COAL: 1967 Tempest, Take Two – It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again


(first posted 6/12/2016)   Minutes after the impact, after I assured the neighbors who came out to investigate the crash that all was OK and there was no need to call the police, Annie calmed down and realized the draconian act just completed.  Chris was still in the front seat, disorientated, and I was standing a bit off to the left of the Tempest holding her keys.

She wanted to go home.   “I’m OK, can I have my keys back? I’m OK.  I am OK.”

I gave the keys back to her.

Clearly shaken now, she restarted the Tempest and backed off the driveway and grass and bumped down off the curb, turned around, and drove off.

Now what?


The right front of the Pontiac did not look as bad as the crash had sounded or felt. And it had sounded and felt really bad.

It’s important to remember that the impact point of both cars was made of heavy steel. The steel bumper and hood of the Tempest, and right rear corner of the Duster had absorbed the force of the impact of the crash. And I was right there, 9 or 10 inches from the point of impact. This was pretty high on my trauma scale; I guess you had to be there to appreciate that.

Today’s cars are mostly plastic in those areas and heavy black foam for quite a few inches behind. Indeed, I had hit a fully grown deer in the middle of Bernardsville in the early 1990s at 15 mph and it destroyed the front of my company 1992 Ford Taurus. The repair bill was over 2,500 dollars. The deer got up and ran off, none the worse for the wear.

If I had hit that deer with the 1967 Tempest (or the 1972 Duster), it would probably have been venison.

Back at the scene of the crash; the important issue for me was to find a place to live ASAP.

Forty-four years after the fact, one can look back upon something like this and make a joke or two.


She missed me by that this much.

Well maybe by 9 or 10 inches, but Maxwell is pretty close.

I would start a search for a new place to live tomorrow, but it was a Sunday evening and I certainly wasn’t going to stay anywhere Annie could find me.

I drove the dented Duster east on the Southern State Parkway to get some fast miles between me and Rockville Centre, then exited and headed north, and then turned west on one of the local roads and found a motel with a vacancy.

I did not sleep well. The room smelled of cigarette smoke and the sheets looked unwashed. I slept in my clothes.

At work, still in my weekend and strangely stained clothes (remember the pot of rice and boiling water) I sought out my friend Bob who was a Grumman engineer and who rented home(s) east of work with three roommates who were all Grumman engineers or programmers.

We had met at the Grumman Flying Club where I had started taking flying lessons only a short while ago.

As a Grumman employee flying lessons was relatively inexpensive. A Cessna 150 cost 10 dollars an hour tach time wet (with fuel) plus 5 dollars a clock hour for an instructor. Most lessons cost me 12 to 13 dollars an hour because I was doing mostly take offs, landings, and pattern work. And a few stalls and spins.

Having the flight instructor put the plane into a hammerhead stall followed by a spin over the Atlantic Ocean with a sticker on the panel that says “Spins Prohibited” is an interesting experience.

The Grumman Flying Club was based out of Deep Park Airport (DPK) on Long Island not far from the main Grumman Bethpage facility.

Bob had his pilot’s license and regularly rented a Cessna 172 at the flying club. We often ran into each other at the Deer Park airport on early Saturday mornings.


Note-1: Deer Park Airport closed in 1974 and condos were built on the site. As I write this at my kitchen table in 2016, I am in a condo in Basking Ridge NJ that was built on the site of another small airport. I am sitting just about one third of the way down the last paved and active runway of the Somerset Hills Airport.  Sometimes, lying awake in the early A.M. hours, I’ll hear the distinctive sound of a low and slow four cylinder plane and wonder if it is some old geezer about to set down at the good old Somerset Hills airport.


For this COAL I took out my old log book to see if any of the planes I flew in 1972 are still around.

The instructor rated me average; he was being generous.


N6931G is still airworthy and in use after all these years. As with any machine, care and maintenance can keep them running a long time. It looks good despite what NTSB describes as a hard landing and gear collapse in May of 1979. That wasn’t me; I was long gone by then.

I would schedule lessons early on Saturday mornings, get up at 5:30 A.M., get to the flight school by 7:00 for the lesson, and be home by 8:30 or 9:00, usually before Chris and Annie were done with breakfast.

The technology of aircraft and flying fascinated me as much as cars, and there was more technology and technique to flying than driving. I loved knowing how planes flew, how the radios and navigational aids worked, how to read weather maps, and how to talk in that terse, clipped, but full lingo to towers, or in my case, to a unicom.

Bob told me his house rental crew was short one person. He contacted the other two members of the house and that evening I met my new housemates Joe and Walter.

These guys had an interesting arrangement. For the months of July and August they rented the four bedroom white stucco home of an F-14 engineer located on five or six acres in Fort Salonga Long Island. It had a 200 or 300 foot curved driveway up into the woods where the house would appear at the end of the driveway. During this time the owner of the home and his family lived in a beach home further East on the island.


Come September the crew moved to a four bedroom beach house at 280 Asharoken Road facing Long Island sound. Asharoken is the strip of land that connects Eaton’s Neck (left) to Northport Long Island (right). Our home was in the center of the land strip right where that road from the tiny peninsular connects to it. Long Island Sound was often warm enough to swim in to late October.

Both houses were paradise to me, safe free-of-fear paradises.

At first Annie said we should see a marriage counselor separately and then maybe later together, and I was naïve enough to think that this was a solvable problem. But it soon dawned on me that the counselor was at a loss to understand what was going on and he wanted to talk to me about my mother. “Doctor, my mother never tried to run me down; let’s talk about Annie and me.”

After four or five sessions the counselor asked me what I feared the most about Annie and our marriage. I said I was afraid for Chris and what this was doing to him. The doctor asked me if Annie was violent when I was not around. I said I didn’t think so. Actually no, she was only violent when I was around.

“Well then” he said, “maybe you shouldn’t be around”.

I told Annie the marriage was over.

She got a lawyer who sent me nasty letters.

I got a lawyer who sent me huge bills.

I quit flying lessons (too expensive now that I had many other financial obligations) and focused on what I had to do to get through this with minimal impact to Chris.

Chris loved spending weekends with me. Bob, Walter, and Joe were great with Chris and he appreciated the attention they gave him. Bob was a great cook and we ate big Italian meals, and played slot cars, chess, built airplane models, did the cub scout pinewood derby thing, walked on the beach, and did lots of stuff that men and boys of all ages do. I treasured our time together. Bob’s girlfriend said that when she saw us together she was reminded of the TV show “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father”.

I liked Bill Bixby better as “The Incredible Hulk”.


Bob took Chris and me up in a Grumman Flying Club Cessna 172 many times; sometimes I sat in the back and Bob let Chris take the wheel. N79269 was Bob’s favorite rental and he usually had it reserved for his flights.


N79269 is also shown to still be airworthy, is registered until 2019, and is reported to be in Eagle River, Alaska. It has had at least one repaint and has lost its wheel pants, but looks to still be in shape and well used.

My lawyer took one look at the list of incidents I had prepared and said “you’ve got to be kidding. And you’re spending money on a marriage counselor?”

NY had fault divorce laws back then. I was advised that as a father I could not get custody of Chris (today that would not necessarily be the case), and would have to pay off and give the house to Annie so Chris had the security of the home he knew, and would need to pay child support and all medical and dental, but that this was an open and shut case of cruel and inhuman treatment. I would be the plaintiff, Annie the defendant.

I was OK with all of that.

Then the lawyer said he would draw up the papers and serve her with the lawsuit for divorce. I told him that Annie had a real temper and getting served with papers could ignite that temper.

“No worry” my lawyer said, “the guy serving the papers is really big.”

“I’m not worried about him; I’m worried about me.  Getting served divorce papers might set off another, you know, event.”

“Good point, you may need to leave town for a while”.

On the bulletin boards in the Grumman facilities next to the notice of the Mark IV classes Steve, Chuck and I were offering as part of a computing career development program, was another open requisition for a three to five month assignment in Holland to develop an aircraft engine maintenance Cobol program for KLM.

I applied for the KLM assignment and got it.  Probably no one else applied for it.

I had never been out of the country and was a bit nervous about that, but I was more nervous about what might happen if I were in the country when the divorce papers were served.


One Sunday night in April 1973 I boarded a KLM 747 at JFK and as we took off, I saw out the left side window the playground of my childhood: Jones Beach, Ocean Parkway, Zachs Bay, and Captree State Park. Then the left wing rose, the 747 turned right, the ground disappeared, and 35 or so degrees later we were over the Atlantic Ocean heading east. A few miles ahead and above and off our left side were the flashing red lights of another plane on a similar flight path. Next stop Schiphol Airport, The Netherlands.


KLM (whose headquarters in Amstelveen is shown above) had formed a consortium with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and Swissair to share and specialize in the care and maintenance of a fleet of new McDonald Douglas DC-10s.


SAS and Swissair handled the electronics and air frames (not sure which did which) and KLM maintained the GE CF6-50 engines. Each DC-10 had three engines. The first order was for 36 DC-10s between all three airlines.


In order to maximize the efficiency of engine maintenance procedures, KLM wanted to know the details of every single part of each engine down to their heat lot numbers. Any part of an engine that showed excessive wear or any anomaly would set off a search for all other parts in any other engine from that same heat lot.

Additionally, while the engines themselves were maintained according to the number of their cycles (take offs), it was also important to know what other time oriented maintenance procedures might best be done to sub components during scheduled engine maintenance, even if a bit a head of schedule, so as to avoid additional engine down time for that later required maintenance. This is similar thinking to why one would replace a perfectly good water pump when changing the timing belt in a 1999 Miata.

CF650The GE CF6-50 engine could be seen as a hierarchy of parts, where each of the smallest single parts (like a single fan blade with a heat lot number) made up slightly larger parts, which made up larger components, which made up even larger more complex components, and so on until the collection of the largest level of components made up the complete engine.

Cobol and IBM’s database software specialized in building and maintaining hierarchical databases. My program would be used to track all the parts in all the engines (and spares) of the DC-10 fleet flown by KLM, SAS, and Swissair. If KLM had allowed me to do this in Mark IV, it would have taken a lot less time, but the agreement specified Cobol.

I also created a report which showed all parts of any selected engine on four 11 X 14 pages of computer printout. KLM maintenance people taped the four pages together to get a high level view of each engine, down to the smallest individual part. Today this taped up report would be a neat on-line display with expandable pointers.


In the beginning I stayed in Amsterdam and took trams to Amstelveen where KLM had it headquarters. At one point I sublet an apartment (KLM employees did a lot of traveling for free when on holiday) and rented a small English Ford to get to the KLM office. This photo was taken on a Sunday morning in front of the three pointed star shaped KLM building. I think it’s a 1971-72 Ford Escort 1100 Mk1.


I also had the unique (for an American) pleasure to drive a co-worker’s Citroen Deux Chevaux (2CV).  If I built a car by hand it might look and run like a 2CV. My favorite features were headlights that you had to crank up or down depending on the presence or absence of back seat passengers, the umbrella shifter sticking out of the dash, and the beach chair seats.   Also, it had three bolts per wheel. Paul wrote up this unique car here and Roger Carr did here.

When I returned to the USA three months later in July 1973 with the KLM assignment completed, my lawyer had a court date for the divorce, an agreement on the terms (pretty much as described above), and a request from Annie’s lawyer that we switch cars because the Duster was newer and worth more.

That’s why this COAL is titled Tempest Take Two.  Also, because I like alliterations.

I explained to Annie about the Duster’s brakes and how she had to ride the brake pedal going through puddles and then ride it a bit more to get them really dry, but I’m not sure she cared. Six months later the slant six’s exhaust manifold cracked. Thinking I gave her a lemon, Annie got a new car; I’m not even sure what it was, some kind of mid-sized Chevrolet; her new boyfriend picked it out. Annie and he must have gotten along well because they got married a few years later and they’re still married to each other after all these years.

Steve and Chuck and I did our Mark IV training at Grumman but knew time was running out because the primary technical development environment there would be pretty much be Cobol based.


One day Chuck drove to work in his old 1960 Chrysler with a rope holding the driver’s door almost closed and announced he had bought a new Mercury Capri V6 and did anyone want the high mileage yellow bird with a sprung driver’s door. It was free.

Bob, the Cessna 172 pilot said yes. He had a share of a ski house in Vermont (when you are single and have rent sharing room mates, you have extra money to spend on ski houses, late model 240Zs, and Cessna 172 rentals) and his 240Z did not have enough room for ski trips with his girl friend.


Bob brought the 1960 Chrysler to the beach house. I came home shortly after that and sat in it thinking about the sprung door and what was causing it. The interior of a 1960 Chrysler is a marvel of design with an instrument cluster that looks like a pin ball game.

I untied the rope holding the door near the frame and moved it back and forth. The hinges were dry.


After a few long sprays of WD-40 and some back and forth movement, some more sprays and a little more movement, the door loosened up and finally slammed shut with a solid Chrysler thunk. This was a big solid four door post sedan.

I sprayed all the other door hinges, the door locks, the trunk hinges, the hood release and hinges, the carburetor linkages, and the gas pedal throttle connections until the can was empty.

Bob drove in and saw me sitting in the Chrysler with the door securely shut and smiled.


Bob bought four new tires (snows on the rear), had new brakes installed all around, replaced the old battery with a big new one, and changed the coolant, hoses, and belts, and then had his perfect ski house cruiser. He told me it was great in the snow.

Chuck smiled when we told him about the doors. He was happy with his new V6 Capri.

In 1974, Steve was the first to leave Grumman for Informatics, the NJ based vendor of Mark IV. I followed a few months later and moved into a small rental studio apartment in Long Beach Long Island that gave me easier access to the Informatics customer base locations than the group house(s) out on eastern Long Island, and was still close enough that I could easily pick up Chris for week ends. I started putting serious miles on the Tempest.


I tuned it up regularly and other than normal wear items and one accelerator pump, it took me to and from Informatics Mark IV programming assignments in the NY/NJ metro area. The end started one Friday evening in early 1976 when I was returning to Long Beach from an assignment in Piscataway NJ and climbing the entrance to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge when it was apparent the car was loosing power. Something serious was wrong with the motor and it was making hollow popping sounds, like a spark plug or two were missing.  I checked; all six plugs were secure and connected.

I limped home at speeds not exceeding 25 mph and knew that the time and cost to fix it would probably not be trivial and I had customers to keep happy. It was only nine years old, a bit dented but with no visible rust, and someone could probably fix it, but that someone was not going to be me. I had too many other things to do.

The Tempest had a good nine year and 100,000 plus miles run.  I never changed the timing belt.


I had to get another car fast.  Sound familiar?