By David Robert Crews
Jul 26, 2005 - 12:04:00 AM
Disclaimer for Patten Mainers: I never can remember if it was White Ash Hill or Light Ash Hill, but I saw it on a web site listed as Ash Hill. Can’t remember Scoot Lane’s sidekick’s name, but I think it was Tom. Can’t remember my old girlfriend Barbara Smallwood’s brother’s name or his old best friend’s name (Franky Violet’s son). I suppose that I fiddled with the facts a bit, but I’m open for correction. But there definitely wasn’t much pot in Maine back then. I hope you enjoy this though. (and helloo theah Arnie)
“I can tell when they’re on drugs, because I can look right in the uterus of their eyes.”
Franky Violet, Town Cop and Carpenter had misspoken those words at a town hall meeting in Patten, Maine back in 1969. That was the first time that local marihuana users were the subject of discussion at a public forum in that small New England town, which is nestled in The Katahdin Valley area. Franky was sure that he knew who was bringing the stuff into the area from the outside, and who was buying, selling and smoking it. He had declared a one-man war against the potheads.
In the summer of 1969, some of the local people in the area were smoking pot, but I knew that very few of them participated in the mind-altering activity at the time. I had an active, exciting social life there in Maine, but I had not ever even heard of anyone whom I personally knew, in the area, getting high on marihuana in 1969. I never once encountered it myself at any party or anywhere else around there. Nobody could have smoked the stuff anywhere near me and not have me know about it, because I knew what it smelled like in the air or on a person, after they had just smoked it. I had been around pot smokers before, when I was in high school down in Dundalk, Maryland. I had moved up to the Katahdin Valley area, several months after graduating from high school in 1968, to work as a bear hunting guide at my aunt and uncles hunting lodge, Katahdin Lodge and Camps, which is located just north of Patten.
Franky got a kick out of informing people that he had painted his house the same color as his name. He patrolled his police beat in his personal car, a yellow Plymouth convertible, which gave rise to the nickname that the local folks in Patten called him, Bananastein.
That Plymouth was only a year or two old at the time, but it only had a small six-cylinder motor under it’s hood. That was fine with any of the local boys who had big, powerful V8s in their late 1960’s muscle cars, because Bananastein couldn’t catch them when they didn’t want him to.
Franky hung out at The Pizza Place on Main St. a lot. Every time that I went in there, when he was there, he’d be talking with the other customers, who were local residents, about something or other and laughing at any humor in his own part of the conversation harder than anyone else in the place. He’d often be in there, standing up near or leaning against the front counter, dressed in a pair of green work pants and an inexpensive flannel shirt, wearing an old .38 caliber revolver in a well worn leather holster hanging at his side on a stressed out leather gun belt that was wrapped around his waist. He would always be resting the crook of his right hand Hollywood Cowboy style over the revolver’s hammer and pistol grips. He did that with a clearly visible air of self-appointed, minor superiority, which he had bestowed upon himself for being the only man in town who could legally wear a loaded firearm at all times in all places.
Guys like Arnie Ballard, in his Olds 442, which had a powerful, massive motor under its hood, would be driving around the tiny town of Patten and spot the Bananastein car sitting out in front of The Pizza Place. They would drive by there slow enough to see if Frankey was standing at the counter and wrapped up in his own conversation deeply enough that he did not notice who was driving by. If he weren’t paying attention to who was driving by, the hot rod drivers would go pull their latest favorite prank on him. The hotrodders would then roll far enough up the street that they could not be seen from anywhere inside the place, then hit the gas, spin their rear tires, squeal wheels and leave a cloud of burnt rubber smoke in the air.
When the pranking country boys first began to enjoy this harassing hobby, after they had burnt rubber, they would zoom on outa town to evade Franky, who always ran out of The Pizza Place with his dander up, jumped into the Bananastein car and pursued the pranksters.
The major drawback to that evasive tactic was that there were only two roads that they could take to leave town, if they were traveling south on Main Street, or two other roads if they were hightailing it to the north on Main Street. But, Bananastein had gotten lucky a couple of times and had caught up to a prankster, who had just squealed wheels to harass him, and given him a traffic ticket.
Downtown Patten only has about two city blocks of businesses on Main Street. The side streets that feed off of Main Street go two or three streets back then loop back onto Main Street or to one of the roads that is one of the south exits from town. It’s hard to hide from a pursuing policeman if you stay in town after getting his dander up, but that was the next E+E (Evade and Escape) tactic employed by Arnie Ballard.
What Arnie started doing was, he would burn rubber uptown by The Pizza Place, then instead of speeding on out the road, he would slip off onto a side street, go around the backside of the stores on Main Street, and hide there where he could watch Bananastein fly by in moot pursuit of him.
It was funny to see. I was sitting out in front of Patten Drug Store with my girlfriend one time, and what catches our attention but the front grill and hood of Arnie’s 442 peeking out from the only alley in town that comes out onto Main Street. Sure as we suddenly expected, here comes Bananastein motivating down the street from the direction of his usual hangout and traveling at almost twice the speed limit towards the south end of town. We watched the front of the 442 as it creeped out further with Arnie hunched over the steering wheel and stretching his head forward while looking down the street to make sure that the town cop had fallen for the trick and was still taking his chances at catching the rubber burner on one of the south end roads.
We knew what Arnie was up to, because almost everyone in town was aware of Arnie’s latest E+E trick.
His father owned the largest of three gas stations in town, and had known Franky Violet all his life. Ole' Bananastein had had a few talks with Mr. Ballard about Arnie’s shenanigans, that were solely designed to aggravate and harass the town cop and carpenter. Arnie’s days of thundering around the northern Maine countryside in a bad ass Olds 442 were about to come to a screeching halt. Franky had his fill of that nonsense and had one last angry, aggravated talk with Mr. Ballard.
That was it for that 442 in Patten. Arnie told me that his father had asked him to sell the 442, which he still had plenty of monthly payments left to pay on, to someone that they didn’t know who lived far enough away that Arnie couldn’t ever drive it again. In return for that favor Mr. Ballard would give Arnie a nearly new Pontiac Bonneville, that he owned, and buy himself a new car. Arnie sheepishly added that he didn’t mind accepting his dad’s offer, but I seriously doubt that he had a choice. He conveniently told his friends that to protect his youthful pride.
One Saturday night, around midnight, during the summer of 1969, Arnie and I were cruising around in his recently acquired Bonneville, drinking a few beers. We had each taken our girlfriends out that evening, but the parents of the young ladies of Northern Maine usually enforced an 11PM curfew for their daughters, so we had already taken them home. We were easing down Main Street, looking for some of the other local boys to hang out with, and found a few of our buddies sitting and sipping beers in their cars, that were diagonally parked under the street lights out in front of Richardson’s Hardware Store. Arnie pulled in next to them, turned the Pontiac’s big V8 motor off, and we got comfortable in our seats while the other guys welcomed us into their conversation.
That time of night, the married men were usually all at home snuggling up with their wives. That included Franky Violet Town Cop and Carpenter and his good wife. Out of state tourists, fishermen, hunters or campers staying at the area’s recreational facilities were never in town that late at night, because all of the businesses were closed till morning.
That left just us young bachelors out and about to socialize, relax from working hard all week, and do some underage alcohol consumption without anyone else bothering us. Not that anyone minded very much back then, because we never made much noise or left empty beer cans and bottles littered all over the place. If anyone had done any of these things, everyone else in town would have soon known about it and been offended by such rudeness. The offenders would then be subject to angry reproach from their family, friends, and the store owners, who they had to do business with on a daily basis. Most importantly, we rarely ever wrecked in one of our motor vehicles while engaging in this dangerous, illegal activity.
We all sat there enjoying the quiet stillness of the night and talking amongst ourselves for about an hour.
Then, Arnie and I had to drain some used beer from our bladders. We drove out of town a little ways and pulled off onto an old gravel road were there were no houses near by then got out and watered the weeds on the side of the road. It would have been an unsanitary, stench of a mess if us guys peed on Main Street every time that we drank beer there.
When Arnie and I got back to the crew sitting under the streetlights on Main Street, another car, with two more locally grown country boys in it, had pulled in to join them. It was Scoot Lane in his brand new Olds 442 with his lifelong best friend and sidekick Tom in the passenger seat.
The car had Connecticut license tags on it, because Scoot and Tom had moved south to that state to find work about two years before that night. Many of the young men and women from that area had to do that, after they turned eighteen years old. Scoot and Tom were on one of their frequent weekend trips home.
Arnie pulled in next to the 442. He was looking it over good, because it was the first time that he had seen it. I had never seen the car or Scoot and Tom before, but I already knew who they were. Bananastein had let it be known to everyone around town that he knew for sure that those two were bringing reefer up from Connecticut and selling it to a certain woman whose farm house had reportedly become the site of marihuana and sex orgies. I believed the part about them importing the pot, but the orgy bit was straight out of the movie Reefer Madness.
Every guy there was drinking beer. You could tell by the glossy shine on all of our eyes, that we had each achieved some degree of intoxication. But Scoot and Tom had an extra reddish, deep glow to their ocular openings. Because I had been around people who were high on pot before, I knew the difference between an alcohol glow and a marihuana glow reflecting from a user’s eyeballs. Them two boys in the 442 had the distinct look of people who had been smoking a lot of pot.
A few more fellas came by in their car and pulled up and parked on the driver’s side of Arnie’s car. One of the guys from a car that was parked on the other side of the car that was parked beside the 442 came over to the car that had just parked, and he told them guys that it would be cool to see that 442 git it on and do its muscle car thing. Then he went back to his car.
The guys next to Arnie started to whisper stuff to him about it. Every time that Scoot and Tom would have their heads turned towards the cars on the other side of them and be talking just to them guys over there, the guys next to Arnie would pester him to challenge Scoot to a drag race. Every time that Scoot and Tom were paying attention to something interesting or funny said by one of us sitting there on our side of the 442, then them guys on the other side of the 442 would make clandestine hand signals and mouth words of encouragement through Scoot’s car windows over to Arnie.
Arnie quietly said that it would be dumb to race in the big, wide, and heavy Bonneville that was designed as a family car. The other guys said something like, but yeah, you got the biggest motor here and you had that 442 of yours so Scoot might want to take the challenge.
Arnie didn’t think it was a good idea to tarnish his established driving reputation by losing a race so easily as he would, but the other guys said that they just wanted to see what that new 442 could do with a highly skilled driver like Scoot behind its wheel. They told Arnie to just go about halfway through the race then slow down and let Scoot put on a show for us. Arnie finally gave in to their prodding and said that oh what the heck he’d like to see that too.
I leaned back in my seat as Arnie leaned forward and casually challenged Scoot to a drag race. Scoot scoffed in a friendly way as he glanced down at the Pontiac’s big Bonneville style body, grinned and shook his head in disbelief at Arnie, the former owner and daring driver of a 442. Tom looked over at Arnie and grinned too, but he maintained a natural hard edge to his face that showed me that he was one of them kind of individuals who were born and raised with a mean streak running right through them.
Scoot didn’t hardly answer Arnie’s question, because it seemed like it was said as a jest. But Arnie asked again and Scoot said something like, yeah why not.
All of us guys, in all four cars, shifted positions in our seats. We went from being laid back and relaxed to upright and oh man we’re gonna see one of the biggest badest stock muscle cars in America get up and go. Best of all, it would be driven hard by a local lad who was one of the best drivers around. We anticipated witnessing expertise at double clutching gear jammin’ technique and the sounds of a massive motor growling, roaring and blasting through the still night air.
Scoot and Arnie then agreed upon the starting and finishing lines for the race. They chose the end of Main Street as the start. From there, the road has four wide lanes, covered with smooth asphalt, as it goes down a small incline, over Fish Stream and up a large incline until it reaches the top of that hill, then turns into the two lane, rough, tar capped road that goes six miles down to the tiny town of Sherman Station. The finish line was declared to be just before the end of the four-lane section of road, which was about the standard quarter of a mile used for most drag races.
The two racers cranked up their motors. Tom’s weight and mine were about equal, so the drivers each agreed that we should ride along. They backed out onto Main Street, and then we slowly moved forward to the starting line. The other three cars stayed right where they were, because it was a good advantage point to watch the race from.
Arnie told me that he hoped that his father didn’t ever hear about this and take the Bonneville away from him too.
Scoot and Tom sat there looking at Arnie and Arnie and I sat there looking at Scoot. The drivers revved up their engines a little but nobody moved an inch. Arnie was trying hard not to show that he was worried about getting into trouble for racing right there in town. Scoot couldn’t have cared less about what might happen.
Everyone was hoping to hear that 442’s tires squeal and see a cloud of smoke form around them as the racers took off. But, neither car did anything.
Arnie said to Scoot, “We’ll go when you take off.”
Scoot said, “No, you go. I’ll spot ya three car lengths because ya got that big, heavy thing”
Arnie replied, “No, I can handle it, let’s just go.”
Then Arnie started to creep forward, while watching the 442 closely so as not to miss a second of its roaring and screeching burst off of the starting line. Then the 442 started to inch forward and Arnie hit the gas. Scoot stayed right along side of us. He wouldn’t shoot past us like he could have. Arnie went faster, Scoot went the same speed. Arnie slowed down, and so did Scoot. Arnie took off and hit about 70 mph with Scoot and Tom sitting there right beside him grinning like two rabbits eating the lush grass growing next to a barking beagle’s dog pen.
It was obvious that the show wasn’t going to go on as Arnie slowed down and Scoot did too. Scoot and Tom really had big grins on their faces now, and we were just about to stop and talk, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a brand new, dark blue Plymouth pulls up behind us. The driver flicked its high beams on and off a couple of times then kept them on. We turned around in our seats and saw a little blue revolving cop car light on the Plymouth’s dashboard.
Arnie and I looked at Scoot and Tom and shrugged our shoulders in disbelief, and they looked at us, shrugged their shoulders and hollered over that it wasn’t a state cop and that they didn’t know who it was.
The 442 rolled a little faster, got a few car lengths ahead of us, and started to pull off to the side of the road.
The dark mystery machine stayed back to our left, as Arnie and I strained to see who was driving that thing. We were drifting along at about 5mph when the blue menace slid up next to us. It had a 383 cu. in. engine insignia on the side of its front fender, which Arnie and I both saw and remarked on at the same time. I look up from that and saw my girlfriend’s thirteen-year-old brother looking back at me from the front passenger side window. Next to him, in the middle of the front seat was his twelve-year-old best friend, Franky Violet’s son. And sitting there behind the steering wheel, in all his self appointed glory, was the one and only Franky Violet, Town Cop and Carpenter.
Arnie’s eyes got real wide as he looked over at me with my wide eyes and we said and or thought, “Holy shit! What the! Where’d he get that thing from?”
It was the inaugural ride of Franky’s brand new war machine. He had taken all that he was going to off of the local boys for driving around as Bananastein. Now he had a fast car too.
Franky must have gotten the new Plymouth that afternoon, then hid it somewhere away from Patten until after nightfall. There is no way that he could have driven it through town that day and not have all of us guys hangin’ out in town that night know about it. News like that would have traveled at the speed of sound, through town till everybody knew about it, if just one person had seen Bananastein in a brand new dark blue Plymouth with a big 383 motor under its hood that, we found out later, was built on a beefed up chassis and suspension designed for state police cars.
He had retrieved his new patrol car from its hiding place, then stayed off of Main Street as he maneuvered it to a strategic spot somewhere in the darkness down by Potato Row, where there were no street lights. From there he had watched us guys up on the hill in town like an Owl looking for its midnight meal. He knew that when Scoot finally went home to go to bed it would be to his parent’s house, which was south of town. When Scoot drove out of town in that 442 it would probably be leaving at a rate of speed higher then the posted limit. That’s all he needed to be able to stop the car and search it for marihuana.
Scoot never came to a complete stop. As Franky rolled by the Bonneville, he just looked over and stared at us. The three cars now moved like we were all in slow motion.
Then, Franky started after Scoot. The dark blue Plymouth got close enough to the 442 for Tom and Scoot to see that Franky was driving it.
We all knew that Scoot was the target of Franky’s big interstate drug ring investigation. It was no surprise to anyone there that night when Scoot finally granted the wish of the guys sitting under the streetlights in town. He took off like them two munching bunnies would have if the beagle’s dog pen door had popped open.
Holy o’ jeezus you shoulda’ seen him go. Arnie stopped the Bonneville and we jumped out and watched. It was Thunder Road 1969. The 442’s motor and transmission’s barking and growling sounded like poetry to us young hot rod appreciators. In that sparsely populated wide open section of Katahdin Valley, on such a quiet summer night, the sounds traveled loud and clear for a long way.
The four on the floor shifting 442 Olds went garowwww, womp, womp garowww, womp, womp, garowww, womp, womp garowwwwrrrrrrrrr off down the road. The 383 Plymouth’s automatic transmission didn’t allow it to make the well-known classic drag strip sounds that the 442 made, but its huge Mopar motor added a nice steady deep rumble to the scene.
A short way past the start of the two lane, rough surface country road that lay in front of us, there is a slight drop in elevation, then the road goes up and up White Ash Hill. At the top tip of that hill, there used to be a slight, lip like bump that protruded about six or eight inches above the rest of the road.
When the 442 hit that spot, its front end went straight up in the air. The front tires hung in the air like T-Rex’s limp arms. The headlights shined way up into the dark, starry sky for a split second. Its rear wheels never left the road, but the rear bumper scraped up sparks from the road surface. The front wheels bounced wildly when they came smashing back down onto the tar, but the car steered straight and steady. The 383 hugged the road at a somewhat slower speed as it followed in pursuit.
After that, the road goes down past Katahdin High School and on through Blood and Guts Curves. That is a fairly flat, mildly curving section of Rt. 11 that is OK to drive at the posted speed limit, but several horrible accidents had occurred there over the years as a result of fast driving. Arnie and I could hear the cars traveling at high speeds for a minute, and then we didn’t hear anything at all.
It was best that we went down the road to see what Franky had to say to us. Arnie did not want the town cop knocking on his family’s door the next morning to speak to his father about this and I sure didn’t want him contacting my aunt and uncle about it.
We never thought that we should go see if anyone might need our help in case there might be one hell of a smash up down the road. The two drivers knew every inch of that stretch of tar and precisely how to take the one line of travel through each and every curve, dip, hump and bump that would allow them to move at maximum speed without losing control and wrecking.
There weren’t very many roads around there, and even though it was six miles between Patten and Sherman Station, the people who lived in that area made the drive in six or seven minutes when they drove at the normal accepted rate of speed. Any local person who grew up around there had ridden on that stretch of road many hundreds of times by the time that they were old enough to get their driver’s license. Then they drove on the road themselves numerous times a week as long as they lived in the area.
When Arnie and I drove into Sherman Station, we saw an old white Rambler car sitting on a gravel parking lot at the side of the street. It was parked with its front facing the street, and we saw the tops of two heads peaking up above its dashboard. As we got closer the two bodies under the two heads sat up and waved us over to them.
It was Scoot and Tom. Arnie stopped beside the Rambler and we all talked things over for a few minutes.
Tom said that he had gone over Ash Hill like that one time before, when he was with another guy who was driving a 57 Ford with a big V8 T-Bird engine in it. The car was doing 115 mph at the time and the driver almost lost control of it when all four wheels had left the road and the car flew through the air for a short distance. Tom casually, with intense enjoyment, said that he had mentioned this to Scoot just before topping Ash Hill and told him not to take it at more than 110 mph. So they had gone over the hill at 107 mph and loved every mili-second of the ride. After the hill they went flat out as fast as any driver had ever dared to. Scoot said that he never went under a 120 mph during the rest of the short, extremely fast, crazy ride and that his speedometer registered between 120+140 mph the whole time.
Then they had whipped into the side street and up to the house where Tom grew up, quickly put the 442 into an old barn there, and jumped into his mother’s old Rambler. It had the keys in the ignition, because there were never any car thefts around there and everybody up there always left their keys in the ignitions of their vehicles when they were parked at home or in town. Then they made it back out to the main street of town in time to see Franky fly by.
Scoot had been high enough on reefer and booze to be able to go all the way to the very most outer edge of extremely dangerous driving without caring about the possible consequences, but not so stoned that he went over that line and made a fatal mistake. He was young, had good mental-physical coordination, possessed well-tuned Northern Maine driving abilities and had the right car to do it in. Also, he was plain lucky not to have hit a wild animal or pet dog, that was crossing the road, or some person walking along the road or some innocent motorist pulling out of their driveway who did not have the time to see a car coming at them moving so extremely fast.
Franky was sober, not so extremely well skilled of a driver as Scoot, didn’t know his new car’s above average road handling capabilities intimately yet and most importantly had two kids with him. He was smart to make that run at about 90 to 100 mph and not the hellacious speeds of up to a 140 mph that Scoot drove.
Scoot said that he knew that Franky was out to get him, and we all said that we knew it. The best thing for us to do was that Arnie and I would go down to the restaurant at the Sherman Interstate 95 Exit a few miles down the road and hope to find Franky there. We would come back, after he wrote Arnie any traffic tickets and gave us a lecture on what we did that was wrong, and tell Scoot and Tom what was going to happen to them.
Sure enough, Franky was in the restaurant. He was standing there with his chest and shoulders all puffed up and he was feeling glorious. The two adolescent boys, who had just been on the most thrilling ride that they could imagine, were milling around looking all excited and proud to be a part of it all.
Arnie and I nervously approached them, expecting the worst, but they didn’t even pay any attention to us except to nod their heads in the regular way of greeting someone.
Frankey was talking to the man who cooked during night shift at the restaurant. There was a telephone sitting on the counter between them, which Frankey had just used to call his closest police back up down in Millinocket, forty miles south of there. It was the closest town with a cop and a jail.
The phone rang and Franky answered it. With a huge smile spread all over his face, he looked at the night cook as he spoke into the phone and said, “Yep, yep, all right, I’ll be here.”
Franky beamed with satisfaction from his first big score as a cop who had suffered months of indignant harassment from the local population, whom he had known his whole life, he was related to some of them, and he taken an oath to protect and serve them all.
Then he turned to Arnie and me and said that he had just spoken to the cop down at Millinocket and that that cop was going to get the jail ready then come up to Sherman and help him go arrest Scoot Lane for traffic violations. But, he never said one word to Arnie and me about being in the race. We could see that he was only interested in Scoot, so we skidadled.
Although I was definitely relieved to get out of there without being administered any kind of punishment from Franky, I still had my girlfriend’s parents to worry about. Her brother was gonna be telling them all about this first thing in the morning. Then there was my aunt and uncle too.
Arnie and I went back up through Sherman Station and told Scoot and Tom what was happening. Then we drove up to Patten and found that all the other guys were still out in town. We parked next to them, sat back in our seats, and tried to wind down some.
The conversation soon turned to the marihuana aspect of the situation. Arnie said that Franky had once asked him to buy a nickel of pot from Scoot using a marked five dollar bill, but Arnie didn’t smoke the stuff and he also knew that Scoot would have come after him later and done something in retaliation to him if he had set up that drug bust.
That prompted one of the other guys to ask if any of us had ever seen the big knife that Tom always carried in his pocket. Another chipped in with, “Yeah, and he’ll use on ya too, in a New York Second.”
Then a different guy said that he had asked Scoot one time about how it was that he could afford that expensive car and that Scoot had told him that, “Shoot man, one trip up here pays for that.”
Which I did not believe back then nor now, because there just wasn’t that much pot being smoked up there at the time.
The next morning, when I woke up at the lodge, I anticipated angry questions about the night before from my aunt and uncle. My girlfriend’s father was my uncle’s best friend. He could have called the lodge on the phone, before I got out of bed, spread the news about the car chase and voiced concerns about what other dangerous things that I might do when his daughter happened to be with me. Nothing was said to me about it before, during or after I ate breakfast at the lodge, so I went on down for my regular Sunday date with my girlfriend.
I dreaded going up to her door that day. But, when her mother answered the door there was no anger at me evident on her face. As soon as my girlfriend and I left her house she told me that her mother and Franky’s wife had been giving Franky holy hell all morning for taking them two boys on that wild car chase with him. He was in deep doo-doo.
The gossip born of this incident had to of burned the ears of just about every man, woman, boy and girl in the Patten-Sherman area. And of coarse, I talked to some of my Maine friends about my witnessing such a crazy thing happen. But, I never bothered to find out what happened to Scoot and Tom, because their fate was neither of consequence nor interest to me.
Neither my girlfriend’s parents, nor my aunt and uncle ever said anything to me about my participation in that far out event.
For the rest of my time that I lived in Maine, until I entered the U.S. Army on November 17, 1969, I had plenty of exciting and interesting things to do in my everyday life as a bear hunting guide. Best of all, the pace of my active, Northern Maine social life never slowed down a bit after the night that Scoot Lane did a 107 mph wheelie on White Ash Hill.
Copyright © 2005, David Robert Crews. All rights reserved.