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March 7, 2013

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John Wheeler’s “Cadillac Dave” books must be unique in the annals of Chattanooga nonfiction.

If you took all the histories and memoirs ever published about Chattanooga and brought them all together in one hypothetical and impossibly complete library, not only would the “Cadillac Dave” books include one of the only first-hand accounts of 1960’s campus radicalism at the University of Chattanooga (and later UTC), they would surely be the only history or memoir to be cross-referenced in both the “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Religion” categories.

“The ‘Cadillac Dave’ books are a story of redemption,” according to Wheeler. The book covers—there are four volumes, plus a new collected “reader”—show they are authored by Dave Jackson, an alias he used when he was a marijuana and cocaine distributor, but he revealed his identity during book promotions last year.

Wheeler first told his story in the four volumes published in 2011 and 2012. Fearing that four 200-page books might be too much for some, he published a one-volume “Chronicles of Cadillac Dave” this month that comes in it at 500 pages. Much of the original Chattanooga material was abbreviated but can be found in Volume One, which remains in print (all four volumes and the collected chronicles are available at Winder Binder Gallery  & Bookstore).

“They deal with topics ranging from the drug and rock ‘n’ roll counterculture of the late ’60s and the entire 1970s to marijuana smuggling in Arizona and Texas, large-scale marijuana distribution all over the Southeast, and dealings with Colombian cocaine dealers in Miami and L.A.,” he added. “They cover a wide range of experiences. A lot of them are illegal. Some of them aren’t very commendable, but they’re all true.”

Wheeler’s story begins in 1966 when he was in high school sniffing glue, doing small burglaries and roaring around Chattanooga in a black Chevelle SS396 with Maltese crosses on the windows and a “Rebels” license plate up front.

At the University of Chattanooga and then UTC, he was at the center of a small but tumultuous swirl of late-60’s campus protest. Former Chattanooga Times Free Press executive editor Tom Griscom was Wheeler’s editor at The Echo, the UTC student newspaper. He remembers Wheeler as a part of an anti-war group.

“It was a very conspicuous group of people,” Griscom recalled. “Some of them were clearly anti-war. Some were into drug culture, the peace-love type thing. There were some that were just anti-whatever. There were others who I think were looking for a place to fit in, they might have been little bit off the beaten path. John was a great writer. He would sit there out in front of the student center with them and sometimes read poetry, sing with guitars and stuff.”

When UT trustees were meeting in Chattanooga one cold winter day, campus police sprayed Cardiac Hill with water, creating a sheet of ice to keep student protesters away. Wheeler was one of two student observers invited to attend the trustees’ meeting.

Wheeler was the student newspaper’s star columnist and a stringer for the Chattanooga Times. He somehow managed to get a column into print in The Echo that was not only politically radical, but also included an ever-popular but seldom-published four-letter word for carnal congress. That impropriety—unignorable because the newspaper was taxpayer-funded—stirred up far more controversy than his radical politics. Griscom resigned in protest, but came back the following year as editor.

“He looked like somebody you wouldn’t want to tangle with ... John really was a badass,” added Griscom. “I’m trying not to say that, but that’s what he was and he wanted to be seen that way.”

by

March 7, 2013

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Cadillac Dave series

John Wheeler and I were in the same 7t grade math class at Baylor. One day we had words and a fight erupted, quickly stopped by Major Moore, our instructor. After this incident, I had little to do with John until this past October, when he appeared at our 45th reunion. As the event coordinator, I wanted to chat with everyone in attendance, so I walked over to John, who immediately showed me his books. I bought the first volume and told him that I would buy the others if this one inspired me to do so. It did in a most compelling way!!!!!!!!!!
His frank, detailed descriptions of his life's experiences are simply unbelievable. Several of the Chattanooga names mentioned are or were friends of mine, and John's straight forward, in your face writing makes for some of the best nonfiction writing I have experienced.
I am now in my second reading of each volume, and I'm still amazed at his experiences. Go get yours today. Cadillac Dave will certainly become a classic tale of the Age of Aquarius, whether you were of the conservative bent, a long haired hippie, or something in between! John and I are now friends, and we visit when he's in town.

west oehmig more than 1 years ago

John Wheeler's Cadillac Dave books are Wonderful

If you are looking for something to read that will keep you turning pages, you have found the right book. Cadillac Dave is a Chattanoogan, was raised by wonderful parents but took the wrong road in life. His troubles began as a child and he eventually ended up smuggling drugs and running from the police. But that "run" takes you all over the country and into the underground of drug smugging in the 60's and 70's. In the end, he is redeemed and has lived the life of a Christian for many years. Like I said, if you want to read something that will keep you turning the pages and is a truly inspiring story, this is the book for you.

Dee Massey more than 1 years ago

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