Shutter Speed: Tragedy strikes again and again!

skid marks

During the next two summers we hit the race tracks when we could afford it, but mostly we just hung out and partied. There were three events that hit us all very hard over this period of time. The first involved one of my co-conspirators in the ‘blue movie’ caper in high school. Of the other likely suspects was a lovable character by the name of David Barham. He and I did a lot of things together during our high school years. One was splicing about ten seconds into a geography movie. Everyone knew we were involved as we had been showing the movie in his basement, for a fee, for a whole weekend. Nearly every guy that played sports in our school and several others had seen the movie, yet no one said a thing to the powers that be when it accidentally ended up in an assembly one Friday morning. Needless to say they tried very hard to discover the creators of the excitement, but it eventually faded away. David played right behind me on the defensive line in football. At the time I was the left defensive end. Barney, as he was known, played corner linebacker. Every time there was a play that came around our end there was a blood curdling scream as he came hurtling through the line to make or assist in a tackle. He scared the shit out of me every time it happened! If I went to the Capital Theater on a Friday night you could tell Barney was there by his high distinctive laugh that just went on and on. We skied together in the winter and water skied in the summer. We chased girls together all year long. Barney was also a first class musician. He played bassoon in the school orchestra and sang and played bass in his own group that played all the local high school dances and any other gig they could find. It was on the road trip of one of these gigs that Barney, two of the band members and one of their girlfriends were killed on the way home in Barney’s new Chevy convertible. It was very early on a Sunday morning. They were returning from Gravenhurst where they had played a dance the night before. Just south of Trout Creek, the same town that I had found my three-window-coupe, Barney pulled out to pass several cars. At the end of the line was a yellow school bus. As Barney pulled past the bus it turned left into a side road. The left front fender of the bus caught the right rear bumper of Barney’s car. The slight impact caused Barney to lose control. The car swerved then dove for the left ditch. It stopped dead when it hit a steep culvert next to a driveway. My Mother woke me early the next morning to tell me of the accident. She had heard about it on the radio. It did not take me long to find out Barney was involved. Several of us drove down to the crash site where there was still wreckage in the ditch. We saw the car in a local wrecker’s yard. I could never figure out what a school bus was doing out at two in the morning on a Sunday. The ride home was long and lonely.

The second incident happened on a weekend night about ten o’clock. Several of us had been hanging out at the Deluxe Drive-in and had driven up through town. As usual we turned around and drove back down Main Street parading. At the traffic light at Fisher and Main in North Bay, a large Oldsmobile pulled into the curb lane and passed all our cars and sat at the light waiting for it to turn green. In a cloud of smoke the big Olds powered away and pulled into the driving lane in front of us. We hustled up the road after it, but the Olds just took off into the night. When we got onto Lakeshore Drive in Ferris, the Olds appeared again. It had hidden up a side street and waited for us to pass. This time it came up behind us. It pulled along side on the now four lane road. It powered ahead, then pulled back. It pulled ahead again. It did this several times. We began to speed up as the road dropped back down to two lanes and began to wind back and forth in smooth turns. The Olds was again right on our tail as we accelerated and powered through a long set of ‘S’ bends that we all knew well. The Olds could not keep up. We came out of the last turn well above the speed limit and continued to pick up speed. When the road straightened out the Olds blasted past us like we were tied to a post. The car had to be hitting the hundred-mile-an-hour mark. There was a light mist that hung over the highway as we continued down a long straight. We came to a rise in the road. The Olds by this time was long gone from view. Our cars were all tightly together at this point and almost throttled back as one to navigate a sharp right turn we knew was just before a small bridge. As we approached the bridge something wasn’t right. There was wreckage all over the road. After the bridge we pulled off the road and stopped. We all walked back together and saw the Olds lying on all four wheels with steam pouring from it’s engine. It had come to rest on the lawn of a small frame house. There was a party going on in the house. People were pouring out to the front lawn. If the Olds had hit the house it would have plowed right through it. One guy was wandering around the lawn holding his head. He was bleeding heavily. I took a look in the car and then turned and walked away back to my car. When the cops came, the guy holding his head started yelling about racing. It was time for us to hit the road. The Olds had missed the sharp right-hand turn and hit a telephone pole on the left side of the road. It sheared it off at the ground and flew to the next pole. It sheared the second pole off some seventeen feet off the ground! The driver and the guy sitting on the passenger side were both killed instantly. The one that survived had been sitting between them. The driver was some kid who had borrowed his Dad’s car. They all lived in Powassan, a small town south of North Bay. We all later got interviewed and told what had happened. It went no further. We didn’t hang around together for a while. The whole tragic mess bothered us tremendously, but there was more to come.

The evening of June 25th, 1965 was warm and dry. Craig was heading down to meet the gang at the Deluxe Drive-in to have a burger and see who was hanging out. On his way through town he met Jay MacNally just outside his house. He asked Jay if he wanted to come along, but Jay said he was going to hit the sack early because he had his final exam the next afternoon. He was happy to be getting out of high school and hoped he’d get a job with one of the local mining companies. Craig continued on to the Deluxe. Much later that same evening another close friend, Pat Dwyer got a call from his boss at the same mining company that Jay wanted to get employment at. Pat’s Father answered the phone and told Pat’s boss he’d get Pat to go up to one of their warehouses to get some impact bits they needed on a job they were working on. They needed the bits right away as the night shift was in the middle of the job. Pat’s Dad got him up out of bed and off he went towards the warehouse north of North Bay. Pat knew Jay needed a good word with his boss to get into the company so he stopped at Jay’s house and convinced him to come along. Pat was going to introduce Jay to his boss when they got back to the plant with the bits. The two boys, only eighteen years old stopped off to get something to eat at a local drive-in. It was after midnight. They met John Tucker, Bruce Graff and Kurt Meacham at the drive-in. They had just gotten off work at the same company. They were on the 4 to 12 shift. For some unknown reason they all decided to join Pat and Jay for the ride up to the warehouse in the old Dodge. It would be a fatal decision for the boys.

“We were honking right along when we came upon two Honda 50cc motorcycles being ridden up Highway 11. They were hardly moving” said Pat some 44 years later. “We pulled out to pass them and that is the last thing I remember.” Jay MacNally and Kurt Meacham died on impact. Bruce Graff, John Tucker and Pat Dwyer suffered horrible injuries that would affect them as long as they live.

The next morning the word flew around town. The rumours were wild about who lived and who had died. At first it was said a cop and his girlfriend had pulled out of a motel and hit the boys head-on and all were killed. It was said the boys were drunk and had been thrown out of one bar and were heading to The Blue Spruce, another bar up Highway 11. It turned out that this was partly correct. A policeman was the driver of the other car which was a police cruiser. The woman with him was his wife. Whether they pulled out onto the road and into the path of the boy’s car wasn’t determined, but it was determined that there was no alcohol involved. Speed and no lights on the cruiser were said to be a factor. The policeman and his wife, along with the two boys, died at the scene. There were witnesses, but the stories were vague. Pat would spend the next two years in hospital. The whole town was upset. Everyone knew someone involved in the terrible accident.
For our close-knit gang these three incidents helped curb much of the need to put that right foot to the floor. Jay and Pat, both our close friends and the incident that night were often on our minds. It made us think twice when we got behind the wheel.

Next up: My art takes me away from all I know.

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Comments

  1. says

    Allan
    We all have similar stories, though mine are luckily not so utterly tragic.

    All I can say is that it is amazing that some of us, including me, are still around.
    Paul

  2. says

    Thanks Allan for taking the time to share this. I have a strong feeling I undrstand more about why you felt the need to make this post. I too miss some friends from my youth and feel a void in my life without them. Your writing helps with the healing but wishing I could pick up the phone and hear their voice will never fade away.

  3. says

    Thanks for understanding my need to include this time of my life. Barney in particular still remains very strong in my memory bank. His laugh was so weird and actually wonderful in a way it is the key to many silent smiles and even laughs when I remember some of the things from that period. I think the deaths helped to steel me when other such incidents arose both in racing and my time with firefighters.

  4. Lyndsay Styles says

    What a time this was for you and your friends. All the laughs and excitement and then tragedy on three occasions.
    Those times are engraved in your mind and your heart and will live with you forever.
    Sadly this is all part of growing up and life is never the same again. It does however make you the person you become.
    Your writing is gripping and I felt the sadness you all were feeling. To lose that amount of people in your life was cruel but as you say it made you find direction and a life you have enjoyed to the full.
    Thanks for recording this Allan.

  5. Gerry Lang says

    I guess I was one of the lucky ones who never got into a serious accident considering all the drinking and driving we used to do.

  6. Clem Simmons says

    I remember Dave Barham well. His Mother and Dad were well known in town. Dave’s Dad was a musician too. His name was Rip Barham and his Mother was a British War Bride named Jinx, and she was a friend of my Mothers. Nice folks and Dave was their only son. Dave got his music genes from Rip and was likely destined for something in music. He was in a few bands and new some others who later did well in it. Dave died in his red 58 Chev Impala ragtop. I was told that actually survived the crash but died due to drowning in his own blood in the back of the ambulance. Today, this likely would be prevented. Very sad.

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