort to prime the flow of fuel.

Suddenly, the top of the engine caught fire from all the gas spilled on it. We all panicked, thinking the gas station would ignite and explode. One of us strongly suggested that we shove the car out of the station, so with an adrenaline rush we all started frantically launching the car out the door.

The problem was that no one got into the driver’s seat, so we stood at the garage door watching as the car rolled across the highway unimpeded, jumped onto the sidewalk, and gently rested against the side of Valley Drug, because there was no one to hit the brakes. The result could have been disastrous if there would have been cars driving down the highway in front of the station.

Fortunately, the traffic on Highway 395 was not as heavy as it is today, and there was only a blinking traffic light in the intersection back then, so there were no cars lined up on the highway waiting for the light to turn green.

The shock wore off quickly and we sprinted across the highway to retrieve the car, thankful that it had not caved-in the bricks of Valley Drug. The car was pushed back into the station and the new tri- power intake manifold was replaced with the former stock manifold. The engine started immediately, of course.

Rob was discretely known to the few of us that witnessed this daring event as “Trooper Rob,” who owned a white Buick Skylark. Back then, the two State Patrol officers who lived here in town would drop their patrol cars off at the station once a week to be washed and cleaned. And, once in a while the oil in the car needed to be changed. The officers would leave their uniform jackets and hats in the back seat of their patrol cars when their wives picked them up and took them home for the night.

One day while changing the oil, Rob noticed the red lights mounted behind the grill of the patrol car, and that gave him an idea. He bought a pair of red spotlights and mounted them behind the grill of his Skylark. He could flash the lights on and off with a toggle switch mounted under his dash board. At night, after he closed up the station, Rob would put on the trooper’s hat and coat and drive down the highway.

When he got up close behind a car, he would flash the red lights and laugh as the car pulled over to the side of the road and stopped while he sped past. Emboldened by the results, he then made the decision to actually talk to the driver of the car he had pulled over. So, wearing the trooper’s hat and coat and a pair of sunglasses, Rob actually pulled a driver over and warned him that he had been speeding through town. I do not know how many times Rob pulled this charade before one of these incidents got to the two state patrolmen about his impersonations. Anyway, the next time I saw Rob was when he was removing the red spotlights from the front of his car. Evidently, he had been severely raked over the coals by the officers, but, in the end, they did not arrest him or even write him a citation. It was a good thing he had done such an immaculate job of washing and cleaning their patrol cars for such a long time that they gave him a virtual warning ticket, so to speak.

However, we still called him Trooper Rob for a long time after that.

There were no video games or smart phones when I was a kid, so my friends and I had to find other things to do to have fun or get into trouble.

One of the games we played when I was a teenager was Hide and Seek, but we played it at night in our cars with a different set of rules. The person who was “it” would drive away from Ole’s in his car with his headlights out. The rest of us would count to 50 and then go try to find him, also with our lights turned off. The game board was divided into two sections by Main Street west the highway. The person who was it had to stay in one of those two zones. That person also had to keep moving and stay on city streets. He drove very slowly so he did not have to hit his brakes and thus give away his location. The object of the game was for the rest of us to find him. The game was over when someone turned on his lights to shine them on the person who was it. The person who found “it” then got to be “it” for the next game.

This game came to an end one night when the city policeman decided to play our game. All of a sudden, one of the seekers had red lights flashing in his rear view window. The officer had turned off his lights and had been following him until he determined that the game was dangerous. He then turned on his red lights and stopped the driver. He got out of the car and wanted to know why the driver was driving at night without his headlights turned on. The driver replied that he was playing a game and explained to the officer how it was played. By that time, the rest of us had seen the bright red lights and had gone to the aid of our friend. The officer admitted that it was a unique game, but he emphasized how unsafe it was and told us that he never again wanted to see any of us driving without our lights on at night. That was the last time we played the game.

There was another car game that we played in the winter. Back then, there was a big depression in the ground where Banner Bank now sits. It was the location of the city’s first Presbyterian Church. When the new church was built across the street from city hall, the old building was either removed or torn down, leaving a big hole in the ground about a half a block wide. In the fall, this depression would fill up with rainwater and then freeze. Again, one of my friends came up with the idea of spinning doughnuts with our cars on this frozen pond. We would drive south on the highway from Ole’s, turn left at the American Legion Club, and then drive East on King Street until we got to the ice. We would then bury the gas petal, crank our wheels all the way to the left and spin tight doughnuts across the pond. We would then go around the blocks and do it again and again.

As before, the city police ended our game. Unseen by us, the patrol car was parked behind one of the businesses, and he had been watching us. He flashed on his red lights, turned on his loudspeaker, and said, “That’s enough for one night, guys. It’s time to go home. I don’t ever want to see you guys doing this again.” Thus, another car game came to an end.
Both of these car games were fun when I was a teenage driver. However, as an adult, I understand how perilous they were and would not suggest that today’s teens play them.