|Del Albright's Writings and Columns|
|Wheels of Time
("Tail" of the Lobster)
By Del Albright, BlueRibbon Ambassador
We called it “The Lobster” because I guess you could say it looked like one. With two bug eyes peeking out from along side an exposed radiator, and a tail that swished around plenty in the sand washes of southern California, it did sort’a remind folks of a land-lubing, wheel-sprouting lobster. It was our buggy. It was my first OHV. I have a story to tell about these wheels of time.
It was forty plus years ago that I took the picture in this article. That’s how long I’ve been wheeling. Seems like yesterday in some ways. In other ways, it tells quite a tale about the last forty years.
My brother Dale is on the left, and Dad (Elmer) is on the right. We are somewhere in the southern California desert where motorized vehicles are currently not allowed. The year was 1962.
The buggy was a chopped down 1952 Studebaker Commander that my Dad picked up for next to nothing. But in those days, $150 a week was a livable salary and old rigs didn’t cost much (by today’s dollars). Dad shortened the frame, put in a truck tranny, and slapped on some hay bailer tires. We left the old V-8 water-pumper engine from the Stude’ exposed to the world. Better cooling that way.
Dad was a machinist and welder, so fabricating the roll cage, parts, adaptor plates and driver compartment was second nature to him. I held the light and handed him tools during most of the construction.
The first time we towed the Lobster to DMV for licensing, we didn’t quite have the tow bar design perfected. I remember riding with Dad in our ’64 Ford truck and seeing the Lobster come whipping up alongside the truck while we were on the freeway. Ooops. Some modifications and redesigning quickly fixed that situation.
When I look back on 1962 and the Lobster, I still smile today. But the wheels of time have sure changed things in the last forty years. That was a year before JFK was assassinated, but the year he “invented” the Green Berets (US Army Special Forces) that I later joined.
That was 7 years before man walked on the moon. That was my first year of high school. The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in ’62 and one of the great movies of the year was Days of Wine and Roses.
1962, Mississippi: President Kennedy ordered Federal Marshals to escort James Meredith, the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi, to campus. A riot broke out and before the National Guard could arrive to reinforce the marshals, two students were killed.
Tony Bennett won a Grammy for the song “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” and the song “Sherry” was top on the pop chart.
Very importantly, 1962 was two years before the 1964 (original) Wilderness Act. Much has changed in our recreation world since those days. As an example, I remember Dad and I going to Competition Hill in Glamis, only to be perturbed because there were a couple hundred folks there on a holiday weekend. Now you might find a couple hundred thousand on a holiday.
I vividly remember a mud adventure with the buggy that makes me smile still today. Dad got it stuck in a mud hole, and asked me to jump out and push. Of course, being a strong teenager, I did. Well, there were no mud flaps or fenders on it, so when I started pushing and Dad put the cobs to that old V-8, the mud started to fly. I got a huge face full of mud and he got a great laugh out of the episode!
Dad, brother and I spent quite a few years poking around the dunes, the washes, the brush country and the mountains with that buggy. We hunted, we wheeled, we explored, and just plain had fun in that rig for a lot of years. I ended up taking it to Humboldt State University (Arcata, CA) with me after returning from Viet Nam and enrolling in college there.
The Lobster saw many miles of the South Spit in Eureka, CA, where closures have since changed that. In those days, I’d have to drive carefully along the shoreline as huge redwood tree stumps and root burls lined the ocean shore. Now that logging is pretty much a thing of the past in that area, especially for large redwoods, I’m sure the stumps and burls are not around much.
The Lobster saw Black Sands Beach; now closed, and many other areas of northern California that have since come under Wilderness or other restrictions.
But the point of this is not so much to bemoan the loss of public lands and motorized access in the last forty years, but to drive home the point that we all must be involved if we want to be part of the future of where we can recreate. The old Lobster has long since retired; but it’s spirit lives on.
It represented a unique freedom of expression and travel that many of us live for. It reminds many of us baby boomers of our childhood and early carefree times. In fact, many folks believe if you can remember the “60’s, then you weren’t there. But be that as it may, I truly remember, and will never forget, how a ’52 Studebaker changed my life, and how much fun I had in the 60’s.
The wheels of time keep rolling on, whether you’re involved or not. If you want your kids to enjoy the spirit of recreation we have now, then it’s up to all of us to find your own Lobster for your kids and friends, and pass on the spirit to them.