A 1960s Beetle.
Photo: Volkswagen

Dave’s unbreakable Volkswagen Bug was a political guerrilla weapon. The battle was with the local prosecutor who hated 1960s student demonstrations and subsequently charged students under the Joseph McCarthy-era Indiana State Anti-Subversion Act. I began college in the fall of 1963 and quickly fell in with like-minded student liberal Democrats.

(Welcome to Jalopnik Father’s Day, where we are celebrating the wonderful dads of the Jalopnik staff. This is a story from Mike Fye, dad of Gizmodo Media Group video producer, Eleanor Fye.)

Although not necessarily agreeing with the Fair Play for Cuba demonstrators, we believed in free speech. Three students were charged by the recently elected ultra-rightwing local county prosecutor. This prosecutor, who was already preparing to run for re-election, had used the county maintenance workers to install throughout the county 500 12- by 16-inch, embossed, enameled, license-plate-like, bright orange and black, permanent ‘Re-elect THOMAS HOADLEY Prosecutor’ well in advance of the next election cycle. The Hoadley families were early settlers to the county having substantial limestone quarry and land holdings.

Installation was by means of nailing the thick metal signs to living trees, out of reach, at least eight feet off the ground in places such as crossroads, t-roads and curves where they would most stand out both during the day and at night when illuminated with headlights. Unfortunately, the only way to remove these signs was to pry them off the tree in pieces leaving parts of sign and the large nails behind. This was not a quick or easy operation to perform surreptitiously. The obvious answer was to paint them black, hiding the message and making a statement.

Enter Dave’s 1960 blue-gray VW Bug with the all-important sunroof. A bit about Dave:

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Dave was an older student who was a motorsports enthusiast and had served as the sitting Indiana Governor’s candidate chauffeur during the previous election cycle. He claimed that his candidate was “never late” to a campaign rally. With his current VW, Dave had become a master of diet road drifting and 180 degree parking brake maneuvers.

We worked at night, mostly starting near midnight during the week avoiding weekends.

Utilizing a detailed map of Monroe County’s roughly 1,000 miles of roads, trails and highways, we covered every mile of the county’s roads. As we covered each mile, we marked it as cleaned and noted the locations of each sign neutralized. The quarry owners employed private security that patrolled many of the back roads on the lookout for thieves or vandals doing something nefarious to quarry equipment or property. Our process was refined to driving along, sighting an offending sign, continuing down the road to check for private security stakeouts, returning and driving in the side-ditch up next to the tree, popping open the sunroof, standing on the seat top and neutralizing the sign with black spray paint. Then, of course, we would make a speedy getaway.

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As more signs were blacked out, the private security folks started to take notice. We would often pick up a tail as we were the only other vehicle cruising Monroe County’s back roads. By this time we became very familiar with many of the routes. Many of those trails were flooded when the dammed Salt Creek broke in 1965, flooding thousands of acres of land. Some of the seemingly good roads would start off nicely graveled and graded but would quickly turn into narrow rugged limestone stair steps ascending or descending steep hills. Most of the roads were poorly maintained and had many turns. The security vehicles were no match for Dave and his amazing ability to drift the curves and perform spot spin turnarounds leaving chasers in the dust.

Eventually we marked off every mile on our map. Shortly thereafter, Prosecutor Hoadley lost his case in front of a local judge that ruled the law unconstitutional. Hoadley persisted, taking the case to a conservative Indiana Supreme Court where they over ruled the local judge and reinstated the indictment. By that time, Hoadley had become toxic in local political circles. Prior to a scheduled court hearing on the constitutionality of the subversion law, Prosecutor Hoadley resigned his post and relocated to Florida. Not only did he choose not to run for reelection, his successor refused to pursue the case against the “Bloomington Three.”

The unbreakable bug was not finished. It took five of us to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey and back. The engine started to fail on the return trip, eventually blowing up five miles from home. Dave rebuilt the engine and the Bug lived on.

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There were reportedly less than a hand full of signs never accounted for. A few years later I would sometimes spot a rusting blacked out Hoadley sign on my backroad dirt bike pleasure rides. It always brought back fond memories of nights spent scouring the back roads in Dave’s Bug looking for signs to neutralize.


Notable crashes:

  • 1965 Pontiac GTO totaled after successfully out running police.
  • 1979 Ford F250 totaled when T-boned by a drunk driver.
  • Motorcycle crashes: Too many to list if including race track crashes.