A letter from ‘Railroad’ Ray Laverty of Mount Joy, Pa.: A Look At The Good Ole Days

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg, I just started reading your column on a regular basis in February of 2017 and I enjoy it immensely. It is both informative and entertaining. Actually, my passion is collecting old trains, (they call me Railroad Ray) but cars come in a close second and model airplanes are next.
I am part of the 1950s generation and proud of it as I graduated high school in 1953. Boy, do I miss those days. We moved around quite a bit due to my dad’s job, starting out in Astoria, N.Y.; then to Cleveland, Ohio, (Go Indians); then on to St. Louis, Missouri; over to Chicago, Illinois; and finally northern New Jersey. My first car was a 1947 Mercury Club Coupe with the flathead V8 and then my next was a neat 1951 Mercury Cub Coupe.
Somewhere along the line, Uncle Sam intervened and sent me for a two-year vacation to Germany, where my tastes in cars slowly changed to sports cars and sports car racing in the European tradition. I came home to New Jersey with a 1961 Austin Healey Sprite (Bugeye) while my Army buddies opted for the Austin Healey 3000, an MGA and a Triumph TR-2.
You mentioned the Englishtown Raceway Park dragway in past columns and it brings back many good memories. I worked at that track when it first opened and they were the days! Back then they used flagmen for the start and there wasn’t much electronics for record keeping. Over the years, I worked at Englishtown every weekend and when I could run the quarter-mile I did so in my 1958 Thunderbird, followed by a 1965 Mustang 289 V8 and then my 1969 Torino GT 351.
One other thing. In the 1950s, I twice entered the GM Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild to design and build a “Car of the Future” design competition. I didn’t win, but I still have one of those cars in my toy collection. It reminds me of those great days of yesteryear every time I look at it.
Thank you Greg and I anticipate reading all of your future columns. Best Regards, “Railroad” Ray Laverty, Mount Joy, Pa. of Lancaster County.
A: Ray, thanks so much for your hand written letter, very interesting information and extremely kind words. You have brought back so many great memories and my apologies for the tardiness in responding. My letter file is overflowing, but I guess in this business that’s a good thing!
For starters, let’s get to when you returned from the Army with your Austin Healy Bugeye Sprite. I dug up some great photos of SCCA club racing action from 1961 at my then hometown Vineland Speedway road course in south Jersey. There, they ran SCCA sanctioned races regularly, and some big SCCA Divisionals every month. The many MGAs and Austin Healy 3000s bring back memories, as do the countless Bugeye Sprites I remember every time I went to the races.
Like you, I took a liking to road racing although my heart was in the oval races on the half-mile asphalt track and the quarter-mile dragstrip that comprised the Vineland Speedway complex.
You mention you love to collect trains, cars and airplane models, another thing we have in common. My HO train platform and many trains and model cars are one floor beneath me as I write this column, although 90-percent of my collection is car based. From plastic models to die-cast to anything auto nostalgia, I have a boatload of things I’ve collected in my lifetime.
The cars you ran at Englishtown are notable, and I would think the 351 Torino GT turned in the best times. Your love of Ford products shines through in your letter, as your early day ’46 flathead Mercury to the new style “bathtub” Mercs from ’49 through ’51 are hot rodder dream cars. Your Mercury Club Coupe was a top enthusiast favorite as my neighbor had one with a chopped top, hood lovers, lake pipes, rear skirts, spinner hub caps and a “Lone Wolf No Club” license plate. It was one of the neatest cars in my hometown back in the mid-1950s.
Last but not least is your involvement in the GM Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild competition, where designers and modelers aged 11 to 19 did their best to create cars of the future in small scale. Even though you didn’t win, just being part of such a major design effort sponsored by General Motors, and still having one of the models in your collection, is a big deal. You were involved in some of the greatest design projects ever that began in 1930 and lasted until 1968. It is estimated that some 32,000 total entries were received during its 38 year span and thousands of scholarships were awarded to the winners. Many winning designers were hired by GM to build their real cars of the future, so you were sure in good company.
Thanks again Ray for your excellent and well written nostalgic letter and have a wonderful upcoming holiday season.
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