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Down the Road

By Milt Gross
Feb 9, 2014 - 12:30:01 AM

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Vehicle accidents are not funny -- except for one.

I doubt if Stan, the town barber, thought his accident was funny, at least the first one. But when the second one occurred, he may have. And he may have used some religious language that would have made God close his ears.

I don't know which. I do know the story, because Stan told it to me -- while I was getting a haircut.

Stan (since this story is an antique, I'll use Stan's actual name, Stan) was driving out the East Bethel Road in his old '49 or thereabouts Chevy, when he hit a deer. The accident demolished the '49 or thereabouts, which left Stan Chevyless.

So he bought a brand new Chevy, and drove it out the same road. Bet you can guess what happened. You're right. At the same place in the road, Stan's brand new Chevy struck another deer. The accident demolished the new Chevy.

I can't remember if the late Stan, who passed away a couple of years ago, laughed when he told me the story. I, however, was the customer in the barber chair. Customers are always right. So it was only right that I laughed. And I did.

He never said what happened to the two deer.

Then there's the story of the late Stan, the fox, and the hare -- which I won't tell you now, because this column is about cars and their misbehavior.

What happened to my old '69 or thereabouts Ford LTD wagon wasn't funny -- then. But looking back on it, three or four cars later, it became a little funny.

I don't know if the South Paris Fire Department thought so or not. I, being a faithful reporter of whatever passed for news, drove Mr. Ford to the scene of the fire. It turned out to be a tractor trailer with a load that had caught fire. So they had the driver drive the rig to the town dump, so they could extinguish the blaze without endangering the entire town.

Which is where I caught up with the fire. And the fire truck, near which I parked. (There were no parking lines at the town dump.) But, after I had taken my newsworthy photo, and jumped back into Henrietta, the name a bunch of kids had named the big beast when I had driven them up to Bigelow Mountain, she wouldn't start.

I know for some reason all guys call their cars and pickups "she," but with Henrietta it was kind of expected.

But she wouldn't start. I located the fire chief, who was watching the truck fire with one eye and chuckling at Henrietta's not starting with the other, and explained Henrietta's situation to him. He chuckled, this time with his mouth, and said that after the fire was out they'd tow Henrietta out of the way until I could get her on.

Soon after, another fireman asked me to move Henrietta out of his firetruck's way. I explained the situation.

This was so long ago, I can't remember the outcome. But I have never forgotten Henrietta's being stuck in a firetruck's path. It's not something I recommend you try at home.

I do remember that not long afterwards, I replaced Henrietta with a Subaru. Sally Subaru always started, even at dump fires I think, although she never toted me to one, so I'm not certain.

But Henrietta wasn't a quitter. Her story continues. I gave her to a man who had a large family, somewhere between six and ten kids (maybe), whose old car was worn out, and who needed a nice big car. I volunteered Henrietta.

About a week later, the man phoned me. I know he phoned me because this was before I was using e-mail. I was using a phone.

The man told me that he had phoned the Maine Department of Motor Vehicles -- or taken her there -- to register her. The representative explained to the man that no Ford could have 212,000 miles on her odometer. I apologized to the man, and explained, that yes, she did have that many miles on her. And, while we were talking about Henrietta, I also explained that she did not burn oil or anything except gasoline.

I never heard anymore, so perhaps on the second try, DMV believed that Henrietta was a high- mileage gal.

She did have one oddity, which also was not an accident but about which I'll tell you anyhow, since you might as well have the entire scoop about Henrietta. When I bought her at 125,000 miles, the seller explained that her motor raced. He was right. She raced and raced and raced, even sitting still at a red traffic light which forced me to at times place the gear lever into neutral.

After a good while, I took her to our local Ford dealer to have them get her to slow down a bit. I needed to get to work, which was about 30 miles distant, and I had told the dealership this detail. But when I phoned before picking her up, they said I couldn't have her. Not wanting to walk 30 miles that day, I asked what was wrong, and they explained that now Henrietta ran so slow she kept stalling.

I told the voice on the phone I needed to get to work, so I'd walk down and take her anyway, which I did. She got me to work all right, but she stalled until the day she died long after the town dump fire. (She must have still run some, because I drove her far enough to give to the guy with all the kids.)

Driving her, I missed having several accidents, such as sliding at a snowy intersection not quite far enough to hit the other car.

At one which-could-have-been-an-accident-scene, she didn't have the accident. I'm not sure why. All I can say is that Henrietta was Henrietta, and if you've ever had a Henrietta, you can understand that.

We were driving along Route 219, a good back road to go from South Paris to Augusta even though it doesn't go to either place, one Sunday morning. It had snowed the day before.

Route 219 has lots of curves, and as Henrietta took us around one, I saw that the road ahead was totally snow-covered. I hit her brakes, but it was too late to stop, so Henrietta took us off the road down into a field that was also snow-covered. I noticed that she was still moving, and I could see the road not too far away and above us, so I followed the old Maine driver's rule. If the vehicle is still moving, don't take your foot off the gas. We kept going and kept going until bye and bye we were back on the road again, just past the place where the snow ended.

Then I saw a small car coming the opposite direction. I could see a large Bible on the small car's small dash, so I knew the driver and his family were more spiritual than us. They were heading for church.

Maybe. They passed us, and in the mirror, I saw the small car hit the snow and head off the side of the road into the snowy field.

I don't know why I didn't stop. Maybe we were late for non-church. Or maybe I was just mean. Or maybe I don't recall why, but I didn't.

If that small car was as skillful as Henrietta in the snow, they made it to church on time.

God hasn't struck me dead yet for not stopping to help, but I know year after year that my time is coming.

But I'll have to go without Henrietta.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013

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