Once Upon A Time in the Hudson Valley
by John Delach
A Guest Blog by Geoff Jones
Ralph and I were seniors at Briarcliff High School. His family had multiple cars and his favorite was what we called a Jeepster. an elongated Jeep with a frame and canvas roof/siding. One day Ralph drove a group of us to a drag strip somewhere near Cornwall, in the hills north of West Point. On the way home, the Jeepster’s engine made a loud noise and just died as he pulled to the side of the road. We left it there and our friends drove us home. I agreed to help Ralph retrieve it the next day.
We conceived a plan to tow it back to Briarcliff using my big beat up 1954 Buick with plenty of power. The next morning, Ralph and I with another friend drove up Route 9A past Camp Smith and onto Bear Mountain Road, a curvy two-lane road that led to the Bear Mountain Bridge where we crossed the Hudson River. We continued past West Point and up a road that goes up and around Storm King Mountain, another steep, curvy and dangerous road.
I had an old but thick Manila rope which we tied between our bumpers. Ralph took the Jeepster wheel, I drove the Buick with our friend riding shotgun with me. We left about 15 feet of slack between us for safety and started out. The early towing was easy as it was level and even the uphill wasn’t bad aside from a few jolts when our speeds differed too much. We quickly realized that downhill was a problem. If I saw Ralph getting too close, I’d tend to speed up at about the same time he realized he was getting close. This produced some real snaps, but the rope held.
When we reached the Bear Mountain Bridge I remembered too late that we had to stop and pay the toll. We’d given little thought to this complication and it occurred to me that since what we were doing was illegal, not to say nutty, the toll taker could be a real problem. The bridge is in a state park, so the tolls were run by some sort of cop.
Undaunted, we coasted up and I gave the toll taker money for both of us and stuck out my hand to indicate to Ralph not to stop. Remarkably the guy did nothing. To this day I still think he was so dumbfounded he didn’t know what to do and didn’t call it in because he might have trouble explaining how he happened to let us through while collecting both tolls.
Back on the Bear Mountain Road, we pulled on to a shoulder to plan things because if you’ve driven it you know it’s tricky. We decided to tow him to the top and release him to coast down toward Camp Smith. We drove to the top just fine, found a big overlook to park in while we untied. Then we pushed him out onto the road and waved goodbye. Ralph started slowly but began gathering speed as he disappeared around the first bend. We returned to the Buick and took off to catch him at the bottom.
But we forgot something. That was just the first of several downhills separated by long enough stretches of level road that killed Ralph’s momentum. In a few minutes we caught up to him and stopped where there was no shoulder. Working in the road with nothing to alert drivers approaching from behind, we had to hook up the Jeepster again and resume towing Ralph to the top of the hill before us. We crested it, stopped, untied and pushed him off for another downhill ride.
Once again, we caught up to him in a few miles only to find the Jeepster at the bottom facing another hill. We did it all over and this time he rolled to the bottom a mile or so from Camp Smith. This was the end of Bear Mountain Road, so we hooked up and towed him from there down Route 9A to the exit before the old Putnam line railroad station.
There we exited onto the main road that led to Ralph’s garage located directly across the street from the police station. I gulped as I spied, Bob Whiting, a Briarcliff policeman standing at the front door wide eyed as we pulled in. Fortunately, Whitey knew me well from umping high school games and was one of the few nice cops on the force.
He strolled over and we tried to explain what we’d done. I remember him saying something like. “I didn’t see you, you never spoke to me and if you say anything I’ll guarantee to ticket you every time I see you until you graduate.”
We kept our word for at least for a few months by which time Whitey mentioned it to me when I came to bat in a game. He actually thought it was dumb but funny.