The Great Train Robbery

Before he became a dairyman, Grandpa Bill claimed to be a lawman. Everyone doubted it though because Grandpa was also known for his stories.

For my eighth birthday Mom and Dad let me and Adam go for a visit to Grandpa and Grandma’s for a week. We were excited because we’d get to help take care of the cows with Grandpa and Grandma would let us collect the chicken eggs.

In the middle of the week Grandpa decided that he was going to take us for a train ride. On the drive to the train he told Adam and me stories about how he had hobo’d for a couple of months.

“I had to give it up because I found getting on and getting off to darned hard on my rear end and my head,” he told the boys.

Adam and I laughed as Grandpa rubbed the top of his bald head.

The train consisted of two flat cars with rails and benches and a steam engine. After a herd of folks got off, another bunch of folks got on; we were in the second bunch.

Once the train pulled away from the loading platform I stood up on the bench and tried to look over the car carrying the coal, catching a face full of smoke as the train belched and picked up steam.

Adam laughed at me as I sat there with tears streaming down my face and coughing.

About the time the tears started to dry up, the train began to slow down. It had come to a flat area. Grandpa pointed out the two men riding horses ahead of the train.

“The fools shouldn’t be gallopin’ in rough country like this,” Grandpa said.

One was tall and skinny while the other was shorter and just as skinny. They had neck scarves pulled up over their face and each had a six-shooter in their hand and they were robbing the train.

The taller one shouted, “This here’s a holt up! Give us your strong box and no one will get hurt!”

He pulled one of his guns and fired it into the air. Everyone jumped back, expecting to get shot at any moment. I covered my ears.

Grandpa was standing close to the tall train robber, when he grabbed the man’s gun. As he did that, he spun the robber around on the heels of his cowboy boots.

The bandit was so surprised that he let go of the gun and Grandpa hit him over the head with it.

Then Grandpa pointed the pistol at the other robber.

Jus’ as suddenly Grandpa busted the smaller robber along the side of his head. But he didn’t go down like the first one.

Instead he raised his fists and tried to punch Grandpa. His punch missed Grandpa completely.

Then the robber yelped out in pain. Adam had rushed forward and bit him squarely on the thigh.

The short bandit knew he was over matched and he tried to make a get away by quickly break for the side rail. Grandpa saw his move and took careful aim with the pistol.

Bang!

The sound the pistol made caused everyone to stop cheering and duck. The robbery had become serious.

Then the gun went click, click, click as Grandpa pulled the trigger. The short train robber jumped in the middle of his horse and disappeared into the woods.

Grandpa turned and looked at the first cowboy that he had laid out. It was his gun.

The train’s engineer was nursing the cut on top the robber’s head. Both of them were looking real mad at Grandpa.

The rest of the trip was uneventful for Grandpa and we two boys. Everyone made it back to the train station in one piece.

During the short ride back I kept looking at Grandpa as he sat there with the useless pistol in his hand. He looked dejected and he would sigh a heavy sigh every once in a while.

We were proud of Grandpa, though. He had caught one train robber by hitting him on top the head. The other one got away because the gun was empty.

We could hardly wait to tell Grandma all about what Grandpa had done.

When we got home, Grandpa headed out to his work shed. He was embarrassed that he had busted up a staged robbery on a tourist train.

A Bear for Lunch

Uncle Adam took my brother and wandered down the coulee to see if they could scare up an elk. Dad sat in the front seat of our Studebaker truck we called Buella.

He was eating from his silver-colored work pail. I had Dad’s thirty-odd-six and walked around to the front of Buella.

The old truck was parked about fifty feet from a slope that over looked Gold Bluff near the town of Orick. From there, Uncle Adam and Dad figured they’d be able to see any elk without having to walk very far.

The gun had a telescopic sight on it and I held it up and looked through it. I scanned back and forth looking through the tall grasses and into the shadows of the low-lying scrub. I saw nothing but the grass and trees.

Dad could be heard eating one of the sandwiches Mom had made for us the night before.

“It must be good!” I thought.

Then Dad’s lip smacking grew louder and louder. Then he grunted.

It was a strange-sounding grunt. I had never heard Dad make that kind of noise before.

It was low yet sharp like an animal. I turned and looked back at the truck and to where Dad was sitting.

My eyes were met with a surprise. Dad was sitting in the truck absolutely still.

His eyes were as wide a saucer plates. His cheeks were bulging like a chipmunk during acorn season and he was as pale as a winter moon at midnight.

In the seat next to Dad was huge brown ball of fur, which moved with great force, rocking the old Studebaker from side to side.

It took a moment for me to figure out what it was. It was a bear.

I stood there with my mouth wide open.

Dad just sat there with his eyes wide and un-blinking. The wild look on his face was a combination of panic and stupidity.

The bear on the other hand, continued to grunt and groan. He licked Dad’s face and stuck his nose against Dad’s head and took large noisy sniffs of him, then he’d return to licking Dad’s face.

The bear’s huge pink tongue was long and quick. It darted across Dad’s unblinking, unmoving face.

It suddenly occurred to me that I was holding Dad’s thirty-ought-six. I planted my left foot and slowly raised the rifle to my shoulder, pointing it more than aiming it towards the bear as it sniffing and licking Dad.

‘Click’ was the nearly inaudible sound of the safety being switched into the off position. I was getting ready to pull the trigger and I could see Dad’s eyes grow even larger at the thought of the rifle’s report.

‘Snap!’

Nothing happened as I quickly lowered it and drew back the bolt, sliding a shell into the chamber. The sound of all the clicking and clanking was enough to wake the dead.

It was so loud that the bear had heard it. He stopped nosing Dad and looked in the direction of the noise and me.

Again I raised the rifle and slipped my finger inside the guard. I held my breath and prepared to squeeze the trigger.

Suddenly Dad’s door popped open. And jus’ as sudden, Dad was laying on the ground, trying to kick the door shut. Dad had literally popped out of the truck with a shot.

He was flat and stiff like a piece of barn floor timber. He dropped to the earth with a thud.

Meanwhile, the bear jumped back with great surprise. In all of the commotion the door slapped shut behind him as Dad kicked the door in front of him closed.

He had no way of escaping.

“Maaw!” the bear cried as he continued to back up.

He quickly discovered he could no longer get out the way he came in and was trapped. His situation seemed to get worse as he continued to struggle to get turned around.

The inside of the truck was not meant for the largeness of a bear.

The bear had turned sideways in Buella. He was stuck and starting to panic.

The horn sounded adding to bears panic. His rear end got hung up on the gun rack and his face was mashed against the windshield.

Meanwhile Dad had made it to his feet and he ran to the rear of the truck. I stood still, pressing the rifle tightly against my shoulder and cheek, finger still touching the trigger.

The bear struggled wildly to get un-caught. He twisted his huge frame sideways in the truck. The old Studebaker rocked back and forth as the animal shifted his weight from side to side.

To me, the eyes of the bear seemed to bug out and his long nose flattened as it pressed into the windshield. His cries became more pitiful as he struggled violently against entrapment.

Dad came around and stood by me. I also became aware of the cold trickle of sweat tracing its way down my back and I shivered.

The muzzle of the rifle shook a little as I lowered it. I was shaking, but not nearly as hard as Dad was when we finally looked at each other.

Ka-pop!

The explosion of noise made us jump at the same time. I jerked the thirty-ought-six back up to my shoulder as Dad stepped back.

The sound of cracking glass echoed through the valley. The bear in his struggle had popped the windshield out of Buella and it crashed to the ground after sliding off the hood.

Within a breath the bear scrambled for his freedom, his claws raking at the green paint of the truck and then the green grass as he ran for his life.

Dad took the rifle from me. He slipped the bolt back gently and out jumped a bullet. He started to slip it into his pocket, but then he handed it to me.

Then he said, “For the one that got away, thank goodness.”

A Track Fix

To say my senior year of high school was a difficult one, would be an understatement. Few things seemed to go well for me and worse yet, the stuff that went wrong seemed to be mostly of my doing.

One of those situations was to come out publicly against the track coaching staff, voicing my opposition to how they were treating another trackster. It all began after the Humboldt-Del Norte Conference finals.

Muneca Alcorn and Marcy Dennison were the best female distance runner in the conference. Their coach, Helen Caldwell had told them to “split the ticket,” meaning they were to divide the 440, the 880, the mile and two-mile

All went according to plan until the two-mile race. Marcy Dennison was having trouble maintaining pace and Muneca was doing her best to stay in second place as instructed.

In the end, Muneca beat Marcy by a wide margin and ended up with three first-place wins to Marcy’s one first-place. In response Muneca was told she was no longer on the team and to go sit on the bus for the duration of the meet.

Now, I knew that there was a strategy at work in the splitting of the races. But a dismissal from the team was in my estimation, unfair and I launched a stout protest to both Mrs. Caldwell and the boy’s coach, Brian Ferguson.

My protests, I believed, fell on deaf ears. So I decided to take it a step further.

If the coaches wouldn’t listen, maybe a little negative public attention would. I wrote a scathing letter to the editor of the Del Norte Triplicate.

As soon as it was published, I found myself kicked off the team as too. Mr. Ferguson only allowed me back on the team because our 440-relay had won a spot in the state championship finals, saying it wasn’t fair to punish my team mates because of my actions.

In the end, Muneca was reinstated and allowed to participate in the state championships as well.

For Reals

Dad was a scout master while Mom was den mother. I was a cub scout and eventually a boy scout, though I didn’t stay with it for very long after that.

One of the many events was a large scout dinner at the old Grange Hall on Hunter Creek Road. The dinner was arranged as fund-raiser to help all the scouts in Klamath attend that years Jamboree at Miller-Rellim Lumber Yard.

Each of the dens were given the chore of coming up with a skit for the entertainment portion of the dinner. Our den worked out a play about Bigfoot and how he was accepted by the local Indians.

While I don’t recall much about the play itself, I do know Scott Bruhy was Bigfoot. It was a natural part for him as he was a good head taller than every other student at school.

The other thing I remember was how we danced around a campfire, like a bunch of wild men in a B-western movie. I was a part of that.

What few people know is that I got in a lot of trouble from Mom for my performance. I misunderstood her instructions, and instead of wearing a pair of shorts underneath my breech-cloth, I wore nothing.

Talk about realism.

Keeping Quiet

It was the first and only time I saw Dad throw-up after working an accident scene. And I couldn’t blame him as it was one of the worst deadly wrecks I had ever responded too.

The little Volkswagen Rabbit was mangled beyond belief. And the same could be said for the lifeless male body inside the vehicle.

It was hard to tell who had hit who. There was debris spread out from one side of Highway 101 to the other side.

What was evident was how hard the VW and the large dump truck had collided. The engine of the dump truck was torn from its mounts and rested on the side of the road.

While the driver of the truck was injured, he would survive. There wasn’t much to do for Dad and me other than to help protect the scene until the California Highway Patrol released us from the detail.

We returned to the firehouse with jus’ enough time for me to get ready for high school. That’s when Dad went outback of the house and vomited.

Less than an hour later, I was on the school bus, passing by the accident scene I had been at earlier in the morning. While the male body had been removed from the VW, much of the scene remained as was before we left it.

Once at school, I noticed the hallways were extremely quiet. What noises there were came in the form of hushed whispers or tears.

Then someone told me: Cameron Allen had been killed in an early morning crash.

Reality Claus

Marcy was six-years old when she announced to the family that Santa Claus wasn’t real. We were sitting at the supper table, preparing to eat.

Without thinking, Mom responded, “Jus’ like the Easter Bunny.”

Suddenly Marcy’s face drooped as her look of confidence shifted to shock. Her mouth hung open and tears welled-up in her eyes.

Then Deirdre replied, “Mom, I don’t think she knew that.”

Without warning, both Marcy and Mom started crying, each for slightly different reasons.

The Rundown

It was deer hunting season and Uncle Ron, Dad and I were scouring the hillside for any sign of the animals. We had returned to the truck and had plans to head home when Ron decided to walk over to a nearby ravine and have a quick look.

Dad and I sat in the truck as Ron stood at the ravine’s edge, looking the area over through the scope on his hunting rifle. Suddenly he jumped and turned quickly to his left.

As he did, he lowered his rifle as if he were planning to shoot something. But he was too late in squeezing the trigger and the shot went high.

Within a second or two, Ron was laying on his back near the bottom of the ravine. I was racing to help him while Dad stood guard over us with his rifle at the ready.

Fortunately, Uncle Ron got up on his own and he was unhurt. However it was the first and only time he was attacked by a yearling.

Much to Uncle Ron’s discomfort, we laughed about it all the way home.

Real Trouble

Jus’ outside our kitchen door we had an upright freezer. It had been in the spot in the rumpus room since we first moved to the house.

Tommy Smith and I were playing around the neighborhood and I was going to show him a stash of girly magazines I had hidden in the attic. The opening to the attic, more a crawl-space than anything, was directly above the freezer.

As kids, we had a method for getting into the attic and it involved the freezer. First, we’d climb up on the bookshelf next to the freezer, climb on top of the freezer and then slip into the square hole to the crawl space.

However, on this one day I went to climb up into the attic, and I stepped on the door of the freezer. It popped open and I found myself doing the splits.

However there is only so far my legs would spread and I ended up flopping on the ground with a loud thwap-like sound. I hit with such force that it knocked the breath out of me.

Mom heard me hit the concrete floor and quickly stepped outside. All she could see was me, laying on the ground and Tommy ducking around the corner, laughing.

She asked, “What happened? Did he hit you?”

It took me a while to explain that I simply fell off the freezer while trying to get into the crawl space. Then I had to explain why I was going up there.

That’s where the real trouble started.

The Raft and Rope

High Prairie Creek was swollen nearly beyond its limits. It was the start of the spring thaw and the snow was melting high in the mountains far beyond where Adam or I could see it.

The water rushed by, sounding like a thousand sticks being beaten on a rock. The creek was a giving us a challenge and were accepting it.

Adam pounded the last nail in. It was bent over and rammed down flat with a hand-sized rock. Most of the nails that we had driven into the raft that cloudy morning were that way.

How a nail had been driven did not matter. How crooked the boards were cut did not matter, either.

What was important was whether the raft would float or not. A piece of rope that I had scrounged was not enough to build the raft. Besides, it had failed to hold even two lengths of timber together as we dragged them to the creeks edge.

Nails, it was decided would do for this job. Finally, we set our tools aside to look at what we had made. The hull of their raft was built out of old planking that we had dragged down from the old barn.

The planks were laid side-by-side and nailed together at either end with more planking. Together the raft was heavy. It was almost too heavy to lift, but that also told us it was a sturdy raft.

We were pleased with our craftsmanship. Now all that was left to do was get the raft into the water.

In school, I had learned the Egyptians had moved the giant stone blocks used to build the Pyramids over logs. Every time a log was rolled over and it came out from underneath the stone, it would be rushed up to the front to make another pass under the stone.

So we set ourselves to work looking for as many small logs as we could carry. This came to nine or ten. They were all different in size, but they worked.

Finally at the creeks edge we made one final push to get the raft into the water. With a mighty splash it was in the swift moving current.

It was at that moment I figured out a use for the rope, but by then though all we could do was stand there and watch our raft disappear.

Jerry’s Kids

Looking back, it was a stupid thing to get upset over. But at the time I didn’t fully understand that there was difference between what they wanted and what I thought they wanted.

“They” in this case was the Annual Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and I wanted to make a donation but Mom refused even after I tried to explain to her. Looking back, I can see why she said no.

I wanted to make a donation at the time because I thought it would make me one of “Jerry’s Kids” too.

Spiked

Both Mom and Dad had warned me to be careful as I sprinted around my Aunt and Uncle’s home on Cecil Avenue. I was wearing a brand new pair of spiked shoes, my first pair ever.

I literally felt like I was flying as I zipped around one corner of the home to

However my euphoria was short-lived as Marcy walked into my path. We nearly collided, but because I was so quick, I managed to side step her before we made full contact.

As I headed for the next corner, I heard her scream. The pitch in her young voice caused me to stop and trot back to where she was now sitting.

She was holding her foot and traces of blood appeared from around her fingers. I nearly fell down racing across the cement patio to get help.

Dad was the first to get to Marcy.

He looked at her foot and declared that I must have stepped on her and drove a spike through her skin. He and Mom loaded Marcy up and took her over to Doc Gobles so he could stitch up the puncture wounds.

They were gone a little over an hour. By the time they arrived I was back in my regular tennis shoes and had placed the spiked racing shoes back in their box.

I put them in the back of our station wagon.

When they returned I told my parents that I didn’t want the shoes anymore and that I didn’t deserve them. It took a week for me to stop moping
and finally put them on again.

U-Turned

It didn’t snow very often, however when it did, it caused lots of driving problems. The situation was no different the day the five of us piled into the bus for the trip home.

On the bus were Peggy Gensaw, Debbie Wolcott, Vicki Billy, Shirley Baldwin (our driver) and myself.

We were climbing up the hill towards Klamath, when we found ourselves in a heavy, wet snowfall. The road was slippery and so we were unable to continue.

We were jus’ south of the first big corner, before coming to what the locals called the 30 mile-turn. 30-mile turn was a sharp curve with a sign that warned drivers to reduce their speed to a recommended 30 miles-per hour, especially when wet.

It was also one of the most accident prone spots between Klamath and Crescent City. It was at this point that California Highway Patrol Officer Johnny Jones instructed Shirley to turn the little yellow van around and head back to Crescent City.

As she turned the vehicle, a Ford F-150 coming from the opposite direction, appeared from around 30-mile corner. The driver saw the mini-bus as it straddled the roadway, but it was too late.

The truck slammed headlong into the school bus. Shirley’s door popped open and for a second I thought she was going to get tossed out of the vehicle.

However she had her seatbelt on and that kept her inside the van. The three girls in the back seats were bounced from where they sat.

One girl, Debbie Wolcott sailed towards the front of the van.

It dawned on me that she could strike the windshield if she wasn’t stopped. So I put my hands out as if I were going to catch her.

However, the top of her head slammed into my face. I felt my nose pop and could see blood on my shirt as the vehicle finally came to a rest in ditch, in a semi-upright position.

Other than a few scrapes, bumps, bruises and one bloody-nose we were alright. The people in the pick-up truck were unhurt.

I spent the night with my friend Danny Ross.

The next day Dad came and picked me up. That’s when he learned that the brand new glasses I had jus’ gotten that day, had been broken during the accident.

It would be nearly two weeks before I’d get a replacement pair.

 

Church Door Knob

The keys were jingling as Dad tried to insert one into the church’s doorknob. It went in easily but now he could not get them to turn in the lock and he could not pull it out.

“Well, I was afraid of that,” Dad said as he looked down at me.

He gave the set of keys one more tug then he let out a heavy sigh.

Dad had carried his toolbox to the door with him. He was prepared for the lock to give him problems.

Father Charles had call him, saying there was a difficulty getting into the church the Sunday before. That was nearly a week ago.

It was important to get the lock fixed as church would be the following day and Father Charles would not want to hold Mass out side.

The first tool Dad pulled out was his Philips screwdriver. He started removing the faceplate behind the knob.

“They should have put in a separate lock from the knob,” he said to me. Then he added, “It would be more secure that way.”

Removing a knob from a door was something I had never seen. And I was keenly interested in what was about to occur.

“I’ll hand you the tool you need, Dad. Ask me. Let me help,” I said nearly begging.

“Flathead screw driver,” Dad directed.

It sounded so exotic to me. I looked down into the old beat up gray chest full of tools,

“Which one is that?” I asked.

Dad looked at the tools then pointed, “That one.”

I picked it up and handed it to him.

He started to pry the faceplate away from the wood of the door. It would not budge.

Dad shifted his position. Still the faceplate would not loosen.

“Give me the hammer,” he commanded.

Immediately I grabbed it and handed it to him.

He struck the yellow handle of the flat head screwdriver a couple of times and still it would not come loose. Dad changed positions again, then he turned the keys, which were still in the lock.

The knob turned free and the door opened up.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Dad, said out loud.

Dad had gotten the door to unlock, he had fixed it. Then Dad discovered that the keys still would not come out of the lock.

“At least we got the door to open,” he commented as he swung the door wide to look at the other side of the knob.

Dad examined the inside doorknob for a moment, making several thoughtful, “Hmm’s” as he looked and wiggled the knob back and forth. I reached up and pulled at the keys.

“Don’t,” Dad half-shouted.

I pulled my hands away and put them behind my back.

Dad then picked up the Phillip screwdriver and proceeded to undo the faceplate on the inside of the door. I had seen this part done before and nothing interesting had happened because of it, so I wondered into the church.

There was the altar and the many rows of pews, plus the two marble statues, one of the Virgin Mary and the other of another saint I did not know. But the most interesting item to me was the life-like cross with the body of Christ on it, as he was dying.

“Damn it!” Dad said loudly.

I walked back as quickly as I could to see what the problem was, thinking perhaps by wandering off I might have caused him some problem.

“Can I help?” I asked.

“Nope,” Dad said as he shook his head back and forth, “I can’t get the knob off,” he added with a sigh.

While Dad was standing outside the church and I was inside examining the situation. I decided to reached up and grabbed the knob on from my side of the door and pull it straight towards me.

Suddenly I heard the metallic ring of the knob on the other side as it bounced off the cement steps. In my hand was the inside doorknob.

“What in the hell did you do?” asked Dad.

I could tell Dad was frustrated but he was even more surprised.

I held the small brass globe out to him, “I—-I—-I just pulled back on it,” I stuttered.

Dad reached down and took the knob from me.

“Well, I’ll be a son of a bitch,” he said.

He shook his head then dropped the knob into his toolbox. We two spent the next half hour or so replacing the old knob and lock.

Later I heard Dad tell Mom, “I spent an hour beating on the damned thing and he walks up and it comes off in his hand.”

“Now, Tom,” Mom said, “You know that if he hadn’t done that, you’d still be there cussing at that doorknob.”

Dad laughed at the thought.

Crow Hop

It was a warm summer day and I was looking forward to going horseback riding. Grandpa Bill asked me that since I was going out that way, to check on his watermelon patch, which he had hidden in a cornfield.

Freckles was a young horse and could hardly wait to get saddled. We set out across the pasture to the back side of the barn and through a small thicket before we encountered grandpa’s cornfields.

At first I thought I knew where I was going, but after nearly an hour of slipping from one corn row to another, I was completely lost. I stood up in my stirrups to see where I was located in the field.

Unfortunately I was too short and the corn stalks were to high. So I decided to stand on the saddle for a better view.

That’s when a crow cawed somewhere nearby. Freckles shivered slightly.

Before I could get seated, the crow cawed again, this time closer. The noise sent Freckles into a panic.

The horse jumped straight up and came straight down with a jar. Somehow, though I managed to keep my balance and not fall off the animals back.

The third time the crow cawed however, Freckles took off running and I had to walk home.

Deer Slayer

Adam could climb most any tree with great ease. And he had discovered a way to make his talent pay.

He collected moss and sold it by the pound to the burl shop at the Trees of Mystery. The finer the moss, the better the price and the higher Adam had to climb.

One day I tagged along.

With me around he could toss down the moss and I’d stuff into the burlap sacks. After filling up the sacks, Adam invited me up into a tree he had dubbed, “The Lookout Tree.”

I reluctantly climbed up the tree to the level that Adam was perched at.

Adam was spread out on a fat limb much like our gray house cat used to spread herself out on the windowsill. I clung on for my life.

Then we heard a sound. At first it was distant but it kept growing louder as each “snap” was heard.

Adam saw it first, a huge buck. It paused to sniff the air and then the ground.

My brother had his knife in hand by now. He gripped it so tight, his knuckles turned white.

Suddenly he rolled off the limb and in a moment it was over. I scrambled down the tree because Adam needed my help.

The struggle was hard as I pulled Adam out of the marshy bog in which he laid trapped face down.

Lima Beans

Every Springtime I would be asked by Pa Sanders to help him with his vegetable garden as he put it. Funny thing is — his idea of a garden was a couple of acres larger than most people’s plot of land on which their homes were built.

I naturally jumped at the chance to get out and get filthy-dirt, something Mom was generally against.

My job for the first six years was to ride on the platform Pa dragged behind his John Popper and pick up the rocks and clumps of weeds that refused to turn properly. However when I was 12 years old, Pa put me in the tractor seat saying I was tall enough now to operate the yellow monster.

That meant I got the job of running the tiller into the earth, turning the weeds that had overtaken the land since the end of the summer before. Once I finished this to Pa’s liking, then he’d take over and I go back to where I had first begun by pulling rocks and clumps.

Then we’d plant crops: peas, green beans, corn and Lima beans. Then as spring slipped into summer, I’d end up heading south a few miles to help Grandpa Bill and Uncle Adam on their dairy ranch. By the time the summer came to a close, I was back home and in time to help both Ma and Pa Sanders harvest what had been planted.

More than a few times I made myself sick as dog after eating too many peas and pods or snapped green beans. The worst though, was the day I ate a pound or more of raw Lima beans.

By the end of the day I could hardly stand up as my gut and bowels were in an uproar. It took me a day-and-a-half to get over the back-door trots.

Lima beans, I learned are better served cooked and with lots of real butter.

Flickered

We were jus’ sitting down to dinner at six in the evening when the all the lights of the home flickered. About three minutes later our telephone rang; there was an emergency.

Dad and I headed towards Yurok Volunteer Fire Department, which was jus’ down the street from our house. Within minutes we were racing with lights and siren south on Highway 101.

We were en route to a possible plane crash. The aircraft had struck a power-line and was underwater in the Klamath River near what remained of the Douglas Memorial Bridge.

Dad decided the old washed-out bridge was the best vantage point to get to the downed craft as it was closer to that side of the river. I told Dad that I could get to the plane while he secured ropes and tethers.

Pulling off my shirt and shoes, I jumped into the water, which was a 30 foot plunge. I dove down to see if I could get into the plane or get a door open in the event someone were still alive inside.

On my third return to the surface, Dad shouted for me to grab the line he was tossing and to tie it to the aircraft. I did as instructed.

Exertion and the cold were taking a toll on my body and I found myself struggling to get to the bank and out of the water.

Dad dropped me a rope which I secured around my waist and as he hoisted, I climbed up to where he was positioned. It wouldn’t be until 10 that night that the plane would be hauled to the north side of the river.

And it wouldn’t be until the next day that Jim Long and Jim Haddad were identified as having died in the crash. Both were big Del Norte High School Booster supporters.

And their deaths had a huge effect on a lot of athletes the next morning.

 

No Refunds

We had only one local market north of town; the Woodland Villa. It was owned by Kathy and Doug DeVol’s parents.

Mom and Dad sent me nearly every other day for one thing or another. This included milk, eggs and cigarettes.

It was one of my favorite things to do, because it gave me a chance to look at the comic books. Once a week I’d to buy a comic book and an R/C cola using money I had earned delivering newspapers.

One day I saw a couple of the neighborhood boys taking a couple of soda bottles the crates behind the store. I thought nothing of it, until I realized they were returning the already-returned bottles for 5-cents.

Sad to say, I didn’t tell on them.

Foul Ball

The foul ball came flying at me so quickly, I didn’t have time to duck out of the way. I was standing in the doorway of my teams dugout, when it struck me in the chest and knocked me down.

The ball dropped between my legs as I plopped on my backside. I picked it up and handed it to the other teams catcher as he rushed to recover the foul tip.

Suddenly I heard the umpire behind home-plate yell, “Out!”

He was pointing at our batter, who had hit the foul ball towards our dugout. This is how I found out a foul ball, still in play, touched by a player of the batter who hit the ball, causes that batter to be out.

It would turn out to be one of many rules about baseball nobody bothered to explain yet expected me to know. I learned most of them the hard way and this was jus’ Little League.

 

Hound Dog

It was nearing the end of the day for my students and the summer-school class I was teaching for Del Norte County Parks and Recreation. The last half hour of school, I usually allowed my students to do whatever they would like, barring destruction or death.

This afternoon they elected to have an informal dance. We had a radio in the room, and it was tuned to KPOD broadcasting out of Crescent City, 20 miles away.

The disc jockey spinning the tunes that afternoon was Dave Angell.

The song, “Hound Dog,” came on the radio and the kids danced like crazy people suffering from electrostatic shock therapy. It was funny to watch this group of kids ham it up like they did.

When the song ended, Dave came on and said, “News out of Memphis, Tennessee—-the King is dead. Elvis Presley has died…”

While I don’t remember the rest of what Dave read from the news wire, I do know you could have heard a pin drop in that small classroom at Margaret Keating School.

Our joy had turned to sadness within seconds. I’m certain now it wasn’t pins dropping on the floor, rather tears.

 

Out-running Johnny Law

Vestal Skaggs lived across Highway 101 from us when I was a kid. He used to come over and help fix our cars and trucks.

One time I hired him to fix my 1968 Dodge Charger and I paid him with a keg of beer. I don’t think you can find guys like that anywhere anymore.

He got that old car running so well that I out-ran a California Highway Patrol one night as I raced from Crescent City to Klamath. It was so fast with the new 383 under the hood and a 440 Interceptor that I was parked in the driveway by the time Officer Johnny Jones zipped by Redwood Drive.

Yeah, it was bad of me and dangerous too, but Vestel gave me high-five when I told him about it. Though it’s a strange memory, I’ll always cherish the excitement he felt for my stupidity.

 

Mystery Scooter

North of Redwood Drive is the Trees of Mystery. Mom worked there for a number of years, in both the gift shop and in the ticket booth at the entrance of the trail.

At the time my best friend was Diana Webster. Her mom was married to Bill Thompson, the son of Trees owner, Mary Lee Thompson.

I used to venture up the highway to Diana’s house so we could play together.

She and I used to ride horse in the clearing jus’ south of the Blue Ox Café, which was next to the Trees Motel. Other times we ran around the woods jus’ being kids.

One day I went over to her house and discovered that she and her sister Sharon had a new toy; a light blue mini-scooter. They were racing it along the road from their home to the end of the street and around the caretaker’s house and back to their house.

They let me have a turn at it, even though I had never ridden one in my entire life. It kept it at a slow pace the first few times as I was worried I’d crash or something as I made the corners.

Soon we were each taking turns zooming down the road and back again. However I was still going the slowest as I was still unsure of myself.

That’s when Diana called me a sissy for “putt-putting” around the corners like I did. I couldn’t let her get away with that.

So my next turn, I revved up the scooter and took off. I flew down the road for all that little bike would go.

As I came into the first corner, I realized I was traveling way too fast. So I cut back on the power and tried to brake.

It wasn’t enough as the rear wheel hit the edge of the asphalt and dropped into the grass edge of the caretaker’s yard. The shift in the back-end of the scooter caused me to juice the gas and I took off straight, completely missing the second corner.

Next thing I know, I was flying through the bushes and tumbling down the hill, over the flowers that spelled out the first “s” in Trees of Mystery. Behind me was the scooter.

Both the scooter and I landed in heap at the bottom of the hill near the bumper of a car. And while we were both okay, Mrs. Thompson forbid me from riding the scooter any more as she was afraid I get myself killed.

Workin’ in Silicon Valley

Rememberin’ the olden days of my Grand Pappy’s youth,
Before the Super Highway and its Silicon Toll Booths,
When information was shared by word of mouth,
From neighbor to neighbor and house to house.

This seems worse than my hoss throwin’ a shoe.
With that, I’d know just what to do.
But this here ranchless work they call computin’
Stacks up hard with their brand of cowless commutin’.

And the only forkin’ I can do while hackin’ at this key-pad,
Is on my straight backed chair that pains my seat so bad.
How I long to toss my loop and take a twist and dally
While ridin’ all day long anywhere but here in this Silicon Valley.

Fixing His Wagon

It didn’t happen very often that I can recall, but Dad came home having had one too many. Worse yet he drove home like this.

He had called Mom to let her know he was at the Three-7’s NCO Club at Requa Air Station, drinking with the guys. This caused Mom to get her mad-on and she set about finding a way to “fix his wagon.”

By the time Dad pulled into the driveway, she had a stew dinner prepared for him. She was absolutely calm, so calm I was afraid to be in the kitchen near her, even though I had the chore of loading the dishwasher.

Dad sat down to his hot meal and he ended up eating two entire bowlfuls.

When he got up from the table, I took his bowl to the dishwasher to load it. It was this time that I noticed the empty can of Alpo Dog Food in the bottom of the kitchen garbage can.

Losing My Marbles

The week before, I had been out of school, sick, so I didn’t know that playing marbles was no longer allowed since it was considered a form of gambling. However, I still had a large bag of marbles in my desk when I returned to school the following week.

Designed into the bottom of our desks at the time was a quarter-sized hole. It was there to help clean the desk out as tiny pieces of paper, broken pencil lead, staples and other garbage accumulated in the bottom of the desk.

As I was digging in my desk for a book, I moved the bag of marbles from one side to the other. I picked the bag up wrong and the little glass balls started falling out of the bag, into the bottom of my desk, and through the hole, bouncing off the floor.

It was complete disruption of the class and Mr. Kirby decided that I should go to the principal’s office after I picked the marbles up off the floor. He felt that I had disobeyed the new ruling that no one was to have marbles at school.

As was the rule, he called down to tell Mrs. Zwierlein I was on my way. That prompted Mr. Fizer to meet me in the hallway, jus’ outside our classroom door.

It was obvious that Mr. Fizer was angry. He yelled at me for disobeying him.

And as I started to respond that I had been out sick and didn’t know he had changed the rules, he grabbed me by the neck and shook me violently.

It was so rough that it caused the window by the classroom door to vibrate. Mr. Fizer let go of me, jus’ in time for me to see Jon Larson peering over the built in screen on the window to see what was going on.

He was standing on a chair, demonstrating to the class what the principal had done to me.

By the time I was seated in the office, Mrs. Zwierlein had called Dad. She told me that he was on his way and that she had explained to him what had happened.

A few minutes later he came into the school and asked to see Mr. Fizer. However Mr. Fizer refused to see Dad.

Dad yelled, “Bob, open the door now — or I’ll kick it in!”

Mr. Fizer still refused to answer, so Dad kicked the door as hard as he could. The blow caused the door to not only open, it popped the thing off its hinges and it crashed to the floor.

This frightened me so bad that ran out to the car. A few minutes later Dad came out to the car and he took me home for the day.

 

Days of the Schutzhelm

Jeff Morgan’s home was located jus’ east of my home. Inside, he had a World War II German helmet and my friend, Robin Kohse wanted that helmet. I agreed to get it for him because our life-long friendship was falling apart and I was willing to do most anything to save it.

Watching a friendship fade is hard on the heart and isn’t necessarily guided by common sense.

Getting into the Morgan’s home turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would be. I smashed a large rock against the sliding glass door, only to watch as the rock exploded into a thousand pieces.

While hiding in the nearby woods, I studied the situation. I noticed a window that wasn’t fully closed.

All that stood in my way was a window screen. After struggling with the screen, I finally got it off the window frame. Unfortunately I bent the screen so badly out of shape that it was unusable from then on.

Within a few minutes I had the helmet in hand and rather than going back out the window, I left through the front door. I also collected the damaged screen and left the scene of the crime.

That screen eventually found its way into a small pond in the middle of the pasture. It was the only thing I could think to do with it, even though there were acres and acres of forest surrounding me.

On my way home I was stopped by my next door neighbor, Marilyn Coke. She saw the helmet and wanted to know where I had gotten it.

Being put on the spot, I lied, telling her it was a mail-order item. Her husband, Bill would later ban me from coming over to his home or even speaking to his wife without first being addressed.

Two days later I still had the helmet in my possession when the dreaded knock on the front door came. It was Deputy Walt Woodstock and Jeff’s dad, Earl.

They knew I had the helmet as several neighbors watched me as I crawled into the Morgan’s home. Mrs. Coke also confirmed this since she had seen me with the helmet.

Mr. Morgan had with him the crumpled up screen as well. He was very angry with me and rightly so.

Never have I felt so low in all my life.

Fort Knocks

Adam and I were in the pasture picking black berries when we discovered a square-shaped hole dug into the ground. It was about 3 feet by 3 feet at the opening and around five feet deep.

It was located near the left field fence of the old baseball diamond, partially covered by brambles and other brush. We quickly turned it into our secret hiding place, dragging a piece of discarded plywood over to create a lean-too roof.

All the rest of the summer, we played combat and cowboy and Indians using the hole as a fort or fighting hole. Later we found a stack of old bricks and painted them gold in order to make them look like gold bars.

We stashed them in an old metal box in the bottom of our hiding place. Because of this, we started calling our hide-out, “Fort Knocks.”

Then one day, as summer was fading, an older neighbor boy named Steve Wolcott found us playing there. He ruined our fun by informing us what the hole really was and if we cleared back the rest of the brush behind the hole we’d know he was telling the truth.

After poking through the tangle of blackberry vines, tall weeds and grass, we found what he was talking about. In the vegetation, laying on its side, were the weathered and broken remains of an old outhouse.