DFH Volume 1 Issue 6
by Jim Dayton
Uncle Chip’s (Chester Dayton) mid-life crisis spanned the years from the late 1950’s through about 1965, when he was around 45 -55 years old. In those years, his thing was cars. In about 1962, he bought a Karmann Ghia. To a teenage kid, and probably adult boys too, it was near the top of the list of the finest piece of machinery ever built. It was sold by Volkswagen, which also made Porsches, and it looked just as fast. Of course, the company also sold bugs; the Ghia had the horse power of that putt-putt car and so much class! It was respectfully fast, but not a killer machine.
In the summer of ’63, when my hormones were racing, Uncle Chip decided he would ride up to West Chazy Camp Grounds with dad (Paul Dayton). He left that heart stopping beautiful work of art in our driveway. To make matters tempting, my entire family was already at camp and I was home alone. And to really make matters worse, Uncle Chip left the Ghia keys on top of the refrigerator. What do you suppose a kid would do in a situation like that? That’s right. Steal that gorgeous machine and go on a joy ride, even if he didn’t know how to drive and didn’t even know how to shift a four-speed transmission.
At first thought, it was a battle of good and evil. “To steal or not to steal, that is the question!” Evil prevailed. I briefly wondered if Chip was testing me and knew the odometer reading. The urge was more than I could bear. I learned to shift without jerks and grinding gears right away. Now, where would I go? More evil filled my mind. In kayaking, class 5 rapids are as good as it gets, and I was determined to do a class 5 drive. Up and down blind, winding roads, over an unguarded railroad crossing–without peeking left or right for terror… “OK, Wimpy, let’s get it on.”
In a short time, I was bearing down on a slower car. There was a solid yellow line and a blind bend in the road. The imp, which now controlled the wheel, screamed, “So what! Go for the adrenaline rush.” And I did. Then, it was full throttle up West Mountain. I came down the hill much faster than I went up. Finally, having exhausted my curiosity, I returned home about a half hour later. I suppose I may have logged 35 miles on the odometer. Again “So what!” I had had a thrill and had survived. If Uncle Chip wanted to press charges with the town cops, it was OK, and well worth the penalty. I never heard anything more about my adventure from Uncle Chip or my dad, but about four years later Uncle Chip wanted to sell the dream machine to me. I was headed to college and needed every penny I could save, so I was forced to decline his offer. I could tell it hurt his feelings. Now that I’m much older, and I’d like to think a little wiser, I realize he would have sold it to me for practically nothing. That’s just the way he was. Another very generous Dayton.
Come to think of it, I hadn’t realized how much I missed that Karmann Ghia until I started writing this article. I may shop for one, even though I’m overweight and too decrepit to get in and out of one. Perhaps I’ll just get it so my grandson can drive it. After all…he’s a fifteen-year-old kid with raging hormones. I could accidentally leave the keys on top of my daughter’s refrigerator.