By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
I enjoyed reading Tammie Toler’s recent column in the Princeton Times about Fred Rogers. Tammie wrote about her admiration for his gentle and reassuring way of approaching any and all topics that helped young people deal with troubling events. By 1968 when “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” arrived on TV in the United States, I was already an adult and I was making mistakes that none of the characters in his community would have thought of making. Back then, I had no idea then that I would become the person I turned out to be.
For most of my life, I went from one $500 car to another. I had owned three cars — all that I paid less than $100 each for — by the time I was 15. Through the next 20 years, I probably had another 15-20 vehicles. I had cars, trucks, motorcycles — anything that would operate on land. I had a few more expensive vehicles, but I didn’t keep any of them very long. I wasn’t a good mechanic, but I could do just enough to keep the cars I had running.
During the cold, cold winter of 1981-82, I had a sporty 1971 Toyota Celica. I’m not going to get into the circumstances of how I came to own that car, but I paid $400 for it, and had to fix the brakes and do some engine work on it to get it running. In its day, it was a pretty fancy car, but it was past its prime when I got it. It did have a four-speed on the floor, which was cool. The gear shift stuck up high between the seats.
I was working for EG&G back then. EG&G is a federal contractor that was providing services to the U.S. Department of Energy’s installation on Collins Ferry Road outside of Morgantown. The site is called the Morgantown Energy Technology Center. I was classified as a stationary engineer, which meant that I was a boiler operator. I really enjoyed working to keep the support services flowing to several federal energy-related research projects.
That winter was really cold, and my little Celica was about the most cold-natured car I have ever owned. On cold nights when I was at home, I took the battery out of the car and put it in a storage cell in the basement of the West Virginia University housing complex where I was living. When I was at work, I put the whole car in a vacant, yet heated building at the METC site. The little Celica loved the nights she spent in a heated garage.
In the spring of that year, I spotted a late 1960s model Datsun pickup for sale in the Morgantown-area “Trading Journal.” The truck was down in Nutter Fort, but I had a hankering for it because something about it caught my eye. The guy was asking $500 for it. I bought the car and had to fix a flat before I could drive it back to Morgantown. I really did enjoy the truck, and I gave my little Celica to my brother, who was — at that time — also working in a lab at METC. It was where we learned that under certain conditions, coal will burn.
Not long after I moved with my family to Bluefield, I sold the little black Datsun truck for $800 to cover the security deposit and first month’s rent on the first house we had down here. A couple of weeks later, I bought a $300 Volkswagen Beetle that I had to coast and catch it in gear to start. After several months of only parking on a hill, a guy who had a Volkswagen repair place at the state line on Bluefield Avenue fixed it up for $25, and it ran like a top and started with a key every time.
So, with the exception of being able to see the road pass beneath my feet, the car was a gem. At about that time, my brother called me and said that the Celica wasn’t running, and asked if I could help him out. I told him I was about to get another pickup truck, so I could bring the Volkswagen up to him and bring the Celica back here and give it to my former brother-in-law who was living in Bristol, Va., at the time. My brother told me that along with not running, the Celica had developed a terrible oil leak.
I drove the Beetle up to Morgantown to where my brother was living, and parked it behind the Celica. Stu — my brother — came out to help me get the Celica running again. I popped the hood, looked at the engine and immediately saw that someone had crossed all the spark plug wires from the distributor cap. I was a little mad, and asked my brother what had happened. He said another guy who lived in the house where he was living thought it sounded like it was running out of time, so he changed the positions of the spark plug wires.
So I said: “Some guy?” as I retraced the firing order and put the plug wires in the correct position.
“Not just some guy,” my brother said. “He’s a cameraman on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.’ ”
I was laughing when I held the choke open with a screwdriver, sprayed ether in the carburetor and told Stu to start it up. The engine leaped to life again. I poured three quarts of oil in the engine and brought a few more with me for the ride. I laughed about the episode the whole ride back to Bluefield. I sure loved my brother and I sure miss him.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at email@example.com.