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2002 Note: This only makes sense of your read doxens of "hot rod" books like I did when I was growing up.

Hot Rod Fools

Copyright 1974, 2002 by Bruce Jaeger. All rights reserved. 
My notes say it was printed in the DNF, but I can't find it in any issue that I have.

     Chet walked around the car again, hemming and hawing, kicking all the tires and trying to look like an expert at car buying. He checked his back pocket to make sure that his wallet and the fifty-five dollars it held was still there. It as, and Chet grimly remembered all the gravel he'd had to shovel for old man Peterson in order to earn it.
     The car was a 1950 Studebaker Commander, its color a strange combination that only black paint, gray primer and red rust can make. It was perfect. All the other guys in the gang had cars, thought Chet, but he still had to pedal around on his old bicycle like a little kid. "Just wait till they see me in this!" he said to himself.
     Honest Fred came out of his shack on the lot. "Quite a car, huh kid?" He spit a piece of his shredding cigar an inch from the Stude's right rear.
     "Well, it's kind of beat up..." mumbled Chet with his chin on his chest. The car had obviously been in a wreck, and he thought the frame might be twisted, because it kind of sat there like a three-legged dog. But that was why he could afford it. And, boy, he'd fix it up in no time flat!
     "Sure, kid, it's got a coupla dents!" admitted Fred, "But nothing that a real car man couldn't fix! But then, you're just a kid, and I seen you walking around it for an hour now with drool running down your chin because you're not old enough to buy it!"
     "I am so old enough!" retaliated Chet. "How much you want for this hunk of junk?"
     "How much do you got?"
     "Fifty, er, forty-five dollars."
     "Tell you what, kid!" offered Fred as he tried to relight his cigar, "I was asking ninety bucks for this job, but because I like to see a kid start off right with a good, safe car, I'll let it go to you for only fifty-five dollars."
     Wow! thought Chet. What a great fellow! "Sure, mister! Here's the money! Gimme the keys!"

      The Studebaker wouldn't start. Chet walked up to Fred's office, but the shack was closed. There was a faded notepaper sign in the window, "Family Emergency--back tomorrow." Chat went back to the car and raised the hood, but finally had to admit to himself that he didn't know much yet about motors. He pulled on wires and took the air cleaner on and off, until an hour later the "beep-beep" of a horn announced the arrival of Nick, the president of the local hot rod club, the Cruising Tigers.
     Nick stopped his rod with a squealing of tires and sauntered up to Chet. "Whatcha doin' messin' with this old heap?" he asked as he pushed the peak of his hat back on his forehead.
     "It's my new hot-rod!" exclaimed Chet proudly. "I just bought it! And I bet it's fast, too!"
     "You mean you didn't drive it before you bought it?" Nick tapped the end of his cigarette pack, took one out, then offered the pack to Chet.
     "Well, I haven't been able to get it started yet," Chet admitted sheepishly. He took a deep drag of the Lucky and had to lean on the Studebaker's side for support.
     "Brother! What a moron!" Nick looked inside the engine compartment, clipped the distributor cap back on, then told Chet "Try 'er now." The car started, running on four cylinders and pinging like a coffee can full of marbles. The bearings sounded like a man chewing sand, and the smoke belching out the tailpipe and the other holes in the exhaust system couldn't decide on whether it should be oily blue or greasy black.
     "Runs great, doesn't she!" Chet beamed. "And just wait'll I fix her up!"

      On Nick's advice, Chet poured the crankcase full of 90-weight differential fluid, then proudly drove the car to the gang's after-school hangout, Mel's Burgers. The guys laughed when his engine coughed, wheezed and died. The girls laughed when the carhop leaned on his left fender and it fell off. They all laughed when Chet got his gears mixed up and smashed into the building. Even Mel laughed, when he saw that his building wasn't hurt, and that Chet would have to take his Studebaker home in installments.
     Chet burned with embarrassment all the next day at school as the word got around and everybody, even Mr. Fogerty the principal, asked him "how his new junk business was going."
     But the day finally was over, and Chet tearfully pedaled home on his hated bicycle. He stumbled up to his room, shut the door and lay face down on his bed.
     A few minutes later, Chet's mother knocked timidly on the door. "What's the matter, Chester?"
     "Nothing. Mom," replied Chet. "I'm just a little tired."
     "Are you too tired to do something about that pile of scrap metal in the driveway? I don't want the neighbors to complain about our running a junk business."
     Chet buried his face in his pillow.
     When Chet's father got home from work that evening, he immediately called Chet downstairs.
     "What are you going to do with that car?" he demanded.
     "Fix it up," answered Chet. "I got it all planned out. First I'll get it some headers, then I'll chop the top down three inches, and I'll ..."
     "You given any thought to just getting it to run first, and moving it out of the driveway?"
     "But, gee Dad! I'm gonna..."
     "I think," interrupted Chet's mother, "That this would make a wonderful father-son activity!"
     "But Donna!" exclaimed Chet's father, "You know that with that Jesperson contract coming up, I haven't got the time to work on any car!"
     "Nevertheless, Chester needs you help, and what's more important than your own son?" Chet's father knew when he was beaten, so he called up a mechanic to have the car towed away and completely rebuilt.
     "But Dad!" complained Chet. "I wanted to do it myself!"
     "What do you know about cars?"
     "Well, not much," Chet admitted. "But I was going to practice on this car! Now how am I going to learn about engines and everything?"
     "How about that shop class at school?"
     "Heck, only the real dopes take that class! None of the Tigers are in it! You want me to look like a jerk?"
     Chet's father looked at the heap of rusting metal littering the driveway. "Of course not," he replied. "But do you want the neighbors to think Here in the junk business?"
     Chet's face fell. "Oh, all right." Then he brightened. "Gosh, I can still paint it and customize it myself!" He ran upstairs to look over his car magazines again.

     Some weeks later, the Studebaker was back. It ran very well, although much too quietly to suit Chet, the frame was straightened and all the dents had been pounded out. To Chet's delight, the garage hadn't painted the car in some square, stock color, but had left it covered with red primer. He popped the hood and replaced the stock radiator cap with a chrome-plated one, then proudly once again drove to Mal's Burgers.
     The guys laughed when Chet said he never drove over 50. The girls laughed when Chet said his car really attracted the chicks. But most of all, they laughed when Chet said his "rod" could beat Constable Kozinski's pokey Plymouth any day.
     "Not a chance!" laughed Nick. "You couldn't outrun old Farmer Winston and his John Deere!"
     "Oh yeah?" Chet steamed. "Just watch me!"
     Mary Anderson, the girl Chet had always secretly admired, crawled into the passenger side of the Studebaker, and the rest of the crowd got into their own cars to enjoy the fun. They drove out of town past Milly's HideAway, where Constable Kozinski spent his time when not on patrol. Everybody pulled ahead to watch the fun, leaving Chet to get the chase going.
     Gritting his teeth, Chet "peeled rubber" in front of The HideAway, where Mr. Kozinski was drinking Pepsi and talking politics with Milly the bartender. "Gosh-darned punks!" the constable raged as he stormed out of the bar. "I'll fix their wagon, but good! He fired up his patrol car and, siren screaming, raced down the highway.
     "Faster, Chet! Faster" urged Mary as she turned and saw the revolving red light approaching. They were catching up to the rest of the gang now, who began speeding up to get out of the way. "Faster! He's catching us!"
     Chet grimaced and clenched the wheel. Beads of sweat formed on his upper lip, and his stomach tried to change places with his lungs, but somehow Chet couldn't make himself drive over 50. Suddenly the patrol car rocketed by. Constable Kozinski, thinking that the slow-moving Studebaker belonged to an innocent motorist, thundered away after the rest of the gang.
     Chet slowed to a stop. turned around and went back to town, ashamed to even look at Mary until he dropped her off in front of her house. "See you in school," he finally said as she got out of the car.
     "Sure, Chet. Tomorrow." She walked into the house.

     The next day, it turned out that the rest of the gang had been caught by Constable Kozinski, and that their parents had grounded every last one of them--all, of course. except Chet and Mary. He stopped her after class.
     "Doing anything tonight?" he asked.
     "No, not really."
     "Want to cruise on down to Mel's with me for a burger?"
     "Sure, Chet! Sounds like fun!" She smiled. "Give me a ride home?"
     Arm in arm. they walked out into the parking lot. 


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