Attending Washington High School in Brainerd, Minnesota, my hot rod friends and I used several streets that made good drag racing places. In fact, the street in front of the high school was one of them. The mandatory “Start” location was a fire hydrant near the physics classroom, where several of us hot rodders were in instructor Frank Moulton’s early afternoon fifth hour class. Mr. Moulton was mild-mannered and knew how to bring the principles of physics into our young minds. We were interested in physics as we thought we might gain some knowledge on how to make our cars go faster. Exactly one quarter mile and approximately fifty miles an hour later down Oak Street, the main doors of First Lutheran Church served as the “Finish” spot.
Several of my speedster friends were high school dropouts, but they knew what time some of us hot rodders were in Physics class. One afternoon Sonny Johnson’s 1936 Ford stopped outside our class room, its engine roaring with Sonny’s foot on the gas pedal. Then he “popped” his clutch and the Ford’s rear tires squealed loudly and his car leaped forward. Some of us boys in class immediately laughed in appreciation. And Mr. Moulton turned the street fracas outside into a physics lesson on effects of friction of a car’s rubber tires on concrete.
A few blocks away on Sixth Street that also served as a State highway, another quarter mile drag site featured a curb marked surreptitiously with black paint that happened to be in front of Minnesota Highway Patrolman Earl Saign’s house. Earl was our nemesis. Most highway patrol officers would stop a speeder if they saw one, and depending on various somewhat subjective circumstances, issue a “warning” ticket or a speeding citation. But Earl Saign, we thought, was “out to get us.” We were wary driving near his house. He drove an “unmarked” patrol car with no lettering or markings that would indicate its status. During summers, he put brightly colored beach toys in the ledge against the rear window.
We hot rodders paid little attention to Brainerd police. On one hand we admitted to our hot rod friends we feared Earl. But we also admitted to each other that Earl made our above-the-speed-limit driving more exciting. Also, even our fathers acknowledged they were careful driving on city streets that were state highways where Earl patrolled. My Aunt Margaret, a fervent Catholic involved in many church activities, tended to have a slightly heavy foot on the gas pedal. My dad saw her car pulled over by Earl Saign on Oak Street, and really enjoyed teasing her about it.
Officer Saign became a legend. We heard he occasionally signed up for extra patrol shifts. We sort of joked that he still had his first book of warning tickets issued to him when he first joined the patrol twenty-five years ago. Someone claimed they saw his patrol car sliding completely sideways on an icy winter downtown Brainerd street during a pursuit.
Where we could, we’d drive on Brainerd streets side by side in quarter mile drag races. We sometimes drove into sparse areas of Brainerd neighborhoods during Winter where cars were parked in rear yards and streets had continuous snow banks. That allowed us to speed around corners so we lost control of our cars that swerved against the snow banks and softly bounced back into the middle of the streets so we could crank our steering wheels while hitting the gas pedal to swerve out of control again.
During high school times, I drove my 1932 Ford, in which I installed a 1952 Ford V-8 engine, slightly over the speed limit most of the time. Now I drive a Mini Cooper, which has far less horsepower, but from time to time I keep my high school driving habits.
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