No rainy day roads, just a cup of coffee at home

Born in Detroit City back in ’51
She still looks pretty and she’s loads of fun
Through thick and thin she’s been my only one
It’s my Crown Victoria Custom ’51
—”Crown Victoria Custom ‘51” lyrics – performed by Jerry Lee Lewis

Oil-OK. Tires-check. Coolant-perfect. Can’t be too cautious when heading out on a 250-mile road trip to cover in one day.

At least that was the plan. My columns are penned a week in advance to meet multiple deadlines, and we all know how East Texas weather can change in a day’s time. Give Mother Nature a whole week and an entire season can come and go.

I had planned to lead today’s post with, “If you are reading this week’s column on Saturday, Miss Vicky and I are on the road participating in the annual Highway 271 Cruise in Northeast Texas.” Instead, I’m savoring coffee this morning watching the dark clouds roll in and Miss Vicky is still slumbering out in the garage.

With Saturday’s 70 to 80-percent chance of rain across East Texas looming in the forecast all week, the event’s organizers opted Thursday to pull the plug for this week and reschedule in hopes of dryer forecasts on a future weekend. Rain is no stranger to the Highway 271 Cruise. In fact, much of last year’s event was driving in the rain.

Old cars are not allergic to rainy road trips, they are just not as much fun to drive and harder to clean up afterward. Plus, it cuts down on the crowds coming out to enjoy them in the participating cities which is the main focus of the chambers of commerce in the cities along the way.

Vicky and I were ready, however. Everything was checked, prepared and ready to roll. Inspecting everything on the car used to be standard preparation for even a short 1950s road trip. But today? Trips of 1,000 miles or more are started without a second thought checking only the fuel gauge and the cup holders.

Before Vicky (she’s my 1955 Ford Crown Victoria by the way – not a ’51 as the one Jerry Lee croons about) and I head out whenever the cruise is rescheduled, the checklist will be thorough. We’ve made trips together in the past including this one, but neither one of us is getting any younger.

While the event is only 45 miles long, she and I will travel 120 miles just getting to the starting point in Mount Pleasant. Stops along U.S. 271 include Pittsburg and Gilmer before the rolling car show arrives in Gladewater at 2:30 p.m. Each city offers culinary treats for the classic car cruisers and a 90-minute downtown mini-car show for the local citizens. At 4:00 p.m. it’s over and everyone departs Gladewater heading for home which for Vicky and me will be another 81-mile journey. By the time we return late Saturday, Vicky will have another 250 miles on her ticker.

But that’s no hill for a stepper as my friend Oscar used to say. I am not privileged to know everywhere Vicky has ventured in her 64 years on the road. All old cars have their secrets. I do know she came down from Arkansas in 1984 spending 28-years in Bossier City where she received a complete restoration before crossing the Red River to her new home in Center.

Having earned a driver’s license in 1964, I could use a restoration myself. Highlights on my road trip adventures involving vintage vehicles includes two trips to Daytona Beach, Florida in a ’56 Thunderbird and one from Chicago to Center in a ’65 Chevelle Malibu SS that was fresh out of storage in Iowa: 950 miles in 21 hours non-stop.

That trip crossed my mind last November driving home from the Corvette and Muscle Car Nationals car show in the Windy City. I didn’t set out to do a repeat non-stopper, it just turned out that way. The difference was that the original in the classic Malibu was an adventure whereas last year’s trip was a boring snoozer in a new but bland “looks like everything else on the road” styling econobox loaded with computers and auto everything.

Way before look-alikes loaded with computers and auto everything, there was also a trip I made from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Mount Pleasant and back in a 1965 Mustang …that one all in one long day, too. But, that’s a whole ‘nother story worth telling.

Oh, and let’s not forget cruising a ’69 Olds Cutlass W-31 muscle car purchased in Mount Airy, Georgia halfway back to Texas before unidentified noises spooked me into renting a truck and trailer to finish the trip home.

Whatever Saturday it happens, the Highway 271 Cruise will not be without its strange noises. After Vicky was restored about 12 years ago, she became a garage queen. However, I do have a couple of concerns.

There’s this vibration thing like something is loose that I can’t pinpoint. Maybe I will find the source before something falls off. Also, age brings on a lot of wind noise and there’s that aggravating roar in the rear end. A transplant may be in order, but it won’t happen before Saturday.

But that’s enough about me. Vicky’s in great shape and we’re ready for some 2019 road trip fun 1950s style—with a little sunshine.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas Light and Champion , the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune, the Taylor Press and the Alpine Avalanche

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