Auto Show Memories

William Wayne Weems

2016 by William Wayne Weems

Painting of a 1964 Dodge Dart.
I noted when I told this tale to an older lady a pensive look crossed her face, as if she wondered if any municipality could be so foolish, so what the Brits would style as "daft". Alas, between 50 and 60 years ago Knoxville, Tennessee seemed to meet that criteria. Guided by entrenched downtown business interests, the city fathers turned down Lyndon Johnson's urban renewal funds as unneeded, and arranged those moneys be given to the University of Tennessee's downtown campus. (As a result, the gibe in following decades was "The University of Tennessee, home of Knoxville"). Knoxville had a partly elevated, controlled access US Highway 11 and 70 bypass skirting the north side of downtown (locally called the "bob-tailed interstate"). It was rejected by Interstate Highway engineers as inadequate, but it had exits at every major downtown business center, so it was incorporated into the I-40 corridor. Then I-75 was routed to a "T" intersection in the middle of town so that southbound traffic for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be tempted to continue through the city.  The result of the highway meddling was an immortal name for the city among truckers that continues to this day..... "malfunction junction".  But Knoxville was ready for its local and visiting customers. Noting that covered shopping malls were then in favor, the city erected a sidewalk cover all along Gay Street, the downtown business drag. Proudly the city banners heralded the opening of this new addition, which they called "The Gay Way."  It took the massive spending for a World's Fair in 1984 to correct these foulups. With the foregoing in mind, you will see how all that resonated within me at the auto show....

I stopped at a county antique auto show yesterday, at once bemused. There sat a honest to goodness (and apparently utterly stock) 1964 Dodge Dart, "slant six" engine and all. I was instantly transported by memory to the campus of Middle Tennessee State College in the winter of 1962 when I shared a warren of rooms with Phillip L*** and two other engineering students. Phillip was seriously trying to master mechanical drawing, and it was amusing to see his football player's body hunched over a drawing table. He was from Woodbury, TN (Cannon County) and because of his body build was nicknamed "The Woodbury bear". Phillip had just bought a brand new 1963 Dodge Dart (nearly identical to the car show vehicle) and was so proud of it we had to be very careful not to soil it when he took us for rides.

Later Phillip transferred to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where he lived in "Stadium Hall", inexpensive dormitories within the wedge shaped concrete grandstands of the University's football stadium. I had also transferred to UTK to try Air Force ROTC, for the Vietnam War was upon us all. After that war I returned to Knoxville for Law School, and took my fellow students for rides in the University's aero club aircraft, a high wing (orange and white) Cessna 172. I often flew over the river just west of the downtown bridges, pointing out to my passengers the long dark streak that surfaced in the middle of the river. That was raw sewage, an overflow from Knoxville's inadequate waste water treatment plant, dumped by an underwater pipe.

But despite horrible threats from State and Federal Health officials the City of Knoxville refused to expand its riverside treatment plant, deeming the surrounding land too expensive to purchase for that purpose. They turned to their City Engineer, Phillip L***, for another solution. He proposed pumping the excess sewage westward through a pipeline to a new plant to be built a considerable distance away on Fort Loudon Lake. But the wealthy landowners on that lake shore raised hell, and city residents were given pause by the fact the sewage had to be pumped uphill more than once on its route. Although a series of check valves were designed to halt any reverse flow, if those somehow failed toilets throughout the city would erupt like sewage volcanoes. What, some massive screwup in Knoxville? The locals knew better than to believe it could never happen. I went to one of the contentious public meetings to see if the besieged City Engineer was the same Phillip L*** I knew. He was.

However, the poll numbers for an upcoming election threw the incumbent city fathers into a panic, so they scrapped the pipeline plan and unfairly dismissed its champion (I say "unfairly" because they finally bit the bullet and did what they had forbidden their Engineer to even consider; the purchase of the needed land next to their existing city sewage plant). Phillip disappeared from the public stage after that, and I lost track of him. All this unreeled in my mind as I gazed at the pristine Dodge Dart yesterday. How to properly mark the moment? Glancing to see no one was near, I passed a long and satisfying gout of internal gas by the usual route.

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