Monday, September 29, 2008

A Pig Too Big

The following is a piece of fiction. Maybe. It was written by my father a long time ago about a place that may or may not exist, and about people and events which may or may not have actually existed or occurred. Possibly. Who's to say? Certainly not me.


A Pig Too Big

By Rick Johnson

A stinging wind blew from the west up the river valley, tugging and shaking at the frost covered leaves. Light from the late autumn sun had failed, as yet, to give the morning much warmth. We paddled through the lace of mist rising from the river to the boat dock at the Stone Valley Boat Club, and tied up.

Although it was early, there was a great deal of activity at the club. Several cars were in the parking lot, and at least a dozen youngsters were scampering this way then that. Charlie and I got out of the boat and began the walk to the boat club to use the telephone. Charlie was very quiet during the walk. I was grumbling to myself at the interruption of our fishing, thanks to my error.

I thought how pleasantly the day had begun. We were off before first light. We intended to drift fish all day on the Stump Hole River, which meanders through the hills of south Stone Valley.

We paddled our way into the current and baited our hooks. We drifted about a mile, enjoying the pre-dawn stillness and solitude of the river. We had a couple of strikes, and I netted a nice channel cat.

We could hear the sounds of animals stirring in the brush and trees along the bank. The rumble of a B&O freight train, several miles away, was very clear, and occasionally we could hear roosters from the nearby farms announce the start of a new day.

Charlie spoke softly as he pulled in his line to check the bait, "Let's go over that spot again. I had a good hit."

I started the Evinrude, idled her down, snapped it in gear, and we began to move slowly up stream. We wanted to go about 30 yards upstream where Charlie got his strike, kill the motor, then drift back. We never got that far. The motor pitched out of the water, and I glanced back just in time to see the propeller fly off and plop into the water.

After I shut the motor off, I looked at Charlie in the pale half-light. He was grinning. I really hated that grin. I could see it and feel it. It said so much without a word being spoken. He lit a Lucky, and blew the smoke at me.

"Hit the rocks. Must'a been way out of the channel."

"Yep. A dumb trick," I said.

Good reasons and alibis were of no importance to Charlie. A person either knew a thing and could do it, or he couldn't. If he couldn't, he should say so, and not try to bluff it through.

Charlie's cabin was only a few hundred feet from my fishing shack, so I knew him well. I watched him silently, anticipating some acid comments.

"Should'a taken my boat. I should'a been operating," he muttered just loud enough to be understood.

It was a lesson. Had I been doubtful about my ability to safely navigate that early in the dim light, I should have said so. Charlie would not have been critical or thought less of me. Now, my ignorance had caused a problem which subtracted, at least in my mind, from enjoyment of the day.


The boat had turned sideways in the current, and we were drifting very slowly.

"Hell, I'm not going to let it ruin my day,” Charlie said softly. He cast out his line, then poured himself some coffee.

I lolled on the seat and transom of the boat, fishing, but not really enjoying myself. Gradually, dawn began to sift through the trees, and I could tell exactly where we were. Charlie, of course, knew all the while.

"Best I can figure, we'll drift by the Boat Club about nine or thereabouts," Charlie said as he gently cranked his bait. "We can get someone to take us to town to get a prop. Reckon you bent the prop shaft too?"

I knew Charlie's words were a request…"check us out…let's find out what's wrong."

I pulled the motor up and popped it into gear. By pulling the starting rope slowly, the propeller shaft rotated, and I could see if the shaft was bent.

"Looks like I buggered that up too," I said grudgingly.

I got that grin again.

"Well, hell, let's don't get bent up about it. I should have warned you. The water in this old gutter is low. You've probably never been through here in this kind of light when it's this low. That rock bottom back there had made a fool out of more than one man this time of year, including me. We'll get to the club and get 'er fixed and drink a little beer. Let's just fish an' drink coffee an' smoke an' enjoy ourselves,” he said as he cast his line.

His words made me feel a lot better. I concentrated on keeping the boat straight and let him fish. I figured I could learn a lot by watching him. And, if he talked, I knew I'd learn a lot more. But, he didn't talk. He fished and kept a Lucky dangling from his lips. By the time we drifted to the boat club, he'd added a nice size largemouth bass and two perch to the stringer.

Charlie broke the silence after he took a long look at the clubhouse far up the hill. "Jeeminnie, look at that hill. Noah'd been safe up there. What' say we wait around and try to get a ride up the back side?"

"If you want to stay here, it's okay. I'll go up and make a call or two for the parts and get some beer."

Charlie chuckled, "Like hell. Think I'm gonna' miss you ordering a prop and shaft an' not see all them guys grin an' give you the business. Why hell, I'd crawl up the hill."

I feigned a swing at him, and he laughed, "There ain't a one of 'em, if they'd admit it, ain't done worse. I'll guarantee it. An' if they ain't, they're going to."

Youngsters were somersaulting on the steep hill, and some others were sliding on a piece of cardboard on the frost-covered grass. As we started up the steps, the youngsters would flash by us going down hill, and then bolt past us as they ran back up the hill.

"It's a real easy thing to hate young people," Charlie said as he held tightly to the railing on the steps. "You see 'em taking these damned steps two, even three, at a time? An' most of 'em don't even use the steps, going up er' down. What a hellacious waste 'a energy."

We stopped every few steps so Charlie could catch his breath and cuss the kids. But one stop was mandatory.

More than halfway up the hill was a large oak tree, and hanging from one of its limbs was one of the biggest hogs either of us had seen. The huge white carcass was smeared with barnyard muck, and blood was running from a tiny hole between its eyes.

"Geez, what a hog. There's a river of lard an' two trucks 'a bacon in that baby," Charlie said in awe. "They must be fixin' to have a barbecue. He lit another Lucky and we continued up the hill, looking back a time or two at the hog.

Once inside the clubhouse, I went to the phone, and Charlie took a window seat so he could examine the hog. I soon located the parts for the boat and got a promise they would be delivered early that afternoon.

Everyone at the bar was grinning at me. Jerry was the first one to speak. "Lost a prop an' bent a shaft too, huh? You've been around too long to do that."

The remark prompted nods in unison from those at the bar. I looked at them, trying to conjure up a brilliant reply. All I could do was lie.

"Well, hell, guys. What could I do? Charlie latched into one so big it pulled us right into the rocks."

A chorus of "bullshits" rang from the bar patrons. I laughed, and carried a couple of beers to where Charlie was seated.

"You handled that real good," Charlie said with a smile. He then turned his attention to the hog. "Never in my life have I seen a hog that big used for a barbecue. It must weigh 600 pounds," he said with a disbelieving shake of his head.

We talked for a while about what a beautiful day it was, and finished our beer. Charlie ordered two more, and Johnnie, the bartender, brought them to us.

"Goin' to have a barbecue, a big one by the looks of that hog," Charlie said.

"Boy, are we," Johnnie answered with a vigorous nod. "Ain't that hog a beaut'?"

"Sure is," Charlie said. "Where you got the fire goin'? With a hog that size, you should've had a pit dug an' the fire started yesterday."

Johnnie gave Charlie a blank look. "I don't know nothing 'bout that. Bob, the commodore, is handlin' all that. We got more'n a hundred people comin' tonight." Johnnie walked back to the bar and we saw him talking to the commodore.

The commodore, resplendent in designer jeans, loafers, and fringed leather jacket, glanced our way. After a decent interval, he wandered in our direction. "Hi Charlie, Mac. That sure was a good one about the fish pulling you into the rocks," he laughed.

Charlie took a swig of beer and said, "He oughta' be good at something."

Turning to Charlie, commodore Bob said, "So you think we should have had a pit dug and a fire started yesterday." His voice was loaded with sarcasm.

"Oh, don't pay any mind to me. I just asked a question. Like the ones I'm fixin' to ask you now. Don't you think you should get at gutting that hog? It's hangin' there, and the day's gettin' warmer. The meat might taste funny if it ain't gutted soon. And, that animal ain't been bled."

Bob took a step back with a quizzical look, "Why we were just going to get to that." Bob turned and went to the bar, and soon, several men were gathered around him.

Charlie took a swig of beer and grinned at me. It was that grin he used when I'd fouled up.

"Okay. What did I do now?"

"Not a thing. I just got the notion that if we stay here, we're going to see the damndest sights we've ever seen."

"You mean the hog?"

"Yep. It'll be a hell of a show."

Bob and a platoon of men left the bar and trotted out the front door.

"Let's give 'em a little time, an' we'll go out and watch."

We finished our beer and walked out on the porch. The bright sun had taken the harsh chill from the air.

The men, with commodore Bob in command, were clustered around the hog. One man was high on a ladder with a knife in his hand. Two men, holding a wheel barrow, stood ready to catch the entrails.

The man with the knife made a deep, long gash in the hog's belly, and soon, with oozy thumps, the entrails fell into the bed of the wheelbarrow. It filled rapidly to overflowing, and the man on the ladder was not finished. The two men holding the wheelbarrow on the steep hill were having difficulty handling the incline and the rapidly increasing weight, and asked for help. Two more men rushed to their aid, and in doing so, hit the ladder, knocking it away from the tree and into the hog's carcass. The man on the ladder quickly clutched the tree and righted the ladder.

The hog's huge bulk was set in motion. The hog swung back and toppled the man and the ladder. He landed in the already overloaded wheelbarrow, and knocked all four men down. The wheelbarrow, with its unwilling passenger, slid down the hill, where it tipped over, spilling man and offal to the ground.

Even at my dumbest trick, I'd never seen such glee on Charlie's face. "That was a classic," he said as a laugh began to build. "I really don't want to do this," he managed to say. "I'm just having a coughing fit if they ask what's wrong." He then bent over and laughed, with coughs interspersed, for a long while. The commodore and his troupe were much too busy to pay any attention to us.

While we struggled to control ourselves, they tried to salvage the situation. They picked up the offal, put it in the wheelbarrow, and carted it to the river. They then returned up the hill where they finished the task of gutting the hog.

Charlie was a retired truck driver. He had worn out many trucks and his lungs during countless trips across the country puffing on Lucky Strikes. He was short on formal education, but experienced in what it takes to get along. He knew more about fishing the river than anyone I'd ever met. Everything he did he performed with deceptive ease. He amazed me with his knowledge of mechanics, electricity, and plumbing, as we worked out problems with my fishing shack. But he was often maddening. He'd watch me work, and let me make all sorts of mistakes, and then give me that grin. If I asked him a question, and he knew the answer, he'd patiently and completely tell me the answer. And, he was always right.

I was having just as big a laugh as Charlie at the commodore's crew and the hog, but I wondered why Charlie didn't speak up and give them some pointers.

"You've roasted hogs before, haven't you?" I asked.

"Yep. Hogs, pigs, 'n quite a few steers. It's a real art. These kids are going at it like it was a wiener roast."

"Why don't you talk to them, give 'em a point or two?"

He looked at me with disbelief. "You heard the commodore when I asked about the fire. Why, if I opened my mouth, him and his helpers would do their best to make the old man feel silly. Young'ns take to advice like they take to castor oil. Nope, I'm gonna' keep my oar out'a their pond, unless they ask. Besides, I go to talkin' too much an' we might miss the show. This could be better' n fishing."

I fetched two more beers and sat down beside Charlie. The commodore and his men had finished their clean-up, and left the hog swaying on the tree. They soon dashed up the steps and returned with several buckets of hot water. They doused the hog and then, with sharp knives, began to scrape the carcass from the rear hooves to the snout. The hog gleamed stark white in the warming sun.

That task finished, the commodore led his crew up the steps past us. He took the steps two at a time with a stride that made me wish he'd stumble. Most of the troupe imitated his gait and demeanor. But the man who rode the wheel barrow full of offal down the hill didn't have much starch in his gait. He was bringing up the rear, trudging slowly up the steps covered with mud, blood and manure. He looked at us and gave a rueful nod. "Got to get a bath an' clean clothes. I'm a mess."

For an instant I thought Charlie was going to hammer him verbally, but he smiled kindly and said, "Yep."

After the straggler went by, I noticed that Charlie was beaming again. "Notice anything?"

I looked at the hog. It looked clean…very clean. Ready to roast, I thought. "No. Guess I don't see anything unusual."

"Well, that hog's growing. Growin' faster than it ever did when it was alive. An' those boys a' got some more surprises comin'."

"You gonna' tell me or are you gonna' let me be surprised?"

"I'll just wait. It could be better than that hog swingin' and knockin' everything an' everyone ass over tea kettle."

"You still going to keep what you know to yourself?"

The exuberance vanished.

"There's two things in a young man that's always bigger 'n his body. That's his pride an' his ego. Wouldn't do to talk now. They know they've messed up, but they're gonna' thrash around and see it through. Least the commodore's goin' to. Couple of them other boys are ready to listen to someone. But…"

He drawled the word and bit of the 't', "they won't go against their leader."

He lit a fresh cigarette from the butt he was smoking, took a deep puff and exhaled. "The only way I'm gonna' leave here is in an ambulance, an' I'll a' died laughing."

"That mean no more fishing today?"

"I'm telling you, I'd give up fishin' permanent before I'd miss this hog roast. Hog wrestle, I mean."

I examined the gleaming white propeller and the shiny new propeller shaft. "You think this is gonna' be so good I might want to write about it?"

Cackling and slapping both his knees, he said, "Write about it? If you write about it, and what's comin', you better never come back here."

I waited for him to stop laughing, then said, "Okay, you wait here. I'll get the boat ready to go, whenever that might be, then come back up here."

He nodded agreement, then added, "Better clean those fish and put 'em in the cooler. We'd better have somethin' to show our wives when we get back."

I grinned at him, turned and started down the hill. About the time I got to the parking lot, I heard him say, "Get back here soon or you're gonna' miss something." I motioned that I'd heard him and headed for the boat.

I kept wondering why Charlie was getting such a kick out of the foul-ups we'd seen. Sure, those guys were in a mess, but it seemed sadistic for Charlie to let it continue.

As I walked, I decided not to argue the matter with him. He had a devastating way of always being right. I'd clean the fish and repair the motor, and hope that whatever it was that Charlie was sure would happen, would happen quickly so we could return to our fishing.

The sun was very warm, so I shed my jacket while I did the chores. After stowing the fish in the cooler, I decided to test the motor. I untied, fired the engine, and took a short hop. The Evinrude ran as good as new. I pulled back to the dock, tied off, and walked back toward the club. I walked past the hog, and was nearing the top of the hill where Charlie was seated on a step. Motioning with his empty bottle toward the hog, he said, "Take a look at that hippo. Notice anything?"

I looked back and carefully examined the bulging white carcass…sporting a dozen or more nicks from its haircut, but nothing more. "Looks like its been in a knife fight…all those nicks…but that's all I see."

"She ain't swinging no more. She's growed a foot or more. Them nicks you see is just a trifle now. Just wait."

I looked again. The hog had grown. The snout and head were laying on the ground, and the animal's shoulder was almost touching the ground. The whole carcass looked curiously elongated.

"You got to chill an animal out quick after a kill. You have to bleed 'em quick, and can't hang one up in weather this warm. It'll do all sorts'a tricks. Wait until they start tryin' to handle it. They'll think that hog's still alive. Oh hell, let's have another beer," Charlie said.

"I'll go get 'em. Sit still." As I headed to the club, I saw the commodore and his crew marching along the access path carrying a long metal pipe.

Charlie said, "If that pipe's the spit, they might as well have a coat hanger."

I hurried inside the club, got the beer, and returned.

The commodore had cut the rope holding the hog in the tree, and the crew had lowered the carcass to a section of canvas. With two men holding the long pipe in the hog's mouth, another man began trying to force the pipe through the animal's neck. After several pile driver-like thrusts, he succeeded. Soon one end of the pipe protruded from the bulbous rump. Then, two men, working inside the animal's body cavity, used heavy gauge wire to fasten the backbone to the piece of pipe. The hog was laying on its side for this process.

Charlie watched without expression or comment.

"Okay, men. Let's pick 'er up and get 'er around to the pit," the commodore said. A pair of men dutifully took positions at either end of the carcass, and hunkered down preparing for the lift.

"On three, men," commodore Bob barked.

"One. Two. Three."

The men rose together with the hog on the pipe, giving their burden a strong jerk, and cleared the ground. The pipe first sagged a bit in the middle, then bent in a V-shape. Then, the hog, having been moved from the horizontal plane to perpendicular, swung slightly, all 600 pounds of it. The sudden shift of weight caused all four men to lose their footing, and they fell, dropping the hog. The hog and bent pipe began a slow, herky-jerky roll down the hill. It stopped when the ends of the pipe gouged deeply into the ground, leaving the hog almost upright on its feet, with a long and severely arched back.

Charlie had changed color. He wasn't making a sound. He was convulsed and gasping for air. He turned dark red, then purple, and red again, before he made a sound. But what a sound. It was a howl punctuated with the braying of a jackass, deep coughs and wheezes, and the slaps of his hands on his thighs. When he was finally able to talk, he said, "Jeeze, Almighty damn, why don't we have a movin' pitcher cammer'?" He pulled his hanky from his pocket and wiped his eyes. Tears were streaming down his cheeks.

Commodore Bob turned toward us. The arrogance had been replaced with anger. He said, "Glad you're enjoying yourselves. Why don't you take Pops to the men's room. He's enjoyed himself a little too much." He jerked his head around to try to concentrate on the hog's predicament.

I looked at Charlie. He was laughing so hard he hadn't heard what the commodore said. I nudged Charlie several times until he quieted down enough to listen to me. "Let's go inside Charlie. You've wet your pants."

He looked at the wet stain on his trousers and burst out laughing again. As he roared, I saw the wet spot grow in size.

The commodore and his troupe were busy trying to rescue the hog and regain their dignity. While one group worked to remove the bent pipe, another began cleaning the hog again.

The commodore walked past us to the club. He was seething but silent.

When Charlie finally calmed down he said, "My rain pants are in the boat. Would you go get the old man's rubber pants so he can keep on pissin' and laughin'?"

"How could I refuse?" I went back to the boat and fetched Charlie's rubber drawers. When I returned, Charlie was in the clubhouse. He had taken a seat in the corner of the room. I gave him his pants and he went to the rest room, absorbing a barrage of remarks as he walked by the men at the bar.

When he returned, wearing the rain pants, he plopped into his chair. "I'm weak as hell from laughin'. I never been anywhere in my life where I lost my shorts and pants at one time. What a day."

He lit a cigarette and, blowing the smoke toward me, he said, "This is gettin' serious. Heard the boys at the bar say they sent out for some coke so's they can get a hot fire goin' in a hurry up in the barbecue pit. Some of the other boys have gone out for a stronger piece of pipe. They got a lot of company comin' tonight, and they don't wanna' look bad."

"I suppose you want to go up by the pit and watch?"

"I sure do. That old hog ain't through with these boys yet. An' if I had to make a bet right now on who's goin' to win, it'd be on the hog."

We walked out the back door and up the stone steps to the beer garden. We took seats as far out of the way as we could and still be able to see and hear everything.

An inferno was burning in a circular field-stone fireplace. Tall steel brackets were mounted inside the enclosure to hold the spit and hog when they arrived. Two men were heaving great chunks of wood into the blaze, and another was dropping pieces of coke into the center of the fire.

"They've got a fire hot enough to melt a boxcar, an' they're tryin' to get it hotter," Charlie said with a shake of his head. "Lord-a-Mighty, the devil don't have no fire that hot."

A while later, the commodore and his bedraggled band appeared on the rocky trail leading to the pit. The hog, now tied to what appeared to be a piece of heavy well pipe casing, had stopped its flopping around. It appeared to be well trussed to the piece of pipe. The men struggled up the steps with their burden, and began walking toward the fire. They quickly backed up, shying away from the intense heat.

"You've put too much wood on the fire," the commodore screamed. "Now, we've got to wait until it burns down. Someone go get that tarp out front. We'll put the pig on that."

"Can you hold 'er men until we get the tarp? Otherwise, we’ll have to clean the thing again," commodore Bob said. The sweating men nodded yes, and stood like good soldiers bearing the heat and the weight of the hog. In moments, a young man appeared with the tarp, spread it on the ground, and the men settled their load to the canvas.

"I'll buy everyone a beer," the commodore said jauntily.

All the men went inside, leaving us with the hog and the fire. The fire was like a blast furnace. It was getting so hot that the spit supports were glowing red. We were more than 20 feet away from the blaze, and we were sweating. The pig was less than 10 feet from the fire, and it was sweating too...not sweat...but lard. Fat had begun to ooze from the multiple knife nicks on the carcass.

We watched the hog and fire for a while, then I said, "If we don't leave soon, we'll have to go up river in the dark."

"Leave? Leave?" Charlie said in disbelief. "I'm gonna' see this through. I'll get us home. Quit worryin'."

I knew better than to argue. Besides, I was intrigued. I couldn't figure how they were going to turn that huge animal on the spit. I saw no crank for the piece of pipe, or any other mechanical apparatus to perform the task of rotating the animal.

One by one, the commodore's band reassembled. They were pretty well beer'd up by the time they returned. All of them had a beer in hand, and were laughing and joking. The commodore was a bit tipsy too. He was walking like a man on a rolling deck, but he wasn't going to leave anyone in doubt about who was in charge.

"Okay. Okay. We got to get things going here. The fire's about right. Might be a little hot, but that'll sear the hog and keep the juices in. By the time we rig up the pulley on the spit and put her on the posts, the fire will be just right."

Some of the crew went into the woods and began dragging back additional firewood. Another group settled down around one end of the spit. Into the hollow pipe they fit the collar of a pulley, and slipped a large bolt through pre-drilled holes to prevent the pulley from slipping. Another man came up the trail carrying a large electric motor he had mounted to a heavy plank. He had a large extension cord around his neck, and a sturdy looking power transmission belt.

Charlie looked at the men and the rigging and shook his head with wonderment. "I was puzzled about what they were gonna' do for power to turn that hog. The fat's in the fire."

Soon the motor was put in place outside the pit, near one of the spit supports, and the extension cord payed out to a power source. The crew of four men, two on either end of the pipe, settled the hog and pipe in the end bearings. The transmission belt was fit over the pulley on the spit, and the pulley on the motor.

Then, everyone moved back in order to watch the culmination of their efforts. Tiny drops of fat fell from the hog into the fire, flared up, then died out. On the commodore's command, the extension cord was plugged in. The torque of the big motor jerked the hog around in one, uneven revolution. The hog's motion stopped with it's back directly over the fire.

The V-belt began to slip, squeal, and smoke. There wasn't enough tension on the belt or enough power to rotate the bulk of the hog again. Meanwhile, what had been a trickle of fat running from the knife cuts had grown to a river, and flames grew higher and higher and did not burnout.

The V-belt caught fire. The electric motor began to belch blue-black smoke. Then, it arced with a flash of sparks and flames and blew up.

While the commodore and his crew were talking frantically, the hog continued to gush lard into the fire. The men were scurrying this way, then that. The fire very soon was so hot, none of them could get close. The pig was ablaze from snout to tail in a wall of flame. One man tried to beat out the flames, but the pole he used broke, and the broken pieces fed the fire a little more.

Then, one of the commodore's men emerged from the back door of the club with a fire extinguisher. Another man made his way toward the fire, pulling a garden hose which was spouting a small stream of water.

The commodore grabbed the man with the fire extinguisher. "You can's use that," he yelled. "It'll ruin the meat. Use the garden hose."

Water from the hose merely moved the spitting, cracking, flaming lard around, and failed to extinguish it. Motioning to the man with the fire extinguisher, the commodore and his cohort edged toward the holocaust. A cloud of white powder exploded toward the fire, and soon covered the barbecue pit and the blazing hog. The fire was knocked down in just a few seconds. A deep silence then fell on the area.

I looked at Charlie. He was wearing a somber expression. He refused to look at me.

The commodore was fidgeting. He had his thumbs hooked in his front pockets and was motioning with both hands, taking a few steps backward, then a few forward. "Can't we do something?" he bleated.

The men huddled around him. We saw a series of nods, and one man left the group. He returned with a huge pipe wrench on his shoulder. "Looka' here. This'll turn 'er," he proclaimed. He put the wrench on the pipe and managed to turn the hog three full revolutions. Then, the pipe snapped and the end supports, which had been heated cherry red, bent like pieces of licorice, and deposited the hog into the pit. The fire flared up again.

"Get the fire out. Get the hog out. Get the hog out of there, I mean, oh shit. Get it out. Damn. Damn. Damn." the commodore screamed.

A few more blasts from the fire extinguisher knocked the fire down again. Then, everyone drew close for a look. The hog was covered with a blackened paste of fire extinguisher powder, ashes, and burnt lard.

Charlie remained silent, although he did cast a few glances in my direction, which indicated he could not believe what he was seeing.

When the pipe was cool enough to handle, four men hoisted the pig from the pit and placed it on the canvas. "Let's scrub her up and build another fire," commodore Bob shouted. Part of the crew took buckets of water and rags and began to swab the hog once more. Another group cleaned out the pit and began to build another fire. This time, they used several bags of charcoal.

"We'll put the grill screen over the fire an' cut that baby up an' cook 'er in chunks, since we can't get the spit to work," commodore Bob announced.

Instantly, every man in the group produced a knife, and another assault on the porker began. After some effort, the huge head was hacked off and placed on a barrel. In a short time, the hog's thick hide and sinews had dulled all the knives.

Work stopped and another huddle took place. We saw another series of nods, and a young man left the group and went around the corner of the club. Every one got a fresh beer, and a few of the gang took long drinks from a bottle of whiskey. Soon, the young man returned beaming with pride. "I just got this today and I'm dyin' to try the little baby out. What could be better'n this?" He held up a brand new chainsaw for everyone to see. Some looked at him like a savior, but by now a core of skeptics had formed.

The chain saw snarled to life with a couple of tugs. Its handler stood next to the commodore for a few seconds, listening to instructions. Then, he walked over to the hog, which was being propped up by several of the men. The hog, now a sedate shade of gray with patches of black, was readied for its final torment.

As the youngster made his first cut, the tip of the saw threw a white stream of lard. As he continued cutting, that stream became darker and darker.

Over the sound of the saw, we could hear the commodore shouting, "Stop! Dammit! Stop!"

Puzzled, the young man killed the motor.

"Oh hell," the commodore cried. "That meat is ruined. We didn't know the saw had an automatic chain oiler. The meat is saturated with motor oil."

We decided to leave silently and unobtrusively. Charlie took the helm for the return trip. He navigated in the dark for the last three miles. When we tied up, he lit a cigarette and said, "Well, from what we've seen today, you'll always know why there'll never be a Navy Admiral come out of the Stone Valley Boat Club."

I laughed, then said, "Say, as we left the place did you happen to notice that old hog's head on the barrel?"

"Sure did. It was smiling wasn't it?"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Preston T. Tucker

The Car That Tucker Built

By Rick Johnson-Indianapolis Star Magazine, June 2, 1974

During September 1948, a caravan of cars and men slipped through the gate of a Southside Chicago plant by night and headed for Indianapolis.

Unlike many late-night Chicago forays, this time there were no violin cases cradling sub-machine guns, no pistols, knives or bombs, and no one was scheduled for a concrete over coat.

But there were aspects of that caravan more dangerous than deadly weapons…ideas. Revolutionary ideas…dreams and thoughts which went from a man’s mind first to a drawing board, then into dies, tools, machinery, and parts from which a prototype automobile were manufactured.

The cars were the product of the inventive mind of Preston T. Tucker.

(AP Photo)

The men included Tucker’s mechanical wizards Eddie Offutt and Gene Haustein.

The destination by dawn was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There, the Tucker automobiles were to be tested in secret under a pact worked out between Tucker and the Speedway President Wilbur Shaw. Tucker and Shaw were old racetrack cronies. Indianapolis, in fact, was home territory for the controversial Tucker.

In Indianapolis, Tucker had worked in the automobile business. At the Speedway, he had sponsored racing cars.

But the car, which interested Tucker on this September day, was one designed for the road. It bore his name…the Tucker. Since those days more than 25 years ago, the Tucker automobile has joined the legends of controversial history.

The luggage compartment is in front on the Tucker. (AP Photo)

Tucker, the man, who died in 1956, may be a forgotten figure. But his car is still with us in subtle ways. Many of the design factors he and his crew worked into the Tucker automobile, although considered revolutionary at the time, are a standard part of the highway today. Racecars which tour the Speedway today are, in a way, distant relatives of the racecars Tucker sponsored on the 2 ½ mile oval a quarter century ago.

But that day in 1948, Tucker was putting his passenger car on the Speedway track. His instructions, recalls Offutt, Tucker’s chief engineer who now lives in Missouri, were to make a 10-day to two-week endurance run, not a speed run, to test the car’s suspension system, oil consumption, general handling, safety and economy.

Offutt says results of the test were outstanding, but never were made public. No trace of the test results could be found in the records of the American Automobile Association (AAA), or the BF Goodrich Company, which had its first tubeless tires tested on the Tucker.

Regardless of the tests, Tucker and his car already were doomed. After long legal and economic struggles, Tucker lost his factory in Chicago, all the parts he had accumulated for building Tuckers and, with only slightly more than 50 Tucker automobiles on the road, his dream came to an end in 1950. The car that might have been is, instead, only a museum piece.

One of them returned recently to the Speedway track, which had been the secret Tucker highway in 1948.

Rick Johnson Photo

Rick Johnson Photo

Mario Andretti and Al Unser were household names in 1948…in their houses…and they were a long way from winning the 500-Mile Race.

Neither Al nor Mario ever saw a Tucker before April 2, 1974, when William Goodwin, owner of the Goodwin Museum in Frankfort, Ind., brought Tucker car No. 9 to the Speedway for them to drive.

Rick Johnson Photo

Immediately, the Tucker was surrounded by mechanics and drivers who were participating in the Firestone tire tests. They went over the car…top to bottom, inside and out.

Rick Johnson Photo

Rick Johnson Photo

Rick Johnson Photo

The first time out, Mario was at the wheel. Al and five other persons jumped in for a ride, and the Tucker took off. After a couple of laps, Mario returned and said, “It’s just fantastic. It rides great. In its day, it must have been something.”

Rick Johnson Photo

Rick Johnson Photo

Then, handing the keys to Al, Al made a couple of laps, driving considerably faster than Mario. Unser swerved the car back and forth across the track in the straights, and in the curves, was unable to make the car break away.

Rick Johnson Photo

Rick Johnson Photo

“I drove a lot of the 1940’s and 1950’s model cars,” Al said. “Not one of them showed me a thing like that Tucker did today. It had to be way ahead of anything of those days.”

Both drivers naturally had to take into account that the 335 cubic inch Tucker engine turns out only 166 horsepower, about half that of a modern engine, and about 1/8th of the horsepower churned out by the turbo-charged Offenhauser engines in their new Parnelli racecars.

But by 1948 standards, the 166 horsepower put the Tucker in a super-car category. It could go from zero to 60 miles an hour in 10 seconds, and could cruise effortlessly in the 85 to 90-miles-an-hour bracket.

“I believe the public would have bought these cars,” Mario said, and Al nodded in agreement.

Jimmy Caruthers checks out the Tucker. (Rick Johnson Photo)

Unser and Andretti know cars, and so does Eddie Offutt, a man now 75 years old, who worked with Harry Miller and Leo Goosen in developing the Miller engine, from which the basic design is embodied in the turbocharged “Offy” engine running today in racing cars.

Miller, highly imaginative and an innovator in engine design, was able to transfer his ideas to Goosen, who made the blueprints and handled the technical aspects, while Offutt was the man who brought it all into focus by building from the ideas.

“The Tucker was a great idea. If it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have stayed around,” Offutt said. “It had so much to offer then…great looks…different looks, but that was just part of it. We had torsimatic suspension…torsion bars mounted in rubber on all four wheels, and with the spring setup, the car rode and handled beautifully. It did not have shock absorbers.”

Eddie Offutt, chief engineer and test driver for the Tucker Corporation, examines the "cyclops" headlight. (Indianapolis Star Photo)

“The engine was in the rear. It was an opposed, six cylinder engine…mostly aluminum…very light, very durable, and an excellent performer. Later, we would have gone to an air cooled engine, but the cars we built had water cooled engines.”

Warren Rice checks out the Tucker's engine. (Indianapolis Star Photo)

“There was plenty of room inside the car. The front seat and the back seat were the same width, and comfortable. All of the instruments were clustered right in front of the driver. It had a padded dash, and a windshield that would pop out on impact. A heavy bulkhead protected the driver and those in the front seat. We called it a crash compartment.”

Eddie Offut in the driver's seat. (Indianapolis Star Photo)

The "crash chamber"
of the new Tucker is demonstrated at the Speedway by Gene Haustein, right, engineer in charge of mechanical development for Tucker Corporation, who has climbed into the chamber. At the wheel is Warren Rice, assistant vice-president and supervisor of tests. (Indianapolis Star Photo)

“The rear of the front seat was also padded to prevent injury to rear seat passengers. The gasoline tank was mounted in the center of the car, where it was protected by the frame from impact on all sides. The steering felt like it was power steering…quick and easy, because we came up with the idea that by placing the king pins in the vertical center of the wheels, it would eliminate problems conventional cars had. The steering box was well protected and mounted far back in the frame,” Offutt said.

“Most of the cars we built were fitted with vacuum electric-shifting Cord transmissions. But we had an automatic transmission ready to go. We would have had disc brakes as standard equipment also, before too long,” Offutt added.

“When we brought the cars to Indianapolis, Preston’s instructions were to give the suspension a good test, evaluate the general handling and economy, and not to go for a speed run. We knew that, driving at 50-55 miles an hour, we could get a consistent 20 miles per gallon. We kept one of the cars running, day and night, for nearly two weeks,” Offutt said, “and they piled up a minimum of 4,000 miles each. One car, I believe, topped 5,000 miles.”

“We ran them about 85 miles an hour…sometimes a little faster for short spurts, but we never did go all out for speed in that test. I’ll tell you…the suspension really got a test. The track was really rough then. The entire straightaway was all brick, and it wasn’t nearly as smooth anywhere as it is today. But not a single part of the suspension failed, and the only parts on the car that did fail were really minor,” he added.

The Tucker crew at Indy, 1948. (IMS)

Bob Cassady, now head of the Firestone racing division, was a part-time employee of the tire company in 1948 when the Tucker toured the 500-mile track.

“The Tucker crew was efficient and sharp. All of them knew their business, Cassady recalls, “and there was no foolishness. All of us who were working out there really gave those cars a look. They were so far ahead of anything else…ten years at least. I would like to have owned one,” Cassady said.

Offutt: “It was never my understanding that Preston was going after publicity in this (Indy) test, so the testing was done secretly. I thought it went swell. Well…almost.”

“One night, September 23, 1948, I was scheduled to drive on a run, and before I went out, I felt all the tires with my hand, and they felt fine to me. I must have missed a flat spot, because at about 5 a.m., I was going through the third turn, and I blew a tire. I had it pretty well under control, although I was up on the two right wheels. One of the doors popped open on the right side and dug into the track, and I flipped about three times.”

“The windshield popped out, just like it was supposed to, and all I got was a bruised knee. We changed the blown tire, and drove the car back to the pits. Right after the crash, we loaded up and went back to Chicago.”

With all of the information he had compiled, Offutt considered it odd that he was never called to testify during Tucker’s trial.

“The grand jury called me in,” Offutt recalled, “They didn’t ask me a lot of questions, but they did call me a ‘hot rod mechanic,’ and that really bothered me.”

“Of all the cars built in America then, we had the best piece of equipment. Of course, with any new car, we had some problems to work out, but we never got the chance. It was a big disappointment to me. When the trial was over, the plant was gone, and it was a pretty big mess.”

“Tucker, as a person, was an honest individual. He was a promoter and a super salesman type of guy, and he might have stretched the truth here and there, but I never had any dealings with him which were dishonest, and I had known him since he was a young man.”

Tucker automobile unveiled at ceremony in Chicago. (AP Photo)

“It wouldn’t do much good to name names,” Offutt said, “But I’ve got a good idea what happened (to the Tucker operation). There were all sorts of rumors about the car, but one fact got out which really shook the industry.”

“We could change the Tucker engine in less than 15 minutes, and that’s a fact. We could, and did, drive the Tucker into a garage, and in less than 15 minutes, drop the old engine, install a new one, and drive it away. I did it seven times myself, in less than 12 minutes. That one fact, I believe, caused us all the trouble with the big boys. With their cars, it was completely impossible to change engines in half a day. I believe, once they realized we had an engine we could change that quickly, they might have believed we had a car to go with it.”

“And we had a car to go with it,” Offutt said, “but I guess we were about 25 years ahead of our time.”

Offutt, aside from assisting with the Tucker test at Indianapolis, did most of the work in converting the air cooled Franklin aircraft engine, which powered most of America’s early helicopters, into a liquid cooled engine for the Tucker. The man who got that job was Offutt, who had worked on the basic design of the turbocharged “Offy” engines used in racing cars today.

Offutt, now 75, recalls those hectic days well.

Tucker had leased the huge Dodge plant on Cicero Avenue in Chicago from the War Assets Administration, subject to some provisions. Engines for B-29 aircraft had been built at the plant, which sat on 475 acres, and cost $170 million to build. It contained more than $30 million worth of tools and equipment.

Aerial view of Chicago Dodge/Tucker plant. (AP Photo)

While Tucker conducted a running battle to keep possession of the plant and to raise money to begin construction of his car, Offutt went to work on adapting the engine.

He performed the task in an amazing 45 days.

“They gave me three months to get the job done, and I had to start from scratch. We had to work out a proper camshaft configuration, and we had to put a water jacket on that air cooled engine block and heads. We just shoved up our sleeves and went to work.”

“Most of the engine was aluminum. I can remember we used Mrs. Tucker’s stove at Ypsilanti to heat the aluminum blocks so we could slip in the steel cylinder liners, which we packed in dry ice so they would shrink and make a tight fit. It was only 45 days after we went to work that we started the first engine,” Offutt said proudly. “It was a unique engine…smooth and superior to most of the engines around.”

“But I guess we were just 25 years ahead of our time,” he said.

One good way to find out about a car is to ask a man who owns one. Bill Goodwin, a Frankfort, Ind., mortician, owns the Goodwin Auto Museum there, and among his collection of Duesenbergs, Cords, and other cars, is a Tucker he calls “Goldie.”

Photo Courtesy Car Classics Magazine

Goodwin’s museum curator, Owen Moses, and Goodwin, each terms the car a classic, and a classic performer. Goodwin has owned the car since 1968. He owned two Tuckers at one time, but sold one to a man in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“It steers so easily, and is so comfortable. It rides very smoothly, and the braking is excellent. It is a roomy car, and there is no noise or vibration in the passenger compartment,” Goodwin said.

“It would still run 100 miles an hour, and do it in a hurry,” Moses said, “if you want to push it that fast.”

Goldie now has only 10,000 miles on the odometer, and about 4,000 miles have been racked up since Goodwin bought the car.

“In that time,” Moses said, “I’ve spent $3.50 for a spring on one of the suspension arms, and I’ve put in one set of points. The plugs haven’t been changed since we got the car.”

During the visit to Goodwin’s Museum, Moses said the Tucker had not been started for three months, but he would give it a try. After letting the electric fuel pump tick a few seconds, Moses turned the key. The battery was weak, but after a couple of growls, the engine started.

“Really,” Moses said, “Bill’s dual cowl phaeton Duesenberg is my baby…the number one car…but the Tucker rates right behind it, as far as I’m concerned.”

Goodwin also has a Tucker engine, which he recovered from a Tennessee junkyard. The engine was rebuilt by members of the Lebanon, Indiana, Junior High School shop class. The exterior parts of the engine were either polished, or chrome plated. The engine is now part of the museum display.

Rick Johnson Photo

“I believe the public would have bought the Tucker,” Goodwin said. “I was very interested in the car in 1948, but couldn’t get one. It has excellent design, and some great ideas. Really, there just aren’t too many cars around you can compare it to today,” Goodwin said.

In 1937, Preston Tucker was general manager of Bud Cott’s Packard auto agency near 12th and Meridian streets in Indianapolis. He lived in Williams Creek for a time, and then moved to a 20-acre farm just northwest of Noblesville on Ind. 38.

While recuperating from an appendectomy, Tucker conceived the idea for a high-speed military scout car with an unusual power-operated gun turret, which would give the vehicle a full field of fire.

Just before WW2, he built the scout car, which traveled 117 miles an hour. The military saw no use for a vehicle that fast, but they liked the gun turret, and later adapted it for use in various military aircraft.

Tucker's scout car. (Indianapolis Star Magazine Photo)

Tucker sponsored the Tucker Torpedo special in the 1946 500-Mile race. It was a rear engine creation built by Harry Miller. But driver George Barringer was forced out of the race by gear trouble. The car was one of several Miller built for the Gulf Oil Company.

IMS Photo

IMS Photo

Above color photos taken August, 2006, in the lobby of the IMS hotel. (Paul Johnson Photos)

The 1939 Indy 500 George Bailey-driven Miller looks to be the forerunner of the Tucker Torpedo. IMS Photo.

Another view of the 1939 Bailey/Miller. Life Magazine Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Tucker and Miller also once engineered a deal whereby Miller constructed several front drive racecars using a Ford V-8 engine. Tucker sold the idea to Edsel Ford. The cars were beautiful creations, and featured streamlining and independent suspension, but 16th place was the best driver Ted Horn could manage. Henry Ford killed the project. But one of the chassis later carried the famous Novi engine built by Bud Winfield.

IMS Photo

IMS Photo

Photo Courtesy

IMS Photo

So, Tucker was no stranger to the Speedway. He was friends with Wilbur Shaw, Eddie Rickenbacker, Ralph DePalma, and Gaston, Arthur, and Louis Chevrolet…the fabled brothers. He knew Ralph Hepburn and dozens of other garage area regulars. Of course, he knew Harry Miller, and through Miller, he met Miller’s protégé, Offutt. Tucker also met Haustein at Indianapolis.

The cast of characters was set, and Tucker had the idea for his dream car. Probably, he got some of his ideas from Harry Miller, a man Tucker admired. In 1943, just before he died, Miller said:

“The entire principle (of the pleasure automobile) ought to be changed. The engine should be in the rear to eliminate the long drive shaft, torque tubes, and miscellaneous rods under the body. It should be radically streamlined, have faster hydraulic brakes, and be lightened. We are definitely headed for a lighter car that will stop and start more readily. It takes considerable horsepower to start a heavy car. Lighter ones will be more economical and safer.”

By 1946, the Tucker Corporation was formed.

If you get a chance to examine a Tucker, you’ll be surprised. And the Tucker would have thrilled Ralph Nader.

It was equipped with turn signals…not unusual now, but in 1948, they were an accessory, and cost extra. With the engine in the rear, not only was much of the heat and the noise eliminated from the passenger compartment, but there was no hump on the floor because the car was driven through a four-speed transaxle bolted to the engine. Lights, front and rear, were mounted to be visible from the sides at night, another safety aspect now in vogue.

The Tucker’s instrument cluster was directly in front of the driver. No briar patch of knobs threatened front seat passenger in the event of a collision. The glove compartment was recessed in the right door.

The Tucker offered step-down design, a low center of gravity, and a wide track, which, coupled with its weight distribution, made the car extremely stable.

The Tucker bumpers, both front and rear, were made of heavy spring steel, and angled forward from the edges to the center of the car to deflect objects on impact.

Photo Courtesy Car Classics Magazine

Six people could sit in the car with comfort. The Tucker engine would lope at 1,800 rpm while the car ran 80 mph.

The electric shifting transmission would start easily with a little push, in case of trouble. The planned automatic transmission also would have started with a little shove, instead of having to be pushed 30-35 mph.

Another improvement planned was disc brakes. Lately, of course, disc brakes have become the rage. As far as anyone can say, the Tucker also offered the first sealed cooling system, a practice that is not uncommon now.

Photo Courtesy Mechanix Illustrated Magazine

Automotive writers such as Tom McCahill of Mechanix Illustrated, and Ken W. Purdy, checked out the Tucker’s features in 1948. Wrote McCahill:

“Tucker is building an automobile. And brother, it’s a real automobile. I want to go on record right here and now as saying that it is the most amazing American car I have seen to date; its performance is out of this world”

“I’ll really get out on a limb and say that if this car will stand up and prove reliable, it will make every other car made in America look like Harrigan’s hack with the wheels off.”

Purdy, automotive editor of True magazine, after examination of the Tucker, said the car should be rated with the Stutz, the Mercer, the Cord, and the Duesenberg. Purdy raved over the Tucker’s performance, and proclaimed it “the safest car ever built.”

In 1971, McCahill retested a Tucker, owned by William B. Hamlin, at Ontario, Calif. The car McCahill tested, according to Hamlin, had more than 200,000 miles on the odometer. Said McCahill:

“It will still do 0-to-60 in 10 seconds flat, and will zip by 100 mph as quickly as the car I drove years ago.”

“Though Preston Tucker and many of the original crew have long since passed on, they once built the most advanced automobile in the world, and somewhere, in Detroit, a group in villain suits with loaded pockets ran these cars into the ground. For shame,” McCahill concluded.

A detailed account of Tucker’s life was written by Charles T. Pearson titled The Indomitable Tin Goose.

Pearson was once employed in the Tucker publicity department, and was a close friend of Tucker. Pearson heaps blame for the failure of the Tucker Corporation on the Detroit automobile industry, politicians, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Pearson also says Tucker “shot some fast angles and cut some corners, but there wasn’t enough evidence to convince a jury that he was wantonly dishonest, or that he wasn’t sincere in trying to produce automobiles.”

According to Pearson’s book and various newspaper stories, here is a brief chronology of Tucker’s decline.

His lease for the Chicago plant from the War Assets Administration provided that he must have $15 million in capital by March 1, 1947, pay $500,000 rental a year for two years, and then pay $2.4 million a year, or 3% of the gross profits, whichever was greater.

Tucker sold $6 million in franchises. The SEC announced an investigation, although no stock had been sold. However, the firm announced that $20 million in stock would be offered as soon as a prototype of his car had been built, and the SEC approved.

Tucker and attorney C.N. Avgerin emerge from Judge Phillip Sullivan's court after pleading innocent to Federal charges of mail fraud, conspiracy, and SEC violations. (AP Photo)

Meanwhile, Tucker had to battle to keep his plant. Wilson Wyatt, former Louisville mayor and then head of the National Housing agency, attempted to turn the huge plant over to the Lustron Corporation, despite the agreement Tucker held.

The War Assets Administration moved the deadline to July 1, 1947, for Tucker to acquire $15 million, and he announced that 4 million shares would be sold at $5 each. The SEC viewed an accompanying advertising campaign as cause for stopping the stock offer pending investigation.

The SEC finally approved the stock, and War Assets Administration set a new deadline for November 1, 1947.

After a New York preview June 16, 1947, Tucker began a national tour with a prototype of his car. By September, with stock sales totaling $15,007,000, Tucker stopped selling stock and faced the rumor mill.

The chief rumor was that the Tucker car couldn’t back up. This was, unfortunately, true of the original “Tin Goose,” but not true of additional cars which were built. The first 20 or 30 cars off the Tucker line had revamped transmissions taken from Cord automobiles, according to Pearson.

On top of the rumors came parts problems. Unable to get bids accepted for steel plants, Tucker was forced to buy on the open market. In March 1948, he obtained a supply of engines for Offutt to redesign. The company began selling such things as luggage, radios, accessories, and seat covers for cars not yet built in an attempt to raise money.

The SEC objected, but promised to keep an investigation secret if Tucker would turn over the company books. Tucker said he would discuss it with his board of directors.

But columnist Drew Pearson announced the SEC investigation on his radio show, and the stock dropped to $3 a share overnight. Tucker laid off 1,600 workers and closed the plant. Within days, petitions hit Federal Court asking receivership for the Tucker Corporation.

Preston Tucker, right, and Kenneth Main, supervisor of the final assembly at the Tucker Corporation plant in Chicago, looking over a power plant for their rear-engine car after Tucker announced suspension of automobile production operations, pending completion of an investigation of the Tucker Corporation by the SEC. (AP Photo)

After a few weeks, Tucker rehired about 300 workers and tried to build some cars. He conducted the tests at the Speedway, and searched the country for financial help. Everybody turned him down, including the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, from which he sought $30 million.

On January 7, 1949, a Federal judge ordered the Tucker plant closed. On February 15, Otto Kerner, United States Attorney at Chicago, announced a Federal grand jury probe of the Tucker Corporation. (Kerner later served as governor of Illinois, was appointed judge of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, a few months ago, was convicted of conspiracy, mail fraud, and income tax evasion in connection with race track stock while he was governor.)

A line of Tucker automobiles outside the U.S. courthouse. (AP Photo)

Appearance in the press and on radio of material from a secret SEC investigation report on Tucker did nothing to help his corporation, and in May 1949, the firm’s assets were ordered sold.

On June 10, 1949, Tucker and seven aides were charged with mail fraud. And the same day his trial began, a judge ordered the plant itself returned to the War Assets Administration.

Tucker and attorney Frank McAdams arrive at Federal Court in Chicago. (AP Photo)

After a long trial, Tucker and his aides were found innocent January 22, 1950. The jury deliberated 28 hours. The cheers in the courtroom were hollow. The plant was gone, the corporation’s assets, which Pearson says amounted to $3 million in auto parts and materials alone, were being liquidated through trustees and attorneys.

Tucker and associates acquitted. Preston Tucker, fourth from right, head of ill-fated Tucker automobile firm, stands at Federal Court in Chicago Jan. 22 with seven of his associates after they were acquitted on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy, and accusations of Federal SEC violations in financial promotion of the corporation. Left to right: Mitchell W. Dulian, sales manager; Floyd D. Serf, underwriter who handled the Tucker stock offering; Harold Karsten, promotion; Fred Rockelman, executive vice-president; Tucker; Robert Pierce, treasurer; Otis Radford, a former treasurer, and Cliff Knoble, advertising manager.(AP Photo)

Tucker kissed by his wife Vera after acquittal. (AP Photo)

Investors and would-be dealers would get no return on their investment, and the public would not get the car.

An era ended without the world ever knowing who was really right…Tucker’s fans or his foes. Today, there remain people who believe Tucker was a scheming, glib, con artist who got what he deserved. And there are others who think he was a victim of big business and politics, because his ideas were so new and different they would have revolutionized the auto industry.

(AP Photo)