By Carl Reese
Before I can tell you about grandpa’s speeding ticket, I need to tell you about some of his adventures and his many epic road trips.
In 1975 my grandfather Joseph H Ferringer thought it would be a great idea to take us on a Greyhound bus trip from Pennsylvania to sunny California. My very first transcontinental trip. Its safe to say, we didn’t set any records aboard that lumbering bus, as it stopped in every town along the route. My five year old mind was fascinated by the changing landscape from that bus window. This was just one of many road trips I enjoyed with my grandfather.
During the 1935, Joe was forced to quit school and started working in the coal mines at the age of 10. Laying on his side, on the ground of the dark shallow mine and swung a pick ax up over his shoulder. He experienced a minor cave ins as a child and was pulled out by his feet.
At twelve years old he was directed by his father to walk 170 miles to Buffalo New York, to stay with relatives during the depression. When he arrived they handed him a loaf of bread and slammed the door in his face. Realizing he couldn’t return home, he lived on the streets of Buffalo selling newspapers. He had to street fight for the best corners to sell the morning paper, just to survive. Depression era was tough, but he never quit. After a few harsh years in Buffalo, he started to walk back home to Pennsylvania. As luck would have it he picked one of the the heaviest snow storms on record, for his journey home. With snow up to his knees, every step was a chore. The second hand coat he wore was two sizes too big, and dragged in the snow. Seventy-five miles from home and nearly frozen, he wondered into a cafe to get warm.
Before the cafe owner could throw him out, a kind woman bought him a coffee. He said he had the shivers so bad, he couldn’t keep the coffee in the cup. She offered to give him a lift part of the way. He said the woman had an old jalopy with no heat, and just a horse blanket to keep them both warm. She dropped him off just twelve miles from his home. When he walked thru the door, not a word was spoken by either parent. His mother simply heated him up some potato soup.
1940 CCC Camp Carlsbad Project New Mexico
About this time in his life, the Civilian Conservation Corps advertising for work in New Mexico. So he hopped a train headed west. There he enrolled in the CCC, where he dug irrigation ditches. Shoveling sand was miserable work for even more miserable pay (most of which he sent home to his mother).
By the time he turned sixteen he lied about his age and joined the Navy during WW2. Assigned to wooden hulled boat (YMS-125), with a home port of Seattle, WA. Their mission was to patrolled the Aleutian Islands, looking for mines. This is in the heart of the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska; the deadliest seas known to man.
He told me fighting in the Navy was easier than fighting his brothers. Grandpa told me once when his brothers and him ran out of people to fight, they would fight each other just for entertainment. He grew into a barreled chested man with fists the size of hams. The whole family was convinced he could punch the earth and break it in three places.
After the war my grandpa held many jobs. He was a surveyor for Taylor Engineering whom built sections of Interstate I-80 in Pennsylvania. He was a true entrepreneur, he owned his own a gas station, restaurant, vending, towing and several other small business.
I once witnessed a man try to rob him at knifepoint at his Exxon station. At the time, my grandpa was removing a tire from the rim for a customer. When the man lunged with he knife, he broke the robbers arm with the flat iron bar, used to spin tires on and off the rim. The would be thief begged for an ambulance and my grandfather told him to go use the pay phone.
Atlas Tire Changer with flat bar
Though not displayed often, my grandpa also had a soft side. Over the years, I also witnessed him bestow kindness to many destitute travelers that passed thru his station. Usually a cup of coffee or a tank of gas for those in need. From time to time PA State Police would frequently hang out at the gas station, and tell jokes and drink coffee with my grandpa.
Both my grandparents survived not one but two house fires. The last one they both jumped out a second story window.
Shortly after high school, I was traveling through Wyoming on I-80 with grandpa. He was “cleaning the carbon out of the pipes” in his S-15 GMC pick up truck . We got pulled over and he was clocked at over 100mph. When the officer came up to the window, he said “Do you know how many miles it took me to catch you?” I tensed up, while waiting for my grandpa’s answer.
As the Wyoming patrol officer stood at the S-15 window waiting for my grandpas response, I remember my hands starting to sweat. My grandpa didn’t even make eye contact, he just twisted his handlebar mustache and with perfect delivery, said “If I knew it was a contest, I wouldn’t have let up on the gas.” Then my grandpa turned toward me, and cracked a devilish smile. The officer wasn’t amused, he invited my grandpa back to his patrol car. When he emerged from the patrol car, he stated the officer told him it took 7 miles to catch up to us, and the fine would be 5 dollars cash. My grandpa paid it on the spot. Grandpa said “the officer likely was just going to use the cash on breakfast”; as we drove away.
You see you never knew what would come out of my grandpa’s mouth. He would tell you his mouth got him into more than one bar room brawl. Once he knocked out an off duty Pennsylvania police officer whom attempted to ambush him with a black jack, over what my grandpa described as a “disagreement”. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do this. He would tell you, in those days they settled things with fists, then bought each other a round of drinks afterwards. Well not exactly, it took several of them, but they managed to arrested him for that stunt.
Road-trips with him were always an adventure. You rarely knew where you were going, or when you would be coming back. He would just walk toward his car and ask “Are you coming with me”? You didn’t know if that meant you were going to the Dairy Queen or the Florida Keys. You just had to jump in and see where you would end up.
Grandpa playing Air Guitar on road trip with his daughter Shary and his son David.
One afternoon my grandpa took our family to Erie, PA (some 90 miles away) to pick peaches. That turned out to be a 6 week camping trip to Canada’s Northern Territories. Talk about packing light.
Grandpa’s Ford with “3 on the tree”
He had an old Ford Pick up truck as well. That thing had nine lives. My grandpa and my uncle David had a blow out, speeding along I-80 somewhere west of Cheyenne. The ol’ Ford was loaded down with a heavy cab over camper, he barely saved it from a rollover.
On a separate occasion my grandpa fell asleep while at the wheel of that Ford. Coming back from Texas, somewhere around W. Virginia we both woke up to weeds hitting the hood, as we rocketed downhill in the median. We simultaneously, glanced at one another with a combination of panic and shock. He instinctively jerked the wheel back up hill and we literally flew back out onto the highway. Like some Dukes of Hazard scene. Afterwards he scolded me for letting him fall asleep, and we pulled over at the next hotel.
My grandfather loved automobiles, but his favorite where Cadillacs. He owned a limited edition Eldorado El Deora
with 500 cubic inch motor. If you asked him why he needed a V-8 ? He would tell you, “The power is there when he need it”. Which was pretty much always.
Grandpa’s Caddy and his Exxon Station
Some of my fondest memories spending time and traveling with my grandfather. In the fall of 1987, We drove out west to Downieville, CA to go gold panning. My grandpa would entertain himself with telling me what the animals were saying along the road, as we passed by. We laughed so hard at one of his comments, we had to pull over. I laughed so hard and so long, with tears streaming down our faces, neither could gain composure. I’ll never forget that laugh or that road trip.
He taught me many lessons, perhaps the greatest of them, the value of hard work. He also taught me the road doesn’t end at the county line.
One of my last visits with him in a nursing home, When I arrived and he was sleeping. Minutes later he woke up and said “Carl I’m glad your here! I need you to break me out of this place. Last night I was going to tie the bed sheets together and climb out the window.” I looked outside…..we were on the ground floor. Later that week, I did break him out, for one last road trip. We flew from CA to PA where he wanted to speed his remaining days.
If he was here today, I know he would have got a kick out of the the battery powered Tesla, the “insane”
acceleration, and the self driving
capability. I took two items for good luck
on my motorcycle run
one was a photo of my grandpa and the other was an American Flag. While many not approve of my coast to coast runs, somewhere my grandpa’s spirit is twisting his mustache and smiling.
This story is written in memory of Joseph Henry Ferringer.
Born January 1st, 1925. Joe passed away on December 13 2012, at age 87.