Long before Johnny Knoxville and the Jackass
Gang there was Tommy Joe Cauldwell...
Tommy Joe Invents the Bungee Jump
By Ralph "Gonzo" Crosby
I crammed a turkey leg and three hot dogs into the tops of my tube socks and headed out for Tommy Joe's house. Life was good I thought. I just had my stitches out and was off restriction once again. As I rode up to TJ's house, I could see him and his dad talking on the driveway. I pulled up in time to catch the end of that lecture we have all suffered through at least once. The one that starts out "What we have he-ah is a failure to communicate." Tommy gave me that don't encourage him look and got on his bike.
Tommy Joe was wearing his Army Navy surplus backpack. This was a sure sign we were in for a long day. We headed out to the closed Ft. Lauderdale Navel Air Station. The naval air station was the same one the squadron of planes flew from, and vanished into the Bermuda
Triangle... We peddled up to our secret entrance. We picked up the chain link fence and passed our bikes under, looking over our shoulders for the MPs. People said the Marines guarded the base but we never saw them. What we often saw were David and Goliath.
Goliath was the biggest Doberman on earth. He had the disposition of a constipated bull rider. David was cross between a pair of vice grips and a chain saw. These were serious hounds, and they had little time for adolescent burglars. Goliath's facial expression was like Arnold when he says, "I'll be
back." David's was more sour, kinda like Warren Johnson eating pickles. They both thought it great sport to chase us across the tarmac and steal our sandwiches.
Tommy Joe coined that racing phrase out there one day
-- "Hey Gonzo, he's about to eat your lunch!" We found if we just gave the dogs our food from the get-go we could save a lot of unnecessary sweat. I threw them the drumstick and hot dogs, and they gave me a disgusted look and sucked them down.
There were plenty of old airplanes to rummage through out there. The Navy had quite a bone yard of crippled planes and we would collect all kinds of old machine gun shells and crap from them. One of the air strips was painted like the deck of an aircraft carrier complete with airplanes along the sides. It looked just like an aircraft carrier from the air. This was for the rookie pilots to practice landing and using their tail hooks.
There were two big steel posts sticking up with a big rubber rope stretched across the runway. The pilots would swoop down, drop the hook, and hopefully snag the rubber rope to come to a stop. Tommy Joe looked at the big
rope and said, 'Hey Gonz, you know those two big Oak trees by the road at the rock pit? What if we tied this rubber rope across the street and put one of the cars in it and shot it down the road and into the rock pit?" I thought about it for a minute and said,
"Yeah, right, how do we pull the big rubber band back enough to propel the car?" Tommy J. was way ahead of me.
We get Zeke to bring his dad's wrecker down to the pit. We hitch the rubber rope to the wrecker and he pulls it real tight. Then we put the car in front of it and one of us gets in and gets the ride of his life! I told Tommy to leave the rope alone, it would be a cold day when I participated in another of his lame brained, can't miss schemes...
About three hours later we had the rope coiled up by the hole in the chain link fence. I could feel the temperature dropping quickly. Our cache of soap box derby cars was dwindling. Summer vacation added to the attrition. Now we had to lease soap box cars from our pals to try our ideas out. We got Bo's car for Saturday including his dad's wrecker for the modest sum of a six pack of Nehi orange soda.
Everybody was out at the rock pit Saturday morning. We had Zeke's wrecker up at the far end of the road, and the big "black mamba" rope tied between the trees. We were a little more experienced with making exhibition runs since the "Thrill Hill Fiasco "down the back of the garbage dump (see
The Land Fill Record
Attempts.) Sammy The Slide Rule came up with the ingenious idea of shooting a shopping cart down the road on a test run. This would keep us from mangling another soap boxer.
I guess this was the first real "grocery getter" to become a race car. We watched as Slide Rule fiddled with tie wire, twine, yarn, and kite string making a quick release harness that he grafted onto the giant slingshot resting on the road. Zeke had the wrecker facing up the road so he could look out the windshield and watch the car fly up the road and into the crystal clear water.
There was a winch on the front of the wrecker frame and this is where Sammy hooked the big rubber band. He crawled up on the hood and leaned down with a pair of side cutters. Zeke backed the wrecker way back down the road and the big slingshot began to stretch tight! Zeke stuck the shopping cart between the tight rubber and got back in the cab. We looked on with wild eyed excitement as Sammy leaned down to cut the giant slingshot loose. SPRONG!!!
Before we could blink our eyes, the grocery cart was hanging about forty feet up in the top of an Australian pine tree! Man I couldn't wait to see Tommy soar into the rock pit! Sammy assured TJ that because he and the car weighed more than the shopping cart, they would remain rolling on the ground. Tommy Joe looked a little like one of those "dead man walking" characters as he made his way to the car. Christina patted my hand and said "Gonz , I sure wish it was you at the wheel today." I thought gee, even the ladies know of my driving prowess. Then I realized she was still speaking. "Cause I sure hate to think of Tommy getting hurt," she finished.
Tommy was sitting in the car and we were rolling him backward down the road in pace with the wrecker. I could almost hear the bagpipes playing in the middle of Eric Burden's Sky Pilot. None of us noticed the rubber rope loop itself around the right rear axle pod. Soon Sammy took over, and had Tommy's car hooked to the rubber rope. The Slide Rule hooked the rope to the wrecker and gave us the thumbs up. We were all sitting half way down the road. We wanted to see TJ launch and plop into the water!
Well, Zeke had the big sling pulled as far as the wrecker could stand. He put on the brake and peered out the windshield. The wrecker creaked to a halt. Sammy said something to Tommy, TJ nodded his head. And then it hit the fan. Sammy cut him loose and Tommy shot by us looking a lot more like a hydroplane than a race car. He was skimming along about two inches off the road. I remember I was just forming the word WOW with my lips when Crazy Norman jumped up and said "Hey! Tommy ain't done yet!"
Indeed! The rope was pulled up tight against the axle pod and now our boy Tommy was comin' back up the road backwards!! Tommy, always the consummate showman, was standing up in the cockpit and riding it out! Barnum and Bailey would have hired him on the spot! He bailed out about fifty feet from me, and sheared off three or four banana trees. Tommy tumbled up next to me in a clump of blood, bruises, and bananas.
Now everyone's attention turned to the tiny car hurtling towards the wrecker. Sammy was still perched on the front looking like a crazed hood ornament. Zeke dove under the dash and out of harms way. The little car turned gracefully at the last second and pulverized the light bar atop the wrecker, missing Sammy's head by about an inch. I patted Tommy on his good leg and said
"Shoot man, if those were Pine trees that would have hurt!"
For more Tommy Joe head to www.maxnana.com.
The Adventures Of Tommy Joe Cauldwell are copyright Ralph Crosby 1996
fast times, quick cars, cosmic advice