I was a teenager cruising north up highway 36, on my way to spend the afternoon with a family I had grown particularly fond of. I was excited and the music on the radio made the time fly-by. I loved my car and sometimes turned the radio off to listen to the Imperial walker mufflers purr. The car was a white over green 1956 Chrysler New Yorker but the power-train came out of a newer Chrysler 300. A 392 Hemi with dual Holley quads rested proudly above an Edelbrock intake manifold.
was December 24, 1969. I had passed Taber then Vauxhall and Scandia
was on my left. In a few minutes I would be turning off #36 and
heading over to Lake Newell and the deserted 15 miles of snow covered
drifted-in gravel road.
my rear-view mirror a frightening scene was unfolding! Huge clouds of
steam were bellowing out of the back of my car! Slowly edging over
onto the unplowed shoulder of the road as the temperature gauge
indicated the engine was getting hot ... quickly. Without water, the
heater was now blowing cold air instead of the welcome heat and
I knew I had to act quickly or freeze. I opened the hood expecting to
find a radiator hose clamp had come off or in the worst case a split
hose. Of course I didn't have a spare one in any case. The pungent
smell of anti-freeze filled the otherwise odorless air. Under the
hood everything looked fine? I pushed some of the snow away from
under the warm engine and placed a sheet of cardboard from the trunk
on the cold pavement. Head first under I go.... I quickly spot the
problem ... There was a gaping 2" hole in the block! My engine
had lost a frost (freeze) plug.. . Now what? I had to replace it .or,
maybe an extra block-heater would work .... if I could find either on
It felt like -25 outside and it was snowing lightly, almost a beautiful day... if I were at home. The cold bite in the air reminded me quickly of the danger of being stranded for any length of time. The nearest town was Brooks, probably 20 miles north of here. I had never been there but, hopefully I could find a Chrysler dealership .... hopefully it would be open! Hopefully someone would be there until 12:00.
must have been around 11 A.M.. I stood out on the road to hitch a
ride. I did get one, quite quickly if I remember correctly. My bones
absorbed the warmth inside the blue Chevy sedan. We made small chat
about cars and the weather but the rescuers knew of my urgency to get
there and drove a little faster than I imagined they may have
We scurried down the hiway, on my right side was an auto wrecker. Hundreds of cars scattered over several acres... icy cold cars. My imagination set in and I was hoping mine wouldn't be joining them any time soon. A little shed sat smack dab in the middle, a frosty little light twinkled through a small window from within and white smoke was streaming from it's chimney. We raced into Brooks a short distance down the road. My rescuers took me to a dealership only to find it LOCKED. "Open until Noon" it stated on the front door. We were 15 minutes late. I apologized for wasting their time and asked if they could possibly return me to the auto wrecker we had passed earlier? Thankfully, they agreed.
5 minutes we were there. I opened the creaking front door and stepped
in. There sat an older gentleman. He was as close as physically
possible to an open-flame gas furnace ... which surely would not be
allowed these days. Tires and automotive parts littered every inch of
the wood planked floor. The aroma of oil, grease and rubber was
everywhere. He raised his right arm and gestured me over. His oil
stained khaki green overalls showed the years they had been in use. A
small smudged name tag over his pocket stated he was Nick. Not a
common name I thought and that made it sound nicer than most. With a
thick-German accent he asked me what I was doing out and if he could
help me... what a wonderful sound that was!! "Can I help you".
I gave him the short version of my problem with the engine and a
large grin appeared on his face and I believe he quietly adopted me.
He placed his large hand on my shoulder and exclaimed, "I've got
many engines and plenty of time ... let's go find us one" I'm
sure I must have smiled with his proposal.
Now a 392 Hemi was a rare engine even back then. So many cars but none with that engine. One after another we would locate a car, clean off the snow and force open the huge hoods only to be disappointed. I was exhausted, tired and cold..freezing cold now. Shaking a little even. The old man must have seen the desperation in my eyes and kept me focused on the frustrating task.
Finally, finally, finally after hours we spotted one. Sitting in a pile of scrap blocks that had parts removed. The engine had been smashed in an accident of some sort, but it had several plugs in it. He tapped on a frost plug with a hammer and straight screw driver until it popped out... but, the aggressive hammer had dented it and rendered it unusable..my spirits dropped again. He tapped lighter around the rim of the second plug ... tap, tap, tap, it came out perfectly. He removed one more in a similar fashion to allow me a spare. He exclaimed "It's getting late, jump in my truck." He gave me a ride back to my car with some water and anti freeze! WOW, this guy was terrific and he as correct..it was going to be dark soon. I was excited again! I was going home!
We arrived at the car quickly. Iced over now the setting sun made it sparkle. The trunk lid creaked as the door at the auto wrecker had earlier sending a shiver straight through me. I retrieved a hammer and a socket extension from my tool chest. Under the car, shaking with excitement now I placed a frost plug in the hole. Thank God ..... IT FIT!! A quick few taps with my hammer and I was all smiles.. maybe even giggling. I guess Nick knew as much. He poured his antifreeze into the radiator, I turned the key and that engine jumped to life.. it had never sounded better. It was a "happy" sound. The plug was holding and I would be on-my-way. I was so grateful for this old man's generosity. But how was I to pay him .... how much did I owe....I only had 20 bucks on me...it would be a lot more than that for sure. Hours of working outside in the cold, the ride here, water/anti freeze and as much a anything ... someone who cared about a stupid kid out on the highway. He opened the door of the truck's cab, sat inside, turning to me he leaned out and exclaimed "You know someone did me a big favour a while back and I've never forgotten it, so this is me passing it on to you. Now, you'll have to do the same for someone else and then we'll be even". I watched him speed away. I sat there speechless for a long time.... letting this amazing event sink in.
A couple years passed and one gorgeous spring day I just wanted to go out for a drive, I'm sure you have felt the same at some point in your own life? Anywhere. The old man popped into my head as he had so many times before. I decided to pay him a visit, maybe take him out for a coffee and thank him. Chat a while like we had a few years ago. I drove north. Passing Scandia now. I'm getting excited as I near my destination and when I arrived .... well, just where is it? All I could see for miles was prairie.... no cars, no buildings... just farmland with tumble weeds rolling slowly across the fields and clinging like skeletons to the barbed fences. Down a side road I could see a farm house. I ventured over to it. A man of years appeared along the side of my car almost instantly. A large shark-faced rottweiler accompanied him while 3 cats beneath a bush were checking me out for any signs that there might be a treat in it for them. I inquired about the auto wrecker.. He stood with a questioning look on his face and claimed he had lived here his entire life and there had never been anything but his farm here....surely no auto wrecker .....nor an old man named Nick....
written by William Elder