By Ruth Burnham
Dad loved engines. From the two-hundred-ton diesel locomotives that he fixed for a living to the fist-sized glow plugs that flew his model airplanes on rare days off, Dad loved building, fixing, fine-tuning, and, especially, driving anything that ran on fuel. Early in my parents’ marriage he had been an invincible stock car racer in our small Montana town, maintaining an unbeatable 1951 Plymouth by means of his mechanical talent, until a collision on the dirt track totaled said Plymouth. Dad emerged unscathed, but Mom’s hysterics were enough to make him give up racing. He kept his helmet, however, a large, unwieldy bowl that resembled a football helmet with a bill and floppy leather straps that covered the ears and fastened under the chin. This 10-pound head protector, with Dad’s number 57 emblazoned in black electrician’s tape, hung on a peg in the garage, a garage as lovingly curated as any museum.
Years later, I found myself back in Dad’s garage, this one next to the home where he and Mom retired after having moved several times, through several garages. Dad, too, had passed away. His final garage was as spotless, orderly, and museum-like as all the others. And there, among the vast assortment of equipment and vehicles, enshrined on blocks and secured between two sawhorses, a cracked, faded helmet on its well-worn seat, stood Dad’s Honda 50, a tribute to youth, to age, and to the freedom inherent in both.