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[[ink stamp:]] SEP 24 1953

Seen and Heard

UNTIL John E. Gray came in to see me the other day to protest against the undeserved stigma he claims has been attached to his cherished hobby I had supposed that a hot rod kid was a maniac in a souped-up jalopy who got kicks out of scaring decent law-abiding people off the streets and roads.

Mr. Gray is a hot rod enthusiast with no paranoiac tendencies. He is a Fuller brush man in his early thirties, married, well dressed, extremely well spoken, a native of the state of Georgia who moved to this city three years ago. He is one of the moving spirits in an organization known as the Rochester Piston Pushers, an affiliate of the National Hot Rod Association. In an interesting disquisition on the purposes and principles of the local and parent organization he convinced me that neither is in any way comparable to Murder, Inc.

"The Rochester Piston Pushers are law abiding in the extreme," Mr. Gray said.  "Our first emphasis is on road safety. We try in every way to co-operate with the police and the public. The rules that govern events conducted under our sanction are severe."

One of the rules in the Piston Pushers Book reads:

"If any member of the committee or any scorer observes a participant violating any traffic law or behaving with his car in a manner unbecoming a member of this club, he will report the car number to the chairman of the committee, and the chairman MUST disqualify the participant as soon as possible."

Club members discovered using intoxicating liquor or carrying such liquor in their cars during a club event are not only instantly made ineligible for further participation but expose themselves either to a fine or expulsion from the club. There is also a club rule against the use of profane and abusive language.

"Contrary to what many members of the public believe, hot rodders are not speed crazy," Mr. Gray said. "The contests we promote are generally not speed tests, but trials to determine the drivers' reliability under different sets of conditions and to demonstrate the mechanical improvements and innovations designed by the owners of the cars. One of our most important contests is known as a 'reliability run,' and it is exactly what the term implies. A driver who would violate the traffic laws would be considered by the judges of such a contest thoroughly unreliable and would have no chance of winning a prize."

The Rochester Piston Pushers conduct a reliability run every few weeks. The distance is usually under 50 miles and each driver is accompanied by a map reader who directs the driver over an intricate and unfamiliar course devised by the committee.  Checking stations are established along the course which the driver is expected to pass at a fixed speed and at a fixed time and the closer he complies with these regulations the higher his total point score. A violation of the speed law automatically eliminates a contestant.

The club also promotes hill climbs over unpaved courses, similar to those conducted by motorcyclists, which test the traction of the cars and the skill of the drivers. A dragstrip test is another standard hot rod event, but this has not yet been run by the Rochester Piston Pushers because of the lack of a dragstrip. A dragstrip contest requires a quarter of a mile straightaway course to test the cars' quick acceleration and braking power. This event is the nearest thing to an actual race the National Hot Rod Association sanctions. Municipal authorities in the West have been inclined to co-operate with the hot rodders in helping to provide dragstrips, on the theory that if young people are allowed to test their cars on these sanctioned courses they will be less likely to do crazy and dangerous things on the public highways.

Hot rod enthusiasts experiment with all sorts of automotive gadgets that will increase the safety, add to the mileage per gallon, and give greater traction and braking power to their cars. A hot rodder may take an old car, that would seem ready for the junk yard, and convert it into a vehicle that will run as well or better than it did in the pristine efficiency of its first 2,000 miles. Or he may buy a new car and so completely alter its mechanism and body that he will have virtually a custom built automobile. This sort of experimentation, Mr. Gray said, is a fascinating occupation, and one that engages hundreds of thousands of hot rodders in their leisure hours. He said also that the automobile industry is manifesting keen interest in the experiments of these amateur mechanics and that some of the ideas developed by hot rodders in time may be adopted by the big motor companies.  

"Hot rodding is a combination of sport and research," Mr. Gray said. "One criterion of its popularity is the better than 350,000 monthly sale of Hot Rod magazine. Hundreds of thousands of American boys and young men delight first tinkering with the mechanics of old or new cars and then testing them in some sort of a contest. If these tests are made under the authorization of a club like ours motorists on the public highways are not endangered. The average age of the club affiliated hot rodder is between 24 and 27. Our club accepts members who are eligible for a junior license. Almost every American boy is interested in automobiles, and we feel that if we can get some of these youths to subscribe to our rules a lot of dangerous driving by teen-agers will be eliminated. Our cars are not jalopies--'clunkers,' as we call them. They are reconstructed on scientific lines for safety and efficiency. The idea that we are a lot of speed crazed drivers flying about in rickety unsafe cars is erroneous. If the public only realized our purposes, the public wouldn't categorically identify every wild kid driving 80 miles an hour along a public road as a hot rodder. We are as strongly opposed to that sort of thing as anyone could be and we wouldn't knowingly give such a driver membership in our club."

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EARLY this month Mrs. Blanche Stuart Scott, native Rochesterian, formerly known as "Roberta" on radio station WARC, with several other pioneers in aviation, was honored at a public ceremony at Ohio's Sesquicentennial National Aircraft Show in Dayton, Ohio. Mrs. Scott, who now lives in Hornell, where she is women's program director for the Hornell Broadcasting Company, received a personal invitation from Governor Fred J. Lausche of Ohio.

A woman of adventurous spirit, Mrs. Scott reputedly was the first American aviatrix, and the first woman to make a long-distance flight. She was taught to fly by the late Glenn H. Curtiss, and participated during the early days of aviation in various contests. Before she became interested in aviation, she achieved the distinction of being the first woman to drive an automobile across the North Ameican continent.

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THE clambake and footall season begin simultaneously, and in the same mail I had an invitation to Al Michaels' always sumptuous bake, which I haven't missed in years, and which will be held Sunday at the Chateau, and a note from Paul Brewer, associated with Dr. A.H. (Al) Sharpe, famous Yale football player and Cornell coach at Chautauqua.

Asked by Mr. Brewer what he thought of the abolishment of the two platoon system, Dr. Sharpe answered, "Wonderful! Now we'll have some real football players, instead of specialists. The last year I played at Yale our team never lost a game and won the mythical national championship, and only 15 players were given letters. Last year Yale had a mediocre team, and gave out 44 letters."
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