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How one struggling teenager met one wrecked Mustang

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1
This page last updated on or about 8-23-08

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BACK to The journals of Jerry Staute: Crossroads Illustrated story index

The account below was inspired by actual events. Details like names, dates, and more have been changed for reasons of privacy and readability.

Money hungry

I'd realized I wanted some money of my own while pretty young, and so made various attempts to rectify the situation. Some were border-line successful-- but most were not.

Keep in mind in my early years I was too young to legally hold a real job.

I saw an ad about selling Grit newspapers to my neighbors when very young, and tried that. Plus, on TV of the time, newspaper boys seemed to be making money hand-over-fist. It didn't occur to me until too late that only having a few neighbors within miles (and me on foot at the time) wouldn't make for much income. Plus, the few neighbors I had didn't want the papers. Doh!

I managed to eke out a little money for a while saving candy bars rather than eating them, then selling them to other kids in opportune moments.

Elsewhere I write about taking a suitcase of comic books to 4-H camp and selling them.

Yes, I tried to get paying jobs from my parents or neighbors, but couldn't. I had to do my normal chores for free, and beyond those nobody had anything else for me to do.

I did live in a fairly poor rural Tennessee county, after all. Where unemployment of 18% or so wasn't unusual.

But I kept trying. And gradually made a buck here and there. As well as scrimped everywhere I could, to repurpose the money my parents gave me. Like skipping lunches at school so I could spend the money on books instead.

I may have made a little money with collectible coins here and there-- but can't recall the details. Maybe I carefully sifted through all the pocket change I could get hold of for 'wheat' pennies, or steel pennies, and 'buffalo' nickels-- as well as silver dimes and half dollars-- and then sold them for a tad more than face value to collectors. That sort of thing was still practical back in those days, decades back.

Grit newspaper advertisement

Above may be an original Grit advertisement from those days (it was found among my possessions).

Anyway, once I had a little money of my own, I was able to afford to select and buy my own comic books, rather than depending only on what freebies dad brought home from work.

In my little rural Tennessee town, factory workers tended to buy DC comics, or even off-brands like Harvey, etc. And they bought an awful lot of westerns.

Me, I preferred the superhero comics. And Marvel over DC. But Marvel comics were awfully rare among the factory worker discards.

The first two Marvel comics I ever saw were both Avengers, I believe. The first described a costumed despot trying to seize a bubble-covered future city, while the other had a villain called the Red Guardian confronting the Avengers. The first book was in the possession of a younger cousin of mine, while the second was maybe a gift from my parents or uncle during an outing (they let me pick from the newstand).

Once I could buy my own comics, I went almost exclusively Marvel. Though things like superb artwork or particular characters or plots could still lure me on occasion to other brands (I did like the main concepts behind Batman and Green Lantern; plus the artist Neal Adams created mind-blowing artwork).

Of course, by this point I was also buying and reading a lot of plain text novels as well.

And let us not forget puberty! Ha, ha. I could also now be lured into buying comics with quality depictions of pretty girls in tights! Ha, ha.

My first ever independent comic pick was a Marvel Avengers Above is the first Marvel comic I can remember getting by choice.
One of my favorite comic books of all time was a Marvel Captain America by Jack Kirby Above is one of my favorite comic issues of all time. One of Jack Kirby's very best works of art, through and through, of all the hundreds of comics by him I saw over the years.

Another of my favorite comics was Nick Fury Agent of Shield by Jim Steranko

Though Jim Steranko was no Neal Adams, he could still entrance you with his own unique and at times psychedelic style. The issue above showcasing his art was a favorite of mine too (I think there were four pages in a row of full page scenes therein, forming a panorama; something unheard of in comics at the time).

I believe the cover to right is a Neal Adams. But an artist named something like Giordiano(?) could sometimes mimic Adams pretty well.

A Batman comic cover by Neal Adams

Supergirl should made a pretty super-cheerleader in comics of the day.

Trouble, trouble everywhere; but help is sometimes closer than you think

I'd already been working various grown up jobs ever since I turned fifteen the previous summer. Mostly full-time. For much of that period my parents picked me up at school in the afternoons and dropped me off at the restaurant where I washed dishes. Then picked me up later that night when my shift was done.

A few times I had to walk home from work, for one reason or another. Fortunately it was only a few miles, and rarely at night (so I guess the walks usually took place when I worked dayshifts on weekends). And there was a decent sidewalk running alongside a mainstream highway for most of the course. The worst part was having to make the walk publicly in clothes soaked and stained from my job. For being in high school I wasn't too crazy about my schoolmates seeing me that way. And being young, inexperienced (and maybe a bit lazy in regards to thinking ahead) I didn't usually go to the extra trouble of taking a change of clothes with me to work either, in those early days.

Too, small backpacks to aid with such maneuvers weren't nearly as ubiquitous back then as today.

Elsewhere, I write about the violence I endured in school.

There was also violence to be found in my workplace. From a guy we'll call Dan, here.

Dan was the assistant cook for most of the week night shifts I usually worked. He was at least a foot taller than me, and a hundred pounds or more heavier. For some reason Dan had a chip on his shoulder, for which he could only get relief by harassing guys smaller than himself.

Unfortunately, I felt even more constrained at work regarding such things than I did in school. For I badly needed and wanted that job. And yet, merely attempting to defend myself from Dan could get me fired, I was sure.

Plus-- damn it!-- I hated cow towing to any bully, for any reason.

Usually Dan just verbally harangued me, or randomly punched or shoved me around. But I'd always be sure to punch or push him back in retaliation.

One mistake I possibly made back then was trying to respond with equal force. I guess in an effort to reduce the risk of escalation.

But much later on I'd find far greater success in such situations by retaliating with much greater force than any initial blow possessed. I.e., if somebody shoved you a couple feet, then shove them so hard they fell on their ass and scooted at least six feet. That would be the preferred ticket to ride out such scenarios later on.

At least where the scoundrels weren't so big you couldn't budge them with all your strength and a running head start!

But in my time with Dan, I didn't yet know all that.

Though Dan could easily out do me punch and shove-wise, when he traded verbal barbs with me, he was definitely outmatched. And so always came out looking the worse for it, among our co-workers.

Maybe lots of folks would have advised me to simply keep my trap shut when he merely harassed me insult-wise.

But verbal abuse is just another variation of bullying. And I could not abide it.

All this finally came to a boil one night, and Dan came at me in my dishwashing cubbyhole. So I was basically trapped, with nowhere to run.

Was I scared? You bet I was! But I seemed caught between a rock and a hard place here.

I think that was the first and only time I ever tried kicking a guy in the nuts.

I don't know if I somehow missed, or didn't put enough strength into it, or Dan was strong enough to shrug off the pain, or the crotch of his jeans was simply stretched too taut and low below his biological crotch, for my kick to get to him. But whatever the reason, my kick seemed to do nothing more than anger him still further.

And there I was, grappling with the big ape, hand to hand.

At that moment, before I could be seriously injured, someone came to my rescue.

I'm going to use his real first name here. It was Johnny.

Johnny was the head night shift cook for most of the nights I worked there. And technically outranked Dan.

But Johnny was actually smaller in physical stature even than me.

Somehow though, Johnny had a reputation not only I, but just about every other guy at my high school would have loved to have had.

Johnny had graduated maybe the year before from high school. And apparently been one of the most popular kids there.

Johnny had tons of friends. Some of them maybe pretty scary friends.

Johnny was also known to be one of the top playboys in town. All the women seemed to love him to death. And during the time I knew him, it seemed he could have any woman he wanted. Much like the wholly fictional Fonze from the TV show Happy Days.

My best friend Steve was a very successful lady killer in his own right. But I don't think he ever managed to reach Johnny's level in that.

Johnny was also a top-notch cook. Able to whip out top-rate food at a blistering pace.

He also knew how to run the kitchen. All the waitresses loved him-- except when he wanted them to hate him.

When Johnny wasn't at work, he was usually partying with women or friends. From all reports, Johnny was one hell of a partier. And by that I mean wine, women, and song. And drugs, of course.

Johnny drove a bright red Mercury Cougar with all black interior that he'd bought new. He kept it absolutely spotless, inside and out.

I never saw Johnny in a fight. But I noted few ever wanted to mix it up with him.

I liked Johnny myself of course. Like just about everyone else. For he was a very likable, entertaining, and easy going fellow in general. Though sometimes I was unsure about him in various matters. For instance, you couldn't tell if he was serious or joking at times.

Maybe one thing people liked about Johnny was he didn't usually stick his nose into other people's business. Live and let live seemed to be one of the principles he adhered to pretty faithfully.

I guess that was something Dan was counting on when he attacked me that night. For Johnny was in the kitchen too, only a few yards away.

But Johnny saved me. Pulled Dan off of me, before I was harmed whatsoever.

Though my memory's fuzzy now, I think Johnny told Dan he was never to bother me again after that. Which led to Dan soon switching to day shift, so I rarely even saw him again there. And maybe not long after that, Dan quit the restaurant altogether.

That wasn't quite the end to the story. For years later I'd run into Dan again, in an entirely different place. But that's another tale.

"We can rebuild him; make him faster, stronger than he was before...we have the technology..."

-- my recollected memory of the signature phrase from the opening of the Six Million Dollar Man TV show of decades past

I got an important lesson in perserverance and pushing myself performance-wise from the main boss of the hotel one night.

There was a bad tendency for dishwashers on every shift to drop everything and leave work when their eight hours was over, regardless of the mess still remaining.

And that mess could be god-awful. Literally every single piece of silverware, every pot and pan, every dish, cup, and glass could be stacked up taller than the employees in dirty piles of bus pans, when the next shift's dishwasher walked in.

Besides the huge workload that entailed, it also put lots of performance pressure on the fresh dishwasher too-- for everyone else in the restaurant desperately required that stuff to be cleaned in order for the place to operate at all. Sheesh!

Sometimes dishwashers would leave the mess simply because they had no choice, due to utter exhaustion, the timing involved, or they had some pressing appointment after work they could not miss.

The timing issue entailed the fact that the restaurant frequently held vast banquets and parties in large rooms entirely separate from the general serving area. Plus, we sometimes got busloads of tourists stopping to eat all at once, too. Then, there was the absolutely regular rush hours like after-church on Sundays. Etc., etc., etc.

The dirty dishes from tourist buses, banquet/meeting/party room guests, or regular rushes, could suddenly show up practically all at once, giving you little chance to deal with the avalanche in any prompt timeframe.

But the same thing could happen with plain old regular business, if you had an insufficient number of busboys to bring in the stuff-- or you had lazy busboys.

And of course, every shift's dishwashers often considered the previous shift washer to be lazy, or purposely leaving extra work in their wake. And with that perception, washers might often be tempted to purposely leave such horrendous messes behind for the next washers too. As payback.

So man! What a mess you could encounter when you arrived for work each day!

Eventually though, I'd almost single-handedly turn this around for everybody there, by informing other shift washers I'd do my best to leave as little behind me as possible-- if only they'd do the same by me.

Treat others as you'd have them treat you: that'd been ingrained into me by my parents my whole life. And many times I'd see people be shocked and amazed at how well it'd work, if only folks tried it sometime.

It did indeed work at my restaurant. At least in regards to the regular backlogs previously left behind after any given shift-- and when the timing issues mentioned before didn't prohibit it.

Of course, to actually achieve this, I had to often put in longer hours myself. Frequently staying far beyond my official 11 PM nightshift quit time, to 1 AM or later.

But one advantage to that was making the extra money (though I was trading sleep for the cash).

Another thing I had to do was drastically increase my own work productivity. Figure out better ways to get more dishes clean, and faster.

So I developed some new tricks for all that. Like throwing all the encrusted silverware into a water-filled bus pan to soak a while, before running it through the washer. And regularly cleaning the machine washer's filters. Etc.

I also simply willed myself into generating a whole new work mode of "beserker" dishwasher. For those times when a ton of dishes just had to be absolutely, postively, cleaned and put away in a near impossibly short time. Though strenuous, in that mode I could process the stuff at a blinding speed, it seemed.

To encourage and motivate myself for "berserker" mode, I began taking pride in its extra capacity, and looking upon the sometimes daunting pile of soiled dishes coming through as a challenge, rather than a chore.

My new practices even seemed to inspire some of the other dishwashers to emulate me a bit. And of course, I freely gave away all details of my new productivity techniques to anyone who wished to know them.

All this eventually made me one of the restaurant's most highly valued employees. And so helped to protect me from various other problems I guess-- such as when I'd make one whopper of a mistake, or have a costly accident (lots of breakage; moving fast in a slippery environment is not without risk).

But all that success stemmed from a crisis of confidence in myself early on.

A crisis my boss' boss helped me get through.

The restaurant was run by a fairly demanding and intimidating tall woman, whom it seemed only our lead cook Johnny would dare stand toe to toe with in an argument.

But above her was the manager of the entire hotel. A man about my size or maybe slightly smaller. But whom the kitchen staff feared, as it always seemed he might fire anyone at any moment.

Even Johnny usually seemed wary of him.

And that guy was almost always around. It seemed like he practically never left the hotel. Plus never slept.

The guy usually wore an angry facial expression, too.

Likely only a month or two into my career as dishwasher, I'd suddenly found myself overwhelmed by the mountains of dirty dishes and pots and pans surrounding me, at maybe 11 PM or 12 AM one night. Mountains I'd barely made a dent in, even after 8 hours or more.

I seemed to come to the realization that I couldn't do this job. That it was too much for me. That I was way too slow at it, and the load too big.

This was my first real grown up job, and I'd failed at it.

This proved too much for me. I felt it was my duty and responsibility to report my failure to the main man himself, and leave the building forever, with my tail between my legs.

My spirit felt crushed. I was defeated.

I hated admitting my defeat to him. But I felt I had no choice.

As usual, he was sitting in his office, near the front lobby.

I announced to him my realization I was a failure, and told him I had no choice but to quit. I also apologized to him for letting him and everyone else down.

Yes, my voice was cracking and I had tears in my eyes as I offered up my resignation.

The man knew exactly what had to be done after that.

He didn't let me leave. Instead, he wanted me to show him the awful mess that had defeated me. So I led him back to the kitchen.

I can't remember now what words he used. But basically I think he looked at the mountains of unwashed dishes and opined that they didn't look so bad to him. And that he thought with a little help I could get through them in no time.

Then he rolled up his fancy shirt sleeves and began helping me slog through them. I think he also suggested I might be able to do things faster if I set my mind to it.

That did it. After that night, I never needed help with the dishes again. And practically turned around the attitudes and productivity of all the other dishwashers on every shift, as described before.

All because the head man knew a potential high value employee when he saw one.

But he did more than help me attain the next level work-wise. He also helped me realize I could often do lots more than I thought I could.

How I first met one pitiful Mustang

Before interstate 40 was finished in the vicinity of my hometown, state highway 25-70 was the main route to Knoxville, which lay roughly 50 miles to the west. In my early high school days this road outside city limits was sparsely populated with homes and businesses. One of those businesses was a combination body shop and used car lot, just outside my hometown.

My family sure didn't have much money. So one of the things we did on Sundays sometimes was dad take us for a ride to check out how far the new I-40 interstate highway had been extended since our last check. The westernmost entrance ramp in our town was several miles out along 25-70. Not far past the body shop mentioned previously. So that's how I got my first glimpse of Shadow.

He was smashed up pretty bad. Sitting in a group of damaged cars not far from the same business' drivable used car selection.

Shadow's front end was unidentifiable. But I recognized the make and model from the windshield back as a 1969 Mustang Mach 1, seemingly identical to what Mitch Letterfield drove. Mitch was a football player and the current boyfriend of Sue Anne.

(Sue Anne was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my life; I'd gone bonkers over her just weeks before seeing Shadowfast here)

But besides that connection, I just plain thought 1969 fast back Mustangs looked great.

Cheerleader Sue Anne's boyfriend's 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 of the time

Cheerleader Sue Anne's boyfriend's 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 of the time strongly resembled the photo above.

A 1967 Ford LTD automobile

My family's 1967 Ford LTD looked much like the car above, only with a black body and white vinyl roof I believe.

Unfortunately, I probably couldn't afford one. I made minimum wage, which (I think) was around $1.50 per hour then (gas might have been 35 cents a gallon(?)).

For a short time I got to sporadically drive my parents' 1967 Ford LTD, which was a very nice car, if somewhat underpowered (289 cubic inches was small for such a heavy car) and way too whale-like in handling.

As I was a decent and hard-working kid, and my parents wanted me to be happy, they didn't push me too hard in regards to what car I chose to buy with my own money. I didn't know it at the time, but my dad had been a hot-rodder himself in his youth. So that too may have had something to do with them not vetoing my choice of Shadow.

However, they did caution me about my expectations while I was shopping around (since we were poor). And then also about the general condition of Shadow when I decided he was the one.

For Shadow was torn up pretty bad.

But heck: after looking around it seemed fixing a wrecked 1969 Mach 1 might be the only way I could afford one at all! So after my parents realized how badly I wanted to do it, we had a talk with the owners/operators of the body shop/used car lot about it.

Dashboard of a 1967 Ford LTD

The LTD's dash design (the car had a nice black interior with wood grain looking panels).

Like I said, I was already leaning heavily towards getting Shadow if I could. But maybe what clinched the deal was him begging me to save him from the scrap heap. Or at least that was my impression of events.

The very first time I got within ten feet of him, I was alone, with my parents and the lot staff yards away.

I walked around the car, inspecting it up close. Looking inside. Checking out the impressive front end damage. Peeking at the engine through gaps in the wreckage.

I stepped back a few feet for a final view before turning to return to my parents. Then, just as I was leaving, something happened.


I was startled. The wrecked car had actually honked at me! That sure seemed bizarre!

I stood there a moment, looking at the ruined car once more, uncertain of what had just happened.

Then I turned away again, shaking my head at my foolishness.


I spun back around, goose bumps rising along both my arms. The second honk had lasted long enough to still be blaring after I'd turned back to face the car again. There was absolutely no question now that the wrecked Mustang had honked its horn twice in the last minute or so.

It seemed spooky! I wondered if maybe somebody had died in the car, and their ghost was now honking the horn. Yikes!

I stood there another couple minutes, but nothing else happened. I slowly turned to leave, remaining alert for any more inexplicable horn blaring. But there was no third note.

Shadow had successfully made an impression on me: that maybe this was no ordinary car.

I walked back to where my parents and a fellow from the lot were talking. Once there I asked him if anyone had died in the wrecked Mustang. He said not to his knowledge.

I told them about the strange honking. He and my parents hadn't noticed it, due to being much nearer to the noisy major highway which passed by the front edge of the lot.

The lot guy laughed at my obvious consternation, saying there was probably a short in the wiring caused by the crash. I asked him if he'd noticed the car honking before though, and he said no.

The mysterious honking stuck in my mind.

To me-- now that ghosts seemed ruled out-- it seemed the car had been begging me to save it. To restore it. To get it back on the road again.

To me, the car had seemed to make me an offer that day. A promise that I wouldn't regret it, if I'd just give it a chance.

Perhaps I saw myself in the car's plea. And was reminded of how desperately I wanted a chance with Sue Anne.

It turned out Shadow was just a few bucks past the borderline of being salvageable-- and so had been declared totaled by an insurance company.

But being so very close to possible redemption, all the Mustang needed was someone, anyone, to give the word, and he'd run again.

The lot folks were considering selling the wreck for parts or cannibalizing it for their own profit, as they often repaired wrecked cars to sell themselves. If I hadn't come along Shadow would probably have ceased to exist as an independent vehicle not long after.

As it was, it took a lot of convincing to get the ball rolling on his restoration. It may be dad did some extra wheeling and dealing out of earshot of me too, in order to clinch the deal.

Perhaps dad traded in an old non-running truck we owned at the time to help the transaction, without informing me of it. For it was also around this time that the old 1950s truck we were keeping in the bottom of our two story garage disappeared, too.

Being so busy with full-time school and a full-time job, it was easy for me to miss such changes, then.

Some weeks later I finally got to drive Shadow for the first time, and felt like I was on top of the world. He had tremendous power, and I often squealed the rear wheels just for fun-- at least after I learned how to do it without losing control of the car. Shadow was scary strong and fast. Real heady stuff for a sixteen year old with only some small experience driving a heavy, clumsy, small-engined family car, and before that, a pedal-powered five-speed bicycle!

CLICK HERE to see what Shadow looked like soon after I took possession.

My friend Ben got himself a very nice 1967 Camaro too about that same time. With a 327 cubic inch motor and two barrel carb, if memory serves. It sported something like a pearly light green paint job, and black vinyl roof. Ben's car was actually much nicer than mine in the ways which might matter most to lots of folks. Probably never been wrecked, with the original factory paint, and taken exquisite care of by a single owner.

Green and black vinyl top 1967 Chevrolet Camaro

Above is something like what Ben's 1967 Camaro looked like when he first bought it.

Ben always seemed to have more money than me, despite not having a job of his own I believe, our first couple years in high school. I think he got a Social Security stipend from the government because his father had died. He had a step-dad during high school. I think his step dad was a plumber, and his mother held a job as well.

Ben was an only child, too. Me, I had five brothers and sisters(!)

Ben was likely a much more prudent car shopper than me. Maybe spent lots more time checking out the deals available than I did. Plus, I don't think he was half-crazed with a crush then, either.

Poor Shadow had had a much rougher time of it than Ben's Camaro. It hadn't helped that he'd left the Ford dealership new with an all-white interior, which now pretty much displayed a complete history of every awful thing which had ever happened inside. Ben's black interior by contrast looked and even smelled brand new.

But while I appreciated the nifty looks and feel of Ben's almost-like-new Camaro, there was just something about poor old Shadow that made me glad I had him, flaws and all.

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