Category Archives: Short Stories

Short stories of my childhood and just my thoughts on life.

Return to Austria – Chapter 1

“Put that down.”
“Not another move or I’ll shoot.”
“You’re only a boy. You don’t belong to them.”
“Stay where you are.”
“Come away with us. Before it’s too late.”
“Not another step. I’ll kill you.”
“You give that to me, Rolf. -Did you hear me?”
“I’ll kill you.”
A Nazi soldier holding a gun.
I moved closer to grab the gun. Bang! The Luger fired right as I was grabbing the barrel. The hot molten lead pierced my chest. It was as if someone had drained all of the energy out of me as I fell to my knees. “Georg! Maria screamed.” She came running from behind the fenced in crypt area.
“I didn’t mean to…..the gun just went off!” Rolf insisted.
Everything was getting darker and darker as I felt the blood running down my chest onto the cemetery floor. How could it end this way? We were so close to escaping the horrors that were descending upon Austria.

“Georg, I’m going into town. Do you need anything?” Maria said as she woke me from my afternoon slumber on the front porch of our Vermont home.  “No, I don’t believe so, thanks” I replied. As Maria left, I slowly came back to the present. This wasn’t the first time that I had this dream. I always woke up right after the feeling of life was leaving my body. I was getting tired of this dream, and now it seemed as though I was having this dream more often. It had been so many years since we left Austria, our home, our country and our way of life that we had known for so many years. We left Austria due to the Anschluss of the two countries and the Nazi occupation of Austria. We had never returned. Don’t ask me why. I had never even applied to become a citizen of our new home, the United States; my heart was still in Austria. Each year that passed, the more I longed to return to Austria if nothing else to see what had become of my beloved homeland since the war was long over. What happened to our home? How about the convent that my wife left? Did either of them survive that awful war? So many questions and very few answers.  It’s the answers that eluded me. I had plenty of questions. Time wasn’t on my side as I found it harder and harder to get around due to arthritis that had taken its toll on my body. I felt as though time was ticking away and my desire to return was becoming more of a recurring thought, just like this bad dream.

My phone rang, waking me from my daydreaming of Austria. “Hi, father,” Brigitta said on the other end of the phone. “We  were wondering if you and mother would be interested in coming over to our place Saturday night.” “I imagine we could. Is there a particular reason that you wanted us to come over?” I asked. “No, not really, John and I have both been discussing something, and we wanted to run it by you and mother.” “You aren’t thinking of moving to that retirement community in Florida that we visited with you last year are you?” I said thinking that was the reason for the invitation. “No, not at all. we want your opinion on something that we were going to do and wanted to see if you and mother would be interested as well.” “Oh well, ok, I will ask your mother when she returns. Love you.” I replied with relief. They had been talking about moving to Florida since both of them had retired earlier that year. They wanted to leave the cold winters of Vermont behind now that their kids were on their own. I couldn’t believe that my children had grandchildren. Where had time gone? I felt very blessed, though we had lost our beloved Liesl 3 years prior. That was a tough time for both Maria and me. I’m not sure that I would have recovered if it had not been the love and support of our other children. Maria and I were very fortunate to have such a close family. For many years we all toured the United States as the Trapp Family Singers until the children wanted to pursue their futures and not live in the shadows of another life that we once enjoyed. Our family lodge in Stowe was still going, although we had left the daily running of this to Kurt who was much younger than Maria and me. He was more than glad to answer the myriad of questions about the family.
A hotel in Austria.

Suddenly, I heard the top of the mailbox slam as the postman delivered his daily stack of junk mail with a few interspersed pieces of fan mail from those that had stayed at our lodge. I got up from the chair on the porch and walked around to where the mailbox was. With the advent of email, I wondered why people still bothered with mailing letters. It was probably due to the same reason that I went to the mailbox each day; a thing of habit. As I leafed through the mail, I tossed the junk mail in the wastebasket inside the doorway that was placed conveniently there for such things. In the middle of the stack of mail, there was an actual piece of mail that looked like a letter. The handwriting on it had a sort of strange writing on it. Some of the letters looked like the writing of friends that we still corresponded with in Austria. My heart leaped as I enjoyed anything from our homeland. I quickly turned the envelope over and tore it open. I unfolded the letter, and the first sentence hit me like a hot poker. I couldn’t read the next sentence or the next word. I fell over into the chair next to the doorway. It was as if my dream had suddenly just forced it’s way out of the recesses of my mind and grabbed me by the throat. How could this be? How could I have this dream only a little while ago and now my assailant was here again, but instead of a Luger, he had wielded a pen. My heart was racing instead of bleeding, but the mental pain was just as real as my dream. I opened the letter again, now that I was sitting down and began to read where my life had almost ended over 50 years ago.

“I never meant to pull the trigger. You have to believe me. I’m sorry Captain Von Trapp. If you will only let me explain why I am writing and why I never contacted you since that night you left Austria………”

NEXT-NEVER AGAIN

 

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Long ago in a neighborhood far away

Long ago in a neighborhood far away, I was just a young lad with a burning desire to enter the world of commerce. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to build something that people could enjoy, but at the same time earn a few dollars. The youngest age I remember thinking this was when I was probably 10. I wanted to open up my own dog and cat hospital. I had a cat named Purry. Somehow, Purry had been shot by a BB gun and his front leg still had the BB in it and was bleeding. In the garage we had this white porcelain cabinet that looked to me like something that belonged in a doctors office. I took my cat and using my own belts I stretched him out with all 4 legs tethered to each corner of the top. The poor cat looked like he was doing the splits. I remember shaving the area of his leg that had the wound, using tweezers to remove the BB, then putting anti-bacterial ointment on the wound and bandaging it up.

That was enough to convince me to open my own veterinary practice. I put a sign on the front of the garage that said “Cat and dog hospital”. Fortunately, nobody saw the sign as not a single dog or cat was given into my care and my parents were not sued for malpractice.

My second attempt at commerce was opening a bicycle repair shop. I put out my shingle and actually had a customer the first day. The training wheels on my neighbor’s bicycle were coming off. My task was to make sure that they stayed on the bike. I promised to have the bike repaired by the end of the day. I went to my dad’s tool box and found 3 tools, a screwdriver, an old pair of pliers and a hammer. There wasn’t a single wrench in the whole box. What was I going to do? I took the pliers and tried to tighten the bolt that held the training wheels on, but all that did was to round off the corners of the bolt.

A screwdriver wasn’t going to help and a hammer was out of the question. With my head hung low, I had to return the bike with the realization that to start a bicycle repair shop, you needed actual tools. Wilbur and Orville Wright would not have been pleased as they graduated from a bicycle shop to inventing the first engine powered plane. I removed my sign and now had 2 failed businesses before reaching the age of 11.

My next business venture involved a go-kart that my dad had built from an old self propelled lawn mower and a pedal car. He chopped the pedal car in half and chopped the handle of the lawn mower. Somehow, with only a pair of pliers a screwdriver and a hammer, he was able to take some wire and fasten them together. He attached a wire to the throttle of the gas engine and you pulled it with one hand while steering it with the other. The neighborhood kids saw me riding up and down the road, onto the dirt path, circling around and heading back down the road. Of course their first question was, “Hey, can I ride it?” I said “Sure”. After a few kids were taking their turns riding my go-kart, I was starting to get annoyed so I came up with the idea to sell tickets. I charged 25 cents per ride. Kids were going home to empty their piggy banks. After a couple of hours, I guess one of the parents called and complained to my parents that I was charging the neighborhood kids to ride my go-kart.

My dad came out and told me to stop charging the neighbor’s kids and to let them ride for free. Busted again! With everyone riding my go-kart, I wasn’t getting much time riding it. The next day, before anyone woke up, I figure out where the governor was located on the go-kart and found that if I played with it, I get get about 25% more speed. This worked great for a couple of days until the poor engine, revving past what it was supposed to, blew up and refused to run.

As a kid living in the country, getting around by bike was the only way to travel. Every kid had a bicycle and since my bike repair shop was a bust, I decided to make a bike track. My yard was pretty big for our neighborhood. We had a ditch that went from the front of the yard to the back. In the middle, during the summer, it was more of a recess than a ditch. I figure out that if I created a bike track around the next door field, through our yard, then down and up the ditch it would make a great bike track, one with interesting curves and bumps in the field to give a little excitement. I spent the next couple of days with a shovel and rake, smoothing out the really rough areas, creating signs to direct people where to go. I thought about selling tickets, but this didn’t go over too well with the go-kart, so I figured I would just do this one pro bono. I told a couple of neighbor kids what I had built and within an hour or two, there were 7 kids riding their bikes along the bike track having a great time.

We were having a blast until my dad found out that we were ruining his beautiful lawn with bicycle tracks. My dad was very proud of his lawn and still is to this day. That was the end of the bike track.

It sure was getting tough to run a business, let alone an amusement park. The bike track gave me another idea. In Suffolk, we had a couple of good snow storms that covered the hill behind us with snow. To me, as a 12 year old, the hill seemed huge, but now that I think about it, I’m sure it wasn’t that big. For kids my age, it was big enough. Having watched the winter Olympics the previous winter, I marveled at the bob sledders. I so much wanted to ride a bob sled. What if I were to create a bob sled track on the hill behind our home? Since it was fall, I had plenty of time to create a bobsled track. There were two tall trees at the bottom left of the hill. There was about a 24″ gap between the two trees. It was the perfect spot to ride our sleds through, but on the other side of the trees was a ditch. Big problem. You wouldn’t want to end up in icy water, so I built a wooden bridge over the ditch. I then took dirt and built up a banked curve right before the trees so that it would lead you between the trees and over the bridge to end the run. I made sure that all of the sticks and underbrush were cleared on the hill. I imagined the start gate with a digital timing system and someone to record the time at the end of the track. All I had to do was to wait for the first snow.

That year, snow did not seem to want to appear. What was I going to do. I had publicized my bobsled track to my friends and now I didn’t have any snow. Since I was into model rockets, I had hear that scientists were experimenting with silver iodide crystals to make it rain. I figured I would give it a shot. I somehow convinced my mom into convincing the local pharmacist to sell her a bottle of silver iodide. She brought it home and said, “I don’t think this is going to work, but go ahead and give it a shot.” I thanked her and ran to the garage to fill up the nose cone of my rocket with the precious silver iodide crystals. I waited for just the right afternoon to launch my rocket. When the clouds looked promising, yet holding back their moisture, I took my rocket outside and set it up for the historic launch. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 lift off! It sailed into the winter sky. Just at the right moment, at apogee, it released it’s snow making crystals. Slowly the rocket floated to the ground with it’s parachute waving success, at least in my mind. I went to bed that night, hoping that I would awake to a beautiful blanket of snow. As dawn approached, I ran to the window, yet found that the clouds had not released their white crystals of snow. I was disappointed, but 3 days later, snow appeared. In my heart, I believed that I was responsible for the snow.

School was cancelled due to the heavy snow and it was time for me to get outside to inspect the bobsled course. The snow had covered my bridge and the banked curve that led between the two trees. I remember that the newscaster during the Olympics talking about how icy the bobsled track was, so I made sure to pack the snow super tight and to pour water on the curve and between the trees so that it would be fast. Around 10 AM, my friends started to show up at the top of the hill. They were excited to see what I had made. I was the first to try it. I took my sled to the top of the hill and held my breath. I took a running start and threw my body down on top of my sled, cruising down the incline. Before I knew it, the curve was coming quickly into view. I leaned to the left and rode the banked curve. I couldn’t believe how fast I was going. The ice packed snow had made this section very fast. Before I knew it, I was sailing between the trees, over the snow packed bridge and into our yard. I finally came to a stop, raising my fist in the air, whooping it up and not believing that it was such a fast ride. Before I knew it, my friends were speeding down the hill one at a time, zipping through the curve, between the trees and over the bridge. Everyone raved about how fast and fun this new track was. By nightfall, I was pretty numb from the cold and exhausted as well. It was a fantastic day for the new bobsled track. I felt proud that I had built something that my friends and I had enjoyed all day long and went to sleep that night dreaming of how I could create something else that brought so much fun and satisfaction to not just me, but others as well. Maybe I could build a rocket ship that carried people or an underground city where we could live or……..

How not to build a hot rod

As a 16 year old boy, I made sure to buy the most recent Hot Rod magazine once it came off the press. This was to me an auto version of Playboy; those hot cars that I would dream about yet never come to own. Blown engines, dual quad carbs, hood scoops and Hoosier racing slicks. I lived in the country, far from the downtown area where the cool cars cruised up and down the boulevard on Saturday night. No, I lived in the area of Ramblers and Studebakers. I had to somehow get a car, any car. I had my drivers license, but no car. My parents had a station wagon and a VW. How would I get a project car that I could work on? I didn’t even have any experience working with cars. How could I learn? I know, I could go find a job at a gas station and learn there. Back in the day, they were called “service stations” because they actually serviced cars, not just sold gas that they didn’t pump. I set out to find a job at a service station. I walked all over the neighboring town and applied until I found a job at a Union 76 service station. It had 2 bays and 2 gas pumps. The owner was more than glad to find an eager young guy to pump gas and push a broom. I set out to make the inside of the service station office as clean as a whistle. The owner didn’t know what to say after I spent all day cleaning his front customer area office. “I have never seen this place so clean!” he exclaimed. His long time employee didn’t look on me so kindly as I was showing him up. After a few weeks of pumping gas and selling oil, I made it known that I wanted to buy a project car, one that I could take to the local 1/4 mile drag strip. Johnny, the long time employee that I had shown up heard that I was looking for a car and he figured that he could unload his 1964 Chevy BelAire wagon on me. “So, you are looking for a project car, huh?” he asked. “Yep, I want to hop it up to race at Suffolk dragstrip.” I said with more excitement than Johnny had seen in awhile. “Well, I have this great Chevy that would make a great project car, it’s right over here.” he said. We walked over to his faded green Chevy BelAire station wagon with a big dent in the rear side panel.

“Here it is. I know it doesn’t look like much, but it could look really nice.” he said with a wry grin. “I don’t know, it looks awful big.” I complained. “I tell you what, I will sell it to you for $350 and you can make payments to me. $50 down and it is yours!” he grinned. I thought for a few moments and started to dream of what I could make it look like, jacked up in the back, big racing slicks with painted flames down the side. I could even chop it and make it look really cool. “Ok, you’ve got a deal.” I said as Johnny shook my hand and smirked under his breath. All I could do was to dream of what this car was going to look like. I called my mom and said, “I don’t need a ride home, I bought a car!” “You did what???” she asked. “Yeah, Johnny here at the service station sold me his 1964 Chevy. I got a really good deal.” I explained. “Well, I hope so. Are you sure you can drive it home.” she asked. “Sure, it’s in really good shape.” I said, not having a clue about the engine. After work, Johnny handed me the keys and the title mumbling something about keeping a check on the oil. I took the keys to my new chariot and opened the door, after tugging on it to get it to open. I slammed the door, put the key in the ignition and cranked it over. After a couple of tries it came to life. It didn’t sound too powerful. I pulled out of the service station parking lot and onto the main drag heading home. Heading onto the highway, I thought that I would see what she could do. I floored it and the car sluggishly bucked, like an old horse not used to getting spurs in its flank, but finally it accelerated. It didn’t exactly throw me in the back of my seat, as a matter of fact, the transmission slipped into 3rd gear rather slowly and the old Chevy settled down to a quiet hum. I backed off when I hit 70, not wanting to buy a ticket as well as a car that day. At 6PM I pulled in front of my parents house. I parked the car and turned off the key, but the engine didn’t want to stop, it just kind of kept going, knocking and then stopping, then starting, knocking and stopping. Eventually it stopped this whole nonsense and cut off. I scratched my head as I went in to the house. “Come out and see my new car!” I said to my dad with extreme pride and joy. “Ok, what did you buy?” he asked. “Look, isn’t it a beaut!” I said as I posed with the car as if it were a brand new car off the showroom floor. “What the heck did you buy Gill?” my dad asked. “It’s a 1964 Chevy BelAire wagon.” I said with pride. “Did you check it out before you bought it?” he asked. “Sure I did.” I said as I realized that I hadn’t done any such thing. “Well, let’s look under the hood.” my dad said. I went into the car, pulled the engine hood release, went back to the front of the car and lifted the hood for the very first time. What I saw made my heart sink. I had a stinkin’ straight line 6 cylinder engine with a lousy 2 barrel carburetor. “Well, not much of an engine in there, but that’s good. You shouldn’t get hurt with those few ponies pulling this heavy hunk of metal.” he said with a grin. He shook his head and headed back into the house. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t bothered to even look under the hood. How was I going to hop up a 6 cylinder engine? Also, how was I going to race with an automatic 3 speed tranny? Now that I was home, I looked the car over really well. A huge dent in the rear side panel, carpet that was so thin that you could see the floorboard, a radio that was only AM and a drivers side door that made a loud creak and barely opened. What a piece of crap. I crawled under the car and noticed that the tires were almost bald and that the inspection sticker would expire at the end of the month. What was I going to do? I slammed the door and went into the house to pout.

The next day, I drove my wagon back to the service station that I worked at. I found Johnny under the hood of a car that needed a new alternator. “Hey, that car you sold me only has a 6 cylinder in it.” I complained. “Yeah, I know. What’s your problem?” he retorted. “I thought that it had an 8 cylinder engine in it, not a stupid 6 cylinder.” I said. “Well, you didn’t ask. It’s yours now!” he smiled and returned to his work. I walked away with my hands in my pockets, dejected, realizing that I had been taken and it was my own fault for not asking more questions BEFORE I bought the wagon.

This wasn’t going to get me down. I tried to figure ways to make this clunky station wagon a hot rod. I went to my boss and asked if he would sponsor my car so that I could take it to the 1/4 mile racetrack. He laughed and said, “You’ve got to be kidding! Sponsor that piece of crap? No way! You need a two door light weight car with a nice V8 in it.” he said. I knew that he was right. Nobody would sponsor a station wagon and especially a station wagon with a 6 cylinder in it. I hung my head low and started sweeping the garage bays. Boy, was I stupid or what. Not to mention that I also had an automatic transmission. Nobody raced with an automatic transmission.

I drove it to school the next day, but no heads turned in my direction to check out my new ride. I think they purposely didn’t look to save me the embarrassment. I went to my classes and tried to forgot what was waiting for me in the parking lot. Over the next few weeks I started thinking, I wonder if my boss would think about sponsoring me if I had a manual transmission in my car? Maybe it would have more get up and go rather than sliding through the gears as it did now. I went and talked to the junk man next door. He said that he had an old Chevy pickup in the back with a 3 speed manual tranny. He said that it should bolt up to the engine. He said, if you can get it out, you can have it. Armed with wrenches and rags, I crawled under the truck and with plenty of knuckles busted finally wrenched free the transmission, flywheel, disc and pressure plate from the old truck. “Well, it’s yours!” he said rather surprised that I had freed it from the truck way back in the junk yard. Wow, a 3 speed tranny. All I had to do was to swap the automatic transmission for the manual. I mean, how hard could it be?

I convinced my buddy Craig who didn’t know a wrench from a wench to meet me at the gas station after work to pull out the automatic tranny. My boss, before leaving for the night said, “Make sure you have this bay free so that we can work on paying customer’s cars.” I told him no problem as he drove away from the station. “Well, let’s get to work!” I told Craig as I scratched my head trying to figure out where to start. We drove the wagon onto the lift and raised it so that we could get underneath of it to see what was holding in the transmission. Back in those days, all we had were trusty Chilton manuals. I broke out the manual for my car and went step by step trying to figure out all of the bolts and linkage that connected the tranny to the engine. Time was NOT on our side. It was now 3 AM and we still did not have the transmission out. My boss was going to kill me if I didn’t have his bay free. At 4AM Craig and I both crashed in the office on a couple of old plastic chairs. We were exhausted and caught a little sleep. By 5AM I woke up with a start realizing we didn’t have much time to finish. What in the world was holding that transmission to the engine? Finally, I realized that there were bolts that held the torque converter to the flywheel and that these bolts were keeping the tranny from working loose. I had a small hole to insert a socket into and slowly turn the engine over to remove each bolt. At 7AM, we had all of the bolts loose and the transmission fell with a clunk onto the jackstand. My boss was pulling up to the station and his face turned beet red as it did when he wasn’t happy. “I told you to have this bay free!” he yelled. “Get that damn car off of my lift.” I looked at him rather helpless and he finally figured out that we really didn’t know how to get the transmission off of the jack as it was hoisted high in the air and it wasn’t the kind of jack that would lower enough to clear the bottom of the chassis. “Here, let me help you get this thing out of here.” he said. With a few of us holding the transmission, he removed the jack stand and then we were able to carry it off to the side. “Now lower that car and push it out of my garage!” he yelled as we pushed the car to the side of the parking lot. Transmission fluid and grease were all over the floor. What a mess we made. I got busy cleaning it up and asked my mom to pick me up so that I could go home and sleep. I took a quick shower when I got home and fell on the bed into a deep sleep.

Now the hard part began; how to install the new 3 speed manual transmission into the car. I talked to the mechanic next door to get some pointers. You need to install a different flywheel, buy a clutch disc and pressure plate along with a throw-out bearing. It sounded like Greek to me, but with a little time spent in the Chilton’s Manual, I had a plan.  I called my buddy Craig again, but this time he refused to answer my calls. I was on my own.

The next week, somehow I promised my boss that if he would let me use his bay again, I would have it free by 7AM. I guess he saw that puppy dog look in my eyes and relented. Fortunately a manual transmission is much lighter than an automatic tranny. I had purchased the necessary parts a week earlier. Changing out the flywheel, installing the pressure plate and clutch disc was actually pretty easy. Sliding the manual transmission up into the chassis and bolting it to the engine was much easier as well. By 5AM I had everything in place. The only issue was that I didn’t have a gear shift. By 7AM the next day, I had moved the car out of the bay and muscled it to the side of the parking lot. “Thank God that piece of junk is out of my bay!” my boss exclaimed as he drove up. I was relieved that I had been able to do the job by myself. I had to go to work, so no sleep for me today. I barely made it through the day and had to get a ride home once more.

A few days later, figuring that I had redeemed myself, I asked my boss “Can I use the garage again? I want to install a gear shift.” “Hell no!” he yelled. “Twice is enough. You figure out where you can work on that thing.” he pointed to my car in disgust. Where was I going to work on it? I had to have a lift. After searching around, I found that there was a new place that used to be a gas station. They were leasing out bays by the hour, as well as loaner tools. I reserved an evening and had the wrecker driver tow my car to the bay down the street. It was going to be another long night. I had purchased a Hurst Master Shifter with a spring loaded 2nd gear that threw the lever into 3rd with just a touch of a finger. It was chrome and beautiful, but there was much work to do to install it.

It was Friday evening. I had my bay reserved and I got to work. First, I had to drill a hole through the floor of the car where the gear shift would go. This was harder than I thought as I didn’t exactly have sheet metal tools. I had to drill almost 100 holes to make a square hold for the gear shift, but after an hour, I finally had a hole larger enough. Reading the instructions, I figured out how to install and adjust the linkage to the transmission. I had to test it out so that the throw of the shifter would engage the levers on the transmission in just the exact spot so that the gears would work. By 4AM, I had my Hurst Master Shifter totally installed, ready for action. I was so proud of getting to this point. I thought I had it all figured out, but then quickly realized, where was the clutch pedal. I had a 3 speed tranny, a shiny new gear shift and no clutch pedal. “Time over!” the manager said as I realized that I was going to have a hard time getting it out of the bay. I put it in reverse and hit the ignition just enough to move the car in gear, but not start it. I bumped it over and over until it was out of the bay. I wonder if……hmmmm. If I could start it in 1st gear, I could actually drive it home. I put it in first gear and made sure that nobody was around. I turned the ignition and the old 6 cylinder came to life after sitting for more than 2 weeks. It lurched forward, unstoppable and I hit the gas, just enough to keep it moving. I drove it for about a mile in first gear and then had the nerve or stupidity to pull it out of first and grind the gears into second without a clutch. What a God awful noise it made, but I was heading home. After about 15 minutes, I pulled into our driveway killing the engine and slamming on the brakes to keep from running into the garage door and taking out the laundry room. I was home. What a relief, but how was I going to install a clutch pedal??

I figured that if I could swap out the transmission and the shifter, then I could figure out how to install a clutch pedal. I went to the mechanic at the junk yard next door and asked him how to install a clutch pedal.  He explained, “Well, first you have to get a clutch pedal from one of my wrecks in the back lot and install it on your car. It’s not that hard, because you just take the whole assembly out and install one with a clutch pedal in it.

The hard thing is going to be installing the bracket on the frame in the engine compartment. Yours didn’t come with the bracket that is welded to the frame to allow for a clutch pedal.” He pulled off his hat and scratched his head thinking of how I was going to pull that one off. Well, I would just have to think of that one when I got there. I agreed to buy the necessary clutch linkage and pedals from a junker in his back lot. Taking all of the parts to my car that night, I removed the brake pedal and installed the clutch pedal and brake combo unit along with the linkage. Surprisingly, it bolted right up. I next installed the clutch spring that put resistance on the clutch pedal; because the other end wasn’t pushing against the fork in the pressure plate that disengages the clutch disc, the pedal just stayed to the floor, despite the big return spring that was supposed to pull it back. I crawled under the clutch area and took a look to see what was holding it down. I pulled lightly on the clutch pedal and suddenly it shot back up with amazing force hitting me squarely in the jaw with as much force as a heavyweight boxer. I started to see stars and realized that the clutch spring had done it’s job by bringing the clutch pedal back to where it should be, except my face had been in the way. I stumbled out of the car and rubbed my aching jaw. That was going to leave a mark! All I had to do now was to somehow find a bracket and have it welded on the frame of the car.

Searching around the junk yard, the same car that I had pulled the transmission, clutch pedal and linkage had the clutch pedal bracket on it’s frame.

I begged the mechanic that had been giving me tips the whole time to cut it off of the frame and weld it on mine. He finally relented and by 7PM, had welded it to my frame. I now was able to install the linkage and I had a working clutch pedal. I could finally shift gears without grinding them.  After work, I was able to drive my 3 speed station wagon home happily shifting gears with my Hurst Master Shifter.

Before I even had a chance to drive it to school I immediately thought of one last project to do on my beloved BelAire wagon. My next project was to change out the differential with a 4:11 racing rear end. It would allow me to run a 1/4 mile quicker.  For this, there were no junked cars with these special gears. I had to save up money to order one from the local Chevy dealership.  Finally, after several weeks I had enough money saved to order it. After a week, I received a call that it had arrived at the dealers parts department.

This was going to be another project that I had no idea what to do. I jacked up my car, crawled underneath and just started taking things apart. I dropped the drive shaft and unbolted the hogs head after spilling 90W gear lube all over my face. I yanked the hogs head out and dragged it from under the car. There were two gears, a pinion gear and a ring gear. It looked easy enough to me. By now, I had started to work at a gas station where the owners had a drag racing car that ran a quick 1/4 mile in a class called “E Gas”. It was a modified 67 Corvette. When they warmed it up before race day on Sunday, you could hear it from a mile away. I had hoped to gain more motor experience by starting to work with them. After school, I told them what I had bought and that I was going to change out the rear end gears. They told me, “You better make sure that you blue lead the gears and make sure to use the necessary shims to set it up properly or you will wear it out.” Blue lead? Shims? What the heck were they talking about. Didn’t you just swap out the gears? Well, I just swapped out the gears, couldn’t find blue lead or shims. I turned it over by hand and it looked and sounded good to me, so I just slapped it back in the car, reinstalled the drive shaft and hoped for the best! I was finally done. I was stoked!  All of this hard work was going to pay off. I called all of my buddies to tell them that I finally had a working car again and that I was going to pick them all up. What a great feeling I was going to have, carrying all of my buddies to school in my modified wagon. Sleep would come hard tonight. I was so excited about tomorrow.

I woke up promptly at 7AM and dressed quickly, wanting to give myself enough time to pick up my friends before heading to school. After breakfast, I jumped in my wagon, pushed in the clutch pedal, shifted the gearshift into neutral and cranked her up. Popping it into reverse, I slowly let out the clutch pedal. The disc plate engaged with the flywheel and the car began to move as all parts worked perfectly. I turned around in the cul de sac and headed towards my first friend, Billy. After picking up Billy, I headed for Craig’s house to pick him up. Craig jumped in the car and both Billy and Craig were happy for me that I had finally finished my project car. Craig had helped me pull out the automatic transmission from the car and knew how much work I had put into the conversion. Billy was just glad that he had a ride to school. I didn’t try and show off. I just wanted to make sure that everything was working and it was. After a few miles, I was almost passing the new gas station that I had started to work at when I heard this pinging noise. At first it wasn’t very loud, but slowly it got louder and louder. After a few minutes it sounded like a school bell ringing. I started to lose power. I had just enough momentum to pull into the gas station that I had just started working at. When I parked it, I heard a loud clunk. My boss came out and said, “What’s all that noise coming from your car?” I looked at him in disbelief and told him, “I have no clue. I just finished a 2 month project to get my car back on the road.” He was fully aware of all of the work I had done. He got down on his knees and looked under the car. “Oh, that’s not good.” he said. I crawled underneath and there was oil all over the pavement under the engine. “I’m sorry to say, but you have thrown a rod. Your engine is toast. See that big piece of metal sticking out of the oil pan? That’s a rod.” he said as if giving bad news to a patient.  All of my hard work had ended in this. I hadn’t even made it to school. I had only picked up my 2 buddies and was heading past my house, nowhere near school and now I would have to call my parents to take all of us to school. My head was hanging so low, I could almost lick my shoes. Why had the engine waited until I had finished all of this work before it gave up the ghost? What was I going to do? This was terrible.

My dad picked us up and took us to school. This was going to be a long day for sure. I couldn’t believe I was having to bum a ride to school.  During lunch I sat at a table with a motorhead called “Frog”. He had thick glasses and was short and stocky. I guess this is why people called him Frog. I told him of my dilemma, how I had spent all of this time converting my wagon from an automatic transmission to a 3 speed manual. He just shook his head feeling sorry for me. After awhile, his eyes brightened, “Hey,  I happen to have a ’59 Chevy 283 cu. in. engine in an old wagon that I was going to toss. I’ll let you have it for $50.” he said. Wow, a V8 engine.  I was excited! I could afford $50 and I would finally have a V8, not a stinking 6 cylinder with a thrown rod.  Maybe my boss would sponsor me if I had a V8! I told him that I would get the $50 and buy his motor. My head was spinning. Wow, a real V8 engine.

A couple of weeks later, I finally scraped together the money and went to pick up my motor. Frog helped me load it in the back of my wagon. “Oh, there’s just one thing, the engine mounts for a ’59 motor are in a different location than a ’64 motor. On a ’59, the motor mounts are on the front corners of the motor and yours are on the side. Guess you’ll have to fabricate something to make it fit.”  Frog said as he was slipping my hard earned $50 into his back jeans pocket. “Uh, ok.” I said, not knowing what I was going to do. I drove home with the heavy engine in the back of my mom’s wagon, trying not to let it slide around or slam through the tailgate onto the highway.

“Well, I bought an 8 cylinder.” I said as I walked into the house. “You did what?” my mom asked. “A friend of mine at school had an 8 cylinder engine that he sold me so that I could put it into my wagon.” I grinned. “So I bought it! It was only $50.” Such a deal I couldn’t pass up. I couldn’t wait to install this beast of an engine in my wagon. I could just hear it roar.

In shop class, my teacher and I fabricated 1/2″ plate steel plates to allow us to install the ’59 engine into my later year car. These plates were going to convert the side mounted motor mounts on my frame to the front motor mounts of the ’59 engine. I got them all ready to install, but I had never swapped out an engine. I didn’t have a motor lift nor did I have any more money to put into my project car. The engine sat in my parents garage on the floor and my car sat in front of our house for months and months and months. Finally my parents said, “You need to either fix your car or get it towed to the junkyard.” Towed to the junkyard? I couldn’t believe what they were saying. All of this work and money and they wanted me to just push it to the curb. What was I going to do? I had run out of steam, know how and money. After a few more months, they gave me the ultimatum, either I call the junk yard or they were going to call them. A week later, I made the dreadful call. “I have a 1964 Chevy wagon that I need to junk. Can you pick it up?” I said sadly to the junk yard owner. “Sure kid, no charge, just have the title in the car.” he said.

When I arrived from school that next day, my wagon was gone. It had gone to that great scrapyard in the sky. All of my work was history. It was a sad day. My parents must have felt bad, because a few weeks later, they gave me my dad’s old VW as a graduation present. I really appreciated it and had another car to figure out how to create a dune buggy out of. “If I chopped the fenders and installed some larger tires on it, I could create a really cool car.” I thought. I wonder if I could install a larger engine in it. I fell asleep that night, forgetting about my old wagon and beginning to dream of my new project. The wagon had been replaced by a new car. How quickly we forget.

Sent to the back of the bus

I’m no Rosa Parks, but my mom really made me feel like a second class citizen when I was 14. She would not let me sit in the front seat of her car, nor the back seat. I was banished to the very back cargo area of her station wagon, with the rear window wide open, almost hanging out of the window holding on for dear life as we rode down the highway back to our house. It all started at age 14. My wants came with dollar signs, for my never ending science and go-kart projects. My projects needed funding and I saw my parents as the banker and sponsor of my projects. I had come up with what I thought was a great idea, to be their groundskeeper. I would create these great spaces in our yard and they could supply the necessary plants and wages for me. I thought that it was a grand idea, but they felt otherwise. After a few more ideas on how they could hire me to be their employee, they decided that it was time for me to find some work. At age 14, a boy could only find work in more unconventional jobs, and one of these was farm labor. We had several farms around our town and one of the local farms had a farm market where we would pick up necessary items like milk and eggs. Matthews Farm was the name and my mom knew Mr and Mrs Matthews. I went to school with their two daughters and son. My mom came home one day and said, “If you want money, you will need to earn it. I’ve talked to Mr. Matthews and he has agreed to talk to you about working on his farm.” I was actually excited about the idea, seeing that my ideas to have my parents hire me was falling on deaf ears. The next day, my mom took me to Matthews Farm Market. Mr. Matthews was in the store as we found him near the checkout counter. “How are you doing there son? he said. “Fine sir.” I replied. “So, I hear that you would like to earn some money, is that true?” he asked. “Yes sir, I sure would!” I answered excited. “Ok, I do need some help tending our chickens. I’ll pay you $1 per hour. How does that sound?” he asked. “That would be great!” I said. My mind was already a-whirl thinking of all of the projects that I would be able to fund with the money. It was summer and I knew that $40 per week was enough to get my projects funded. It was 1969 and $40 would buy a 14 year old a lot of materials back then; of course even in 1969, $1 per hour wasn’t a whole lot of money, but it seemed like a fortune to me. School had ended several weeks earlier and I’m sure that my mom was ready to get me out of the house and now that I was pestering her for money every other day. I had projects that I needed to get started and she was looking for ways to solve both problems; to stop the constant pestering and to simply keep me busy. At the dinner table that night, I told my dad about my new job and all of the money that I was going to make. “That’s uh great, glad to hear it.” he said as he chuckled under his breath. He had been raised in the country and knew all about farm labor. Again, all I could think of was all of that green that I was going to earn. “Well, Mr. Matthews said you need to be there at 7AM, so make sure to set your alarm.” my mom reminded me. “I’ll be ready.” I said ready to start my first job in my new employed status. The only thing more green was how naive I was. Tomorrow would be the introduction to the work world, a world where I would never have a break in employment for the next 50 years. “Gill, you better get a move on or you will be late for your first day of work.” my mom shouted from down in the kitchen. I threw on my jeans, an old shirt and my tennis shoes. I headed down the stairs, grabbed a pop-tart and headed to the car. I sat in the front seat as my mom backed the car up and headed down our street. Mr. Matthews’ farm was only about 10 minutes away. Instead of turning into the farm market we headed down the lane between the two huge fields towards Mr. Matthews’ house. I had never been to his home, even though I went to school with his kids. We pulled up to the house and Mr. Matthews met us on the front lawn. “Good morning Gill, are you ready to work?” Mr. Matthews asked. “You betcha!” I replied excitedly. “Ok, well I think that you would work really well with our chickens.” Chickens. I imagined cute little chicks that I would throw feed on the ground as they peeped and pecked at the ground. What a great way to earn money. “Mrs. Trotman, Gill will be finished at 4. You can pick him up then.” Mr. Matthews reminded her. “Bye mom, see you then!” I said as I was eager to start earning all of that green. Mr. Matthews told me to follow him. There were all of these long building in this area of the farm. They looked to be a hundred yards long and were about 40 feet wide. I had no idea of why we were headed there, but figured all of the cute little chicks were inside waiting for me to give them their morning breakfast. As we got closer to the chicken houses, I began to get a whiff of this strange smell. It wasn’t the smell of nice dry sawdust that I imagined the chicks frolicking in, it was more like the ammonia that my mom used to clean the house with. Maybe it was a cleaner that they used to keep everything nice and clean. Mr. Matthews opened the door to the chicken house and my eyes grew wide as my mouth dropped open. There were rows of cages as far as I could see that ran all the way to the back of the chicken house. Each cage was attached to the other cage in a long row like a freight train with box cars attached as far as the eye could see. In between each row was a 4″ burlap belt that was moving toward the front of the chicken house where we stood. As soon as I realized what I was looking at, I covered my nose and my mouth. The smell of ammonia was not used for cleaning, it was the tons and tons of chicken poop that fell into a 12″ trough between each row of cages. I covered my mouth and nose. The smell made me gag and it was so strong that my eyes started to tear up as the ammonia smell overpowered my tear ducts. These were not cute little chicks. These were full grown hens, laying eggs in a egg laying factory. The combined sound of all of their clucking was so loud that Mr. Matthews had to yell to be heard over them. “Gill, what I want you to do is to clean up after these hens. Rufus will start the grader blade in a moment and scrape all of the chicken manure from the front to the very back into a hopper that is pulled behind the tractor. We take that manure and spread it over our fields as fertilizer. I shook my head to affirm, but had no idea how to clean up after 10,000 chickens. I could see Rufus in the back of the building flip a switch. As he flipped the switch, a grader like blade 8′ wide and 12” tall was tethered in the middle to a metal cable in the front of the blade and the back of the blade. The blade was perfectly made to fit into the rectangular pit where the chicken poop had fallen. The blade scraped the chicken clean as it made it’s way down the long row. I noticed that about 1/3 of the way down, there was so much chicken poop that it started to ooze over the side onto the cement walkway which was about 2′ wide between each long row of cages. I had never seen chicken poop before. Chicken poop wasn’t nice and dry, it was soft and wet. These chickens sort of just squirted their poop into the deep trough and 10,000 chickens I quickly saw could generate a hell of a lot of poop. “Now Gill, Rufus will be the one to operate the grader blade, your job is to come in here every day and use this scraper here, and to scrape the chicken poop that oozes on the walkway back into the trough. There are 3 walkways in each hen house and we have 4 hen houses. This should keep you busy each day. Welcome to the farm!” he smiled as he handed me the scraper and left. As soon as he left I said “Shit!” and quickly realized that I wasn’t swearing, just realizing what I would be handling 8 hours per day. The scraper was your standard 5″ metal scraper on the end of a wooden handle. I slowly proceeded down my first aisle scraping the wet chicken poop back into the trough. After about 50′, I couldn’t make out the sidewalk as the chicken poop totally covered the sidewalk. I scraped and scraped. I hadn’t brought gloves and after dropping the scraper a few times, quickly realized that I was going to have to get some gloves before tomorrow. My nice clean Converse tennis shoes were now sort of a gray color, covered with chicken  crap which made it very slippery. How could these chickens have pooped all of this in one day. By this time, I was on my first row, halfway down the middle of the long chicken house. I could barely breath, the smell was making me gag. The only green I was seeing was the color in my face as I started to feel rather light headed. I was going to have to do this all day. The smell was nauseating and the noise was deafening. I finally made it to the back of one of the rows and noticed some movement towards the front of the hen house. I made my way back to the front of the hen house to start on the next row and noticed an older black lady sitting on a stool in front of one of the rows of chicken cages. There was a square tray between two of the rows where she sat and the 4″ burlap belts ended at opposite corners near the front of this tray. She sat on her stool, with all of these plastic trays and metal racks behind her. Reaching under the tray, I saw that she flipped a switch that started the burlap belts rolling forward. On these burlap belts were all of the eggs that the hens had laid the night before. The cages were slanted forward so that when a hen laid an egg, it would roll onto the belt, waiting for the operator to turn on the belt to begin the collection process. As the eggs started to move onto the tray, she quickly took the eggs and placed them into the 30 egg tray. She quickly filled up the tray, placed it in the metal rack and grabbed another 30 egg tray. Her hands moved swiftly and precisely so as to not have to turn off the power to the belt and stop the flow of eggs to the tray. She was a swift machine with the dexterity of a dealer at a Vegas blackjack table. After a few minutes she looked up at me with a grin, then returned back to her task as to remind me that daylight was burning and I wasn’t moving. I took my scraper and started on the next row. After a couple of hours, I was done with house #1, 3 more to go. After the second chicken house, Mr. Matthews came to get me and told me to take lunch. “How’s it going?” he said with a smile, knowing that I had come not expecting to do what I had just spent all morning doing. “Well, it really stinks in there, but I think I’m doing pretty good.” I said with a shrug. “Good, now go eat your lunch. Make sure to get back to work in 30 minutes.” he said as he walked back to his pickup. “Yes sir.” I said as I went to sit under a tree and eat my sack lunch. As I sat down, I realized that I hadn’t asked where the bathroom was. How the heck was I going to wash my hands. At home I didn’t always bother to wash my hands before lunch, but I hadn’t been shoveling chicken poop all morning either. I wiped my hands on the cool green grass, trying to wipe my hands as clean as possible. I made sure to hold my sandwich with the wax paper wrapper and not my hands. How could I have been so naive as to think that I was going to play with cute little chicks in nice dry sawdust open areas? Lunch seemed like it only lasted 10 minutes before everyone started heading back to their different jobs. I stood up, stretched my back and picked up my disgusting metal scraper and headed to hen house #3. At 4PM, I had just finished scraping the wet gooey chicken crap back into the last trough in hen house #4 when I opened the door to see my mom’s Ford station wagon rumbling down the dusty farm lane towards the place where she dropped me off. As she pulled to a stop, I opened the door to get in the front seat where I had sat that morning. “What is that smell?” she yelled. “Oh my Lord, you smell like you fell into a sewer and you look like you fell into a sewer. What is all over your clothes and look at your shoes. It looks like you are wearing shoes made out of crap!” she said in disgust. “It’s chicken poop.” I said rather dejected.  “Well, you are NOT going to sit in my car looking and smelling like that!” she shouted. “Where am I going to sit?” I asked. “You can open the rear tailgate and sit in the cargo area with the window totally down. Make sure you hang your feet out the window.” she commanded. I opened the tailgate, climbed in and gingerly shut the tailgate and swung my feet out the back of the car. I couldn’t even stand my own smell. My mom turned the car around and headed down the dusty road. The dust came in the back of the car and stuck to my new gray chicken poop shoes. “Oh my Lord, I have never smelled anything so bad!” my mom yelled to the back as she covered her nose and mouth with her free hand. When we returned home, I was not allowed in the house. I had to go through the garage and shed my clothes. I had to run to my room in my BVD’s and put on some clean clothes. My mom made me take my clothes and shoes outside to the garden hose and rinse everything off. I then took a shower and tried to rid myself of the strong odor as well as the poop that had worked it’s way into my un-gloved hands. That night at dinner, my dad said with a grin, “Well, how did your first day of work go?” “It’s a pretty “crappy” job dad.” I said as I was almost laying down on the table exhausted and disgusted. “Well, it will be good for you.” he said as he started to laugh. He knew what I was going to face the night before and felt sort of a kinship to another farm laborer. As the summer wore on, I slowly moved my way from chicken poop scraper to egg collector. After many weeks, I slowly acquired the skill necessary to collect eggs off of the burlap belt without having to stop it. When needed, I still had to scrape chicken poop, but I had passed the necessary initiation and didn’t quit. It was a long hot summer, but I gained a lot of respect for farmers. Now, I am a dad and have seen my kids take on their first summer jobs. They had all heard this story, but it gave me an appreciation that no matter what I do for a living, I won’t have to take shit from anyone!    

Plan B

We thought we had it all figured out. VA summers are hot. We love the outdoors, not like backpacking and tent camping love the outdoors, but like sit outside with a glass of wine love the outdoors. Colorado is a dry heat. We had a manager for our VA based business that said “you need to open a CO division. ” That’s all we needed to hear. Colorado was the promised land. It’s where life was cooler and  visions of sugar plums danced in our heads. We could surely put our business that we had worked so hard at in the hands of a passive aggressive employee/manager. Anyway, we were going to duplicate our operation in Colorado. Sure, that would be easy. Off we went, sold the house loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly. Swimming pools? Movie stars? The first two years were great. Getting used to the snow and the winds of Estes Park was 180 degrees from what I had experienced, but surely we could do this. We bought a small office space and put out ads to attract employees to the beauty of Estes Park. We waited a week, then two. Nothing. Hmmm, why weren’t people replying to our help wanted ad? We found a few retired people, but after a couple of weeks, they decided they really loved being retired more than re-entering the work force. We finally found a web developer that lived about 45 minutes away. He whined the entire time about the drive to work, so when we had the bright idea to open a retail store down in the valley, our one employee jumped at the chance and moved to our retail store location. My son followed suit and moved to the local retail store as well. Well, it’s just you and me kid. Back to Laurie, me and the dog. Certainly people would want to drive an hour to work in the beauty of Estes Park, then drive an hour back home. We lived in Estes, so it was only a 12 minute drive for us and housing, at least year round rentals were hard to find in Estes Park. Whoops, guess we should have researched that. Meanwhile, back a the ranch, there was a storm a brewin’ , but it took us a couple of years to catch on. We were sure that we had made the right decision in our hiring as well as our decisions as of late. Our “trusted manager” was enjoying his new found lack of accountability. He decided that he shouldn’t have to work 8 hours per day, so he just worked 6, then 5, then 4. When I would call the office, his standard line was “everything is going fine.” I believed it for two years. I wanted to believe it. You see, if I had of listened to my gut, my gut would have said, “you better keep an eye on this guy”. You’ve heard, “While the cats away, the mice will play.” He took that to an entirely new level of which I will not elaborate, but when we were approached by our staff as to what was going on, well, let’s just say, he is no longer with us. This was the beginning of the end. The end of my living in la-la land mentally. All of a sudden, the past 2 years of what had been brewing back in VA started to come to light. How could I have been so blind? Well, we will just hire another manager. In our attempt to want to right the ship again, we threw in a manager, trained her for a couple of weeks, then went off again to Colorado. Guess what, she didn’t work out. Surprise, surprise. It’s been almost 2 years since the firing of that first manager. We didn’t re-hire another manager. We managed it remotely from Colorado, but it slowly became evident that this was not working either. The hard decision to sell our home in Colorado and move back to Virginia was not easy, but that is where we are. We can’t just let the business implode so that we can stay in Colorado. I really don’t want to stand on the street corners of Boulder holding a cardboard sign. We must do what we must do. I am sure that I will learn a lot more in the coming months. There are lessons to be learned. I can’t afford to do this all over again. I must do more research, pray and not let my decisions be run by my emotions. We all have Plan B’s in our lives. This just happens to be like Plan K for me!

Rocketboy

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” This sentence is one that I, like most Americans remember. Most people my age remember where they were when those words were transmitted from the moon. My mom was in an art show in Va Beach, VA, and my family was in a hotel room watching with the rest of America as Neil Armstrong said these words.

As a young boy, I idolized the likes of Robert Goddard who began to experiment with liquid fueled rockets followed by captured German scientist Wernher von Braun who eventually developed the vehicles that delivered man to the moon. These were my heroes. If it were not for them, we would have never made it to the moon, at least not in 1969. I wanted to be a rocket builder. I started with Estes model rockets. I combined 3 of their most powerful “D” engines as well as built the rocket to hold this engine cluster. At that time, you were supposed to only use one “D” engine in a rocket. I had to build my own launch pad in order to hold the rocket prior to launch, but after that successful launch, I knew that I would need to develop my own rocket fuel if I ever wanted to launch a mouse into the stratosphere. After building the most powerful model rockets, I soon became bored with these toys. The model rockets were simply not powerful enough to do much more than launch a few insects a few thousand feet into the air. I set out to build a really big rocket, but a rocket of this size was not sold in a hobby shop. I would have to build this rocket from scratch as well as the rocket motors to power it. I needed to find some cylinders that were large enough to house my rocket motors as well as form the body of the rocket. I found two cardboard carpet tubes at a carpet store, one smaller than the other so that one would be a first stage and the second smaller tube would be the second stage. I formed a nose cone and fins, then attached these to the rocket. This was going to be one tall rocket! Each tube was 6′, and when I put one on top of the other, I had to add the nose cone from the second floor window of our house due to it being now 12′ tall. I constructed a battery operated device that was going to ignite the second stage of the rocket, once the first stage was expended. All I needed was rocket fuel for my creation. Liquid fuel, the stuff that NASA used was out of the question as my dad, for tools, owned a hammer, screwdriver and a hammer, and at age 15, I couldn’t afford all of the metalworking tools needed, much less the precision instruments! I was going to have to rely upon solid rocket fuel. For this, I would need Ammonium Nitrate, the main ingredient, for the oxidizer. Upon research, I found that this is also used as a fertilizer. I had my dad order a 50# bag of it. He got strange looks when he went to order it, even back in 1969. The only issue that I had with this form of Ammonium Nitrate was that it was in pellet form and it turned to wet mush when I tried to grind it.
I would have to dry it out. I took some of it and poured it onto one of my mom’s cookie sheets, then put it in the oven for about 30 minutes. Well, the smell of fertilizer cooking in the oven was more than she could stand and this was put to an end very quickly as well as ruined her cookie sheets. I was able to dry out enough to make a small batch of fuel, combining it with sulfur and charcoal. The next step was to make a test apparatus for the fuel, to be able to test it in some sort of rocket motor. I found a copper pipe. I packed the rocket fuel into the copper pipe, but for the blast to be concentrated, it would have to pass through a nozzle. The only material that I had to build a nozzle was copper sheet metal. I formed a nozzle out of this, then soldered it to the copper pipe. Everything was ready to test. I hooked up the rocket motor to a test stand I had made out of 2×4’s and pipe clamps. I then took some fuse that a chemistry friend had sold me, inserted this through the nozzle so that it touched my rocket fuel. I lit the fuse and waited. How powerful would this be? Would it explode or light the field on fire? Suddenly, the lit fuse reached the rocket fuel, and it started to shoot out flames from the nozzle, but the heat of the fire soon liquified the solder that was holding the nozzle and tube together, so that the nozzle fell out on to the ground, with the rocket fuel following in one big clump of burning residue that would not launch a mouse much less an ant. I quickly realized I did not posses the tools nor the skills necessary to build a rocket motor. My 12′ rocket, was not going to hit the stratosphere, much less get off the ground. My dad used the rest of the Ammonium Nitrate to fertilize his lawn. It’s amazing how green a lawn will get with 100% Ammonium Nitrate! As I sulked about my failure to build and launch my rocket, an idea struck me as I peered outside my bedroom window looking into the back yard. My dad built my brother and I a really cool tree house. It was built around an old oak tree in our back yard. It looked like a rocket as he had covered it in cedar shake shingles and it had a nose cone shaped roof.

There was an entrance underneath the tree house in the form of a trap door. Over the years my brother and I had all kinds of fun in this tree house.  Suddenly, I had an idea. The tree house could be a great mock up of a manned space capsule mission. If I wasn’t going to go into space, I could at least pretend. I hurried to my desk. The bulletin board over my desk, full of my childhood heroes, Walt Disney, Wernher von Braun and Robert Goddard were looking on, encouraging me to dream. I quickly drew out my plans and material list of what would be needed to build the perfect mock up space capsule. The inside of the tree house would need to look like the interior of a space capsule. It would need to have that shiny metal look with lots of switches and lights that could be turned off and on. For the mission, we would stay in our space capsule for several days to experience the feeling of what the Gemini astronauts had to deal with. This was going to be a Gemini mission, so I needed a “volunteer” to be my Gemini partner. I had a friend in crime, Billy who would be my fellow space traveler. We lined the walls and ceiling of the inside of the tree house with aluminum foil. We used all of my mom’s aluminum foil plus several other rolls to complete the project. I think I asked first. Next would be adding all of the necessary switches and lights. I made a trip to Radio Shack to purchase all kinds of switches, lights and battery holders. I soldered up all of the connections into a plywood panel, which I then covered with aluminum foil, then placed it into the interior wall of the tree house. How to tell which switch did what? A quick run to the garage, in my mom’s art supplies I found a Dymo label maker. I created all sorts of labels for my space capsule, like ‘Escape Tower Ignition’, ‘Parachute Deployment’ and a bunch of other names that I felt we would need. Each switch turned on a different colored light, and we would have a manual that would instruct us as to what to do when. The next task was, how were we going to look like astronauts? We didn’t have access to space suits, but we did have silver colored winter coats, along with black rubber boots. For our helmets, we simply made these out of cardboard and more aluminum foil. We used plastic for our visor. We noticed that when the astronauts went from the trailer to the launch pad, they had portable oxygen units and hoses that fed their space suits. They carried these as they walked to the space craft. They looked a lot like hair dryer units and guess what, each of our moms had one of these hair dryer units that had a case with a handle on it. We took the loose end of the hose and connected this to our coats and the other end was connected to the hair dryer case. (oxygen supply unit)oxygen supply This is what it was supposed to look like. As you see, it looks like a hair dryer! We would need food for our simulation. How to get food to us, without it going bad was going to be a trick as we didn’t have any space food that was stored in toothpaste style containers and squeezed out for consumption like the real NASA astronauts had. We would need some sort of delivery system. On one side of the tree house that faced our home, there was a window. I attached a pulley on the outside of the window, then a pulley under my bedroom window, which faced the tree house, I mean space capsule. I then ran a thin rope with a box to carry the food between the house and the space capsule. I nominated my brother for this task. He was going to be Mission Control. He liked the idea of being Mission Control, so he signed up for the job. Everything was set. Since it was summer and warm enough to sleep in the space capsule, Billy’s parents agreed to let him sign up for this educational endeavor for the several days that it would take to complete our mission. We had our space capsule outfitted, check. We had our food supply and delivery system that would be manned by my brother at Mission Control, check. We had our space suits and oxygen supply units, check. Now we were ready to experience deep space. “How many days are we going to spend in there?” asked Billy. “I’m thinking 3 days should do it.” I replied. “Uh, well, that’s fine, but what happens when we have to go?” Billy inquired. “What do you mean, ‘when we have to to'” I asked. “You know, when we have to pee and take a poo.” he said with an incredulous look that he even had to explain this. “Oh crap!” I said as I finally grabbed hold of what he was saying. “Exactly, ….crap!” Billy shouted. Hmm, that was a real dilemma for sure, we couldn’t stay up there for 3 days without having to go to the bathroom. “I’ve got it!” I exclaimed. We will do our business in Baggies, use a twist tie, then drop them down the bottom entry hatch door for my brother to pick them up and flush them down the toilet. “Yeah, I guess that would work.” Billy said. We walked into the house to find my brother, Mission Control, and told him what our plan was for waste removal. “You have got to be kidding! There is no way that I am going to handle your pee or your poo for you. I quit!” Drew said and off he stomped mumbling the whole way about my sanity and other concerns for my mental well being. “Well, if we don’t have anyone to take care of our business, then I guess the mission is scrubbed.” I said to Billy. “Yeah, I guess so.” Billy said as he somehow seemed to be in a hurry to go home. As I sat in my mock up space capsule, I realized that the only mission I could have would be to pretend to be John Glenn and circle the earth 3 times in 5 hours. I went from a Gemini mission to a Mercury mission in 5 minutes as seemed to be what happened to me most of the time. Typically I had been able to enlist my friends for all sorts of projects, but when the challenges appeared, I ended up finishing them solo. Oh well, I didn’t mind. For me, it was the journey and what I learned and discovered along the way. I would find another adventure to embark upon soon as I never seemed to run out of ideas. “Gill, where is all of my aluminum foil!” my mom yelled out the back door as I quickly ducked around the corner and headed for the woods. Another adventure was soon to begin in the jungles of Bennetts Creek.

Black Like Me

I have had my share of dirty jobs over the years. Working on a farm, you get dirty and stinky, but at least you can wash it off at the end of the day. When I had just gone through a tough time in my life at around 22 years of age, recently divorced and out of work, I decided to try something different. I spotted an ad in the newspaper for a fossil fuel analyst. It looked like a rather lofty position and it didn’t really require any experience which I thought was odd. I called the phone number and scheduled an interview. The location was a small white building in Norfolk VA, off of Monticello Ave. I entered the building and was met by a gentleman in a dark blue lab coat. His name was Pat, a mild mannered guy that asked me a series of questions about how detailed I was and the generic type of questions. I really didn’t get a chance to look at the lab. He thanked me and I left not thinking that I would hear from him. In a few days, the phone rang and it was Pat. “We interviewed several people and decided that we would like to hire you.” he said. “Great, when would you like for me to start?” I asked. “Next Monday at 8AM” he replied. It was that simple. I reported to work the following Monday and was assigned a navy blue lab coat. This is pretty cool I thought, no experience and now working in a lab. Pat showed me around the lab and introduced me to his assistant Kevin. The lab equipment was rather industrial I thought. There were several triple beam balances under glass covers and other strange pieces of equipment under a sort of large range hood. The whole lab had this whole smell like an old freight train yard. “What do you test here.” I inquired. “We test coal.” Pat said. “Coal? Why do you need to test coal?” I asked rather naive. “Well, coal comes in all kinds of different grades; steam coal, coal for making steel and a host of other uses. Coal has a certain amount of sulfur in it. If it has too much, then it isn’t good for certain customers who may need coal with a low sulfur content. Customers overseas buy coal by the rail car and each car has to be tested to be sure that it is of the type that they agreed to pay for. It’s sort of like making sure that the diamond you buy is of the highest quality and not one with occlusions and discolorations. One train car load of coal can cost easily $100,000, so the buyers are willing to pay us to test each car load that they buy.” Pat explained. “Boy, I never thought of coal like a diamond. I thought all coal was the same, just black chunks.” I admitted rather shyly. After the nickel tour, I was taken into the back room where there were small glass containers of coal grains, about the size of ground coffee. All of the containers had labels with numbers on them. I was taken to a coffee mill and told that I would be hand grinding the coal into an even smaller powder. Pat had handed me over to Kevin to show me how to do my first task. “You take this bottle that has a sample of coal and pour it into this old coffee grinder.” It was a square wooden coffee grinder that I had seen in antique stores. “You grind this by hand until you have ground the entire bottle, you then pour it back into the bottle and place it over here for the lab.” Kevin instructed. I began my work, grinding and grinding and grinding until my arm was about to fall off. Boy was this antiquated or what! This was my job for the first few days. After Kevin and Pat felt as though I had payed my first dues, I was taken into the lab. The odor I had smelled when I first arrived was explained to me. It was coal being heated up and turning into coke. “This is the Geisler Plastometer. This device slowly heats up the coal in a small metal crucible which is inserted into a container of molten lead. A stir rod which turns, as the coke starts to form, stops the stir rod and the point at which this happens is recorded hear on this graph that is attached to the plastometer.” Kevin explained. Your job is to clean the old coal that has turned into coke from these small metal crucibles.” Kevin said. Image The container that had the coked coal in it was hard to remove. They gave me a knife and then I was to polish it with a round wire brush. Well, this was my second chance to pay my dues. Now I was beginning to see why this job did not require any experience. After a few weeks of grinding coal and cleaning out metal coked crucibles, I finally met the manager, Mr. Shepard. Mr. Shepard was an old school kind of guy who felt that unless you paid your dues and did so with a great attitude, you were not worth talking to. I didn’t see much of Mr. Shepard. I wanted to pass all of these duties so that I could do some of the other tests and not just grind and clean. I actually enjoyed working in the lab, even if it was as a lowly lab rat. One day after arriving at work, Kevin told me not to put on my lab jacket. “They are short a man to pulverize coal in the collection building and they are looking for a “volunteer”. A “volunteer” I thought. That’s a strange way of assigning you to another building. “You see, Mr. Shepard believes that you should jump at the chance to volunteer to cover in the pulverizing room. It’s rather strange, but he doesn’t assign people, he offers the “opportunity”.” Kevin explained. “What does the job entail?” I asked rather curious about why “volunteering” was such a big deal. “Well, you are in this small room, you wear a respirator, three layers of clothes and coat your hands and face with Vaseline.” Kevin said, looking at me for a reaction. “Vaseline? What the heck? Three layers of clothes. What kind of job is this that someone would want to “volunteer”?” I asked with a shocked and rather incredulous look on my face. “Well, it’s Mr. Shepard’s way. Do you want to “volunteer”?” he asked. I looked at him, still shocked, but didn’t reply. He waited for my answer long enough to where I was starting to feel uncomfortable. “Sure, why not.” I finally said. “Well, go in the locker room and make sure to put on three layers of clothing and grab a respirator. I’ll meet you outside.” Kevin said with a grin. After putting on three layers of clothing and grabbing the respirator, I met Kevin outside. It was June and already 90 degrees with about 80% humidity. Three layers of clothing wasn’t feeling good right now. “Let’s go to the collection building and I’ll show you what to do.” Kevin said as we walked down the street headed for a big metal building. In the building were a bunch of guys standing around these larger containers of coal. I think that Rufus was black, but I wasn’t sure because of all of the coal dust all over his face and hands. “Rufus, this is Gill, he will be your backup to pulverize.” Kevin said. I waved a hello to Rufus as Kevin escorted me into this tiny dark room. The room was about 8′ x 8′ and was lit by this small fluorescent fixture on the ceiling. There was coal dust all over the walls, ceiling and the floor. The ceiling was only about 7′ tall and there was NO air conditioning. On a small workbench was a machine that looked like a sausage grinder to me. “Well, it’s time to grease you up like a pig at a county fair.” Kevin said with a smile. “Take a big handful of this Vaseline and smear it over all of your hands and face. If you don’t put it on thick enough, the coal dust will actually soak into your pores and it will be next to impossible to get it out until it finally decides to come out with your perspiration.” he continued. “Now, take this cotton face mask and cover your face as well as put on these rubber gloves. Next, put on the respirator.” he concluded. I could barely breathe. I felt like my face and hands were coated like a baby’s bottom and with three layers of clothing, in a metal shed with the sun baking the roof, the sweat started pouring off of me, soaking my clothes one layer at a time and I hadn’t even started to work. “The first thing that you do is to take one of the sample bottles here and place it next to the pulverizer. Then, take this air hose and blow out all of the remaining coal dust from the previous sample that is in the pulverizer.” Kevin instructed me as he took the air hose and blew out the pulverizer with high powered air. The blast of air blew the coal dust all throughout the small metal shed. Where just a few seconds before, I was able to see everything in the room, the blast of coal dust created a thick black fog that made it so dark that I could not even see my hand in front of my face. The fluorescent light was no help whatsoever. It took a good 30 seconds for the air to clear before I could make out the glow of the fluorescent light. “Now that you have the pulverizer clean, pour the new sample into the grinder and flip this switch. It will grind the coal into the size of granules that we need in order to test it. After you grind it, pour the newly ground coal back into the sample bottle and place it in the completed bin here. That’s about it. Shampoo, rinse and repeat. Have fun!” Kevin said as he walked out the door and closed it securely. What had I gotten myself into? Look at all of those sample bottles. Oh well, I better get started. I can’t imagine what that fine coal dust would have done to my lungs if I had not worn the respirator. The sweat was running down my back as I pulverized the next sample. It must have been over 100 degrees in that small room. After 3 hours, I was finally finished with all of the samples. I opened the door and the first thing that I did was to rip off the respirator and the cotton face mask. Next, I pulled the latex gloves off of my hands. The perspiration that my hands had produced filled the fingertips of the latex gloves. “Hey brother, looks like you have joined the hood!” Rufus yelled across the building. I had no idea what he was talking about. The walk back to the lab seemed like a long one. I was drenched in sweat and still wearing my 3 layers of clothing. I walked in the back door to the changing room and slowly took off the first two layers. When I went into the bathroom to wash my hands, I looked in the mirror. I looked like a raccoon. Except where the respirator was on my mouth and nose, my entire face was black as coal, no pun intended. No wonder Rufus said what he did. I took the hand soap and tried to clean my face and hands. I looked in the mirror, not a bit had been removed. What the heck I thought! How will I ever get this stuff off. I walked into the lab and Kevin looked up from what he was doing and just smiled like a Cheshire cat. “Welcome to the club!” he exclaimed. “How in the heck do I get this stuff off?” I asked. “Well, the only thing we have found that works is to go home and scrub yourself with Lava soap.” Kevin shared. Kevin told me that I was done for the day and to go home to clean up. Now, I knew why the guys from the collection department looked the way that they did when they would come into the lab. Did these guys get all of this stuff off of them each day I wondered. After I got home, the first thing I did was to take off my coal colored clothing and shoes. I was surprised to see that the coal dust had actually gone through my socks into my feet. I turned on the water to the tub and took the rough bar of Lava soap and started to scrub with a wash cloth. After about 30 minutes, I figured that I had gotten most of it off, but when I looked in the mirror, I realized that I had only touched the surface. I scrubbed and scrubbed with that rough soap until my skin was red. It took almost 3 days for all of the coal to work it’s way out of my pores. Kevin explained that I should have put the Vaseline around my eyelids as well, the more the better. Eventually, I was able to actually perform some real experiments in the lab. I actually created several automatic procedures and tools to eliminate the archaic way that they cleaned crucibles and ground the coal. I configured a motor on a stand that connected to the coffee grinder so that this process was not performed by hand any longer. If there was a way to automate or simplify processes, I would invent something that would help. Mr. Shepard liked to do things the old fashioned way, but Pat and Kevin love my inventions. From time to time, they still needed “volunteers” to pulverize coal and found out that if I did not “volunteer” first, then I would be seen as a loafer and would be sent back to cleaning equipment. It was a hard and dirty job, but I did enjoy working in the lab and coming up with ways to improve our daily tasks. I also realized that a job title, fossil fuel analyst, means more to people than what they actually do. Eventually I had to leave because they barely paid more than minimum wage at the time and I got tired of going home to eat potted meat sandwiches, which was all that I could afford at the time. Titles are nothing I realized, it’s what you do that matters and if what you are doing makes a difference in others lives.

Thomas the toy RV

We purchased, or should I say, I purchased a 1976 GMC Mini RV. I don’t want to place this on Laurie. I can’t pass up a good deal. $2,300 for a running RV. I mean come on. Being the proud owner, I drove it home in the rain. My first warning that I hadn’t gotten such a good deal was that the wiper blades were dry rotted. Our drive up the canyon resulted in the motor cutting off driving up the canyon. The carb had a vapor lock and it wouldn’t start again until it cooled off. Time to take it to a mechanic. Well, back and forth to the mechanic we went. After some more work, here and there, we decided to take a trip to Glacier National Park, quite a long trip. First, we took it for a dry run to our local Jellystone campground and tested all of the appliances, hooked everything up, cooked dinner and slept the night. Everything seemed to work so, off we went, heading to Montana 2 days later.  We weren’t even an hour from home when we heard a loud flopping sound from the rear of the RV. I told Laurie to pull over.  What we found was that we had lost an entire tire tread. We were close to an exit, so we drove it off the Interstate and found out that there was a tire center very close by. The salesman from the tire store said, “Whoa, 16.5″ tires. They stopped making those rims in the 80’s. Wow, based upon the date code on your tires, these tires were made in 1997! I wouldn’t drive 10′ with these tires, they are dry rotted.” He didn’t have these rare tires, so he called around and finally found some tires in Denver. “Well, I can have them here in a couple of days.” What were we going to do now, we had an RV full of food and we were only an hour from home. We told him our dilemma. He had one of his employees drive all the way to Denver and pick them up. 4 hours later, we were back on our way. God had saved our hides, both with only a rear tire blowing out and by the generosity of the tire center manager having one of his employees go to Denver for us. Within the hour, we had crossed the Wyoming state line. Two hours later, we hit our first RV site. We weren’t far from home, but we we had at least crossed the state line. The next morning, we headed on to Montana and we found out that our little RV didn’t like hills. We decided to come up with a name. I thought of Thomas the train and his “I think I can” attitude. This is how we felt every time we approached another hill. Another RV park, another 8 hours of driving. We finally made it to Glacier National Park and had a great time visiting. We took a helicopter ride over the Glaciers and saw parts of the park that we wouldn’t have been able to see by just hiking or driving through the park. Next, we headed to Yellowstone National Park. We stopped at a rest stop and another driver who had been following us told us that we had no brake lights or turn signals! I said, “You have got to be kidding!” I knew that we didn’t have rear running lights, but knew that we had brake lights and turn signals. What were we going to do, we still had plenty of miles to drive. I went to a NAPA store and purchased wiring and parts to try and repair the lights. The NAPA guy told us of a mobile RV mechanic. We went to his location and he had a cancellation for the next morning. Within an hour and a half, he had the running lights, brake lights, turn signals and reverse lights up and running. Thank God again. Before we left Yellowstone, I purchased some roof sealant tape because we had lost a big section of roof sealant tape on the drive. I figured that I would apply it at a later date. Driving out of the park, I noticed that even though there was only 10% chance of rain, the skies looked ominous. We pulled over and I applied the sealant tape to the roof. We started heading down the road and within the hour we were in a full downpour. Thank God we were able to purchase the sealant tape and stop to apply it before it was too late. Day 8 we finally returned to Estes Park Thomas, the toy RV had made it almost 2,000 miles; probably more consecutive miles that it had ever done. Up and down hills. Sometimes only hitting 40 miles per hour up hills. God went before us the whole way. It was a journey in faith for me, learning to trust that He will take care of us.  

Launch to the moon

The year was 1969. The Apollo program was in full swing and I felt as though I was a part of it. I was 14 and I envied the astronauts. I wanted to go up in space, but first I needed training. How can a 14 year old get training to be an astronaut? How would I stand the confines of a space capsule for 4-5 days? I had an idea! My dad had built us a tree house around a tree. It had 8 sides and a pointed roof. It almost looked like a space capsule. I could use this for my “training mission”. A friend of mine, who was crazy enough to sign up for this adventure, agreed to submit himself to this training mission. He and I came up with the idea to use the capsule/tree house as a training environment. First, we had to make the inside look as if it were a capsule. I found a roll of aluminum foil in my mom’s kitchen. Armed with a staple gun and aluminum foil, I methodically lined the inside of the tree house walls and ceiling with the aluminum foil; of course one roll wasn’t enough. After 5 more rolls of aluminum foil, the inside of the capsule was almost complete. All we needed now would be loads of switches, buttons and lights. Using a soldering iron, wires and 12 volt batteries, I built a control panel that didn’t do anything but it sure did light up. Ok, the interior was complete, but how to get food to us? We didn’t have any of that cool space food in toothpaste tubes. All we had was Tang, the official drink of astronauts. it was time for another invention. I rigged up a pulley and rope system between our house and the window, I mean space observation area, of the capsule. My little brother Drew agreed to put food into the box of the pulley conveyor and send it to us daily. The big day had arrived. We wanted to look the part so we took our mom’s hair dryers, which in those days was a box that had a hose connected to it and then a bag that you put on your head. This looked almost exactly like what the astronauts carried into the space capsule. My buddy Bill and I donned jump suits and modified hair dryers, to supply needed oxygen and climbed up through the bottom of our tree….I mean space capsule ready for lift off. We were ready to begin our training mission. As we got settled in to our modified lawn chairs, we switched on our control panel to begin launch sequence when it occurred to us that we had not thought of a way to get rid of our food, rather our waste. Another great idea. I told my little brother that we would do our business in baggies and drop them out of the bottom of the space capsule escape hatch door for him to do as he pleased. He said, “You have got to be crazy!!. I didn’t mind making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sending them to you on the pulley transport but I REFUSE to get rid of your refuse! I quit.” For some reason, my mom and dad didn’t fancy the idea either. My buddy Bill and I looked at each other. Our mission had been scrubbed.

Nike Missile Site

It was 1973 and the Cuban Missile Crisis had ended. N-63 was the designation for the Nike Site in then Nansemond County, VA. The abandoned missile site had long been forgotten. A barbed wire fence enclosed the entire complex. It was still federal property, but the abandoned Army complex was a ghost town. I remember when my parents would drive down the road by the site, seeing the missiles raised from their underground hideaways, poised to strike as the army personnel performed their weekly preparedness exercises. I had always been intrigued by the site and as a senior in high school, Billy and I had this great idea. How about checking out the site late one night? What was inside of these missile silos that had been long abandoned? The idea started to gel in our minds until we just couldn’t stop thinking about it. We decided to take the plunge and commit to explore it. Telling our parents about our plan was out of the question. We would have to do this in subterfuge mode. It would have to be late at night when everyone was asleep. Billy lived farther away from the site than I did, so the plan was that he would come by my house and wake me up. My bedroom was on the second floor. How was he going to let me know that he was outside, ready for me to join him in our adventure? We had to think of a quiet plan. Early that day, we used a roll of heavy duty twine. We threaded it out my second floor bedroom window, down the side of the house and behind the shrubs to await Billy’s tug to action. The plan was to tie the end of the twine to my big toe. When Billy arrived, he was to wake me by “gently” tugging on the twine to wake me. I was all set. The twine was tied to my big toe, hanging out of the covers. Suddenly I heard one of my parents come upstairs, calling my name. I removed the twine from my toe and temporarily tied it to the foot board of my bed. I went to see what my folks wanted, stopped by the bathroom and finally jumped into bed. I was so excited about our impending adventure, slowly falling into a deep sleep. There was only one snag, I had forgotten to retie the twin to my big toe. It was still attached to the bed. Around 1 AM Billy came to my house, outside of my window two stories down and scrounged around until he found the end of the twine. He “gently” tugged on the twine …..nothing. He sort of “gently” tugged again on the twine……nothing. Next, he not so gently yanked on the twine and heard a clunk. He didn’t think anything of it so he hauled off and yanked and yanked on the heavy duty twine. He was lifting the bed off of the floor, banging it against the wall. Lights went on and my dad burst into the room asking, “What the hell is going on!” I acted dumb at first, then realized that I would have to think fast. I told him that I had gotten out of bed to go to the bathroom and had fallen over my desk chair. Fortunately, he went for it, probably wanting to go back to bed himself. NOW, I was awake! I waited for my dad to go back to bed before I crawled out the window, onto the porch roof an scrambled to the ground. Billy was waiting for me and said, “What the heck was all of that noise?” I said, “You were lifting the bed off of the floor! Enough chit chat, let’s get going.” We were off.  It was about a mile to the Nike Site. Billy had brought two flash lights for us and we needed them as it was a pretty dark walk to the abandoned site. Once we arrived to the site, we looked around to make sure the coast was clear. The only thing that separated us from the missile silo was an eight foot chain-link fence and a few strands of barbed wire. The coast was clear so we made a run for the fence from our hiding places at the edge of the field. Scaling the fence was a pretty easy task, but maneuvering around the barbed wire was a little tricky. After a few carefully placed holds, we were on the other side of the fence. The site was almost all covered in solid concrete. We didn’t see much in the way of buildings, but what we saw next was pretty wild. We shined our flash lights toward a square box protruding out of the cement. It was about 18″ x 18″ with a steel handle on the top. We determined that this was a door of some type. We ran over to the door and lifted it up. The hinges were rusty as it opened up with a bit of squeaking. Billy shined his flashlight down the hatch. There were ladder rungs protruding from the sides of the walls of the hatch. I went first, down into absolute darkness. When I reached the bottom, I was standing in two feet of cold water. What the heck was this? I shined my light on the walls. This was a solid concrete underground bunker of some sort. Billy whispered, “What do you see?”. I replied, “This is really cool, come on down!”. He started down the rungs and found the same cold surprise that I had. “Dang! What am I standing in?” Billy said. “It looks like they have flooded this place with water for some reason; probably to keep people out.” I quickly replied as I tried to figure out where to go next. The room was only about 10 x 10. There were painted outlines on the walls where wrenches and tools would have been kept. On the far side of the room was a solid concrete door, at least 12″ thick. Fortunately, it was partly open, because if these hinges were rusty, there was no way that we would have been able to budge that door. We waded through the water, down a concrete hallway. This entire place had been made of reinforced, poured concrete. I felt something in the water. I shined my flashlight down into the water to see a piece of wet fried chicken bobbing up and down. We were either not the first to be down here since this place had been flooded or we finally found the location where Colonel Sanders came up with his secret recipe. The water was pretty clear, it was just cold. Billy said, “Where does this tunnel go?” I replied, “There is only one way to find out.” We both continued down the hall approaching another solid concrete door. It was open enough to squeeze by, but we tried to open it further. It would not budge. We tried a little more only able to get it open a few more inches. As we squeezed past the last concrete door it seemed as though we were in a much bigger room. Both of us shined our flashlights up and around the room. We both slowly said, “Whoa!” We had hit the mother lode. This room was huge. It was about two times the size of our high school gymnasium. The ceiling seemed to be about 20′ high and there were strange tracks and ladder rungs in the side of the walls that ascended to the top at the far side of the room. In the middle of the ceiling were two huge plates of steel, 30′ long by about 20′ wide that met in the middle. We figured that these were the two retractable doors that lifted out of the way to allow the missile to be raised into launch position. We wanted a better look, so we walked closer, almost under the doors when for some unknown reason we just happened to shine our flashlights into the water ahead of us. “Stop!” I yelled to Billy. Under the water, in front of us was a chasm that was so deep that our flashlights could not make out the bottom. “That was close!” Billy said as we both backed away from the missile pit. One more step and Billy would have had an underwater look at were the missiles used to sleep. As we wandered around the cavernous concrete room we had this awesome idea. This cool place is just going to waste. It’s been forgotten by the military and is a waste. This would be a really cool place to have a club where our friends could bring their guitars, drums and amps to have a rocking band practice area! All we would have to do would be to get a gas powered pump and pump out all of this water, then when it dried out, we could use gas powered generators to supply the electricity for our amps and guitars. Wild ideas ran through our minds as we decided it was probably time to head back. We waded through the water, past the two concrete doors, tunnel and back to the tool room. We shined the flashlights one more time around the tool room and past the fried chicken drumstick bobbing in the water. Billy climbed up towards the hatch as stars reappeared in the night air. As I climbed up, I was trying to imagine what this place was like when it was an active Nike Site; better yet, what it would have been like not to have to wade around in two feet of cold water, and who would throw away a perfectly good piece of KFC. We approached the chainlink fence once again. Scaling it was just as easy as the first time except my wet pants leg got caught on the barbed wire at the top, making a ripping sound as I tried to throw myself back over the fence. We were both finally back in the land of the free, or should I say the “legal side”. Our flashlights were beginning to wane and the walk back home seemed to take twice as long as our shoes made a lovely squishing sound as we took each step. As we reached my house, I told Billy not to mention a word to anyone about our find. I crawled up the porch railing, reached the porch roof, slowly slid open the window to my room. I stowed my wet clothes under my bed and slipped into bed dreaming of how cool we were going to be, having the only underground abandoned Nike missile silo band rehearsal place. Forty years have passed since that exciting night with Billy. For some reason, neither Billy nor I really talked about our adventure again. I don’t know why. Maybe we both realized that it was unrealistic. I don’t know, I just know that as a 16 year old in Nansemond County, that cold April night was one of the best adventures of my life!