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Three score and ten or more

Tuesday, January 31, 2006



I can’t stop. Thoughts are piling up around me like pine straw against a chicken wire fence, and I can’t seem to get rid of them without writing about them. Thotman has a very poignant post today about the loss of a dog, that was actually handed to the dogcatcher. His post has a very vivid lesson about how pride can be so negative in our lives. It brought to mind a different dog story that reminds me of a totally different negative emotion.
I lived in the little village of Alameda, Idaho, as suburb of the somewhat larger city of Pocatello. I had a best friend who lived just across the street, and, until we got into Jr. High School we were closer than most brothers. Donnie had a little dog named Patty. She was brown and white and looked a little like a double sized Jack Russell terrier. I had a dog at that time too, but he was more of a homebody that stayed in the back yard and didn’t go out much. Patty followed Donnie everywhere, so she became a sort of “my dog too”, because Donnie and I weren’t separated by much at any time. In front of Donnie’s house, but on my side of the street was a big box elder tree. The tree had very thick foliage on the end of the limbs, but not much in close to the trunk. Donnie and I frequently used the box elder tree as a sort of tree house, because there was a lot of space near the trunk, and no one could see us without standing directly under the tree and looking out. We had a lot of adventures in this tree which I will write about sometime soon, but generally we just sat up in the tree and read comic books, or other books, and often smoked cigarettes which Donnie stole from his dad. When we sat in the tree, Patty often, even usually sat at the base of the tree and waited for us to come down.

One day we were up in the tree when an old pickup truck screeched to a halt below us.
We heard a male voice calling “Comeer dog, come on, come on dammit!! It was an angry voice and we quickly shunted down to the ground. It was Mr. Haines.

I have to explain a little about Mr. Haines. Alameda was a village. It had about ten employees total, including the fire department. The city clerk was sort of an ex-officio mayor or city manager, and all the other employees except the fire chief kind of followed his orders. Mr. Haines was one of three or four employees who did about everything, including police work. I think he was officially a city marshall, but he drove the garbage truck and went out with other men to fix pot holes in the streets, as well as investigated what crime we had, and even chase down speeders in the old pickup truck that he drove. He appeared to boys to be a skinny vulturous creature with a high sharp voice who really seemed to enjoy yelling at boys who came to close to his pothole repairs or watermain repair trenches.

When we got to the base of the tree, he was yelling at Patty, who was cowering behind the tree. “This yer dog, boy?” he yelled, more or less at both of us.

“Mine,” said Donnie.

“Damn vicious mutt aint got a license”

“He aint vicious and he’s got a license. His collar broke, so he doesn’t have it on.” Said Donnie. I actually don’t think that either Donnie or I knew that dogs needed licenses—I’m not sure, even at this time that Alameda offered them. But Donnie would defend Patty the best way he could. Mr. Haines was holding a stick, and made a kind of dash at Patty yelling “Come here, ya damned dog.”

Patty responded with a yelp, and a snap at the stick. What happened next is still a bit fuzzy in my mind, but Mr. Haines went back to the pickup and brought out a small rifle (probably a twenty two, but I wasn’t sure then, and I am not sure now.) My memory says that he pointed the rifle at Donnie and told him to pick up Patty and put her in the truck. My good sense says that not even Mr. Haines would draw down a gun at a eight or nine year old boy. Whatever happened, Patty started to run away, and Mr. Haines shot her. She was hit in the side and fell, then pried herself up and tried to drag herself away. Mr. Haines calmly went over and shot her in the head, then picked the lifeless body, threw it into the back of the pickup and drove away.

Two boys were absolutely traumatized. Donnie started to run tell his mother, but we could see that she had a customer (She had a small beauty shop in her house), so I yelled “Come on!” and we ran to my mother and told her what had happened. She said, in a consoling way, “Now boys, I’m sure Mr. Haines wouldn’t do a thing like that” and she walked out into the street with us where we showed her the frothy pink congealing mess that was on the street where Patty’s head had laid. She got quite excited, and went in to call the town clerk to complain. After a number of phone calls Mr. Haines was contacted, and he stated that Patty had been hit by a car and was so badly injured that she couldn’t have survived, and he was real sorry that he had had to put her down in front of us.

That was when we two boys discovered hate. We didn’t feel that our parents would ever believe us over Mr. Haines. (I think they did, but couldn’t prove anything), so we focused on hating Mr. Haines. We would get together and walk down the bank of the irrigation canal thinking of ways to get even. We talked about puncturing the tires of the old pickup he drove (it was actually a village owned vehicle), of going to his house and throwing rocks through his windows. Most of all we just simmered in hate.

This actually lasted for two or three years. I am not sure it isn’t one of the reasons that Donnie and I didn’t hang around together much after we got into Jr. High. Every time we got together we jointly hated Mr. Haines so much that it encompassed our relationship. Mr. Haines lived several blocks away, near the Alameda Park, and we used to go there, stand in the park and think of terrible things to do to him. We heard from somewhere that if you could get some “skunk juice” (the real stuff that skunks use to defend themselves) and put in on the cast iron block of a car that it would be unremovable, soaking into the block and stinking up the car so much that it would be impossible to use.
We didn’t know where to get a skunk, but we put out the word that we could pay five dollars for some skunk juice. We did get some, and it had the right stink, but in trying to get under the hood of Mr. Haines’s car, we got it all over ourselves. (Have you ever had a bath in tomato juice? That was my fate when I came home stinking of skunk). In the mean time, we soaped his windows, not just on Halloween when it was customary, but several times over a two year period. We actually pulled several Halloween tricks on him, on one occasion, putting some fecal matter that we shoveled up out of an outhouse in a paper bag, putting some lighter fluid on the paper, then lighting it on fire on his doorstep and knocking on the door. When he came to the door, he stomped on the bag to put out the fire and got both his porch and his shoes ( and who knows what else) covered with outhouse residue.

One thing we decided to do but that we did not do (I think) was to wait till he went on vacation, open a window in his house, put in the hose and turn on the water. I say “I think” because I had a very vivid dream that we had done this, and sometime later, talking to Don (as we got older we shifted from Dickie (me) and Donnie (him) to Dick and Don) about when we had done it, and he looked at me like I was out of my mind, and said “If you did that, I don’t want to know about it, but I was never involved”. I went away a little confused, but then I, subtly as I could, asked around about it to see if such a thing had happened to anyone in town, and no one had ever heard of such a thing, so I determined that I had just dreamed it. (I will guaran-darn- tee that my memory of it included Don, and that he was serious about not remembering any such thing.)

The point I am trying to make, is that hate like that will eat at you, ruining many of your life experiences and the relationships that are involved. Certainly it poisoned the relationship between Don and myself, that even living less than a hundred yards from each other, we reached the stage that being together, even just to play checkers, became an unpleasant experience, not that we hated each other, but that we had shared such a virulent hate for such a long time.

I can honestly say that I have never hated anyone since that time. Being in the company of someone who hates just make my stomach upset. I wish Mr. Haines were still around so I could ask his forgiveness. (Though remembering that poor little dog lying in a puddle of blood in the middle of the street would make asking forgiveness difficult.—



Enough of politics and national angst, it is time for a history lesson
When I was a Sophomore or Junior in High School (Don’t criticize possible timing inaccuracy, I am doing pretty well to remember WHAT without being troubled by WHEN), I was invited to join the Boy’s Council. Boy’s Council was an honor society for boys who had a “B” overall average and who hadn’t been in significant disciplinary trouble (Meaning, who hadn’t been caught). If I remember correctly you had to be nominated by one of your teachers, (fortunately, only one).

At any rate, I joined Boy’s Council. We had some sort of initiation but it was dignified and quick because I don’t remember anything about it (unlike the “P” Club initiation.). What we ended up doing was serving as cheap labor in the office of the Dean of Boys. (That would probably be an Assistant Principal now, I don’t even hear much about Deans of Men on the college level, not politically correct at all) We were assigned a shift in the Dean’s office during one of our study halls (which made it impossible to cut study hall to go play snooker), and during our shift we walked around to every classroom, picked up the attendance rolls and then took them to the office, tabulated them, filed them, and reported to the dean anyone who failed to attend a class but had attended all or most of the classes earlier that day. We, or the Dean, then called the parents to see if Johnny had come home sick, since he wasn’t in class. Because it was an ongoing thing, we were not considered “Stool Pigeons”, and though most of this was done very ethically, I would have to admit that if one planned to skip study hall it was wise to know someone on Boy’s Council. We also posted grades on permanent records, but that was extremely ethical because we were audited.

We had weekly or monthly meetings where we planned activities (read parties) and occasionally had interesting speakers. (We even judged the in-house debates of the debate team, which determined which team members went to out of town debates etc.)
It was always interesting if one of the debaters was also on Boy’s Council, a frequent thing, because we had to be, and were, very objective in judgment. Some debaters who were also Council members, were known to say harsh things to their colleagues if they missed an important meet because of losing the “qualifier”. The big event for Boy’s Council was the yearly Harvest Ball in the fall. We had to figure everything from the cost of the band (there were no “dance” dj’s in that time. If anyone in the school sponsored a “record hop” the one left to play the records was the lowest man {or woman} on the totem pole.), make sure that the price of admission plus the supplement from the student activity funds was enough to pay the band. We had to arrange refreshments, decorate the gym (which was enormous) take tickets, arrange for chaperones, and all the other stuff that went with a high school dance.
Then when the dance was over we had to “strike the setting”, clean up and put everything where it should be for PE classes or Basketball Games, or whatever.

In the particular year of which I speak (sometime between 1949 and 1952), We served great big cookies, slivers of pumpking pie, and fresh cider, right out of the keg, non pasteurized or any of those things that they do now. The cider was wonderful. WE had bought it from a local orchard, and it had been processed at the orchard. It had fermented just enough to have a touch of carbonation, and everyone was impressed. We had built a rack on an old farm wagon upon which was stacked twenty or thirty kegs of cider. (They weren’t the big fifty gallon barrels, but kegs, holding, I would guess, either five or ten gallons of cider.) The refreshment table was an old weathered barn door propped up on sawhorses. There were sheaves of corn, stacks of pumpkins a couple of scarecrows and all the other stuff that would seem to be appropriate. The dance was very successful, and we made a pot-load of money with which we paid off the band, contributed some to pet charities, banked some to pay expenses for the nest dance, and put a lot back into the student activity fund, where it probably got used for the football team or one of the school plays. It was early enough in my high school career that I was still petrified by all things female, so I, and all those other schmucks in the organization that didn’t have dates got to clean up the mess, dispose of the trash etc. Actually it was not bad duty. In return for clearing up all the corn sheaves and the crepe paper banners and the scarecrows etc., as well as sweeping the floor and all that jazz, we got to divide the remaining cookies, everybody took a pumpkin or two home for pies (I don’t remember any slivers of pumpking pie remaining, but I am sure that if there was, they were eaten as part of the clean-up effort, and not taken home. Several of the kegs of cider had remaining cider in them, so we sipped cider as we worked. When everything was finished we had one keg of cider that had not been tapped, so we planned to take that one back to the orchard and get a refund, but there was another keg that was almost full, though it had been tapped.

We (the remaining labor) decided to save that one for a future Boy’s Council party, since it couldn’t be returned anyway. One of the officers, who had a key, and a couple of the other guys took this keg to the Deans office and put it in a closet. Soon, everything was finished and we wended our ways home, munching cookies and sipping cider from those kegs that were “almost” empty. It was the end of a fun day, even for those of us (who were dateless) who had spent the evening selling and taking tickets, serving refreshments, and otherwise not dancing. (Well, some of us may have “cut in” a few times.)

That might be the end of the story except that three or four days later “some one” (not me of course) decided to taste the cider to see if it was still “okay”. The word quickly spread around the organization that it was not only “okay”, but that it had “improved” a lot since the dance, and that we might consider having a party pretty soon. It was then, that someone suggested that it would improve still more if we added some sugar, (I believe it was raw, brown sugar) and even if we put a little yeast, or brewer’s yeast into the mix. This was done, and, on Monday following we all gathered round to see if the “improvements” had progressed satisfactorily. There was general agreement that they had, and that if we waited till the weekend for our party the “improvements” might reach the vinegar stage (some of us were already putting breath fresheners in our mouths to avoid problems during the remainder of the day). It was decided to hold the party Wednesday evening in shed that belonged to the father of one of the members (It was a room frequently used for Boy Scout patrol meetings and den meeting for Cub Scouts)

We all gathered at the closet early on Wednesday. (one of the boys was going to use his car to transfer the “cider” during the day. Imagine our shock when we opened the closet and the keg of cider was missing. We were all upset, accusations were flying that some of us had stolen the goods, and one other thing was a problem. There had been a deposit made on each of the kegs, and we had to turn in this last keg to get the deposit. (The deposit was to cover all the kegs that had been bought, and was, for us a substantial amount of money, probably twenty buck or so.) Tensions got pretty high among the group until the Dean walked in and said something on the order of “You know that the office of the Dean of Girls is directly above this one. The strangest thing has been happening. Dean (lets call her Jones) Jones and her staff have had a problem for the past couple of days. It seems that they have all been disturbed by a rotting smell up there. They suspected that a mouse, or rat had died in the wall, so they called in the janitors. They searched around, said that it was certainly not a mouse or rat, because it smelled more like rotting or fermenting fruit, so they checked the wastepaper baskets and places like that. Then one of the janitors discovered that the smell was coming through the air vents near the floor. Since the vents in their floor are vents in our ceiling, they asked me to escort them through our offices. We were sure surprised. It looks like someone hauled a left-over keg of cider over hear and “forgot” it in the closet.. It sure was fragrant, but the janitors took it out and disposed of it. I had them take the keg back to Kennedy’s orchard, in case there was still a deposit on it. There was, so I put the money in the treasury. It sure must have been a smelly job for the janitors to get rid of that stuff. If we have any leftovers from a future dance, we had better dump it instantly or return it that night. Well, anyway, Dean Jones’s problem seems to be solved”.

You have never heard such quiet weeping and wailing and gnashing of teath. We all knew what a problem those %#$*&@^ janitors had disposing of it. (unless the Dean himself had disposed of it personally.) Oh well, Easy come, Easy go!! Back to the roll sheets and posting grades. At least they didn’t kick us all out of school (probably because they would have had to hire someone to do the work we were doing.)

Monday, January 30, 2006

The New York Times/Opinion as Fact

The New York Times /Opinion for Facts.

Wow, two posts in two days, will wonders never cease. I had to post this, even though it will be a shorty. This morning, as I was wandering in the bedroom after my early morning water aerobics session (wonderful), I turned on the TV. It was on ABC, the VIEW (which isn’t my favorite program) and Barbara Walters was having a hissy fit about the New York Times. It seems that, with the wounding of one of ABC’s co-anchors (Bob Woodruff) in Iraq, the Times did what it usually does (can you tell that the TIMES is not my favorite paper?) and, in some way denigrated Woodruff for being an anchor, out doing what real journalists should be doing. (I haven’t read the times yet, even my Email “shorty”version hasn’t arrived ) I always smile when nationally known journalists, who are liberal to the core, pick on the TIMES/

My electronic edition of the TIMEs came in, and Barbara Walters was really angry about the TIMES commentary on the possible fate of ABC news, but it was still a lot of fact/opinion conclusion.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Fear of Warrantless telephone interception

I am so tired of so many expressing so much fear about government intrusion into our      privacy without a warrant that I am feeling almost tongue-tied with frustration.  I know why some people are promulgating that fear, because some people are so filled with hate toward the current administration that they have no compunction in distorting the NAS interception policy or even, if they understand it (some people are in paradigms so blinding that it is difficult to open the mind to understand anything beyond the button pushing headlines)  they don’t mind lying about it.    I have posted my thoughts on a couple of other blogsites, but I feel it necessary to post them now in my own space.  I procrastinated this post, in part, because Saurkraut (I keep trying to make links, but I have decided that it aint ever gonna happen) included a link on her blog that provided the official Department of Justice report (all 42 pages) and I wanted to read it all before I posted, to make sure I wasn’t mistaken about how this works. (I do wish lawyers could write something in clear denotative English and not in convoluted legalese, and this post would have been available a couple of days ago.

The truth is very simple, and not at all frightening to anyone who thinks about it clearly.  The  process used by the NSA to intercept foreign intelligence is very parallel to the process by which law enforcement seeks information on domestic crooks.  I will illustrate it through an analogy.

Juan de Getcherdoe is a major drug dealer (let’s say wholesaler) who has come to the attention of law enforcement because he has been careless.  The Drug Enforcement folks or the FBI, whatever kind of feds are involved have ample evidence to convict him, but want to know more about his suppliers and his dealers before they pick him up.  Since he lives in the U.S.A, they go before Judge Righteously and get a warrant to tap his phone.  For a couple of weeks, everybody who talks to Juan is recorded.  They are recorded with out any warrant on THEM. because it would be impossible to get Juan’s rolodex and get a warrant for anyone he plans to call or to be called by.  Joe the delivery boy at Domino’s is one of these, and all he talks about is “what’s the address?”  He is recorded and analyzed anyway, and with the obvious innocence of his conduct his tapes are put aside. Don Getchahigh says incriminating things, so the feds get a warrant to tap his phone too.  This goes on and on.  Juan can be prosecuted in court on the basis of evidence gained through a warrant.  Don can be prosecuted on the basis of his communication with Juan, even if the incriminating stuff came before the warrant was made for him, as can people who talked to darn much, but never had a personal warrant or tap.

Now the NSA:  Osama ben Nasty is an acknowledge enemy of this country.  He has been making threatening videos, bragged about killing Americans, etc.  He is not a citizen nor a resident of the U.S.A.   The NSA was established for the purpose of getting intelligence about enemies of the country, so, doing their duty they intercept his phone calls:  all of them, whether he talks to someone in Germany, or Syria, or the USA.  There is no way on earth that they could initially know who he is calling in the USA in order to get a FISA warrant, or actually an approval. The same applies to anyone who calls him.  If someone in the USA says something incriminating, the implied warrant in the War Powers act is sufficient to justify recording the call.  If it is sufficiently incriminating that there appears a need to tap that US resident’s phone it is then, and then only that the law requires the NSA to get an approval (read warrant) from one of the judges on the FISA court.  Anyone who is called by, or who calls Osama comes under suspicion.
“History conclusively demonstrates that warrantless communications intelligence targeted at the enemy (bold print is mine) in times  of armed conflict is a traditional and fundamental incident in the use of Military force authorized by the AUMF”  (The AUMF is “the Authorized Us of Military Force” passed by Congress and declared by the Supreme Court to be the equivalent of a Declaration of War.  If anyone says we are in an undeclared war he/she is either a damned liar, a distorter of fact, or too darn lazy or stupid to look it up.    Anyone who leads you to believe that the NSA is randomly targeting domestic phone calls, whether within the USA or to overseas numbers is also either: 1.  A damned liar,  2. a distorter of fact, whether through misunderstanding or through a deliberate attempt to mislead you for political purposes, or  3.  Too damned laze or stupid to investigate the facts, or 4. So blinded by their hatred of George Bush that they are unable to look at things that they should understand objectively.  I’m sorry, but that is the way it really is.  I have run this past a some attorneys (one of which is a wild eyed liberal) and, with the Department of Justice defense in hand, they all had to admit that it was a valid analogy.
So there.

Monday, January 23, 2006



When I first jumped into this blog thing I got into political stuff every once in awhile. I waxed most emphatic during the early days of the Katrina mess, when, it seemed to me, that everyone, the local residents, the local government (particularly in Louisiana) and the federal government were dropping the ball, and trying to shove things through a clogged bureaucracy, (some what like trying to force dry pinto beans through a tea strainer). Since that time, I haven’t expressed myself very forcefully on my blog, (though I have been a little intense in the commentary on other blogs).

I know that most of the folks to whom I have given comment will never see this post, but I think it is necessary for folks to see where I’m coming from in order to get my ideas.

First: I am a conservative. I think a real conservative is one who resists radical change; someone who wants to know why we should build a bridge before the bridge is built, and that we should try to “forsee” the obvious unforeseen consequences that are likely to come from the building of the bridge. I also think that conservatism is patriotic and wants to see the ideals around which the country was built sustained.

Second: I would not want the world to be made up of “me’s”. I think stark conservatism is a recipe for stagnation. George Bernard Shaw made a definition of liberals which was often quoted by Bobby Kennedy (I have written about this before) which goes “Some people see things as they are and scream “WHY”? I see things as they ought to be and say “WHY NOT”? Without some accommodation of this attitude the world would get stagnant, but without someone to grab hold of the liberal coat-tails and scream “wait a minute, let’s think about this for a minute” that liberal attitude would corrupt society completely. The problem is that not everybody “sees things as they ought to be” the same way. I think that the greatest things in our society have come about from the dialectic between these two sides (not dialogue, not even cooperation, but dialectic, and if you don’t know the word it is time for a good dictionary, preferably the Oxford English Dictionary, but Merriam Webster and Random House will do)

Third: One of the things that concerns me most about what is happening today in our discourse. It has become shrill, filled with invective, and perfectly intelligent people have reached the stage where all they can do is scream at each other. The words “fascist”, “moonbats” ," commies", and sometimes much more forceful epithets are thrown around willy-nilly. I lived in Finland right after world war two, and I saw what fascism could do, and how it was done (Finland allied itself with Germany for a while, and then had to drive the Nazis out as they retreated with a scorched earth policy) and I watched as real Communists marched in the streets on May day, and I had a lot of interaction with them. What are called fascists in some blogs, don’t even come close, and calling Liberal a commie, well, I know commies, and those aint them. Sceaming invective is a little like masturbation. I can give you a lot of pleasure, but no one else really gets anything out of it--or wants to.

Now I don’t propose to try to influence my friends in the blogiverse , to change their patterns. I just want you to know why you won’t see invective coming from me on either side. The problem with the language of that type is that it prevents dialectic. Those on both sides get so passionate that reasonable argument, listening to each other, using clear logic with FACTUAL evidence rather than second hand biased opinions, gets to be impossible. We get into the stuff that speech scientists and psychologists call ' the monologue or dialogue (depending on who you study) of the deaf'. It simply mean that we limit our listening to, or reading of those with whom we may disagree, to looking for points to attack, to support our previously held points of view. Liberals sometimes have good ideas, conservatives the same, and if the level of invective went down a little we might be each able to quit defending ourselves against the maddened hordes long enough to hear them.

I may be ostracized by the conservatives as a group, but I think social security was a good idea. Putting the social security funds into the general fund with a promise to pay it back was pretty stupid, but the overall concept is all right, and I get really ticked with Limbaugh when he goes on his rant that social security is welfare, because I keep track, and it will be at least five more years before I receive one more dime than I have paid into the FICA pot. Figured for inflation, it will be longer than that, and frankly I don’t expect to live much beyond that date. When I say that, some of my conservative friends nearly froth at the mouth, but I believe it, just as I believe that if we don’t do what Bush has proposed in a partial privatization that social security will nearly bankrupt the nation fairly soon.

Any way, if you see me commenting on your blog, for you, or against you, it will be because I believe in both dialectic and dialogue, but I will be critical of poor evidence, I will blast you on lousy logic and argumentation, and I will love you for the stuff that, if listened to and analyzed might solve some of our social, national, political, and even interpersonal problems. I even hope to read that stuff a few times before I die. If I go off on a tear it will be after I have done some serious thinking, and about something that seems outrageous to me.

Well, now you know (as if you even cared).

Sunday, January 22, 2006



Nowadays about the only time we hear about initiations is when some college Greek fraternity or sorority goes too far and pours so much booze down some schnook’s throat that he or she dies of alcohol poisoning. When I was growing up, initiations were common and totally varied in approach. My high school had a freshman initiation, but it was so mild that the only thing I remember about it was the wearing of beanie hats for awhile.

I didn’t experience it myself, but one of my close friends was picked to become a member of our Pep Band, a select band that not only played at basketball games, but which traveled with the basketball team. This friend, blushing all the way, told me that during his first overnight road trip with the basketball team, his fellow band members held him down on a hotel bed and shaved his genitals--- with an old fashioned straight razor—which made him unlikely to make any sudden movements during the process.

The initiation of initiations for students in our high school was the varsity club, or P Club initiation. I actually don’t remember if it was held in the fall, following the football season, or in the spring after most of the sports except track had finished their seasons. It probably was in the spring, since the weather was pretty warm, and if it had been cold it would have been almost intolerable. I received my letter in football at the end of my junior year football season. I participated in P Club Activities all year, so initiation might have been in the fall. It doesn’t matter, really.

We had a large group of initiates, and I am not sure whether that improved the situation or made it worse. The first phase of initiation was when those who were already in club requested that individual initiates make each of them a paddle. I had such requests for either four or five paddles. I am not sure what initiates who had little access to a shop did, but I made at least four paddles. Each had a handle like a ping pong paddle which sloped into a business end twelve to sixteen inches long and six to eight inches wide. Most paddles were made with 1X8" lumber or with plywood, I made both. (What you have is cheaper than what you have to go get.)It was acknowledged that a thinner “business end” stung more, but because it was not so heavy, was unlikely to leave permanent bruises on those who were struck by it. Since the victims were the makers of the devices “stung” was more acceptable than “bruises"). The more attractive the paddle was, the lighter would be the punishment was the general thought. I don’t think it made much of a difference. Some guys drilled a series of half inch holes in the paddles they made. That was not a request for any of my “initiators” so I didn’t. I did discover that being whacked by one with holes was much less fun than with one with no holes. Most paddles were painted or varnished. I used a wood burner to put a picture of a Plains Indian Chief, with a head dress on all of mine. I also put feathers, attached to a rawhide cord (actually a leather boot lace) attached to a hole in the handle. These became the property of the “initiators” I still have one of the paddles that was given to me when I was on the power end of the initiation. It is beautiful and was a prized possession with which I occasionally threatened my boys as they got out of line. I am not sure where it is now. One of them may have “done it in” for all that I am sure.

The initiation lasted more than one day, but it didn’t take up an entire school week. On the first day of initiation we wore a burlap tunic which came to a line below the buttocks (and which, for some, were padded against the onslaught of the paddles.) We wore one boot and one sneaker, and the scruffiest of jeans or burlap pants, since it was understood that they might not all survive the service. We all had some feathers attached somewhere (Our team was the Pocatello Indians), and we all wore the most modest of boxer shorts since there was a rumor (not totally untrue) that if the initiate did something really wrong, he might be asked to drop his pants for an unshielded swat, and the boxer shorts were insurance against partial nudity. On that first day the senior members required us (during school hours, but not during classes) to run errands, to get autographs from various people including the principal, attractive young ladies, teachers, janitors or “others”. We were also required to sweep or mop various areas of the school or any other tasks that could be done either during study hall or between classes. These activities carried on for quite some time after school, but not for “eternity”. I don’t remember whether this part of the initiation was for more than one day or for several days, but it seemed like several days.

The meat of the initiation occurred on the last day when we, and many of the students at the school, if not all, were sent out onto the track practice field beside the auditorium. (I know that we had a big audience). Hell began before we went outside though. Early in the day we had eggs smashed on our heads, eggs dropped into the single boot then swatted with a paddle so that by the end of classes I was walking in the residue of four or five eggs squishing around my foot in the boot. It is also true, that there are more pleasant things to wear to class than egg white and yoke drying in your hair and running down the back of the neck.

When we went out into the practice field we had races, the same kind, on the whole that might be done at a church picnic: three legged races, relays carrying heavy awkward things, crawling races, backward wind sprints, duck and crab walk relays, and even an “egg toss” though we were instructed to throw the eggs hard enough to break them on your target. (the ever present paddle was there to encourage a good, hard, accurate throw.) Along the way we were subjected to a lot of personal indignities, eggs down your shirt, strips of liver coated with raw egg dropped down your pants, and enough use of our paddles to make us pink (if you could see it) from the knees to the belt line in back. Sometime during this activity I had the opportunity while kneeling down, to swallow small strips of liver, dipped in eggs, to which were tied a cord, so that when they were swallowed (which often took four or five tries) the liver strips were slowly drawn back up through the throat (and whatever else your stomach could send with them) after which they were dropped down someone’s pants. (They were very sanitary, each victim had fresh, clean liver to deal with). I don’t know when or how it happened but I also was covered with ginger ale. All of this was done with all the coaches, the principal, the deans, and many teachers watching to make sure that no really dangerous stuff was done.
(I somehow think that the liver strips were out of sight of the faculty, but who knows, it has been sixty plus years.)

The final element of the initiation was to be held that night; at someone’s barn, and the rumors of what was going to occur there, out of sight of the faculty and coaches, would curl your hair. We were instructed not to tell “adults” about this meeting except as was necessary to get to the place. We did have the chance to go get the eggs out of our hair and boots before we went, but I don’t mind admitting that I was well nigh terrified.

When we got to the barn there were several lettermen in their letter sweaters standing outside, and they waited till all the initiates were present and lined us up in columns of three and more or less marched us into the barn. Inside the barn there were tables with a lot of food, the coaches standing at the front of the room and the rest of the lettermen sitting in chairs on either side. When all the initiates were inside they all stood and gave us a standing ovation mixed with some traditional football cheers. Then we all got hugged, back patted, and otherwise given emotional greeting as we were take to our seats at the table. It was nice, and in spite of the difficulty of the initiation itself, there was a real feeling of brotherhood. Having been in school long enough to participate as an initiator as well as the initiated, I will have to say that the brotherhood sent both ways.

Friday, January 20, 2006



I suppose that rural states are much alike, and that during a large part of the past hundred years rural children have been an important part of the economy. At one time, children may have picked oranges in California, strawberries and oranges in Florida, tobacco in Georgia (I know this was true, my children did it.), etc.

I was raised in Idaho, and in Idaho, one of the things children did was pick potatoes. I don’t remember what was the youngest age, but during my childhood, school in South Eastern Idaho was dismissed for two or three weeks every year for potato harvest. My memory isn’t clear whether we were dismissed from elementary school or not, (I think we were) but we certainly were dismissed from Jr. High and High School when it was time to harvest spuds.

The actual date varied from year to year. Most of us don’t really think about ripe or green potatoes, but we are partly aware when we go to the supermarket. The white and red potatoes that have very soft (sometimes peeling) skins are unripe. We usually call them “new” potatoes. Ripe potatoes are mealier, have tougher skins, and store much better. Potatoes don’t ripen until the vines are dead. The major killing of vines was caused by frost. Spud vacation (which is what we called it) came about two or three weeks after the first killing frost. (Before my career-if that’s what you can call it- in the potatoes ended, many farmers were killing their vines on schedule by using a machine that mechanically beat the leave off the vines)

Many kids didn’t choose to work in the fields, but people like me, whose parents were workers in factories and on the railroad, and who wanted a little extra spending money (or in some cases, food money) were hot to get into the fields. On the first weekday of “vacation” those who wanted work reported either to certain schools or to the State Dept. of Labor.

One simply volunteered to go with a specific farmer. I suspect that there were labor forms or parental consent forms to be signed, but I don’t remember them. After the first year in the fields, most kids had identified the places they wanted to work. The farms owned and managed by Japanese farmers (the Jap farms, as they were called) were among the most preferred because they had better potatoes and fewer weeds. One farmer named Zimmerli was also high on the list for the same reason . He also had many farms and stored his own potatoes, so you could work for him for the entire vacation. Another place that was traditionally a good place to work was on the Fort Hall Indian reservation, or out in Chubbuck (sp.) or Tyhee.

When you were picked, you went out to the farm. Transportation varied. Sometimes you just piled into the back of a truck, but many were taken by school bus, which I assume were rented from the school district. Newcomers were taught the ropes, the rest of us just went to assigned rows, and away we went. Picking was done into baskets (I don’t know how to describe the size, but they were the same wherever you went). Two baskets dumped into a burlap bag made what was called a “half sack”. I understand that the two baskets together made about sixty to seventy pounds of potatoes. You were paid six, or six and one half cents a “half sack”. A really good worker, with experience, could make twenty bucks a day. That equates to about three hundred forty or so bags of spuds. We always had some “professionals” (usually Mexicans or Indians of “whatever’ legality) in the field, some of whom wore a harness and picked directly into the bag, which dragged along behind them. One of them, if I remember correctly picked over four hundred bags in one day. The average school student, working hard, did pretty well to get a hundred, but six and half bucks was a lot in a time when candy bars were a nickel, comic books a dime, and the Saturday matinee at the movies nine cents. As you were picking, you were expected to “cull out” (toss between the rows) potatoes that had been cut in half by the potato digger, that were off shaped (a lot of little head fasten to a center) or otherwise not likely to sell as Idaho number ones. Some times there were rotten ones which were likely to be thrown at any one who was not bigger or faster than you were. In some “crumby” fields real potato fights broke out (quickly squelched by supervisors). A rotten potato in the field is not like one in the pantry. Some of them could be broken in half and you might have a gooey strand of white starch two feet long. Getting hit in the back of the neck by one of these was not one of life’s great experiences. On the other hand, they usually let you go back after the field was finished and pick up a bag of culls and take them home, which please your mother no end.

As you got older, you might be picked to “buck” spuds which meant to pick up the half sacks and load them on a flat bed truck, or to ride the truck and stack the sacks of potatoes.. The trucks carried the spuds to a “spud cellar” which was really a big, long, hole, dug into the ground and roofed over by the dirt dug out. Some of them were very large, most were mechanized. The trucks backed up to the cellar, and the “buckers” (who were paid by the hour, rather than the sack) dumped the potatoes into a hopper from which they went on a treadmill to a sorting table, and after being sorted they were bagged ready for storage or shipment. Almost everything involved in picking a potato from picking, to preparing for the market was done in one day. Along the way, I had experience in almost every step. I am sorry, but I didn’t have any real adventures while doing this except for occasionally falling off the “bucking” truck. Oh Well.

Today, most of the picking is done with a combine that dumps the potatoes directly into a truck. Many, but not all, of the old potato cellars have been replaced by temperature controlled storage buildings. Potatoes are still potatoes, and I love ‘em, (as you could tell by my girth) I suppose that there were some child labor laws that were treated most flexibly, but I am convinced that a good bit of hard physical labor (occasionally) would be a good thing for most kids today.

I will try to get into thinning, weeding and harvesting sugar beets in the future, but I haven’t even dealt with all my railroad stories yet.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

My wife and I spent the weekend in South Carolina

My wife and I spent the weekend up in Columbia, South Carolina with our daughter who is house shopping.  It was a neat experience.  The house she is looking at is almost twenty five miles from town.  It is an old one room schoolhouse that has been converted into a nice little house with three miniscule bedrooms and two baths.  The house is filled with really lovely antique furniture which would NOT (unfortunately) come with the house.  The living room is large, with knotty pine paneling on two walls and some really terrible wallpaper on the other two. (I was tempted to say that it was the worst wallpaper in the world, but I had forgotten the master bedroom which has the WORST wallpaper in the world.)  Wallpaper aside, it is very nice.  It has a long path down to an in-ground swimming pool right in the middle of the front yard.  It well may be the only pool I have ever seen in the front center of a very large yard.

   The yard is fenced but has a large woodsy space behind the yard with lovely oak trees and the ground covered almost an inch thick with   acorns.  Daughter mentioned that when she was there a week ago there had been a deer stand on one of the trees.  The owner (actually the owner’s son, his mother is now in a nursing home with altsheimers, ) said that there are deer, turkeys, foxes and raccoons out in the back.  My wife jokingly asked daughter if she might use the deer stand to hunt deer.  Her reply was “Certainly not, she would use it to watch and photograph the wild life.”   The environmental biologist in her is heavily at work.  There are a couple of acres at the side where once there was a double wide trailer, and it already has septic and well access.  Wife said “Maybe we could come up here and build a house on that lot.”  He daughter replied that maybe we could put a ‘travel trailer’ there.  Rejection is tough.

All in all, it was a lovely visit, and after much agonizing daughter has made an offer on the house.  If she gets it, three of my six will be home owners, and as we arrived home, my son the college librarian called to say that he is looking at a new house to buy.  That would make four of the six children homeowners.  If that doesn’t make you feel “older” nothing will.  ( Well, actually being a great grandfather has already done that).  Strangely enough we are house hunting too, and are considering a place out in the woods. (No turkeys, but deer are all over the place).  Well, off to bed.   Janet is going to teach for the next few weeks (she’s teaching class in Shakespeare at the local charter school (of which she was one of the founders, and even I spent many weeks writing curricula for it), So I will be mostly alone.  I hope I can get out in the studio and sculpt, or out in the yard to  paint (My wife bought me a beautiful easel and a bunch of oil and acrylic paints for Christmas).  Who knows, I might come back to life.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Oldness and the Approach of Coothood

Oldness and the Approach of Coothood.

I have been getting some comment from friends about using the term “old” to describe myself. Actually seventy plus is not so old if you are living in the time of Methuselah, but seventy plus is pretty dang old if you are living in the 1960s or 70s, and it makes me older in years than most of the people I know. But old and older are not words that get me bothered in any subtle ways. I know people who have less age than me who are “older” and I mentioned in an earlier blog when I was whining about age that I know a guy a year older in age than me who is running half marathons twice a year. It is not just the number of years that makes one old, nor is age a mental or psychological state. Old is when your body tells you that you are old. This doesn’t necessarily mean that appearance is the key. I have people react with surprise all the time when they discover my age. Only this afternoon, the technologist at my cardiologist’s office who was giving me a cardiogram note that I didn’t “seem” as old as my chart said I am.

Infirmity in itself doesn’t equate with old. I first was examined in the tests that finally diagnosed a peripheral neuropathy in 1991. I felt terrible, and I was depressed, and, based on my physical condition and what the doctors were telling me, I thought that I would die pretty soon. I had ischemia (white spots) in my brain. I had plantar fasciitis (I can’t spell it) in my feet that made every step an agony. They tested my heart, my brain, (and for awhile treated me for bi-polar syndrome), my lungs, my eyes, (ended up with two laser surgery sessions on my left eye and one on my right), and with all this crap, I felt miserable but I didn’t feel old

I managed (with a cane, and sometimes a four wheeled walker that looks like, if you put pedals on it, it would be some kind of bike) to walk-jog two or more miles in twenty minutes every day, did multiple crunches each day and did an intense stretch routine (which, as an actor I had done every day for forty years), and fought this with all my energy. Only four years ago, I had a quadrupal bypass, and except for the two or so months of therapy, even then, though I had already retired, I didn’t feel old.

I no longer suffer from much of this. My peripheral neuropathy is an irritation that required constant medication and I have lousy balance and my cardiologist and I are on a first name basis, but my body is telling me that I am old. There is no way that I could walk-jog for twenty minutes. (I do manage a session of intense water aerobics three times a week, and when I quit that, I will probably be dead). I am now exhausted by walking from one end of the house to the other. I cook some of our meals, but I can’t stand at the kitchen counter to do it, I have to sit on a stool. I am a sculptor (one of a kind dolls, mostly Santa’s ) and I haven’t sculpted much for a long while, in part because my studio is in the back yard and it is too much of an effort to go out there, as well as the fact that my concentration level is so low that I can hardly read a book anymore, let alone create figures.

One of the bloggers whose work I follow has been building (on the blog) a case for identifying our current government as fascist. I read the posts, and quickly identified the fact that this blogger has recognized one of the first elements that I used to teach my debate teams- the person who defines the terms usually wins the debate. The definitions, however, used in this argument come from really biased sources, I would almost say spurious sources, (the term “rights” is defined from the dictionary of Marxism) – I was agitated enough to consult the Oxford English Dictionary, the Random House Dictionary of the English Language and others with the thought that I would jump in and refute the whole thing. I then became aware that I had not the energy to spend a couple of hours refuting the material. I have also reached the age that I pick my fights carefully, saving them for a time when they might do some good. This blogger (whose work, generally I enjoy and read all the time, though I disagree most of the time) is so set in the feelings of antagonism toward Bush, toward the government and toward that “fascist” sense, that the argument would be useless. I could spend a day chopping down every argument in a true debater fashion and nothing would change except the length of the comment pages on that blog. I will save my energy for something more useful, something where I could make a difference. Five years ago, I would have dedicated hours and hours to this, just for the fun of it. My inability to convince my self to do it is evidence that I am not just “older”, but I am old.

I love Davo’s blog, and Mahndisa’s (I can’t get these internal links to work, so, if you want to check them out, click on them at right) but occasionally Davo comes up with stuff that really makes you concentrate and think about it, the same with Mahndisa (though lately she’s been ticked off enough that I just read her stuff and enjoy the peppery sense of it.) When I get into deep stuff any more, it’s all I can do to read it carefully, let alone generate a coherent comment on it. That’s the kind of stuff that always generated interest, anger, enthusiasm and energy in me before. Davo quotes Josephus and scholars comments on Josephus, and my first thought was to go into my books about Josephus (for those who don’t know, he is one of the few historians that were contemporary or close to contemporary with Jesus, and the scholarship about him is intense and interesting) then I realized that I had donated all of that stuff to either the University Library or the Library of the local Charter School. Books have always been a major part of my life, and parting with a good one was like parting with and arm or leg. Getting rid of them is a sign that I am reaching coothood.

I have done some workshops in puppetry and drama in the past year that made me younger. This was also true of my adventure into Dickens and Scrooge in December.
Maybe if I get back into that kind of activity more of the time, I can work my way back to being “older” instead of just “old”. I am dickering about directing a play next spring, maybe I can get back to being, as Gayle would say, “older”. We’ll see.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Pipe fitter Helper on the Union Pacific

Pipe fitter Helper on the Union Pacific

I’m not feeling political right now, (actually I’m going through one of those phases of seventy plus year olds where I’m not feeling much at all except tired).  I have been dealing with adjustors and others trying to get carpet back in our family room (the concrete floor is COLD!!)  and I am trying to get focused on getting back into my studio and sculpting.  I have been enjoying blogging, it is like meeting a lot of new friends, which I really don’t do easily.  As tired as I am, I have been tempted to give it up, but decided to keep on plugging. Without my brain doing clear subjects, I decided to revert to personal history again.   I am not getting back into automobile stories yet, rather I decided to deal with teen age work experiences for a bit.

I graduated from high school in 1952.  It was a “given” that I would go to college (my dad informed us when we were about twelve, that, since we lived in a college town, we could live at home after high school without paying board and room as long as we were in college.  It was traditional in our area that if a guy lived at home after high school, that he pay his share of the household expenses or room and board)

After a couple of abortive “fun sounding” part time jobs, I became a pipe fitter helper for the Union Pacific Rail Road.  My experience at the Concrete Products Company the previous year had taught me to work, but my first experience at the Railroad taught me all kinds of unusual things.  In the first place, the job that was available was on second shift, so I worked from four thirty in the afternoon till 12:30 P.M.   In the second place, the name Pipe Fitter had relatively little with what we did.  Our Union was the Sheetmetal Workers Union (I think it had Pipefitters as a sub category) and we worked on all kinds of different things.

  One of the most memorable jobs was to work with the asbestos coating of the steam boiler on a locomotive.  Most people have seen as steam engine with the long boiler sticking out in front of the cab and the drive wheels underneath with long drive rods pushing (or pulling) the wheels.  Most don’t realize that the boiler between the smoke stack and the cab is covered (or was, there really aren’t any steam locomotives any more) with from four to fifteen inches of white semi solid asbestos.  The asbestos was then covered by long sheets of sheet steel that hooked at the top and bolted tightly at the bottom of the boiler to hold the asbestos in place.  One of the most significant jobs of pipefitters (and/or their helpers) was to remove the asbestos from any place where repairs were needed, to replace it when repairs were finished, and to repair or replace the sheet metal covers around the boiler.  I don’t doubt the danger in asbestos that has been discovered in recent years, but I am hugely entertained by the panic shown at the discovery of trace amounts of asbestos in buildings and the “moon suits” worn by contractors removing these trace amounts.

While working as a Pipefitter, I often returned home at 12:40, or 1:00 in the morning, to find my mother waiting.  If I were (and I often was) coated in one to two inches of asbestos fiber she would either hose me down or sweep me down to remove the fiber, require me to immediately repair to the laundry room in the basement, remove my overalls and cast them immediately into the washing machine.  I would then have to vacuum out the car before going to bed.  My parents have both passed away and the old “homestead” now belongs to someone else, but I suspect that if someone knew where to look, in the back yard, enough asbestos fiber could be found in the dirt to bring an entire crew of asbestos removal contractors into hard action.  I confess that I have been tempted a couple of times to sign up for one of the “class action suits” regarding asbestos, but, at seventy plus, my lungs are probably the healthiest part of me.

I was helping a really weird mechanic while a pipefitter.   He was a young guy in his early thirties, but his wife had recently committed suicide because he was stepping out on her.  When I was working with him, he was constantly making arrangements to go out with his new girlfriend when he was supposed to be on the job, and he didn’t want me to be seen with nothing to do so he found me little hide-out spots to stay in while he left for an hour or two to take her to dinner.  I am not sure, but I got the impression that he was also taking other women out at the same time.  Talk about amoral?  He was a really good pipefitter when he was working, and probably produced more work per actual hour than anyone else on the job.  The high (or low?) point of the skipping out gig was when the western singer “Tex Ritter” came to town with his band.  He told me he was leaving at five PM, (about half an hour after we started work), and that he had found someone to sign him out at twelve thirty, if he didn’t make it back in time.  He didn’t want me to be seen during that time, but if I wanted to ditch out as well he would give me a lift, and make arrangements to have my timecard signed out on time.  After contemplating the goods and the bads about the deal, and knowing that he could make my life hell (or that I could get him fired, which would probably put me on the black list), I decided to ditch.  I called up a girl who was a good dancer, got a date to go see Tex Ritter (this was at a place called the Deleta Ballroom).   I went out and had wonderful time, though I spent a lot of time looking over my shoulder to see if anyone from the pipefitter gang should see me.  I left the dance early enough to get back and take care of my own time card.  I wasn’t sure how much trust I could put in the mechanic’s word that he would take care of it.  It was a good thing.  He showed up as well, and with a wink from him, we handed in the time cards together.

We had a really sharp foreman in the evening shift who was a boilermaker, and an old friend of my dad’s, and I was pretty sure he was aware of what was going on, but didn’t want to dump my mechanic right after his wife’s suicide etc. (I am not sure what he would have felt about him dating around almost the minute his wife died, but I am sure he knew that he was skipping out.)  After the Tex Ritter thing, he assigned me to do some work that was strictly helper work for a while, then gave me another mechanic for a month, but I ended up back with him for most of the time.  He did shape up and worked hard after “Tex”. I think that the foreman may have had a chat with him.

The job was really interesting, and possibly a little dangerous (at least I had some dangerous experiences).  One of the tasks is difficult to explain, and I don’t have a clue why it could be assigned to pipefitters, but it was.   The steam locomotives of the time had long drive shafts on the outside of the engine, going from one drive wheel to another.  The center of these drive shafts sat on flat support bearing that held them in place.  This bearing was essentially a big rectangular box that was filled with (what we called ) babbit, which if I remember correctly was a mixture of lead and tin.  When the babbit wore down to the stage that there was steel on steel friction (or cast iron on cast iron, I am not sure what everything was made of, but steel seems more likely), one of our jobs was to remove the bearing, melt out the old babbit (which had to be strained to remove slivers of steel and bits of carbon and dirt, but it wasn’t reused for the same purpose, if I remember right), then we had to mix and melt new babbit in a big cast iron urn or kettle (with a really hot flame under it, which, in the summers made it a terrible job) then dip out the new, hot, babbit and refill the bearing boxes.  This was a scary job, because if the tiniest bit of moisture or other corruption found its way into the boxes, that moisture would explode when contacted by the hot babbit and scatter it all over.  This was a procedure that required goggles, bandannas, thick gloves and all sorts of protective equipment but in spite of that, two or three timeI was burned by slag which burned through all the protection.  I was burned on the bridge of my nose, on the inside of my elbow, and somewhere on one shoulder.  Each time I was burned, it had to be reported and my dad used to have really expressive things to say about the competence of my supervisors.  I got the impression that he had had that job at one time, and thought that anyone who got an explosion was careless.  The foreman also was upset.  There was a safety officer on each shift, and any accident that had to be reported went both on the foreman’s record and on his, and I got the impression that after a certain number of accidents, one or both of them could be fired.  I know that two or three guys were fired on the spot, when breaking safety regulations (one I remember was just walking on a rail, which I used to do a lot as a little boy, but it was, sort of instant out for railroad employees, though sometimes the union rep would get you rehired after a few days without pay.)

I had one other stand-out experience as a pipefitter, but in order to make it clear, I have to talk a little about tool boxes.  A railroad workers tool box was generally a pretty individual thing.  I think that most men built their own, though some were probably “inherited” when someone left the job.  They were made of sheet steel, about 1/4" thick.  They were welded together and were a box, about eighteen to twenty four inches deep, eighteen to twenty four inches wide and twenty four to thirty inches long with steel wheels (source unknown, but not “home made”) at one end and a bracket or “back stand” at the other.  There was generally a”U” shaped handle welded on the side opposite the wheels.  The handle protruded at least eighteen inches in front of the toolbox, and usually more (closer to twenty or twenty four inches.)   The insides of the box varied widely.  I worked with men who just tossed everything higglety-pigglety into the box.  Other men had elaborately designed racks and partitions inside with a place for everything and everything in its place.  The boxes were generally full of heavy steel tools (everything from pipe wrenches to air hammers or welding equipment, but always with a fifty or one hundred foot #12 or 10 rubber coated extension cord.)  Wrapped around the base of the handle would be a long pair of oxy-aceteline welding torch hoses or a long hose for air tools (or sometimes both) When moving from place to place, one usually took hold of the handle and pulled the extremely heavy box.  As a joke, some people would tell “newbies” to take hold of the handle and “push” the box.  That was difficult to do, or to steer, and few there be that tried it twice.  When an engine was under repair, there might be as many as twenty tool boxes pulled up to the side of the engine.

The day in question was such a day, with tool boxes pulled up beside the Very Large engine (I think it was called a 9000 but I am not sure.  It was one of the largest that we serviced.)  My assignment for the day was to climb up on top and remove the housings from the sand domes and the other domes on the engine.  Everything went well on the first dome, but as I was working my way to the second dome I grasped the hand rail and the section I “had aholt of” pulled completely away from the engine.  I fell backwards,  away from the top of the engine (I would guess, about twenty to twenty five feet from the surface).  It was the strangest sensation.  It was if time slowed down.  I felt myself turn a complete backward somersault in the air so that I was falling feet first.  I threw the piece of handrail that I was holding as far as I could so that I wouldn’t brain myself with it when I lit, then I looked down and all I could see was tool boxes with their handles facing the engine, and I knew in my heart that I was going to straddle one of those handrails and destroy my testicles.  I closed my eyes, pressed my legs together as tightly as I could, and waited for disaster.   Strangely enough I missed the toolboxes, lit feet first on the ground and rolled over backward.  When I opened my eyes, I had had the wind knocked out of me, and almost everyone on the shift had magically found their ways to a position surrounding me.    They were in the process (not all, of course, but some) of calling an ambulance when I stood up, and caught my breath.   Except for a knot and a scrape on my left elbow (I must have contacted one of the tool boxes in passing) I was fine.  Some of the people couldn’t believe how lucky I was, and I got a feeling that some were disappointed that I wasn’t smashed to smithereens.  I also heard by the grape vine that two guys in Cheyenne, Wyoming got fired for not adequately fastening the hand rail in place. (Which may or may not have had any truth in it, grapevines are like that.)  I didn’t get much work done after that.  I felt like a stuffed bear in a tourist lodge, everyone had to come over and touch me, buy me a coke (I know bears don’t drink coke) or otherwise express their relief that I wasn’t dead.

I guess that’s about all, but I’ll tell a couple more old railroad stories in the future.

Monday, January 02, 2006

New york times
Just a note. I just received my daily New York Times abstract of the "News". In it is an article which states that the U.S.Government has been paying Sunni Muslim Clerics "bribes" to be affirmative about the U.S. effort in Iraq. Not that these "bribes" seem to be particularly effective, I find myself offended (again) that the New York Times would find it necessary to print such information if it is true. If we have a public affairs office in Iran, and if we have contact with influential Mullas, we would be out of our minds not to do anything possible to establish any kind "good word" that would be possible. For years, we had official organs of propaganda operating during the cold war (and a lot of New York Times Hacks worked for them). Unfortunately our "National Newspaper finds it necessary to counteract any good information that might have gone out. I suppose it is only a matter of time before we find New York Times reporters setting IED's along the roadside in Baghdad.