Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The "White Whale"

The infamous "White Whale", a '51 Chevy former bakery delivery panel with a '53 GMC bored out to 301 CID, '34 Ford dump truck tranny, straight cut gears, double clutch for each shift. It died inside the factory on 9th Ave in Neptune during the factory fire. My grandmother died the day before and I was in NJ and drove by the factory to try and reconcile with Tinker, little did I know all I would see was water soaked remains with a 16" I-beam which had fallen right through the roof of the "White Whale" and into the concrete floor. It sat there with only the wire belting of the tires remaining on the rims…a sad sight to see.

Tinker had me drive the “White Whale” to Rhode Island for a contest while he drove his "58 Chevy wagon, snow white just like the "Whale." It was all about getting power from these engines and Tinker ran no fan on the engine because it pulled away too much horsepower. I stopped at the end of the New York freeway to gas up and check all the engine fluids; the underpaid gas station attendant forgot to screw back on the radiator cap. Not good. Off we went and in a few miles the engine temp was on the rise. Tinker had an extra heater core installed for slow traffic situations for additional cooling so I flipped on the heater fan but the engine temp just kept climbing.

Connecticut has a lot of reservoirs and ponds so I pulled off an exit, turned off the engine to help it cool down, and filled up the spare jugs with water. I was only about 19 years old and little real automotive expertise.

With the radiator cap off and the jugs off water filling it up. The “Whale” started making all kinds if groans and squeaks as it sat there drinking up the pond water. When the temp gauge said cold I tried to start it, but as I turned the key it was like the battery was low. We were on a down slope so the rest of the team started pushing the truck and I popped the clutch and the "Whale" roared to life. With the crew back on board, off we went, but in just a few miles the temp stated going back up again. We got to another pond and loaded up with water again however, this time the starter wouldn't turn over the engine at all. Again we were on a really steep grade, an off ramp, and started coasting for the clutch pop again. I got up to about 25 MPH and when I let the clutch out the rears tire squealed before the engine turned over but did not start. I still had enough speed to coast up the on ramp quite a ways so I rolled it backwards and up the ramp we went where I popped the clutch again. This time it did not start and a deluge of water shot out the tail pipe. Even with little auto repair experience I knew there was no direct route of water to combustion chambers. This was an era of no cell phones and no way to contact Tinker and tell him of his beloved truck. It was getting very late by then so Bob Bernokeitz and myself started hitching for Rhode Island. We got there in 2 rides, but it was near midnight by then.

Of course back then nothing was open past 10, and we had no money anyway, but we were able to find and old, abandoned hotel in Narragansett. We ran around in the dark until we found an unlocked window which we popped open and crawled through. We got as comfortable as possible and tried to sleep the rest of the night. At first light we were up and waiting for Tinker at the contest site. He found the two of us soon enough, we gave him the low down on the “Whale” and the rest of the guys. He promptly blew off the contest to rescue the rest of the boys and retrieve the "Whale".

This is when Tinker goes into overdrive. We get to the truck and he tries to start it with jumper cables but before long he see the solder around the radiator brackets is melted and says, "Do you know what temperature solder melts at?!!! 750 fucking degrees!" He starts to partially disassemble the motor on the side of the road, but stops and goes for a tow bar to take the "Whale" back to NJ.

The engine got sooooo hot. How hot was it? It was so hot the valve seats came out of the head and were sitting around the neck of the valves. Of course the head had to be machined which Tinker took care of and then put it back together. Scared shitless I tell him I will pay for the repairs, but he backs off. The “Whale” was as good as new until its untimely death years later.

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