As a teenager, I was often trading cars or trying to “upgrade” the one I was currently driving. I had a 1960 Chevy impala that my Uncle Dave gave me for free. I remember it had wide “bat wing” tail fins. All I had to do was put a new transmission in it, as he had an automatic transmission and it had gone south, never to work again. A few friends and I towed the car to my house. I could keep a car running if I had to, but I had friends who knew much more than me on the subject, so when I got in over my head it was always a good bet to call one or more of them. It was a dream of mine to change it over to a standard. I believe it cost me about 50 dollars total to change it over. This included purchasing a defunct 1962 Chevy which we towed home with a chain right up route 103 in Chester, Vermont. I sat in the driver’s seat while the driveshaft banged on both the pavement and the underside of the car floor. The noise was deafening inside the car, and we finally figured out a way to wire it so it wouldn’t hit the pavement, just the floor. Amazingly, we never got picked up by the police. The whole junk car cost me $15.00 and I used the transmission for my ‘60 Chevy. The guys that were helping me change it over were great and enthusiastic. As long as I agreed to keep buying the beer, they agreed to keep putting parts on the Chevy. I think the whole labor thing cost me about 3 or 4 cases. The neighbor let us use his garage to do the work, which was a nice gesture, as it was warm and dry.
One night, while we were working on the car, one of the guys decided we needed a case of beer and some chips. It was just about eight minutes before the store closing time, but he decided to try to make it. He raced the whole eight miles from my house to town, some of which was dirt road, to get there before the doors were locked. Evidently they were successful because they returned in one piece and with the beer.
We were able to hoist the motor out and put in the standard transmission. It all fit, but we still had to search and scavenge for a few parts, including a shifting lever from the floor. I found one in a near-by town and we went to see if it would fit and work with what we had. I of course relied on the experienced guys to offer the opinion on how it would all mesh for the best results. I paid for the shifter and parts and got ready to take it back to put in the 1960 Chevy. Just as we were getting ready to take our seats in the car, a train pulled up and slowed at the railroad crossing where it crossed the paved street. One of the guys yelled out. “Hey, Wyman! Do you think you can catch that train and jump on the caboose?”
It sounded like a fun challenge to me, and I was never one to turn down a reasonable dare. I didn’t even think twice, and said “Where will you pick me up?”
“At the depot in Chester,” one of them replied, and I was off like a shot on a 150 yard dash. I caught the rail on the back of the caboose, and swung myself onto the bottom step. After a few minutes of riding along through the trees, I decided this was the most boring ride I’d ever taken. I just sat there on the step of the caboose and kept hoping there wouldn’t be any railroad employees to come out and throw me off the step. It was spring but there was still about 4 feet of snow in some places along the way and near the railroad crossings on the dirt roads. The train was so large that it felt like it was going a lot slower than it actually is. It’s traveling over 30 miles per hour but feels like it’s going about 15 or less. I decided it was going too slow and that I’d be better off jumping off into the snow, then hitchhiking to the depot in Chester. I stepped up on the bottom of the platform and when it was close to the intersection, I leaped off. I landed feet first in the snow and the momentum of the forward motion of the train ripped me immediately out of the snow bank, flinging me about another 20 feet, barely missing some trees. It first felt like my knees had been disconnected from my lower legs. I limped to the highway and hitchhiked to the town of Chester. My confidence must have manifested the ride because it brought me right to the railroad station, directly to the back of the train that I had jumped from a short time before. I trotted in a limping gate down along the train cars to get to the parking lot at the depot. The guys were all asking me what the ride was like and called me crazy. As a kid, I was a little crazy but that’s why I had friends that I did. They enjoyed the entertainment from my side of the friendship. I told them it wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be but never did tell them I had jumped a few miles short and hitched a ride the rest of the way.
When we were all done, the car came out great. I drove it for about a year, until a Massachusetts driver tried to pass me on a one lane bridge, with no side rails, during a snowstorm at night. I remember the fun rides that I had, and often considered my car a kind of home away from home for me. It created much comfort in my days of growing up, and good memories.
Rick Wyman, 5/30/17