Chapter 12

Good Samaritan in North Carolina


OUR OLD Plymouth car would not bring more than $50 if V.isold, but there were still a lot of good miles in the old girl yet. Why not start out with her one more time? Removing the rear seat so we could pack in an almost wicked load of filming props and paraphernalia, including an American flag as big as a bed sheet, along with an enormous flagpole to match, we set out from California to Long Island, New York, to do some additional filming on Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass.


All went well. Long Island gave us good weather. And our faithful, weighed-down little Plymouth weathered the abuse we were giving her. Ready to head back home, Helen suggested: "We haven't seen our friend Clarice down in South Carolina for several years. Why not go home that way?"


We did. Or at least we started to. Near Wilson, North Carolina, an explosion under the little Plymouth's hood shook us and every film prop in the car. Instantly I put in the clutch. We were right at a highway exit; we coasted to a service station which was luckily there. A mechanic assessed our problem. "I can get the needed parts in Wilson, if I hurry. It's Saturday. Things will soon be closed. The whole thing shouldn't run more than a hundred dollars."


"I don't want parts," was my answer. "I want to sell the car. Maybe you'd like it. You can fix it up at your leisure."


He wasn't ready to buy that idea—or the car. "You can take time to think it over," I suggested, "if you can just drive us to a motel—if there's one close by."


There was. Next day he took us back to his service station and to our car. "I've thought it over. I'll give you $150 for it," he told us.


I can compliment myself on not showing shell shock, but my reply was casual. "If you can drive us to the railway station, I guess it's a deal," I said.


"I can pay half of it down," came his reply. "I'll take you to the station. I can send you the rest next month."


It took the three of us ten minutes to transfer that wicked load from our Plymouth to his station wagon. For the first time since leaving California, we realized that the back seat had been left at home, to make more room for our load. "Let's make the price $125, instead of $150," I suggested, when the missing rear seat became obvious. "You can just send us an additional $50."


Helen and I gave up any idea of ever getting that extra $50; the $75 he had already paid us was more than we could have hoped for.


The train was on time at Wilson. But it was a bit late pulling out. It took Helen and me—with the service station owner's help—a full five minutes to load our gear. Luckily almost the entire baggage rack along one whole side of the car where we found seats was empty. Empty before our arrival. Almost every foot of it was filled by the time our load, including the flag and flagpole, was deposited. A passenger watched it all then let out a smothered exclamation which we could not help hearing. "My God! Now I've seen everything."


At Washington, D.C. our train pulled right up to the platform from which, just a few feet away, we were soon able to load onto a train for Chicago. There, our luck left us. It took two taxis, and a couple of porters at both ends of the trip, to get us from one railway station to the other, where our train would be leaving for California. Back home at last, I said to Helen: "That's one trip I'd just as soon forget."


It was not to be. About two months later, a reminder came our way. It came through the mail—a $50 check from that Good Samaritan back in North Carolina.


I spent an hour trying to give proper wording to a letter of thanks.

There is a postscript to this episode. Friends to whom we have related the story have often marveled at the fact that, with a car whose engine had rebelled, we were able to coast right into a service station. We would have marveled too, but for the strange fact that something similar to that had been our luck on three other occasions. Twice, near our home, when we ran out of gas on the freeway, we were right near an exit and coasted to service stations. There was a third time; again an exit was right there at hand and we coasted off the freeway. This time, no service station. In fact, we were still on the off ramp when the car stopped coasting.


It was night. A car pulled up behind us. Could it be a cop? I wondered.


"Out of gas?" came a voice. I responded in the affirmative to the man who walked up beside our car.


"I've got a gallon canful in my truck. I was just taking it to another car out of gas. You can have it. I'll go get another gallon for them."


That was many years ago. Thankful as we were for these almost miraculous circumstances on all these different occasions—especially the last one—we swore we would never in the future test fate again, at least so far as an empty tank is concerned. Never since have we ever run out of gas.