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The Knight was shining in 1967 !
The Knight was shining in 1967 !

Days of the Knight: The Restoration of ’66 Del Norte Knight

By: Ron Kaehr (Class of ‘66)

Part 7: Knights on Wheels and Skis

Well folks, this is the seventh, and final, installment on the restoration of the 1966 Knight. It has been almost seven months since we started this journey. Although it is bittersweet for this old man to end it, the story must now come to an end. So, in that spirit, I offer a few parting comments.

Knights on wheels and skis! That is what I have chosen to title this composition. The wheels angle I will discuss first and is relatively simple to explain. As to the skis angle, that is quite another thing! Our generation, the sixties baby boomers, was the first generation where the automobile was the primary mode of a teenagers transportation. Not bus. Not bike. Not biped. But the car! Certainly our older brothers and sisters may have had the luxury of a car at their disposal too, but not to the numerical extent that we did.

It was the era of drive-in restaurants and drive-in theatres. Who wanted to go inside a restaurant to get a burger when they could dine in the luxury of their own car? Why go to a movie theater when one could plunk down behind the wheel of their beat-up jalopy with a corndog in one hand and a babe in the other? Well, some of us had to settle for two or three corndogs!

***

But before I get to that, I feel compelled to tell a seemingly unrelated story. This was brought back to me one day as Dolores and I were driving eastbound on Comanche near McKinley Mid-School. I believe the event took place at the school when I was in the seventh grade, around 1960 or so. We had just gotten out of an assembly in the gym at the end of the school day and were disgorged into the midst of a typical New Mexico dust storm.

After I had collected my books from my locker, I went outside and met up with my brother Jim to start our walk home. Suddenly a cry went up from one of the kids nearby. He had lost a five dollar bill! Now why a kid had a five dollar bill on him in those days is a bit of a mystery since five dollars then did not in any shape or form represent what a five dollar bill does today. That was a lot of money for a kid to be carrying.

But there it was! A five spot torn from the clutches of its rightful owner to be borne on the whims of the spring wind!

“There it is!” someone shouted, pointing in the general direction of Palo Duro Park about a quarter mile east of the school.

What ensued was almost a re-enactment of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. Whether they actually saw the errant Lincoln or not,  the mob of recently released students rushed en masse like a herd of frightened buffalo on their legs or bicycles toward the park in search of it. I too became a member of that mob. In those days I wore coke bottle glasses so that even the occasional gum wrapper was a candidate for the bill. I was grabbing every scrap of blurry paper in sight.

I was never known for my speed, quite the opposite. By the time I had arrived at the park, some of the kids were all the way to San Mateo! So how it came to be that I was the one to snag the errant bill, I can only speculate. Perhaps it was an act of God. At any rate, there it was in my dusty sweaty little hand…a whole five bucks!

I’m not sure if honest Abe there in my fist would have approved of what I did next. In fact I am quite sure that he would not! With the five gripped firmly in my grubby hand, my brother Jim and I discreetly directed ourselves away from the park and into the direction of a convenience store on San Mateo where years later Red Dog Dan’s provided quite a different sort of  service. Letting our carnal needs take precedence over the spiritual ones, we purchased an ample supply of Hershey bars, Sugar Daddys and David and Sons sunflower seeds, thereby confirming that our sense of guilt was still in the experimental phase!

For Bob Dylan ‘The answer my friend,’ may have been ‘blowin’ in the wind’ in 1963, but for Ron Kaehr in 1960 it was five bucks!

***

On several occasions my older brother Mick stuffed my brother Jim and I along with a couple of his college buddies into the back of his ’53 Chevy. When we were all packed in like sardines, or more aptly whales, he drove solo into the Duke City Drive-In on Carlisle in an attempt to avoid paying the $2.00 or so per head admission price.

Never mind that the thousand pounds of beef stock locked in the trunk caused the tailpipe to drag across the ground producing a Fourth-of-July like shower of sparks. Management probably tolerated such theft of admission feeling that they could more than compensate for the lost revenue if the stowaways made one short visit to the snack bar. Even in those days prices at the snack bar were steep.

“Get your elbow out of my eye!”

“Then get your foot out of my ear!”

“How can I have my foot in your ear if your elbow is in my eye?”

“Knock it off you two! You’re using up the air!

Br-r-r-p…putt….putt.

“What was that?”

The answer was not long in coming. It came in the air.

“Oh, god! Who cut the cheese?”

A veritable cloud of nauseous gas filled the confined compartment.

“I’m going to puke!”

“Ugh!”

“Get me out of here! Hurry! Get me out before I gag to death!”

“Don’t make me laugh! Heh-heh! Shit, I think I just pissed my pants!” laughed the guilty party.

Mick finally and mercifully opened the trunk lid and we spilled out onto the gravel in a tangle of arms and legs; three boys and one trunk skunk! I’m not sure, but I believe that this is where the phrase “asses-to-elbows” came from.

When we had sucked in enough fresh air to clear our lungs and heads, my brother Jim and I, ranked lowest in social status by age, were sent to the snack bar as the personal valets of our older companions. But we didn’t really mind. We had gotten our free admission to the drive-in and got to hang around with the college age guys. Besides, years later we could count ourselves among the founding fathers of the popular low rider movement.

My sister Pam, on the other hand, could not count herself quite as lucky as her male siblings when attempting the same feat. On one memorable occasion, she had locked her friends (believed to be Diane Allen, Peggy Scutt and Mary Wathan) in the trunk while she wheeled and Brenda Bailey rode shotgun to the Duke City. The problem came not from gaining access to the drive-in, it was obtaining egress from the trunk; after pulling up to the speaker, they discovered that the lock on the trunk was stuck!

As the Beatles pounded out Help! on the radio of my mothers ’64 Falcon, three desperate girls were pounding out “Help” on the inside of the trunk deck!

In a panic, Pam drove home and parked the car in the driveway; the girls inside the trunk being in an even greater state of panic.

Finally, someone had the foresight to call a locksmith! It had to be one of my brothers because all I remember is standing there next to the car laughing, too entertained by the spectacle to initiate any rescue operation. As the Beach Boys sang Help me Rhonda!, Ron was going to be of no help whatsoever!

The locksmith came and delivered the fair maidens into the cool evening air with no more damage to their delicate conditions than frazzled nerves, mussed bee-hives, bruised ribs and the loss of two admissions to the drive-in. I wish that I could say that this event turned out to be a good lesson for those girls and that they never again tried to sneak into a drive-in, but that is probably just wishful thinking.

***

It was during the period of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s that the word cruisin’ came into the American lexicon. Cruisin’ was the term used to describe aimless driving around in search of entertainment; in particular on weekends, and for testosterone fog-brained young males…girls! This in spite of the fact that those lovely females were right there under our noses at Del Norte! Instead we searched the likes of Little Beaver Town, Vip’s Big Boy, Mac’s Steak-In-The-Rough and Frank’s Drive In.

One memorable weekend found me cruising with Cecil Grady around Vip’s Big Boy on Central, arguably the most cruised spot in Albuquerque. It was Cecil’s new Chevelle that was the chariot of choice. We were both really full of ourselves that evening so we lit up a couple of Swisher Sweets, some of the finest ten cent smokes available at the time, unless, of course you were a Rum-Soaked Crooks aficionado. Neither one of us smoked regularly, but it definitely looked cool to have a stogie in your mouth and a twinkle in your eye, though the twinkle was probably the result of the smoke that was irritating them.

After we had made several slow rounds past Iceland Bowl and the drive-in, we noticed that the sweet smelling aroma of the Swisher began to take on a more acrid attribute, and shortly after that realized that the sweet smelling cigar was not the source of it. Somehow the ash from one of our cigars had flown through the open back window and landed on the back seat setting it on fire! Rancid black smoke began pouring from the rear windows.

As Barry Maguire belted out Eve of Destruction on KQEO, normally mild mannered Cecil gunned the six cylinders of the Chevelle and rudely cut off a contender for a newly opened curb slot at Vip’s in an attempt to stave off the destruction of his vehicle.

 He pounded feverishly on the call button.

“May I help you?” came a sweet voice from the speaker.

“I need water!” Cecil shouted.

“Water? How many?” she asked, puzzled by the odd request.

“Fifteen! Large!” he shouted back. “And make it fast!”

As the Supremes sang I Hear a Melody on the radio; I thought I heard a fire truck on Central!

When the hostess arrived and hung the tray of water glasses on the car window, the weight of them almost broke the glass.

As soon as Cecil handed me a cup I threw it over onto the smoldering back seat. The fire was soon put out, but a cloud of obnoxious steam rose from around a gaping black hole in the fabric like a miniature Vesuvius.

The crisis having been contained, we drove to Hidden Park to assess the damage.

 “Shit! My dad is going to kill me!” he cried.

I had heard this same line once before when he had bent the front bumper of his car while on a date. Apparently he had had his eyes on something other than the road, that something being the girl sitting next to him! The morning after the accident, he showed up at the Kaehr plating shop, certain that his father would mark him for execution if the mishap of the night before was discovered.

Not having any direct connection to the threatened execution, I viewed the situation with a more disinterested eye. It is always a nice feeling to be a third party to a crisis; no skin in the game and no neck-in-the-noose. After evaluating the crumpled metal, I had Cecil drive the car up to a telephone pole in the parking lot and attached a chain to it and the bumper. As he slowly backed up, the bumper un-crumpled and slowly resumed its original shape. In fact, we were able to straighten it out almost like new…almost!

In reminding myself of the distraction that caused Cecil to damage his car, I mention another distraction that plagued the streets of Albuquerque in the 1960’s. That distraction was the infamous Go-Go dancers prancing boldly in the southeast corner window of Bimbo’s on the corner of Central and Louisiana. Those scantily clad young ladies probably caused as many traffic accidents then as texting while driving does today!

But, I digress. Back to the story of the burning car at Vip’s

“Maybe not,” I told him as I made a detailed assessment of the situation.

There was a Mexican serape on the back window ledge! A serape no less! Go figure! I unfolded it and laid it neatly across the back seat as an impromptu seat cover.

”There! No hole!” I exclaimed. “No one will ever be the wiser.”

“But what about the smell?” Cecil asked.

“Just drive around for a week,” I said, my nose burning with the foul smell. “Or two… maybe three at the most… with the windows down!”

“But what if it rains?” he asked.

“Better yet!” I answered. “You can say that a bolt of lightning hit the car and caused it!”

On one outing during the summer of ’66, I happened to get on the bad side of a bottle of Smirnoff at the drive-in, a quart bottle to be exact. Fortunately, Ken Varga was not so indisposed to imbibe heavily that evening as the rest of us were, and so had the good sense to drive me home. It is for this act of civic responsibility that qualifies Ken as being among the first self-proclaimed designated drivers. It being my vehicle that we were in however, he was forced to walk several miles home in the wee hours of the morning after depositing me and the car safely at home. It is for this act that he also qualifies as being one of the first designated walkers.

After fumbling around in my pocket in search of the keys that were already in my hand, my sister Vick came to the door and let me in. Miraculously I was able to find my way to my bedroom and after considerable searching I was able to locate my bed and collapse onto it fully clothed. This turned out to be a good thing however, since shortly thereafter I took off on my first helicopter ride.

***

I will now relate an event that remains as much a mystery today as to how it came about as it did when it happened. It involved Dan and Jim Bagley for sure, Jim King probably, Steve O’Neal definitely, perhaps Joe Goldman, and my brother Jim and I. One Saturday afternoon Jim and I had connected up with our fellow delinquents on the north side of Sears at Coronado, probably the first flash mob ever to do so even though cell phones did not exist in those days.

Coronado at that time was about a third the size that it is today and Sears, the biggest retailer in Albuquerque had all of their outdoor goods displayed in that part of the store; barbeques, umbrellas, picnic tables, plastic ware and of course, backyard swimming pools. Just inside those doors was a rather large pool, about 12 feet in diameter and about four feet deep, complete with all the extras that one would expect a pool to have; pool toys, floating mattresses, life jackets, and even water, four feet of water to be exact!

I suppose it is human nature throughout the globe that when one sees a body of water like a fountain and even a small pool, like the one in Sears for example,  he is inclined to toss a coin into it in anticipation of some wish that he has on his mind. For most people, I suppose this is the rationale for tossing away good money. But this is not the case for all people. Other personality types see not the wish to be gained by tossing money into the pool, but rather the certainty of the gain to be had by collecting the money lying at the bottom of the pool!

Six of us boys were of the former persuasion, but Jim Bagley was of the other. Before we had progressed more than a score of steps inside the building, he spotted the sunken treasure lying at the bottom, vaulted over the side and dived head in!

Splash!

The resulting wave washed over the entire perimeter of the pool and onto the floor. The resulting splash stopped all of the shoppers and sales people dead in their tracks. After swimming around the bottom of the pool and collecting as many coins that his lungs could endure, he emerged like a breaching whale, producing an equally devastating wave that scattered rubber ducks and other floating waterfowl across the flooded floor.

Splash!

By this time the rest of us saw that the other observers had come to their senses and that we could all get into serious trouble for Jim’s peculiar action. Sensing the brewing storm, we made a mad dash for the door and spilled out in all directions across the parking lot, Jim Bagley bringing up the rear trailing a stream of water!

My brother Jim and I ended up in O’Neal’s ’57 Chevy although we had driven there ourselves, but his was the closest and fastest car around. Shortly thereafter we were speeding westbound down Menaul as “Kicks keep getting harder to find!” by Paul Revere and the Raiders blared from the radio. When we got to San Mateo, we turned north and then east onto Phoenix where we parked behind Bekins Moving and Storage (now Baillo’s) in an attempt to hide from what was sure to be the pursuing law.

But alas, this was not to be! As soon as he had cut the engine, a security cop pulled up behind us with lights flashing.

“Oh, shit! We’re done for!” we thought.

The officer knocked on the window and Steve politely rolled it down.

“May I help you officer?” he asked flashing his green eyes.

“Look, guys! I know how you boys like the chase!” the officer said “But this is dangerous stuff! Someone could get hurt. Slow down!”

“Gosh, officer! My apologies! My foot must have gotten a bit heavy!” said Steve innocently. “Thank you for pointing it out!”

“Just slow down!” said the officer as he stepped away from the car and waved us on.

“Oh, yes sir!” answered Steve. “You can count on it!”

We couldn’t believe our ears! Apparently the officer had only seen us speeding out of the parking lot and had given pursuit, unaware of the flood we had left behind at Sears! It was an unprecedented stroke of luck.

***

Skis! When I started this installment I had mentioned knights on skis. So here it is .The base on which the knight stands will be bolted to a footing in its permanent location. This is to prevent someone from lassoing the knight and forcibly toppling him over. Until that time, in order to exhibit the completed statue in a safe manner, I welded studs onto two steel tubes (skis!) and bolted them to the bottom of the base. The extra length gives the statue additional stability. After this was done, the truncated cover was placed over the base and the knight placed into the base. In this manner, I am able to maneuver the knight around the shop using a forklift. When the time comes to move it to a permanent location, the process will be reversed.

The knight is a joy to behold! Once again the armor is shiny black. The plume is colorful turquoise with white highlights. The blade has been brightly polished and the hilt painted rich gold. I daresay that he has never looked so good since his creation. Those forty-seven years of classes whose presence he graced will marvel at his new look. And if all goes well, he will be back on campus for the class of 2014.

It is natural that all things must come to an end. My role in the project of the restoration of the Knight is now at an end. If you have followed this chronicle, you may have noticed a change in the style of presentation. As I got deeper into it, I realized that this story is not just about the Knight, but the days of the Knight! And so the presentation evolved from the mundane telling of the restoration of a statue to a light hearted account of the life of a teenager in the sixties. And for what it is worth, the events that I have related here actually did happen and are only slightly exaggerated. Or so that’s the way I recall them!

And so with that final observation, I put my pen, or rather keyboard, to rest. My story has ended, but perhaps someone will pick it up from here and move it forward. After all, this is the story of the beginning of the days of the Knight and not the end of them!

 

Ron Kaehr, Class of ‘66