When it comes to driving old cars there is a fine, yet distinct, line between adventuresome and masochistic. As someone who recently took his fifty-two year old Ford Galaxie on a journey through six states, I’m not yet sure onto which side of this line I fall.
The occasion for such a journey was the Ford Galaxie Club of America’s convention in Tupelo, Mississippi. For various reasons I had been unable to attend the previous two conventions and was determined to attend this year.
So let’s fire up the engine and get this adventure underway.
It’s about 440 miles from where I live in Jefferson City, Missouri, to Tupelo, Mississippi. Leaving bright and early on a Friday morning, I moseyed south toward Tupelo along the route shown in blue. With several pitstops, it took me exactly ten hours to make the trip.
Driving an old car any distance is going to be noticed by most attentive drivers. One simply doesn’t see too many examples of the older stuff and people tend to appreciate it. Throughout my trip I received many waves, thumbs-up, and smiles. Even as one who doesn’t seek such attention – nor worry about what others think – it is a stroke to the ego to know driving your old car is an endeavor noticed by others.
Stopping at Mammoth Spring State Park in Arkansas gave me the strangest personal interaction I’ve had in a while. Located at the Missouri / Arkansas State Line on US 63, the legend about Mammoth Spring says a drought long ago caused the death of an Indian chief’s son during his search for water. Upon the grave being dug, water shot furiously from the hole; the chief vowed water would run from here forever as his son had died searching for it. The spring produces 9.8 million gallons of water per hour.
As I pulled into the parking lot, several people began gawking heavily. Heading toward my chosen parking spot, they left this picnic table to swarm around the car and began asking questions before I had shut off the engine – or even rolled down a window.
“Hey, man, what year is your Ford?”
“What do you know – I’m a ’63 model myself. I bet it’s got a big trunk?”
“Oh man; I bet it’s got a big engine.”
This continued for a few minutes. While they weren’t posing any threat, and I still appreciate their curiosity, this father and son duo didn’t have the most polished approach I’ve ever encountered.
This Chrysler Crossfire convertible also graced the parking lot.
While I am familiar with US 63 on the Missouri side, I had only traveled US 63 through Arkansas once before. The terrain for the segment from Mammoth Spring to Jonesboro is quite the contrast; the north half is very hilly and curvy and the terrain changes instantaneously to being as flat as a table top upon crossing a river bridge.
This segment was the most stressful of the entire trip down. The road was two lanes and the hills were long with several areas having climbing lanes. I was driving the speed limit and was negotiating curves at a pace comfortable for the car. This Ford isn’t going to win any awards for phenomenal handling and I didn’t care to drive as if my posterior was afire.
However, I soon had a red Peterbilt on my rear bumper. He would not pass despite being given multiple opportunities. Keeping ahead of him required some minor risk taking in negotiating a few curves- I was seriously concerned about his hitting me as I could see only a small portion of his grille in my rearview mirror due to his proximity. It seemed it was becoming my own, watered down version of the early Steven Spielberg movie, Duel.
After what seemed like a very long time, another climbing lane appeared. Letting my foot tackle the firewall, the old Galaxie downshifted from overdrive to third direct. She sensed the urgency as she lunged forward, hurtling herself to just north of 85 miles per hour while still going up a respectable grade. At that speed a few high speed vibrations and the rattles converged into a harsh symphony, but she was giving some of her best. We put two trucks between us and we finally parted ways with the Peterbilt while in the flat lands about thirty minutes later.
My original plan was to leave early to minimize the likelihood of getting caught in Friday traffic around Memphis, Tennessee. It would have worked flawlessly had the Arkansas Department of Transportation not had contractors working along I-55 and the four miles north of the I-40 junction took about thirty minutes to travel. While the clutch on the Galaxie is neither the heaviest nor lightest I have experienced, I was concerned my arthritic left knee would soon balk from the stopping and starting. Thankfully that was not the case.
Once past the construction work, it was smooth sailing across the Mississippi River into Memphis. Funny, but I didn’t know there were pyramids in Tennessee.
Navigating Memphis was a breeze. Exiting I-240 onto US 78, I stopped for fuel before my final 100 mile leg of the trip to Tupelo.
It was a straight shot, with about a dozen signalized intersections before hitting open country just north of the Mississippi State Line. Traffic was light and it was easy cruising into Elvis Presley’s hometown.
While I had to snag this picture from the web, I drove past the Toyota plant in Blue Springs, about a dozen or so miles north of Tupelo. US 78 goes from right to left toward the bottom of this picture. There was quite the supply of new Corolla’s that could be seen awaiting transport.
On Saturday I attended the Galaxie Convention and the concurrent Blue Suede Cruise, an annual car show in Tupelo. Each will be covered in separate articles.
Packing up my stuff on Sunday morning, I looked around the parking lot on my way to the office to check out.
I saw this Mercury Marauder on a trailer. The U-Haul truck pulling it nearly had me blocked in.
This 1955 Chevrolet and 1966 Ford Fairlane were also parked nearby.
For the return trip, I chose a variation of the alternate route shown above and this route was adjacent to the Shiloh National Military Park, where the Battle of Shiloh was fought during the United States Civil War.
For those not familiar with the U.S. Civil War, this particular battle was fought on April 6 and 7, 1862. The Union Army’s Major General Ulysses S. Grant (who would later be elected President) encountered Confederate troops under Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and Pierre G.T. Beauregard. After an initial surge by the Confederate Army, Grant received reinforcements overnight from Major General Don Carlos Buell. The Union Army would ultimately win the battle, but the cost was high with 24,000 people dead, wounded, or missing.
The Park is currently 5,500 acres with an eleven mile driving tour that covers the major points of the battle.
Walking on ground where such extreme violence occurred is sobering and one can’t help but think of those that walked this same area so many years ago, never to return home again.
Twenty minutes away from Shiloh, in Adamsville, Tennessee, is the Buford Pusser Museum.
The museum was originally Pusser’s home; still furnished as it was at the time of his death in 1974, the home has been converted into a museum. I covered the cars of Buford here.
I struck up a conversation with the lady who was the downstairs tour guide. I mentioned having written the article and Jana Lingo’s subsequent comment about her mother having dated one of Buford’s deputies. The lady stated she doubted it was Deputy Petie Plunk, as Plunk was her brother.
She told me the museum had acquired the Corvette in which Pusser had died. The Corvette had been in a museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for years (I had seen it there in 1982) but when it closed someone had seen the car sitting behind the just sold building. The Pusser Museum was able to acquire the burned Corvette at that time.
Sitting beside the Corvette was this Lincoln Continental, another of Pusser’s cars. Oddly, I did not encounter this car during my research although the museum has pictures of Pusser with this Lincoln.
Instead of crossing into Missouri from Dyersburg, Tennessee, as shown in the map toward the top, I opted to drive through the western tip of Kentucky into Illinois. Crossing into Illinois at Cairo (pronounced Care-Oh, oddly enough) put me into the county where I grew up and I wished to make a few important stops.
My great-uncle Donald bought this Galaxie in 1964. Having been purchased new by a gentleman around Tamms, Illinois, the original owner soon began having issues using the clutch and sold the car to Donald. Donald’s daughter Susie, who was a child when he purchased the Galaxie, had expressed interest a while back in seeing the old girl again. Realizing I had not seen Susie since 2009, I knew this was a great opportunity to visit and catch up on things.
Susie and I certainly got caught up. Not only did she inform me of some very juicy family history, she also told me her ongoing genealogy had revealed the Shafer Clan is predominantly of English lineage, not German as had long been thought. This would certainly explain my fondness for room temperature beverages.
As I was preparing to leave, Susie came out to see the Galaxie as did her husband Carl. Their son Donald, also seen here in the picture, was four years old the day my father and I had to keep shooing him off so we could drag the Galaxie home. Susie sat down in the driver’s seat and took in the interior. I could tell a lot of long lost memories were coming back to her. She said she would shutter to know all the places this Galaxie has been, what and who it has hauled, the conversations it has heard, and how many cigarettes have been smoked inside.
It was almost dark and I still had more driving to do. Earlier I had called my grandparents “Iris” and “Albert”, who are now 88 and 91, respectively, asking if I could spend the night. Twelve miles away was the Mississippi River bridge at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, making the return to my state of residence the fifth state the Galaxie and I had visited that day.
The adventure is far from over; stay tuned for Part 2.