Far back in the swirling mists of antiquity, back before television, entertainment of a warm, Friday, summer evening was to go watch the “Stock Car” races. Young men from fifty miles around would trailer in their rebuilt, post-WWII jalopies.
It was just a little quarter-mile dirt track. Soil was piled up, and each end was high-banked, but there was no outer wall or rail. There was a lot of door-grinding going on, as the racers jostled for position. At least a couple of times each night, one or two cars would slide off the high edge, and tumble down to the flat. Long before mandatory seatbelts, I could only hope that these guys installed roll bars and three-point harnesses.
This was where/when I first found out about comedy albums. The announcer in the infield control tower got ahold of a Spike Jones disc that included a cut about Beetlebaum, the slowest horse ever in a horse race. He would often play it between races, if the next lineup was slow to form, with the fans in the stands laughing and shouting out the chorus.
My Dad had a saying (for everything), “If you’re not here when I’m here, you’ll be here after I’m gone.” With my poor memory and lack of focus, I got left behind a couple of times. One Friday night, after supper, my brother and I went out to play. We left the property, and we (I) got distracted. When we got back to the house, the car was gone.
We quickly and easily hitch-hiked five miles to the next town, and walked a mile and a half out the County side-road, to where the track was. The cost of admission was two dollars per vehicle, even if you had a clown-car with 27 occupants. We now had a dilemma — but not a car.
The track was located in a fifty-foot-deep bowl, down on the river flats. We carefully picked our way across a farmer’s acre of potato plants, until we reached the wire fence at the edge. Crude wooden benches were tiered into the steep hillside below. We got on our bellies, so that we were not silhouetted against the bright, sundown, western sky, slithered under the wire and down the slope, and rejoined surprised parents.
Down at the bottom, there was a food-service building. They had hamburgers and hot-dogs, but French-fries hadn’t been invented. They also sold individual bags of potato chips and soft drinks. The cost for seven ounces of soda was 5¢, but there was a two-cent deposit on the glass bottles. The proprietor insisted that he was too busy to be giving back the two-cent refunds. Empty bottles strewed the grassy hillside.
We began taking wooden, six-quart baskets with us. Between races, the brother and I prowled the hill, and took the bottles out to the car. Soon, the regulars knew us, and would often wave us over for another couple of empties.
Then we spent interesting weekends trying to take bottles to businesses in our town for the refunds. There was the General Store, the Pool Room, a couple of restaurants and gas stations that sold the individual bottles, as well as a couple of the new-fangled neighborhood convenience stores.
Initially, we got a couple of, ‘If we didn’t sell ‘em, we don’t give refunds for them.’ We were bright, friendly, local boys, and we soon established who would accept how many. On a good week, we might make five dollars. Dad recouped the entry fee, and the brother and I were rich, splitting the balance for spending money.
Alas, TV became common and popular, the young racers married and aged, and the farmer cancelled the lease on the property. I understand that his grandson now grows rutabagas on the river flats. It’s more profitable, but nowhere near as much fun.