Thrown Rod


February 21, 2011


This was back in the sixties, probably in our last year of college. Ron had a 49 Chevy coup, which he liked to drive hard. At lunch time or between classes at Maryland University, wed drive it up and down US Route 1, doing things like flooring the gas till the valves floated, then sliding your foot off the clutch, or double-clutching into first at 60 mph and listening to it spin sort of like a turbine. Or just driving flatout. One time, at lunch -- Ron was driving; Im too conservative for this sort of thing -- we took a little road off of route 1 and came to a ramp leading up to two railroad tracks, where, engine off, we parked for about 30 seconds till we got bored waiting for a train. Then we drove about a quarter mile on down the road. We didnt talk. Ron turned the car around and we started back toward the crossing. He floored it. We were doing at least 50 at the bottom of the ramp, maybe 60. The car went airborne at the top of the ramp. I got that metallic taste in my mouth, which has happened several times under extreme conditions. My books, on the seat beside me, rose into the air in the weightlessness. Naturally, it everything seemed to happen in slow-motion. The car nosed over. I figured the front end would dig in and wed flip, or at least the front tires would blow. But no. It bounced pretty hard, then we drove back to school. The next day we measured 53 feet from the top of the ramp to the marks in the pavement where the nerf bars had dug in.

Sometime around then -- this was before Ron and I went to Mexico on a couple of old motorcycles in 64 -- Ron had driven to New Jersey, probably going around up there flat out, when a "big-end" bearing let loose and a rod came through the side of the block. (The image here is from Google; the Chevy block was cast iron and had six cylinders, but the hole was about that size.) He called me late at night to come get him and help him tow the car home. I said, Yeah, right, so he got his father to come get him.

This conrod image from Google shows the size of the hole in the side of Ron's engine, which was cast iron and had six cylinders.

When he got it back to Bethesda, he took the head off, removed the busted-up piston and rod, put the head back on, sans exhaust manifold, then we jump started it. Very scary, what with the noise but mostly the vibration. We stuffed rags in the hole in the block to keep the oil from blowing out, then Ron wanted to drive it to a junk yard in Gaithersburg, about 15 miles up I270.

I was following in Rons '55 Chevy with the 348 engine we'd put in it. He drove it flatout, as usual, blowing oil all over the place. We had to stop once to put more used oil in.

We exited from I270 about half a mile from the junk yard, which was down a hill. He floored it in 2nd gear. I was right behind when suddenly a cloud of white smoke made it impossible to see, so I pulled over. When the smoke cleared, I saw a wrist pin rolling down the middle of the road.

Ron coasted to the entrance of the yard, and swerved in with just enough energy to go up a little hill to Mr. Beahm's office. The engine was right on the edge of catching fire. Beahm came out, said, "Should I piss on it?" He actually gave Ron $10 for it, for the show, I guess, because the car wasnt worth it.

Two more rods had come off the crank. It's possible the engine might have kept running anyway, except that one of the rods had slammed into the generator and knocked it sideways so the fan belt came off. (There was no battery in the car.) The oil pan was resting on the tie rods. Very neat. Ron was just the right sort of lunatic to do dive bombing in an F4 in Vietnam.

I gotta write up the time Rons piston disintegrated in his 1951 BSA Goldstar when we were in Mexico, and what he did to fix it. In the meantime, here's a nifty video compilation of motorcycle happenings set to "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor," supposedly a favorite of that kid who shot those people in Tucson.