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Coach Diddle: A Pretty Good Piece of Driving

Jim Richards tells us "When I was in Alumni Affairs, I asked Dr. Kelly Thompson to tell me any stories about Mr. Diddle I could use in my job." Dr. Thompson said, "I'll tell you a true one nobody else has heard."

Dr. Thompson was the former President of WKU. He had started as a publicist, and is given much credit for making Coach Diddle and his Red Towel famous throughout the United States.

Dr. Thompson recalled how, in the early years, the Hilltoppers used to travel in cars. "They had to use three at one time. But somebody in Bowling Green had an eight-passenger roadster for sale, and Mr. Diddle reasoned they could save money by travelling in just two cars. So they bought it."

The car had a leather strap from the side of the hood, to batten down packages on a little platform on the fender. Since the car used a lot of oil. They'd strap on a case of oil because the roadster required frequent top-offs, and because Mr. Diddle didn't like to pay high-dollar prices for single quarts at filling stations.

On the trips, Mr. Diddle would drive the roadster and his assistant, Ted Hornback, would drive the other vehicle. On one such trip they were going through Columbia to Somerset, and then on to games on successive nights at Berea College and Eastern State College. Out of Somerset, Mr. Hornback passed Coach Diddle. That upset Mr. Diddle, who always wanted to be in the lead.

"I don't want to eat Ted Hornback's dust. I know a short cut," he said, and took a gravel side road. As they were going around a curve, Mr. Diddle realized that he was going too fast, and he plowed through a closed farm gate, into a barn lot, and straight for the farm's barn.

In those days, some farmers had oil changing pits near their barns, and the car headed over that. Metal-against-concrete was heard, and the car came to an abrupt stop over the pit, throwing Mr. Diddle over the hood.

He wasn't hurt badly. When he got up, he brushed himself off, and critiqued his performance: "The Old Coach did a pretty good piece of driving back there, didn't he?"

As usual, Diddle took charge. He had the boys push the car off the pit onto the gravel road to take a look at it. Sure enough, the oil pan had been punctured.

Wrigley's Spearmint Gum was the sponsor for the team in those days, and the team always carried a good supply, courtesy of Spearmint. Mr. Diddle gave each of the players a pack of Spearmint from his stash and told them to chew it and soften it up. Then he collected all the chewed gum and kneaded it into a ball and used the big ball of gum to seal the hole in the oil pan, and they refilled the crankcase with oil from the case strapped to the front fender. "That should hold us until we get to Berea," Coach Diddle said. "We'll get it fixed there."

The roadster made it to Berea, but the Toppers were tired after the game, and Eastern Kentucky State College, the next opponent, was less than 20 miles away. "We'll just go on to Richmond," he said, "they'll have plenty of good garages. We'll take care of it there."

But after the game, Coach Diddle said, "You know, they hate the Old Coach here in Richmond. They'll charge me an arm and a leg. We're doing pretty good so far. Let's just see if we can make it back to Bowling Green. They know how to treat us there."

The roadster did make it home to Bowling Green, but Coach Diddle never remembered to take it to a garage.

"That roadster was used for seven more years," Dr. Thompson told Richards, "and to my knowledge the chewing gum was still holding when it was sold."

This story was posted on 2003-07-07 09:00:32
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