I was returning from East Tennessee awhile back by way of U.S. Interstate 40. In reasonably heavy traffic, somewhere on the east side of Crossville, I grew tired of this dude who had been dogging my back bumper for over a mile. Boxed in by a motorist in front of me who seemed to be in no hurry, along with a steam of tractor-trailer rigs in the right-hand lane, I found it impossible to let the eager driver who was following get by.
Finally, I was given an opening and I pressed the accelerator. I found it necessary to pass a half-dozen tractor-trailers before I could ease into the right lane. By the time I had overtaken the last one, I had built up a considerable amount of speed. Glancing at my speedometer, I realized I was doing 80 mph. At the same moment I noticed I had just crossed the Putnam County line.
That combination of speed and location took me back in time 45 years or so. It was 1971.
On a beautifully sunny Sunday afternoon, my girlfriend (her name will remain undisclosed) and I were on our way back to the University of Tennessee and Knoxville. I was driving a 1968 Chevelle Malibu. It was equipped with Indy Drag “Mag” wheels, air shocks and over-sized, wide rear tires.
Just beyond Cookeville, I spotted a radar “tri-pod” just ahead on the shoulder of the interstate. I turned to my female passenger who was sitting right next to me on the console between the bucket seats. Back in those days, your “honey” sat on a pillow on the console as close to you as she could get. It was part of a ritual called “courtship,” lost to most young people today. Since she was sitting higher than me I had to look up into her eyes.
“How fast am I going?” I quickly asked.
We both looked at the speedometer.
“Seventy-six!” she answered.
I smiled and nodded in agreement as I felt a sense of relief.
The next thing I knew a Tennessee State Trooper had stepped out into the right lane of the interstate, and was motioning me off the road.
As I handed my license to the officer, I asked, “How fast did you clock me?”
“You were doing 83 miles per hour, sir,” he replied.
“That can’t be!’ I protested. “My speedometer read 76.”
“I can only go by what my radar device recorded, sir,” he said, flatly. “You will have to take that up with the judge. In the meantime, I suggest you slow down.”
With that said, he turned and walked away.
To quote one of my late mother’s phrases, I was “not going to be outdone.”
In those days, the Putnam County stretch of I-40 was a notorious speed trap. It was made more notorious because of the county judge, Judge Barrett. He was well known for being hard-nosed and unyielding. I had my work cut out for me.
On Monday morning, I began looking for an outfit that could check my speedometer for accuracy. I found such a place in R.T. Clapp and Company. I scheduled an appointment for the next day. After analyzing the situation, the technician informed me that my speedometer was registering 10 percent slow. He explained the over-sized rear tires were causing the problem.
I took my receipt and the documented findings and composed a letter to Judge Barrett.
In the letter I listed a number of reasons why I would not have been intentionally speeding in Judge Barrett’s jurisdiction. Among them, I explained I was a poor boy working my way through college (which was true), and I made a sincere effort to operate within the bounds of the law.
Ten days later I received a letter from Judge Barrett. The letter read thusly:
“Dear Mr. McCall:
The fact you are a poor boy working your way through school has no bearing on the fact you were breaking the law by driving over the speed limit.” (I began to have this sinking feeling as I read. Then I saw the word “however.”) However was the word I was hoping for!
The letter continued, “However, since you have made the effort to correct your faulty speedometer and have shown proof thereof, I am placing your case on the retired docket. You are no longer subject to paying any fines in this case.”
In all my college days, it was one of my finest moments.
Two years later, on a glorious Monday morning I was headed back to Knoxville. My girlfriend and I had long since parted company.
Preoccupied with the events of the day that lay ahead, the last thing on my mind was a radar trap – until I saw that tri-pod…again. The instant I spotted it, I hit my right blinker as I glanced at my corrected speedometer. The needle was sitting on 83. The state trooper was laughing as I pulled off the road in front of him.
“Sorry, sir. In a hurry this morning,” I offered. He never stopped writing.
The next morning I mailed a check in care of Judge Barrett’s court.