Chris and Rita Leydon drive the Colorado Grand in the FWD Miller 91 car.
Photos marked with this icon are by Bob Dunsmore.
above: Indignities heaped upon the car's occupants include facial decoration of the plain vanilla road grime type and for variety, spots of road tar spray. At the end of a day's driving Chris' fingers are literally frozen from wrestling the wheel for hours.
The following two short essays are Rita's submissions to the Grand Newsletter published in time for breakfast each day of the event.
Sept. 19, 1996
Rita and Chris Leydon report that the 1932 FWD Miller is still chugging along. A few pieces have fallen off—some have been re-attached, others donated to the State of Colorado. The Spirited Lady isn't missing any of them.
Chris mentions that he has no feeling in his hands and that he must exercise vigilance as the old Lady likes to steer herself. Rita keeps tension on a rope attached to the gear shift lever to ensure that third gear stays selected on bumpy roads. This is definitely a "two-man" Indy car. The engine is powerful and it doesn't even notice that much of the terrain is up.
Before lunch in Meeker on Wednesday, the FWD was subjected to the indignity of a good spray of tar from road crew equipment. You may have noticed Rita's spotted face at lunch—soap and water didn't get it off, but gasoline did, and boy, did it sting! After lunch and all the way to Rangeley, Chris was feeling pretty smug, thinking the shake-down was over and that smooth sailing was ahead.
Power loss. No spark. Pull over. Jump out. Open hood. Big problem! "Quick, get me something!!" yells Chris. Rita doesn't read minds. Green liquid floods over all four spark plug wells and a small river is flowing across the highway. There is 88 miles yet to go.
A water pipe seam has split. Chris conjures a fix, using electrical tape, locking wire cannibalized from a less needy bolt and cloth ties from a seat cushion.
Rita must dry the spark plug wells. No towels, no sponges, no Kleenex. What to do? Of course, what is more absorbent than tampons? Perfect. The little buggers soak up forty times their weight. Don't wrinkle you nose—you use what you've got.
The Miller, thus bandaged and dried up, takes off again for the day's last leg and doesn't miss another beat.
There is a reason for everything!
The FWD Miller has two seats—the driver's is a bit more generous in width than the riding mechanic's. Rita, who is the broader of the Leydons, was assigned the mechanic's seat for the duration of the four-day trip.
It was a shoehorn fit for the old hip bones, but Rita is a trooper and tolerated the discomfort as a fair trade for the adventure of a life time. By late afternoon on day three, the agony had reached intolerable levels and she protested, demanding a rest stop. Rita was ready to eliminate the leather upholstery with a Swiss army knife when Chris calmly suggested rolling up the coat and two sweaters to waist level, thus eliminating a bit of bulk around the hips. Chris is a near genius in all situations and the upholstery was spared.
This adjustment occurred on a side street in Dolores and while this was going on, a local youth in a pick-up happened by and exclaimed in a startled voice "That's a Miller!!"
"Right" said Chris.
"My brother collects Millers" said the youth.
"Right" said Chris.
"He is just down the street, you've got to go see him."
"No, we have to push on to Tamarron" said Chris. Rita ripped out the descriptive paragraph about car #65 from the Route Book and gave it to the enthusiastic fellow, and the Leydons were off again.
Later, in the hotel room, the phone rang—it was "the brother"—his name was Norbert and he was in the lobby. Turns out he was for real. Had spoken on the phone with Chris several times over the years, was really from Arizona but had bought a hotel in Dolores and was on the roof, fixing, as the Grand buzzed by. He was already connected to many of the Miller aficionados but was thrilled and ecstatic to see a real, live, fire-breathing, oil-spitting member of the Miller dynasty. Norbert came back yesterday morning to see the Miller depart and drove along with us for a bit.
The wonderful coincidence was that this fortuitous meeting wouldn't have happened if Rita's lower extremities hadn't been in agony and her tolerance for silent suffering hadn't been surpassed. Go figure.