The Legend of The JATO-Powered Rocket Car




If the track had been ready on Monday, I don’t think I could’ve convinced Beck to let the maiden voyage of the rocket car wait until Jimmy came in on the weekend. He was far too anxious to get moving on the whole thing. As a matter of fact, the only way I was able to get him to wait as long as I did was by agreeing to start getting things ready on Friday. After my Dad and I went home from the yard on Friday, I returned to the yard and found Sal and Beck waiting for me. We backed the flatbed into the weedy field where the Rocket Car was docked, set up the ramps, and hoisted the car onto the flatbed with the winch. I drove the flatbed out to the abandoned mine and down the slope to the tracks, scared shitless that I’d get the truck stuck in the soft sand. But I made it down the slope okay, and we lowered the Rocket Car onto the tracks.

It looked perfectly at home sitting on the rails. Like that’s were it was meant to be all the time.

But we didn’t have time to stand around admiring the way the Rocket Car looked on the tracks. Even though we were a hundred yards from a fairly secluded stretch of highway, the sight of a five-ton flatbed, a four-wheel-drive pickup, and a rocket powered `59 Chevy on railroad wheels would’ve looked pretty peculiar to anyone coming down the road. So as soon as the car was on the rails, I climbed into the Chevy’s drivers’ seat and Beck pushed me down the tracks with the pickup’s bumper until the car was close to the mine entrance. Actually, it almost went through the boarded-up hole in the mountain. I was sitting there enjoying the ride, halfway to the mine entrance, when I suddenly realized that hitting the dump valve would stop the car permanently. Or at least until we went back to the scrapyard and snagged the portable compressor to re-inflate the shocks. About a quarter mile from the mine entrance I started waving out the window and screaming for Beck to stop, and when he finally hit the brakes, I must’ve been doing about forty or so. By the time the car coasted to a stop, I was no more than fifty feet from the entrance.

Close call.

We pulled the boards from the mine entrance again, and Beck used the pickup to ease the Chevy into the mine. Very slowly. Once it was all the way inside, he took me back to the flatbed, and followed me back to the yard. I parked the flatbed where it usually spent the night, we loaded the portable compressor into the pickup, and returned to the mine.

Since we didn’t have a tow chain, we had to muscle the car far enough out of the mine for Beck to get the truck in front of the Chevy and push it back down the tracks. When we got the car about a mile from the entrance, we let the car coast to a stop, Beck got out of the pickup, and Sal slipped into the driver’s seat. Beck jumped into the Rocket Car with a maniac grin on his face, and Sal maneuvered the pickup behind the Chevy. Beck gave us a jaunty thumbs-up, and Sal hit the gas. We picked up speed until we were doing about fifty, and just before I was about to scream at Sal to stop, he hit the brakes. We watched the rocket car pull away at goodly clip.

And keep going.

And keep going.

And just as I was wondering if the brake system might have malfunctioned, I saw the ass end of the Chevy pitch up slightly as Beck hit the dump lever. Sal and I both let out the breath we’d been holding, and drove down to where the car was stopped. When we got there, the car was resting on the runners and Beck was sitting on the hood. Less than twenty feet from the mine entrance.

I’ll say it again: Beck was a fucking maniac.

I thought he might make up an excuse for waiting so long to stop, that the brakes didn’t work or whatever, but he didn’t even bother. The runners had scraped the rust off ten feet of the rails, and when I looked under the Rocket Car, water was still squirting out of the hoses. When I asked what the fuck was wrong with him, Beck said “Hey, I didn’t feel like pushing this fucker all the way to the garage, so I let it coast most of the way. You have a problem with that?”

Actually, I didn’t. The “garage” he was referring to was actually the mine shaft, where we planned to stash the car until the firing test the next day. Nobody wanted to go through the bullshit of hauling the car back to the yard, so we decided to simply push it into the mine, replace the boards, and leave it there overnight. And after re-inflating the shocks from the compressor in the pickup, that’s exactly what we did. But every time I looked at those two bright spots on the rails, less than twenty feet from the boards covering that mine shaft, I wondered if it would ever be a good idea to let Beck drive the thing while a rocket was pushing it.

Next: “Leftoff”

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