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Hanging The Blue Lines

Hanging The Blue Lines


For me, special cars are for use, not for staring at or lusting after, or for expression of Freudian urges. A car is, after all, a means of transportation, not of adulation. In case you haven’t heard, the fun’s in the run!

Which for me during the last 50 years has been Blue Line Running. You know, those highways on the map signified by the blue ink. No, not the mega-lane interstates, I mean the highways from way back. The great ribbons of macadam that tied the two oceans, that set the tone for continental drift by a nation of drifters, the very expression of what is freedom to most Americans. It’s where I grew to puberty.

It often comes as a surprise to my younger counterparts that the interstate freeway system did not come about until relatively recent times, after 1950, in fact, and any of those early ribbons of concrete that remain have largely been redefined in years recent. More to the point, the interstate highways are where the big 18-wheelers are. A growing cadre of hot rodders are reverting to the system that grew during the 1930s and ‘40s. And they are loving their discoveries. Ronnie Poo and I got onto all this back in the Seventies. And we have refined it ever since.

You know Poo Bear Ceridono, he of the technical tirades in Street Rodder magazine. He who keeps editor Brennan from hoisting too many wrenches and creating massive havoc. He who thinks that battleship cladding is perfect for hot rod building.

Anyway, when we go somewhere in our hot dogs, we strive valiantly to route ourselves via all those wonderful old state routes that arrow the hearts of America. For instance, I’m told by Burly Burlile (our VW infused buddy who steadfastly refuses therapy) that federal highway 89 is the only road remaining that goes uninterrupted from the Canadian border to that of Mexico. Since I live essentially along that same stretch of bitumen, perhaps at one of the highest elevations, I can attest that it is very scenic the entire route. There may be another such road, I don’t know. I do know that most of these former backbones of the nation are in better condition now than ever before. The paving is often recent, the traffic is mostly local, and the trucks are few. Hallelujah for the last bit.

Long-time buddy Tom Medley is no stranger to long distance travel. He has worn out more cars than most of us own in a lifetime. But he hates the interstates. “Too many trucks, and their lights are so bright at night I can’t see.” I totally agree.

What you get when blue linin’ is a chance to actually see Americans and America. Not Howard Johnsons.

I should remark that all of this hype about blue line highway condition depends on which coast you are nearer. In the eastern states, there seems to be a preponderance of chuck holes, some obviously intended to remove the underpinnings of hot rods and custom cars. I can only assume this is because of the weather, but it may be exacerbated by the mega-tons of salt used to coat the roadway surfaces during the winter. “Haul out another load of salt, Clyde, we ain’t got enough holes on state route 27 yet!!”) In the west, the attitude is more along the lines of “You slide off the road out here sucker and you gonna walk forty seven miles for help!” I’m reminded of a Sunday afternoon winter pleasure drive ol’ Ceridono and I took in his Dodge 4x4. After awhile, and when we were well away from anything remotely called civilization, I had to remark, ”Uh, Poo Bear, how come we’re sliding down the barrow ditch on my side?”

The fact that there had been no snow pile busting previous vehicle was a bit misleading to Ronnie, so he decided that we should just lay over on our side for awhile and consider the situation. Which we did. Fortunately, the gods of best lane win lights appeared in the form of a sno-cat, a track laying thingie. That crew guffawed at your misfortune, then hooked a line to the Dodge and whanged the strap good. We were yanked onto the road, our necks were displaced several inches to the side, and once again we braved the wilds of high country Idaho. I should mention that back in the early Fifties, in that very same region of big spaces, the country mail carriers used Model-A Phaetons with 21-inch wheels and those narrow old stock rag tires. Plenty of clearance, and the narrow tires just whittled down through the snowdrifts to find gravel roads. None of which were distinguished on maps in blue.

I still do a ton of blue-lining today, and I don’t need GPS or any such gadgets. Daytime, I just look for the sun and shadows to determine directions. When it is cloudy, I read which side of the trees the moss is growing on. At night, I find the North Star. Worked good enough for my daddy down in Oklahoma, and we only had one blue line, called Route 66. Follow that one long enough and you got to the Pacific Ocean. Which was/is blue.