Cheney Free Press -

By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

The 'Three Amigos' are united once again

Write to the Point

 

April 12, 2018



Perhaps the following belongs on the sports page? Maybe in Neighbors or in obits? Or possibly nowhere on these pages?

But in what I always call a “target-rich” environment for op-ed, the opportunity to reflect is a great way to shift gears, let the high revving motor of our daily lives run at idle and have the tires cool down.

What a perfect segue.

For the better part of two hours last Saturday I sat in a pew at a Spokane Valley church listening to stories. And if told in a church, they certainly had to be true, right?

The time spent was to memorialize the 87-year life of Earl Wham who passed away in early March.

Earl who you say? Only if you’re one of our most senior readers might the name even remotely ring a bell as a half-century ago, Wham was a racer extraordinaire.

Not to the stature and standards of other icons of the day, Richard Petty or Mario Andretti, mind you. But a guy nonetheless who still went really fast for his time and took plenty of chances.

Back in the day when we had two daily newspapers serving the region, and newsrooms bustling with reporters who searched out the news, Earl’s exploits earned enough ink to fill many a scrap book, line the walls of his home with photos and certificates of excellence and shelves with trophies.

Or the memory banks, as younger sister Lucy recalled.

Such as her harrowing rides home from school with big brother who said the numbers of the speedometer were meant to ALL be used. With Earl she said, “It was the thrill of speed, never the fear of death,” that drove him — and scared the living heck out of her.

Brother Paul Wham told of Earl getting to learn how to drive a stock car in the early 1950s and rolling it nine time in eight races. Yet he persevered to set records that were never again broken and win so much his engines were outlawed.

And talk about beginner’s luck and a fishing story with photos to prove it all, the first time he ever went fishing, near Kenai, Alaska, Wham landed a 69-pound salmon.

He was part of a group affectionately known as “The Three Amigos” — which included Fred Rogers and Bob Schultz — some names again that only a sliver of the gray hairs may recall. Schultz was the last to pass, less than a week after Wham.

“There’s a hell of a race team in heaven,” Rogers’ son, Kevin, told the several hundred in attendance.

What was remarkable about this group of men, and a handful of others which they hung with at race tracks both on land and water in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, was their ingenuity. And with Wham, his fearlessness.

Most of us never have driven 100 miles-per-hour on a road, let alone nearly 160 on water, one of those whose reminiscing recounted Wham’s world speed record he set in the Miss Merion Bluegrass limited hydroplane.

Then Wham and the boat traveled across the region as well as the nation, and routinely beat the best there were.

Historians William Strauss and Neil Howe call those born between 1925 and 1942, “The Silent Generation.” The “Three Amigos” and their many pals were nothing of the kind.

With just high school educations at best, Wham and his buds were innovators to the extent that it should make today’s mechanical engineering crowd marvel. They built high-performance engines to tolerances of 1/100,000ths on an inch that ran and ran and ran — and won and won and won — long before computers were there to help.

Wham and his late wife, Catherine, were never able to have children, so he had an enormous surrogate family of the closest of friends.

He sought to pay back some of that loyalty, so when everyone gathered in in the church hall, each was handed a ticket. Later, 20 of those present had their number called above the din and were handed an envelope. Inside each a handsome collection of U.S. currency.

Me, I never got an envelope. But the best reward was having known Earl “The Squirrel” Wham in the first place.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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