No Horses Here
By Eddie Buck
"A horse is a horse, of course, of course
And no one can talk to a horse of course
That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed"
No horses here. But there is a Mr. Ed in this tale. Not me, an inanimate object, a real rarity. Start the story at 2:08 pm, Friday Dec. 21, 2018.
Besides being the first day of winter, it was the last day of the week before the Christmas holiday. I had spent the day with my boys, at the shop, working on my son Kody's Cherokee. We took out the headliner to replace the stinking, saggy, failed factory issued piece. As most things in my world go, this was another spur of the moment project. We went to the local craft place, looking for material to replace the aforementioned junk. After no luck locally, I found a place a few miles away that actually carried headliner material. I head in that direction and at the aforementioned moment, I get a text from my pal Pete Jensen, it simply read...
"Interested in a MR Ed ...for cheap....not mine..."
I glanced at this, for a split second and due to the mindless droves on the Christmas shopping warpath, I had to keep my eyes on the road. I finally found a strip mall to pull into and reread the message. My eyes didn't deceive; the next couple messages that followed confirmed it wasn't a joke. Pete called, filled me in on what details he could and told me to talk to our friend Donna Goeringer, she was the conduit in all this. Donna is the daughter of Bob Hightower, best known as the driver of the Cow Palace Shell top fuel dragster, along with countless others... including the Hippo. I'm still kind of oblivious to what's going on (or maybe it was the lingering fumes from the glue) . Between Donna and Pete, I was equipped with a photo and the pertinent info. Next step, call the man and see what we can find out. I had to assess what my financial situation would allow. I had just spent some hefty coin on parts for the M/T Maverick and the end of year stuff for the business was upcoming. After, tossing it around in my glue addled brain, the decision was made to call Mr. Bob Howard the next morning.
Now, sometimes I am not fully engaged when a situation arises and the gravity of it takes a while to sink in...
Get where I am going?
In a previous article, I documented taking Hippo to Wichita for an extended visit with Corey Conyers at Crown Custom. Humor me briefly, the gravity of the situation will make itself clear. I am a firm believer in fates and destinies, of energies beyond our vision and grasps. That's my screwy way of saying I believe we all have these special things in the universe, that seek us out, ghosts, spirits, mojos,etc. They are relevant, to at least a few, in the circles and arenas of our passions. In our given circle of drag racing, there were the heroes, then there were the unsung heroes. The name guys got ink and recognition; models of their cars were on the store shelves. The unsung heroes, known to maybe a more hardcore audience, are who need to be kept relevant. Have their stories told, preserve what they left behind to keep the history alive. When I got the Hippo, it found me, not the other way around. I was just wanting to do something with a dragster of the era. Some hippie type, late 60's paint job, sparkly and noisy. When it was dropped off, I was given a sketchy, broken history of its past. It was easy to find (at least initially) info and photos. Once I made contact with Hippo's son, Charles, I started piecing more of his history together. Talking to guys who worked with him, Troy Glenn, Rick Krafft, Pete Eastwood. Those who knew him, raced with him, or were simply fans, had nothing but praise and love for him. He was as low buck as they come; he was long on ingenuity and worked about everywhere... with everybody. I will always dig the underdog's story and identify with them. Bringing this dragster back to life was a mission, it had to have the best and most period correct of everything. Even from the start of this restoration, I always thought it would be cool to put together the quintessential representation of the period. I inquired of all who were around, what Hippo may have used to get the dragster around. It was a resounding chorus; an open trailer behind whatever his mode of transport was. I thought a cool period correct enclosed trailer, or in my wildest dreams, a Mr. Ed trailer would round out the package. As for the Mr. Ed, I knew I would probably have a better chance at winning the lottery.
I called Mr. Howard Saturday December 22, about 11 am. We discussed the trailer, he told me he would send photos and get back with me after I had a chance to check them out. I knew the moment he answered the phone, the man that belonged to the voice had to be a good dude. Instantly, it was like talking to the guy over at the hardware store. I think each minute since the day before, when Pete told me about this, my hair was standing up. I would literally get that rush that comes over you when something is electric and happening. He told me he would give me a call later on and I figured it would be after Christmas. I hung up the phone, stood there thinking maybe this was a stirring of those energies. Then said to myself," wouldn't this be one hell of a Christmas present!" I received the photos and sure enough, it was a bonafide Mr. Ed. The genuine article, waiting for its next passenger.
I was doing my best to keep it to myself and only told those close to me about it. I didn't want to do anything to jinx it. Sunday afternoon, my son and I were out driving, getting him some time behind the wheel. We're on I-44 and Mr. Howard calls to ask what I thought about the trailer. I told him I would love to have it, and explained I had to take care of the end of year stuff I mentioned earlier. I was nervous that asking him to hold it for a month would kill the deal. I offered to send him money to hold it, as insurance to keep it. He floored me by telling me to take as long as I need, just pay him when I pick it up. Knowing Donna and the story behind the Hippo were enough. By this time, my son had went about 15 miles past our exit. After I got off the phone, my son asked what was up. I posed it to him this way, "What would be the ultimate thing to happen to you? If you had your choice?" He said meeting Stan Lee would rank up there. I told him I just had the equivalent of meeting Stan Lee. Here's the kind of guy Mr. Howard is... He had said I probably should bring a trailer to haul it home, due to its age and bearings. This kind of tempered the buzz a little bit. I had hoped to coordinate it's pick up with the Hippo at the end of January. A few minutes later, he calls me back and said he was going to have the bearings replaced so pulling it home wouldn't be a problem. I told my kid where to turn around and head back to our exit. I also told him we were stopping to buy lottery tickets.
Original Owners - photo courtesy of the Coachmen Auto Club
The next 4 weeks were pretty busy. The day finally came to make the trek to Oklahoma, we had to see a man about a horse... of course...of course.
Spencer and I packed up what we would require for the trip, hit the ATM and got a few hours sleep. Normally, I don't like long drives. Getting there isn't so bad, it's the return trip that gets me. It took us about 8 hours to get to Hinton, Oklahoma. It's one of those small towns that are like a step back in time. Storefronts, sidewalks and laid out in a grid that makes everything easy to find. If you can't find it, there are friendly people who will gladly point you in the right direction... if only you stop and ask. We turned onto the street of our destination and I could pick out the shape of the trailer, instantly. We pull up and were met by the one who got this ball rolling, Donna, her husband Greg and Mr. Howard. We got the tour of his toys which are some mighty cool pieces. My Favorite was the Pro Stock Duster that looked like it rolled right out of the early 70's, in its Sox and Martin livery. After getting acquainted and our tour, we got down to the brass tacks...talking to the man about a "horse''... Mr. Ed. It was all there, most everything that it came with when it was born. Mr. Howard generously had a new hitch, jack and lights installed. When we opened the door/ramp, the first thing I spied was some long ago scribbled tune specs on the inner wall. What beaut she was Clark! Time was getting short, we still had to get to Wichita and pick up the Hippo. We hooked up and said our goodbyes. Before hitting the road, we took some photos and I posted them to my Facebook page. We had a 70 mile drive back to I-35 and then 3 hours to Corey's place to get the dragster. My calculations had us getting there around dusk, if we ate fast at IHOP. While we were waiting for our food, I had a couple questions about the trailer, asking what the faded lettering may have said. Now, as with everything rare like this, speculation of who it belonged to was running rampant. A few well-known names came up, but weren’t etched in stone. It didn't take long for Brad Horvath to send me a photo of the trailer, with the fresh lettering and it's occupant, from when new. The trailer was originally purchased by the Coachmen Auto Club. This just got better as it went. We took that initial 70 miles easy, wanting to get the feel of the trailer. We pulled through construction zones, and some pretty narrow lanes. Once we finished lunch, we hopped on the interstate and eased it on up to 70 mph. It pulled like a dream, like it wasn't even there. One more concern was quieted and the next 3 hours to Wichita were uneventful.
My next concern, was will the Hippo fit? After pushing it out into the street and lining it up, our learning curve began. I quickly discovered the ingenious design of this deal. Ed Wills did it right when he built this one. This is the first trailer I have ever been able to load, unhooked from the vehicle pulling it. Once we got it in, we had to pull it back out, due to the nose. Once that was off, we push it back in, labor to get the old straps around the slicks. That took some doing, due to the age and stiffness of the nylon and ratchets. We close the ramp and realize the nose piece wasn't going to fit in the truck. Drop the ramp again, wrap the nose in towels and a pair of coveralls I had in the back seat of the truck. I had to do my best contortionist impression and squeeze in to the front portion of the trailer. Corey and Spencer were snaking the nose between the roof and the Hippo's blower and top end. Somehow, we got it in, I am not sure which was the bigger feat though... that, or me getting my old ass out of there! Once this was done, we buttoned Ed up for the last time. I was glad I had a change of clothes. I was covered in dirt, dust, fiberglass and flake from the bowels of the trailer. After a quick clean up and change of clothes, we were off. Heading out towards Kansas City, then on to home, we stopped in Emporia, looking for something to eat. We passed our exit, turned around and maneuvered into town, but couldn't find anything that suited us. We just decided to press on and stop up the highway a few miles.
Just as a precaution, I always plug into GPS to ensure I take all the right exits and turns. Leaving Emporia, we pull into the toll plaza, get our ticket and follow the directions the lady in the GPS gave us. As we are driving, I start to wonder what is up. I am seeing signs I don't remember seeing on our last 4 trips this way. To make a long story ...not so long... instead of sending us to KC, it sent us to TOPEKA! By the time we had this figured out, it was too far in to turn around and we resigned ourselves to the realization, we lost an hour and a half. By this time we were ready to eat a tire. We saw there was a service stop about 30 miles away when we picked up I-70 and pressed on. We emerge from the merge land into what I thought was a light rain, which became snow! Stocking up on food and drink, we set out, hoping to not have any more surprises. The rest of the trip was uneventful. A 45 minute catnap about 8o miles into Missouri gave me enough of an energy burst, to make it the rest of the way. We pulled into home about 26 hours after we left. All in all it was another long but safe trip.
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - By Eddie Buck
Photos courtesy of the Coachmen Auto Club and Eddie Buck