I’m not sure I liked the sound of that… the three-oh-nine rolled thru my home town at 3:09 AM… that meant we had to get out of Carroll and catch it somewhere along the way… probably already miles ahead of us… much more than the headstart Shakes was willing to give it.

It was 2:30 when we finally dropped off the girls… Shakes was all smiles as we slipped onto 30… no doubt he scored! I didn’t… I can always find that one gal in 10 (or twenty or… ) that won’t… no matter what’s promised! My luck! I tossed out the last of the empties as he was pulling thru the gears… the last stop light was almost at the edge of town… from then on it was open two-lane and by the time we sailed past the outbound city limits sign, four barrel sucking big time, I wasn’t real sure Shakes was going to catch the three-oh-nine before our hometown. Two thirty-five… the time left us 34 minutes to catch it… home was a forty minute drive at normal speeds, plus slowing for three towns along the way… needless to say, it’d be close.

Ten miles from home we saw the red taillight… couple miles later we’d pulled even with the caboose but had to slow for Vail’s town limits… way down to 35… the three-oh-nine didn’t have to slow for any town. Being Friday nite… the town’s only cop would be running radar in the darkness of the grain elevator, next to the tracks, south side of the highway. HAD to slow. Experience taught him that those of legal drinking age spent the evening in Carroll’s many taverns… and they usually didn’t slow for the small town. Ticket City. Worse for those of us under legal drinking age… Vail’s reputation for handing out citations preceded him and us youngsters knew he’d nail us if we were even half a mile above the limit… for no other reason than to check our breath.

Luckily for us, as we approached the curve into town, we noticed the bubble gum machine atop his cruiser flashing like crazy… he’d already pulled over some luckless soul and was standing by his car as we motored thru. I could tell from his expression as we went by that he was sorry he was busy… we sure weren’t. Shakes decided to give him a salute and shifted the 4-speed down into second just before the ‘thanx for visiting’ town limit sign and nailed it… the four barrel gave up a throaty waaaaahhhhh, the second to third shift was neck-snapping at the same time the rear tires chirped and exhausts bellowed, their tune trying hard to stay with us and yet singing in thru the open vent windows. We were flying low once again and gaining on that freight train. The three-oh-nine was a couple miles ahead of us again. We had only seven miles to catch it, pass it, slow to go thru the town, head for the west side, make a left, go a few blocks south and cross in front of it… our town didn’t have any gates blocking the tracks/street, only bells and flashing warning lights…

We pulled even and passed the engine before the town limit sign… but we had to slow… again… she didn’t. Shakes slipped the shifter into third, then to second to slow the Bel Air… a ticket here would not be a smart thing. The hometown cops always waited just inside the town limit… this time of nite parked on the north side of the street…. most everyone never slowed cuz there was nothing out there to slow for… but Shakes wasn’t taking any chances and tapped the brakes to slow us to just below the speed limit. Now I was getting worried… some quik figuring in my mind didn’t allow us enuff time to get in front of the engine… a mile to go before the left turn… three blocks south after that then across three sets of tracks…

“OK, I win this one,” I said. “We’re not going to make it.”

“Bull,” Shakes said. “I ain’t conceding just yet. It’ll be close.”

We creeped by the cops… I know they were watching… around the gentle curve in the highway and down the slope… out of sight of the cops. Shakes slipped it into second and nailed it… almost got away from him… salt and gravel still on the street from yesterday’s snowstorm caused the Bel Air to slip sideways… fortunately there was no one on the street at this time of the AM and the quik jerk from the oncoming lane back into ours was quiet. Third gear came quik and we were sailing… up the next hill and down toward Main… gaining on the freight train’s engine. I watched freight cars and tank cars flash as they went under street lights only a couple blocks south of us… I imagined hearing the rumble of the cars as they clicked over the joints of the tracks. Main Street came up and Shakes slammed the trans into second, tapped the brakes and power slid the ‘62 around the corner… I held on. The rear came around, Shakes corrected and we roared past the Dr. Pepper bottling plant… blok and a half to go. Going to be damned close… but now it looked like we had enuff time, at least the last time I saw the engine a block back. My mind eased a bit… Shakes was going to beat that train and I was going to be out twenty bucks.

He shoved that shifter into third, flicked on the brights and slammed his foot on the brakes, all at the same time. The car’s nose went down, wobbled and screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust and noise… the engine died and the warning lites on the dash lit red… here we were, sitting sideways in the street, driver’s side pointing east, listening to the roar of the three-oh-nine rumbling thru town at about 60 mph, dirt and debris followed each car and pelted the ‘62.

I hadn’t seen it, I was too busy watching the three-oh-nine gaining on us… I did now tho… got a quik view out the right side of the Bel Air just before the three-oh-nine roared thru. I swore… so did Shakes. Sitting directly across the street was a parked freight train, out of Omaha, absolutely not moving… dead-stopped on the other set of tracks… blocked the street… apparently waiting for the three-oh-nine to clear town… fifty more feet and we’d have slammed right into it… then had the three-oh-nine go thru the ‘62… and us!

We got lucky… yeah, our previous conversation came roaring back, I could hear those words loud and clear: “What do I get?” “Lucky,” Shakes said. Yeah, I got lucky… at least that’s the way I remember it.

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