TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Getting A Kick Out Of Cruising In The ’50s

As Father’s Day approaches, it triggers a walk down memory lane. This is one of those times.

Mom and Dad have both passed on, and the statute of limitations on some of my activities has tolled. My sisters all live out of town, so they won’t be bothered by what I’m about to relate.

My family moved from Grand Forks to Fargo in 1955, when my Dad was appointed a federal judge. The first thing Dad said to me — which didn’t register very well at the time — was to watch it: If I were to get into any trouble, the news would make sure people knew who my father was. And then he smiled and said, “You wouldn’t want to learn firsthand how I would react to that type of news.”

Well, he was right. I didn’t want to learn. It’s not what he said; it’s what he didn’t say. When this story appears in print, if you hear thunder or see lightning, it’s bound to be my Dad laughing himself sick that he scared me so much … and then realizing I wasn’t really good so much as I was “sneaky.”

After we’d moved to Fargo, Dad decided he was going to get a new car. Tim was in the service. Jody was away at school, Kate was plotting bank robberies, and Jean was too young to know which end was up. Here’s why his decision to buy — which he didn’t even mention to me — was so unusual.

Just before we moved here, the Packard dealer in Grand Forks had asked me what kind of car Dad would like. In those days, most males and some females could hardly wait for the new cars to come out. Back then, the cars were all different. They were shipped under canvas so you couldn’t see them, and then were secreted into showrooms in time for the big moment of unveiling. It was the goal of all healthy males to ferret out those cars, peak under the canvas and see what the new models looked like. It was really fun.

It was on one of those walk-thru-the-dealership moments that I — a sophomore in high school —  fielded the dealer’s questions. So though I had no idea what my Dad liked, I told him that it would be a Packard Patrician four-door sedan in black and white with a matching interior. It would have air conditioning, power everything and, of course, the famous Packard torsion level suspension. I really outdid myself in packing on accessories.

I thought nothing more of it … until about two weeks later, when Dad smiled, asked me to sit down in the kitchen — a guarantee my butt was about to be kicked — and asked me about the new Packard he had just seen, with all of the goodies “he had ordered.”

Yes, the dealer had actually ordered the car with everything I had suggested and then called Dad to tell him his car had arrived. Dad was none too happy. He made it clear that he was too busy moving to be thinking about any new car.

I ran down to see the car. It really was beautiful. Then the dealer walked in. He was a little more blunt than my Dad, so I left and never went back. Shortly thereafter, we moved to Fargo.

Fast forward to Fargo. I’m now a junior and had no desire to drive a car. All of a sudden, my Dad — out of the blue -—  saw to it that I became licensed and then brought an old junker Ford for me to drive. I thought, “WTH is going on?”

A week or so later, I came home from school … and in the drive was my version of an automotive space ship.

It was a 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser — jet black with bubble wheel skirts, an operating back window (the first for any car) and power side windows. It had air scoops in the top of the windshield and power everything else, including air conditioning. It had a pink and white interior. And I didn’t even know he had been looking at cars.

I drooled as I looked at the car. He asked if I wanted to use it on weekends for dating and so on. Dumbest question ever asked of me! The only caveat was stay out of trouble and “KEEP IT CLEAN.”

Hell, I thought, what a dumb question! What could be easier than keeping a black car clean? I’ll tell you what: That car was the hardest vehicle to keep clean that was ever built.

Dad had a warped sense of humor when it came to that damned car. He’d come out from work when I picked him up in his two-door limo, then get in the back seat, and I’d drive him home. He’d get out of the car and walk around it dragging with his finger on the paint. If it left a mark, I had to wash it or wipe it. He never let up on that test.

Meanwhile, while I was being the dutiful son, my sister, Kate, became friends with Howard Rhinardt and Johnny Buetner, the service managers at Berkey Lincoln. They told my dear sister how to unhook and reconnect the speedometer and separate mileage indicator so she could tool off to Detroit Lakes, Minn., and back without the folks knowing. I didn’t know, either, because by then I was at UND trying to get an education.

The ’50s were fun for me. My classmate, Ray Olmscheid, who subsequently became my brother-in-law — until he left that job — drove a ’56 pink-and-white Ford. Back in the day, dragging Broadway was what everyone did. His Ford was a pretty two-door. No dummy, Ray would rev that car at all the stoplights, and no one messed with him because they thought he had the big Ford V-8. He had a six-cylinder under the hood, but no one ever knew. He was one cool dude.

I, on the other hand, did the same thing with the Merc … gunned that motor, and no one challenged me because they knew it had an oversized V-8 that was race-rated by Motor Trend Magazine. I wouldn’t have raced, even if challenged. I never wanted to learn what Dad meant when he said if I got into trouble, he was the one who’d get the publicity.

Well, one fair evening, Dick Halliday, aka “Doc Halliday,” smiled and said his Dad’s new Pontiac, as driven by him, had ended speculation about who had the fastest car … and it was not ours. I had no idea what he was talking about until I finally got him to talk.

My sister Kate, the daring one, had taken up his challenge to race. They went to the airport track. She got out of the car and suggested that my classmate, Vince McLaren, another auto man, uphold the Mercury’s honor. Vince had never driven a push-button automatic transmission — I didn’t know my sister was setting him up — and lost the race.

It wasn’t until our 50th class reunion that Vince told me what happened that night. Until then, I had been kept in the dark. And Howard Reinhardt, the service manager, had told me that no way could that Pontiac beat the Merc … if the driver knew what he was doing.

Well, right now Doc is a world-class race driver. I’m not, and I’ll never know who would have won if Vince had had a chance to practice and if my sister hadn’t set this up.

Back in the beginning, I referred to statute of limitations having expired. Colburn Hvidston III, Rick Farrar and I had an experience that scared the bloody hell out of us. We were classmates. Rick, a senior then, went on to become a successful photographer, and Colburn became the chief photographer at The Forum.

We had been cruising Broadway and took time out to stop at the local gathering place, the Times Cafe, right next to the Fargo Theater. We had burgers and fries. As we finished, we decided to make a pit stop at the men’s room.

The men’s room was very small, just the toilet, the sink and a mirror. There was room for one, but there were three of us. As we waited our respective turns, someone (me) found a cherry bomb in his pocket left over from the Fourth of July. I removed it with a grin on my face, and Colburn and Rick lit up like twin sparklers. Someone thought it would be funny to crumple up toilet paper, float it in the toilet, place said cherry bomb in the center, make a string fuse, light said fuse, get the hell out of the little bathroom … and, while fuse burns, walk to front of store, pay the bill quickly and leave.

We fashioned a twisted toilet-paper fuse. It would burn to the fuse on the bomb, and — poof! — there would be a loud bang. Everyone would just jump. We would giggle and leave.

That’s not what happened. As we stood at the till, the bathroom door blew off its hinges. The windows up front bowed but did not break. It sounded like a nuclear explosion.

We went out that front door like the devil was after us while the owners and staff ran to the back to see what had happened. We ran to the railroad depot down the block and laid in the bushes, scared out of our wits, as we watched all five Fargo police cars cruising all over the area. They never learned who the culprits were, and we never screwed around like that again. Talk about “unintended consequences.”

Colburn and I are still friends. We still live in Fargo and we have no prison records. We don’t know what Rick’s doing. If you happen to know where Rick is now, let us know. Amen.

6 thoughts on “TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Getting A Kick Out Of Cruising In The ’50s”

  • Therese June 16, 2016 at 10:26 am

    Ha! It’s never too late for True Confessions!

    1. Judge Thomas A. Davies (retired) June 17, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Yup, blush

  • Mary J. Eidler June 16, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    Even your dad wouldn’t believe that baloney!

    1. Judge Thomas A. Davies (retired) June 17, 2016 at 10:18 am

      You have a dad?

  • John Burke June 16, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Tom–I can relate to the extra pressures on you–my dad was a judge too (ND Supreme Court). Once he had to accompany me to juvenile court. Commissioner Oseth started to lecture me about the heinous crime I had committed (driving while suspended), and my dad stopped him and pointed out that I had not plead, and there had been no finding one way or the other about guilt. Poor Commissioner Oseth was so embarrassed that it pretty much would have ended the proceedings if my own father hadn’t then asked me how I plead! Guilty, of course, and then we continued. I knew your father and he was always very considerate to me. You will recall Judge Vogel, who was one of my father’s best friends.

  • Judge Thomas A. Davies (retired) June 17, 2016 at 10:20 am

    Knew Judge Vogel well, did not know your Dad but his reputation was outstanding. Thanks for the comments.


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