How I “traded a slide and spit valve for a drift and overhead valve”
(Hat tip to Raffi for the perfect descriptive phrase!)
F.E. Olds Recording Trombone
From 1961 through 1964, in my high school years, we lived in the small Texas panhandle town of Tulia. In those more innocent days, Ninth Grade was the Freshman year of High School. Like many other hairy-legged high school boys, I wanted to play trumpet in the High School band.
The Band Director was Bruce Cook. He was a fine band director – an inspiring leader who knew how to coax the best from his young musicians. At the beginning of the school year, I went to talk to him about joining the band and my ambition to play a trumpet.
Bruce Cook, seen here at Clemson University
We young Gear Heads thought it was cool that Bruce Cook drove a ’58 Pontiac Bonneville in exactly this color. His had the rare Rochester Fuel Injection setup.
Mr. Cook told me my lips were too thick to ever be really good at the trumpet and, deftly “made the idea mine” by saying, “but I bet they are just right for making you a terrific trombone player”.
With that, I was off and running. I was working as a bagger in Littlejohn Bros. Supermarket and used my money to buy an Olds Recording Trombone from the local department store that did a nice business selling instruments to the local band members.
Bruce Cook led the band to many concert and marching band contest trophies. The boys liked him because he had a ’58 Pontiac Bonneville with the rare Rochester Fuel Injection set up. From Tulia, Mr. Cook went to Clemson University and had a fine career there.
After my Junior year, we moved from Tuiia to Lubbock and I didn’t play in the band my Senior year at Monterey High School in Lubbock. So my fine Olds Recording Trombone was sitting idle in a closet.
I found a ’55 TR-2 in the Want Ads in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (don’t you love those old newspaper names?). The guy who had it was a retired professional trombone player and no longer had a trombone. I have no recollection of why a professional trombone player would retire to the tornado alley city of Lubbock, nor do I recall why he was without a trombone, but there he was.
The poor car had come out on the losing end of a t-bone engagement with a Buick. The drivers door was caved in as well as most of the left side of the car. So, the driver’s door was bashed in and wouldn’t open. It didn’t matter because the door was cut low into the body line, so it was easy to step into the car. That’s part of the sports car experience anyway, right? Who needs doors when you can just step into the car.
I have no recollection of why I thought I needed a second car. I still had the souped-up ’57 Ford I had bought from Don Shackleford in Tulia. I had absolutely no need for a second car. But I had been romanced on sports cars from reading Car and Driver and Road & Track back in the glory days of those magazines, particularly Road & Track which was published by the esteemed John Bond.
There I was examining this battered Triumph, redolent of gas fumes and hot oil. One drive and I was hooked. I told the owner I didn’t have the cash to buy it. As I recall, he was asking $250 for it. In my conversation with him about the car, I learned of his trombone-playing background. I told him about my fine Olds Recording Trombone and offered to swap him even. To my great surprise and delight, he accepted my offer.
We both walked out of the deal happy.
I had a barrel of fun with that battered Triumph! Like all British cars of that era, it was plagued with an unreliable electrical system. I had to push it to start it more often than not. But, that became something of a feature rather than a bug. I learned to park it where it would be easy to push to start. I was always scouting for downhill-sloping parking.
On cool days, I didn’t really need the heater. The footwells of the car would keep my feet toasty warm. On hot Lubbock summer days, that (ahem) feature wasn’t quite so welcome. Nonetheless, it was always a blast to drive that car!
It was great fun to take the Triumph out to Buffalo Springs Lake east of town and tear around the curves on the road around the lake. Nancy Dillard often accompanied me. Sweet girl. I should have married her instead of the infamous World War I. But that’s another story …
Eventually I figured out that at age 18, I didn’t need two cars. The ’57 Ford being more reliable than that poor, Buick-battered Triumph was the car that I kept but the purchase of that Triumph opened my eyes to what having a sports car was all about. I was infected and I’ve never recovered.
My ’55 TR-2 was even more battered than this one – it had been t-boned by a Buick and the left side of the car was caved in. The door wouldn’t open, but the low-cut doors made it easy just to step in to the car.