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Three score and ten or more

Sunday, November 20, 2005



I mentioned to Patrick that I should tell him about the airplane siphon episode that I mentioned in my last post, and so I will. This is more difficult than some of the stories that I write about my youth because I don’t think I was all that much of a youth when I did it. (Memory says I was driving an old 41 Chevy when this happened, and I didn’t get access to a 41 Chevy until I killed my father’s 41 Plymouth that he had bought new and treasured for eleven years on the way home from my first college football game.) (Another story for the future).

Anyway, like a lot of kids in the forties and fifties, I had had considerable experience with a siphon hose, most of it legal and above board. (siphoning from one car to another, siphoning for the lawn mower or gas lantern, etc.), and while I was caddying at the golf course there was considerable siphoning for the three or four gas powered golf carts on the course. I hated siphoning. It included putting a siphon hose in the tank, the using the lips and lungs provided by God for much better purposes to suck gas up into the hose until it was far enough up the tube that you could lower the tube into a gas can fast enough for gas to run downhill into the can. In my case, with almost no physical coordination this usually meant a mouth full of gas that I would spit out and curse at, the taste of which I would spend the rest of the day trying to get out of my mouth.

I kept thinking that there had to be a better way. (There, is. At most Wal-Mart’s and auto supplies , garden stores, and even pet stores that have aquarium supplies, they now have siphon hoses with a little ball or bellows on the end that you can squeeze a few times and create enough suction to siphon almost anything out of almost anywhere into anything that is closer to the ground that the supply.) That was then and this is now. Then, they didn’t have such things and only the physics minded could supply something to fill the purpose. I decided to try. One of my false starts included filling a tube with water and rigging a gizmo to unplug the part in the supply can while holding the other end in the can which was intended to contain new gas. The result was usually water in the supply can and sometimes in the new can, so I gave up on that one. Another false start tried doing the same thing with a gas filled tube, and we won’t discuss the fire that resulted or where it was, but it was not a good idea. I had a half dozen other false starts, but somewhere in my senior year in high school I discovered that I could get a wine cork (they are not tapered and are the same size on both ends), fasten a string through it, tie a nail to the end of the string, and then, finding a piece of tubing the same diameter as the cork (harder than it sounds), then by dropping the nail in the tube, it carried the string out the other end, and placing the cork (with a little Vaseline rubbed on it) into the tube, I could insert the cork end into a tank of gas, pull the cork through the tube, creating suction and pulling the gasoline out through the tube and SIPHONING stuff. I was so impressed by my results that I immediately showed my research to a number of my friends in the Boy’s Council (the men’s honor society at the high school). We celebrated my success by replicating it so that every one who was present now had a magic siphon tube.
We then celebrated with a two week binge of gas stealing, from each other, from our folks, from parked school busses near the school after dark, and from what ever other sources were convenient. After the binge, I tossed my magic siphon tube in the trunk (behind the spare tire, it was my parent’s car, and I had no urge to explain the vagaries of its use.). I think everyone else tired of it too. We were, after all, the Boy’s Council and had to be good examples.

My tube sat there dormant for quite some time. It was during my freshman year in college when I, and one of my new college friends (whose name I will not reveal, but for this tome I’ll call him “Pinky”. There is a secret reasoning behind the new name). One Thursday, after class, early in the fall (I was working a forty hour week 4:30-12:30 P.M. at the railroad while going to school, and Wednesday and Thursday were my days off.) we decided to go swimming. We took “my” car, drove from Pocatello (Idaho) out past American Falls, about thirty miles, to a commercial swim pool called Indian Springs. We discovered that this was their last weekday opening for the year, so we hung out at the pool, ogled all three of the girls who were there, raced each other (we had both had brief careers in competitive swimming) and generally had a good time until they closed the place about 10:00 P.M. and kicked us out.

I went out to the car, got in, started the motor and looked down to see that I was very close to empty. We decided we would drive down to American Falls and get gas, but on counting our mutual pennies found that we didn’t have enough money. Now, about half way between American Falls and Pocatello is a former Army Air Base, that had, post-war, been deeded to Pocatello as a commercial airport named “Phillips Field. We decided that we would try to get that far, and see if there was anyone from whom we could borrow money, get gas, call home, or whatever. As we got to the field, we spotted, over in a dark corner, behind a six foot chain link fence a group of civilian aircraft. Having an idea, I asked Pinky if he had ever seen my magic siphon hose. He allowed that he had not, so I drove up to the fence near the airplanes and thought that I might demonstrate it. We climbed over the fence, walked up to an old plane, located the gas tank, which was not locked, and I showed him how the tube worked. He was most impressed. We only took a gallon or so out of that tank, thinking that we didn’t want to be to blame for someone crashing his plane for lack of gas. Pinky went over and put the gas into the car as I searched for another plane with an unlocked gas cap. The one I found was on an airplane called an ERCOUPE. This was a little teeny airplane, that was only designed to carry a couple of little teeny people. I noted Pinky carrying the gas can and siphon rig, starting to climb over the fence, when I turned to open the tank. That was when I heard my car start and start driving away with the lights off. I quickly spied the reason, as a couple of police cars, lights and sirens on, were coming up the road to the airport.. I opened the door to the plane and crammed all two hundred plus pounds of me behind that little seat. You would have to see one of those planes to appreciate what a task that was. Peering over the corner of the window I noted the police pick up my gas can, and my magic siphon so I scroonched down as far as I could, and tried not to breathe. The cops climbed up on almost every plane, including the Ercoupe, which by then seemed like an ER coop, shined flashlights into the plane, even tried the doors, which for some mystical reason now seemed to be locked, and wandered around for about twenty minutes before getting back into their cars and going away. Not trusting them at all, I remained behind the seat of that plane for a couple of hours. Finally, I began to uncoil, staggered out of the plane, observed that the police has taken my siphon and my can with them, climbed over the chain link fence and began walking home. I didn’t dare go out on the highway so I climbed through the sagebrush and the lava rocks for about ten miles before finally going out onto the highway where I hitched a ride home. I’m afraid that my friendship for Pinky had cooled considerably by the time I got home and found my folks car still missing. I considered calling the police to report my car stolen, but decided that is was probably not a good idea. It was about four in the morning, so I decided to go in and go to bed (not worrying about what my dad would say when he noticed no car in the morning) when Pinky drove up, and sheepishly gave me the keys. I even gave him a ride home, but things were cool with me for awhile until I thought it over and decided that he had made the right (perhaps the only) choice to keep us both out of jail. As I noted on a previous post, I am assuming that the statute of limitations has long since passed. I will also say that I repented and never even made me a new magic siphon.


At 5:34 AM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

Excellent post. I never had any experience with the "mexican credit card" as it was referred to around where I grew up outside of science class. I just didn't want to end up with a mouth full of gas. Now I know, I would not of had to had I a cork and some same sized tubing.

I'm assuming you got the car back.

At 6:39 AM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I'm sure the statute of limitations is up on this peccadillo.

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

Great post! You had an interesting youth, and I appreciate your sharing your stories with us~!!! ;o)

More stories! More!


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