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Dashboard Dashboard



Stage Entrance


The Ride

“Well I was movin' down the road in my V8 Ford, I had a shine on my boots, I had my sideburns lowered."
ZZ Top, I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide"
Few things in life excite a 21-year old guy as much as the aquisition of a car. After hitting that milestone in life, Jeff - one of my oldest friends - was given the keys to an immaculate 1964 Ford Galaxie station wagon from his grandfather. Jeff accepted the car with his grandfather's simple words, “Take good care of it,.” the old man requested. A week later, the 17-year old vehicle was no longer pristine. Jeff pulled the station wagon out on Belt Line Road in Collinsville onto the path of another car. The car smashed the Galaxie's rear quarter panel causing damage almost beyond repair.
A couple months later, Jeff had grown tired of driving a beater. So he called me one day, “Hey John, do you want to buy my car?.” he asked. “I'm kind of embarassed to drive it,.” Without hesitation I drove over to his grandfather's house and met Jeff alongside his car in the driveway. On the passenger side, the old wagon gleamed in the sunshine. The original paint had one small area of rust behind the rear wheel. The fake wood paneling was flawless. However, the other side had immense damage between the rear wheel and the bumper. The torn and twisted metal had been drilled and pulled in an attempt to straighten it out. Rust had already started to form around the drill holes. I opened the front door and checked out the interior. The carpet and upholstery were unblemished. The chrome sparkled on the instrument panel, while the odometer registered 62,000 miles. A quick turn of the key and the engine came to life along with the original AM/FM factory-installed radio. I popped the hood and marveled at the clean 390 V8. The gold painted valve covers were stamped “Thunderbird..” I was sold and gave him a couple hundred bucks.
To get to college in January, I hauled my stereo up to Northern Illinois University in the wagon. During my brief stay at the university, the aging Ford managed to break down a few times. On one cold night, I was stranded in a corn field. That night, the temperature dropped into the 20s and I shivered until sunrise rather than knock on a farmhouse door. I didn't want to get myself killed. After all, another night the Ford ran out of gas on a snowy night on Interstate 270. I hopped a fence and knocked on a door at a house nearby. The door slowly cracked open and a voice in the darkness nervously asked who I was. When the door opened further, I spotted a pistol pointed in my direction. The tension eased once the homeowner realized I was just a stranded kid wanting to make a phone call. Another trip on Interestate 270 as I accelerated onto the expressway, the interior started filling with black smoke and the smell of burning rubber. As I guided the hulk to the shoulder, the rear tire blew. With rusted pieces and chunks of rubber strewn on interstate with one side of the rear of the car resting on the pavement, I discovered that a bracket snapped that held a leaf spring together. The spring had shredded the rear tire.
With out-of-date parts needed for a vintage car, I began to scour salvage yards looking for the bracket. In those days salvage yards were still called junkyards and the owners allowed customers to walk along the rows of busted up cars. The yards and the cars had their own stories, from forehead indentations in broken windshields, to musty interiors strewn with pieces leftover from the lives of the former owners. The junkyards I sought out were isolated or abandoned. At one lot near Granite City, most of the cars were submerged from spring rains. My brother Mike and I leaped from trunk lids to hoods to make our way across the swamped cars. As expected, we came up empty-handed. A co-worker gave me a tip on a vintage junkyard in Missouri. I drove an hour west of St. Louis on a warm summer day and found the junkyard about an hour out of St. Louis near Sullivan. For several hours I walked between hundreds of cars scattered over hills and into the woods, To my amazement, the majority of old cars in the lot predated 1960. The yard was a snapshot of Detroit iron from the middle of the century. A little ways in the forest, a tree had sprouted through the hood of a rusting '50s sedan. Hudsons, Packards and Nashs were sandwiched between Chevys, Chryslers and Fords. Time stopped in those Missouri hills around when I was born. Unfortunately the year it stopped was prior to when the station wagon rolled off the assembly line. I finally found a rear-quarter panel at a junkyard in the metro-east, The station wagon was located near another '60s car with an old KSHE bumper sticker that featured the peace symbol. Providence or a coincidence? I am not sure. I paid about 100 dollars for the quarter panel and hauled to my parents' house. There it was dragged to the woods. I never did restore the car and wouldn't be surprised if the large section of car is still slowly rusting north of Collinsville.
The wagon survived a camping trip to Wisconsin filled with college students. Organized by the residents in the dorm I stayed in, the group of students piled in two cars and headed up to the land of milk and cheese. We smoked a joint and got lost in the rolling farmland near Whitewater as the ancient radio played Springsteen's “Rosalita..” The lead car, filled with kids who were likely to graduate one day, pulled to the side of the road to check the map while the rest of us weren't too concerned about where we were. Disappointment crept in when they found their way. I wanted to roll on the winding country highway for hours.
A year later, I pulled that radio out of the dash before giving the car to my brother as a wedding gift in 1984, While he headed west to Hill Air Force Base in Utah, the radio went into a 1962 Thunderbird that I had purchased a year before. It stayed with me four more years until I sold the Tbird. In hindsight, I should have kept the radio. It is so rare and desirable, companies now sell reproductions of it. The station wagon survived long enough to photograph the dashboard on the bluffs of Collinsville overlooking Interstate 55/70 facing St. Louis. I sat in the back seat on a cold fall night in 1983 and held the camera on top of the front bench seat. As the engine idled to keep the dashboard lights on, other car headlights streaked across the darkness from the highway below. I tripped the shutter and held the camera still for a long exposure. Twenty years later, the moment was given a permanent place on the title page of the book In Concert: KSHE & 40+ Years of Rock in St. Louis. Unfortunately Jeff Canull - the car's former owner - did not live to see his dashboard prominently displayed on the title page. Sadly, he passed away from cancer shortly before my journey began with writing and designing the KSHE book.


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