About Site


Super 8:  Bread Rally, part one
Written July 1, 2012


This is part of a series of articles based on images from my 1970s home movies.  For more details, click here.

It was a Sunday morning in Ohio, late winter, 1973.  In the outskirts of a shopping-center parking lot on the outskirts of Columbus, a curious collection of cars began to gather.

There were two people in each car, typically in their 30s.  A few of them walked over to the nearby McDonald’s and brought back some food.

Some of the cars were sporty.

Others were very ordinary, like the blue Ford Maverick and yellow Chevrolet Vega in the next image.

A visitor to this website, Dan Balaloski, recognizes this parking lot as part of the Berwick Plaza Shopping Center.  It's on Winchester Pike near Frank Road and Refugee Road.

Why had all these people stopped here?  What were they expecting to happen?

It was the monthly rally sponsored by the Scioto Sports Car Club! 

This month’s rally was entitled “Come Cast Your Bread upon the Waters.”  (And what’s a “rally”?  Click here for letters I wrote about the sport.)

The course had been carefully laid out by the March rallymaster, using rural roads south and east of Columbus.  About three dozen cars would try to follow his course this afternoon.

The rally teams would be trying to maintain specified average speeds, such as 30.6 miles per hour.  To score their accuracy, they would be timed at half a dozen checkpoints along the course.  And those checkpoints would require workers. 

Therefore, some of the members of the club volunteered not to complete in this month’s event, but to work it.  We would be helping out at the starting line as well.

One such worker was George Ryerson, a mild-mannered research scientist who was employed at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus.

Another was my high school classmate Terry Rockhold.  He and I were likewise members of the club.

To this point Terry and I had competed in 18 SSCC rallies and had finished first in class in half of them.  We had been first overall five times.  Terry was the driver, and I was the navigator, using the specially-designed chart below to keep track of the numbers.

But on this day, as workers, Terry would point out the rally cars and I would write down their times (while shooting some movie film when I got the chance).

Below are folks I saw in the parking lot, and their vehicles.  Four decades later I’m no longer able to identify these faces, but I did find a lot of names in old editions of our Scioto Sports Car Club newsletter, the Exhaust Note.  Here are some of the people active in the club around that time:

Eric Anderson, Bob Arnold, Frodo Baggins (perhaps not his real name?), Mike & Sandy Chern, Jim Dietz, Carole Egger, Jim Fergus, Steve Gabay, Jim Halverson,  Don & Sue Harsh, Knox Hazelton, Rick Howenstine, Tom Hunsinger, Paul Jaeger, Eric Jones, Bill Kasdorf, Phil LaMori, Dave & Carol Lindsey, Rich & Linda Merritt, Dick Messal, Ken Naylor, Judi Ramsey, Dave & Sue Rupp, Jerry & Debi Sproat, and Jan Zamana. 

The Hillman/Beatty team, like jet pilots, painted their names below their cockpit window.  Klaus included a steering wheel symbol after his name to indicate he was the driver, while Jim had a Curta calculator to indicate he was the navigator.

The Curta was an eight-ounce handheld digital calculator with a crank.  (Electronic calculators had only very recently become available, and they didn’t like to bounce around in cars.)  Imported from Liechtenstein, the Curta had originally been developed during World War II by an inmate at the Buchenwald concentration camp.  How was it used in a rally?  Mathematically!

Below is an easier-to-see variation, a rectangular calculator called the Alpina, which sold for $148 in 1972.  For the pictured example, suppose you know that you should be beginning a warmup leg averaging 50 MPH.  Referring to a little book called Floyd’s Factors, you translate 50 miles per hour to 1.2 minutes per mile and dial the digits 1.2000000 into the window at the top.  The warmup leg begins with your odometer reading 00.00 miles, when your clock should be reading 00.00 minutes after the hour.  You set a zero into the Alpina’s mileage counter on the left and another zero into the minutes display on the right.

You give the crank one turn.  That adds one mile to the counter on the left, which now reads 01.0000 miles, and 1.2 minutes to the display on the right, which now reads 01.20000 minutes.  Another turn advances the numbers to 02.0000 miles and 02.40000 minutes.

Then you shift the carriage one click to the left and turn the crank once more.  Because the decimal point has been shifted, that turn adds not one mile but ten to the counter on the left, which now reads 12.0000 miles (as pictured), and it adds 12.0 minutes to the display on the right, which now reads 14.40000 minutes (as pictured).  Translation:  the car should be at 12.00 miles at 14.40 minutes after the hour.

At 12.00 miles the specified average speed drops to 24 MPH, which according to Floyd equals 2.5 minutes per mile.  You dial 02.500000 into the window at the top and keep on cranking.

Not all cars had Curtas.  Some rallyists, including Terry and me, competed “unequipped,” using only pencil and paper and Larry Reid’s Rally Tables to convert distance to time.

But others had more elaborate instrumentation, such as multiple stopwatches and special odometers like the Halda Speedpilot.

Others had custom-built computers mounted on the dashboard to do the calculations automatically.  Their only worry was getting lost.

The rallymaster's car was the platform for numerous odds and ends, including (on the roof) the trophy that was to be awarded to the winner.

So everyone could synchronize their watches, this battery-powered radio was tuned to the continuous time signals from the National Bureau of Standards shortwave station WWV.

Should a rally team get lost, they might encounter an orange and white paper plate tacked to a telephone pole, a signal that they’d missed a turn and should turn around.  Therefore, a sample of an “off-course marker” was also on display.

The first step for members and guests who planned to compete was to get out their wallets and pay their “bread,” the three-dollar entry fee.  Then they received their General Instructions.

This legalistic document outlined the basic rules and defined the terms.  For example, if you’re told to turn “at railroad,” what exactly is a railroad?  For the purposes of this event, do you have to actually drive across the tracks before you can make the turn?

Or how can you differentiate a T intersection, where a turn is required either left or right, from a “slant T,” where you can continue in the direction most nearly straight ahead without having to execute a turn?  See the diagrams.

Most rallyists took the General Instructions back to their vehicles.

There they could confer in private with their partners, studying the document for any possible booby traps.

Let’s say, for example, you were supposed to turn left if — at any point in the rally — you saw a yellow milk can.  Would you remember?  Put a Post-It note on the dash.

Another note: “Pause 1 minute at divided highway.”  This is a safety measure so the driver doesn’t have to dash recklessly across traffic to stay on schedule.  (Note the Halda Twinmaster .01-mile odometer in the lower left of this frame.)

Each car had to go through a safety inspection.

A couple of our volunteers verified that the Vega’s headlights, turn signals, and horn were in working order...

...as well as the brake lights and the seat belts.  Belts were not yet required by law, but the Scioto Sports Car Club required them for its events.

As the starting time approached, the rally cars began lining up at the stop sign at the exit of the parking lot.  The event was about to begin!

To continue the story, click here for Part 2.



Back to Top
More ImagesMore Images