Mastic Beach Pioneer
SHADES OF TOM JOAD
HE ONLY LOOKS LIKE CHUCK CONNERS BUT, THAT'S REALLY SAM COLE HAVING A RHEINGOLD ? A PABST? A KNICKERBOCKER ? AT SCHULTE'S TAVERN IN THE 1940's
This 1940's Buddy L dump truck, which is latest addition to my toy collection, started out like the green '30's Marx Sinclair Gas Tanker, a literal bucket of rusted pressed steel. I have had the dump truck for about a year now just sitting around on my to do list. It was thinking about Sam the other day that inspired me to fix it up.
ATlantic 1 - 9021 would get you Sam on the phone at his Park Dr. house in Section One. There is a lot more paint on this toy truck now than Sam had on his real one. Last truck I recall that Sam had, only wore a few traces of chalky white paint on the cab the rest was mostly rust. In the early '50's, he also used his dump truck to pick up your garbage before Mastic Beach had a regular garbage truck collection.
Early "Knappsters" who read the story about The Mansion might recall Sam Cole's name. He was the guy I watched take down Knapp's chimneys in 1959, the day after the fire. A few weeks later he used his bulldozer to plow the huge pile of the remains of the Knapp mansion into the 3.5 acres of earth it last sat on. I actually started watching Sam and his dozer years before that, when we first came to Mastic Beach in the early '50's.
The first time may of been when he cleared out about 4 or 5 wood lots just across the road from our driveway on McKinley Dr. The next door Yodice family needed it to park all the cars of their relatives that came out on weekends. You could always hear Sam coming, he didn't believe in too much back pressure in his exhaust systems. And when he fired up his old Cat dozer, that looked liked it might of been used in WW2. and backed it off the trailer, a crowd usually gathered to watch him. He took down trees like they were toothpicks.
One time when I was seven or eight, I was home from school, recooping from my eye operation in early spring of 1955, Sam and his rig came roaring right past our picture window going about 5 mph, heading west down Elm Road. He stopped just past Jefferson Dr. not more than 100 feet from our door. It was a week day and I was the only one around, kind of like the day he took Knapp's chimneys down. I got quite a show that morning as he cleared the woods, pushed the pines and brush into a big pile, then dug a small cellar and left two big hills of dirt to ride my borrowed bike on until the foundation got built. But he left much more that day too. He left his bull dozer, and I got to play on it for at least the rest of the week. I can still recall climbing up onto the massive treads and sitting on what was left of the seat, pulling on all the levers and making believe wishing I could fire it up.
Sam was the Chief of the Mastic Beach Fire Department, when my Dad joined in '52. I'm not sure, but he may of been a Navy Sea Bee like my Dad was in WW2. Sea Bee's were the Construction Battalion that built the airfields on the islands in the South Pacific during the war. I probably re enacted a scene or two from the John Wayne movie, "The Fighting Sea Bees" a time or two while sitting in Sam's dozer that week.
Around 1955 or so Sam tore down Schulte's Barn on the corner of Jefferson & Dogwood. Schulte's Barn was actually one of the Knapp estate barns, the one we found all the World War 1 radio equipment and the old airplane parts in. I don't even know if he used his dozer. He may of just pulled it down with his truck like he did with the pantry on the back of our house, when we added the extension to it in 1959. Schulte's barn came down while were at school. It was quite a shock when we walked home from the bus stop to see it gone.
Sam had a partner in the land clearing buisness back then. I don't know if it was an official partner ship or not, but their names were often mentioned together as one. Cole & Callister. Jack Callister owned a crane. In our '62 high school year book, they both had seperate sponsor ads, so they might of parted ways? I just don't know, but I'm sure someone out there does.
Sam passed away in the late 1980's I believe. A few years back some one from his family ( a Cobb?) contacted me and said they had some early photos of Sam and his equipment. I have not heard from them since. Well I hope they see this and are as inspired as I was when I decided to restore my toy truck.
The title of this page is Ridin' With Sam Cole and I'll wind it up with that story as it would be the last time we saw each other and the most time we ever spent together. I touched on it in my very first book "Long Ride On A Short Track" , but I feel like elaborarting a bit more. today.
It was the spring of 1964 and the last spring that I lived in Mastic Beach, I was not quite 17 yet, as I believe it was in April that I last saw Sam Cole .....
For the last year, starting in the fall of '63, I had been earnestly trying to build a stock car in my back yard to race at Riverhead when I turned 17. I had been wanting to race at Riverhead since I was 10. My lack of funds slowed my progress and the fact that I did not have welding equipment slowed it even further. I had done most of the engine work that winter and had a hot Isky camshaft on order for it. I had a '37 Plymouth sedan to install the '51 Plymouth engine into. I had cut down the fenders and opened up the rear window with a sabre saw metal blade, but it still needed a lot of welding done on it. Mainly a set of roll bars, No roll bars ...NO RACING PERIOD , those were the rules. It also needed a bucket seat welded in, and front and rear crash bars. I had estimates of around $40.00 from Canuck Iron works in Shirley to fabricate a roll cage for me, using the black iron pipe I had been collecting for a good year.
And that's when I saw the answer to almost all my problems.
I found the coupe in a weekly paper called the Buy Lines Press. I was looking for parts mainly "safety wheels" and racing tires for my sedan when I ran across this ad.
1937 Plymouth Coupe Stock Car,Complete,with trans,no engine $40.00
that wasn't in the ad, that's what I thought when I read the ad. There ya go Mario.... Forty Measly Bucks and all you have to do is drop in yer engine and go racin!
It was quite a distance from our house over in East Meadow in Nassau county about 45 miles west of Mastic Beach. Butch drove me over there in Mom's '61 Falcon to get it ,with our mutual pal Walter Seiler. I still didn't have my own car yet, so how I was ever going to get a race car to the track, was still another minor detail I had to work on. First I needed a reason to go the track.
The coupe had campaigned at Freeport Stadium in the late '50's and early '60's and by the looks of it , it had campaigned hard. It was wearing a thin coat of grey primer and lots of rust. The interior was complete rust and cob webs. George Wagner, the guy selling it, showed me a b&w photo of it when it was white or yellow, upside down on the track, so I knew the roll bars worked! George didn't actually race it. He raced modifieds, which were much higher class than this car was. This was a bona fied Jalopy racer. George was just selling it for someone. ( I didn't know it then, but years later found out that "someone" was a widow, the owner - driver "Spike" Lezetera was actually killed in an crash ....but not on the track, thank goodness, the highway.
We made a little small talk and did some running board racing, but I couldn't wait to fork over the two twentys that were smouldering in my pocket and try to get home with my prize before dark.
George's last words to us as we squeaked and groaned ( it had been sitting a spell) out of his driveway were. "Good Luck Men and I would change that right rear tire.... real soon." We hit a lot of Friday afternoon traffic and were groping along in the dusk, when as we approached Exit 55 on the Long Island Expressway ironacally known as Wheeler Road ..... POW.... the right rear, went wrong and blew out. We were still 25.4 long miles away from home.
The bigger problem was, it was a 17" truck tire to help stagger the chassis and no gas station around had anything we could fit onto the rim. We had to abandon my prize racing car and I was certain that some thief was going to steal it in the night. I didn't get any sleep that night.
The next morning I ran back up there with my old pal Jack Rutigliano in Jack's '57 Ford, just to put a note on the car so the cops wouldn't have it towed away. Jack who went to auto mechanics school with me, thought it was a pretty rough looking machine and was going to need a lot of work to get it race ready. I was still trying to figure out , how the heck am I just going to get it home. I couldn't afford to have it towed that far with a tow truck. The bill would be more than I paid for the car, besides I was tapped. When we got back, it was Mom who had come up with a solution. "I called Sam Cole she said and explained your predicament. For $15.00 he can come over this afternoon and tow it home for you with his truck. I'll loan the money to you.
Sam showed up around 3 O' clock that afternoon with his dump truck . I climbed up in his cab sat on a board I think and off we went. I doubt there was much of a muffler on the truck and between the low gears and the high RPMs .you had to yell at each other to hear each other in the cab. I don't think we actually did too much talking, but we were riding together for a good two hours and yelling .... what a lot . The route we took was the only one you could, back in 1964 , .... Neighborhood Road to Floyd Parkway to the Sunrise Highway to Vets Highway to the LIE about 5 exits west and pick up the car.
BURNIN' UP THE ROAD ON THE RED LINE
Sam said nothing when we pulled up to it. He just lifted his dump body, chained the rear of the stock car to the dump door, then lowered the dumpter and off we went with the ass of my racing machine high in air and people staring as they passed us by. I was hoping the front tires which were no prizes either, would hold out for 25.4 tenths more miles. I couldn't even see in the mirror if it was still chained to us, but it was.
" HEY MA .....LOOK WHAT FOLLOWED ME HOME! "
When my Mom saw what we dragged into the driveway and I was so worried about, she didn't know whether to laugh or cry. But she couldn't believe I paid $40.00 for it. She said "I don't think a junky would even give you five dollars for it." She paid Sam, the $15.00, he thanked her and drove off .
That was the last time I ever saw Sam Cole. I hope he stopped off at Schulte's or The Sand Bar and had one for the road and a few laughs on this kid and his prized racing machine.
In the weeks that followed, I soon had the coupe sporting a coat of bright orange paint with a white roof. It would still take another year though before I was able to show up at Riverhead Raceway with it and get my brains knocked out. As I painted that old rusty toy truck this week, first with grey primer and then orange, I couldn't help but recall painting "The Coupe" or that 50.8 mile round trip I took in 1964 in a big old dump truck, sans muffler, with Mr. Sam Cole.... Bulldozer Operator.
MANY A WIND UP MARX BULLDOZER
Wound Up In The Christmas Stockings Of Both Butchie & Me In The Early '50's . It Seemed They Were There Every Year For About 5 Years Along With Cache's Of Other Marx Toys. Louis & David Marx were old friends of Grandpa Spooner. I Sure Would Like To Have Just One Now To Go With My "NEW" Sam Truck