It’s been more than 40 years, and James “Doc” Anderson now lives all the way across the country.
But when Doc’s mother sent him a recent “Woog’s World” column, his mind double-clutched back to Westport, high school, and especially his passion: cars.
The story his mom sent was about Charlie Taylor — a Staples grad with a long career in music — but this line caught Doc’s eye:
(Charlie) joined the Downshifters, a hot rod club whose members included Mike Douglas (now known as “Michael” — yes, that one).
Doc was a Downshifter too. He emailed me from his Seattle home, and asked me to call. He picked up the phone, and immediately described that very formative time in his life.
Doc graduated from Staples in 1967. By then the Downshifters had died — victim of both a changing Westport and changing auto industry. Doc and president Flip Webb put their club jackets up for sale. Doc joined the Drag Masters — a smaller, younger club outside of Westport.
“The Drag Masters had a club car everyone worked on,” Doc recalls. “By that time, kids in Westport no longer worked on their own cars. Everyone drove their parents’ cars. It was when Westport started becoming a rock-star community. With affluence came less interest in cars.”
Plus, Doc notes, cars themselves became more specialized. It got harder and harder for teenagers to work on them.
But even in its dying days the Downshifters — a huge part of Staples life in the 1950s — meant a lot to Doc.
Meetings were held at the Y, he says. Members brought their girlfriends — but they sat outside.
Inside, there were formal presentations on cars. Doc made one on carburetors; a friend talked about brake systems. Dues were collected, officers elected and minutes recorded.
The Downshifters “had something to do” with the Dover Drag Strip, just across the state line in Dutchess County.
And Doc remembers Corky Cookman running his dragster on “the asphalt near Mahackeno” — presumably, what’s now Sunny Lane. (Presumably too the statute of limitations has long since expired.)
Doc went on to Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia. He spent more than 6 years as a Navy pilot and instructor, then became a commercial pilot for over 2 decades with Wien and Alaska Airlines.
He’s now in his 2nd year of retirement. He sails a catamaran in Washington waters, and says life is good.
But can anything ever compare to the hot rod days of high school — even if those days were spent as one of the last Downshifters in the rapidly changing suburban town of Westport?