The Tuskegee Warbird

Wallace Eugene Lincoln,Sr  (Wally to his friends), was fearless.  As a young boy he discovered the thrill of how melted wax applied to the bottom of a toboggan would propel it down the snow-covered hills surrounding his home in Central City, Colorado, faster than any of the other youngsters.

As winter rolled into spring, he made a go cart and would race down the hilly streets and back roads around the old mining town always trying to go faster, he was hooked. As he grew older, he learned how to ride motorcycles, got his driver’s license when he turned 14 and when he helped an old prospector clear his property was given a 1915 Model T Runabout.  It was not running but, Wally had a curious mind and was determined to make it fast. And he did.

As he grew older, Wally was hired by a local garage and his curiosity and love of the internal combustion engine really took off.  He was a natural.  He would read and absorb everything that the owner of the garage showed him.  When Wally turned 17, he gathered up his tools and moved to Denver.

As a young man of color, he was determined to show the world he had the skills, determination and knowledge to rebuild engines and tackle most mechanical issues and was hired by Kenz and Leslie V8 Service.  Bill and Roy took to Wally and helped him polish his talents.  He had a good job and the future only looked brighter, but the universe had other plans for the young mechanic.

December 7th, 1941. As America entered into the world conflict, Wally wanted nothing more than to serve his country.  Kenz and Leslie agreed and assured him that when he returned, he would have a job waiting for him.  Wally enlisted but as a Black man, found that he was shoved to the side only to be sent to Alabama to join a regiment that would become The Tuskegee Airmen.

Wally was a self-educated man.  He knew the laws of that land and as his train ride took him farther from his home in the west, the road south made it clear he was not welcomed.  But he knew, that if he lowered his head and did as asked, he may just live to tell stories to his children.

After boot camp, Wally began to show his prowess with his mechanical skills. On a whim, a pilot who trained those who showed interest took him on a flight and there was that rush he felt as a child so long ago on that cold frozen hill.  The pilot swung that Wildcat into a dive and the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp 14-cylinder radial engine sang her song and Wally felt the G force as the fighter plane screamed across the wild blue yonder.  The pilot brought them in and landed and as he did, he was peppered with questions from Wally.  Wally’s love of speed and adventure had finally come to fruition. He wanted to be a fighter pilot.

The Defense Department originally was skeptical about the abilities of “people of color” because they were deemed not efficient as their white counterparts.  Wally had heard whispers of this in the barracks and the attitude ramped up.  The Tuskegee Airmen would prove all of those who rallied against them wrong.  Wally served valiantly, he became a pilot for the 332d and piloted everything from the Bell P-39 Airacobra and towards the end was flying the mighty P-51 Mustang.  In July of 1945 Wally earned a Flying Cross for his efforts in the Pacific theatre piloting a bright silver with red tail Flying Tiger.

After he came home, all Wally could think about was getting back to K & L and building engines.  Maybe even a race car for himself.   His talents were not wasted; his skills learned in the hangars overseas helped Kenz and Leslie to modernize their racing garage.

In 1957 Wally made a purchase that would launch a new chapter for his quest of speed.   Fresh from Bob Jones Ford, there he ordered a stripped down 1957 Ford Custom business sedan.  The car was delivered without any amenities, no heater and hard rubber floors.  The ’57 was silver as the main color and red above the moulding and upper rear of the car including the decklid and taillight bezels. Which was similar to his P-51 he flew in the Pacific theatre.  Beneath the hood was a super charged 312 Y Block backed by a 3 speed over drive.

Wally had a few years showing the taillights to many of competitors on the strips in the Rocky Mountain area tracks.  His prowess with chassis set up and fine-tuning racing engines, even after he stepped out of the seat of his mighty ’57, helped racers in the Mile-High City. He kept on working for K&L during the weekdays and on the weekends, he was racing.  Within 6 years he had purchased a then new ’62 Galaxie 406 engine with a 4 speed, a front axle set up out of a ’48 F-1 pickup, he radiused the rear wheel wells and a local painter added on the rear quarters THE TUSKEGEE WARBIRD.  The ’57 again was a contender and Wally continued his pursuit of speed.

Then, one night as he was fine tuning a dragster at the shop at 1255 Delaware, a pre-ignition fired off and Wally lost his sight.  He felt his days were done working on hot rods, race cars, but it had only begun.  Wallace had learned a trick from an old friend that if you close your eyes and by placing a thick wooden dowel upon an engine block as it ran, one could determine which cylinder was not firing or where an engine needed more work.  Now blind, he learned to tune an engine by using his other senses, hearing, smell and touch.

His ’57 Ford was parked in his garage, covered by tarps and remained untouched. A memory to his competitors and forgotten by the driver himself.  Wally worked on and off for a few more years before hanging up his tools and quietly slipped into a bittersweet retirement.

However, Wally’s grandson had other ideas. The ’57 had sat unloved for years and ever since Wallace the 3rd laid eyes on the dust covered beauty, he was determined to bring her back. Working in secret, the old quarter mile warrior was being given a complete running gear restoration.  The body had aged very well as had the original paint and trim on the old Ford.  The 406 was rebuilt and had some updates internally to make it more competitive.

On the eve of his grandfather’s birthday, Wallace Eugene Lincoln III, turned the key and the ’57 Ford Custom fired to life. He closed his eyes and listened as the mighty FE sang her new song.  He only hoped it would sing the same song to his grandfather’s ears.

On October 7th, Wally Sr.’s home was alive with activity.  He sat in his rocker and heard the sounds of family arriving, laughter, conversations, and love in nearly all of the rooms in his old home.  From the kitchen Wally Jr. was busy prepping a turkey, and all of the fixin’s as requested by his Dad.  Outside, Wally the 3rd carefully rolled the ’57 off of the trailer and rolled it into the garage where it had sat untouched for so many years. It was almost time.

Wally Sr. reveled in the gifts, good food and what a great time that his family provided to celebrate his birthday and it was right as the evening was winding down that his grandson spoke up.

“Say pops, I have one more surprise for you.”  Wallace Sr turned his head and reached out his hand to his grandson, “Well, let’s have a look,.or a feel in my case!”  He laughed and the family joined in.  Senior had accepted his blindness years ago and by making light of his situation, he always put those around him at ease.  Wally got up and with the help of his grandson, followed by the rest of the family; they made their way out to the garage.

The garage door was already open and as he entered, Wally Sr smiled.  The memories always came to him as he smelled the interior of his garage.  He was led to the 57 and as he was expecting to lay his hands on a covered up fender, realized the car was uncovered, even felt freshly polished.

“Son, what have you been up to?” Wally Sr asked.  Wally the 3rd walked around the front of the Tuskegee Warbird, climbed in and hit the key.

RR-RRRR-VAHROOM!  – the 406 caught and fired.  The garage was filled with a deafening mechanical choir as 8 cylinders did their dance and made music of a different kind.  Those around Wally Sr. covered their ears but all he did was smile and nod his head.  His grandson turned the old race car off and walked to his grandfather’s side. “You did good my boy, you did really good.  Play that again for these old ears.”   Wally the 3rd did, and his grandfather rested his hands on the fender and felt as the engine performed as it should.

Senior would live for a few more years and got to feel the Tuskegee Warbird take him down the quarter mile and again satisfy his quest for speed.  Wally the 3rd still races the car to this day and has the urn with his grandfather’s ashes in the trunk, you know, cause it is a fitting place for an old racer to travel fast at times, even after his death.

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