“She’s Real Fine My 409, my 4 0 9.” OK, if you think this is a cleaning fluid, or something in the voluptuous category, try another section. However, if you started mouthing a song something like, “Well, I’ve saved my pennies and I’ve saved my dimes,” (Giddy up, giddy up 409) and you know this isn’t a report on cheap stocks, stick around.
Along about October 1965, Jimmy and Denny, New Jersey boys, Citadel cadets, were in Camden visiting Jimmy’s kin, owners of a couple of textile mills. Jimmy had inherited and was driving a first-generation muscle car, the 1962 “4-speed, dual-quad, positraction 409” Chevrolet already immortalized by The Beach Boys.
Speed and pickup were paramount in those pre-gas-shortage days; “what’ll she do in a quarter?” or “she’ll burn rubber in all gears” was commonly heard around town. To most of us locals, owning one of these “off the showroom floor” dragsters was pure fantasy. We did muster two dollars to get in the Blaney drag strip to watch the super-stock, push button Plymouths and Dodges eat up most competition.
One fella from Bone Town did own a kind of cruiser-cum-racer, a big engine 406 Ford and was riding around that October weekend, probably looking for a way to earn spending money and show off his hot car. Though details of the gathering are lost in spent gas fumes, Denny, Jimmy, the Bone Town boy plus about 50 rooters and gawkers showed up at Dabney’s Black River Shell Station just east of Camden. A bet was made, $20 to the winner of a drag race; a trustworthy guy was selected to hold the money; others were dispatched to the starting line just around the curve and to a quarter-mile or so farther down Highway 521; Jimmy cut the air conditioner belt for more power; the two cars were lined up, Jimmy and Denny in the 409, the 406 alongside. Some brave or foolish soul standing between dropped his arm and the two machines bolted. If by some chance you were at that filling station near 45 years back, you may remember hearing that the two racers, going over a hundred, were neck and neck at the curve in front of Mulberry; that neither driver would give, and that when the cars got back to the station, both claimed victory.
What I remember was a lesson in mathematics. Roughly 48 of the 50 sided with the local Bone Town boys. What to do, me a local, but classmate of Jimmy’s and Denny’s, and Denny a friend to boot? Citadel has an honor code, so no question, they were telling the truth. One more part of the equation; Denny and Jimmy were some degree black belt karate holders. (When he was a knob, upperclassmen would come by Denny’s room and make him break plates with karate chops.)
Still, pretty poor odds; discussion became more heated, voices rose and tempers flared, Denny’s face reddened. Suddenly, something between a yell and a shriek and WHAM! Denny’s hand struck the Ford, making a nice crease in the fender. No one moved. Calm now, Denny and Jimmy got in Jimmy’s car and drove away, $40 in pocket. I left shortly thereafter, grateful to be in one piece.
Thanks, patient reader; a non-political, unsyndicated, non-leaning, non-lesson-teaching article survived the cut room floor. Want more? Send this or a subscription to a friend. Want no more? Send this or a subscription to everyone you know. email@example.com
• Johnny Roland grew up in Boykin, lives near Cameron with his family, and plays trumpet in Reflections.
October 28, 2009 | Times and Democrat, The (Orangeburg, SC)Section: Opinion