By Greg Clark, October 21, 1933
“Jimmie,” I said, “a fellow named MacQuorquodale has offered me an old one-ton truck if I’ll remove it from his premises.”
“What would you want it for?” asked Jim Frise.
“I want a dog van for my hounds,” I explained. “I’ve got so many now, I can’t carry them all in my car. So I’ll got this old truck and build a kind of chicken coop on it with slats. And it will be perfect for carrying the hounds out to the country.”
“Well, what about it?” asked Jim.
“I thought maybe you would help me tow it home,” I said. “You drive me up in your car and tow me home in the truck.”
“‘It isn’t working, eh?”
“No, Mr. MacQuorquodale said it would take ten or fifteen dollars to fix it up,” I explained.
“Sure, any time,” said Jim.
So the other evening Jim picked me up and drove me to North Toronto to Mr. MacQuorquodale’s coal and wood yard for the old truck.
Mr. MacQuorquodale was sitting smoking in the little shack which is his head office when we arrived in Jimmie’s big car shortly before seven o’clock.
“There she is, boys,” he said, as we got out in the wood yard. “Not much to look at, but there is stuff in her.”
“It’s very kind of you,” I assured him.
“Don’t mention it, I’ll be glad to see the last of her,” said Mr. MacQuorquodale.
“Now,” I said, “as to tying her on to Jim’s car.”
“You brought a towing rope?” asked Mr. MacQuorquodale.
“Jimmie, I suppose you have a towing rope amongst your things in a big car like this?” I asked.
“No,” said Jim, as matter of fact, I haven’t.”
“Have you got a bit of rope around here I could borrow?” I asked Mr. MacQuorquodale. “Or some hay wire or anything?”
Mr. MacQuorquodale looked at me narrowly.
“I haven’t,” he said, “and it’s a funny thing a man coming to tow away a car wouldn’t bring a tow rope. Do you know anything about towing a car?”
“What there is to know,” I answered. “It was just an oversight. Is there a corner store nearby and I can skin down and get a clothesline.”
“You can’t tow a car with a clothesline,” objected Mr. MacQuorquodale, with growing impatience. I felt any minute he might change his mind about giving me the old truck. So often the kind of men who give things away are short tempered.
“I was thinking of doubling the clothesline,” I explained.
A Little Job of Towing
Mr. MacQuorquodale used bad language as he turned away and went into the shed behind his head office. He came back lugging an enormous armful of heavy half-inch rope in huge coils, half of it trailing on the ground.
“Now lookit,” he said, throwing down the rope. “Here’s a good rope off a block and tackle. I’ve had it for years and it cost a lot of money. It’s just the right length for a block and tackle, and I can’t give you any piece off it either. So I’ll just let you, borrow the whole rope, because I’m dead anxious to get rid of that eyesore out of my woodyard.”
“What will we do with the rest of it?” I asked.
“Just use one end,” shouted Mr. MacQuorquodale, “and fasten that old cooking pot of a truck on to your limousine, and coil what is left over of it inside the truck. Then you can return me the rope in the morning. Is that fair enough?”
“You’re very kind,” I said. “Very kind indeed.”
“All right, now,” said he, loudly. “Fasten her up and get out because I want to go to a meeting.”
Jim and I picked up the heap of rope. It weighed half a ton.
“My goodness, how much rope is there here?” I asked.
“There’s three hundred and fifty feet,” said Mr. MacQuorquodale. “Every inch of it in good shape, too.”
Jim and I worked out one end of the rope and passed it a couple of times around the axle of Jimmie’s car and then we tied a few good hitches on the front parts of the old truck. We wove it under the front axle and around a couple of shackles and then up around the radiator. We made a good strong job out of it, and then tied a knot.
We used about eighteen feet of the rope. The rest of it we picked up, still attached to the part we were using, and laid it, in a big coil, in the back of the one-ton truck.
“How’s that for length?” I asked Jimmie and Mr. MacQuorquodale. The truck was tied about seven feet back of Jim’s car.
“All right, all right.” said Mr. MacQuorquodale, walking to the gate of the wood yard to see us off.
“Does she steer pretty good?” I asked, mounting into the cab of the truck.
“Fine,” said he.
“Brakes any good?”
“They’ll need attention,” said he. “She’s been lying here two winters.”
“O.K., Jimmie,” I called.
We jerked and rolled nicely out of the wood yard and I managed a polite and grateful wave to Mr. MacQuorquodale in the gateway. Jim, looking back through the window, asked with his eyebrows if all was well, and I waved him a highball.
And we rolled pleasantly along the street toward Yonge.
The Smell Stayed With Us
Driving a towed car, you have to be wide awake all the time. You can’t take your eyes off the road for a minute to look at anything interesting in passing. The slightest check in the driver leading and you are liable to crash into his rear. I explain this, in case you ever have to drive a towed car. I would like you to realize that what happened was in no way due to my carelessness or any want of watchfulness on my part.
Jim is one of those fellows who never like to drive on the main streets. Personally, I prefer them. Perhaps you can’t skip along just as lively, but you at least don’t have that awful sensation at side streets that you experience when you are trying to take short cuts.
Once or twice, as we sailed along across Yonge St. and wended our way by all sorts of side streets I had never seen before, we came to cross streets with cars coming up or down them, and there was lots of time for Jim to get across, but my heart was in my mouth, because how did those drivers know that I was being towed? They might expect me to stop or slow down. And of course I couldn’t.
I will admit that a couple of times I tramped on the brakes almost instinctively as we came to cross streets with cars approaching. It is just a sort of habit. I realized it would do no good. But your feet get trained to act automatically.
It may have been these times when I half tramped the brakes that caused the knot in the rope to weaken. I admit that. In fact, I don’t attempt to assess the blame in any sense whatsoever. And the way Jimmie tells this story is his own affair.
Anyway, about six blocks west of Yonge St. I noticed the first smell of smoke. I tried to pretend at first that it was just some factory we were passing. But the smell stayed with us and grew more distinct. It was a very queer smell, like oil burning, and yet like cloth burning. A very nasty and suspicious odor.
As I say, I did not have much time to look around. Jim was hauling away at a merry clip, turning corners and passing parked cars on some of those narrower residential streets, and I needed all my attention on Jim’s car in front.
Suddenly I saw smoke swirling up through the floor boards of the truck and past the windows.
I know now that it was only the old and dried brake bands that were smoldering. But how was I to know it might not be the engine, the transmission or even the car itself?
I suddenly saw myself being dragged along at a high rate of speed in a flaming truck, unable to jump, unable to escape from my blazing prison, my screams unheard by Jimmie until it was too late. I could almost smell my flesh burning.
What would you do under these circumstances? What I did was to stamp on the silly, worthless brakes and to sway the car from side to side as much as I dared in an effort to attract Jimmie’s attention and slow him down until I could let go the steering wheel to signal him to stop.
Jimmie explains now that he felt the tugging and swaying but he thought it was just my mode of driving anyway.
What happened was that instead of attracting Jim’s attention, my tactics merely loosened the knot that Jimmie and I tied on the front of the truck. The knot slipped.
And the rope began paying out!
My horror, as I saw Jim drawing away from me, it is impossible to impart. Foot by foot, I beheld Jimmie pulling ahead. For a joyous instant, I thought the rope had broken. But by sitting up I could see the rope still between us. and I realized the full horror of the situation. The coiled rope in the back of my truck was paying out slowly, but still had enough purchase in the knot we had tied to keep me trolling merrily along behind him.
I tried to think. I tried to hope the rope would all pay out and then I would be free. I wondered how long it would take.
Jim drew thirty, forty, fifty feet ahead. Seventy-five, a hundred.
He turned a corner and disappeared!
Still drawn relentlessly on, I came to the corner and made the turn, practically certain that a car would meet me at the crossing with disastrous results. But in the dusk of the evening nothing was in sight except Jimmie bowling easily along, now a good hundred fifty feet ahead of me.
Could I dare leave the wheel and cut the rope? Did I even have my pen knife with me? Should jump and let everything go hang, and perhaps endanger lives as that truck dangled helplessly and wildly after Jimmie? Anyway, it was going too fast for me to jump.
Jim turned around another corner and vanished.
Suddenly I felt the truck slow down. The rope slackened and I saw it drop to the ground.
“Hurray, Jimmie had stopped! ! !
I was about to leap from the truck and rush ahead around the corner to meet Jimmie when I saw the rope tighten with jerk, and at a breakneck speed I was yanked down the street and around the corner, just in time to see Jimmie’s car vanish around another corner to the right.
What happened was this. Jim turned the corner and looked back to see if I was still with him.
I had disappeared. He instantly stopped. He thought the rope had broken. But he recalled feeling the jerking and yanking I had been giving him, so he presumed I was just up the street a way, so rather than make a turn in a narrow street, he decided to run around the block and come on me from behind and perhaps push me out of traffic’s way until we could tie a new hold.
He could, of course, see no rope when he looked back. It was lying on the ground, slack.
So there he was speeding around the block in search of me, and I coming after him, smoking like a Viking funeral ship, and steering around corners at a pace I shall remember in my nightmares all the rest of my life.
Fortunately, at a little before seven o’clock in a quiet residential neighborhood, there is not much traffic and few children are out on a dampish October evening.
I think I recall a half dozen pedestrians standing open mouthed as the strange procession went three times around those two blocks while Jimmie hunted for me. He knew I could not be far off. He had seen me and felt me not two minutes before he lost me.
One motorist came up the street and saw the rope in time to slow down, and there he parked as I came bouncing by in the old truck, a great cloud of smoke billowing after me, drawn by some unseen power.
I was not, as Jimmie now claims, unconscious. I was just resigned to my fate. I was fully conscious. If I had been unconscious, I am sure I would have thought nothing of steering the truck into a tree or something to end the farce.
Jimmie made the rounds of one more block, in great mystification, before he decided to drive back the route he had come from Mr. MacQuorquodale’s. He felt he would surely meet up with me somewhere along that route, although by this time he was beginning to fear I had gone straight up in the air, truck and all.
So he ceased circling blocks, and steered a straightaway course which at last pulled me into full view, three hundred feet behind him. Because when the rope came to its end, there was a knot on it which effectively tightened the knot Jimmie and I had tied. In fact, it took Mr. MacQuorquodale himself to untie it. That is, if did untie it. Because we left the truck rope back in Mr. MacQuorquodale’s for him to find in the morning.
Jim, as he drove straightaway along the way we had come, kept watching down all side streets for me, because he felt I was somewhere around.
And out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something coming behind him, something erratic, and belching smoke, and generally acting in a most untrafficky manner.
He slowed. Took a long, keen look.
And then backed up to me.
I was on a lawn, lying down resting.
“Goodness,” he said.
“Jimmie,” I said weakly, from the ground, “don’t try to explain!”
He got a pail of water from one of the houses and poured it on the brake bands. We coiled the rope back into the truck, and this time Jim pushed me in the truck ahead of him.
We went back and left it in Mr. MacQuorquodale’s wood yard.
“Because,” I pointed out, “it is hardly the type of thing I wanted for a dog van anyway.”