The Adventures of Billy Possum


Billy Possum Rides Again, Part III

“Roots,” Bomber Returns to Tipton

By Bill J. Castenholz

Copyright 2004, Castenholz and Sons

We turned the corner and were just about to leave when a car pulled up to the Reed mailbox. My wife rolled down the window and asked the driver if she was Mrs. Reed. “Yes,” she said. Then my wife announced “This used to be your car.” “Bomber“ had returned to its roots. The place was Tipton, Missouri. Let me tell you how we got there, after almost exactly 23 years.

It was last September when we put “Bomber” in storage in Athens, Georgia, and said “Goodbye” to my wife’s sister JoAnn and our brother-in-law “Darwin.”

Now, six months later we were back in Athens, this time with our granddaughter Anna. She had jumped at the chance to go for a ride in “Bomber.”

Bill, Jeanette, JoAnn & Darwin with the famous Athens double-barreled canon.

After a relaxing few days in Athens we were ready to renew our cross-country trip. We had seen the famous Athens double-barreled canon. It was designed during the Civil War with the idea of firing two balls with a chain between them. Supposedly this would mow down a whole row of Union soldiers. The way Darwin tells it, one barrel fired before the other and the chained ball went out, swung around by the chain, and wiped out the canon’s entire crew. I leave it to you to believe his story. It is true that the idea was abandoned after only one firing.

I was a bit concerned after starting “Bomber” because the engine acted as if dirt was in the carburetor. The car had been in storage and hadn't run for six months. I removed the carburetor, cleaned it thoroughly and replaced it. That seemed to solve the problem (for a bit, that is).

Thursday, Day One

Leaving Athens about 8 am, we headed for Atlanta and breakfast with a few of the Smith family. Somehow we got lost just leaving Athens. After going around in circles we found where we were and promptly got lost again. That’s when we knew this was going to be a really great trip!

Naturally after breakfast everyone wanted a ride in “Bomber” so around the parking lot we went several times, each time with a different load of “cousins.”

We said “Goodbye” and began our trek west. There’s something exhilarating about beginning a trip to places unknown. And the feeling doesn’t go away until the trip is over.

The South is beautiful, even a wee bit before Spring brings the green everywhere.

Anna crossing the first state border, into Alabama.

We passed over the Alabama border and headed for Birmingham. “Bomber” ran just great. No sign of dirt in the carburetor.

Friday, Day Two

Back on the road again, we did have a few “hiccups” from the engine. Nothing serious but we were an awful long way from home.

Driving west of Birmingham we passed by a gas station that had not been used for a very long time. It was just off the highway and down the embankment. For a long time we had wanted a picture of either “Bomber” or “Betsy,” Mike’s 1930 Chevy club sedan, in an old gas station. Here was the perfect picture. We turned around, drove back and down the embankment, parked “Bomber” in just the right spot and began taking pictures.

When we tried to restart “Bomber” the engine refused to start. A few minutes later I tried again and the engine started but either dirt or a bit of vapor-lock was clearly there.

Away we went, very pleased with the pictures we had gotten by the old gas pumps. Too bad they weren’t in working order - the price of gas was 87 cents per gallon!

Next stop - Tupelo, Mississippi.

Somewhere in Alabama. One of my favorite pictures.

Our trip through Alabama and into Mississippi was fairly uneventful. Something in the carburetor was causing a hesitation every now and then but it didn't appear to be too serious.

When driving becomes uneventful, some of the “sillys” come out. Here are a few:

Bruisers on the left,
Bruisers on the right,
“Bomber” in the middle,
All tucked in tight.
* * *
Driving through the country,
What a great delight,
“Bomber headed somewhere,
What a beautiful sight.
* * *
Where is the town,
No where in sight,
Perhaps we will find it,
In the moonlight.

Leaving Alabama and headed for Tupelo, Mississippi.

And there is more:

Bugs in the radiator,
Bugs in the car,
If they stick with us,
They’ll really go far.


Grandma riding shotgun,
Anna in the back,
Grampa at the wheel,
Keeping us on track.

and finally:

Some cars are used in parades,
Some cars are used in charades,
“Bomber is used on the grades,
And for all of our escapades.

Typical countryside in Mississippi. It is very beautiful, even this early in Spring.

Saturday, Day Three

Entering Memphis at the Tennessee border. This was Anna’s 13th birthday.

Saturday was Anna’s 13th birthday and we had planned something very special for her. The ride from Tupelo to Memphis was uneventful and we arrived at the motel that Mike had reserved, unloaded all of our luggage from the side of “Bomber” and drove into downtown Memphis. I have been fascinated with the Mississippi ever since I first saw it almost 20 years ago. Life in that part of the country seems to revolve around the river. So we parked at the river’s edge and boarded an excursion boat for a two-hour cruise.

We spent a couple of hours on the Mississippi in one of these river boats.

Cruising the Mississippi. One of the many bridges from Memphis to Arkansas overhead.

At one point we were passed by a huge tugboat pushing a construct of 25 enormous barges, 5 barges wide and 5 barges long. The Mississippi serves today as it has done for ages, as a major source of transportation and commerce. And once on the boat time seems to stands still.

After the 2-hour cruise we returned to the motel. Mike had flown in and was waiting for us.

We had hoped to have dinner down by the river but it began to rain. Then it poured. And then, to celebrate Anna's birthday, there was a spectacular electric storm, complete with deafening thunder.

We decided that driving in the city traffic in the downpour wasn’t really smart, so we asked around the motel for a suggested place to eat. Someone suggested a place that was too far to drive. There was a Mexican restaurant across the street but it wasn’t recommended. But we didn‘t seem to have a choice so we ran through the rain and crossed the street. The authentic Mexican food was fabulous! So much for recommendations!

Sunday, Day Four

Howard Clark, a former pastor of our church in Pacific Palisades now pastors a church in Memphis. We had contacted Howard by email before hand and, after attending his church, Howard and his wife Kathy and daughter Kaitlyn joined us for lunch.

We had planned to leave Memphis on Sunday afternoon but decided to relax and service “Bomber” instead. An oil change was followed by the removal of the push rods and push rod ends from the engine. We replaced them with rods and ends from a new batch that C&P Automotive had just completed. The old parts were just like new but had run for many thousand miles. We continually put new parts into service when low inventory requires another run of any particular component.

A good dinner down by the waterfront finished off a very fine day.

Monday, Day Five

The day began as usual. Adding Mike’s luggage we now had five large bags and the usual cardboard box of tools to load. Beginning with our trip to Georgia from Indiana, we regularly put a large blue rain tarp on the running board, loaded the box and bags and then wrapped the tarp over the luggage and fastened it with bungies.

The weather couldn’t have been better.

Up over the Mississippi River and into Arkansas.

Memphis is in the southwestern-most part of Tennessee. Crossing the bridge over the Mississippi River immediately put us in Arkansas. After driving west for a few miles we soon headed north-north-west toward the Missouri border. Every state we have been in has its own brand of beauty. And Arkansas was no exception.

A stop at a bank in Arkansas gave us a burst of Spring.

Another roadside stop in Arkansas. Anna enjoyed the ducks and geese in the adjacent pond.

Again the engine was showing signs of something in the carburetor. At a gas station we stopped to check out the problem. Naturally a small crowd formed as we lifted the hood. Ah hah. The fuel pump sediment bowl had sizeable beads of water. Now we had found the culprit. We purchased a small bottle of “Heet” at the gas station and poured it into the tank. “Heet” is essentially alcohol which absorbs water and allows it to pass through the carburetor. This pretty much put an end to the problem.

Two happy campers and their transportation.

We reached the Missouri border in the afternoon and stopped in the little town of Cabool, just a bit east of Springfield, for the night.

Tuesday, Day Six

All along we had been thinking of driving up through the beautiful Ozarks and especially of seeing the Lake of the Ozarks. This man-made lake filled in so many gullies and ravines that it must have hundreds of miles of shoreline. It looks like a giant leaf with hundreds of points. Mike and I had first seen the lake when we drove through Missouri on our way to see (and purchase) “Bomber” back in ’81. I had told my wife that someday I would like to take her there. And here we were.

Now tell me, are these trips fun?

Tipton, Missouri. The exact place where we bought “Bomber” in 1981.

Continuing north led us directly into Tipton. In 1981, when Mike and I arrived there to purchase “Bomber,” I phoned David Reed and told him we were in Tipton. He asked where were we and I said “I don’t know. All I see is a traffic light.” He said “You’re at the traffic light - I’ll be right down.” Tipton still has only one traffic light.

We stopped at the exact place where we had negotiated with David and purchased the car. Then a fellow drove up and asked what kind of car is it? We talked a bit and then I told him that I bought this car right here 23 years ago from David Reed. He then said that he owned the Buick agency across the street and that David Reed used to work for him. Then he smiled and said that years ago he drove a 1929 Chevy for someone’s wedding. “It must have been this car!”

We asked about and found directions to David’s house. When we went there no one was home. But as we were leaving a woman drove up and took the mail out of the mailbox. My wife rolled down the window and asked if she was Mrs. Reed. “Yes,” she said, with a quizzical look on her face. “This used to be your car.” We had a friendly chat with her and her daughter before we left Tipton.

Tuesday night found us in Warrensburg, just east of Kansas City, Missouri.

Wednesday, Day Seven

Passing through Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas, we drove out into the farming country of Kansas, through Topeka and finally stopping in Beloit for the night.

All along the central states we had been hearing of hard times. It wasn’t complaints of unemployment so much as the draught. Here and there were fields of winter wheat. But in all but a few, where irrigation was available, there were signs at the edges of the fields that the lack of water was having a serious effect. No one we talked to was optimistic about the crops.

A rest stop in a park in Kansas.

Thursday, Day Eight

Phillipsburg, Kansas. We took advantage of parking right in the middle of the street!

We continued through Kansas at a very leisurely pace, stopping at town after small town. Stopping for the night in Oberlin, we had only covered 169 miles

Friday, Day Nine

Our plan was to stop in Yuma, Colorado, to see a friend. He has an enclosed garage and we hoped to service the car there.

Driving along Highway 36 and just before we would have entered Colorado we turned north. But we were low on gas so we stopped in St. Francis. No gas station! And no town close by. We asked about what people do when they need gas here and they said no problem, just go to the Coop. In St. Francis apparently everyone belongs to the Coop. We found it, a couple of blocks off the main road, got gas, and were on our way again.

Into Nebraska for a couple of miles before we turned west and entered Colorado

Mike and Anna basking in the Kansas (or is it Nebraska) sun.

Entering Nebraska, we stopped for a coke in the tiny town of Haigler. Things weren’t too happy in Haigler. We stopped at the only market there and found it was closed and had a “for sale” sign on it. At a tiny liquor store down the street we got our cokes and asked about the store that was closed. “Oh, the store closed when the Wal-Mart went in, in McCook.” McCook is 75 miles away! What a sign of the times!

An abandoned barn in the southwestern corner of Nebraska.

Our last state welcome marker on this trip.

From Haigler we turned west and entered Colorado. In Wray we stopped for some oil. We only use non-detergent oil in “Bomber.” These old cars without oil filters should use non-detergent oil because with the detergent oils, minute particles of grit and wear from the engine do not settle to the bottom of the pan but are kept in suspension. Without a filter to take out the abrasives, they pass through the bearings and that is added wear to the fragile babbitt.

Incidentally, with the old vane-type oil pumps there is not enough pressure to run all of the oil through a filter. With the Billy Possum gear pumps there is enough pressure to use a full-flow filter. It is one of the changes we hope to make to “Bomber” in the near future.

After dinner in Yuma we went to see our friend Oliver. Inside his warm garage we changed the oil and once again disassembled the carburetor and thoroughly cleaned it.

Saturday, Day Ten

We spent the whole day at Oliver’s. Except for our meals at the “Main Event.” The food was great and the relaxing day a pleasant change from driving. Our odometer registered only 3 miles.

Sunday, Day Eleven

As we packed up after two nights in Yuma, we acquired a visitor in “Bomber.” It was a chilly morning and the wind was a bit brisk. Suddenly we found one of the local cats had taken up residency in the warm cushions of ’29.

Just another verification of how comfortable the back seat is in “Bomber.”

We visited one of the local churches in Yuma and then headed west toward Fort Morgan. We decided to leave the car there rather than in Denver because we thought Denver would be too congested. Besides, we could then take Amtrak into Denver. And that sounded like fun, too.

Heading toward Fort Morgan with a fabulous sky in front of us.

Just short of Fort Morgan. The odometer read 43,000 something when I bought the car.

When we parked “Bomber” in the storage unit in Fort Morgan we noted that this trip added 1,891 more miles to this trip.

Monday, Day Twelve

Early morning in Fort Morgan. Can you believe all that luggage fit on “Bomber’s” running board?

Amtrak is a lot of fun. But it surely is run in a strange way. Very little attention appears to be paid to the published schedule. We were scheduled to leave Fort Morgan at 5:55 a.m. But a phone call ahead indicated the train was late and would be there at 7:10 a.m. So we arrived at the station about 10 minutes before 7. The temperature was 32 degrees.

About 7:30 someone said the latest arrival time was upgraded to 8:10. Somewhat after 8 O’clock the train appeared and we loaded all of our baggage on and boarded. About an hour later we entered Denver. But it took about half an hour just to get to the station, first up one track, then back down another.

Finally we got off, wheeled our luggage to the front of the station, got a cab and drove to the airport. As it happens, I think the airport is about half way back to Fort Morgan.

Airplanes are fun, but you miss smelling the roses.

Home at last.

The flight was uneventful and my son Daniel, Anna’s father, and her brother Miles met us at the airport and thus ended another adventure of epic proportions.