At the beginning of rush hour on a Friday afternoon in 1967, a young man driving one of those massive Chevrolets from the Eisenhower era accelerated up the Carson Street ramp to the Fort Pitt Bridge.
Ahead of him loomed a slow-moving tractor-trailer rig. The young man wanted to pass that rig. He pressed his foot on the accelerator.
None of us on the Digs staff qualifies as an expert on vintage automobiles, but we looked carefully at pictures of the car the young man was driving, then conducted some quick internet research and determined the vehicle was a 1955 Bel Air. A two-door hardtop, weighing 3,456 pounds. (If we’re wrong, feel free to correct us in the comments section below. UPDATE: See Sean’s comments below. He says it’s a Chevrolet 210). Perhaps the vehicle was powered by a V8 engine, an option on a Bel Air. If so, it could be a lot of vehicle to handle, especially when accelerating up a narrow, curving ramp.
At some point during the passing maneuver, the young man lost control of the Chevrolet and the car began to skid. His correction proved too severe and the vehicle plowed onto the concrete curbing, scraped against the bridge’s railing, then flipped.
Traffic on the ramp skidded to a halt as the Chevrolet came to rest on its roof. Motorists who’d witnessed the crash no doubt wondered about the health of the person behind the wheel. Was he seriously injured? Did he need assistance?
Within moments the driver crawled from the Chevy’s passenger compartment. Newspapers identified him as Gerald T. Clark, 24, of McKees Rocks, and he seemed in remarkably good shape for someone who’d just rolled an automobile.
Because this is Pittsburgh, several motorists exited their cars, gathered around the Chevrolet, pondered the problem before them and devised a plan. They moved to one side of the automobile, then began to push. Rolling such a heavy vehicle must have been a difficult task, but the group managed. Within moments, the Chevy was upright. Almost. The helpful motorists had rolled the automobile partially onto the bridge’s concrete railing and so now it rested at an angle. Well, at least it was no longer upside down.
That’s when trouble began.
Sparks popped from under the hood. Those who had moments before congratulated themselves on successfully uprighting the Chevrolet suddenly took notice of the gasoline spilled on the car and roadway and realized correctly this was a sticky situation. They scattered.
Flames quickly rose from beneath the car and snaked their way over the body. Clark walked away, looking a bit puzzled. His afternoon and his car were total wrecks. This was a bad start to a weekend.
Soon the car was ablaze. A plume of thick, black smoke rose over the bridge. Folks downtown looked out and wondered what disaster was unfolding across the river.
Finally, firefighters arrived and the flames were doused. Clark’s charred vehicle was removed and traffic once again flowed from Carson Street to the bridge. Clark was taken to Mercy Hospital, where he was treated for abrasions to his hands and face.
A stunning sequence of images documenting the young man’s misadventure graced the front page of the next day’s Post-Gazette. Nearly 50 years later, we found those pictures and wondered if the driver of the Chervolet was still around. We made several phone calls in an attempt to locate Mr. Clark, but were unsuccessful. If he’s reading this story, we ask that he drop us a note. We’d love to hear about his memories of that day.