Gear Head Tuesday – Of Trombones and Triumphs

Gear Head

55 Triumph TR-2 fr

How I “traded a slide and spit valve for a drift and overhead valve”
(Hat tip to Raffi for the perfect descriptive phrase!)

Vintage-Olds-Recording-Trombone

F.E. Olds Recording Trombone

From 1961 through 1964, in my high school years, we lived in the small Texas panhandle town of Tulia. In those more innocent days, Ninth Grade was the Freshman year of High School. Like many other hairy-legged high school boys, I wanted to play trumpet in the High School band.

The Band Director was Bruce Cook. He was a fine band director – an inspiring leader who knew how to coax the best from his young musicians. At the beginning of the school year, I went to talk to him about joining the band and my ambition to play a trumpet.

Bruce Cook
Bruce Cook, seen here at Clemson University

58 Pontiac Bonneville

We young Gear Heads thought it was cool that Bruce Cook drove a ’58 Pontiac Bonneville in exactly this color. His had the rare Rochester Fuel Injection setup.

Mr. Cook told me my lips were too thick to ever be really good at the trumpet and, deftly “made the idea mine” by saying, “but I bet they are just right for making you a terrific trombone player”.

With that, I was off and running. I was working as a bagger in Littlejohn Bros. Supermarket and used my money to buy an Olds Recording Trombone from the local department store that did a nice business selling instruments to the local band members.

Bruce Cook led the band to many concert and marching band contest trophies. The boys liked him because he had a ’58 Pontiac Bonneville with the rare Rochester Fuel Injection set up. From Tulia, Mr. Cook went to Clemson University and had a fine career there.

After my Junior year, we moved from Tuiia to Lubbock and I didn’t play in the band my Senior year at Monterey High School in Lubbock. So my fine Olds Recording Trombone was sitting idle in a closet.

I found a ’55 TR-2 in the Want Ads in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (don’t you love those old newspaper names?). The guy who had it was a retired professional trombone player and no longer had a trombone. I have no recollection of why a professional trombone player would retire to the tornado alley city of Lubbock, nor do I recall why he was without a trombone, but there he was.

The poor car had come out on the losing end of a t-bone engagement with a Buick. The drivers door was caved in as well as most of the left side of the car. So, the driver’s door was bashed in and wouldn’t open. It didn’t matter because the door was cut low into the body line, so it was easy to step into the car. That’s part of the sports car experience anyway, right? Who needs doors when you can just step into the car.

I have no recollection of why I thought I needed a second car. I still had the souped-up ’57 Ford I had bought from Don Shackleford in Tulia. I had absolutely no need for a second car. But I had been romanced on sports cars from reading Car and Driver and Road & Track back in the glory days of those magazines, particularly Road & Track which was published by the esteemed John Bond.

There I was examining this battered Triumph, redolent of gas fumes and hot oil. One drive and I was hooked. I told the owner I didn’t have the cash to buy it. As I recall, he was asking $250 for it. In my conversation with him about the car, I learned of his trombone-playing background. I told him about my fine Olds Recording Trombone and offered to swap him even. To my great surprise and delight, he accepted my offer.

We both walked out of the deal happy.

Trombone-Olds-Recording

I had a barrel of fun with that battered Triumph! Like all British cars of that era, it was plagued with an unreliable electrical system. I had to push it to start it more often than not. But, that became something of a feature rather than a bug. I learned to park it where it would be easy to push to start. I was always scouting for downhill-sloping parking.

On cool days, I didn’t really need the heater. The footwells of the car would keep my feet toasty warm. On hot Lubbock summer days, that (ahem) feature wasn’t quite so welcome. Nonetheless, it was always a blast to drive that car!

It was great fun to take the Triumph out to Buffalo Springs Lake east of town and tear around the curves on the road around the lake. Nancy Dillard often accompanied me. Sweet girl. I should have married her instead of the infamous World War I. But that’s another story …

Eventually I figured out that at age 18, I didn’t need two cars. The ’57 Ford being more reliable than that poor, Buick-battered Triumph was the car that I kept but the purchase of that Triumph opened my eyes to what having a sports car was all about. I was infected and I’ve never recovered. 

55 Triumph TR-2 lf

My ’55 TR-2 was even more battered than this one – it had been t-boned by a Buick and the left side of the car was caved in. The door wouldn’t open, but the low-cut doors made it easy just to step in to the car.

5 Comments

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  1. Eric Butler 14/08/2019 — 07:18

    Very, very cool share, Paul. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awesome post, sir!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. OMG, what a great story and not too far apart from mine! Believe it or not, I’ve been to Tulia, TX!!! In late 1990s I worked for a seed company, Mycogen, and we had a sorghum plant in Plainview, TX. I flew into Lubbock a couple of times on business to go to the Plainview plant, and one trip the plant manager took me to a small warehouse the company had in Tulia. Is Plainview still in a ‘dry’ county?

    Currently my ’55 TR2 is in the process of a complete restoration. What I didn’t say in my Bring a Trailer note…1) I traded in my first car, a 1965 Mustang 2+2 fastback with a 239 engine (yes, I wish I still had that car too), for the Triumph, I attempted to drive the Triumph as my only source of transportation for about 2 years before I bought my next car (’73 Vega GT with a ‘self-changing oil system…you never needed to change the oil because it kept burning through it), the last time I drove the Triumph was in 1979 for a short trip around a few blocks then it got parked first outside and then in my parent’s garage, in about 1989 I hauled it from Ames, IA (my parent’s garage) to Minneapolis and tried to do some work on it but I didn’t have much money, then it sat until about four years ago because ‘life” got in the way (marriage, kids, work).

    About four years ago after youngest daughter graduated from high school I decided it was time to shit or get off the pot about the car…either do something with it or sell it. I first rebuilt the rear suspension (with some parts the I’d purchased about 20+ years prior), then with help from Minnesota Triumph Club members rebuilt the front suspension (again some new parts were 20+ years old). At that point it was off to the first (note I say “first”) body and paint guy. This guy proceeded to have the car for nearly two years and got about 4-8 weeks worth of work done. Just before I was gong to fire this guy last June he quit on his own. Last August I took the car to body and paint guy #2 who is amazing.

    The ONE thing good the first body/paint guy did was remove the body from the frame (something I was not planning on doing) because this was the best way to replace both sills that were rusted into swiss cheese. With the body off the frame I’m suddenly doing a frame-off restoration so it was time to start pulling…out came the radiator, engine, transmission, starter, generator…you name it, it came off and out for rebuilds. Also I completely sanded and painted the frame with POR-15.

    So, what started out was a budget frame-on restoration has morphed into a complete frame-off restoration! The new body/paint guy is fantastic and his goal is to have the car back to me for reassembly of the dash and bolt-on parts, rewiring, and interior and hopefully back on the road by summer 2021.

    Whew, that’s my TR2 story! Thank you for providing me the link to your page!

    Glenn

    Liked by 1 person

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