Sitting on the front porch glider-swing that Rufus Harrison crafted for Loretta over 10 years ago last Friday morning, enjoying my toomanyth cup of coffee and a bowl full of good English pipe tobacco, waiting for the mail to run, watching the grass grow and, generally, just minding my own business, I heard the rumbling roar, coming from way up the road, a full minute before I saw its cause.
I may never know who owns it nor what it was doing on Charlie Brown Road, but I want the owner of the quintessential, lemon- yellow “hot rod Lincoln” to know that he absolutely made my day, if not my decade. I had not seen one of these babies since the late 1960s when a few owners would shine them up and drive them in parades in Pikeville, Prestonsburg and Paintsville.
I believe the popularity of the vehicle was inspired by a band in the mid 1950s called Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen. They had a huge hit song, called “Hot Rod Lincoln”, that received as much radio air play on country music stations as it did on early rock and roll radio, so it may well have been one of the first ever successful “crossovers” between those genres.
All you have to do to hear the song is Google “hot rod Lincoln” and you will hear why it was so well received.
The song was still going strong as late as 1963 on Whitesburg’s WTCW, 920 on your AM dial, when Jimmy Branham signed the station on with his country/ bluegrass “show” at 6 a.m. and Ron Statzer shut it down at 6 p.m. with his “rock show”. “Hot Rod Lincoln” got played at least twice on both programs, along with Bill Monroe and Merle Haggard in the morning and Elvis Presley and Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs in the late afternoon.
The hot rod Lincoln was not a Lincoln at all, but a Model-A Ford body and chaises with a V-12 cylinder Lincoln Zephyr motor stuck in the frame where a straight 6-cylinder Ford motor used to be. It was neither practical nor much ingenious because the big Lincoln engine was much stronger in terms of raw horsepower than the Ford frame and drive train were made to handle, but it was still a rich boys’ favorite toy for a decade or so between 1955 and 1965.
The only one I ever drove and took for a ride was owned by a kid in Pikeville, last name was Coleman, in the summer of 1968. The young man’s father had actually built it around 1960 and allowed his son to drive it out to then Boy Scout Camp Shawnee on Dewey Lake near Prestonsburg, where I was program director at the time.
The camp director that year was a career Boy Scout executive, nearing retirement, from Grundy or Clintwood, Va., whose name was Clifford Judd, who insisted that he simply be called “The Judd” by his subordinate staff and the 150 or so campers we had every week.
Anyway, young Coleman promptly learned from The Judd that campers, other than adult leaders, were not allowed to keep vehicles at camp all week. Coleman tried to insist that, at age 16, he was an adult leader of his troop and The Judd told him he wasn’t even old enough to be shaving and that he had to get the hot rod off the premises which covered over 900 acres.
To make a long story short, The Judd discovered that Coleman only had a learner’s permit so he called the kid’s mom, made arrangements for her to drive me back to camp and I drove the cherry red rod back to Pikeville. I didn’t get to the Coleman residence until after I had made a couple of passes through campus to make sure that all the summer students got an eyeful of the hot rod Lincoln.
The car had so many coats of hand-rubbed lacquer on it that it literally looked like it was encased in glass. Most of the engine was exposed, fitted with chrome valve covers and a huge chrome breather cover. An array of chrome manifold pipes ran down both sides. It had rocket spoke mag wheels and it looked as fast as it probably was. I never dared try to find out how fast that might have been because all that power seemed way too much for such a skinny body and frame. I was also terrified that I’d get pulled over by the law because it had no sign of mufflers and, even at an idle it roared.
The guy who was out tooling around last Friday on my road appeared to be at least my age or a bit older. His rod also appeared to have many coats of lacquer. He waved as he drove by and I hope I stopped drooling long enough to wave back.
If I had it to do over, I would be waving both arms and jumping up and down and yelling, “Wait. Wait. Wait. I’m desperate for a ride to the Paint Lick Post Office and I’m wondering if you’ll give me a lift. I’ll gladly walk back to the house.”