Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Triumph Motorcycle Story


 

                                                 The Triumph Motorcycle Story
                                                                       1956
                                                                 A true story
                                          Written 2010 and rewritten 04/2016 unedited
                                                              Howard Yasgar
  
      In 1956, I was 16 years old and had just received my Connecticut driver’s license.
      I had a phone call from my good friend Richard Andrade, who lived on Springside Avenue in New Haven. Richard and I were good friends, as we both hid in the back of the same home room number 12 when we attended Sheridan junior high school. When no one was looking, Richard and I would sneak into the library behind us, and get the National Geographic magazines that had pictures of all the naked Africans.
     Richard said that I should come over to his house right away to see a motorcycle he was thinking of buying. Richard’s home was on Springside Avenue and was built right next door to a lawn bowling court that the Italians called “Boche Ball”.  The Boche Ball court was owned by a private club and they had a big fenced in area where they had alleys to actually play the game. Outside the fenced in area, was a large gravel parking lot, at the end of which was a wooden shed about 10 foot square that  we assumed contained all their maintenance equipment and Boche Balls. The parking lot which started from right next to Richard’s house was about 400 feet long by 75 feet wide, and when the Boche ball people were not there during the week, Richard treated the parking lot as if it was part of his back yard.  
    When I arrived at Richard’s house, I saw Richard and his two brothers standing by a motorcycle. Knowing nothing about motorcycles myself, I was very curious, so I walked over to see what they were looking at. Well, I immediately recognized that there were right and left hand levers on the bike as they were very similar to the brake levers on what we called an English bicycle, and I had ridden them before.
    I watched as Richard got on the seat of the motorcycle, just like he knew what he was doing, and he hit the foot starter which was on the right side of the bike, and the engine roared to life, which was all very exciting but I could see that Richard really didn't know what to do next, so he turned the key and shut the motorcycle off.
    “The guy wants $500.00 for the motorcycle,” Richard said. So are you going to buy it, I asked him.
“Yes, I want to, but I don't have $500.00 right now.” Richard replied. “Why don't you buy it?” Richard said to me. I don't know how to ride a motorcycle, I replied.  “It's easy,” Richard said. “Triumph is an English company so it’s just like riding an English bicycle.” he said, “This rubber thing on the handle is the gas, this lever is the brake, and this one is the clutch, and it’s as simple as that, and this foot kick thing down here is the starter, and this one is the transmission which you operate with your right foot, other than that, it is like riding a bicycle.”  It was all a bit confusing, I wasn’t so sure which was the brake lever and which was the clutch lever, but I didn’t want to appear stupid. Richard got off the bike and I got on. He was right, it appeared to be very easy. My left foot held the bike balanced, and my right foot hit the starter lever just like Richard had done. As the engine started up, I released the clutch and the bike lurched forward, and everyone jumped out of the way.  In my panic to stop the motorcycle, I accidentally turned the handle with the fuel and the bike went forward even faster. I was petrified, I knew I had to watch my balance, and I was now going pretty damn fast right down the middle of the Boche Ball parking lot. I knew I had to remember which lever was for the brake and which one was the clutch. That’s when I looked up to see the wood shed at the end of the Boche ball parking lot, it was getting closer. It was then that I remembered which lever was the brake and I squeezed it, but it was the wrong one, it was the clutch.
       It was all over in a matter of seconds, the motorcycle at about 30 miles per hour proceeded through the wooden wall of the shed, with me on it. Fortunately the wall of the shed was built correctly, and the handlebars of the motorcycle hit the 2 by 4 wooden studs, and this stopped the motorcycle pretty fast, but it didn’t stop me.
       Had the two 2 x 4 wood studs not stopped the motorcycle, I would have crashed completely through the shed. I sat there dazed still sitting on the motorcycle. It seemed like an eternity, and it took a few minutes for the adrenalin in my body to recede back to normal, and for me to realize that I was still alive and I didn’t see any blood, Richard and his brothers ran up and stared at me as I tried to extract myself, from the motorcycle and from the wall of the shed. There were pieces of broken wood everywhere. I could see that the head light on the bike was broken and the headlight housing was all bent up. There was also a bent and twisted front fender, several dents in the gas tank and a bent front wheel.  The motorcycle was a mess. I was scared, I knew I must be hurt somewhere, but I was OK.
    “It looks like you just bought yourself a motorcycle.” Richard said, and that’s how a 16 year old boy that never rode a motorcycle before became the proud owner of an early 1950’s Triumph 650cc Bonneville motorcycle, even though it was all bent up like a pretzel. That evening, I brought the bike home in the trunk of my father’s 1952 Pontiac, The next day, as I stood the motorcycle up in front of my back yard garage, I studied the damage. It was pretty bad, but I knew that I could fix it up. I knew I was able to repair the bent headlight housing, and as far as the gas tank and the fender I had always wanted to learn how to do auto body work, so all the dents gave me a chance to try my skill.
     Richard said he heard about a shop in West Haven that specialized in Triumph Motorcycle parts, so we took a ride out there. When we got there, I could see the motorcycle shops owner wasn’t very excited about meeting us. He could tell we didn’t have any money. Especially when I asked for the price of a used front wheel and tire. He was a short wiry Italian guy about 50 years old and he wanted to sell me everything I needed brand new, but eventually he saw that fixing my Triumph up would probably take all the money I had, so when he finally realizing he couldn’t get rid of us, he eventually slowed down, and helped me find the used parts I needed. After several weeks, with his help finding used parts, I was able to put the motorcycle back together. When I was ready for paint, I knew about a guy who was doing body work in the barn behind his house in the town of Bethany. It was just up the road from me so I took the parts that needed painting up to him and he said he would paint everything in multiple coats of black lacquer for only $10.00.
    Once the parts were painted, I reassembled the bike and seeing as I was practicing pin striping, I set about pin striping the entire bike in red and white designs, and the bike came out beautiful. Father had brought home two pieces of stainless steel 2-1/2 inch diameter tubing, so I took off the dented original
Triumph mufflers and I welded the stainless tubing on in place of them. This made the bike more than twice as loud as it was before. As soon as I heard it, I was sure that everyone within several miles of my house knew I had a motorcycle, I was real sure of it when several of them started complaining to my parents. So that’s when I started walking the bike down the hill from my house to Whalley Avenue, before starting the bike up.
     The Triumph bike looked and sounded really powerful, so everywhere I went, guys wanted to race me. They thought that because that bike looked and sounded so hot, that it was fast, but unfortunately the bike wasn’t that fast, and I don’t think I ever won a race, it was really kind of embarrassing. So one day I asked the owner of the motorcycle shop about how I could make the bike faster. He showed me a bike he was working on and said he was building it for a customer to race. He told me I could bore the engine from 650 CC to 900 CC, and he said that I could install racing camshafts. He gave me a book that showed step by step how to soup the 650 CC Triumph engine up. Winter was coming, and I was earning money, so I decided to take the motorcycle apart and bring it down into our cellar where it was warm, and my dad had a nice workshop bench set up. So over the winter I did everything the Triumph dealer and the book told me to, and I souped up the engine on that 1950 Triumph motorcycle. It was a real accomplishment, considering that all the nuts and bolts were metric sizes, and I didn’t have even one metric wrench. Come spring time I enlisted my father’s help and we tried to walk the motorcycle up the cellar stairs. Well it wouldn’t fit, I had assembled the motorcycle never thinking we couldn’t get it up the cellar stairs, so eventually I disassembled it again, brought the pieces upstairs and reassembled it. I had always heard the joke about the fellow that had built a complete boat in his cellar with no way of getting it out, well I could see how it happened and it wasn’t a joke anymore.
     So here it was 1957 and I had spent every penny I had earned, but I felt it was all worth it as I now had a 900CC Triumph racing engine.   
     That week I took the bike to the parking lot at Jimmy’s hot dog restaurant in West Haven. That was where everyone that had a fast car or motorcycle hung out. That evening, there appeared to be a couple of fellows that had brand new Harley Davidson motorcycles. The bikes were about the size of my Triumph, not the big heavy Harley motorcycles I was used to always seeing. They said it was a new model motorcycle called a Harley Sportster. Well that evening I raced one of Harley Davidson’s new sportsters and I think it was twice as fast as my Triumph, so that evening, I knew that my Triumph motorcycle racing days were over before I had even started.
     So to avoid the embarrassment of losing any more races I started riding the rural back roads of Woodbridge and Bethany, Connecticut. Those were the days when you hardly ever saw another car or motorcycle on those perfectly paved country roads.  Because the Triumph motorcycle had a knob in front that allowed you to tighten the steering up, it made it easy to ride the motorcycle with no hands on the handlebars, and not only that, but I found that the motorcycle could be guided by simply leaning to one side or another. I had never thought that I would be riding a motorcycle for miles with no hands on the handle bars, but here I was doing it, and when that started to get boring I started standing up on the motorcycle seat. I did it just as I had seen it done in the circus and on television. I never gave it a thought as to what would happen if I hit a bump and fell off.
     One evening, I decided to take a ride to Jimmies Restaurant in West Haven, and I did. At about 11 in the evening on the way home from Jimmies, it began pouring rain very hard. I was riding behind a two tone brown 1954 Chevrolet loaded with a bunch of girls, in the back seat. I saw two of the girls were looking at me riding in the rain behind them. We were still in West Haven, heading towards New Haven and we were going about 40 miles per hour when, suddenly the 1954 Chevrolet slammed on the brakes for no apparent reason. I was perhaps 75 feet behind them, and when I applied the brakes on the motorcycle, it didn’t stop. The road was too slick because of the rain. I was wearing motorcycle boots, and as the motorcycle skidded out from under me, it fell to the left, I pushed the ground with my left boot and righted the bike, but it was already out of control and the bike fell to the right. so I hit the ground with my right boot. But the motorcycle was now spinning around wildly. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a big plate glass window of an auto agency. And there was an alley about four foot wide next to it. I knew I was going through the plate glass window. They say that when you are about to die, your whole life flashes before you, and at that very moment I saw myself in a clean hospital bed all taped up with casts on my arms and legs. The motorcycle was now spinning out of control and it was still pouring rain, and the last thing I remember was seeing my reflection in the plate glass window.
    Don’t ask me what happened next, because I don’t know. But I was in the alley, the bike was laying down underneath me and I was still holding the handlebars, both the left and right handle bar had been ground down about an inch. The motorcycle was still running, and it had completely stopped raining. So here I was straddling the bike, and besides from shaking like a leaf, I appeared to be alright, no blood, no broken bones, so I lifted the bike up and I could see how narrow the alley was, I couldn’t imagine how the spinning motorcycle fit in there.
    I drove back onto the street and headed towards New Haven. As I got to the intersection of Derby Avenue and Forest Road, the 1954 brown two tone Chevrolet was sitting there waiting for a red light. When they saw me coming, I saw them locking their car doors. They must have thought I was going to kill them. They knew that I knew they had slammed on the brakes just for the fun of it. They didn’t know it I wouldn’t have the strength to kill them even if I wanted to.
     This near catastrophic accident got me to thinking about just how dangerous motorcycles could be. I was lucky I survived the crash into the Boche ball shed, and I wasn’t hurt. Then I had survived this spinning crash into the alley without a scratch.
    Well, it was several months later, when I was doing general maintenance on the motorcycle in my back yard. I had lubricated all the areas that needed grease and I had loosened the big knob that tightened the steering. I had loosened it with all the intensions of re-tightening the knob after lubricating the steering shaft, but I forgot to tighten it, don’t ask why. I then took the motorcycle for a test ride around the block. I drove down the street in front of my house and took a left turn. I intended to make another left turn at the next corner. I could see a milkman’s Divco truck coming towards me. In those days the Divco trucks were popular as the folding doors remained open and the driver stood up while driving, this allowed the driver to stop, jump out and make a delivery. Since there was plenty of time for me to make my left hand turn before the Divco milk truck would be at the intersection, so I sped up to about 40 miles per hour, and sharply turned my handlebars to the left. Because I hadn’t tightened the steering knob, the handlebars turned in to the left and the front tire did the same, and the Motorcycle completely flipped over. I don’t exactly know what happened. I was laying on the ground, completely entangled with the motorcycle, but I didn’t feel any pain. The Divco milk truck pulled up next to me. The milkman looked down at me and said, “Are you alright”. I said, I don’t know, as I tried extracting myself. The Milkman said, “I never saw anything like that, you completely did a flip in the air, are you sure you are alright.  
    I wasn’t hurt, burned or anything, so I stood the bike up, and walked it the rest of the way home. I put it in front of the house with a sign $600.00, and I never rode a motorcycle again.
 

The Tommy and I, Junk Yard Story



                                                The Tommy and I, Junk Yard Story
                                                                       1961
                                              Written 4/2013 and Rewritten 1/4/2016    
                                                                 Howard Yasgar

      By 1961, Tommy Letis and I had been good friends for more than two years.
      I had met Tommy in 1959, when hanging out in the back row of the parking lot of Jimmy’s restaurant at Savin Rock, in West Haven Connecticut.
      In 1958 my father, with all good intentions, had ordered a new 1959 Chevrolet automobile. My mother and father wanted me to have reliable transportation when I went off to college.
      It was a funny situation, as once my dad and I sat down in the car salesman’s office, and he started to show my father all the options that were going to be available in 1959, we somehow ended up with a beautiful black 1959 Chevrolet convertible with a red interior. Not only was the car  beautiful but it had a special Corvette, four speed manual transmission, a 348 cubic inch engine with three carburetors and a nonslip “positraction” rear end. It was a factory made hot rod, it was sort of an experimental muscle car made by Chevrolet.
      So once I had that new beautiful convertible, I started hanging out at the back row of Jimmy’s Restaurant. Jimmy’s was the “In” place for kids to hang out, especially if you had a neat car.  
      Hanging out at Jimmy’s became a pretty big social event, with everyone in the back rows of the lot talking to each other.
      On many evenings, a shiny black 1956 Ford pickup truck would show up. The truck went up and down the rows of parked cars, revving its engine and making its front end lift up. That was something you rarely saw back in 1959.
      The rumor was, that the truck had a secret high power engine and the hood had a lock on it, so no one could see it. The rumor was also circulating that the black pickup truck had never lost a race, and it was driving around Jimmy’s looking for competition. No one knew who owned the truck or who was driving it.
       I didn’t know it at the time but the owner of the truck, was a fellow named Tommy Letis, and we were later to become the best of friends. (See the Tommy Letis pickup truck story).
       It all started one summer evening, when I was parked in the back row of Jimmy’s parking lot. The top of my convertible was down and I was sitting in the passenger seat.
       That’s when I noticed a fellow standing by the driver’s side door looking my car over.
       He was about five foot six inches tall, with sandy blond hair and a friendly cherubic face, and he was twirling a stubby little cigar in his mouth.
       He took the cigar from his mouth and said, with a big grin, “How does it go?” She goes OK, I replied.
       He said, “I had heard that Chevrolet was producing these factory hot rod cars, but I never really saw one until now, he said”.
       Now, to this day, I don’t know why I did it, but I asked him if he wanted to try the car out. I had never said that to anyone before, but that’s how I met Tommy Letis.
       Tommy then introduced himself, got in the car and we took it for a spin. When we returned to Jimmy’s I asked Tommy what he was driving. He said, “I drive a pickup truck and he pointed to the black shiny 1956 Ford pickup he had parked across the street in the shadows”. From that point on in 1959, we became the best of friends.           
       I was working part time evenings at a Gulf gas station located on Derby Avenue in New Haven, Tommy would come to the station and visit with me until closing.  He was always driving the 1956 Ford pick up truck.
      When I had time off, I would drive out to Tommy's house in East Haven. He lived on Hunt Lane in the town of Foxon, which at the time was a very unpopulated semi-rural area.
      Right from the first, I thought Tommy was pretty amazing, we were similar in age but Tommy already had his own dump truck business and he was making money.
      Tommy lived with his parents, on a piece of property where his dad long ago had an egg business, the chicken coops were now starting to fall apart, but there was a big barn that Tommy was using to park the 1956 Ford pickup truck and also to work on his dump truck.
      I loved going to Tommy’s house, his mother and father treated me like a family member. Tommy’s grandfather who also lived with them, was an old time German craftsman, he not only maintained the property but grew strawberries and I saw how made sleds by boiling and bending wood, so when I wasn’t talking or helping Tommy work on his truck, I was watching his grandfather. For me it was a novelty, because compared to Tommy, I was a city boy.
      As time went on, Tommy and I found that we got along well, and we did things together, we both enjoyed automotive stuff, and most of all I admired the fact that Tommy was running his own trucking business at such a young age.  Tommy had financial independence something that I didn’t yet have.
       I also liked Tommy because compared to me he was a maverick, he didn't take any crap from anyone, and because of his financial independence, it allowed him to do whatever he wanted to do.
      One day I went with him to the local Ford agency, and I watched him negotiate for a brand new ten wheeler truck. He spent twenty six thousand dollars, which was more money than I had ever heard of anyone spending. Having Tommy as a friend added a whole new dimension to my rather dull student life. In the evenings he would drive that black pickup around looking for someone to race.  I always rode shotgun with Tommy and from that passenger seat I watched him win the races, I always waved good bye to the competitor out of the trucks side window.  
      We started going everywhere together, I thought Tommy was loads of fun and full of surprises. Sometimes Tommy would like to create a ruckus for no real reason, other than to cause some excitement. He always put on a tough guy persona but he was a real soft and easy guy. He carried a roll of money in his pocket, with a hundred dollar bill on the outside. He probably still carries it.
      Every night hanging around with Tommy a real adventure.
      One time we were all at some ones party in a big restaurant where all the people were drinking liquor. Tommy who rarely drank alcohol, stood up on a chair, yelling over the din of the party and he said, I’ll give $100.00 for a glass of milk. He was possibly the only guy I knew that had $100.00 in his pocket.
       In his town of Foxon, Tommy was well known, by everyone including the police. He successfully created himself into a character that always kept the area wise from Wooster Street at a distance. The wise guys were never quite sure if he was really as tough as he acted.  
       Whenever I drove to Tommy's home, I had to drive down route 80 which was also called Middletown Avenue, and at the time, Middletown Avenue was zoned industrial. It was where many of New Haven’s automobile junk yards were located.
       I had worked part time for Milford Auto Wrecking Company in 1958 and 1959 while I went to college, so I thought I had gotten a pretty good education about the running of a automobile junk yard.
       Tommy, on the other hand had been buying junk cars and trucks on and off for years, and he had cut many of them up for scrap metal behind the family barn. So Tommy also thought he knew a bit about making money by junking cars.
       One evening, Tommy said that he heard a rumor that a small automotive junk yard, on Middletown Avenue was for sale.
       Tommy said that he thought the wrecking yard was owned by a local fellow named Carfora, and he thought Carfora’s two sons were running it. We were both very curious so we got in my car and drove down to Middletown Avenue to take a look at the Carfora’s wrecking yard.
      We quickly found it, the Carfora junk yard was located on a small strip of land, about two hundred feet wide and perhaps five hundred feet deep. The wrecking yards front gates were set back about seventy five feet from Middletown Avenue, allowing a lot of room for customer parking. The entire yard was fenced in, except the rear which looked like a salt water marsh.
      We drove up to the front gate and saw that there was a small wooden office to the right as you went into the yard.
      As we walked into the yard, I looked across highway 80 behind me and saw Pete’s, it’s an old time diner where Tommy and I often went to eat at night, how convenient that would be.
      As we entered the wrecking yard, there were about thirty or forty cars there, but it didn't appear as if they were doing much business. Standing on the steps to the small wooden office stood the two Carfora brothers, I think they thought we were customers coming to buy some auto parts.
      One of the brothers was short and hefty, and the other tall and lanky, and both were wearing greasy unwashed coveralls. They reminded me of the two comic book characters “Mutt and Jeff”.
      Tommy told them he heard that the yard was for sale, “Yes, they said, the wrecking yard was for sale, but we had to talk to their father who actually owned it, and he would be there on Saturday.”
      It was pretty obvious to us looking at them, that these two brothers desperately wanted to get out of that place. I could see that their heart just wasn’t in running a wrecking yard business.
      Tommy said that he thought the elder Carfora was making plenty of money in his job of hauling fuel oil and had probably bought the junk yard so his two sons would have something to do.
      So on next Saturday, Tommy and I returned to find the elder Carfora waiting for us at the yard, he had his big oil tanker truck parked right across the highway, next to Pete’s Diner.
       As Tommy had guessed, Mr. Carfora said he had bought the junk yard for his two sons, but they wanted to do something different now, and that was his reason for selling the wrecking yard. He told us that he wanted $35,000.00 in cash, for everything, which included both the business, and the property.
      “Tommy asked if he would take a down payment, and a note for the balance, and the elder Carfora said he would consider any valid proposition.” So upon hearing that, we told him we were very interested, and we would get back with him as soon as we discussed it.  
       It was Tommy's opinion that Carfora was earning plenty as an oil tanker driver, and he didn't think he needed the money, which was probably a good bargaining point for us and a good reason we probably wouldn’t need all the entire $35,000.00 up front, which we didn’t have anyway.
       So we both decided we would offer Carfora a down payment of $5,000.00 and the balance to be paid over a five year period. Both Tommy and I felt sure that with the experience we had, and the fact that we were both hard workers, there was no reason we couldn’t make money running the place.
       Tommy thought he would continue with his dump truck business and work at the yard in the afternoon, and on weekends, and I could run the yard during the day. Thus the idea to buy the junk yard sounded like a good thing to us.  
       Tommy’s plan was that in the afternoon we could load up his dump truck with all our scrap iron, and he would haul it to the local scrap metal yard, and sell it for cash, and also Tommy said he knew a good attorney for us to discuss everything with.
       The next day we went to see Tommy's attorney, who listened to our whole story, and our plans, he suggested that before we made a deal, we should do what was called “Due Diligence”, and research the property, to make sure Carfora was on the up and up. The attorney said he wanted to find out if Carfora really owned the property.
       So, we immediately went back to the Carfora's wrecking yard and told them that we would buy the place, but our attorney needed to check everything out, and he would draw up a contract as soon as possible.
       The elder Carfora said he knew our attorney very well, and he said he liked him, so everything was OK.
      Now that we were going to buy their wrecking yard, the two Carfora boys became very friendly to us, and Tommy and I saw that they were not doing anything every day, other than sitting in the little office. So the next day I suggested that they let us start operating our business on the empty left side and in the rear of the wrecking yard, I thought it was a good idea that we could start working while we were waiting for our attorney to get back with us.
       All we needed was for the Carfora's to let us borrow a couple of sets of their “Junk Dealer” license plates, so we could start buying and hauling in cars into the yard,  They said that they had no objections to lending us the license plates, so this opened the door for us to get started buying cars to scrap.
       That afternoon, Tommy and I went to several of the other wrecking yards on Middletown Ave to look for some kind of truck we could use to haul the cars in with. Luck was with us, because in one of the larger wrecking yards, we found what I think was probably the weirdest truck I had ever seen in my life. It was a 1948 cab over Coca Cola delivery truck that someone had built with a hand crank winch on the back. The old truck was painted original Coca Cola yellow, and to get to the engine, you had to unlatch the whole cab and tilt it forward, I know that I had never seen anything quite like it.
       The winch on the back was an antique piece of equipment from the 1920’s, but it actually worked perfectly by manually turning a hand crank.  I think the last time the truck had been used was in the 1940’s.          
      From my experience when I was hauling cars for Milford Auto Wrecking, I knew exactly what needed to be done to make this old truck work as a tow truck for us. So we bought it for $150.00 cash. It had no valid registration, or any papers. We got it running and then drove the truck, with no license plates, next to the barn at Tommy's house on Hunt Lane. That’s where Tommy had a trailer mounted Hobart welding machine sitting.
       I scrounged around Tommy’s scrap metal pile until I found all the parts I would need to weld up a towing rig on the back of our antique tow truck.
       I found pieces of chain and an old worn out torque rod that Tommy had removed from one of his dump trucks, and using Tommy's torch and his Hobart electric welding machine, we cut and welded what I thought was the most beautiful and ingenious towing rig, then we mounted it on the rear of our antique Coca Cola towing truck.
      When it was completed, I was very proud of our accomplishment, even Tommy was surprised at how good it came out. You could see that it was a homemade rig for sure, but it would work to tow cars perfectly.
      Tommy and I, were now very excited to go out and see if we could buy some junk cars.
      Early the next morning, we started driving around the back country roads looking for old cars that were sitting in people’s back yards. We already had calculated how much money a junk car would bring us in scrap, also we already knew how much the other junk yards were paying, so we came up with a price of fifteen dollars that we could pay for cars, providing the car was complete. We also knew that our buying price was three dollars more than the other wrecking yards in New Haven were paying at the time.
       Buying cars became great fun for us, we found that many of the houses in the country side had at least one old car sitting in their back yards.
       As we drove up country roads, Tommy and I spotted the old cars, and we would stop, ring the doorbell, and buy them for fifteen dollars apiece.
       Everyone we spoke to was happy to get the junk out of their yard, and in retrospect, I think a lot of the people would have given us the cars for free just to get rid of them.
      We kept a pad on the car seat to keep track of all the cars we were buying, and I think by that by early that afternoon we had bought four or five cars.
      At that point, we got to thinking and realized that we had new problems to deal with. There was no way I personally would have the time to go out and tow in five cars, and to run a wrecking yard, not only did we need the cars to be towed in, but then the cars needed to be disassembled, and their chassis cut into three foot pieces.
       There was a lot of work that needed to be done, the cars tires, battery and radiator, needed to be removed, before the cars were turned on their side so the engine and transmission could be cut out, and saved. It was just too much work for me to do alone, and there just were not enough hours in the day to do it all, so Tommy gave it some thought.
       First he said that he said he knew a good torch man, he was a guy who could cut the cars up for us, and he thought he remembered where the guy lived, somewhere in a bad neighborhood in New Haven. Also Tommy said he had a good friend, named Bobby Allen, and Bobby Allen had a young brother in law named Butch. Butch Tommy said, was a real ladies man, but he was strong as an ox, and he was also among the unemployed, so Tommy thought he could get Butch to tow in the cars for us.
       That night we went on a mission, we drove to a pretty bad neighborhood in New Haven, looking for the torch man that Tommy knew, and after a few wrong guesses, Tommy found the guys house and he was home, and had nothing to do, so we sat at the fellow’s kitchen table and laid out the deal.
      I would flip the cars on their sides and pay the torch man two dollars per car to come and cut up all the steel. We didn’t have to ask him twice, not only would he take the job but he had his own torch, and was ready to come to work anytime we called him.
       Later that same evening, Tommy called to tell me that his friend Bobby Allen had contacted his brother in law Butch, and Butch would come to the yard early the next morning and start towing in the cars that we had already bought.
       True to his word, the next morning, I met Butch, he was just as Tommy described, a handsome, solidly built guy, and best of all, Butch, really wanted the job of towing the cars.
       We showed Butch how the antique winch worked and gave him the pad with the addresses of the cars to be picked up. Tommy and I had already calculated that Butch could tow in about six cars a day which would cost us one dollar and fifty cents each. But after the first car, we saw that Butch wasn't happy, he said it was too little money, so we upped the price to two dollars a car, and Butch was delighted.
       The Carfora brothers stood by their little office, their arms folded in front of them, watching as Butch started towing in the first cars, I think it was more activity than they had ever seen in the yard before.
       We cleaned up the left side and rear of the yard, so we could start lining our cars up to be taken apart. I think what Tommy and I planned on doing was going to be revolutionary for the wrecking business in New Haven. We were aggressively going out and buying cars to scrap. No one in New Haven had ever done that. Before.
       So late every other afternoon, Tommy and I, began our ritual of driving the back roads and buying cars, Butch kept towing them in, and after three or four days the torch man showed up and started cutting up the cars for us.
       There was only one large buyer of scrap steel in New Haven, it was Michael Schiavone and sons, and fortunately they were not too far away from us. Tommy could make a round trip with his truck loaded with steel in about an hour.
       Once we started cutting up cars, we realized we had another major problem that we were going to have to face, how were we going to get rid of all the car’s bodies.
        If we hauled it to Schiavone’s, they would only pay us three dollars and fifty cents each, and it hardly paid for Tommy to take the time to haul one or two there. If we burned the body first, they would pay us  over six dollars each, but it was illegal for us to burn cars in the yard.
        We knew that we needed to get rid of the car bodies, or they would end up consuming all our working space in the yard.
       Tommy said, the only solution was, we needed a flat bodied truck capable of hauling one or two bodies at a time to the scrap metal yard, and I agreed with him.
        I had seen a discarded truck flatbed lying in the back of the scrap yard near the swamp.
        Sure enough, I went to look and it was in perfect condition, someone had cut it off of a truck and just left it at the edge of the swamp.
       We asked the Carfora Brothers, and they said they didn't know who owned it, so if we needed it we should take it, but we didn’t have a truck to mount the flat bed on.
        Again Tommy came up with an idea.
        He said, I know a black guy that has the garbage contract for East Haven, and he probably has all kinds of used old garbage trucks for sale. So off we went to see the garbage man.
       The garbage man’s house was out in the country on what looked to be a farm, as we approached, I could see about ten used trucks in various conditions all lined up on one side of the property. All of the old trucks appeared to have come from the Swift Meat Packing Company that was in New Haven.
       The owner of the trucks, who was Tommy’s friend, was a big roly poly black guy that weighed near four hundred pounds, his wife was the same.  He greeted Tommy like an old friend, but the stink of the garbage on his property was so bad it would almost knock you over, but the stink didn't appear to bother the garbage man or his wife.
       Tommy explained what we needed, and the garbage man said all of his Swift Company trucks ran good, and we could pick which ever one we wanted. The trucks were exactly what we needed.
        I climbed in the passenger side of a 1952 Ford truck that looked in fairly good condition. The big garbage man climbed into the driver’s seat to start it while Tommy looked at the trucks engine and hooked up a battery.
        I watched as the big garbage man attempted to lift himself into the driver seat, but suddenly he had a funny expression on his face like he had forgotten something, and he backed down to the ground and unzipped his pants to take a leak. When I glanced down at him, I got scared as I thought he had a big cat in his hand, but it was just him taking a pee.
      We bought the truck, and we paid two hundred twenty five dollars for it, and just as Tommy had predicted, the flat bed body we found, fit on the truck like a champ and we were now able to haul the unburned car bodies to the scrap yard.
       About a week had passed and the torch man had showed up right on time and started cutting our cars up. Then late in the afternoon Tommy would back his ten wheeler dump truck into the yard. And he and I would load it with the iron from the chassis. The Carfora’s let us use their pole winch truck, and I would wrap the cable from the pole truck around a pile of steel chassis pieces making a bundle. Then I would use the pole truck to lift the bundle into the back of Tommy’s truck, where he untied it.
       So now every few days, we would fill Tommy’s dump truck with steel, and he would haul it to the scrap yard and the cash started rolling in.
       As we cut each car, we saved the tires, batteries, radiators and any engines and transmissions that we thought might be sold. Our hopes were that someone off the street would come in and buy some used parts. But if no customers came, we would sell all the used tires to dealers for one dollar each, and the cars batteries were also sold for scrap for one dollar each, I thought we had a good system going. We cleaned all the cars copper radiators and sold them for three dollars each. Then we loaded Tommy’s truck with old engines and transmissions to all be sold as scrap iron. It was a lot of hard work but our system began to function like a well oiled machine.
      Tommy and I were still buying cars, Butch was hauling them in, and the torch man was cutting them up every day. The Carfora's were in utter amazement at what we were doing, but we noticed that they appeared to be acting too nice to us, and we suspected something was wrong.
      Every few days the Elder Carfora would stop by, parking his tanker truck across the highway next to Pete’s diner, he wanted to know if we had heard from our Attorney, he wanted us to hurry up and give him some money and sign the papers.
      One day as we were cutting up a row of cars, I noticed quite a few strangers stopping by at the gate and watching us. I tried to make believe that I didn't notice them, but I knew who they were. They were all our competing auto wreckers from Middletown Avenue. They didn’t like the idea that we were cutting up cars on a production line. They thought we were taking a lot of business from them. In only our first two weeks they felt that we were processing cars that belonged to them.
       By the third week, we realized that we had a big problem, we had been piling up the unburned car bodies in the rear of the yard, and I never had time to haul them to the scrap yard. It just didn’t pay to take an hour to haul an unburned body for a little over three dollars, it just wasn’t worth my time.
       Pretty soon, we saw the pile of car bodies was getting pretty big, and taking up a lot of room, we had about fifty car bodies piled up.
       One evening as we were getting ready to leave the yard, both Tommy and I looked at each other as we had the same idea, at the same time.
       Before we left we lit some matches, and we threw them, along with Tommy’s lit cigar into one of the unburned cars bodies.
        That evening, Tommy called me and said that he thought he had heard the sirens of the fire trucks, on Middletown Avenue.
        In the morning, when I arrived, I wasn't surprised to see all the car bodies, burned perfectly, and I could see the fire engines had been there. I was just thinking that now I could haul all the burned car bodies to the scrap yard for over six dollars each, but my joy was short lived.
        The Fire Chief, in his official red car drove by the front gate of the wrecking yard, and he called me over.  He said, “The next time you guys light a fire like this, you are both going to jail, and make sure you tell that to your fucking buddy Letis too.” I acted dumb, but he knew we had lit the fire. Then Tommy came by and said he heard a rumor that all the other wrecking yards were pissed off at us, and they had a meeting regarding what to do about us hurting their businesses. I told Tommy I had seen them all watching me from our front gate.
       It appears that in less than thirty days, Tommy and I were becoming infamous, we had upset the whole Junk yard industry as well as the Fire Department.
      Then Tommy said he received a call from our Attorney and we needed to go by for a meeting. The attorney said he had done a search on the property and found that a new turnpike was to be built right through Carfora’s wrecking yard. The property had all been condemned and Carfora knew it. After the new highway was done the Carfora wrecking yard, would only be forty feet long. He said Carforas property was worthless, and the junk yard license would also be worthless.
       He said the Carfora's knew this all the time, as they had they had already received notification from the state that the property was going to be condemned.
       When we told the elder Carfora that the property was going to be condemned, he acted like it was all news to him. He said he never heard about the new turnpike.
       Thus came to a conclusion the Tommy Junk Yard Story.
       I joined the Army Reserves, and left for Fort Dix New Jersey, and Tommy got married and he said he used the flatbed truck we had made to haul his little bulldozer.     

 

 

 

 

 

    

    

   

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