1955 — Cornet Stores
Tried to Install Tire Chains
So I went and jacked up the left rear of my car and tried valiantly to get a set of chains onto one tire. A few people noticed I was having problems, and one young fellow stopped to offer some help.
Well, he got the tire chained in a matter of a few minutes. When I asked if he could help me do the other tire, he said he had to be going, but that I should be able to manage with one tire chain for a couple of blocks, where I could get the job finished at a local gas station.
However, no matter how hard I tried, I could not back out of that inclined parking space. I kept gunning the engine, and could see black smoke emanating from my tail pipe. Finally, three or four people stopped and offered to push the car away from the curb, as I continued to try and get the chained tire to grab the pavement.
We finally succeeded and I was just barely able to guide the car into the gas station a couple of blocks away. I needed gas anyway, so I stopped alongside of a pump.
As an attendant approached the car, I got out and asked if he could install the other chain. Yes, he could for $10. At that point, this was a bargain I could not turn down.
When he raised the hood to check the radiator, a cloud of steam made him quickly back away.
"I think your radiator may be empty," he said.
"Yes, it is," I proudly replied. "I drained it last night."
"You're driving with an empty radiator?" he asked, incredulously.
Sensing that this might not have been the right thing to do, I said, "Well, for just a couple of blocks."
"Well, if you had gone any farther," he said, "you would have cracked the block and needed a new engine."
"Really?" I asked. Then, to further prove my ignorance of anything automotive, I said, "I thought the cold weather would be enough to keep the engine cooled."
The man just shook his head in disbelief, as he filled my radiator and gas tank and got the other chain installed.
"If you're headed back down the hill," he said, "be extra careful. Those chains are no guarantee that you'll have full control over your driving."
"Yes, sir!" I replied. "I will be extra careful and take no chances of any kind!"
The attendant just grunted, as he turned and walked toward his tiny office, slowly shaking his head all the way.
Well, I made it back to Pasadena without any further damage to the car, but I narrowly missed a head-on collision on the way.
The road back down the mountain was wet, but I encountered no snow or ice. And the chains made it possible for me to negotiate it all with a minimum amount of trouble.
As for that near miss, here's what happened: I had crested a high point on the road and could see that I would be descending at a steep angle before starting up an equally steep slope on the other side of the valley. At the bottom of the valley I could see a car parked in the oncoming lane with nobody in it.
It was obvious that someone got stuck there and had abandoned the car. "No problem," I thought, "my side of the road is clear."
That's when I saw another car coming over the opposite hill and headed straight toward the stalled vehicle.
Well, it was easy to see that at his speed and at my speed, we were going to arrive at the bottom of the valley at the exact same moment—right where the abandoned car sat waiting for us.
Trying to brake was nearly useless because of the wet pavement. The chains did allow me to slow down a little—but not enough to avoid arriving alongside the stuck vehicle at the same time the other car, which had no chains, would be hitting it from the rear. And there was no shoulder available to either us, as piled-up snow kept us in our respective lanes.
All I could do was sit and watch as the other car slid down his hill at about 40 MPH and smashed right into the back of the stalled car, as I went on past and started up the opposite hill. Nor was there any way I could stop and return to offer help.
However, since this was the main road to Big Bear Lake, I felt sure somebody would be along soon who could somehow stop and help.
What we would have given for cell phones in those days!
So the bottom of line of this little adventure was: two days spent dealing with the weather, denting the company car, nearly ruining its engine, buying some chains that would probably never be used again, and spending no time at all in the store I was supposed to be managing.
Joe Cornet Jr. was not pleased—but could offer no suggestions as to what I could have done differently.
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