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Rated: 13+ · Book · Biographical · #2257228
Tales from real life
Well, if they're not true, they oughta be!
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September 25, 2021 at 1:47pm
September 25, 2021 at 1:47pm

My fifteenth summer was full of sun and freedom. When I wasn’t busy around the ranch, I tooled around the general area in my ’53 Studebaker pickup. My sisters and I took frequent trips to our favorite swimming hole at the Flathead River.

The quarter-mile downhill grade to the river is gravel and covered with washboard bumps. It’s cut into a clay bank on one side with a drop of a hundred feet or so on the other. With its worn-out suspension, the pickup danced over the washboard, rarely in full contact with the road. I always tried to take it slow, but our speed would inevitably increase as we bounced along. Stepping on the brakes had little effect, it just made steering more difficult. The fishtail motion raised my heart rate, but we never quite went over the edge.

The real excitement came one day when I pulled over into the wide spot above the river where we always parked. It’s about twenty feet above the river and graded smooth, with enough room for several cars. My foot went all the way down to the floorboards with no reaction whatsoever from the brakes. There was barely room, but I twisted the steering wheel frantically to the left and felt the pickup tilt precariously onto the right-side tires as we slalomed back onto the road and coasted to a stop.

‘Why’d you do that?’ asked my little sister indignantly.

She thought I was just trying to be funny, and had no idea that we’d very nearly rolled into the river!

It took a few minutes for me to recover my composure and get us turned around, but we went swimming anyway and enjoyed the afternoon. I drove home cautiously, using low gear to slow down and the emergency brake to stop. In the end, it became a learning experience as my dad taught me how to replace the leaky seals in the brake system master cylinder.
September 20, 2021 at 5:08pm
September 20, 2021 at 5:08pm

I turned 15 in May and my new ‘maturity’ came with a new interest in things like girls and Rock ‘n’ Roll music. My ’53 Studebaker pickup hadn’t come equipped with a radio, of course, so I scrounged one from the junked cars in the old pothole. My search was limited to a narrow range of cars: old enough to have a six-volt electrical system, but new enough to have a radio. I don’t remember which model I found, but it had a radio installed, complete with speaker, as a self-contained unit. It was perfect for my purpose. Most surprising of all, it still worked.

A 1950's vintage car radio unit.

The technology of 1950’s radio required vacuum tubes, and vacuum tubes require 250 volts DC. This could be provided by a simple transformer/rectifier circuit in a 110 volt AC tabletop radio, but how do you step up a six-volt DC battery? The ingenious solution was a mechanical ‘vibrator’ that simulated AC current by breaking the six-volt DC circuit path sixty times a second. It was basically just a relay wired to open its own coil when power was applied. One set of relay contacts would close to send power to the transformer and another set would open to remove power from the relay coil. The relay would rapidly alternate positions as long as power was supplied to the radio. The series of DC current pulses worked just as well as AC power for the transformer/rectifier in the car radio. The buzzing of the vibrator circuit was clearly audible if the radio volume was turned down with the engine off.

The installation challenge was that my pickup didn’t have a dashboard like modern cars. The instruments were installed directly into the firewall with their connecting wires visible under the hood. Since there was no obvious way to mount the radio on the firewall, I used some baling twine and tied it next to me in the middle of the bench seat. I’d also taken the fender mounted antenna when I grabbed the radio unit. A couple of new holes in the pickup cab allowed me to mount the antenna and run the antenna cable behind the seat to the radio. The small hole we’d drilled in the firewall to access the freeze plug turned out to be perfect for running the power wires.

The lash-up must have looked ridiculous, but it worked like a dream. I had my tunes on all summer as I cruised around pretending to be cool. Looking back, I can hardly believe it was even possible. Delicate vacuum tubes and a mechanical vibrator don’t seem well suited for bouncing around in a moving car.
September 19, 2021 at 4:01pm
September 19, 2021 at 4:01pm
When the warmth of April began to dry out the March mud, I put my '53 Studebaker pickup’s battery on the charger overnight. A dribble of gasoline primed the carburetor and it started with surprisingly little trouble. I put the air cleaner back in place, closed the hood, and went for a drive in the sunshine.

About three miles along, I noticed that the temperature gauge was zooming past ‘H’. I decided to pull off the road by an irrigation canal to check the radiator. A couple of wisps of steam were all I could see under the cap. Fortunately, there was a five-gallon bucket in the back that I sometimes used to carry table scraps to the pigs.

It seemed simple enough to me, so I rinsed out the bucket in the canal and brought a couple of gallons of water back to fill the hissing radiator. It turned out that two gallons wasn’t enough, so I made a second trip and came back with a nearly full bucket. I poured another three or four gallons into the radiator before I noticed the stream of water running out from under the truck. Duh! It was running out just as fast as I was pouring it in. The engine had cooled off by the time I figured this out, so I said ‘what the heck’ and drove home.

It turned out that the anti-freeze hadn’t been up to the challenge of a cold Montana winter. One of the freeze plugs had popped out of the engine casting. It saved the casting from cracking, but left behind a silver-dollar size hole where the coolant could run out. As luck would have it, the missing plug was at the rear of the engine block, facing the firewall. A lesser mechanic might have concluded that the engine would have to come out to get access, but not my dad. He bought what’s known as a Welch plug and we carried on.

A Welch plug is made of soft metal and shaped like a dome. It sits snugly in a hole with the dome facing outward. A few taps with a hammer will collapse the dome, expand the edges of the plug, and create a secure seal in the casting hole. I could reach up between the engine and the firewall to insert the plug, but there wasn’t any space to swing a hammer. Dad solved the problem with his power drill. He drilled a hole through the firewall that was almost perfectly in line with the Welch plug. A long bolt served to transfer the hammer blows to the Welch plug, and my Studebaker pickup was soon back on the road. A short, round-head bolt filled the hole in the firewall. It almost looked factory stock.
September 18, 2021 at 6:54pm
September 18, 2021 at 6:54pm
Dad always had a soft spot for Studebakers and I think he was both amused and pleased by my adventures with the pickup. I’d like to say that it became a lifelong interest and that I learned all about repairing and restoring old cars, but that’s someone else’s story. I just wanted to drive. My dad was a fair mechanic, but we didn’t have much money for new parts. I did the minimum necessary to keep the pickup going and made do with whatever was at hand.

There were a number of old vehicles available for parts in the old pothole, some dating from as far back as the 1940’s. The pothole was created when my uncles tried to dig a stock-watering pond into the top of a small rise about 100 yards from the house. It wouldn’t hold water, but its six-foot depth was perfect for hiding thirty years of junked cars from view. Why was it the ‘old’ pothole? I never knew, but that’s what everyone called it.

I mostly scrounged bald tires from those junked cars. I don’t think I ever had a complete set on the pickup that would’ve passed a safety inspection. And, boy, did I get good at changing tires and hot patching inner tubes. I always had two spares in the box and used them both on some trips.

In addition to worn tires, the shock absorbers didn’t, and the steering linkage had several degrees of ‘play’ when changing direction. A previous owner had installed a steering wheel spinner knob and I learned to use it to quickly correct course when a bump caused the front wheels to take an unwanted tack. And with every sharp bump or sudden change of direction, the truck body would do a rollicking bounce on the leaf springs.

In my mind, I drove to the Grand Canyon, the California Redwoods, or even Niagara Falls. In reality, I drove hundreds of miles that fall without ever getting more than fifteen miles from home. When winter iced over our gravel road, the pickup was parked, on advice of parents, to await the spring thaw.
September 17, 2021 at 4:53pm
September 17, 2021 at 4:53pm
Studebakers were just part of growing up for my extended family. My uncle Pat owned a Studebaker dealership, Patton Motors, in the 1950’s, and most of the family bought a car from him at one time or another. It helped that Studebaker offered a lot of low-priced models. Hardly any of our lower middle-class relatives bought from Pat after he switched to selling Chrysler in the 1960’s.

My dad was working for Pat as a mechanic when I was born in 1957. He actually got two babies that year, the other was a Studebaker Silver Hawk. It was a green two-door coupe, with fins on the back. It wasn’t as fast as the Golden Hawk model, but the 289 cubic inch V8 engine had enough power to provide a sporty ride. I loved that car as a child, and I still think it's a very good-looking automobile. I never did risk asking dad which of us was his favorite.

1957 Silver Hawk in Glendale Green

In 1959, dad moved us to the Seattle area, where he found work as a carpenter. He framed houses, built concrete forms for the Highway 520 floating bridge, and worked on the City of Tomorrow exhibit for the 1962 World's Fair. One of the cleverer things he built was a padded insert that fit into the rear floor space of our Hawk. It converted the back seat into a small bed where my older sister and I could sleep while dad made the overnight drive to visit our grandparents in Montana. We also used it when the family went to a drive-in movie.

By 1964, we’d moved back to Montana and our family had grown to include four kids. Dad bought a brown four-door Studebaker Lark from uncle Pat. It wasn’t nearly as pretty, nor as cool, as the Silver Hawk, but it sufficed for several years. When Studebaker finally folded, dad got a blue two-door Lark from Pat for next to nothing. It was worth every penny. I drove the blue Lark once in a while when I was in high school, but the cloud of oil-smoke that followed me around made it a less than pleasant experience.
September 16, 2021 at 2:54pm
September 16, 2021 at 2:54pm

I spent the summer I turned 14 working for my uncle Roy. The cattle market was up, and he leased some additional acreage to expand his herd. I mostly moved sprinkler pipes and drove tractor in the hayfields. I was willing, but too scrawny, to keep up with the adults throwing calves for branding or stacking 90 pound haybales overhead.

There wasn’t any formal agreement on hours or pay, I just went to work as needed and felt very grown-up to do so. The best part of the job was the 1953 Studebaker pickup that was at my disposal for getting to the various fields where I worked. It had vacuum operated windshield wipers, a ‘three on the tree’ gearshift, and a worn-out steering linkage, but it was a taste of real freedom. No one put any limits on when or where I could go. At least, it seemed that way at the time.

1953 Studebaker pickup model

No, I didn’t have a driver’s license, but I’d already been driving for several years. Most of us farm kids started on the tractor by age eight or ten, and I’d moved on to pickups and farm trucks as soon as I could see over the steering wheel. We lived ten miles from a small town and I could get everywhere I needed to be without ever seeing a cop.

The Studebaker had a tense family history. My black-sheep cousin had convinced my uncle to buy him the pickup, with the understanding that Jerry would pay him back when he got a job. The job came through, but Jerry didn’t. Uncle Roy lost patience, managed to repossess the pickup, and gave me strict instructions not to lend it to Jerry. As if I’d let that goofball drive my pickup!

I don’t remember how many hours I worked for Roy that summer, maybe two hundred? I had my own chores at home and I still helped with putting up our own hay, of course. I do remember the thrill of watching uncle Roy sign over the pickup’s title to my dad. It was mostly payment for a summer’s worth of labor, but I think it was partially to spite my cousin. Was it worth two hundred hours of hard work? Probably not, but I never let on that I figured I had put one over on uncle Roy.
September 14, 2021 at 6:38pm
September 14, 2021 at 6:38pm
Trigger Warning! This post may be offensive to entitled right-wing snowflakes.

You can’t touch the hearts of the heartless,
nor show those who won’t use their eyes.
You can’t change the minds of the mindless,
nor speak truth to those who choose lies.

I had an encounter with a deplorable yesterday. They felt that I wasn’t being respectful because I didn’t use the word ‘president’ each and every time I referred to a certain one term politician. I did use the complete phrase no less than four times in my satiric essay. More would have made for awkwardly repetitive reading.

I shouldn’t have engaged, but I couldn’t resist taking a little jab. I complimented my critic on their principled stand, and thanked them for supporting President Biden by extending him the same courtesy. As you might guess, I was swiftly corrected once again. It seems Joe Biden does not deserve the use of the title 'president', because the orange oaf really won the election. Sigh . . .

1. the acceptance of, or mental capacity to accept, contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, especially as a result of political indoctrination.

The concept of doublethink was introduced by George Orwell in his novel nineteen eighty-four. When I read it as a teenager, 1984 was still in the future. I was impressed with the book, but didn’t believe it could really happen in America. Despite the difficult lessons of Vietnam, the U.S. was still the champion of freedom and democracy. I’m not so optimistic today. I see a very real possibility that America’s freedom will be surrendered to a clownish con artist for a handful of magic beans. It's already happened in Texas and Georgia. Other states are lining up to surrender their free elections. But don’t worry, you’ll learn to love Big Brother.

September 11, 2021 at 1:11pm
September 11, 2021 at 1:11pm
Sometimes, the best part of a relationship is what you don't share.

My wife and I visited our youngest and her fiancé a couple of weeks ago. They've been living together for a little over a year now, and we were happy to see the engagement ring. He's a nice guy and they're good together. We enjoyed the visit, playing with the kittens they adopted last spring and generally catching up.

There was a moment of friction, though. Our family has a sometimes unfortunate habit of teasing each other. It's usually all fun and games, with everyone getting a turn in the middle, but sometimes it goes too far. Betty shared a 'funny' story about Devin that embarrassed him in front of his future in-laws. It made us laugh, but he was visibly annoyed. In one sense, it meant that she considers him part of our family and fair game. But it also meant that she doesn't fully recognize his boundaries. I couldn't help but think that it would have been better to keep it as an inside joke between the two of them.

What and when to share? Which thoughts do we inflict on the world around us, and which do we let pass quietly? It's a lesson that takes a lifetime to learn. I am sometimes reminded of a line from a movie or TV. It may not fit the situation perfectly, but I toss it out just to hear it out loud. Sometimes people get the reference and laugh, often I get a blank look. Once in a while, they take offense. 'But it's such a good joke' is a poor salve for injured feelings.

We have to remember that funny is in the ear of the listener. I like to tell 'dad' jokes to make myself laugh. The exasperated groans from my wife and kids are just part of the fun. They seem to enjoy my enjoyment. If I miss an obvious setup, they're disappointed and ask why I didn't knock down the punchline. I think they see their participation as a gift to me.

Over the years, I've had my ups and downs. There are times that I get lost in my own head, spinning in a pointless eddy of negative thoughts. I've wondered, at times, if I'm 'on the spectrum' of bipolar disorder (it's in the family). I've learned to keep this moodiness to myself. It passes with time, and my wife can deal with quiet withdrawal much better than with the aimless, angry rants echoing in my mind. Once the fixation passes, I can barely remember why it seemed so important.

'Words Whirling 'Round' isn't merely a handle. It describes how my head feels. There's a constant flow of comments, jokes, and non-sequiturs that stream in the background of my consciousness. Is it right to set it loose on an unsuspecting world? Just because I can, doesn't mean I should.

September 10, 2021 at 1:40pm
September 10, 2021 at 1:40pm
"Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone" - Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

The water main break put an exclamation point on our summer drought. We haven't had significant rainfall since June. Three months without rain in Seattle! Trees and shrubs are turning brown and dropping leaves. Lawns are parched. Blackberries, usually juicy and big as your thumb, look like shriveled black peas. We set a high temperature record of 108 degrees this summer. I am definitely not a fan of climate change.

The hole in the street was patched on Tuesday, and there were no trucks on Wednesday. If the pipe is mended, then why isn't the water on? If the pipe isn't mended, then why fill the hole? Jorgen, the Assistant Superintendent of the water company, stopped by Wednesday evening to answer these burning questions.

"Ten feet of pipe has been replaced, sealed, and pressure tested," he told us. "We could have turned your water on yesterday, but, out of an abundance of caution, I wanted to get a sample tested first. To make sure that no contamination was introduced - no critters in the pipe or anything. We should get the results tomorrow morning."

"I just want to let everyone know, personally, that this isn't the standard of service that we expect to provide," he continued. "If you would like, we'll put you up at a hotel tonight to get a real shower."

"Well, we have been able to shower. The pressure is low, but it's usable," I replied. "We do appreciate the garden hose work-around, but your communication wasn't very good."

We discussed the outage and the water company response for a few minutes. We could have asked for a case of bottled water at any time, but we didn't want to bother the workers. He agreed that they should have simply brought one to each house. He also agreed that a Wednesday visit was rather late for a Saturday outage. And, finally, he agreed that posting information on Facebook isn't adequate for people who don't use it. In the end, my wife and I decided that it would be more effort than it was worth to go to a hotel for one night.

The trucks came back Thursday morning. The water company guys turned on the water at each house, flushed the lines, and rolled up all the garden hoses. They picked up their traffic cones and the fire hoses. We flushed water through all the inside faucets, and I felt privileged to be able to water our wilting rhododendrons again.
September 9, 2021 at 1:40pm
September 9, 2021 at 1:40pm
Birthday Bash Relay, day 9
poem, 18 lines, 'best or worst things about birthdays'


Predictable birthday reprise,
time-worn memories of parties past,
dreams packed in mothballs.

Smile, brittle facade of hope!
Lest cracks of age betray despair;
a bucket brigade of rue
cannot fill the looming abyss.

An artifice of patchwork paint
simulates cheeky attitude;
red, red lips express
hollow birthday bonhomie.

Floating faces rush by,
well-meant wishes echoing
in a dimming point of view.
Vertigo swirls in the shadow.

Guilty plea of exhaustion,
escape through the cracks,
predictable birthday reprise.

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