Tale #4 – Slide for Life

GRANDPA’S TALL (TRUE) TALES

It was a typical wintry afternoon, that January day in 1969. School had been canceled before we all left for classes that morning. That meant that Melony had not boarded the bus for her trip to Quincy, Ohio early in the day and her little brother Kenny was home too. Their teachers, Mrs. Curl and Mrs. Short with their fifth and third grade responsibilities were home. I taught a fourth grade unit and so was off as well.

We lived in Logansville where I pastored the Logansville Christian Church. Normally I would have made my hospital rounds after school on a day anyone was in the Bellefontaine Hospital we knew. Today was different. I was home. There was time to see the sick folk.

There was a problem, however with the weather. It was not especially snowy but there was some new snow down and the roads were slippery. We waited for the weather to improve. It was getting gradually better but not fast enough to suit me. I was looking forward to getting back to have the day for study and relaxation with the family. Kevin was small and Nathan was just three weeks old. I decided to get ready to go.

“Honey, I’ll take Kenny with me. He can sit in the lobby and read while I make my calls,” I called to Jane in the other room. She soon had him buttoned up for the trip into town. I enjoyed having him with me and his mother enjoyed my having him with me!

We piled into the ’61 Dodge we were so proud of. It was white, a “hard-top convertible.” I backed out of the garage into a light snowfall and pointed the nice sedan east toward Mary Rutan Hospital in Bellefontaine, just ten miles away. The “318” engine I liked so well purred assuringly and with some caution we moved along Ohio Route 47 toward our destination.

The terrain on Route 47 in that part of the country is slightly rolling and the road was generally smooth but a little narrow. Here and there were imperfections in the blacktop with some creases that tended to “guide” the car for the driver at times. Not a good thing!

We had covered about four miles on the slippery pavement when we approached a downgrade portion of highway, coming up on a road that led away to the right. Here some noticeable creases in the blacktop presented themselves and the yellow warning stripe told me I was into a “no passing zone” from my lane. I took a tight grip on the wheel to pass over the rough pavement.

The eight-year-old Dodge was in good shape but typically that year model could have rather loose steering. It was difficult to avoid over-correction with the problem of slightly sloppy steering in the event of a slip. I was hoping I wouldn’t have one. But, I did! At the worst possible second we met a passing car headed west. There was no way to fudge on the centerline.

In a flash the big Dodge slipped slightly left in front as it tried to follow a nasty crease in that direction. I corrected just a “tad” to the right to bring it back. It didn’t come! Instead, it darted farther left and we started into a full downhill slide coming around all the way to our left. I toed some brake but that didn’t help and we blew down the hill gradually leaving the pavement broadside and off to the right.

With a death grip on the steering wheel I yelled to Kenny, “Here we go,” and jerked him back to me since there were no seat belts. The car was sliding through the apron area of the road that was coming up on our right. A bare farm field lay off to the right and a little lower on beyond the road area and we made our grand slide off the berm and into the field, still full broadside!

I know Kenny liked excitement but I didn’t have time to glance at his face as we bounced into the field, still sweeping around in our broad turn. As we slid downhill we were rapidly coming up on a modest sized phone pole that had no intention of getting out of the way. Within the next couple of seconds I saw the bottom end of the pole pass over the Dodge’s hood and then flop unceremoniously back into place. Mercifully, we ground to a halt about sixty feet into the field.

The situation had our full attention. Just as we bounced to a stop, three schoolboys came running up the side road we had just passed over and were headed to the car to “rescue” us. Taking one look at the broken wires lying on both sides of the car, I quickly rolled down the window and yelled for them to get back. Kenny looked okay. I was all right and I knew we could drive away from the wires and then determine whether they were telephone or electric.

One of the boys dashed away to phone authorities. I called after him, “Call the Sheriff.” Hearsay in that area was that a motorist would often get a better deal from a deputy than a “state boy.” It was worth a try.

After an embarrassing wait of about twenty-five minutes a black cruiser appeared labeled “Logan County Sheriff.” The officer was a nice man. He insisted we had missed the phone pole (and it was a phone pole) since it was “still standing.” I assured him it was curtains for the pole. He then reached out and pushed it. The bottom coasted out about a foot and back into place. “Yep, you’re right,” he called. Of course, the broken pole was technically “still hanging,” not standing, since the wires were partially still in place.

The deputy offered to call a wrecker. I noted that the ground was hard, as in frozen, and felt I could drive our injured “steed” from the accident site. I did. This time we turned back west and headed for home. The car growled in objection since the wheel housing was smashed on the right rear and the wheel itself was bent and wobbling on a badly damaged hub.

That day was the end of our ’61 Dodge. We limped into town and arranged a trade. I could ill-afford to trade cars then but at least we were still only visitors to the hospital, not residents as a result of our “slide for life.” Thank the Lord!

The school superintendent had been right. It was too bad to be on the roads that day!

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