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The Challenger, Chapter 2: Graduation Day

Copyright 2014, J Jackson Bentley

My great-grandfather dealt in agricultural machinery. He lived right in the middle of America’s heartland when corn was king. Whether your living was made from corn, wheat, cotton or livestock farming, everyone needed equipment. If that equipment was John Deere and you didn’t want to go to the next state then you got your “Deere for life” from George Frederick Dillon. You also got it serviced and repaired there, if you couldn’t do it yourself.

When he started the dealership – on a barren corner of his father’s farm which had access to the local town road, the Farm to Market road, and the highway – the highway was still used mainly for horse drawn vehicles. When George stocked new machinery run by combustion engines everyone laughed at his folly. Many of the farmers refused to buy the new-fangled engine driven machinery, and George was in fear of bankruptcy. Then he had an idea. With every combustion engine driven vehicle he sold, he gave a free John Deere generator. The old farmers and ranchers had no use for electricity, and they shunned the offer, but once old Mrs Birksdale took delivery of a generator and showed off her electric lamps, all the wives wanted them. Soon the farmers were queuing up for the new equipment and the generators. It was clear who really ran those households.

When the first cars started to appear on local roads, George knew he needed to extend his premises and make room for automobiles. His cousin had just bought a car company owned by the recently deceased Dodge brothers, Horace and John. Along with his partners in the well-known investment group, they bought the brand in the biggest financial transaction ever. With close family ties, George was granted a license to sell the cars and trucks throughout the southern half of the state. At the time it was the third best-selling brand in the USA, with the Series 116 sedan being the best-selling car, and money was rolling in. That was 1925, and when Dodge was sold to Chrysler in 1928, Dillon Chrysler Dodge really took off.

My grandfather Albert George Dillon took over the business as soon as he reached the age of twenty, when the old man semi-retired to head up his original John Deere franchise.
My mother was the only child of Albert, and he was disappointed when she married her high school sweetheart, Tommy Galloway. My father was a wastrel; a charmer, to be sure, but a wastrel all the same. With the only slightest pressure from my grandfather, who wanted to perpetuate his family name, and with a small financial incentive, Tommy Galloway married Catherine Dillon and they became Mr and Mrs Dillon.
By the time I reached graduation, my father was once again down on his luck. He had invested in another get-rich-quick scheme using Mother’s trust fund money, and it failed. Grandfather was now seventy and ailing. He had wisely ring-fenced enough money to look after my mother, ensuring that it could only be paid as an annual allowance to stop my father frittering it away.

I graduated in those days when no-one really cared about graduation. A few people graduated, most didn’t; it was no big deal. Universities weren’t the pull they are today. Most people settled into a job and got married, just as they had in the Fifties.

Grandfather promised me a car if I graduated and left my girlfriend alone long enough to get decent grades. I graduated May 1975, and when I arrived home there were the two loves of my life, my girlfriend and a brand new black Dodge Challenger. We took photos with a Polaroid camera that famously took instant pictures, and we had a real party. I taped the photo of my future wife to the dashboard of my new car in a fit of romantic allusion.

Just two weeks later grandpa passed away and Mother was left with a comfortable weekly allowance, distributed by a lawyer, and the house and grounds, which were protected from sale and which were to be passed to the grandchild, namely me.

My father had expected a huge payday and had made promises around town about his new found wealth, and when it didn’t arrive he didn’t tell anyone. Everyone thought he was the owner in waiting for the Dillon Car Dealership and the associated fortune.

A week after the funeral I was in bed with flu when I heard my car pull away from the house. Too weak to react or complain, my mother calmed me by explaining me that Father need it to go to the city and impress some investors. She promised me he would take care of it.

After a skin-full of drink, my father drove the car to a nightclub where he left the car with a bow tied valet, taking a ticket in return. When he came out of the nightclub the valet had gone, and so he accepted a lift to his hotel. The next morning he remembered he needed to collect the car and looked for the ticket. All he had in his pocket was a used movie theatre ticket for Jaws. He had been so drunk he had not even looked at the valet ticket.

He was so ashamed that he refused to return home. To be fair, we didn’t want him back anyway, and eventually my mother divorced him. Before she did, we were served with writ after writ for debts he had run up without repaying. Soon we were broke, and my inheritance had gone. He died in the late nineteen eighties. We didn’t attend the funeral, and Mother died soon after. I never saw my car again, despite the police search.

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