By ACM CEO David Madeira
Some days are just like that. You awake with a set of expectations and are eager to start the day. Then, plans go awry, expectations are not met, and you struggle with disappointment. If you’re willing to be flexible and adapt, you may find that, sometimes, important lessons or new opportunities may arise from the unexpected. Day 2 of The Drive Home II was one of those days for us.
Our first day of The Heritage Run had been spectacular. Wonderful weather, the Crane Simplex ran superbly, and we met an enthusiastic response from the public wherever we drove. The small group that gave us a sendoff from the No Name restaurant that evening had been kind and enthusiastic.
We were all eager for Day 2 as it would be a drive through some of the most spectacular scenery of the southeast New England coast on our way to New York City. I was particularly excited because I grew up in the immediate vicinity of our route and it would be my own “˜drive home’ of sorts. I looked forward to the briny aroma of the sea air and the beauty of the salt marshes, sandy beaches, rocky outcroppings which mark New England’s coast.
Video: Derek Klein Films
I also knew the winding stone-wall lined roads which we would drive and could imagine how much fun it would be to do this in our wonderful vintage cars. I especially looked forward to bringing out the Crane Simplex for a drive along the shores of Narragansett Bay and open Atlantic and on down Bellevue Boulevard in Newport past the historic mansions of the American barons of the early 20th century who drove such cars. The Simplex was a luxury car of the era at a cost of about $16,000 in 1917. It too, would be “˜driving home’.
I also looked forward to going to Gray’s Ice Cream parlor in Tiverton, R.I., a haunt of my youth, for a black raspberry ice cream on sugar cone, and to Chopmist Charlie’s in Jamestown for one last meal of tender, sweet, fried clams. From there we would drive the beautiful Connecticut seacoast then make a final hundred mile highway dash into Manhattan.
The day would be long using backroads for most of the journey and because of the many photo opportunities we wanted to pursue. I was a bit “˜antsy’ that we keep to our schedule because I knew that the traffic into Manhattan could be intense if we arrived at rush hour and that the tangle of highways could confuse the other drivers who’d never been there before. A miss-step could literally mean going off course somewhere like Long Island with no way to turn around mid-trip and potential loss of an hour or more in time.
We pulled out about 15 minutes behind schedule which was no big deal unless something happened, which of course, it would. The trip began with an easy drive on Rte. 93 around Boston then quickly onto Rte. 24 heading to the Massachusetts coast. Within an hour we were on two lane roads in the rolling countryside marked by stonewalls, and “˜weather-beaten’ (non -painted, shingled) houses that are quintessentially New England. The woods, barren of leaves, and patches of white snow with blue, sunny sky provided a peaceful backdrop.
We drove past sandy Horseneck Beach where I learned to surf and where we made clam bakes in the summertime to impress girls we were dating and entered Rhode Island through the tiny town of Adamsville. I began to get excited as we were within miles of my beloved Grays Ice Cream stand. Then, the first set back. Rounding a turn one of the tires on the support trailer blew and we all came to a halt to change it. That was managed quickly by Dale with help of the team and we were on the road””another twenty minutes lost but all of us still in good spirits.
At last we were at Gray’s -open 365 days a year purveying its flavorful, creamy rich ice creams. Coffee and maple walnut are the New England favorites but at Gray’s Ice Cream the black raspberry reigns supreme. I got a double scoop (read HUGE) cone because I knew it would be a long time till my next opportunity. We enjoyed the leisurely break and ice cream “˜breakfast’ and were on our way to Newport.
The drive is along the coast and absolutely beautiful until one begins to drive through the former Navy base area and grittier part of the city. Then we entered the maze of colonial Newport seaport with homes dating to the early 1700s, ships at anchor, sailboats in winter storage, charming shops and cozy restaurants. We pulled into a shopping mall and unloaded the Crane Simplex. I got behind the wheel and we drove for our first gas stop at a convenient Shell station right in the harbor. Then we turned onto historic Ocean Drive which hugs the coast and winds through the magnificent mansions once owned by the Vanderbilt’s, Herreshoffs, Rockefeller’s and even Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s family. The drone was put to flight above the picturesque setting and the cars as they hugged the coastline on a gorgeous, cold day.
I determined that since the 100 year old Simplex was running smoothly and we were behind schedule to have Dale load the trailer and proceed ahead to Jamestown 15 miles away across the Narragansett Bay and I’d drive that trip in Simplex. What a fabulous choice as I maneuvered the beautiful car through a setting it had surely driven 100 years ago on the same narrow cobblestoned streets. Passing through town I drove onto the Newport Jamestown suspension bridge for the 3 mile crossing to Jamestown Island in the middle of the bay. I pulled into the center of Jamestown to Chopmist Charlies followed by the other vehicles and to the applause of car enthusiasts who’d been waiting for nearly two hours for our arrival.
We’d gotten behind schedule due to the morning incidents and photo sessions and had sent word to the restaurant to tell those who’d brought their cars out we’d be late. Incredibly they had stayed and were in great spirits. And thank God they had.
The Chrysler arrived with driver Bill Hall reporting its loss of back brakes and howling front brakes. He was very worried that soon he’d have no braking power at all””no way to go to Manhattan. Worrisome indeed because the brake shoes for the 61 Chrysler 300 G were very specific and made only for three years. Try finding replacements at your local NAPA store! The end of the drive for the 300 loomed as a real possibility and cast a pall over our much anticipated lunch stop.
We did pause to eat as we considered our circumstances. We were joined in the quaint seafood place by my wonderful cousin Hali who I’ve remained close to since we were very young. Her time with us was not only fun for me but turned out to be an important help as well. The clams and oysters were devoured and I realized I’d eaten nothing but clams, oysters, lobster and shrimp for 3 days and better soon eat some “˜veggies’!
During lunch the collectors who had come to meet us came to our aid. One identified a potential source of brakes in Tiverton, RI””one hour back near Gray’s where we’d been this morning. And another, Robin, happened to live a mile away and had a lift in his garage at home””he offered it as a place to examine the Chrysler and try to solve the problem.
Dale and Bill took the Chrysler to Robin’s garage and set to work with the kind and amiable Robin’s assistance. They had the opportunity to see his Datsun 240Zs and vintage Honda motorcycles and other vehicles. And, they made a good friend.
Hali volunteered to drive me back to Tiverton for the brake shoes and off we set re-tracing our steps. It was nice for me to have considerable “˜seat’ time with Hal as we caught up on life and family. In the meantime, night had fallen and in the dark countryside we searched for Ray Helger’s Speed Shop. Finding it we pulled into a yard with sheds, barns, car parts, hubcaps””you name it. Reminded me a great deal of our museum’s own origins and how Harold LeMay had “˜saved’ everything that might have a future use. Seventy-six year old Ray came to the door in his jeans, grimy long-sleeved thermal undershirt and big smile. He told us quickly he had “˜no time to talk’ as it was his 52nd wedding anniversary and he needed to get ready to take his wife to dinner. He then proceeded to tell us his life story! He was a kind and good man and directed us “˜next door’ to the Speed Shop where his son, also Ray, would take care of us.
Again, we wheeled into a yard of several barns and lots of cars of all ages and types scattered about. It took a visit to 3 barns before we found Ray and a colleague under a lift bleeding the brakes of an old VW with a “˜Bernie’ campaign sticker on its rear. After some time, they came to our aid. Ray’s grip crushed my own as he greeted us warmly and led us to another shop where he had the brakes. I paid $80 “˜cash only please’ and wrote the amount down on a piece of garage letterhead for a receipt.
Ray Jr asked about the museum, the drive and proudly told us of their work beginning as the only service garage in Tiverton and evolving as times changed into doing mechanical work on vintage vehicles. He made it clear he wasn’t a restorer but engaged in conversation about the loss of the skills, the failure of education in this regard and the like. He listened eagerly to our report of the mission of the Trust, the Museum and particularly RPM Foundation and jotted down the names promising to learn more about them. He asked, and we promised, to visit again. Another good friend made and valuable help received.
Hali and I returned to Jamestown to find the Chrysler back on the ground. Brake shoes had not been needed””at least for now””Dale thought and he’d made adjustments which gave better braking-including rear brakes””to the Chrysler. While we didn’t need the shoes I’d retrieved, it’s a good idea with long trip ahead to have the spares. We thanked Robin for his generosity and help and presented him with a magnum of our Hedges Family Estate wine “˜The Drive Home II’ special engraved edition. He was thrilled and we had made another friend in the car community””3,000 miles from Tacoma!
Camaraderie at Robin’s garage. Video: Derek Klein Films
Finally we set out for Manhattan. I abandoned the coastal route for now we were fully six hours behind schedule and we would be traveling at night””not something we like to do. And we would do so on some of the busiest and trickiest highways in America. At least I knew the route and where we could run “˜hard’ to make time and where we needed to be careful. We kept a pace of 65 miles an hour or so and made good time. The weather was clear and traffic a bit lighter than normal due to the holidays.
It felt great to see the City skyline with lights blazing as we drove across the Robert Kennedy Jr. memorial bridge and turned south on the famous FDR drive which runs the length of Manhattan along the East River. Turning onto 49th St East and then south again on Lexington we’d arrived in the Big Apple at the Lexington Hotel.
By the time we’d gotten the cars into a proper, secure parking lot, checked in to the hotel, it was 11 pm and we knew we faced a 5 a.m. rising for morning TV interviews. We were shot and all went to bed.
And so, a LONG day full of unexpected difficulties and delays had come to an end. It put us under a lot of stress and was disappointing as we rushed through some of the planned activities which we’d hoped to enjoy and missed a good portion of the coastal drive. It was emotionally difficult because it was a sharp contrast to last year when we had NO break downs or difficulties on the entire trip. On the first long day we’d had a tough start this year.
YET, it was a good reminder. These are old cars and the problems we encountered are exactly the types of problems we experienced with them when they were new. Modern cars are simply superior mechanically and we are not used to flats or brakes going bad. I don’t remember changing a flat tire on a modern car in fifteen years!
It was also a good reminder that the skills necessary to keep vintage cars on the road need to be preserved and passed on to the younger generation. And so, I am proud of the mission of America’s Automotive Trust as it undertakes efforts like the Drive Home II to promote heritage and call attention to the importance of keeping our vintage cars on the road. I’m proud of LeMay America’s Car Museum as a repository of automotive treasures, a place of celebration and education and a home for enthusiasts to gather. And, I’m proud that our RPM Foundation is providing young people with the opportunity for full time careers in automotive restoration and preservation. I’m proud that we are not a self-focused institution but one seeking to serve the enthusiast and collector communities.
Lastly, I’m thankful to the many collectors who bring their cars out proudly and do their part in keeping our automotive heritage alive. I’m humbled by their kindness and their generosity in helping us along the way. They remind me of our “˜kinship’ in our love affair with the automobile.
And now, to bed.