Stateline, Squirt Johns, & My Brand New Argus
May 10, 2010
May 30, 1959 started like every other Saturday in this quiet little corner of Chautauqua County we call Mayville. It was Memorial Day. There was probably a parade down to the cemetery to honor our loved ones, but for me, a race crazy kid of 12, it was Saturday and that meant one thing, Stateline Speedway - two things if you count french fries - but this would not end like every other Saturday night.
When Randy Anderson asked me to share this story he said to tell it "like I remembered it" so here is how it went.
Dad and I had gone to Westfield for some reason and I ended up at the W.T. Grant store on Main Street. As was the norm, I would walk through the store, find something I wanted and if it wasn't too expensive he would buy it for me. This day my eyes fell upon an Argus camera outfit: camera, film, flashbulbs - the whole ball of wax. It was settled, and it was soon mine. Back in Mayville I remember thinking I would take it to the races and be a little Gordy Mahan, the official photographer at Stateline, and so I did.
It was a "50-lapper" as dad would say, but it was also the Gust Johnson Memorial race. As usual we went through the heat races, semis and the "consy". Now the feature race. It started as always, Jim Ponder throwing the green flag, cars bouncing through the first turn, roaring down the back stretch. Then the rains came and the race was stopped. When the red clay got wet it took some time to dry and most people thought the event would be postponed, We waited, and sure enough the crew got the track back and the race resumed. Just has I had predicted, my man, Squirt Johns took the checkers.
As I stated before, most people thought postponement. That evidently included the press and even Gordy. Well, as was the ritual, fans were allowed on track to take pictures. There I was with my little Argus and the ONLY camera. Picture taken, dad and I started for the car when an announcement came over the loud speaker that asked for the boy who took the picture to come to the announcer's stand. Dad said, "That's you son," so back we went. They asked if they could buy the film and gave me $5.00 for the whole roll. The first time I saw that picture I took was in the Jamestown paper. Next week I took the $5.00 bill back to Stateline and had Squirt autograph it. Framed, with a copy of the picture, it hung on my bedroom wall for a good long time, until a 12-year-old boy discovers the next best thing to race cars - 12-year-old girls.
So, as I remember it, I left Stateline 10 feet tall, and bullet-proof on that Saturday night in May of '59. Well that may be a little exaggerated, the 10 feet tall and bullet-proof part, but nobody can say I wasn't five dollars richer.
In a few days this will be 51 years since it happened but I can remember as it were yesterday. Thanks for the memory Squirt.
Very rarely does the highlight of your vacation start on the first day, but that was not the case on June 29, 2010 when I arrived in Brockway, PA to meet my childhood hero, Squirt Johns. I pulled into the driveway as he was climbing onto his lawn mower, a RED Craftsman. My immediate remark was that I had him figured as a Kubota or Husqvarna man as they came orange and black from the factory. Squirt always drove an orange and black #511.
He invited me in to the house where we sat in the TV room with his lovely wife, Lola and we began to reminisce about Stateline Speedway so many years ago. We mentioned drivers' names, some of whom I had forgotten but recognized as soon as Lola or Squirt mentioned their names: Jim Patrick, Eddie Kisko and of course Dean Layfield and Emory Mahan.
I had figured on 15 minutes to talk, get pictures and of course an autographed five dollar bill, but an hour and a half later as the conversation had moved to the front porch, Squirt was telling me his "trade secrets" as to his success in winning a lot of races. Those "secrets" will stay with me.
As for the $5.00 dollar bill, he asked if the girl I spent the first one on would be at the high school reunion that I was to attend in a few days. When I said "possibly," he suggested that I stop back on the way home in case I spent it on her again. Being the gentleman that he is, he graciously signed another that will hang on my wall with the picture of Squirt and me.
And as the picture shows, it took me 63 years to make it but I am finally as tall as Squirt.
A big thank you to Randy Anderson who made this whole thing possible and help me meet Squirt again after all these years.