WALKING STICKS

“Jim dared me to yell ‘Fore’ and then smack the ball.”

Children learning to putt

My brother and I took golf lessons when Dad was stationed at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas. I believe this was 1964. I would’ve been 10 and Jim 14.

The base Youth Activity Center arranged things and we were eager to participate. Dad and Mom weren’t golfers, so they had nothing to offer us where golfing tips were concerned. Reese A.F.B. Golf Course provided loaner clubs, while we purchased our own balls for good reason. Students were instructed to write names on them with a marker.

I was lousy at hitting from a wooden tee. Most younger kids had a hard time getting balls to merely sit on top of them, especially when the wind was blowing. The wind always blows in Lubbock.

This was mid-summer and Texas heat was unbearable. Reese’s Pro Shop had a dispenser on the wall next to a water cooler. The machine provided free, salt tablets. I believe those tablets were meant to keep golfers from sweating too much. Kids were downing the pills like candy until someone stopped them.

We were all lined up around a hole one day practicing putting. Our instructor was on the opposite side demonstrating the correct procedure. Jim dared me to yell ‘Fore‘ and then smack the ball. I drilled it all the way across the green directly into the man’s knee.

Some kids thought it funny, but our golfing instructor didn’t, warning me not to do that again. Fearful of being kicked out, the fellow didn’t have to tell me twice.

At the end of our weeklong practice session there was a tournament for different age players. Jim was in the older boys bracket and me in the younger. We were provided score cards and pencils. After numerous lame attempts to reach the ninth hole, some players resorted to cheating in order to win. I don’t recall their names, but it wasn’t Jim or me. Those self-determined winners probably went on to be successful attorneys or politicians.

I haven’t played golf since that time other than miniature golf in Phoenix and Colorado Springs. My wife, Joleen, golfed for a while in Anchorage, Alaska with good friend, Pam Franger. Our kids and their spouses play, as well as grandsons, Decker and Kevin. I’m happy they chose a sport that isn’t dangerous, unless of course you’re the instructor.

When Joleen and I moved to Lake Havasu City, we purchased two sets of used clubs from the local Hospice Store, along with vintage golf bags. Total for everything was $30.00 including several balls. We’ve never used them and I don’t intend to. I bought mine solely because the player’s names on some putters are now ancient history. One of my antique putters currently makes for a nice walking companion. I’ve carried it on occasion when my back’s out of whack.

I no longer look at them as clubs or putters, now viewing the relics as inexpensive canes. We have enough metal walking sticks to last us a lifetime!

Walking sticks

GRAMMAR POLICE

“Hey, even the great Samuel Clemens wasn’t an error free writer.”

You’re Busted!

I’ve been busted by the grammar police a time or two. It generally happens on Facebook or while arguing with someone on a political forum. English was my major in college, yet that doesn’t mean I’m Mr. Perfect where not making typos is concerned. Hey, even the great Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) wasn’t a word-perfect writer. A good many of my blunders unlike Mark Twain’s correlate to spellcheck software. I need a scapegoat and this is as good as it gets.

For the most part, Microsoft Word spellcheck is the police vehicle flipping on red lights. A friend calls it Microslop Word because their software isn’t totally mistake proof. I’ve found this to be true many times.

The other day I was writing something and was stopped short of finishing a sentence. I’d wrote that my hand held a bottle, and Microsoft automatically ran words together making things say, handheld a bottle. Each time I corrected this mistake the red error sign popped up. Other such incidents have occurred.

The word laundromat kept transferring to Laundromat. I don’t care what Google says, that’s not correct unless of course laundromat has a business name in front, like Havasu Laundromat.

Checking things out, Westinghouse obtained a trademark on Laundromat in 1930. Their trademark expired in 1957 and Westinghouse didn’t renew. Why some believe they still have to capitalize this word I’ll never understand. A laundromat to my friends is simply a place to wash clothes. If some English experts want to capitalize Laundromat, they might as well do the same for Washeteria.

Years ago, I was taught to add an apostrophe after a number merely as a separation point, not to show possessive. In the 1980’s, a group of English nerds evidently got together and declared this a problem. The apostrophe was dropped making 1980’s incorrect and 1980s the preferred choice. Being a Rebel in my own mind, I’ll continue writing 1980’s as a way of getting back at them, whoever they are.

Recently, I came across a clever poem written by author, Jerrold H. Zar. It deals with spellcheck problems.

“Ode to the Spell Checker”

Eye halve a spelling checker.
It came with my pea sea.
It plainly marks four my revue miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a quay and type a word and weight for it to say,
Weather eye yam wrong oar write.
It shows me strait a weigh as soon as a mist ache is maid.
It nose bee fore two long and eye can put the error rite.
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it,
I am shore your pleased to no.
Its letter perfect awl the way.
My checker told me sew.

Eye do my best to compose accurate sentences free of mistakes. The way eye see things, if you can reed what eye just rote, eye’ve been successful. What more can a guess rider ask for!

Samuel Clemens

NOT SUPERMAN

“There’s nothing for me to prove these days regarding stamina or athletic ability.”

Not Superman

An older mechanic once told me to treat my body like a vintage vehicle. “Never push things to the limit or it’ll break!” Martin Allen was actually referring to himself.

I was never Superman in my younger years, yet could do my fair share of chores in a day. It wasn’t unusual to work 10 hours and then come home to mow front and rear lawns, plus bag the grass.

Staying up into the wee hours of morning working on projects was routine. My father called this, “Burning a candle on both ends.”

Long Alaskan summers allowed for plenty of hiking and biking. Adding those events after a day at the shop amounted to a full workout. I could seemingly motor along without ever getting fatigued. Youth has it’s virtues.

I’ve slowed down considerably since turning 60. I can still do most of the same things as before but at a more leisurely pace. Mom always preached, “Listen to your body when it’s trying to tell you something!” I do that religiously after having an afib episode.

I don’t push myself like I used to. There’s nothing for me to prove these days regarding stamina or athletic ability. The late Jack Lalanne loved to demonstrate how many pushups he could still do at 90. This was partly because he was hawking books or selling his miracle “Power Juicer.”

If anyone should be called Superman, it’s Jack Lalanne. Regardless of Jack’s superior physique, the man died at 96. Cigar smoking, exercise-exempt, comedian George Burns lived to be 100. Go figure?

Everyone will die sooner or later. Some will outlive others and I suppose for a few there’s bragging rights here. I’m not one of those few. The important thing to me is that I made a decision back in 1973, on where I’ll go when my heart stops beating. Hopefully, Jack and George did the same.

Jack Lalanne – Superman?

LETTER FROM MOM

“I’m thankful we didn’t have e-mail or text messages back then, otherwise I wouldn’t possess this wonderful keepsake.”

August 3, 1981 – Klamath Falls, Oregon

My mother’s been gone a little over 12 years now. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her or Dad. I was looking through some paperwork in an old toolbox of mine, and came across a letter Mom wrote going on 41 years.

The envelope is slightly yellowed yet the letter inside is unblemished. I’m thankful we didn’t have e-mail or text messages back then, otherwise I wouldn’t possess this wonderful keepsake. Mother composed this while on the road as her and Dad searched for a K.O.A. campground to purchase. That was always my father’s dream.

In this correspondence, she mentions places they’ve been and seen, an episode with her little Shiatzu dog, “Trinket”, encounters with homeless people, folks traveling from Florida and California, and other humorous observations. Mom was always good at keeping us informed when they traveled.

On August 3, 1981, our son Gunnar was in kindergarten, while daughter Miranda was barely one year old. I was managing one of my folk’s automotive parts stores during this time, while Joleen was in charge of payroll at D.O.T.

I’ve transcribed things as written. This piece of family history went into my safe afterwards.

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

Page 1 Friday July 30th

We’re in Burns, Oregon. Good name for area – my whole body was burning time we stopped. We got into here after 2 p.m., didn’t think we could make Bend, OR. before late. High desert country – you can mark Idaho, Utah off my list. Pocatello was neat town but still in rolling desert land. We looked at K.O.A. campground for sale. Went on to Brighton, Utah to look at another K.O.A.. Both was nice and one at Brighton was more our style and price but so hot during day. Nite was hottest winds blowing, at Pocatello cool off at night. My headache about killed me and my nose was running like faucet – Must be bad country for sinus.

Page 2

Brighton was all Cherry Orchard, Peaches, Apples, Plum, Apricot, plus Corn, but all farms was irrigated. I didn’t realize Idaho, Utah was all desert land, so much bare land, sage grass, tumble weeds – kept thinking must see wagon trains, Indians on war path – really what reminded me of. Burns is desert also. Ontario, Oregon – Idaho (Border). H’way 84-20 – is Onion Country, never see so many onion acres in my life. Last nite we stayed at Mountain Homes, Idaho, met this young man traveling by Bike from San Diego, going Yellowstone, then on to Illinois – said had 18 gears on bike – still didn’t see how got up down some these Mt’s and passes. – today we was mostly in canyon –

Page 3

Talk about Alaskan H’way winding. H’way 20 got it beat. Did I write about Trinket and her water jar – well she ride in car so have to keep her water, started out with one Miranda baby food jar, then somehow switched to jelly jar. She refused drink til I poured into baby jar. She almost went to Doggie Heaven in Utah – guess heat really threw her loop. We’re headed into Bend, Or. – then down 97- We hope find cool spot and hold up while. Wheel seal going out on Ford – thinking of trading it for smaller car.

Sat. a.m.

Having car fixed

Page 4

Knew people were weird but sure met some variety – can tell some people not all there – peoples minds so confused just roaming around. Fla. people moving out because too crowded, Calif. too many people. Some just not knowing what they want. Really don’t know anything write. I’m ready find hole stay for awhile. Would like to go in some Nat. Forest for least a week. But that not Hank’s ball of wax. No need say I love you so very very much. I pray to Jesus every day for all of you. Give my babies a hug, kiss.

Take care.

Love,

Mother (Lola)

P.S. Didn’t see tater patch one all across Idaho.

In her own hand

IF ONLY THOSE SHOES COULD TALK

“A trip to the grocery store doesn’t warrant taking my expensive shoes down from their perch.”

Mephisto Barracuda

I’m not a shoe aficionado like some guys. I wasn’t born or raised in Southern California so that probably explains why. A shoe to me has to look good and be reasonably priced, nothing more. Foot Locker is where I purchase my sandals; online of course. Foot Locker is an offspring of defunct, Kinney Shoes.

Not to sidetrack anyone, but I’ve been told by more than one person that sandals aren’t shoes, just the same as boots aren’t shoes. I didn’t argue the point because who really cares.

Lately, sandals are all that I wear in this town. My sandals are always worn with socks. That’s a style made popular by older Havasu residents, especially snowbirds. I prefer white Nike socks over lime green or canary yellow ones. Generally, only Minnesota visitors sport those two colors.

Years ago, I had foot problems, with a podiatrist informing me that my arches were falling. I call this, LBS, short for London Bridge Syndrome, an inside joke of course. You have to know the song to snag the humor.

My daughter was attending college and selling shoes part-time at Nordstrom eons ago. For those not recognizing this store, it’s a higher end retail establishment much like Dillard’s. Asking Miranda what shoe should I get for walking and arch support, she suggested a Mephisto Barracuda. I hadn’t heard of the brand. Seeing a price of $189.00 on the bottom made me wince.

I never paid more than $49.00 at Foot Locker for shoes and even that seemed high. Miranda insisted I take the plunge, and if I didn’t like them, Nordstrom would refund my money.

I’ve had those Mephisto’s going on 25 years now and they still look brand new, at least in my eyes they do. They’ve been to weddings, funerals, Hawaii timeshare seminars, and “Out on the Town” events. Out on the town events for me include trips to local restaurants, generally for birthday celebrations. The Barracudas are much too nice for everyday use.

Should my wife inform me that we’re going someplace, I often ask, “Is it a Mephisto worthy occasion?” That’s another inside joke of course. An excursion to the grocery store doesn’t warrant taking my expensive shoes down from their perch.

I believe those brown leather oxfords will last a lifetime. Are they burial worthy? That’s a question I recently asked myself. An equivalent Mephisto Barracuda now sells for $388.00 at Zappo’s. A bit rich to be planting in the ground, don’t you think?

I’m sure some serious shoe guy would be interested in my classic footwear. I’d only give them to a family member or friend that’s truly appreciative of where they’ve been. That alone makes them virtually priceless to me. My Mephisto’s have walked on some very sacred floors. To name a few:

Hussong’s, Bob’s Big Boy and Uncle Kenny’s, all former eateries of Lake Havasu City. Carriage Crossing Restaurant & Bakery in Yoder, Kansas, Double Musky Inn, at Girdwood, Alaska, Urban Egg in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and last but not least, Royal Fork Buffet and The Bagel Factory restaurant in Anchorage, Alaska.

I suppose in due time I’ll donate them to a worthy cause. The Hospice of Havasu Retail Store in London Bridge Shopping Center is my favorite. Like two parrots sitting in a cage, it’d be nice to see my Barracudas proudly perched inside their fancy glass display case.

Oh, if only those shoes could talk!

BOOKWORM

“For me, books have always taken precedence over TV.”

I’ve been a “bookworm” for the majority of my life. As young boys, my brother and I didn’t have electronic gizmos to entertain us, other than an RCA black & white television set. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. My father was always replacing fried electronic tubes to keep the thing going.

Saturday morning cartoons would be tuned in, including westerns like, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Have Gun – Will Travel, Rin Tin Tin, and Sky King.

I suppose Sky King wasn’t actually a western, yet the actors did wear cowboy style clothing. It was supposedly filmed in Arizona. In reality, the series was shot in Apple Valley, California near George Air Force Base. My family was fortunate to be living there in 1956 with George A.F.B. being Dad’s duty station.

For me, books have always taken precedence over TV. A Hardy Boys mystery book on the weekend was entertainment enough. I’d stay up late reading about Frank and Joe Hardy’s adventures hoping to emulate them some day. Many boys my age enjoyed the same, while girls read about teenage detective, Nancy Drew.

In fifth grade, at Lubbock, Texas, our local library held a reading contest for students. Prizes were to be given away for different age groups, with one special prize awarded to an elementary student reading the most books. Rumor had it the grand prize was a bicycle.

I don’t recall how many books I read that summer, but it was a lot. I was determined to win first prize. When my name was called, I proudly walked on stage in front of a theater full of kids to get my prize. A lady congratulated me before placing a copy of Kon Tiki, by Thor Heyerdahl in my outstretched hand.

I was disappointed as I’d desperately wanted a new bike. Looking back on things, it was the perfect award for a bookworm like me. I still have that prize.

Sadly, book reading amongst young people is rapidly declining. The National Endowment for the Arts released a study detailing such, titled, Reading at Risk. The following is a short excerpt from that report:

“The trends among younger adults warrant special concern, suggesting that––unless some effective solution is found––literary culture, and literacy in general, will continue to worsen. Indeed, at the current rate of loss, literary reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century.”

I believe that reading promotes creativity and imagination in children. I don’t see where electronic gizmos do the same, although there are some self-professed intellects that’ll disagree. Of course, these are the same folks claiming that violence and graphic language in movies, games, and music doesn’t harm a child’s developing mind.

Switching directions for a brief second, kids these days don’t seem to have the personal interaction skills that older generations possess. I blame much of this on social media along with those “devices” that they’re always staring into.

There is a way to promote reading in children. Foremost, take unsmart phones away from kids over the weekend. Tell them to read a book instead. Public libraries and schools need to have reading contests like they did years ago. Give out a bicycle along with a book for the grand prize. It’s amazing what kids will do when a suitable award is dangled over them.

I’m thankful for growing up with a book in front of my face rather than an iPhone. I’m sure the Hardy Boy’s would echo my thought along with Nancy Drew.

FISH STORIES

“Tom Gildea is the second person to inform me that BOAT stands for: Break Out Another Thousand. Jeff Thimsen was the first.”

Most older folks have heard a fish story or two. A good example being, Uncle Joe’s 10-inch carp, over time, turned into a 19-inch monster with shark like teeth.

Of course, another name for fish story is “yarn”, although you hardly hear that word anymore. There are car and boat yarns making the rounds in Havasu garages every day, with some of them surpassing even the wildest fish stories.

An acquaintance of mine has a 350 Chevrolet engine in his 1969 pickup. Each time someone asks Ed how much horsepower it makes, the number seems to climb. I believe it was 375 horses last January. It’s now 475, and amazingly, I’m told he hasn’t touched the thing with a wrench in ages. I’m sure Ed isn’t the only “Car Guy” good naturedly spinning tall tales.

Moving on to watercraft, I’ve never owned a boat. My wife and I live in the #1 boating capitol of America, Lake Havasu City, yet go without. Why?

For many years, we owned personal watercraft (PWC). A while back, I rode a 1995 Polaris SLT 700 with friends in Alaska. The Gulf of Alaska, Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Resurrection Bay, Talachulitna River, Yentna River, Big Susitna River, and Kenai Lake, are a few of the waterways visited. It was extreme and dangerous riding to say the least. A compressed spine is testament to such pounding.

My Polaris wasn’t the quickest machine on the water, yet made up for speed via excellent miles-per-gallon. By strapping an additional 20-gallons on back, it allowed for a roundtrip to Montague Island from Whittier. Jeff and Doug, riding more powerful Sea-Doo’s, had to siphon fuel from my rig on the return leg.  

Moving to Arizona, I relished hitting the warm waters of Lake Havasu on a newer and faster machine. The best part being, no clingy dry suit was needed in Havasu like the 49th state. We purchased a Kawasaki 250X from now defunct Walt’s Kawasaki, and rode it often with close friend, Mike Jones. After our pal passed away, the supercharged machine was kept in mothballs. Joleen and I eventually sold it to a couple in Phoenix.

I’m amazed at all the knarly boats in town. An upcoming boat show on McCulloch Boulevard will showcase a good number of them. Many multi-engine machines top the million-dollar mark where price is concerned. I thought $13,000.00 for our Kawasaki PWC was high at the time, but that wouldn’t buy a week’s worth of race fuel for some of these beasts.

I’ve contemplated purchasing a real boat. My dream machine being a blown Sanger flat bottom from the 1970’s.  A friend of ours, Tom Gildea, gave me the scoop on that particular model. Tom and his wife Dodie are longtime residents of Lake Havasu City. Avid boaters, Joleen and I respectfully call them, “Boat People.” To be fair, friends of ours owning airplanes are referred to as “Propeller Heads.”

After many years of running the river, Tom told me that he’d observed the same type of boat I craved, sunk, more than all others combined. He explained that they tend to sink easily because of squatting so low in the water. Tom is the second person informing me that BOAT stands for: Break Out Another Thousand. Jeff Thimsen was the first.

I won’t take my friend’s advice on buying a Sanger, as sinking will never occur. You see, this boat will never float. Not only do Sanger’s look awesome sitting on water, but they’re mighty impressive parked in a garage. “A great conversation piece”, is how friend Jim Brownfield explained things. Jim’s comment is what kindled my idea.

For 14-years I owned a Harley-Davidson V-Rod motorcycle. During that time, less than 500 miles were put on the bike. When people asked why I kept the thing, my reply was short and sweet, “So I can say I own a Harley!” The real reason is that I love to tinker with all things mechanical. I had enough motorcycle riding in the younger years to satisfy my appetite.

With an 8-71 blown Sanger flat bottom boat someday parked in my garage, should someone inquire why I never take it on the water, I’ll have a much different yarn to spin than the Harley.

With straight face, I’ll claim that my Sanger is so fast, it was banned from the lake. Of course, “Boat People” will see right through this outrageous lie.  The real reason: I love the cackle of a supercharged Chrysler 426 Hemi through chrome zoomie headers. Firing her up once a month so that the neighborhood knows I’m alive and kicking will be priceless!

8-71 Supercharged 426 Hemi Sanger Boat

HOMELESS in HAVASU

“Much like hot rods, horsepower is king in vacuum cleaners.”

I’m in charge of all vacuuming at our house. I probably have as much vacuum experience as any person in the country, besides professional house cleaners of course. There’s a particular vacuum pattern in carpet that I strive for. It’s much like a crosshatch pattern in football or baseball field grass.

At my disposal is a central vac and an Oreck portable. The central vacuum is my favorite, yet can be a hassle when the hose gets kinked, which is often. Getting a nozzle too close to my wife’s dresser, I’ve accidentally sucked up a few valuables like one of Joleen’s favorite earrings. We eventually found it unscathed in the canister.

The Oreck portable is much handier. I’ll fire it up and be done in half the time as the other. What I don’t like about it are the small bags. Sometimes I forget to change them, and the machine quits sucking. If it’s early morning when this happens, I generally don’t notice. I merely go through the motions of pushing the vacuum around. As long as those crosshatch patterns are showing, I’m okay with the job.

Years ago, a door-to-door Kirby salesman stopped by the trailer park where my family lived. We only had so much carpet in our mobile home. Most of the floor was linoleum.

This salesperson did a superb demonstration on how powerful his vacuum was. First, he had Mom run her well-used Hoover over the carpet. He then cranked up his Kirby and rolled it over the same area. Opening up the bag, there was a sizeable amount of dust and dirt inside.

Dad and Mom were instantly sold on the machine. Mother claimed later on, little did she realize they could’ve replaced the small piece of carpet ten-times, for price of this machine.

A friend of ours purchased a Rainbow vac. Diane swears it’s the best vacuum she’s ever had. It even has a spray paint attachment although I doubt she’s ever used it. Upon learning price, I didn’t inquire further. A small fortune was needed to purchase one.

My daughter came to visit a few months back and watched as I vacuumed the living room. Afterwards, she said it appeared the machine wasn’t doing its job. I could see a nice crosshatch, and that’s all that mattered. Miranda suggested I get a new portable vacuum, one of those turbine-headed ones.

After Miranda left for Minnesota, I started searching the internet for a model like she’d referred to. The Dyson orbital was triple what our old Oreck cost. Deciding to take a plunge, I slapped it on one of our mileage-award credit cards.

After the first vacuuming, I was amazed at all the dust and dirt collected in its hopper. The Dyson doesn’t use bags which is nice. Even more amazing was the professional crosshatch it left behind. The pattern reminded me of New York’s Yankee Stadium before a game.

Much like hot rods, horsepower is king in vacuum cleaners. Good suction requires plenty of it and Dyson delivers. I’d line my Dyson up with Diane’s Rainbow, and my late Mom’s Kirby, any day of the week. As far as that Oreck goes, it’s choking on dust at the back of the pack. The poor machine doesn’t know it yet, but it’s about to become, “Homeless in Havasu.”

JUGGY on a CAT TRAIN

“Telling our driver on the way back, he laughed, saying they could’ve been polar bears, being that we were working on top of the Beaufort Sea.”

Prudhoe Bay “Cat Train”

In the early 1970’s, I worked a couple of jobs in Alaska that for various reasons, I didn’t hang around long enough to make a career out of.  While attending automotive technology classes at Anchorage Community College, I moonlighted as a custodian for Excell Janitorial at Montgomery Ward department store on Northern Lights Boulevard and Spenard Road. That gig lasted a week.

My job was to vacuum the whole complex while two other guys emptied trash cans and cleaned windows. This store had two levels. I got to know my cumbersome Sanitaire vacuum cleaner quite well, toting it up and down a silenced escalator.

The boss warned me that the last guy hired had been fired for stealing. He said that Montgomery Ward had a clandestine security guy working nights and mornings. This person was never observed because there were areas he hid and couldn’t be seen. They knew he was around, because the poor fellow couldn’t make it through a shift without lighting up a cigarette. My supervisor also told me this man often left bait in various places to try and nab someone.

I was vacuuming near the jewelry counter one night. There on a glass display case sat a couple of rings in their fancy velvet boxes. “How unclever!”, came to mind. I assumed the security guy was watching me closely.

“Hey!”, I called out loud enough for anyone to hear. “If you left these rings here on purpose, they’re not my size!”

I uttered such out of humor, not caring what the consequences might be. Thankfully, the fellow never showed his face, or I would’ve asked him to take his nasty smoking habit outside. Later that evening, I detected tobacco smoke upstairs, and knew that he was dogging me. I immediately started singing, Jimmy Crack Corn and Little Liza Jane. Those were the only songs I knew words to, having learned them as a kid in Alabama. I still sing the tunes in my garage when no one’s around; lyrics greatly changed due to ever worsening CRS syndrome (Can’t Remember Songs).

Towards the end of my first week, I glanced out a large window, spotting my friend, Jeff Thimsen, drive by. He was cruising around town in his ’65 Chevrolet as we often did together. Seeing such and being jealous, along with having that unnerving security guy watching my every move, I turned in my resignation the following Monday. Out of courtesy, a few more shifts were completed until a replacement custodian was found.

Approximately a year later, my soon to be brother-in-law, Charlie Hart, was working as a doodlebugger on a seismograph crew on the Alaskan North Slope. Doodlebugger is a nickname of sorts for field seismic employee. Charlie mentioned that GSI was looking for help, and the pay was great with a guaranteed 84-hour work week.

It was the end of the season for seismic crews and most of the seasoned employees were headed home. One of the oil companies wanted a final job performed before frozen tundra and ice started thawing. GSI was hastily trying to round up a crew to complete this mission, hiring just about anyone with functioning legs and arms.

I flew out of Anchorage via Wein Airlines on a 737 jet. We landed at Dead Horse Airport a little over an hour later. After disembarking, I was ushered to a small building close to the taxiway. Inside were other oil field workers bound for different camps; a lone pool table constantly in use with a cloud of bluish smoke hovering over it.

The restroom was outside in another building. Toilets had electric grids within the bowl area designed to incinerate solid materials. I didn’t see the sign saying not to urinate in them, as that was strictly to be done in another part of the building. Noticing it much too late, some guy yelled at me, claiming fellows had been killed doing such. I thought he meant electrocuted. Turns out the electric grids shorted out with too much liquid hitting them. The ‘murder reference’ had to do with that poor guy having to change them. I apologized and quickly left.

After several hours of waiting, I boarded a DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin-Otter aircraft on skis bound for destinations unknown. We flew for perhaps 30 minutes before setting down next to what the pilot called, a “cat train.” This would be my new home.

The cat train consisted of a D-7 Caterpillar, hooked to five little buildings on skis. These mobile shacks made up the camp office, kitchen, living quarters, and a small, chemical decomposing porta-potty . I can only imagine where they dumped the stuff. A diesel Snow Cat used for transportation sat next to the kitchen. Several guys were working under it using visqueen and a kerosene heater to stay warm.

I was shown a cabin I’d be sleeping in and then invited to the dining car for dinner. Diners were expected to eat and leave as space was at a minimum. I shared a 20′ x 12′ dwelling with three other guys. They were all smokers. An instant headache resulted from having to breath their pollutants besides enduring a stinky, oil-burning furnace.

Eating breakfast the next morning at 6:00, I climbed into a Snow Cat with another “juggy” and the vehicle driver. Juggy was officially my new title. My assignment was to pick up seismic cables and geophones (microphones) that another crew laid out the previous day. Imagine a continuous string of Christmas lights with the bulbs facing down, because that’s what they reminded me of.

These devices are used by geologists to tell what’s inside the earth’s crust. The cables stretched out for miles across what I thought was frozen tundra. We had to bend over and grab each geophone separately. After bending and standing thousands of times a day, it was exhausting. They didn’t want us yanking them up by the wire as it could damage things.

Snow Cat

Pete and I brought along a provided lunch including snacks and drinks of our choice. Thermoses of coffee were available, and we each took one the first day. They were empty by noon. I had on bunny boots, thermal underwear, insulated pants, an Arctic parka, fur hat, thick gloves, and sunglasses. What little sun there was to work under was blinding after it bounced off the white terrain. Polarized eye protection prevented snow blindness. We had no communication device which to me was most disturbing.

Our high-strung taxi driver left us there and didn’t return until around seven o’clock that evening. We’d worked well past sunset using flashlights and minimal light from a bright moon. It was unnerving to say the least. There were ice ridges everywhere and after a while they appeared to move. My co-worker and I began to think we were seeing polar bears. In actuality, being tired and cold, we were imagining such.

Telling our driver about the eerie sightings on the way back to camp, he laughed, saying they could’ve been polar bears, being that we were working on top of the Beaufort Sea. That was the first time we learned that land wasn’t under our feet.

Evidently, the oil company hiring GSI desperately wanted this area explored for possible oil and gas reserves. Being at the bottom of the totem pole, Pete and I weren’t privy to such information. It simply leaked out via the doodlebugger grapevine.

Back at camp, things weren’t any better. After a late dinner, my trying to sleep while three roommates hooped and hollered didn’t allow for adequate rest. The druggies had at their disposal, pot, cocaine, and booze. Back then, drug testing wasn’t heard of amongst oilfield workers. Sadly, our Snow Cat driver was one of the dopers.

This routine went on for a few days before Pete told me he’d had enough. He said I’d most likely be working by myself until they finished the job, as help was hard to come by. Being alone in the middle of a vast frozen field of ice , with no radio, gun, or survival gear was a bit unnerving. Knowing that I had to rely on a pothead driver to pick me up was the worst nightmare. For safety reasons, I elected to quit as well.

We rode for a full day in the back of the cat train, trying to catch up on lost sleep. They sent us home the following morning on a slow loving, single engine Cessna airplane. It was headed to Anchorage for repairs. I think it took us close to four hours or longer as we had to refuel along the way. Never was I so happy to get home.

Looking back on things, I’m glad I got to experience such. I found out quick that being a “juggy” wasn’t meant for me, even with the decent pay. Things somewhat changed for the better after I left. Substance abusing employees were no longer tolerated by the company. Urine tests took care of most of that problem. A major downfall being that the fat paychecks were virtually cut in half, because this company and others started hiring out of country employees.

Prudhoe Bay is still supplying oil to ships in Valdez harbor. I can proudly say that for a brief week, I had a miniscule part in making such happen!

Beaufort Sea

SHAKER PLANT EXPERTS

“A thermos of hot coffee wasn’t enough. Hypothermia was a snail’s tail away.”

Always on call!

I’ve never held a professional title of any kind, other than perhaps, Shaker Plant Expert (SPE). According to unreliable sources, there are only two of us in the world. Rod Steiner is one and I’m the other. This honor is self-bestowed; some would question its authenticity.

The State of Alaska – Department of Transportation & Public Facilities – Maintenance & Operations section was experimenting with using glacial sand for winter road use around 1990, give or take five years. Light, imported sand currently being spread on snowy and icy roads was quickly blowing off the slick asphalt as soon as it was put down. Someone came up with the idea of mixing heavier, and sharper granulated glacial silt in with the light. It seemed like a perfect plan.

Because this glacial sand was laden with boulders and rocks, a shaker plant was needed to separate things. DOT purchased a portable one and installed it beside a tributary creek of Portage Lake. This creek was some distance off the Seward Highway and in a beautiful setting.

A shaker plant works much like a mechanical sieve. Stones and gravel are dumped into a hopper, where it then goes to a vibrating screen of sorts. The fine sand drops down through metal grates, while a conveyor carries the heavier material to a designated pile or piles.

A counterweight on a long shaft, driven by fan belts makes the device, shake, rattle, and roll as Rod and I liked to say. We falsely told people that we invented the term, but actual credit goes to 1919 vaudeville performer, “Baby” Franklin Seals. Baby’s use of it I’m sure had nothing to do with making sand.

It was middle September, and a call came in from Larry Bushnell, Girdwood Shop Foreman, that their shaker plant had lost a couple of bearings. The machine was no longer operational. Larry needed it up and running and like right now.

For whatever reason, our boss, Ray Henry, chose Rod and me to drive down and repair it. I believe Ray thought it would be an easy fix with us on the job. Perhaps it was punishment? Weather was as bad as it gets in the Portage Valley area. Wind was blowing icy rain and snow near sideways. Even with Carhart’s and raingear on it was brutally cold.

The machine needed a complete, unbalanced flywheel shaft plus bearings. All essential parts were overnighted. We worked from the bucket of a Case loader in most difficult weather. Rod and I took turns thawing out in the always-running service truck. A thermos of hot coffee wasn’t enough; hypothermia was a snail’s tail away.

It took us four days to complete our mission. The drive from Anchorage to Portage and back was two hours alone. After the mission was complete, we were able to bask in the glory of our success. We wore our imaginary shaker plant expert badges with honor.

Afterwards, whenever the shop phone rang, Rod and I would be on imaginary edge claiming it was another call for our expertise. That never happened for good reason.

Throughout that winter, automotive glass shops in Anchorage, Seward, Homer, and Soldotna were kept extremely busy. The heavier sand had worked just fine. It stayed on the roadway. It also took out countless windshields and headlights in the process. People complained and the operation was immediately placed into mothballs.

I’m told by unreliable sources that this shaker was purchased by a gold mining operation in Girdwood. I can’t verify such, but perhaps, Parker Schnabel, of GOLD RUSH fame can.

At times when I pick up the home phone, I flash back to that inside joke at DOT, expecting an imaginary voice on the other end to call out,

“We need a couple of shaker plant experts, and we need them right now!”

That always brings a smile to my face!

Representative shaker plant image