Mark Groth Remembers 1968’s Nightly Le Mans

It’s been a long time since Mark Groth lived in Westport. A 1968 graduate of Staples High School — where he served as president of Staples Players’ Stage and Technical Staff — he’s now media production director at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

But — like many other expats — he’s an avid “06880” reader. A recent post noting a 5-year wait for a railroad station parking sticker piqued his interest.

He recalled a different era: a time when not every family had (at least) 2 cars. So someone had to pick up Dad every night. Mark writes:

Every night, the New Haven Railroad commuter train arrived in Westport at 6:26. A hundred mostly male workers disembarked for a ride to home, hearth and dinner. Some would have napped for an hour. Some spent convivial time in the bar car. Many wives came to pick up their husbands.

New Haven RailroadLike many others, I spent time in the back seat on this nightly exercise. But in the late ’60s I took driver’s education at Staples High School. My classmates and I could handle this mundane daily task, and free up our mothers for a few minutes before dinner was on the table.

This was also a chance to exercise our planning and driving skills. I had an older brother, so I knew the importance of leaving the uninitiated proles in the dust. Many dads willingly participated in this testosterone-pumping event.

Two good friends, Lee and Paul, were my major competitors. We would arrive early, then sit with engines running in the exit lane waiting for the hard core to exit the train before it stopped.

Hitting the ground running, assured that their ride was waiting, clutch in, our fathers slalomed between parked cars. We leaned over opened the passenger door, and they slid in.

When he wasn't picking up his father, Mark Groth played guitar.

When he wasn’t picking up his father, Mark Groth played guitar.

Out the east end exit we flew. We took the 90-degree left turn (watching out for annoying late arrivals), then the 180 degrees down and under the railroad bridge, and a quick right onto Riverside.

Snowy roads and an occasional 4-wheel drift under the bridge were tricky.

But summer was swell. Paul and I had convertibles, so our fathers did not have to duck to jump into the passenger seat. That gave us a split-second lead on sedans.

There were no trophies for the evening races, just the satisfaction of a certain style for a teenage driver.

One night, I was running late. I saw the big diesel engine pull in as I zipped under the bridge. Paul and Lee were already in position. I didn’t have time to go down to the parking entrance, getting caught in the melee as I failed my father and brought shame on our family.

So as I came up under the bridge I slammed on the brakes, threw it into reverse and backed up into the exit, right in front of Paul. His mouth dropped.

Carl Groth goes for the gold.

Carl Groth goes for the gold.

I had great position. My father dodged the parked cars, and slid in. Idling in first with the clutch in, I hit it. The door slammed. We went out the exit, under the bridge and off to freedom. I have joyously relived and savored that extremely lucky night ever since.

Paul and Lee sometimes beat me. It was pretty even who got out first. But we all had a wonderful time. We turned a tedious chore into our own chariot race.

The camaraderie of that brief teenage game made it a memorable part of our adolescence. Westport had its own true Golden Age.

14 responses to “Mark Groth Remembers 1968’s Nightly Le Mans

  1. Paula Martin Roveda

    This story sure brings back memories of picking up my Dad. Over the years my Dad would switch to the Greens Farms station, I’m sure for strategic reasons. He was extremely personable and gregarious and most of his friends he made over the years were from the train.

  2. I used to park face out in one of the few spaces near the bridge. I would ride in the first car of the 5:02 train from GCT and be one of the first off the train in Westport. I would take great pride in going thru the bridge underpass before the train left the station. Parking spaces were always available for the 6:58 train in the morning. All this in the late 60’s/early 70’s!!!

  3. Barbara Katz

    Great memories, Mark. I remember my brother and I going with my mother and grandmother to the beach after we picked my dad up in the evening and having picnic suppers. My dad wasn’t a picnic sort of guy, but the rest of us loved it. Your photos were great — wish Steve and I had some like that!

  4. Tom Allen '66

    I remember it well. I had station drop-of and pick-up duty 63-66. Dropped off for the 6 AM train and picked up at the 6:45. I parked by Luciano Field where I waited for my dad and his pal/neighbor, Jack Folsom. We had two choices: a quick left on Charles, right on Saugatuck Ave., then up Sunrise to Indian Hill for the Folsom drop-off, or, which happened often, a U-turn at Luciano and then to the Arrow, where we sat at the Frank Nistico’s bar. They drank martinis, I had ginger ale. Morning duty could be a little dicey. The dress code for those dropping off was loose, especially in the summer. Sleepwear was common. I was usually rousted out of bed wearing a pair of gym shorts and that’s what I wore to the station because I was too sleepy to get dressed . On one occasion, after dropping off my dad and turning right past Pete Milazzo’s market, I encountered one of our Treadwell/Indian Hill neighbors attempting to change a flat tire. She was wearing her nightgown. It was a hot AM in July or August. I had nothing on but Staples gym shorts, but I stopped to help. A lot of horns honked at the two of us, and there were a lot of laughs, which we deserved!.

  5. Susan Hopkins

    Wish I had been as prescient as Mark and captured a photograph of my father exiting the train while I sat idling in our ’67 GTO convertible. Happy times … happy memories.

  6. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    I had the leave off & pick up duty probably from ’65 – ’67 but I missed out on all this excitement. I dropped my father off at the end of East Ferry Lane and he would walk across the bridge to the station. And reverse the process in the evening – pretty much 6:00 a.m. & 6:00 p.m. No such fun as the others had. Even though it was a short trip from Narrow Rocks Rd to East Ferry Lane, I treasured that alone time with my dad. And of course I loved having a car to take to Staples.

  7. Mark–great pic of your dad and some interesting memories indeed. After living in Westport for a year or two, we had a second inexpensive “station car,” which my brother and I got to use some of the time when we were in high school. I don’t remember racing out of the station (because I don’t think my dad would have been thrilled by that). But I do remember sometimes seeking a strategic position; I have a station pic of my dad jogging to the car when I picked him up in the 1970s during a vacation break I had from law school. Our spot: in the side roadway of Riverside in front of the post office.

    Our station car in the 1960s was a Triumph Herald 1200 convertible (stick shift of course), which is the car I learned to drive during Drivers’ Ed classes at Staples taught by the very patient Mr. Ljostad. (I wonder: do they still offer that class, or do kids learn from their parents today?) I loved that car, especially when Spring weather arrived. Would love to step into a time machine to take one more spin in that car with the top down on a beautiful Spring day.

    • Drivers’ ed is now done after school, either through continuing education or private driving schools. I remember we got 1/4 credit for taking the class.

      And, as soon as we turned 16, we could go on the road. A month later — after something like 6 hours on the road — we could get our licenses.

      Today the process is much more involved. There is a learner’s permit, a much more intensive test (kids actually fail it now), and then several requirements once the license is in hand (number of passengers, curfew hours, etc.).

      One other change: fewer kids leap at the chance to get a license the second they’re eligible. More and more high school students are putting it off. It’s a national trend.

  8. Marcy Fralick

    I did the station drop off and pick-up at Greens Farms if I wanted the car for the day, which I did. Ironically, instead of having it parked at Greens Farms, it was parked at Staples all day. I got my license on my 16th birthday which fell in December. I took Driver’s Ed in the fall of 1967, did my six hours on the road, got the day off from school, and my parents took me to get my license and then out to lunch. The next weekend, I was assigned “train” duty and the weekend duty of driving into Manhattan and picking up my Grandfather from the New York Athletic Club where he lived. Once I got my license, I was the family chauffer, errand runner, and more. I loved it!

    My two daughters turned 16 in the late 80’s, early 90’s and immediately got their licenses. My sons wno turned 16 in the 2000’s, still don’t have their licenses or any desire to get them. They live in the heart of San Antonio and Tucson, and bike everywhere. Bikes or the busses seem to be the transportation of choice here in Tucson for the 20 something crowd.

  9. Mary (Cookman) Schmerker

    I loved all the memories. Mine date back quite a few years from those posted. I graduated from Staples in 1958. Actually, the best one I will relate second hand. My mother used to tell us about driving her Dad to the station so she could have the car all day. This would date to about 1936/37.

    Apparently they frequently missed the morning train and would race the train to Norwalk where my grandfather would hop on. Once he cut through a gas station instead of waiting for the traffic light. On her trip back a policeman pulled her over and balled her out for cutting the corner. She successfully convinced the policeman that it was her dad who was driving ( it was) Thanks for the great memories.

  10. Robin (Bieley) Moore '68

    I was about 14 when I made the deal with my father that when I got my license at 16, I could do the drop-off and pick up to have the “station car”. When I started in 1966, it was a 62 Rambler American with a 3-speed stick on the column, which I used for driver’s ed. My drop-off was for the 7:37 in the morning which meant that I was often careening into the Staples parking lot to be on time for my 8:10 class and pick up was for the 6:32. It was great to be able to have the car and while I didn’t have the regular race to be the first out of the parkling lot Mark did, I was always trying to beat other drivers out of red lights!

  11. Susan R Sosna

    Our station car was a ’53 chevy with no radio, a heater that was always on and holes in the floor. Christened the “Sozmobile” I had drop off and pick up duties; and yes, in the summer I wore pajamas for the morning run. I loved the father-daughter time; we sang, we laughed, we talked. Lovely times and how lucky we were.

  12. The 6:02 was an express train and the most crowded of all trains. My spot was in front of the Suagatuck Post Office and my father was the first one off. He had to go through the tunnel where he shed his suit coat, tie and hat to gain a second ot two before he hit the door of my 1958 VW. “Go, go, ” was the command as I lifted the clutch. The first traffic cop was under the 95 bridge and we usually sailed through. Officer Cribari at the “TIN Bridge,” favored opposite traffic because of the bridge weight limit and he would alternate cars while working his white gloves up and down and pointing and blowing his whistle. The goal was to get over the bridge and
    make the light at Greens Farm and South Compo. If all went as planned, I got the nod, “Good Job, Johnny. “Good job.”