Rare Herbs

Shutterstock GTX by Dan Logan

“It’s going to be a golden day.” The laconic yet optimistic pronouncement was barely audible from Herb, who at 40 was a 440 Plymouth GTX driving Reagan Republican. 

It’s not that I didn’t agree.  I just could not hear him well from my current predicament inside a B&O railroad hopper car loaded with 98 tons of magnesite from Manistee, Michigan.  At the time, Herb and I were quality control lab technicians at a fire brick plant outside Chicago.  We were enjoying the only hour of the workday where the time was our own. 

Since none of our portly bosses could make the climb into and out of the railcars, our weekly duties included obtaining samples from each of a dozen or so railcars. This required the two of us, rain or shine, to climb to the top of the cars with the loser of that day’s coin toss entering each compartment of the car through the top hatches.  The winner stayed outside for safety’s sake.  Win or lose, it seemed that I, younger than Herb by 20 years, always seemed to lose.

The last of the samples had been retrieved, and we took some time to survey the parking lot from atop the car.  There was my months-old black Corvette parked next to Herb’s now 12-year-old 1969 B5 blue Plymouth GTX.

“Why don’t you trade that thing for something that gets more than eight miles to the gallon?” I asked.

You could probably squeeze more than eight miles per gallon out of the 375 horsepower 440. This car, though, had a 4-speed, and he liked winding it up and didn’t care much about fuel economy, or turning left and right.  This was a strict, straight-line car.  A ‘banker’s hotrod” in its day.  It wasn’t the best option in Chicago winters, though.  Its bias-ply tires, good for smoky burnouts were not the best in snow.  Herb did love the GTX more than any other inanimate thing in his life.  He loved the thunderous noise it made and how it frightened passengers.  It was everything an American muscle car should be.  It was quick and most important to Herb, paid for in full.

As you might imagine, the GTX was going nowhere – fast.  No matter what I was driving at the time it would inevitably be compared unfavorably to his Plymouth.  It’s a good thing we had other things to discuss than our cars.

One of our favorite topics was the short-sightedness of the various ownership regimes of the firebrick company. This wasn’t an industry that attracted the brainiest of executives.  As a matter of fact, the smarter ones often quit after a year or so of dealing with stubbornness and stupidity. Sometimes, I think we stayed just for the comedy.  Unfortunately, both Herb and I would be promoted, and the problems would be ours to solve.

Ron Krauch

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