RING OF FIRE

“Well my goodness gracious, let me tell you the news!”

I’ve never been blessed with musical ability.  Unfortunately I was bypassed completely in the music making department. I’m lucky to find a radio ‘ON’ button. 

When I think of Lamar County, Alabama and tunes, Johnny Cash and Wallis Willis come to mind.  There’s valid reason for it.  1963 is the year my brother and I received transistor radios.  Dad brought them back from Japan after a 12 month military tour in Korea. I believe we were only able to pick up one channel in Vernon.

The popular song back then, “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, played like clockwork each and every hour.  I loved the tune not knowing its true meaning.  Jim and I thought Johnny Cash was singing about an airplane pilot in trouble.

We tried to sing the words, or at least a small portion of them.

“I’m going down in a blazing ring of fire.”

Years later I heard a preacher say Johnny Cash was singing about going to hell.  Johnny’s daughter Roseanne disproved that statement, claiming lyrics were strictly about the transformative power of love.  I sometimes wonder what is the truth. Johnny Cash never commented publicly about the song meaning.

Johnny and June Carter-Cash performed many gospel songs towards the end of their career.  Johnny acknowledged finding God in a long dark cave near Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1967.  The story is quite riveting.

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Johnny Cash entered ‘NickaJack Cave’ with intentions of never returning.  Drug abuse and alcohol had taken hold of his life.  When he crawled into that dark black hole he believed he’d distanced himself from relentless torment. Little did he know had his suicide been successful he was far from it.  Fortunately God had better plans for his life; saving him by grace.

Johnny said he had to get down on his knees and crawl, literally feeling his way out. Wife June stood outside the cave entrance waiting. She’d brought a basket of food and comforting hug.  June Carter-Cash was directed to the cave strictly by the Lord’s hand, having no idea where her husband had gone.

Because of God’s intervention, Johnny Cash miraculously was led out of the place without a working flashlight.  The dim flashlight he’d carried into the cave eventually went dead.

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Johnny Cash wrote a song about his experience called “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”.  It’s a powerful message with no sugar coating of words.  My favorite lyrics in the gospel tune are,

“Been down on one knee, talkin’ to the man from Galilee.”

Perhaps Johnny Cash’s best known gospel song is an old black spiritual tune, “Swing low, Sweet Chariot”.

Freed slave Wallis Willis wrote the lyrics around 1840. Wallis was called ‘Uncle Wallace’ by most people he knew.  He received his name from half Choctaw – half Irish – Mississippi slave owner Britt Willis.  

The song presents an uplifting message for those wondering if there’s life after death.  The hymn refers to God sending a chariot to take departed believers to their new Heavenly home. Slaves sang it in the fields and at religious services.  The old hymn is still heard at some traditional churches.  Opening line sounds like something a fire and brimstone preacher might use,

“Well my goodness gracious, let me tell you the news!”

Those are words that every Bible believing church should begin services with. They definitely get your attention!

What I find most interesting about “Ring of Fire” and “Swing low, Sweet Chariot” is that one speaks about going down, while the other mentions going up.

Something tells me that Johnny Cash is still singing the later.

NOTHING VENTURED

NOTHING GAINED

My mom collected S&H Green Stamps.  Stores back in the day gave out S&H Green Stamps for purchases. The more a person bought the more stamps they received.  Gas stations were big for giving out stamps to lure customers in.

S&H stood for Sperry & Hutchinson.  They were brilliant entrepreneurs in coming up with this idea. Some people have the knack for creative thinking.

Mom would take her stamps and place them into books designed to hold such.  It took several filled books before she cashed them in on anything of value. This retail marketing tool was used from the 1930’s until late 1980’s.  Because of inflation and changing times, S&H Green Stamps went the way of the dinosaur.

My first camera was obtained via S&H Green Stamps.  Don’t ask me how but I must have sweet-talked mother into getting it for me.  I remember my brother Jim and me finding loose stamps on grocery store parking lots.  Evidently some people saw no need to keep them.  As Mr. T would say,

“Foohs!”

These ‘found stamps’ were taped inside mom’s books rather than licking the attached glue.  Many times the small paper squares sported tire tracks. No telling what else was on them.

The biggest item I recall mom getting was a floor lamp.  I’m sure it took several books and many years before she had enough.  Stores these days offer similar promotions mostly through magnetic cards.  If you buy something, a set amount of credit goes into an electronic bank.  Walgreen’s currently has this plan.  They call it Balance Rewards.

You can’t cash in the Walgreen’s accumulation but you can apply it to other purchases.  My wife refers to these ‘Balance Rewards’ as hers. That’s okay with me.

I just read where S&H Green Stamps may attempt a comeback.  Some guy named Anthony Zolezzi bought the name and is working on a modern plan of reintroducing them.  Supposedly it was to be operational on Earth Day – April 22, 2015.  That day has since come and gone with no announcement.

Mr. Zolezzi is a renowned wheeler dealer so I suppose he’s still working out the bugs.  Like I mentioned earlier some people were born to be entrepreneurs.  Take that man Phil Swift hawking the waterproof spray able to plug holes in a boat.  Phil’s product is called Flex Seal and has been around forever.  It’s mere automotive undercoating with a fancy name.

By showing the public different uses for undercoating Phil Swift has made millions.  Flex Seal is now manufactured in various colors.  I’ve never been entrepreneur smart.  I’ve come up with ideas but never put them in play.  Maybe that’s a good thing?

A fellow I know came up with an idea for a board game.  It’s called ‘North to Alaska’.  This guy had 50,000 of them made using his dad as bankroll.  This was about the time electronic games became popular.  To make a long story short, the old man suffered a huge financial loss while son still has thousands of the games packed away in a warehouse.

I suppose you could say ‘North to Alaska’ went the way of S&H green stamps and dinosaurs!

Failure doesn’t upset me, yet losing hard earned dollars does.  The saying “nothing ventured, nothing gained” often comes to mind.  That might be good advice for young people, but to us retired geezers, “nothing ventured” seems the best way to fly.  This is especially sound advice when trying to hang onto valuable retirement dollars in an unstable economy!

Crazy Times in Gotham City

“When I asked what a sanitarium is, Grandma Hankins told me it was the ‘crazy house’.

These are interesting times we live in!  Never mind the good ole days, cowboy years, or even the Roaring 20’s. Today on a daily basis, I believe we exceed any of those periods of time where craziness is concerned.

Folks are coming forth claiming to be a different gender than they were born.  Other people are publicly announcing they’re of a specific race or color when it’s obvious they’re not.  I won’t go into name specifics, as more than likely you’ve seen these proclaimers on the 6:00 news. 

My grandparents talked about places called sanitariums.  When I asked what is a sanitarium, Grandma Hankins told me it was the ‘crazy house’.  The word sanitarium seems to have died a politically correct death.  Insane asylum is only heard on old horror movies.  Common rule these days seems to be allowing crazy people into the ranks of the sane.  I suppose psychiatrists believe this will make them whole. It won’t!

We see the results of this flawed thinking in the amount of mass shootings by mentally unstable individuals. The scary part being, supposed sane folks are out there trying to defend the actions of the insane.  They blame a gun for the crime rather than the person standing behind the gun. Tell me that isn’t insane thinking at its finest.

When a certain athlete came forth saying he was a she many influential people applauded his actions.  I have to look at these celebrities with extreme caution.  Flawed mental logic not only runs rampant in Gotham City, but in Hollywood as well.

“The Joker” actually comes across as mentally stable when compared to a lot of Hollywood kooks.  I realize what this world’s coming to and know it’s not going to be good for some people.  The Bible mentions bizarre things will come to pass in the later days. Those days are here.

Batman made wide sweeping turns in the Batmobile for a specific reason when confronting lunatics.  He knew he’d never win meeting these people head on. I try to do the same.

With Christians being killed worldwide, and main stream media not blinking an eye, hold on to your hat.  Things are about to get crazier around here. Rather than end my rant on serious note I’ll soften the blow.

The other day my wife found an empty Starbucks coffee cup in our car. She looked at me sternly before asking,

You think we’re made of money?” 

What she alluded to was the cup of coffee cost $5.00. In her eyes that was not being fiscally conservative on my part.  What she didn’t know was I had a free coupon for a medium drink.  I could’ve told her about the coupon and ended the conversation.  I chose a different route. 

“No biggie. I borrowed change from your change jar!” 

You must understand not even Robin could get away unscathed for tapping Joleen’s change jar let alone me.

Gotham City will be in slight turmoil until she figures out,

“I am “The Joker”.

WET CLOTHES, NO LINE

Nothing beats sun dried clothing for fresh smell!

Nothing beats sun dried clothing for fresh smell!
Nothing beats sun dried clothing for fresh smell!

Did you realize there are folks living in big cities not knowing what a simple ‘clothesline’ is?  It’s true!

A clothesline is generally unheard of in New York or Los Angeles. Folks in rural areas and small town America still use them. They find that hanging wet clothes on a line is the best method for drying them.  For my grandparents, a clothesline was an essential part of their every day life. 

On occasion during winter months, Grandma Hankins placed a chair in front of her fireplace draping wet items over the back. Mama Haynes did the same. My mother used clotheslines in our early years, but after moving to Alaska she stopped.

It’s virtually impossible to dry a whole basket of clothes inside a home without a clothes dryer.  I believe my folks bought their first dryer in 1967.  As sturdy as they made washers and dryers back, mom and dad’s are probably still in use.

There’s nothing like the sweet smell of dried clothing after they’ve been exposed to fresh air.  Today, companies make scented sheets you toss in dryers for added fragrance. To me they leave behind a sweet chemical smell.

One fragrance sheet in particular called ‘summer rain’ is totally overpowering.  Real summer rain is never pungent; it’s refreshing. Certain dryer sheets nauseate me, with summer rain being at the top.

As a child, one thing I liked best about a clothesline was playing with the clothes pins.  Wooden clothes pins with springs were the most fun.  I’d stick one in my mouth and act like a duck. Our dogs used them as chew toys.

Spring loaded clothes pins also worked great in clamping baseball cards to bicycle forks.  The baseball card would stick through wheel spokes, and made a clicking noise as the bicycle was pedaled.  It was a cool thing for kids to do back then.  There’s no telling how many valuable baseball cards were destroyed!

One neat trick regarding a clothesline, was you could take the clothes pin bag and pull it down towards the ground. Normally these bags had a rounded hook so the container easily slid over rope or cable.  Pulling down on line and then releasing launched a hundred wooden missiles.

Pins went flying out of their holder sailing many feet in the air.  Between dogs chewing them and me shooting them into space, mom was always buying extras.

We don’t own a clothesline these days.  My wife cleverly improvises by taking lawn chairs and laying wet clothing on top.  Placing the chair in bright Arizona sunshine quickly dries things. She’s hinted for me to install a permanent line.  I’m seriously considering it.

There’s one item I need to calculate before construction.  What has the best launch capability; rope or steel cable?

GOOD RUCK FROM NORDICTRACK

来自北欧卡车的好运

Treadmill program board looks like the head on a Chinese robot. “Take me to your leader!”

Just recently we purchased a new treadmill. Our often used model bit the dust. Friends up the street gave us their Pro-Fitness machine 10 years ago. We’re most appreciative of the kind gesture. As a joke, I thought about asking if they wanted it back, but my wife wouldn’t let me.

We had a hard time giving the thing away. Weeks later a young lady finally stopped by and loaded it in her truck. The treadmill still worked to a point, and with a bit of mechanical magic it could be repaired.

Much like old shopping carts, worn-out treadmills end up in a big green pasture in Cody, Wyoming.

I tell folks it had 20,000 miles on the odometer, yet that’s grossly exaggerated. The number’s more like 6900. I’m estimating here as well. Actually I haven’t a clue other than there’s a bunch. What’s wrong with estimating high? Politicians do it all the time where poll numbers are concerned.

Our new treadmill is a NordicTrack.  They’ve been a household name for eons. The old NordicTrack products were made in the USA. China is the manufacturer of this updated piece of equipment. I have no beef with China. It’s just that I attempt to steer away from buying their products. Sometimes that’s hard to do. I had nothing but trouble with some automotive parts made in that country. Never again.

At the minimum, I remove all Made in China labels from an item before friends see it. I don’t want them knowing where the product came from. It’s hard to camouflage tools purchased from Harbor Freight. Sometimes China is stamped in the metal.

When our treadmill showed up the first thing I did was thumb through operating instructions. That’s usually quite easy but the pamphlet with this machine was printed in Chinese. Evidently they made a mistake in packaging. I’m not up on Chinese lingo. They use symbols instead of words. Thankfully all of the photos were in English.

Using pictures I was able to bolt things together rather quickly.  It took 2 days from start to finish, and that’s only because I wasn’t in a hurry. Our NordicTrack treadmill is a foldup model. When I release a pin the track slowly goes down. First time I did such it appeared the machine was bowing at me. Out of respect I bowed back. The control panel looks like the head off a robot.

I was able to walk on it for the first time this morning. All went as planned. Nothing broke and there was no smoke. This unit has an odometer and it registered 3 miles during my first session. That’s all I could muster before my left knee tightened up. I injured things while assembling the unit. The NordicTrack weighs 211 pounds so it was no easy task moving it around.

Hopefully this treadmill lasts long past the one-year warranty. That’d be super as we didn’t spring for an extended plan. NordicTrack wanted quite a bit more for that option. Gut feeling tells me we should’ve splurged.

Like all treadmills there are only 2 handles on it; a right and left. It would’ve been nice if they’d put 2 per side. In 20 years we won’t be using this thing. With 4 handles total I could’ve hung pants and shirt on one side, with Joleen utilizing the other side for her clothing.

The unusual title for this story came from the Chinese assembly instructions.  The symbols when scanned into a translator read,

“Good ruck from NordicTrack.”

Something tells me we’re going to need it!

Four handles would make for more hanger space.

COLON COWBOY

“Yippee Ki-yay, git along little dogies.”

I love popcorn. Perhaps what I love most about popcorn is the tantalizing aroma it gives off while popping. Nothing permeates clean breathable air better than a microwaved bag, of Orville Redenbacher – Movie Theater Extra Butter popcorn. The salted buttery smell is sensually overpowering.

Don’t burn a bag of this stuff, or it turns into something just the opposite. I’ve had to open doors and windows when such happened. Years ago at work, a coworker accidentally hit 20 minutes instead of 2 on the microwave timer. The breakroom quickly filled with putrid smoke before anyone noticed.  A nasty burnt odor lingered for days. We ended up tossing the microwave and buying a new one.

I recall when ‘Jiffy Pop’ first came out. At the Jiffy Pop factory, popcorn seeds are inserted into a tinfoil lined aluminum pan. You place the pan with attached wire handle onto a stove, and as things got hot, the seeds pop. Eventually the thin foil spreads out like an inflating balloon indicating that popcorn is done.

The problem with Jiffy Pop around our place was that my wife tried to get every single seed to pop. The ones that partially exploded she referred to as,

“Old Maids.”

It never failed when she tried to pop them all, a good portion of the popcorn turned black. I was never a big fan of Jiffy Pop because of that.

Air-popped popcorn never turned me on either. It was always too dry. Adding salt and butter to air-popped popcorn doesn’t taste the same as today’s butter-in-a-bag microwave version. I sometimes called it,

“Air-pooped.”

I used the phrase to get ‘that look’ from my wife. She didn’t like me saying it. A frown always appeared before her often said remark,

“That’s juvenile Michael!”

My gastroenterologist recently told me I should eat popcorn in moderation. He said it sometimes causes lesions in the digestive system.  Popcorn husks can create all kinds of problems, especially in older people. He equated it to getting imbedded in soft tissue like it does between gums and teeth.  Oh boy……. that was not good news for a popcorn lover!

When I mentioned this to my friend, Jeff, he told me that he’d heard the same thing from his doc. My buddy said there’s something out there eliminating the problem. That piqued my interest. I thought it odd my physician didn’t mention such?  Asking what the stuff’s called he told me,

“Colon Cowboy”.

I’d never heard of it. Jeff said Colon Cowboy rides herd in your intestinal system, rounding up stray popcorn husks making sure they head to the corral. I knew what he meant without further explanation.

Inquiring where to get the medicine, Jeff disclosed it isn’t a drug at all. He told me Colon Cowboy is actually a nickname for ice cream.

“You get it in the freezer section.”

These days I enjoy a big bowl of ice cream after I eat a bag of popcorn. I make sure to keep a couple of cartons on hand.

The other night in bed, when all was quiet, I swear I heard the unmistakable cracking of a rawhide whip, along with a deep raspy voice singing out,

“Yippee Ki-yay, git along little dogies.”

Colon Cowboy must’ve been on another roundup!

YUCCA LANDMARK

“More than just a spot!”

Each year sun and wind take a toll on this sign. The red pole in front is where an air hose hung.

Northeast of Lake Havasu City on Interstate 40, smack dab in the middle of sprawling Yucca, Arizona, sits a tall, yellow and red sign. The ground beneath the sign is void of any structures. What sat underneath was bulldozed into oblivion several years ago. Concrete foundations remain, with faded lettering on the behemoth billboard reading, WHITING BROS.

At one time the Whiting Brothers had a profitable service station on this property along with a motel. For the record, there were close to one-hundred Whiting Brothers facilities throughout the country. Their simplistic motto was,

“Quality gas for less!”

‘Hard times’ hit this company below the belt during the 1970’s. One by one their petroleum stations closed doors. Economic weakness forced such upon a slew of Arizona businesses during the fuel shortage years. Tourism dollars took a terrible plunge because of increased gasoline prices. People drove as little as they could.

A few hundred feet away from the Whiting Brothers sign sits the remains of another motel and café. Mostly built of brick, these decaying buildings can still be seen from I-40. Thankfully heavy equipment hasn’t touched them; yet. Their time is undoubtedly limited.

Decaying motel and café. These buildings sit on old Route 66, now an access road in Yucca, Arizona.

A young Yucca resident that wishes to remain anonymous mentioned that a huge truck stop is in the planning stages. That’s all the information I could get out of her. Another resident informed me the truck stop rumor has been going strong for years.

It makes sense that a refueling station will ultimately end up in this area. Plenty of property is available for big rigs to park, plus there are several entrances and exits.  A little widening and lengthening of the access road, including all entrance and exits would need to be done. Someone with sufficient political pull can make that happen.

Whiting Brothers in Arizona date back to the early 1900’s. The Whiting family moved to St. Johns, Arizona before the turn of the century. Edwin M. Whiting started his first business there in 1901. At an early age, son Edwin I. became a partner. They were highly successful timber and lumber tycoons. Both men were involved in the mercantile industry as well. The Whiting’s as a family were a tight knit group.

Edwin I. Whiting and his wife Ethel had 4 sons; Lee, Merwin, Virgil, and Farr. Lee died as an infant. Merwin was killed at the age of 15 in a horrific tractor accident. Virgil and Farr worked side by side with dad in the various family enterprises. The boys picked up Edwin’s hard work ethics. His moral and business standards also rubbed off. The trio were entrepreneurial go-getters!

Virgil and Farr were instrumental in making the company grow in leaps and bounds. When Edwin I. Whiting reached retirement age, the 2 boys took over reins. They found other avenues of revenue which included substantial real estate investments. The Whiting Brothers thrived. They gave back to the community much of what they took in. They were heavily involved in civic activity. The St. Johns community loved them dearly.

Things went well for many years until March 29, 1961. That’s the day Virgil and Farr Whiting went missing on a flight. They were flying from St. Johns to Phoenix on a business trip. Their twin-engine plane was discovered several days later. It’d cratered into the side of a mountain instantly killing both siblings. A severe storm with icing and turbulence was believed to have caused the crash. Virgil Whiting was an accomplished pilot having flown bombers during WWII. Evidently he misjudged weather on this trip.

Edwin I. Whiting announced after his son’s funerals, that son-in-law: Wilford Shumway, Sherwood Udall, and Darwin Grant would assume control of company holdings. Edwin I. Whiting died less than 2 years after Farr and Virgil perished. He was 80. The husband, father, and businessman is buried in Saint Johns Cemetery along with his wife and 4 sons.

Whiting Investments is now owned by Shae and Steven Shumway. They’ve carried the Whiting success story to a higher level where real estate development is concerned. Whiting Brothers gas stations are mere history. Luxury hotels seem to be the Shumway brothers forte. They recently built their eighth. This last hotel, a Residence Inn by Marriott, opened at Flagstaff in 2017. Perhaps Lake Havasu City will be their ninth?

When I drive past Yucca, Arizona I never fail to glance at that enormous Whiting Brothers sign. I also look for the Kenworth truck on a pole. Both are a bit faded since I first saw them in 1985.

"Get your gas for less!"
Huge water tank. They need all the H2O they can get come summer.

If and when a new truck stop comes to Yucca, hopefully the Whiting Brothers billboard remains. The town mayor needs to address this. I assume Yucca has a mayor. If not, then someone needs to claim the title.

The Whiting Brothers sign is a viable landmark of the unincorporated town; Honolulu Club on the opposite side of I-40 being another. The way I view things: the sign, the truck, and the club (at least their sign) keep Yucca on the map. A brand new truck stop would make it more than just a spot!

Honolulu Club originated in Oatman in 1930. It was a combination gas station, garage, and saloon.
When Route 66 was rerouted through Topock, Arizona the club moved to Yucca in 1950.
Honolulu Club as it appears today. From what I’m told the business is permanently closed. The distinctive sign is worth saving.
This old Kenworth no longer hauls logs. It’s ‘convoy’ days are over!

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

“Keith Stone, I’m glad you’re finally home!”

The year was 1972. To the delight of many young men the Vietnam War finally ended; draft notices as well. Recent high school graduate Keith Stone wanted to be a tour bus driver. Seeing the country and getting paid sounded like a perfect career choice.

There came a day when he decided to go for it. Being a responsible employee, Keith gave his boss a one week notice. She proceeded to fire him. After Keith’s termination, the fast-food executive had a hard time filling empty shoes. Experienced grill managers are hard to find in Pueblo, Colorado.

First thing on his agenda was get a commercial driver’s license. It took a year to pass the test. Keith had a problem making sharp turns without hitting the curb or driving over sidewalks. It was a depth perception issue. He never did get things right. The savvy Mr. Stone slipped his instructor twenty-bucks and immediately solved the dilemma.

Keith talked to a man from California named Charlie Cobb. Mr. Cobb formerly drove a tour bus before hitting it big in Amway. The guy said as a driver he sometimes made a hundred bucks in tips. That got Keith’s attention. Keith Stone’s wallet had never seen the likeness of Ben Franklin. Money literally burned a hole in his pocket.

Charlie told Keith that to be a good tour bus pilot, and get decent tips, you need an act of sorts. Keith wasn’t sure what he meant. Charlie went on to explain that a driver has to know the history of places along the route. He gave the young man an example:

“Folks, the river we’re about to cross was the location of a major gold rush. in 1860, over 200,000 ounces of the precious metal was taken from it.”

Mr. Cobb explained to Keith that tourists want to be educated plus entertained.

“Have a joke or two up your sleeve!”, he advised. “And always know your audience!”

Keith Stone was eventually hired by Lost Wages Tours. The outfit ran a fleet of derelict buses out of Denver to Las Vegas. Most of their clientele were older retired people. A young baggage handler informed Keith the tight geezers seldom tipped. That bummed him out before remembering what Charlie Cobb said.

“You need to entertain those people!”

Keith Stone’s maiden journey consisted of a group of seniors from Fort Collins. They were an eclectic bunch of retirees. One gal said she’d won a thousand bucks on her last gambling trip. Keith instinctively took to the bus microphone, telling everyone that he got 50% of all winnings. That had them cackling like geese. He believed he was on the path to an easy hundred bucks.

The fully loaded bus pulled out of the depot at 9:00 and was on I-70 within minutes. Spotting a closed and boarded up cafe on the right side of the highway, Keith informed his passengers that the owner had been murdered in a botched robbery attempt several months back.

“Shot him in the head! You know that place served the best darn chili in all of Colorado. A real shame it closed!”

The passengers were exceedingly quiet upon hearing such gruesome news. It took several minutes for them to rejoin former conversations.

After being on the road for two hours, Keith asked for a show of hands on those needing to use the restroom. Nearly everyone raised theirs.

“We’ll be stopping at Santa Fe in two hours.” he told them.

“Hope those really needing to go wore Depends.”

When unsavory language flew from back of the bus, and a full can of soda hit the windshield, Keith decided it best to tell them he was joking.

“There’s a rest stop straight ahead. We’ll be departing for a fifteen minute break.”

Keith planned well for his grand finale act. This would be the ultimate tip gathering stunt. Everything was perfectly aligned. Keith smirked while thinking about it. His mind flashed back in time.

*****************************************************

Twenty years previous, Uncle Joe Stone played a prank on Keith’s mom and dad that relatives still talked about. It was considered the joke of all jokes:

Keith’s parents were riding with Uncle Joe and Aunt Betty to Salt Lake City for a Stone family reunion.  Everyone loved Joe’s sense of humor. Uncle Joe was the one that couldn’t cut the cake, yet he could cut cheese with the best of them.

Uncle Joe was driving his 1952 Lincoln to Utah. He’d just picked the car up in Baton Rouge from a reputable car dealer. A salesman there told him the automobile had been purchased new by Elvis Presley. Later on Joe discovered that Mr. Presley didn’t make it big until 1954.

Joe’s version of the story quickly changed. He told anyone who’d listen that the stately vehicle once belonged to Hank Williams Sr. A few family and friends actually believed Joe; having their photos taken in front of the car.

During their trip to Utah, unbeknownst to Keith’s mom and dad, the burly Uncle Joe placed a bottle of Coke inside a brown-paper-sack and stuck it between his legs.

Several miles down the road with Keith’s folks in the back seat, Joe began taking nips. He’d look in the rearview mirror before placing bottle to his lips. Of course Keith’s mom instantly noticed. She quickly jumped to conclusions as most women do. Husband Rod was dozing and didn’t see what was happening.

When they stopped for a potty break, Maggie Stone insisted that her husband take the wheel.

“You need a rest Joe. Rod can drive for a while!”

That fit perfectly into Uncle Joe’s plan. Him and Aunt Betty happily swapped seats. They were able to sleep the remainder of the trip comfortably in back. Rod Stone drove all the way to Salt Lake City including the return leg to Louisiana. Rod and Maggie didn’t find out they’d been fooled until years later. The couple found it hilarious.

******************************************************

Tucked between Keith’s legs on the tour bus was a bottle of Pepsi purchased from a neighborhood 7-11. It was hidden inside a brown-paper-bag. Keith Stone emulated Uncle Joe’s act to perfection instantly seeing results.

The whispering got louder and louder. There came a point when a woman jumped up screaming for Keith to stop the bus.

“Let me off before you kill us all!”

Spotting a safe area to pull over, Keith Stone eased the big vehicle to a halt. Dust rose from all four tires. Opening the door, he started to inform the gal that she’d been punked. Before he could do so 41 passengers and a poodle abandoned ship. They refused to get back on.

These days Keith is back doing what he does best. The man’s old boss recently informed him,

“Experienced grill managers are hard to find in Pueblo, Colorado. Keith Stone, I’m glad you’re finally home!”

"Mr. Keith Stone, I'm glad you came along!"

GETTYSBURG SURVIVOR

Extraordinary story about a Union soldier during the Civil War, and how his personal diary came to be lost during the Battle of Gettysburg, ultimately winding up in my hands.

Abraham Trostle barn as it appears today. Structure located in Gettysburg National Military Park.

I’ve been interested in the American Civil War since birth. As a young man, Ken Burns’ documentary on the war only spurred my interest. Keep me supplied with large bowls of buttered popcorn and I’ll watch it time and time again.

My ancestors fought on opposing sides; the majority of them being Confederate soldiers. Grandpa Houston Hankins told me stories about these courageous kinfolk. He said a few Hankins were teenagers when they enlisted. GGG-Grandfather Stephen G. Hankins from Lamar County, Alabama tragically lost 3 sons in the Civil War. Family history fascinates me.

One of my east coast ancestors, William Hankins, became a partner with gun-maker Christian Sharps in 1859. They produced Sharps & Hankins carbines and rifles used exclusively by Union troops.  Early on I had the desire to own artifacts from this conflict. It made no difference whether the relics were North or South. I love holding history in my hands. Certain antiques talk to me. Thanks to an understanding wife, and assistance from Mr. Norm Flayderman, my wish became reality.

The late Norm Flayderman is considered by many to be the expert of experts when it comes to firearms and accouterments used in the Civil War. His business, Norm Flayderman & Company, put out yearly catalogs chocked full of such antiques for sale. It made my day when one of these books showed up in the mail.

Often times because I lived in Alaska, the catalog would arrive a week later than addresses in other states. The items I sought were long gone. Because of this I called up Mr. Flayderman to inquire on what could be done. Initially I talked to his wife Ruth before Norm took the phone.

Amazing story about Pvt. Joseph Gilbert Barton's personal diary, and how it came to be lost then found during the Battle of Gettysburg.
The late Norm Flayderman

He must have sensed the utter unhappiness in my voice during our 15 minute conversation. Mr. Flayderman put me on his list of premium customers, although I’d yet to purchase anything from his firm. From that point on whenever the catalog showed up, countless hours would be spent poring over it. I don’t recall ever losing out on a purchase after Norm did me that favor.

Over the years I bought several antique weapons from him. Those items include a Sharps & Hankins – Army carbine plus a pepperbox pistol. Various tintype and daguerreotype photographs were obtained. One of my favorite collectibles were signed Civil War Bibles.

Deviating a bit, I picked up a pair of Lomen Brothers reindeer mukluks used by Admiral Richard Byrd on his Antarctica expedition. I traded those for an 1863 Springfield rifle excavated from a Williamsburg, Virginia battlefield.  The rifle has shrapnel marks on it indicating hot grapeshot from a cannon struck the barrel and receiver. I still get strange feelings each time I touch this weapon. Without doubt the soldier carrying it did not survive.

Yearly calls were made to Norm before his catalogs came off the press. He knew me as the ‘collector from Alaska’ although I’m sure I wasn’t the only 49th state player.  On my last conversation with Norm, I asked if he had anything from the Civil War that begged for attention. Norm knew what I meant saying that that he did.

He mentioned a unique Civil War diary coming up for sale. It was written by a Union soldier named Joseph Gilbert Barton. Mr. Barton served with the 14th Vermont Infantry – Company I. They were a group of volunteer soldiers.  Norm went on to say he’d been researching the manuscript for years, believing there was something special about it that he could not place his finger on. He told me he didn’t have time to continue pursuing.

Monument to Vermont Volunteers at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Norm Flayderman was loyal to his other customers. He would not allow me to purchase it before the catalog hit my hands.  He was as honest a businessman as they come. Norm told me to keep a lookout for the mailman.

“Early bird gets the worm!”, Norm chuckled.

When that catalog finally showed, speed-reading-tutor Evelyn Wood’s head would’ve spun as I quickly thumbed through it. I scanned page after page at warp speed looking intently for Barton’s diary. Finally locating the ad I called to check availability. Norm wasn’t in yet Ruth told me the item was still for sale. I excitedly asked her to,

“Mark it sold!”

When a well-insulated envelope arrived containing the diary I began carefully poring over each hand-written page. They were composed of ink on different types of paper. Norm included his research notes from a yellow legal-size notebook in the packet.

Joseph Gilbert Barton diary pages now reside in acid free envelopes for protection.

Some of the words were hard to read without magnifying glass. A friend of mine, Fred Salter, along with the assistance of Terry Barton on the Barton family website helped transcribe things. This took some time. The finished project was well worth their effort. Gilbert Barton’s chronological records lined up precisely with other recorded accounts of the 14th Vermont’s wartime activities.  Some of this new information was added to a website on the 14th Vermont Volunteers.

The journal begins with Pvt. J. Gilbert Barton entering the service. It mentions boring routines the troops went through getting ready for departure. Marches and drills were constantly part of the regimen. One of the more vivid entries is a detailed account on what Barton saw after his train arrived in Washington D.C.

“Oct 25, 1863

Arrived at Washington today about noon. Before we got there (near enough to see the city), the soldiers (myself included) were anxious to see the Capitol, as we crowded to the doors of the cars for a sight. After taking dinner that was prepared for us in a Soldier’s Boarding House, we rested a while & during the time saw several VT soldiers. Steven Hazard was one of them. Old women and raggedy boys and girls were around selling pies and cakes. I did not buy any for fear of being poisoned.”

I researched the 14th Vermont Infantry finding that they fought gallantly at Gettysburg. What was very unusual about Gilbert’s writing was there was no mention of such. In fact the diary’s last entry was dated March 13, 1863. The first thing popping into my head was that pages were missing.

I spent hour after hour looking for more information on Gilbert Barton going so far as to send off for his military records. They didn’t offer anything more than what I already knew. Eventually I placed the diary in my safe and moved on. That was over 30 years ago.

Just recently I was searching for tax paperwork coming across the old diary. Taking it out of its fireproof home, something told me to give things one more try.

I typed J. Gilbert Barton into a http://www.newspapers.com website and hit the jack pot:

Article from “Burlington Free Press” – Vermont newspaper – Feb. 21, 1890

For those having studied the American Civil War, you’ll know that Cemetery Hill and the Trostle Farm are the most significant landmarks in Gettysburg National Military Park. President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address there.

Many died on the farm grounds with graphic photographs showing the carnage. It’s remarkable that the Trostle farmhouse and barn are still standing.

When the 14th Vermont Infantry arrived in Gettysburg they had little time to settle in. Camped to the east of Cemetery Hill, records show the troops were instructed to double quick to an area under attack by Confederate troops. Double quick means dropping everything but gun and bullets and basically running to your position. This explains why Gilbert Barton lost his knapsack.

A knapsack back then is much like a backpack of today. It would’ve contained personal items such as Bible, photos, comb, tin cup, fork and spoon, metal plate, hardtack, writing utensils, paper, and in Gilbert Barton’s case, a copper stencil used for marking valuables.

Amazing story about a Civil War soldiers personal diary. and how it came to be lost then found during the Battle of Gettysburg.
This is representative of the copper stencil Joseph Gilbert Barton owned.

After the Gettysburg battle ended someone picked up Gilbert’s knapsack and went through it. How this stencil ended up hidden in the Trostle’ barn is a mystery. My theory being the person finding the knapsack, intentionally ditched the stencil for one main reason. That stencil identified who the goods belonged to. For whatever reason, Gilbert’s diary was deemed worthy of keeping. It’s a miracle that the writings survived.

In the months leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, the 14th Vermont Infantry was always on the move. They were considered a part of the hard charging ‘Army of the Potomac’. Wolf Run Shoals and Occoquan in Virginia were their staging grounds the last few weeks.  During this time there would’ve been little or no time at all for Barton to make entries. His last journal date reflects that.

Although Gilbert was eventually reunited with his copper stencil in 1890, the diary never did return to his hands. Norm Flayderman indicated he’d purchased it at an estate sale, and that the person selling it did not have Barton connections.

It was only because of Mr. Flayderman piquing my interest that I ultimately purchased the diary. It’s almost as if Norm knew I’d never give up on finding answers.

J. Gilbert Barton’s diary is a significant piece of Civil War and Gettysburg ephemera. Provenance seemingly popped out of the woodwork in solving things, although popped out of newspaper pulp is a more plausible term. Without the 1890 archived newspaper article I never would’ve figured things out.

Paper items, unlike guns, swords, and copper stencils have a limited life expectancy when subjected to the elements. The simplistic and fragile diary composed by J. Gilbert Barton is a miraculous Gettysburg survivor.

I should end things here but I won’t. If you’re inquisitive like me you have to now wonder,

“What happened to Joseph Gilbert Barton’s copper stencil plate?”

Joseph Gilbert Barton Obituary – “Burlington Daily News” – July 21, 1908
Joseph Gilbert & Florence A. Coburn-Barton grave marker
Abraham Trostle barn as it appeared after the Battle of Gettysburg – 1863

Keep a Light On

“Even you should be able to remember that much.”

If I opened my mailbox today finding a letter addressed to me from Jesus, what would it say? I can only speculate.

**********************************************************

Dear Michael,

A brief but important message:

Your parents and grandparents are fine. They say hello. Aunts and uncles echo the same. Several friends give you thumbs up. Those furry and feathered friends of yours; they’re romping around the mansion grounds. All ten of them miss you dearly.

I see you are doing well. Being upright is good. You’ve definitely been eating. That isn’t the case for millions throughout the world. At times you forget. I’ve blessed you with ample food. Remember those folks not as fortunate next time you complain about a cold burrito.

Looking over your life history there were many times I shook my head. Your judgment between right and wrong went haywire on numerous occasions. I had to get your attention more than once. Still do. Often times with leather boot instead of woven sandal. Have to constantly stay on top of you Mr. Hankins. You have some spiritual growing to do!

You’ve been concerned about what’s going on in this world. Who isn’t? Do not be afraid. Things will be okay. Until the day of reckoning, continue to pray for friends, family, strangers, and enemies. Yes; enemies. Read your Bible. I know you’ve failed to do that. There are people praying for your health Michael. Return the favor!

Wherever you go, know that I’m with you. I see your every move. I know your inner thoughts and secrets. Never forsake me. You asked me into your heart. I reside within. Each time you enter a place where I’m not welcome do not fret. Man has neither the power nor wisdom to keep me out. Those who rebuke my presence are fools. Vengeance is mine.

Using the Heavenly scale of eternity, you’re less than an eye blink away. No one knows the year, month, week, day, or minute. I know precisely the millisecond.

Michael, remember that harsh words, verbally and written, cut deeper than a double-edged Gillette® razor. That last line has you smiling. Yes, I have a sense of humor. You got yours from me.

Follow my commandments. There are but 10. Even you should be able to remember that much.

I’ll keep a light on!

Love,

Jesus