This story was spawned from reading a post on Facebook by Cindy Ruth, wife of Jerry “The King” Ruth. Back in 1965 three young Canadian lads Ray Camley age 15 and two friends, Peter age 17 and younger brother, John age 14, traveled from British Columbia, Canada to Bremerton, Washington to spend a day looking at the ships in storage. After a full day viewing ships and even talking their way aboard an aircraft carrier, the three lads headed north back to British Columbia. Gremlins stepped in after dark in Marysville, Washington when their old 56 Ford pick-up truck started to stumble and loose power. However; some luck was with them as they managed to hit an off ramp and coast into a local service station. Ray opened the hood on the now deceased beast and realized they were up the proverbial “Creek without a Paddle”. The three boys were out of their home country, broke down after dark with about $10.00 bucks between them. Looking around the boys noticed two top fuel dragsters sitting on the other side of the parking lot. One of the cars was owned by Dick Kalivoda, the other by none other than “The King” Jerry Ruth. The three were standing around not knowing what to do, when fate enters into the picture. One of the guys from the race cars walks over announcing his name; I’m Jerry Ruth, what seems to be the problem boys? We told him, lost power, we’re stuck and a long away from home. Jerry diagnosed the problem fairly quickly, then went back to his truck, opened his tool box, started to root around in the drawers and found what was needed for a quick repair. He came back with a brand new set of points for our old engine, installed them, and you know the answer, it fired right up! Can we pay you some money for your kindness? The answer was, and I remember it still to this day, said Ray, “Naa, come on over here and join us”. We did. Spending about an hour with Jerry and Dick, before departing for home with some great memories, but not before a Big Thank you, along with a big sigh of relief knowing we would all be safely tucked into our on beds, later that night.
In the late 50’s drag racing was like a baby at the point of just starting to crawl. In the 60’s drag racing was like a toddler at the point of just learning to walk. I’m going to reference dragsters here, as they became my ride of choice in 1968. If memory serves me correctly in 1968 the slipper or some referred to it as a slider clutch started changing drag racing from full quarter mile Smokey runs to Smokeless runs with much improved elapsed times & miles per hour. During the lock up clutch era the engines were mounted very close to the rearend 20 ½" to 28" from the centerline of the rearend housing and mounted at a front pulley down angle referred to as engine dump or dump angle, this was done in an attempt to keep the front end of the car from trying to climb the ring gear (wheelstand). The slipper clutch (either manual or centrifugal) changed chassis design with the engine sitting more level and farther out from the centerline of the rearend. Clutch adjustment was done by setting the air gap and adding or subtracting weight (grams) on the outer edge on the fingers of the pressure plate and turning screws to add spring pressure (static/stall), The pressure plate is referred to as a hat, not to be confused with the injector hat. Now I will “inject” some Chinese wisdom direct from the “Ricebowl” into the story from, “Riceman” Roger Lee “Head Chinaman at the world famous “Riceman Laundry Service”. Some say “Kent Fuller setup the dump with the driveline, crank and pulley using a 2x4 wooden block. Depending what rearaxle and how far the engine was out determined the dump angle. The pinion height vs. the axle centerline was also a determining factor. A Halibrand center section pinion height was the same height as the rearaxle, 10 degrees of dump with the SBC engine out 20'' on the Shubert & Herbert Fueler. 8 3/4 Mopar is 1.750'' pinion centerline below the axle centerline. Ford 9'' is 2.250'' below the axle centerline. My Jim Brissette Woody was unique , because Jim wanted the static weight of the engine as far back as possible at 20 1/2'' with an early Olds rearend at 6 degrees of dump. Most fuelers before slipper clutches the engine out 24-28'', but it depended on what the car owner wanted for his combination”
Paul's first dragster near completion
I was not aware of all the changes taking place in 1967 as I was serving Uncle Sam in the jungles of Vietnam and other South East Asian countries that don’t deserve a mention, even fifty years after the fact. Upon my return stateside and to civilian status two things were on my mind, put a dragster together and the other involved round eyed American ladies. My dragster plan was originally hatched in late 1965, but this idea was put on hold when I received my draft notice in early 1966. U.S. Army pay in those days was very limited to say the least, but cigarettes were provided free of charge in C- Rations. Upon my return to civilian life I was able to locate a job and with my very limited savings, immediately stated hatching a plan to build my first dragster. First thing I needed was a tig welder and a pile of chromoly tubing some 3004 H14 aluminum for body and a place to setup shop. Living in the Dallas, Fort Worth area at that time meant most everything needed to build the chassis/body was locally available. Engines were available at the local junkyard. Bolts, nuts, washers, fittings, braided lines etc. were available at Gem Government Surplus in the Stockyards area of North Ft. Worth on North Main St.
If you’re still with me and curious in what direction I’m headed with this story; please keep reading
In the late 60’s early 70’s many interstate hi-ways were still not completed, so much of our drag racing travels were on two lane state or U.S. highways. Dragsters were still an oddity to most folks in small town Texas, Oklahoma and many other states in the Midwest. At this time many dragsters were still transported on open trailers with a jug or two of nitro and a small box of tools for maintenance. When stopping for a bite to eat or gas up the old Carry-All/Station wagon/Pickup or seeing just an old car invoked some strange looks and lots of strange questions. What is that ‘thang?’ Is it some kinda airplane, where are the wings? Where do you sit? Where is the steering wheel? What does this handle do? What does that do? How fast does it go?
If you’re not bored to tears by now and still with me, please read-On.
We had raced in Hobbs New Mexico on a Saturday and then bedded down at the luxurious Carry-All Hotel for the night. If you’ve not slept in a Carry-All with two other guys after a long hot day at the races, you really missed an exciting part of early drag racing on a very limited budget. Cheese and mustard on our Boloney sandwiches or hot dog was a special treat, back then. After a not so restful night, three tired guys with at least two days of heavy five o’clock shadow on their faces, headed East on old Hwy. 80 towards home base in Ft. Worth, Texas. Getting close to Anson, Texas, the gas gauge and our stomachs were telling us it’s time to fuel up.
Paul running at Green Valley Raceway, Smithfield, Texas
After gassing up, we pulled over to the side of the gas station and chowed down on another boloney sandwich, while sitting on the trailer in the Texas heat. During our feast a young man walked up and started asking questions about the car and if we knew anything about fixing cars. Answering the young man; I said between the three of us, you could probably fill a thimble with our combined knowledge of mechanics. I’ll never forget the troubled look of despair on his face. I immediately picked up on his expression and asked, do you have a question about your car? He sort of him-hawed around and said, “I don’t mean to bother you, but yes, my pick-up just stopped running.” Where is it, I asked, we’ll take a look at it for you. Well sir, it’s about three or four miles north of town. Are you out of gas? No sir, I filled up about 30 miles back. We unhooked the trailer, leaving Billy to baby-sit and headed north on U.S. Hwy. 83.
On the way, he mentions his wife is with the truck and the how, when and why they came to be broke down on Hwy. 83. Both were originally from Junction, Texas and married at a young age. After marriage the decision was made to move from Junction and take a job in western Kansas. He mentioned all had gone well for the couple, until he was laid off from his job at a packing plant.
When we arrived at the pick-up it was an eye opening experience for me, to say the least. Not only was the young lady pregnant, but they also had a toddler, I’d guess to be a year and a half old. Did I mention it was a typical sweltering hot humid mid 90’s Texas summer day? We diagnosed the problem with the old Chevy six cylinder Blue Flame as a recently deceased fuel pump. Okay, let’s all load up, go town and find a pump to get you back on the road. Sir, do you know how much a pump will cost, he asked? I only have about $3.00 dollars, he said. Well, we’ll worry about that when the time comes, I said. Back to town we go. It’s Sunday in small town Texas and nothing but Café’s and gas stations open. We go back to the gas station where we started and asked the owner where we could locate a fuel pump for a Chevy 6 cylinder. Ain’t but one parts house in town and he’s closed on Sunday. But, I’ll call Joe and see if he can help ya out. About ten minutes later ol’ Joe rolled in, opened up and had the pump in stock. I think the pump cost about seven bucks and change. I paid for the pump and away we went to install it. After arriving back at the pick-up with the new pump in hand and about ten minutes of work the ol’ Chevy six lunger was purring like a kitten. We scraped up about $10.00 or $15.00 bucks between us and told them to stop and get a bite to eat somewhere down the road. They were very appreciative and asked for an address to repay us later for our donation and kindness. Naa!!! Not necessary, just get back to Junction, Texas safely and have a safe, long & happy life with your families & kids. I hadn’t thought about this incident for many years until reading the story about Jerry Ruth helping the three young men from Canada. I have thought about this family from time to time over the years and wondered to myself how life turned out, for them. The couple would be in their later 60s now and the kids would be about 50 or 51. Wow, where has 50 years gone.
Talking to Jerry “The King “Ruth reminds me of talking to another 60’s, 70’s drag racing legend, Bennie “The Wizard” Osborn. When you get them talking, strap in tight, it’s gonna be a hell of a ride! Damn, they have some great stories to tell. Special Thanks to my friend and publisher Rob Huckstadt for giving me a free reign to write my ramblings about the early days of drag racing.
NOSTALGIA DRAG WORLD - Written by Paul Caster