“Comrades,” said the senior technician, “notice the clear view of North America. From here we watch everything; rivers, towns, almost the people. And see, our upper lens shows the dark spot of a meteor in space. Comrades, the meteor gets larger. It is going to pass close to our wondrous machine. Comrades ... Comrades ... turn to my channel. It is no meteor--it is square. The accursed Americans have sent up a house. Comrades ... an ancient automobile is flying toward our space machine. Comrades ... it is going to--Ah ... the picture is gone.”
Moscow reported the conversation, verbatim, to prove their space vehicle was knocked from the sky by a capitalistic plot. Motion pictures clearly showed an American automobile coming toward the Russian satellite. Russian astronomers ordered to seek other strange orbiting devices reported: “We’ve observed cars for weeks. Have been exiling technicians and photographers to Siberia for making jokes of Soviet science. If television proves ancient automobiles are orbiting the world, Americans are caught in obvious attempt to ridicule our efforts to probe mysteries of space.”
Confusion was also undermining American scientific study of the heavens. At Mount Palomar the busy 200-inch telescope was photographing a strange new object, but plates returned from the laboratory caused astronomers to explode angrily. In full glory, the photograph showed a tiny image of an ancient car. This first development only affected two photographers at Mount Palomar. They were fired for playing practical jokes on the astronomers. Additional exposures of other newfound objects were made. Again the plates were returned; this time with three little old cars parading proudly across the heavens as though they truly belonged among the stars.
The night the Russian protest crossed trails with the Palomar report, Washington looked like a kid with chicken pox, as dozens of spotty yellow windows marked midnight meetings of the nation’s greatest minds. The military denied responsibility for cars older than 1942. Civil aviation proved they had no projects involving motor vehicles. Central Intelligence swore on their classification manual they were not dropping junk over Cuba in an attempt to hit Castro. Disgusted, the President established a civilian commission which soon located three more reports.
Two were from fliers. The pilot of Flight 26, New York to Los Angeles, had two weeks before reported a strange object rising over Southern California about ten the evening of April 3rd. A week after this report, a private pilot on his way from Las Vegas claimed seeing an old car flying over Los Angeles. His statement was ignored, as he was arrested later while trying to drink himself silly because no one believed his story.
Fortunately, at the approximate times both pilots claimed sighting unknown objects, radar at Los Angeles International recorded something rising from earth’s surface into the stratosphere. Within hours after the three reports met, in the President’s commission’s office, mobile radar was spotted on Southern California hilltops in twenty-four-hour watches for unscheduled flights not involving aircraft.
Number Seven, stationed in the Mount Wilson television tower parking lot, caught one first. “Hey fellows,” came his excited voice, “check 124 degrees, vector 62 now ... rising... 124 degrees ... vector 66 ... rising--”
Nine and Four caught it moments later. Then Three, Army long-range radar, picked it up. “O.K., we’re on. It’s still rising ... leaving the atmosphere ... gone. Anyone else catch it?” Negative responses came from all but Seven, Nine and Four. So well spread were they, that within minutes headquarters had laid four lines over Southern California. They crossed where the unsuspecting community of Fullerton was more or less sound asleep, totally unaware of the making of history in its back yard.
The history of what astronomers call Solomon’s Orbit had its beginning about three months ago. Solomon, who couldn’t remember his first name, was warming tired bones in the sun, in front of his auto-wrecking yard a mile south of Fullerton. Though sitting, he was propped against the office; a tin shed decorated like a Christmas tree with hundreds of hub caps dangling from sagging wooden rafters. The back door opened on two acres of what Solomon happily agreed was the finest junk in all California. Fords on the left, Chevys on the right, and across the sagging back fence, a collection of honorable sedans whose makers left the business world years ago. They were known as Solomon’s “Classics.”
The bright sun had Solomon’s tiny eyes burrowed under a shaggy brow which, added to an Einstein-like shock of white hair, gave him the appearance of a professor on sabbatical. Eyes closed, Solomon was fondling favorite memories, when as a lad he repaired steam tractors and followed wheat across central plains of the United States. Happiness faded as the reverie was broken by spraying gravel signaling arrival of a customer’s car.
“There’s Uncle Solomon, Dad,” a boy’s voice was saying. “He gives us kids good deals on hot-rod parts. You’ve just gotta take a look at his old cars, ‘cause if you want a classic Uncle Solomon would make you a good deal, too. I just know he would.”
“Sure, Son, let’s go in and see what he’s got,” replied a man’s voice. As Solomon opened his eyes, the two popped into reality. Heaving himself out of the sports car bucket seat that was his office chair, Solomon stood awaiting approach of the pair.
“Mr Solomon, Georgie here tells me you have some fine old cars for sale?”
“Sure have. Sure have. They’re in back. Come along. I’ll show you the short cuts.” Without waiting for a reply, Solomon started, head bent, white hair blowing; through the office, out the back door and down passages hardly wide enough for a boy, let alone a man. He disappeared around a hearse, and surfaced on the other side of a convertible, leading the boy and his father a chase that was more a guided tour of Solomon’s yard than a short cut. “Yes, sir, here they are,” announced Solomon over his shoulder. Stepping aside he made room for the boy and his father to pass, between a couple of Ford Tudors.
Three pair of eyes, one young, one old, the other tired, were faced by two rows of hulks, proud in the silent agony of their fate. Sold, resold and sold again, used until exhaustion set in, they reached Solomon’s for a last brave stand. No matter what beauties they were to Solomon’s prejudiced eyes; missing fenders, rusted body panels, broken wheels and rotted woodwork bespoke the utter impossibility of restoration.
“See, Dad, aren’t they great?” Georgie gleefully asked. He could just imagine shaking the guys at school with the old Packard, after Dad restored it.
“Are you kidding?” Georgie’s Dad exploded, “Those wrecks aren’t good for anything but shooting at the moon. Let’s go.” Not another word did he say. Heading back to the car parked outside Solomon’s office, his footsteps were echoed by those of a crestfallen boy. Solomon, a figure of lonely dejection in the gloom overshadowing his unloved old cars, was troubled with smog causing his eyes to water as tired feet aimlessly found their way back to his seat in the sun.
That night, to take his mind off worrisome old cars, Solomon began reading the previous Sunday’s newspaper. There were pictures of moon shots, rockets and astronauts, which started Solomon to thinking; “So, my classics are good only for shooting at the moon. This thing called an ion engine, which creates a force field to move satellites, seems like a lot of equipment. Could do it easier with one of my old engines, I bet.”
As Solomon told the people in Washington several months later, he was only resting his eyes, thinking about shop manuals and parts in the back yard. When suddenly he figured there was an easier way to build a satellite power plant. But, as it was past his bedtime, he’d put one together tomorrow.
It was late the next afternoon before Solomon had a chance to try his satellite power plant idea. Customers were gone and he was free of interruption. The engine of his elderly Moreland tow-truck was brought to life by Solomon almost hidden behind the huge wooden steering wheel. The truck lumbered carefully down rows of cars to an almost completely stripped wreck holding only a broken engine. In a few minutes, Solomon had the engine waving behind the truck while he reversed to a clear space near the center of his yard.
Once the broken engine was blocked upright on the ground, Solomon backed his Moreland out of the way, carried a tray of tools to the engine and squatted in the dirt to work. First, the intake manifold came off and was bolted to the clutch housing so the carburetor mounting flange faced skyward. Solomon stopped for a minute to worry. “If it works,” he thought, “when I get them nearer each other, it’ll go up in my face.” Scanning the yard he thought of fenders, doors, wheels, hub caps and ... that was it. A hub cap would do the trick.
At his age, running was a senseless activity, but walking faster than usual, Solomon took a direct route to his office. From the ceiling of hub caps, he selected a small cap from an old Chevy truck. Back at the engine, he punched a hole in the cap, through which he tied a length of strong twine. The cap was laid on the carburetor flange and stuck in place with painter’s masking tape. He then bolted the exhaust manifold over the intake so the muffler connection barely touched the hub cap. Solomon stood up, kicked the manifolds with his heavy boots to make sure they were solid and grunted with satisfaction of a job well done.
He moved his tray of tools away and trailed the hub cap twine behind the solid body of a big old Ford station wagon. He’d read of scientists in block houses when they shot rockets and was taking no chances. Excitement glistened Solomon’s old eyes as what blood pressure there was rose a point or two with happy thoughts. If his idea worked, he would be free of the old cars, yet not destroy a single one. Squatting behind the station wagon, to watch the engine, Solomon gingerly pulled the twine to eliminate slack. As it tightened, he tensed, braced himself with a free hand on the wagon’s bumper, and taking a deep breath, jerked the cord. Tired legs failed and Solomon slipped backward when the hub cap broke free of the tape and sailed through the air to clang against the wagon’s fender. Lying on his back, struggling to rise, Solomon heard a slight swish as though a whirlwind had come through the yard. The scent of air-borne dust bit his nostrils as he struggled to his feet.
Deep in the woods behind Solomon’s yard two boys were hunting crows. Eyes high, they scanned branches and horizons for game. “Look, there goes one,” the younger cried as a large dark object majestically rose into the sky and rapidly disappeared into high clouds.
“Yup, maybe so,” said the other. “But it’s flying too high for us.”
“I must be a silly old man,” Solomon thought, scanning the cleared space behind his tow truck where he remembered an engine. There was nothing there, and as Solomon now figured it, never had been. Heart heavy with belief in the temporary foolishness of age, Solomon went to the hub cap, glittering the sun where it lit after bouncing off the fender. It was untied from the string, and in the tool tray, before Solomon realized he’d not been daydreaming. In the cleared area, were two old manifold gaskets, several rusty nuts, and dirt blown smooth in a wide circle around greasy blocks on which he’d propped the now missing engine.
That night was a whirlwind of excitement for Solomon. He had steak for dinner, then sat back to consider future success. Once the classic cars were gone, he could use the space for more profitable Fords and Chevys. All he’d have to do would be bolt manifolds from spare engines on a different car every night, and he’d be rid of it. All he used was vacuum in the intake manifold, drawing pressure from the outlet side of the exhaust. The resulting automatic power flow raised anything they were attached to. Solomon couldn’t help but think, “The newspapers said scientists were losing rockets and space capsules, so a few old cars could get lost in the clouds without hurting anything.”