Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Night of the Wrecked Mustang

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with Kent Mathieu, who owns the Taipei Air Station website. He recently offered to pass along the story of how he wrecked his 1965 Mustang on the road to Beitou and I'm delighted to include it here.

I think it was in late spring of 1966 when a team from Clark Air Base flew into Taipei to inspect our Communications Squadron Personnel Office at Taipei Air Station.

We wanted to be good hosts, of course; that was part of the game. Normally someone was appointed to "take care" of the folks who were inspecting each office. I was single at the time and so was “volunteered” to host the two inspectors who were visiting our Personnel and Admin shop.

All of Inspection Team's folks were housed downtown, probably at the Ambassador or one of the other hotels on Chung Shan North Road, because there were no visitor lodging facilities at Taipei Air Station.

After our two inspectors finished their work each day – usually after a long lunch somewhere -- they headed to their hotel to rest and refresh. Most of team probably had dinner at one of the military clubs downtown and then dispersed for other recreation, the bar, the movie theater or whatever.

After the second day of the inspection, I arranged to meet up with the team at Club 63 for dinner. We ate, swapped stories for a while at the bar and then jumped in my car to visit a couple of clubs in the area -- those places we all remember down Chung Shan N. Road from the Linkou Club and Navy Exchange.

After a couple of hours of bar-hopping, I suggested we visit one of the hot springs hotels in Beitou. We discussed all possibilities of what we could do after a hot tub soak and everyone was anxious to get to Peitou.

It was drizzling as we made our way up the narrow two-lane asphalt road toward the village in my 1965, three-speed Mustang that night. About halfway to Beitou, I came upon a taxi that had stopped right on the road in front of me. This was 1966 and there were very few civilian automobiles on the road. I read in some publication recently that many Taiwan taxi drivers believed they were exempt from observing traffic laws. Most were ex-pedicab owners, who made u-turns anyplace, would drive on a sidewalk to get a fare, constantly honked their horns, and who believed that turning on their headlights caused their engines to burn more fuel. I thought of them as kamikaze drivers, living without fear or care. Who could ever forget those white knuckle rides in the back seat of a red taxi?

Anyway, I slowed down and pulled left to pass the taxi, probably shifting down to second gear to do it. In the 1960s, the asphalt type roads were constructed without the use of machines. They were built by a team of men and the surface was heavy with tar and sand. As I passed the taxi, my wheels hit a very slippery spot in the pavement. The Mustang began to slide. I tried to brake and turn the wheel; everything I did to regain control of the vehicle was useless. The car was out of control as it moved down the road. We did a slow 60 degree turn sliding along the left side of the road and onto a small dirt area, straight into a solid, heavy duty rock wall.

The whole thing happened in a few short seconds, but to me it was in slow motion. My passengers, one in the front and another in the back had consumed too many adult beverages to react to the slide, or grab something to hold onto before the impact. The collision mashed in the driver's side of the hood, front fender, grill, etc. My car was a mess. The two Inspectors had minor injuries, mostly a lot of small cuts. The inspector riding in the front seat plowed his head into the windshield. He looked terrible the next day, but there were no serious injuries to any of us.

I was both embarrassed and frightened, as these were the Inspectors from Clark Air Base and now they were busted up and I was the cause of all their aches and pains. Today as I look back on the situation, I suspect they were as embarrassed as me. Nothing official came of the incident, but I am sure the wreck story has been told numerous times by both of the inspectors throughout their lives.

I called the Navy Exchange Garage from someone's house close to the accident. The garage offered 24 hour towing service and they came out immediately and hauled my Mustang back to the HSA West Compound, NEX Garage and Gas station.

The next day, Taiwan Fire and Marine Insurance Company came and hauled my car to a repair shop close to Club 63, just next door toward the Grand Hotel. (During my visit to the area in 2006, I found the property where the garage once sat, today is a beautiful park.) The Navy Exchange garage helped me order new parts from Ford Motor Company and everything was completely paid for by the Insurance Company.

It took the repair shop 6 weeks to get the bumper, grill and other parts shipped in. The hood and fender were pounded, welded and layers of thick Bondo were applied. The paint job came out only so-so, but I was not too concerned; I had already sold the car and had another two-plus years to drive it before I turned it over to the new owner.

What I remember most about the accident were the workers in the repair shop. Most of them were very young boys; not more than seven or eight years old, with a few older boys in their teens and one or two men. Any time of day or evening I stopped by the shop to check on my car, the shop was always open. I mean any time, day or late at night, many times after I had dinner at one of the military clubs. I always found everyone at work doing something; no sitting around in this shop. My car sat for a long time waiting for parts, but the garage was always full of cars in all states of repair and it probably never closed it's doors. It seems now, as I think about the youngsters, I would guess that they were probably hired out to the shop by their parents. No child labor laws existed then and life was extremely tough for just about everyone in Taiwan. It’s a lot different today for the average Taiwan citizen.

This was another learning experience for me, and I always say that I grew up during my Taiwan tour. I began to really see things there that woke me up to the world as it really was. My life up to this time had been unblemished and free of want or need. Those years in Taiwan made such an impression on my life that I continue to feel that Taiwan is a second home to me

I had no other auto accidents during my sojourn in Taiwan, but neither my accident nor anything else could have changed this precious time in my life. How did your time in Taiwan register in your life? I'm sure most of us still alive today would put it right up their toward the top.

God bless Taiwan and its wonderful, free people!

1 comment:

George said...

Kent,

Your 65 or 66 Mustang in nice condition is now worth up to $7,000 for a 6 cylinder and up to $12,000 if an 8 cylinder. Throw in the bondo and the Taipei/Peitou history behind the car and you just might get more from a USTDC blogger like me.