For close to 18 years my family lived in a mobile home. Dad, being in the military, towed it from base to base every 36 months. The way I viewed things back then, cars and trailer parks went together like Chevrolet and apple pie. Guys in trailer parks were always working on their vehicles and I eventually joined them.
I was blessed to grow up during the muscle car era. With Dad eventually being part-owner of a gas station, the opportunity to drive many of the hottest vehicles Detroit offered came my way. This journey started in 1969. My passion for fast cars began a few years earlier at Clark Junior High, when I discovered Hot Rod and Car Craft magazines in the school library.
Me and another kid spent so much time reading automotive periodicals, that the librarian removed them. She evidently didn’t consider them as educational material. While Dad was in the Air Force stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, he worked evenings at Marswalk Texaco, located on DeBarr Road and Boniface Parkway. Isaiah Lewis and Doug Sizemore were also employees of this business. I loved talking to these older guys about fast cars.
One afternoon when I was hanging around the station, Doug Sizemore offered me a ride in his 1963 Ford Falcon. It had a built 260 V-8 under the hood with 4-speed transmission. He banged all four gears while I held on for dear life. I was instantly hooked on hot rods.
A young military couple in the trailer park where we lived owned a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T. It was blue with white tail stripes. Most of the time the wife drove this car. They were on my paper route. Her name was Gigi, yet I don’t recall the husband. Gigi was originally from France and a very beautiful lady. At times she was hard to understand, her thick French accent making common words sound totally strange.
When Gigi rolled by in her rumbling Dodge, she’d smile and wave at us guys. We’d always return the gesture. I’m sure the lady thought we were checking her out, but for me, it was mainly the car. I was in love and wanted one like it. Eventually, they packed up and moved to another base as military families always do, taking their precious Charger with them. I was heartbroken.
In 1969, my father, having retired from the Air Force, teamed up with Isaiah Lewis. The two men purchased Yeager’s Texaco on Taku Drive and changed the name to Wonderpark Texaco. I was hired at $2.00 an hour to pump gas, clean floors and windows, plus other assigned duties. It wasn’t long before I was changing oil, lubricating chassis parts, turning wrenches, and of course, taking the necessary test drives. Life was good!
Richard Watts was a fledgling employee of Carr’s Grocery in 1969. He had a ‘69 440 powered Plymouth GTX at that time, and must’ve been making good money. I idolized this young man for his vehicle and cool personality. To Richard, the GTX was just another mode of transportation, yet not to me. The Plymouth was like a flaming chariot of sorts.
One day, Richard stopped by to have his vehicle serviced. He had to work that morning, so “Lewis” asked me to drive him to the Carr’s grocery store on Gambell. I was elated finding I’d be piloting the GTX. It was a moment that changed my life. Most likely, Chuck Yeager felt the same when he first took the yoke of a jet fighter. I became addicted to Chrysler products because of that one driving experience.
A fellow named Tom owned a 1964 Pontiac GTO. It had a 389 with single Rochester carburetor. Tom wanted three, two-barrel carbs installed like some GTO’s came with. Lewis told me it was one of the man’s final wishes, as he had a serious health problem. Lewis made sure that happened. I got to test the car afterwards and found it quite peppy. Only a few years later Lewis informed me that Tom passed away. I remember him as being a super nice guy.
Tom’s 1964 Pontiac wasn’t as fast as a 1970 SD-455 HO GTO owned by an Army soldier named Anthony. We called him “Bob” for unknown reasons as it should’ve been “Tony.” I test drove Bob’s emerald green Pontiac on a damp rainy day. Going about 50 mph on the Glenn Highway, I punched the throttle to see what this car would do. Bob’s GTO immediately went sideways. Thankfully for me, I was able to keep it under control and out of the ditch.
Months later, I got to drive Bob’s GTO on dry asphalt. To this day, I believe it was faster than Richard Watt’s Plymouth GTX. It’d smoke the tires at will. There were Dodge Challenger’s and Plymouth Barracuda’s coming in for service all the time.
One 1970 340 Challenger belonged to a young fellow in Mt. View named Roscoe. I still remember transporting this car to a seedy trailerpark on the outskirts of Anchorage. “Cisco Kid” played the whole time on an 8-track tape player, seemingly, the song never ended. Yea, Cisco Kid was a friend of mine as well. Only those having heard this tune will know what I’m talking about. This car was quick and would easily burn rubber.
Lewis said the young man was a dealer. At first, I thought he meant a car salesman like those working at Chevy or Ford. Lewis had to further explain things to me. “Oh,” I said, after hearing what the dude actually did for a living. That’s why all those pine tree air-fresheners hung from his rear-view mirror. I recall being nauseated by their sweet smell. It was sickening to be inside that Dodge, so I always drove with the windows down.
A customer living in Manook Isle Trailer Park owned a 1967 American Motors Marlin fastback. I believe it’s the ugliest car I’ve ever sat in. The owner informed me how fast his Marlin was, saying he’d beat a Camaro or two around town. I never believed him. American Motors Corporation tried to emulate the new 1966 Dodge Charger with their Marlin, but failed miserably.
I transported this slug to Action Locksmith on Fifth Avenue for new keys. The Marlin was absolutely gutless in the power department, with an engine not having enough horsepower to spin tires even on a wet road.
I cringed that day thinking someone from high school might see me. This was the type thing that could ruin a car guy’s reputation. It was common to drive through a trailer park and see automobiles and trucks sitting on cinder blocks in driveways. That’s exactly where this Marlin belonged and eventually wound up.
The ugly AMC sat there for a couple of years before being towed away for scrap; its metal undoubtedly shipped overseas. I suppose that Marlin’s still around, reincarnated as a Toyota or Nissan.
One important thing I learned regarding my gas station days, is that I should never take my vehicle to a shop, where young guys do the servicing and test drives. I’m sure had Roscoe, Bob, Tom, and Richard Watts known how I’d treated their rides, they’d all agree!