Luck versus Auto Accidents
With Some Scrapes & Escapes

Essay by
Wilfred R. Franson
October 1999


I call it Luck: in the years of driving since I bought a 1927 Chevrolet in 1930, I have never run over anyone and have never hit another car. But Luck takes a vacation sometimes, and I have had my share of automobile accidents.

1932 Ford: Columbia River Gorge 1938

On a greasy wet road in Oregon in 1938 I lost control of my 1932 Ford convertible and went over the edge of the road, onto the steep slope toward the Sandy River. Fortunately the car stopped sliding sideways and I slowly went over the edge facing forward, and just in time a tree stopped my slide. (I have respected trees ever since that day.)

I unzipped the convertible's back curtain, crawled over the rumble seat lid and bumper, and stood on the road, feeling very nervous and shaky. A truck driver stopped and asked me if anybody was hurt. I told him I was okay. He looked at the rear of the Ford and offered to jerk it back onto the road. He fastened a rope to the rear axle and easily pulled the little Ford back onto the pavement. I offered him a dollar, which he refused, and he told me to check the oil and everything before trying to drive the car. The old Ford had leaked several kinds of fluids while it stood on end, but after a quick check, I thanked the truck driver and drove the mile back to my service station, where I sat down and spent some time trying to absorb such an event. The boy I had left in charge of the station looked the Ford over and said the only damage was a bent front bumper. Not a scratch on the paint anywhere.

1932 Packard: Seattle & Olympia 1941-1942

The 1932 Packard (a "small" straight-8 cylinder model) I drove in Washington State in 1941 and 1942 attracted accidents. During the Christmas season in 1941 I was driving to downtown Seattle when a drunk in a 1936 Plymouth wandered across the street and clipped me in the left rear fender. He lost control and rolled over. A witness looked into the Plymouth to see if the driver was hurt, and came back to say the driver was not hurt, but was profane and very drunk.

When the police came they checked the skid marks and determined that I was in my lane and the Plymouth was on the wrong side of the street. I looked the Packard over, pried the left rear fender away from the tire, put the spare on, and was ready to go.

Olympia, Washington was not a happy place for my old Packard. I rented a room there to be close to my temporary job for Boeing at McChord Field, and the street where I lived curved gently. Some people did not expect the curve.

One night I was awakened by my landlady, who said the police were looking at my car. To my surprise the Packard was on the lawn, up against a tree. The police officer evidently thought I had put it there, but I was able to show evidence that a car had hit it hard. Broken glass from one of my taillights and from another car's headlight was all the evidence needed to convince the officer that I was the victim, not the perpetrator. I learned later that the police were able to identify the make and model of the other car (a Pontiac) and a bulletin to repair shops located the owner. I never heard from anybody about the incident.

1955 Plymouth: San Diego 1961

My worst accident was in San Diego in 1961, a sunny, dry Saturday. I was in a line of several cars waiting for a traffic signal. A Chevrolet truck ran into the back of my "Sea-Spray Green" 1955 Plymouth sedan, which was pushed into an Oldsmobile in front, which itself was pushed into another car. My Plymouth looked like an accordion, smashed at both ends.

I got out, went into a store and called the police. There was a pool of gasoline in the street so I warned some smokers away from the area. I didn't know that I was hurt, and when a civilian accident detective came I told him what had happened. He didn't believe I was not hurt, and insisted on driving me home. Before we left I took a long look at the car and called his attention to the gas tank, which was lying in the street. He said the fire department had been called. The car was a total wreck and obviously would never run again. The rear had been hit hard enough to punch the tire jack out of the side of the trunk. But all doors opened when I tried them and there was no broken glass. Chrysler engineering: those old Chrysler products had solid bodies.

When I got home I saw that my right leg was black and blue from hip to ankle. Evidently my leg had been slammed into the steering column when my body slid forward. Later I went to the salvage yard where they had taken the Plymouth, and saw that the steering wheel was bent where my chest had hit it. A question comes to mind here ... I had no seat belt, so my body slammed into the steering wheel and column. With a belt, my head would have snapped forward, possibly with neck damage.

The driver of the car ahead of mine claimed whiplash injuries, but I didn't think my black and blue marks were major. A surprise benefit (that I have mentioned to every doctor I have seen since the accident) was the sudden remission of the varicose veins in my right leg (the black and blue leg) while the varicose veins in the left leg have remained there ever since.

The truck driver's insurance company hounded me to sign something to settle all claims, but my insurance people at the Automobile Club of Southern California reminded me that I didn't owe anybody anything, and they apparently leaned on the other insurance company. I said that all I wanted was another car like the one I lost. After a lot of pressure from the truck driver's insurance company to get me to sign a release (their representative went so far as to hound me at work at Convair Astronautics; I was paged and told to report to the Convair lobby), I blew up and told him to bring a check to my home. I said I would settle for $550, which I knew would buy me a replacement car.

A few weeks later he brought me a check for $550, which I used to buy a well-worn black-and-white 1955 Dodge, which served me well for five years, including a year of writing on a Navy missile job, commuting weekly between San Diego and China Lake in the Mojave Desert.


© 1999 Wilfred R. Franson

Sandy River Service Station
Troutdale, Oregon 1938-1939

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