Tommy Joe and the Land Fill Record Attempts
By Ralph Crosby
Looking back, I realize Tommy Joe and I lived in paradise. It was a short
commute from my backyard to ol' man Snyder's rock pit, the closed down Naval
Air Force Base, and the South County land fill.
We would spend hours at each site, exploring ways to tear clothes and pinch
fingers. When they bought land for the land fill, they underestimated the
amount of garbage the south county would produce. This forced them to build
a little mountain of trash on the site. It was small but very steep.
There was a road on the front of the land fill that zigzagged back and forth
so that the trash trucks could rumble up to the top. The Trash Master's name
was Mr. Darcy; he was a very cool dude. He stayed in a little shed, played
his saxophone, and listened to jazz while he kept track of the garbage and
trash trucks. Tommy would bring him by a catfish, a bass, or a bucket full
of bluegills every now and then. Mr. Darcy would let us comb the piles of
trash for anything that had wheels on it. One day we were on the very top
looking around and we came across a one lane paved road that went straight
down the back of the mountain. We asked Mr. Darcy what it was for and he
said they used it to winch broken garbage trucks back to the bottom. There
was a sign at the road that said, "Unsafe Grade, Use Low Gear, Keep
Take your favorite picture of two funny cars at the starting line, and
rotate it ninety degrees until the cars are at the top of the picture facing
down. This will give you an idea o how steep the road was. I looked down the
road and said to no one in particular, "The guys in the car songs
wouldn't even race on this road!"
Tommy blew a bubble with his five-piece wad of Bazooka and said, "I
ain't Jan ... and you ain't Dean." I made a little mental note to pick
up a few Ace bandages on the way home. We went to ask Mr. Darcy if we could
bring a couple of our SoapBox Derby cars over and run down the mountain.
Mr. Darcy almost choked on his saxophone. "You kiddin' man? The
first cat to plunge down that road would have to be crazy or just plain
gonzo!" Tommy looked at me and said to Mr. Darcy, "Meet Mr.
Gonzo." I felt that little cramp you get in your stomach when the blood
falls out of your brain. Well, word spread like wildfire that I was going to
commit suicide Saturday morning. All the gang showed up for the carnage.
There was Zeke and his brother Bo, Vinny and his sister Christina, Crazy
Norman, Debbie Stilwell, Tommy Joe, and last but not least, Sammy "The
Slide Rule" Morgan.
Sammy Morgan was, including staff, the smartest person in Robert E. Lee
Jr. High. Sammy "The Slide Rule" was taking college math in the
seventh grade, while Tommy Joe and I were burning up erasers trying to learn
our seven tables.
Saturday morning, Sammy wore one of his Dad's lab coats for dramatic effect.
He was carrying his little Mr. Wizard black bag. Sammy explained to me on my
level, what would happen as the car free fell down the side of the mountain.
"Picture a bow and arrow," he said. "Your car is the arrow
and the gravity pulling your car down the mountain is the bow. An arrow has
feathers on the rear to stabilize it. As you gain speed your car's rear end
will try and slide out to the side; if you over correct it will start going
back and forth out of control. Be very slow with your hands on the wheel.
Gravity is your fuel." Gravity was my fuel? I was about to go from pump
gas to nitro with no practice in between.
Sammy asked to see the exact spot I was going to launch from. He drove a
little nail into the side of the road at this point and began unrolling a
piece of twine down the steep road. As he unrolled it a few hundred feet, a
little piece of ribbon showed that was tied on the twine. Sammy put a green
line at this point on the side of the road. He walked down further and
another little ribbon showed; here Sammy marked the road with a white line.
He walked a little farther and put a little red X on the side of the road.
Then he walked over to the GTS and duct taped a stopwatch to the cowl in
front of the cockpit. It looked just like we were shooting a Timex watch
commercial. Except this time, it was going to be the driver that took a
Sammy told me to click the stopwatch as the nose reached he green line and
then click it again at the white line. I said, "Hey Slide Rule, what do
I do at the red X?" "Pray..." was all he said. Sammy told me
when I hit the green line to start counting in my head...one thousand and
one...one thousand and two, etc. He said when I got to the white line, if I
was at one thousand and four, I was going forty miles per hour. If I was at
one thousand and five, I was going thirty-five miles per hour, etc., going
down to twenty miles per hour. Christina and Debbie had lettered
"GONZO" on the side of the car in little letters. Bo lent me his
motorcycle helmet and he had taped GONZO on the front. I walked forward to
the GTS, ready to rub shoulders with Art Arfons, Craig Breedlove, and
unfortunately, the final six hundred feet of asphalt.
I squeezed into the little racer and felt my heart pounding. Tommy Joe
leaned into the cockpit and whispered advice I would use throughout my
racing career. "If anything happens lie real still and wait for your
mom to get here."
They pushed me up to the line. I realized that during the night the road had
grown about five hundred feet longer and dropped even steeper. I motioned
Tommy Joe over, "Hey Tommy, what if I pee my pants, I don't want the
girls to see." Tommy said, "Don't worry Gonz, they will be so busy
looking at the vomit on your shirt they won't even notice." Man, he
always knew how to calm me down!
This next part is a little blurry, as I wasn't conscious during most of it.
Tommy turned to Sammy and asked, "What IS that little red x for, Slide
Rule?" Sammy informed Tommy that that was the spot he estimated the
mountain would hand me my ass. Tommy winked at me; I could see Christina out
of the corner of my eye making the Sign of the Cross. The wind had turned
around and the stench of the ninety degree hot garbage was hitting me head
on. Next time you are at Disney World, get on Space Mountain, open a can of
sardines, and put it in the car with you. Take a deep breath; this is a
pretty good comparison.
I pictured the guy on the skis at the beginning of Wide World of Sports,
careening out of control down the ski slope. "Let's go," I said.
They pushed me off and I was heading down pretty straight. In about a tenth
of a second I was going faster than I had gone down the bridge at the Soap
Box Derby races, about a second later I was going faster than my mom had driven
me to the Soap Box Derby!
I hit the green line and started the count. One thousand and one. One thous...bang!
The white line flew under the car.
I knew this was pretty quick, as I couldn't make out the trees on the sides
of the road anymore.
It was about here I started doing some stunts Wile E. Coyote couldn't pull
off on his best day. The rear end started to "get loose." It
started to get loose as in "come unattached from the car." This
was only a minor inconvenience as the rear tires were barely touching the
asphalt. The rear of the car swung out, and the race car looked just like
Zeke's Blue Tick hound ambling down the road. I gave what I thought was slow
hands, and the GTS was upside down! It rolled over about three or four
times. The little car was holding up real good as most of the impact was
being absorbed by my head, neck, and shoulders. Now she looped completely
around and picked up a little more speed. I took both hands off the wheel,
closed my eyes, and held on. Luke Skywalker liked to call this technique
"Using the Force"; I liked to call it praying for mercy! I over
corrected again and did a series of barrel rolls and cartwheels -- Diamond P
should have been there.
I had heard drivers talk of scrubbing off a little speed, so I looked fors
something to scrub with. My arms and shoulders seemed to do the trick!
Finally the GTS just disintegrated into splinters and came to a stop. I
crawled over to the edge of the road, laid on my back, and waited for mom to