Twin Beeches -- an Illinois Love Story
Author: paul schoaff

Chapter 15
Eddie's Story -- He gets Ready to Leave

 

(Narrator)

Eddie's Story -- He gets Ready to Leave

 

With Hard Work and Perseverance

 

One man from Coffin Corner was headed for Alton – Eddie Hawkins.  Not why you might, at first, think.  Eddie had seen an ad in the Peoria paper saying Alton Penitentiary needed guards.  He could earn good pay, and the studies showing rates of divorce and suicide are at their highest in the prison guard population hadn't been called to Eddie's attention.  He wanted out of the 'Corner', having tired of a diet of deer, squirrel, raccoon, opossum, snake, fish, turtle, berries, cherries and mushrooms.   He had tried a McDonald's double cheeseburger once in Jacksonville while looking for work there, and couldn't wait to buy four or five more.  Eddie wanted to get away, for sure, before his mother made her annual batch of wild mustard root spring tonic.

 

He tinkered and struggled and managed to get an old Kaiser running -- after a year of nightly work by the light of a single 60 watt incandescent bulb on the end of an extension cord.  More precisely, he knew the big old flathead six engine of WWII vintage did run, but it needed lots of rebuilding of the front end, the brakes, the steering column, and a bunch of the wiring and gauges, for starters.  And, I guess, a new starter, for finishers.  He worked part time for the junkyard, the one west of Woodland off of US24, pulling parts Stewart’s customers requested.  The customers, not the junkyard, paid him for his efforts.  Not much money, but he was able, often, to find the time to strip down the two old wrecked Frasers at the back of the lot, getting the parts for the big green Kaiser he couldn't ever hope to find elsewhere.  

 

When he knew there was nothing else left in the area to help, he borrowed the junkyard man's pickup and drove to Fountain Green with the junkman's list and his list and enough cash to pay for both.  Much of what he saw, so mundane to most of us, appeared as something new for Eddie.  He wanted to detour just a bit to see the Mississippi, and he wanted to visit Nauvoo, though he didn't quite understand what the Mormons were all about, or why other folks hated them.  He drove carefully and thought about how he would answer the interview questions at Alton.  Everything went well at the enormous Fountain Green Recycling Yard -- all the parts looked useful and his stash of cash paid for everything.  Strange to him, the people behind the greasy counters and in the well-organized yard were smart and polite.  When the cashier called him 'Sir', he had to look over his shoulder to see who he was blocking, and blushed when he understood she meant him and she meant 'Sir'.  He saw a pile of decent tires off to one side and took the opportunity to buy two decent skins and tubes for the Kaiser for $2 each.   He returned home before dark and worked late under the light of the one naked bulb hanging from a locust tree limb.

 

Finally, the car sat ready as it would ever be for a test drive.  He fired up the engine and listened with appreciation to the deep-throated roar from the exhaust.  After all the fluids were topped up, he let the engine idle while he listened carefully to it for any sign there was a bad valve or fouled plug.  He found a long piece of a kid’s wagon axle and listened to each set of valves by putting one end on the engine block and one onto the flap of his ear.  The exhaust started out smoky, but as the systems warmed up, the valve stem seals seemed to be working their way back in, and the piston rings freed up some – the amount of smoke tapered off to negligible. A tablespoon of transmission fluid was helping dissolve the old, sticky deposits.  The longer it ran, the better it sounded.   Mr. Stewart told him those big flatheads would last a long time, but you had to run the RPM’s up on them once in awhile to blow out the carbon.  Stewart suggested driving in 2nd gear for five miles at highway speeds – 60 to 65 mph.

 

All the lights and electrical seemed to be good.  Even the headlight dimmer switch -- he cleaned rather than continue to search for one already working -- functioned perfectly.  Turn signals, okay.  Brake lights, okay, he could check them in the reflection off the house window, dark since everyone else had gone to bed.  He let off the emergency brake, depressed the clutch, and slipped the transmission into reverse.

 

The car crawled, slowly but steadily, without any sign of stalling or of the clutch plate slipping, up the downhill driveway and into the dirt road.   He pulled the lever straight down into low and left it there as he gently drove down the winding bumpy Sugar Creek Bottom Road, all the way to rte. 100 on the Illinois Bottom. Before the engine got too hot from running slow in low, he was out onto rte 100, with no lights anywhere except at the widely spaced farms and barns in the big, rich bottom.  Then, up into second.  What?  The gearshift lever wouldn't move away from him, away from the reverse/low side to the second/high side.  Back into low, no problem...up to second?

 

He tried repeatedly and gently and, finally, whatever held the linkage captive gave way and allowed him to use second gear to accelerate up past 50 on the speedometer, then into high, and gently up to 65 miles per hour, where he held it, the car shuddering a bit because, as he knew, the tires weren't balanced.  Outside, he howled and laughed, but inside, he mentally reviewed the various last minute grease and detail things to do, totaling up the cost of the materials and the shop work he couldn't do himself.  No sweat, he still had $500 left for the trip and to get set up in Alton.

 

It suddenly came to him with a jolt – he hadn't thought about getting insurance!  The registration and title were fine, all taken care of, but he knew the insurance, even the least amount of liability he could get, would cost him, at 21-25 years old and male, at least $500 for half a year, maybe more.

 

Dammit, he thought, Dad owes me.  He never spends anything except on the dogs – they get the best food available from the Ag store – and I've been the hunter putting food on the table for us humans for the last five years.  Also, Eddie knew his father should be taking in at least $20000 a year in exchange for the high quality corn liquor he delivered to the Judge every week.

 

 

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