Lou, Thomas, and Chris' Return Visit

The COVID thing really messed with traditions, regular visits, and get-togethers.  Things are still not quite back to normal which is irritating.  But we are all making progress.

My best example was a return visit by Thomas and Chris Payne and their Bonneville Racing legend buddy, Lou Bingham.  This happy three-some have visited Nan and I here in Carlsbad multiple times -- virtually every time they are in the San Diego area.  Every visit is pure joy.

And joy was on the the agenda in April when they stopped by for an afternoon visit.

Our first order of business was to check out the new Corvettes in Cary's garage.  Thomas, Chris, and Lou were already aware that Nan (finally) got her C8 Stingray convertible in October, followed 17 days later by her C8 Z06.  None of the three had ever had a ride in the C8 Z06 -- so we cured that issue immediately.  

 

Everyone took turns making a quick spin around Carlsbad in NAN'S Z06.

Next, we needed to check out the recently-repaired COKE machine in the garage.  


Nan served up pizza and salad and we spent our time catching up on everything since their last visit in 2018. 

Conversation flows easily when people have so many things in common.  We talked about the home and garage back in Philo, Illinois, discussed updates on all the cars, recounted the happenings in the Garage Journal, shared their travels to Bonneville and other car events, and, most importantly, the status of the famous "World Traveling Copy of Beltsville Shell"!

Lou told us about a scary incident when they were driving back from Bonneville recently as they were  side-swiped by a reckless driver on the Interstate in Lou's new truck.  Thankfully the damage was repairable and no no one was injured!  We all appreciated the reminder that, in an instant, your life's plans can be permanently disrupted.

Lou brought his laptop and we began looking at his classic photos of his Bonneville escapades from years ago.The part that I enjoyed the most was the retelling the story and photos of Lou securing his "Rookie" SCTA driver license at Bonneville in 2019. Here is the way Thomas tells the story:

Attached are some pictures from Lou's qualifying run for his rookie license in 2019 at age 87 years old in the car that he originally built in 1961. The first 3 pictures,  #4834-4869 are Lou demonstrating to race officials he can climb out of the car by himself in full race gear in case of an emergency. 



The pictures below show us  waiting at the starting line, and strapping Lou into the car prior to his rookie run. 

 




In the photo below, we see on the far right, Jill Iverson- chief starter at Bonneville, holding Lou on the line until the race course is clear, 5 miles of clean salt. 

 

The two photos below show us recovering the car down the course after his successful run. Rookies have to hold speeds under 125 mph for their licensing rookie runs and successfully deploy the parachute which Lou did correctly. 



The image below is just after his licensing run showing Lou's Fun Meter is peg at full MAX and the last picture is putting the car away after his licensing run. Thus, Lou Bingham, at age 87 became the oldest racer to earn his rookie license at Bonneville and the first to do it in a car he had originally constructed in 1961 and had set several speed records through the years with an eventual top speed in excess of 185 mph.



 Thank you, Thomas, Chris, and Lou, for sharing this classic story and these wonderful photos!

Nan and I look forward to your next visit, and the day that we can cruise up your driveway in Philo Illinois!

Cary & Nan


100th Anniversary of Dad's birth

Today, April 22, 2024, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Clinton Eaton Thomas, Jr.

"We" is me, my sister Barbara, and my two brothers, Wayne, and Pat, his four children.  "We" also includes, of course, all of Dad's friends and family.

The second of ten children, and the oldest boy, Dad was the son of Clinton Eaton Thomas Senior and Mary Louise (Seal) Thomas. 

 

He was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but most of his life he was raised in the suburbs of Washington DC along with three brothers (Jimmy, Tommy, and Charlie) and six sisters (Mary Louise, Marguerite, Matilda, Penelope, Susan, and Sarah).  Early in his life the family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, made possible by his father's successful photography business.


To his siblings, Dad was known as "Junior".  To his nieces and nephews, he was "Uncle Junior".  To his friends and co-workers, he was "Tommy".  He was never "Clinton" or "Clint".

As more children arrived, and jobs evaporated during the Great Depression, the family encountered difficult times.  Things got so bad that, in his teen years, Dad helped support the family by working odd jobs before and after school.

Dad joined the United States Marine Corps on November 13, 1942, at the age of 18 and went immediately into active service in WWII.  He served in the 4th Marine division, fighting in some of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific Theater -- including the islands of Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.  

 

In Maui, Hawai'i, he attended training to drive the amphibious landing craft.  After that, his principal assignment was using the "Ducks" to shuttle soldiers from the Navy ships to shore. He once told me that he felt that he was the main target of the enemy because he was delivering serious trouble for them, and they wanted to take him out first. 

The horror that the Marines endured in those days is well chronicled in print and film.  Hand-to-hand combat with an enemy that had years to prepare for an assault, and who refused to surrender, posed an enormous challenge.  On Iwo Jima alone, American casualties mounted to 6,821 killed and 19,207 wounded against Japanese casualties of well over 20,000 killed and only 1,083 prisoners taken.

Dad rose to the rank of Corporal and was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on October 25, 1945 -- after serving just 19 days short of three years, and about three months after the Atomic Bombings on Japan. 

Six days later, Dad was back at home in Riverdale, Maryland attending a Halloween party.


During our youth, Dad didn't talk to us very much about his negative experiences as a Marine, but his pride in having served his country as a member of the Corps was always evident.  One of his favorite memories was shared more than once as he talked fondly about how they were known as the "Maui Marines", due to their time at the Maui Amphibious Training Center in Kama`ole. 

While Dad was at war, his sister Marguerite was employed in a factory producing machine gun parts for US bombers.  She met a nice woman from South Carolina, Helen Ruth Brakefield.  They became best friends.


It wasn't long before Marguerite introduced her brother to her friend, and a lasting romance quickly formed.   


 Soon, Tommy and Helen decided to get married.  They remained husband and wife their entire lives.

Dad and Mom lived a traditional post-war life -- before long, four children arrived to fill one of the mass-produced 1950's homes in suburban Maryland.  


Economics and family obligations made it impossible for Dad to take advantage of the "GI Bill" to secure a higher education degree or skilled training in one of the trades.  Lacking these advantages, Dad's career was relegated to lower-paying jobs.  To make ends meet, he frequently worked a part-time job to supplement his full-time pay.  I don't remember Dad taking a single day of sick leave his entire life.

He found his calling working as a clerk in food stores, mostly for A&P.  He was a stock clerk for a time as well as working the  frozen food aisle, but his favorite assignment was in the produce department.  He was popular with fellow employees and was good natured about his station in life in his union job.

 

In December 1952 another hurdle was thrown Dad's way.  On December 6, 1952, Dad was driving his 1938 Hudson westbound on Greenbelt Road through a cold, rainy night.  As he approached Rhode Island Avenue, he changed lanes from the left lane to the right, preparing to turn right to go to our house in College Park. Unfortunately, the right lane was, at that instant, occupied by the 1941 Chevy being driven by Albert Myers of Greenbelt, Maryland. The cars collided destroying both.  Because Dad's car came to rest on its right side, the Fire and Rescue guys had to cut a hole in the top of Dad's car to get him out of the twisted wreckage. Dad was taken to Leland Memorial Hospital.  I remember that one of our Aunt's had to come take care of us kids for a few days while Mom attended to Dad.  It is a miracle that he wasn't killed, but he lost partial sight in his right eye.  He would suffer from double vision for the remainder of his life. Although Dad must have driven past the scene of that crash a million times -- he never, ever, mentioned it.

There wasn't much time or money for hobbies or vacations.  Dad was able to find joy in his favorite TV shows and relax at home.  He loved driving through the Government Farms in Beltsville on Sunday afternoons and stopping at the University of Maryland Dairy for ice cream. He enjoyed the West Virginia and Virginia countryside, and in his 50's the family owned a weekend cabin in the Massanutten area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 


 Dad was a "MOPAR" man.  The first car I remember (after the Hudson), was a 1952 Dodge with the fluid drive clutch.  It was a 2-door. I would stand up on the floor in the back seat behind Dad to watch him drive.  The shifting of gears was a mystery to me.

 


His next car was a classic 1957 Dodge with the push-button automatic transmission, huge fins, and spinner hubcaps.  This is the car that Barbara and I used to get our driver's licenses.   


The Dodge was followed by a 1962 Plymouth Fury (sorry no photo) -- which was my favorite of his cars.  For the longest time he couldn't bring himself to buy a Japanese car, but late in his life he finally bought a Toyota Camry, and he loved it.

There are many stories that could be told about happy times with Dad.  My brother, Pat, and I, both pilots, took Dad up in small airplanes.  Dad's first flight with Pat, shortly after Pat got his pilot's license, was humorous.  Pat taxied out to the run up area at the College Park Airport, and, as trained, methodically went through the printed check list in the Pilot's logbook.  Dad watched quietly and then announced, "If you need to read the manual to fly this thing, I want to get out!"  The flight went fine. Pat shared with me the best flight of all -- when they flew in the summer to Annapolis to get a bushel of Maryland Crabs, then flew home to eat them!  When I moved to San Diego in 1989, Dad flew with me over Camp Pendleton and Oceanside, places he remembered from long ago.


Three associations brought Dad pride and joy: the USMC; his favorite NFL team -- the Washington Redskins; and his Union -- the Retail Clerks; in that order! 

Dad helped support his Mom throughout her life.  When she passed, there was a Thomas family reunion. It was the only occasion when I had seen all my Thomas aunts and uncles at the same time.

 


Tension between fathers and sons is not uncommon. I would be less than truthful if I failed to say that Dad and I didn't have the best relationship in my teen and college years. In 1976, in my early twenties, I moved to California -- a major life event for both of us.  That fall, following a tragedy experienced by a USC friend, I had an epiphany regarding all that my Dad had endured, leading me to send a hand-written letter to him.  I told him how much I appreciated all that he had done for his mother and siblings, and our family. I let him know that his perseverance in overcoming many obstacles was an inspiration to me.  

That letter changed our relationship for the better.  In the next few years, we enjoyed some of the best times of our lives.  One memorable trip included flying Dad and Mom to California, and then I joined them for a trip to Maui.  Dad had saved a few post cards he collected during the war years, each of which had a scene of the Maui countryside.  During our trip we had great fun driving all around the island in search of the places depicted on the post cards -- and in a few cases we discovered them!  We took "before" and "after" photos with Dad and Mom posing for the shot. Best of all, we visited "Camp Maui" near the town of Ha`ikÅ« on the slopes of Haleakalā.  Here we found plaques and a monument commemorating the 4th Marine Division -- I marveled at how much this "homecoming" meant to him.


My connections in the college sports world yielded another special time for Dad. In the 1980's it was impossible to secure tickets to a Redskins game unless you had been a long-time season ticket holder.  The waiting list for tickets was measured in decades.  Even new congressional representatives couldn't get a seat.  Dad had never been to a Redskins game. I was desperate to get him a ticket even if it was on the top row of the end zone. My desperation was triggered by Dad's diagnosis of, and treatment for, lung cancer. A business colleague at Notre Dame University was close friends with a former NFL player, Bob Bowser.  Bob had been an assistant coach for the Chicago Bears from 1975 - 1977 and then the special assistant to the head coach for the Redskins from 1979 to 1980. My Notre Dame contact introduced me to Bob, who lived not far from my parents. I told Bob that "money was no object" if he could help me get a ticket, anywhere in the stadium, for my Dad.  Bob asked for my parents' address and told me that he would take care of it. Not long after, I received a phone call from Dad telling me that Bob had driven to the house and delivered to him two seats on the 50 yard line for the next Redskins game.  Dad was euphoric and took a close buddy to the game. Each year after that, Bob would call the house to let my parents know that he would be delivering two (fabulous) tickets for a home game.  My Mom would bake a cake in anticipation of his visit. Bob never let me pay him a dime.  Dad felt very special watching his beloved Redskins in the stadium.

Dad's cancer surgery gave him five more years, and he put each day to good use with family, friends, and especially his grandchildren.  Those were my best years with him too.  I last saw him in January 1991 during a business trip to Washington DC. The cancer had returned and he was frail and weak.  As I flew back to California, I had a premonition that I had seen my Dad for the very last time.

Finally, on May 21, 1991, less than a month after his 67th birthday, cancer had done what three years of war in the Pacific could not -- taken the life of this humble man.

A Marine color guard provided a beautiful and fitting send off to Dad, and he was buried at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Maryland. His grave site is near that of his sister, Susie, brother, Charlie, Mother, Louise,  and, later, his wife, Helen.

Years later, as Mom was going through old photos and memorabilia, she came across my hand-written letter from 1976, and she mailed it to me.  Dad had saved it for 15 years.  I still have it in my dresser drawer, 33 years more.

Two close friends, Larry Barnes, and Carm Finocchiaro, both Marines, and my wife, Nan, have worked together to help me track down and discover more about my Dad's service.  The National Personnel Records Center of the National Archives informed me that Dad earned the following awards:

The World War II Victory Medal


The American Campaign Medal

 


The Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal w/4 bronze stars

 

and the Presidential Unit Commendation Ribbon


My brother, Wayne, offered a tribute to Dad in his hometown of Hampstead, Maryland on a recent Memorial Day, making all of us proud.

We hope that those who knew and loved Dad will think back on his legacy today, the 100th anniversary of his birth, with affection and appreciation.

Love,

Barbara, Cary, Wayne and Pat

April 22, 2024

20th Anniversary of Beltsville Shell

I began writing Beltsville Shell: You Are What You Drive on November 30, 2000 as I wrote a eulogy to my childhood friend, Mike Tanguay, who I had discovered had passed away without my knowledge one year earlier.

 


 

“I Remember Tanguay”, a two-page memory, grew over the next three years to become a 196 page memoir.  After 42 revisions, the final book text was completed on September 29, 2003, and sent off to Nyenensch Printers in San Diego for its first printing.

Looking back now, twenty years and three printings later, I marvel at how old friendships were nourished, new friendships fostered, and memorable adventures experienced.

The first Beltsville Shell Reunion, held on March 9, 2002, was my first face-to-face meeting with seven people who worked at the Shell Station, or were helping me to develop material for the book. 

"Big" Frank Porto, Cary, Sonny Boteler, John Bradley, Nace DeLauter, Frank Bollinger, Jim Noll

After I distributed the Tanguay remembrance, many people encouraged me to put down in writing all the crazy stories that I and my friends had told about those times at the Shell Station on Route 1 in Beltsville. The nearly three-year slog to get everything right was arduous, and I got discouraged from time to time.  But support and encouragement came from many people.  First among them would be my wife, Nan, who read drafts, made excellent suggestions, questioned decisions, and afforded me time and space for writing.  Sonny Boteler, John Bradley, Ralph Bull, Nace DeLauter, and Bonnie Hontz provided photos, corrected text when my memory was faulty, and reconnected me to friends I lost touch with when I moved from Maryland to California in 1976.  In the same way, my Mom, Helen, my brothers, Wayne and Pat, and my sister, Barbara, were very helpful.  Everyone who heard about the project embraced it and help was always readily at hand.

In addition to trips to Maryland for research and inspiration, I took trips to Florida and Alabama.  In Florida, Darryl Richards enthusiastically read an early draft and made many contributions.  Chief among them was Darryl’s impromptu phone call to his friend T Quill, who made the all-important connection to Sharon Cox, the woman who secured for me my first ride in a Corvette at the age of 15 – one of the most important events of the book which lacked some important facts that only Sharon could provide.  A trip to Alabama, to reconnect with Jeff Hughes, proved to be equally rich in providing history and photos.

Once the book was published, it needed a website, and my dear friend, Vivian Black, met the need with aplomb.  As the interest in the book grew, and book reviews and testimonials arrived, Vivian was always there to give the book a sparkling, growing web presence by adding content.

I thought that once the publication was behind us, not much would follow.  But I became enthused to understand that publication was just the beginning.  Long-distance friends became closer by virtue of the Internet, email communications, and the increasingly popular Beltsville Shell Reunions.  As word spread about the book, complete strangers would write to me, many of whom shared their similar experiences in their hometowns to those that we had at Beltsville Shell. 

A few “strangers” have become dear friends. 

Bill Goodwin, who was raised not far from Beltsville, in Montgomery County, heard about the book from a friend of John Bradley, Al Beck.  After getting a copy of the book, Bill decided that he wanted to meet the characters in it and asked me about arranging a rendezvous.  Since I was in California, Nace agreed to interview Bill to be sure he was worthy.  Their meeting over a few adult beverages spawned a close friendship.  Bill, and his wife, Mary Jane, have attended many reunions, and they have visited us in California on multiple occasions. 

Another friendship fostered by the book was sparked by neighbors Linda and Wayne Cowie.  Linda shared news about the book with one of her flying partners, a United Airlines pilot named Thomas Payne.  Thomas is internationally famous for his “Garage Journal” postings and his restoration of a 1930’s auto shop in Philo, Illinois.  Thomas loved both the concept of the book, and its stories.  Through Linda and Wayne, he and his wife Chris, reached out to Nan and me and we have become close friends.  That friendship led to Thomas introducing us to the legendary Lou Bingham, Bonneville Land Speed record-holder.  Thomas, Chris, and Lou have visited with us many times. 

Even more impactful, Thomas and his Garage Journal buddies hatched the idea of having one copy of Beltsville Shell passed from one reader to the next, with each reader autographing the inside covers and passing it on to the next person waiting in line.  Here is how Thomas describes the Brotherhood of the Traveling Book:

“Hello again Cary! Here's some statistics and information regarding The Brotherhood of the Traveling Beltsville Shell Book from the Garage Journal Gang.

The most widely traveled copy of Beltsville Shell has the following numbers to its' credit. It traveled to 3 Continents; North America - 3 tours, Australia/ New Zealand - 2 tours, Europe/UK/Scandinavia - 1 tour. In total it was in 9 different countries. In all its North American tours it was in 19 different states and 3 Canadian provinces and read by a total of 66 different individuals who signed it and then passed it on.

 In the attached picture are some of the mementos that were sent along with the book from various readers, a map showing the Australian tour, a real London Metropolitan Police badge sent by a London Bobby, a 13 mm wrench, said to be the most widely used size in Europe, and a slip cover for the book made from NOS Sabb seat material. Because of all the readers signing the book, I had 6 additional blank, inside cover pages added professionally to the book to provide more space for the signings. As a side note, early on the book was lost in New Zealand for 6 months and presumed lost for good until it miraculously showed up in a complete strangers mail box in NZ. They didn't know anything about the book but read and signed it like others had before them and then passed it on to 3 other readers in NZ who did the same before being mailed back to the USA.

I have now officially retired it and keep it in the Restored 1930's Auto Shop for visitors to see if they wish. I agree with you, it must be the single most widely read and traveled copy in existence. I consider it priceless!!”


Through Thomas’ friendship, scores of copies of Beltsville Shell have been purchased.  Here is my favorite edition of the Garage Journal posts:

Garage Journal Post 

Back in Maryland, new friendships have been fostered with “friends of friends” – Jim Ziepolt, Dave Bratton, Scott Thompson, Tick Mangum, Anne McFarlane, and many others.  Closer to home, the book enabled me to connect to so many fantastic people here in San Diego: Don and Shirley Kingery, Bob Rabourn, Dan Schrokosch, among others.

The Adventures

The energy sparked by the publication of the book resulted in a few great adventures!

Corvettes at Carlisle 2003

The first adventure was attending the “Corvettes at Carlisle” in 2003 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  I flew back to Maryland for a rendezvous with Nace DeLauter, Sonny Boteler, and Tom and Bonnie Hontz.


The next day John Bradley, Sonny Boteler, and my brother, Wayne, joined me as we caravaned to Carlisle, Pennsylvania for the massive Corvette show there. 

 

 

John brought his Corvette and entered it into the judging. 


The rest of us toured the grounds marveling at the acres of Corvettes, from old to new.  This year was very special – it was the 50th anniversary of the production of the 1st Corvettes in 1953 and more than 50 of these 1st year cars were on display. 


Jay Leno Tour 2005

Due to the popularity of the book, Nan surprised me with admission to the “2005 Jay Leno Tour” sponsored by the National Corvette Museum.  A small group of NCM members toured “the garages of LA” including Dick Gulstrand’s shop, So Cal Speed Shop, Bruce Myer’s Beverly Hills home and collection, and The Peterson Automobile Museum.  The crowning event was a visit to the Jay Leno Show . . .


. . . followed by a personal tour of “Jay’s Garage” -- here is Jay showing off his Z06!


Dover NASCAR Track Day 2006

Bill Goodwin arranged for a fantastic weekend through his connection with Sonny Krum, of Dover Speedway fame.  Sonny treated us to a package of an on-track experience at the Dover NASCAR track.  Joining Bill for the event were Nace DeLauter, Sonny Boteler, and me.




Bonneville Speedweek 2016

Perhaps the most thrilling event triggered by the book was to participate in Bonneville Speed Week in 2016 as the guests of Lou Bingham and Thomas Payne.  The multi-day event was described in this post:

 Bonneville 2016

Lou, Thomas, and Cary waiting for the time trials to begin

Don, Thomas, and Lou at sunrise in Bonneville

Don and Thomas checking out a speedster

Thomas and Cary at the starting line

 

Final Expressions of Gratitude

There is great danger in naming the people to be thanked for any activity – and I’m worried here that I will have overlooked anyone who was instrumental in the success of the book over the past 20 years.  But I will take that risk by expressing my additional thanks to . . . .

Debbie Degeyter, of Shell Oil, for going to bat for me and securing the rights from Shell Centre in London, England, to use the Shell pectin logo on the book;


 

Theresa Cox (no relation to Sharon Cox) for artistic support and the “map” in the book;

Julie Wilde for the cover artwork; and

Vladimir Medvinsky for the second and third printing runs of the book.

We thank everyone who had a part in these wonderful twenty years!  Here’s to twenty more!

Cary & Nan