Chevy On My Foot

Part I – Tire Barking

The practice of making the rear tires “bark” goes back to the dawn of time in the auto industry, when teenagers began driving cars for the first time. A similar sound can be heard by “popping” the clutch at a stop sign or simply “slamming-on” the brakes on smooth pavement, but there is far more to the art of “barking” than that.

very cool dude

First, you accelerate in first gear, causing the weight of the car to shift to the rear. Next, you quickly disengage the clutch, and release the accelerator at the same time, causing the car’s weight to shift back forward with a lurching motion. At the precise instant, you shift from first into second gear and release the clutch under full throttle. The weight of the car at that point is mostly on the front tires, while the unloaded rear tires feel the full force of the torque. The resulting “bark” of the tires can be heard by giggling high school girls from as far away as two to three blocks.

This technique can be made to work under most circumstances, but it works best on smooth asphalt, on hot days, with bald tires, and with your girlfriend sitting next to you[i].. better yet, with someone else’s girlfriend watching. Mastering the technique unquestionably puts the driver in the “cool dude” category.

Part II –  -3- on The Tree

I don’t know when GM produced their first 3-speed transmission; maybe in the late 1920s, but certainly by the mid-1930s. I will ask my friend Don Wise to help me with some details. My first experience with it was with my first car, a 1947 Chevrolet Coupe, which I bought for $50.00 in 1957 from a friend of my Dad, who lived on the other end of The Lake. I haven’t peered under the hood of a modern Chevy with a manual transmission recently (if they still offer one), but I have a hunch that a similar shift linkage from decades earlier is still being used.

When the shift lever is “on the floor”, the linkage is pretty simple, but for most cars and some trucks, the lever is on the steering column instead (known as “3 on the tree”), which makes the linkage a bit more complicated. Translating that familiar “H” pattern motion of the shift lever into the rods and levers that push the gears around inside the “tranny”[ii] That is auto-shop talk for “transmission”. So when you hear a mechanic referring to a “tranny”, he or she probably isn’t being transphobic. to get the vehicle to go where you want it to go, is more complicated than one might think.

The engineers at GM came up with a relatively simple scheme that accomplished the job with a mechanical escapement, composed of some levers and other gadgets attached to the end of the steering column shaft, which would selectively pick up and drop certain “dogs”, to put the “tranny” in the right gear.

It worked perfectly when it was new but when it got clogged with dirt and not properly lubricated, or when it was worn from anxiously shifting from 1st to 2nd without a momentary pause in neutral – an essential element of the art of “tire barking” – it could be half in 2nd gear, while still half in 1st gear. In that case, everything would lock up and the car could go nowhere until those “dogs” could be manually realigned.

Part III – Humiliation Of The First Order

It was a warm Spring day in Three Rivers – probably 1958. The afternoon sun had brought the asphalt pavement on Portage Avenue up to the ideal temperature for “tire barking”. As I approached the stop sign at the corner of E. Hoffman Street, there were no other cars to witness my heroics, but there was also never a better opportunity to practice my “barking” technique – arguably the most important thing I had learned during high school.

This would not be the first time I had made the same mistake in my 1951 Chevy sedan when once again I tried to force the “tranny” into 2nd gear without allowing it time to drop out of 1st. Now, locked into neither gear meant it was locked into both at the same time. The only choice was to switch off the ignition, with the clutch still disengaged, and coast to a stop.

I got out of the car, opened the hood, and stood next to the fender, where I could reach the linkage, just in front of the firewall on the base of the steering column. My right foot was behind the left-front tire as I pulled the “dogs” up together. The “tranny” of course went into neutral and the Chevy rolled backward a few inches before the right rear tire hit the curb. Unfortunately, that meant the car had come to rest on my foot.[iii]The photo shows the slight incline on the other side of the intersection and a curb on the right.

The next few minutes seemed like hours but soon George Lowe and his father approached the Hoffman Street side of the intersection and recognized my car. George was a member of our car club and his father was the Pastor of the Presbyterian Church only a few blocks away on North Main Street. Together, they were able to push the car the necessary few inched so I could pull my badly bruised foot out of my tennis shoe[iv]That is what sneakers were called in the 1950s., leaving the shoe under the tire. No bones were broken, only my pride.

As I recall, the experience was not enough to convince me to start attending Rev. Lowe’s services but I have no doubt that his association with the heavens had something to do with him showing up in my time of need.

By: Jim
Written: July 2023
Published: July 2023
Reader feedback always appreciated
i .. better yet, with someone else’s girlfriend watching
ii That is auto-shop talk for “transmission”. So when you hear a mechanic referring to a “tranny”, he or she probably isn’t being transphobic.
iii The photo shows the slight incline on the other side of the intersection and a curb on the right.
iv That is what sneakers were called in the 1950s.