Frank's Car

"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"

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Taos, New Mexico USA

 

 

 

                                           

                                                         Frank's 1966 Ford Galaxie

 

      On the Road with Frank Waters

                                                         by Mark Rossi

I first encountered the writing of Frank Waters in 1969 with his Book of the Hopi. And the 20 books by Frank that I’ve since read have set, deepening my own roots, often engineering my vision as I take a window seat in a Boeing 707 or marvel at the panoramic view stretching across the hood of Frank’s 1966 Ford Galaxie.

Glued to the accelerator pedal of the only car that Frank purchased nearly new, my right foot has traversed thousands of miles of southwestern desert since his eyes gave out past the point of bluffing and Barbara needed help getting both of their cars and a U-Haul trailer back and forth annually between Tucson and Taos.  During the year of Frank’s 90th birthday the odometer edged toward 200,000 miles.  Since then, it has passed that milestone.  Frank claims that the Galaxie is an extension of himself.

His beloved car is now a graciously oxidized, antique red with a white top mellowed to ivory.  A beaded Hopi amulet dangles from the headlamp switch.  A sticker on the chrome rear bumper asks inquisitively, “Have you had a 15-minute Vitalizer break today?”

The brakes need a warm-up in the morning, but the engine is strong and vocal.  The tranny is solid.  Like a buggy team, the car finds its own pace across the terrain.  It prefers gliding along at a mile a minute on smooth blacktop with a gradual uphill grade.  On a dirt road, the dauntless old trooper negotiates with a satisfied smile.  At night the left headlamp jumps here and there across the textured road to the track of oso or the girth of an aspen.

Imagine the travels of all of us across a century.  On the road, I think of this web of timely pathways.  Frank has written about his train ride to Farmington, New Mexico, from Colorado Springs as a 10-year-old.  I doubt that his unruly hair has changed much next to the open windows of a motley assortment of vehicle.

Before the Galaxie it was an aging blue Ford, which had replaced an older Chevy pickup that had hauled materials to build new rooms onto the adobe in Arroyo Seco.  What car was around during his six months in Nogales, I wonder, and on the long drives  to and from Tombstone while he was writing the Earp brothers book?  How about the road conditions when Frank and Barbara drove her Chevy Impala to Guatemala and back?

How many horses and mules have journeyed with Frank on the road?  He says his riding boots look lonely on the closet floor.

Frank was the first of his family to acquire a car, a 1929 Ford coupe equipped with pneumatic tires.  With this car he made his way through reservation and pueblo land in New  Mexico and Arizona and on to Los Angeles, where he gave the car as a Christmas  gift to a young married couple.  During a stay with his sister and brother-in-law, he met an “ingenue” actress from New York with a Hollywood studio contract.  It bored her to hang around on salary with no work to do.  Frank bought her hardtop Plymouth when she headed back home.

For me, Frank Waters’ writing has sound and rhythm, like his car.  His first novel, which he titled Lizard Woman, is a little bit rock and roll; the Colorado River is symphonic.  Frank’s description of the pyramidic geography of the river’s drainage area resounds in my memory banks.  That account returns to me as I fly at 30,000 feet toward Albuquerque on a different trip.  Watching the folds, rolls, and bursts of terrain as our flight descends over the Rio Grande, I focus finally on the course of I-25 traffic.

In August of 1990, I remember, my sister Valerie and I had followed slow lines advancing into nearby Santo Domingo Pueblo to watch a corn dance.  This entire experience touched us deeply.  It changed the meaning of pace and step, even in our shared distance running.

That same summer Frank generously had loaned me his car while I housed at an adobe on the sage flats above Arroyo Hondo and made visits to Trampas, Truchas, and Chimayo.  It was a time of savored rereading of Mountain Dialogues.  With a sense of extending the Waters literary progeny, I purchased new copies to give to friends.  

In the Galaxie, time is boundless, meaningless.  To date there have been eight (or is it ten?) trips to and from Tucson and Arroyo Seco without mechanical difficulty.  Journeys of thought and conversation; piloting separate cars; sharing meals together with Barbara; Frank changing cars every so often.

From the aspen out of Arroyo Seco through Taos into the Rio Grande Gorge, inhaling ocre and sienna through Santa Fe, the Ford is low to the ground curving its descent to the pueblo city.  South of Socorro, Frank points toward the Trinity explosion site.  His friend John Sinclair prefers this open land of southern New Mexico, he says.

West of Lordsburg, stalwart yucca capture our attention every time. One realizes this is the way Frank likes to travel -- close to the land.  This is his element, rather than the sky full of high flights above.  I remember one drive when two F-16’s buzzed the power lines along I-10 west of Bowie, Arizona.  Rivets on their fuselages flashed silver in the slanting sunlight.  This is not Frank Waters’ way.

Now in November of 1993 we have completed yet another Galaxie odyssey, this time with the infant Frank Waters Foundation thriving beyond expectation.  On the road, it too has an expansiveness stretching beyond narrow painted lines.  Like its namesake, the Foundation is bound to interface with new horizons, with new generations of creative vision.  Like the 1966 Ford Galaxie, it will endure.

 

 

 

Mark, a sculptor, is treasurer and a mainstay of the Frank Waters Foundation.  An appropriate footnote to his perceptive essay above is the first paragraph of Frank Waters’ unpublished essay about river travel.

 

Slow travel is always the best -- the slower the better.  Jet flight is not travel at all;

one is merely picked up somewhere and set down somewhere else without any

sense of the land or sea between them.  Even automobiles travel is too fast.  You

skim over an interstate paved highway without feeling the changing texture and

rhythm of the land.  Riding a train used to be an exciting adventure.  Especially on

the long-gone narrow-gauge lines through the Rockies.  The train hurtled through

dark tunnels, crept over spiderwork trestles, and inched along cliffwalls, with

massed mountains heaving up on all sides.  Travel on horseback, as I did

through Mexico, is of course the best.

 

Frank Waters  

 

  Imogene Bolls and Barbara, 1996

 

 

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