It still seems incredible, but go one of the strangest incidents of my life occurred 45 years ago when I first started driving.
It all began on a bright sunny day in the fall of 1949 as I raced along the
highways of Ohio. I was happy with my new job. I was delivering dentures and eyeglasses to
out-of-town doctors from the Cleveland Laboratories. I had the full-time use of a late model company
As I approached the Cleveland from the west side, everything seemed normal.
The 1947 Studebaker I drove handled very nicely as I proceeded east on Lake Avenue.
I had made several traffic signals in the green, and only one more signal remained before
hitting the fast expressway that would zip me non-stop to downtown Cleveland.
As I approached the intersection, the traffic signal turned yellow and I
applied more pressure to the accelerator to beat the light. My car jumped ahead, and I just barely
cleared the intersection as the light turned red.
It was a short distance to the next corner where a black 1937 sedan pulled
out in front of me traveling very slowly. I hit my brake to slow down and to my dismay
discovered that the brakes didn't work. I applied my brake pedal over and over again but to no avail.
The situation became more drastic as the black sedan came to a complete
halt at the very next corner. It was trying to make a turn and was waiting for the oncoming
traffic to clear. I became frantic as I closed within a few feet of the sedan and saw a woman and a
young girl sitting in front.
I honked my horn to warn them, but they ignored me. I couldn't veer to the
left because of the oncoming traffic, and I couldn't veer to the right because of the parked
cars along the curb. There wasn't enough room for a bicycle to go between the black sedan and
the car next to it.
I was only a few seconds away from the inevitable collision and was still
traveling quite rapidly.My last thought was to slam into a parked car, but it was too late, as my
arms tightened on the steering wheel and I froze. My stomach rose up to my throat. I stopped
breathing as I braced myself for the moment of impact. I was resigned to the ripping and tearing of metal, and the smashing of glass, but there was no bump, no impact, no collision.
For a split second the street became dark as night. It was a greenish
darkness. I could see the outline of the front hood of my car penetrating the dark, greenish trunk of
the vehicle in front of me.
There was no sound of a crash and the two human figures in front did not appear to move or even flinch. They disappeared from view. I felt like I was floating through this green darkness with my hands
still glued tightly to the steering wheel. I had a sensation of passing right through the other
The darkness abruptly changed back to bright sunny daylight. As I glanced
into my rear-view mirror, I was astounded to see the black sedan still waiting in the same
spot. But now it was behind me. How could that be?
As soon as traffic cleared, the mysterious black sedan completed its turn
and drove on down a side street with both occupants staring straight ahead, completely ignoring
me as if I didn't exist. I wanted to swing around and follow that car to find out what was
going on, but with no brakes I still had a problem to solve.
The next city block was free of parked cars. While still coasting, I
started edging my car as close as possible toward the high curb. Luckily for me, there were several piles
of raked leaves along the curb, and I kept plowing into them, which helped me to slow down. Then
the high cement curb grabbed my right front tire and brought me to an abrupt stop.
I shut off the engine and rested my head in both hands, breathing heavily
as I said out loud, "My God! What happened back there?" I knew I wasn't traveling fast enough to go
over the top of the mysterious sedan. I certainly couldn't go under it, and there wasn't enough
room to go around it. Did I really go through it?
Slowly, I got out of the Studebaker. I still looked back down the street,
trying to see if I could spot the black sedan again. My legs felt weak and wobbly. I was still
shaking from the whole incident.
I was several blocks away from a public telephone, but there were several
homes on either side of the street. I started knocking on doors until I found a kindly woman who
let me use her telephone to call my boss and advise him of my Plight. He told me to stay
right there with the car until he could send a tow truck for me.
A short time later the tow truck arrived, and the driver was kind enough to
drop me off at theY.M.C.A. where I was living. On our way downtown the driver asked me what
happened to my car. I started to say that I drove through another vehicle, but I could tell by
his facial expression that he wouldn't believe me, so I just told him that my brakes failed. I
also knew I couldn't tell my boss what really happened.
For years I kept silent about the incident, but I could never forget it. As we approached downtown Cleveland on the Expressway, we caught up with the tail end of the usual traffic jam. I hate to think what would have happened to me a half hour earlier if I had come charging down here with a car that had no brakes. That mysterious phantom auto saved me. from a disaster.
by Herb Barlow