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copyright 2000 by Lari Davidson

Most of us like a mystery. This one started with a rumour. I heard it first from, I think it was Bill McIntosh, at Grand
Prix Raceway out the west end of Broadway. Though I don't know that for sure, lotta brain cells ago. Whoever . . .
and it's come back to me now, it was Bill Mac.

We were just talking beside the track and he said, "I heard from somebody there was a 1/32nd club somewhere out
in the valley." That was all.

Duly noted. At the time I figured they'd more'n likely make contact with the rest of us sooner
or later. Still, I thought I might ask around and see if anybody else had heard anything.

Dave Craster was the next one I talked to about it. Dave's a pleasant guy with a broad smile
and a talent for building impeccable slot cars. I'll tell you about his '61 GP Ferrari Sharknose
sometime.
He gave the matter some thought and remembered he had run into a guy when he was
in Gilmore Hobbies up Hastings Street, noticed him looking at the Pittman motors in the glass
counter display.

"You race?" said Dave. "What scale?"

"Home track," the guy replied, and then clammed up, like that explained everything. He was
medium height, Dave said, and right off the bat he thought of him as 'the brown man' cause he
had sandy hair, was wearing a brown shirt and tan pants with brown loafers.

"Brown eyes, too," Dave told me. "'Little older than me; in his late thirties/early forties. He
had a pipe in his mouth but it wasn't lit."

"Brown?" I said.

"Yeh. All of him."

"I meant the pipe."

"Yeah!" He brightened.

"And the tobacco?" I said, smiling.

"O, shut up!" he said.

"So what's his name?"

"Started with a 'C', Charlie? Clark? No, something like that. I didn't get no last name."

"Can't be too many guys' names start with 'C'."

"You're in a smart-ass mood today."

"Sorry." I said. "How many guys?"

"Didn't say," Dave said, frowning. "It was like he didn't wanna tell me very much. Kinda
secretive, dismissive."

"So, lemme see now. We got a brown man...well, a man in brown, name starts with a
'C'....maybe. And he, or they, have a home track......whereabouts?"

"Didn't say. Like I said, he didn't tell me too much."

"Phone number? Contact? Leave him yours?"

"Yeah." He brightened again. "That last one....course that was earlier this year."

"So, yer not waitin' by the phone anymore then?"

He curled his lip. I guess my smart-ass mood still wasn't impressing him.
"Probably folded by now," he said. "That sure happens."

I shrugged. Wouldn't hurt to put a few more feelers out though, maybe a sign in the hobby
shops. I was beginning to get really interested.
I forgot to say. . .this was late '65....October, November, maybe. Slot car racing was getting
big. Extremely popular and just beginning to really take off. So much so that a couple of weeks after
I'd been talking with Dave the B.C. club reps, two from each club, got together to try and draw
up some rules and regs to keep the races running smoothly. Robb Lightley of the Richmond club
was there and he was all for adopting the British rulebook right across the board. Robb was a
rangy guy with freckles and mousy brown hair, originally from England. He was infamous for
having a fixation for accurately scaled 1/32nd cars.

"Right across the board," he said again, in that northern part of England accent of his. "Why
not? It's worked for them."

Well, we voted that down pretty quick, or rather, refused to vote on it at all. Instead, we
formed a committee of three to draw up some recommendations and a blueprint to base a set of
regs on, taken partly from the British ones (to keep Robb happy) and incorporating some we
found in a New York magazine article on slot car racing in the United States. To most
everyone's relief, Robb wasn't on the committee.

That part settled, the discussion turned to other matters, member clubs for one thing. It seemed
we ought to try to contact any clubs in the area we hadn't heard from yet. That's when Tony Lai
said something reminded me about that earlier story, 'the brown man', of Dave Craster's.

"Phil told me," Tony said. "A bunch of guys out in Delta used to come in and get stuff for rail
racing off him." Which made sense cause Phil's Van Hobbies store was the centre of model
railroading in Vancouver. Still is to this day. "Wonder if they're still around?"
I looked at Dave.

"What?" he said.

"You told me about the guy you ran into up at Gilmore's Hobbies." He looked puzzled. "The
man in brown? Couple of months ago?" I said. "Mr. 'C'?"

"The brown man," he said. "Yeah. O' course. What about him?"

"Tony was just saying?" I said.

"Rail racing? He didn't mention nothin' about rail racing."

"The conversation I remember you tellin' me, he didn't mention much of anything."

"Coulda been, I guess," said Dave. "They prob'ly built a new slot track by now."

"You get any phone numbers?" I said to Tony.
He shook his head.

So that was the third 'clue'. I was beginning to enjoy this. The thrill of the chase and all that.
Ace Newsom heard it next. He'd been in Bill Halley's hobby shop, the one no one ever knew
the name of, if it ever had one. Everybody just knew it as Bill's. The sign over the door of the
little store simply said "HOBBIES" painted in big red letters on a piece of white plywood. Hard
to describe Bill himself. He always seemed to me the kind of guy who was looking for the next
opportunity, made you question his present commitment. Searching for an angle of some kind,
or a better deal - when he found it he'd be right outa there overnight (and one day, of course, he
was).

The thing I liked going to Bill's for was he brought in exotic 1/32nd stuff from all over the
place, England, too. Bill's is where I finally found an Auto Hobbies Cobra Coupe I'd been
searching for. He even brought in Hawk kits which were mostly junk but they had a Lancia
Ferrari GP car could be found nowhere else. Well, maybe 'cept for the Braverman fibreglas ones
which we never saw in Vancouver, probably cause they were so expensive.

But back to Ace and the mysterious club. This part of the tale comes from putting together the
story from both Ace and Bill. You'll see why in a minute.
Ace was talking to Bill and a young kid, about sixteen, Ace thought later, came up to the
counter with a question and a 1/32nd Lancer Ferrari 250 LM body in his hand. The kid seemed
to know Bill so Ace chatted with him about slot cars in general and finally asked him where he
raced. Seems the kid's father had a home track out in Ladner and he started telling Ace and Bill
all about it, how great it was and all of that. You know how kids can be about their Dads' stuff
sometimes?

I should maybe mention here that Ace was a guy with a short fuse, and you never knew what
was going to set him off. In this case it was the kid's harmless bragging lit the match, so to
speak. Ace started telling the kid about his own Haida Circuit's layout and about the club scene
in Vancouver, and who the hell had ever heard of Ladner anyway?

The kid, his eyes big, backed off and left, without buying the Lancer body, which did nothing
for Bill's disposition. Ace is just a short guy but he's got one of those 'chip on yer shoulder'
attitudes. When I talked to Ace later, heard his side of the story, I reminded him about this lost
club that we, or at least I, was trying to run down and, not expecting much, did he get a phone
number or an address or a name or something? He had to admit he hadn't so a day or two later I
paid Bill a visit during my afternoon travels and heard the tale from his point of view and put
them together.

I think I said, going into Bill's store was great. There was no well-groomed professional
display on the walls like the raceway or most hobby shops, just boxes and more boxes on the
counter, even some on the floor, filled with exotic 1/32nd parts and some 1/24th. Stuff of all
kinds mixed in with clear plastic Lancers and DuBros, etc. Some in blister packs or stapled
plastic baggies, some just tossed loosely into the box. Boxes piled on top of boxes that took up
almost the whole of the counter, leaving room only for a cash register and a small place for Bill
to lean while he talked to customers. I seem to remember he could have used a few more lights
in the place.

"Hey, Bill," I said.

"Howzit goin'?" he said. O yeah, Bill had trouble remembering my name. For awhile he called
me 'Terry' and then 'Gary'. But I think it was Tony told him he had it wrong and he switched to,
'Hey' and 'Howzit goin'. Didn't much matter to me.

I flipped through one of the boxes and said, "Still lookin' for a '48, '50 Hudson Hornet, Bill."

"Y'all can keep on dreamin'"he said. I've often wondered if that was some kind of Southern
accent Bill had or if he was just effecting one.

"Say," I said, getting to it. "Ace was telling me he ran into a kid in your store. Kid from Delta?
Ladner?"

He seemed to think for a minute.
"Think I know the kid you mean. Young kid? Glasses?"

I shrugged. "Ace saw him, not me. They were talking about his track, or his Dad's track out in
Ladner."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said. "Freddie."

I didn't say anything.

"The kid's name is Freddie, I'm sure. Been in with his Dad a few times." And that, of course,
was when his version of the story came out and I put the two together.

"Anyway .I can get in touch with him, his Dad?"

"Well," he scratched his short curly beard and seemed to pout like some people do when
they're racking their brain. "'S father ordered something once and left his number. Picked it up
when it came in."

"You still got it? The number?"

"I mighta put it somewhere."

I waited.

"Don't have time to look now," he said. There was no one else in the store. "I'm filling an
order," he added.

"If you could, Bill," I said. "I'll check back."

"Just gimme a day or two, OK?"

"Sure. Hey, Bill?"

"Mmmhmm?"

" I'm kinda....uh. I'd sure like to get ahold of these guys."

"Like I said, 'f I can find it."

I left. Typical Bill, I thought. The guy pretty much looked out for himself and wasn't known to
do favours for others. I was feeling proud of myself nonetheless. This was going pretty good.
Ernie Holland was a nice guy and I liked him. For some reason he bought into a franchise
raceway business, but why he would do that when he knew next to nothing about slot cars, I
could never figure out. Granted, the slot car scene was like a Roman candle in '66 so it must
have been easy to get caught up in the hype, especially when that hype was way up there in the
stratosphere. All that stuff.

But the lack of knowledge and hands-on hurt and both Ernie and his store had a doomed feel
about them right from the start. I'm sure he felt it, too, but what could he do after the fact?
I always popped into Ernie's when I was out near Edmonds on the North Burnaby/New West
border. This time it was right after the Ace and Bill incident.

"You doin', Ernie?" I said when I walked in the door. I was never sure whether Ernie was glad
to see me or not. I rarely came in for parts or to buy anything - actually, Ernie didn't have very
much a serious slot car racer would want - only for info and a chat. I was not what you would
call a businessman's dream customer anyway.

It was one/two o'clock in the afternoon. The shop had been open for about an hour and there
was a hollow, empty sound all around us as we talked.
Eventually I got around to it. I'd pinned a small sign on his notice board a couple of weeks
before.

"Any nibbles on that sign I left?" For just a second he was puzzled. I pointed over to the cork
notice board.

"Hey? No," he said. "What are you looking for?" Like maybe he'd have it in stock and could
sell it to me.

"A sort of lost 1/32nd club out in Ladner." Now he just looked confused.
Well, I hadn't expected to find much at Ernie's. I hung around another five minutes talking
about little in particular and then left. The place depressed me.

About a week after my visit with Bill I dropped in to Fraser Raceways to say 'Hi' to Rube who
worked the afternoon shift as manager. I was surprised to see Bill Eisonsen there, too, the both of
them behind the counter. Bill was the evening manager, but so far as I knew he had a full-time
day job at Sears in Burnaby as an appliance serviceman. They both seemed glad to see me,
maybe more so than usual.

"Hey," Bill said. I'd seen him at an SVMRC race meet the night before which was a Sunday.
Rube grinned at me.
It felt strange seeing both of them behind the counter at once.

"Thought you guys worked different shifts?" I said. Rube was still grinning. He looked at Bill.

So don't tell me, I thought.

"What?" I said.

"Got sumpn you want," Bill said. He was fiddling with one of the raceway's rental 'thingies'.
The unrecognizable clear plastic body was unpainted and I could see the frame, motor, wheels
and all through it. A large red number '3' had been painted on the top by a rough hand.

" What is it I want?" I said.

"I think I'm gonna have to change the back axle," he said to Rube. He gave the spongies
another spin and began to remove the body. "How the hell does anybody bend an axle?"
Rube opened a door beneath the cash register and brought out a small plain cardboard box that
looked like it once held wooden matches. "AXLES" had been printed on one end with a felt pen.
There was no lid. Bill fished around in the box with a forefinger and picked out an axle.

"This one's still got thread on it," he said. He grinned at his own joke.

"C'mon. Whatta you guys got?" There might have been exasperation in my voice. I wasn't
gonna ask again.

Rube went to serve a kid who'd come to the counter down the way. Bill removed the car's
body and put it down on the counter. With his free hand he rang the till. He fished in the opened
drawer and brought out a piece of blue notepaper folded in half.

"Gotcha a phone number," he said. He held up the folded paper in two fingers, twisting it to
show me both sides.

"So what? Somebody's interested in club racing?"

"Well," his eyes twinkled. "They already have their own club," He held the paper out. I took it.
"Somewhere out in Ladner."

Can you believe? It still didn't sink in.

"Yeah, we don't have any...." and then it finally got through to me. I opened the note.
"Ladner?"

"The mysterious lost club," Bill said. He cocked his head and gave me a tight-lipped smile.
Rube returned with a $5 bill in one hand, pushed the cash register drawer closed and rang up a
sale. He winked at me and smiled.
There was just a phone number on the paper, carefully printed. It had a 946 prefix which
sounded right for Ladner.

"Yeah, thanks," I said. Rube had gone back to his customer and Bill was intent on the chassis
he was working on.

He looked up. "Pay phone on the back wall," he said. It was impossible to read his expression.

"Thanks." I walked back to the phone, put in my dime and dialled. It rang three times and then
a female voice answered.

"The number you have reached is not in service," said the voice. Then it started to say the
same thing again. I hung up and redialled. I mighta got it wrong, a slip of the forefinger.
"The number you have re...." I hung up again.
Damn!

"Cute stuff," I said to Bill back at the counter. I headed for the door

"Sumpn wrong?" he said. He was grinning like the Cheshire cat.

"Catch you guys later," I said. "See ya, Rube!"

He was still down at the other end of the counter. He raised an arm but didn't look my way.

"Scuse me," said a voice behind me.

I turned and saw a fellow about my own age just coming out of the raceway door behind me.
He had longish hair and a moustache and he was wearing tight faded jeans and a white T-shirt
with a package of cigarettes rolled up in one sleeve. I thought that went out in the fifties.

"Sorry to bother you, man," he said. The door swung closed behind him.

"No problem," I said.

"I couldn't help overhearing," he said. "In there."

I didn't say anything. I did notice he was holding what looked like a business card in his hand.
"You're looking for a club out in Ladner?"

I groaned inwardly. Could be another little setup of Bill's; guy did love a practical joke and
he'd been known to take 'em way too far.

"Yep," I said in a my best bored voice. My eyes wandered out toward the street and the passing
cars. Like I wasn't going to believe very much of what he said.

"I used to be a member," he said. He just stood there staring at me, putting it in my court.
I had a short think. What the hell!

"Well . . . I got the impression you guys weren't too crazy about coming out of hiding. What's
that all about?"

"That's Cliff," he said.

"Cliff?"

"Collinson."

"I don't get it," I said.

"Cliff's kinda funny. They been racing a long time, way back when it was rails, ya know? not
slots. Figures they done alright on their own so far and they don't need to join anybody else or
anything, y'know?"

"Yeah, . . . uh, you were what? a member?"

"Yeah," he said. "I'm moving to Edmonton next week, but I haven't seen any of them for a
couple of months. They mighta changed their minds by now."
I shrugged. Why not?

"So you got, what? A number I can call him at?"

"Here's one o' Cliff's cards," he said. "I wrote his home number down on the back." He held
the business card out. I took it. 'Ketter's Marine', it said. I turned it over and saw a number on
the back.

"Who's Ketter? Place he works?"

"His wife's name," he said. "Used to be. Her father died and left 'em both the business."

Sounded good to me. "Cliff Collinson, huh?" I read it right off the front of the card. "Thanks."

"Hey! No problem, man," he said. "You take care." He turned to leave.

"Uhhhm . . ."

He looked over his shoulder at me.

"Thanks," I said. I slipped the card into my back pocket.
He waved a hand and walked to a car parked at the curb and opened the door.
After he had driven off I was still standing there in the middle of the sidewalk. Probably a little
stunned. But isn't that the way it always is? You look and look, and then it's handed right to you.
I was supposed to meet Bob Woodbody at the Blue Boy Hotel that afternoon for shuffleboard,
which was Bob's second love right after slot car racing. Course he was married to Gay who was
one fine-looking woman, so maybe it was third. Yeah, probably. No, I forgot the kids.
Bob and I go way back. We motorcycled together in the late 50's when we were just teenagers.
Did some racing and a lot of riding. Golden days now, then, too. Don't get me started . .
.
"Hey, Sherlock," he said. We'd were sitting at a table with a couple of beers, waiting our turn
on the board. "You find out anything about those guys s'posed to be out in Delta?"

I hesitated. Suddenly, there were a lot of things running through my mind. Things that either
hadn't occurred to me until just that second or they'd been stirring around in my head for some
time without me knowing it.

"Still working on it," I said, putting him off. At least I didn't lie. What was it I was thinking?

"Ya know," he said, suddenly thoughtful. "If those guys had wanted to be found, you think
there'd be some clues or something, ya know. So maybe they really, I mean, really, don't want
anything to do with us. You think of that?" He always was good at reading my mind.

"We're up," he said, before I could say anything. He walked over to the shuffleboard table and
began to wipe it clean so he could rewax it.
I got to my feet, pulled out my wallet and took out Cliff's card.

"So it might be a waste of time, hey?" He was talking with his back to me. "You call 'em and
they hang up on you. How you gonna feel?"

But that wasn't it, what was bothering me. For the past few weeks I'd been chasing this club
down, a bunch of guys who didn't seem to want to be found, except maybe on their own terms,
who knew? I'd been into every hobby shop in town, and every one in the suburbs. Talked with
guys at every raceway and every club. Now I didn't have to do any of that anymore. 'Cept I'd
enjoyed it. Any phone call to this 'Cliff' would be, well, anti-climatic for sure, maybe even a big
let-down.

I'd told myself once and Bob just said it again, if they'd wanted contact they'd have done it on
their own. My search was over, and it was the search part I had most enjoyed, not the finding.
And on top of that in the end it had been just too easy.

I walked over to the shuffleboard table. There was a trash receptacle at one end. I tore the card
in half and dropped the two pieces in and turned to Bob. He was sprinkling wax from a can
down the length of the board. The guy was a master at getting it all nice and even.

"What was that?" he said. Musta seen me out of the corner of his eye cause he still wasn't
looking at me.

"O, nothing," I said. "Old card."

He looked at me like he could see right through me.
"Well," he said. He picked up two rocks, one in each hand.

"Red or green?"

copyright 2000 by Lari Davidson.  
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