GOING SPIRAL

“What difference does it make?”

Spiral notebooks

I was going through some of my clutter and came across an elementary school report card from fifth grade. For the most part, I did well in all subjects, except there was one glaring remark in the comments section that flagged my attention.

“Michael does not follow directions.

That was something my folks already knew. Most young guys had the same problem if you can even call it one. I believe it’s hereditary to the male species and more of a “trait” than anything.

Part of my not following instructions had to do with placement of headings. Some instructors wanted your name, class, and teacher’s identity in the upper left-hand corner, while others expected it just the opposite. I’d sometimes get confused before a test began, especially if it was Monday morning.

Having a 50/50 chance of getting things right, I was generally wrong. Evidently, Mrs. Drake deemed this a real dilemma, along with her students using spiral notebooks. She briefly mentioned that in the comments section as well.

Spiral notebooks were disliked by some teachers, most likely because they hated seeing all those jagged edges when a page was removed. There were many times I had to borrow a regular sheet of paper from a classmate to avoid being penalized. Some kids went so far as to use scissors to trim the ragged remnants, but that narrowed the border considerably.

On the flip side, some spiral notebooks that my wife recently purchased from Wal-Mart have perforations next to the springs for ease of page removal. Why didn’t notebooks from the 1960s have the same? It seems we’ll be going spiral for eternity, because at .19 cents apiece on sale, Joleen purchased twenty of the books in a variety of colors.

Getting back to that ancient report card. The “does not follow directions” still remains a part of my life.  Now days, I find it more challenging in trying to put something together while looking at an instruction sheet, than not. With so much stuff being manufactured in China, it’s often a brain teaser attempting to decipher their crudely composed schematics.

The other evening, I successfully assembled a Chinese made paint sprayer purchased from Harbor Freight. The manual showed a couple of bolts being installed one direction, while a picture on front of the box showed them turned the other.

“A picture is worth a thousand words!” came in handy here. I stopped looking at the instructions and went strictly by photo. All turned out well.

One specific guideline that I seldom adhere to, is using black ink when it’s called for on legal, government, and medical papers. Some folks believe it’s a cardinal sin to not follow this rule. If a blue ink pen is found in my desk drawer first, blue automatically becomes the color. To this date, no one’s ever denied nor returned any paperwork due to improper hue.

As Hillary Clinton would say, “What difference does it make?”

That’s exactly what I was thinking near sixty years ago regarding the use of spiral notebook paper!

PET PEEVE

“I’m sure some Sherlock Holmes would’ve wandered over with a buddy, stood there for several seconds before unwisely replying…”

“Run to the Sun”

The “Run to the Sun” car show is almost here and I’m looking forward to it. My wife and I have been attending this event for close to thirty-five years, not as participants, but as gawkers. I’ve always said I’d love to enter a vehicle just one time and perhaps this is the year.

It’s not that we didn’t have anything to display. Our vehicles were always in Alaska and I didn’t have sufficient time to trailer one down. Those were the working years so vacation time was limited.

We’ve been to so many shows over the past fifty-years that it’d be impossible to count. The Street Machine and Street Rod Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota being a couple that we first traveled to. This was in 1974, 1976, and 1977, when those events were just getting off the ground.

Many shows don’t allow newer automobiles to be entered and I’ve never figured out why. It’s a pet peeve of mine. Modern vehicles like Hellcats, ZO6 Corvettes, Supercharged ZL1 Camaros, and even Tesla’s, turn teenage cranks more than ’32 Ford Roadsters or ’55 Chevys. Our local show allows most of the above except Tesla’s, and for some odd reason, Dodge Chargers were excluded.

Where demographics are concerned. I rarely spot but a handful of young faces taking in “Run to the Sun.” Most are middle-aged or ancient dinosaurs like me.

For those automotive venues allowing late model vehicles, I often hear the same cliché uttered time and time again by car show geniuses. “Yea, that car was purchased new and brought here. Anyone can do that!” In their minds, if a car isn’t old or “built” it’s nothing special. Usually, the ones vocalizing such had someone else build theirs.

My father owned a Texaco service station in the late 60s and early 70s. This was while I was in my teen years. As an employee, I took it upon myself to test drive some of the fastest iron that Detroit offered: Pontiac GTO Judges, Chevrolet Z-28 Camaros, Plymouth Roadrunners, GTX’s, and Ford 428 Mach 1 Mustangs to name a few. Those were all newer, showroom quality vehicles back then. Today, these same muscle cars draw a slew of admirers, although the numbers are decreasing as this older generation silently rides into the sunset.

We only have one vehicle eligible for this upcoming show. Our 1950 Chevy truck will have to suffice although it’s not pretty. Had we even been allowed to enter the Dodge Redeye Hellcat Charger, I would’ve hesitated. I’m sure some Sherlock Holmes would’ve wandered over with a buddy, stood there for several seconds with beer in hand before unwisely replying, “Yep, definitely purchased from a showroom and then brought here. Anyone can do that!” He would’ve only been partially right because it was special ordered in Ohio through a dealer friend of ours.

No biggie. I’m sure the owners of 426 Hemi Chargers, 428 Shelby Mustangs, 455 Pontiac GTOs, and SS-454 Chevrolet Chevelle’s had to endure the same head-shaking wisdom some fifty years ago.

Should someone ask if I built my ’50 Chevy, I’ll tell them like I’ve informed so many others. “No, Cloyd Boddington slapped it together.” Only seasoned car guys and gals will catch the humor!

Michael Hankins standing in front of his 1968 Dodge Charger (1972 photo)

SHOP TALK

“I always looked forward to going, making sure to pack a tasty lunch.”

Turnagain Arm near Girdwood with Seward Highway on left

There’s a tiny hamlet located some forty miles south of Anchorage, Alaska that holds a special space in my heart. Girdwood is on the Seward Highway, directly across from the gray, silty waters of Turnagain Arm. It’s home to the world famous Alyeska Ski Resort. To some locals, the nickname for this place is “Girdweed.” Savvy readers will know what I’m referring to. Approximately two thousand residents live there.

The surrounding terrain is popular with hikers during summer months, and some higher mountain peaks never fully shed their snow and ice from winter. I was fortunate to work in Girdwood for several years.

The State of Alaska – Department of Transportation, has a shop on the outskirts of town where equipment is stored for road maintenance. I’d travel there several times a month to service and repair graders, snowplows, loaders, and smaller equipment. I always looked forward to going, making sure to pack a tasty lunch.

Most of the work was dirty and greasy, yet the beautiful drive from Anchorage and back more than made up for my pungent diesel fuel aroma. That odor clung to orange coveralls like an overdose of Brut cologne on a freshly shaved face.

It was common to spot Beluga whales searching for Hooligan in the salt water. Hooligan are a delicacy not only to whales but people as well. Dip nets are used on Twentymile River to capture them before they head upriver to spawn. This glacier fed river is about twenty miles south of Girdwood thus the name.

Dall sheep posturing along the roadway for photos are seen, along with timid black bears scurrying across soggy tundra near the Girdwood shop. Eagles, either flying or perched on rocks, moose, and birds of all type hung around most of the year.

Just recently, a friend sent me a hiring announcement for three operator positions at the Girdwood DOT facility. That’s unheard of, because back in the day when people actually wanted to work, getting hired there took patience. Some guys never left unless they physically or medically had to.

Thinking back to these always welcome road trips, I recall above everything else, taking breaks or eating lunch with the guys. This was if they were still in the shop, as most of the time the crew was out doing road repairs. We’d talk cars, trucks, motorcycles, snowmobiles, boats, hunting, fishing, along with the normal everyday shop talk. It’s surreal that no one’s left from that group other than five: Andy Hibbs, Doug Webster, Drew Motsinger, Dick Redman, and me. Sadly, a good many have now left this world. I considered all of them friends.

Larry Bushnell was an equipment operator before becoming shop foreman. He was a state employee for thirty-eight years. It was only one year after leaving state service that he had a massive heart attack and died. That was 2014. Larry was operating a personal backhoe when it happened.

Pat Vail passed four years earlier from a longtime illness. It was suspected that his Parkinson’s disease came from being subjected to agent orange during the Vietnam War. I have another pal that fought over there and came down with the same affliction.

Rob Hammel was helping a lady get her vehicle unstuck on the Seward Highway one winter, when a car slid out of control and struck him. He died instantly. I often saw Rob at art exhibits where we both shared a love for Alaskan wildlife pictures. He was looking forward to retirement.

Terry Onslow succumbed to complications from pneumonia not long after retiring. Terry was in charge of avalanche control and very knowledgeable in this area. His radio moniker was Avalanche One. I jokingly called him, “Avalanche Juan.”

Leif Loberg enjoyed his “freedom” for twelve years before an illness took him down. A veteran mechanic once candidly told the good-natured man, “Leif it alone!” This was after Loberg started to take a partially repaired loader from the shop. After that, everyone used the comical phrase including Leif.

I swapped tales with all of these guys during my DOT tenure. I still vividly remember some of them, especially one story regarding a huge, seventy-pound king salmon caught by Pat Vail.

If I was younger, I’d happily take one of those three open jobs. There’s no better place to work than Girdwood. Undoubtedly, some mechanics and road maintenance personnel in Lake Havasu City would argue the point. Girdwood and this community share similar traits. Both lie in picturesque settings surrounded by pristine water and rugged mountains. Working in Arizona’s summer heat can be brutal while the same can be said for subzero Alaskan winters.

Shop talk here is probably much the same during breaks and lunch as it was in Girdwood back in the day. Some guy or gal bragging about a huge striper or bass reeled in from Lake Havasu being an example. The stories would all be similar except for one major part. It’d be impossible to top Pat Vail’s story regarding that massive salmon. When fish stories end up in the workplace, Alaska will always come out on top!

Seventy-pound king salmon representative of the one that Pat Vail caught.

MAKE MINE RARE!

“If my books never make a best seller list that’s okay.”

A simplification of the word rare regarding collectibles is, limited quantity or scarce. I have a few items meeting this definition, and some things headed that direction.

A special 1799 silver dollar given to me by a departed friend is quite rare. There were several minted but only a few survive. Twenty or more Alaska drug store bottles in my possession are quite scarce. Only five or six are known of the Iditarod specimen.

A prized book by author, William Guthman, is extremely rare and valuable. I’m blessed to have a copy in my library. The rarity comes from a limited amount being printed.

Years ago, I looked into writing screen plays for movies. I was immediately turned off in seeing that writers need to belong to the Screen Writer’s Guild. That was an immediate let down. The same with writing music. There’s even a Song Writer’s Guild.

What these guilds amount to are hands sticking out wanting a share of your talent and money. They’re nothing more than a hungry buzzard circling overhead, much like Colonel Tom Parker was to Elvis Presley.

The same greediness exists where writing books is concerned. It’s hard to get new publications noticed unless you have a publicist or agent. There again, more fingers are lurking in the shadows wanting their cut. Thankfully, I don’t write strictly for money as some writers do. I’d be better off flipping cars or houses if financial reasons were what powered me.

I get offers all the time from companies and individuals professing to be promotional experts where selling books is concerned. I screen my calls carefully and never pick up. They’ve went so far as to track down my children and friends, asking if they knew how to get hold of me.

I was once asked why I didn’t reach out to these professionals. One person said I could sell a lot more books if I did. I look at it this way. I didn’t seek their help composing my material, and I don’t need it now.

I’ve even had some criticism where my writing is concerned. When you’ve lived in Alaska as long as I have, snide remarks have a way of getting back to you. One self-acknowledged expert on Alaska history criticized a book that I wrote on Mattie “Tootsie” Crosby. “He should’ve never included religious viewpoints!”

What this fellow failed to realize is that I was led to do so. I’m not sure he’d even know what that means. I took the time and effort to put this book together strictly because it came to me one night while sleeping. Mattie “Tootsie” Crosby wanted folks to know foremost, that she was a Christian. Her letters to a newspaper that I accidentally came across dictated such. Earlier articles published on Mattie Crosby failed to disclose anything dealing with her faith.

If my books never make a best seller list that’s okay. In one hundred years, they’ll join the ranks of rare collectibles much like that 1799 silver dollar, Iditarod medicine bottle, and William Guthman book. I’d much rather have a few publications in this category, than a thousand, sitting on secondhand store markdown tables throughout the country.

I truly wish I could be here when my future grandchildren inform their friends, “My great grandpa wrote this book and it’s rare.”

That alone will be priceless!

DEEPER MEANING

“Give it due time!”

My former co-worker and good friend, Rod Steiner, passed away on August 5, 2022. We were alike in many ways. Rod’s sense of humor was right up there with mine.

We’d both had several skirmishes with the law in our younger days where obeying traffic laws on motorcycles was concerned. Rod and I often told our stories over lunch and always got a hoot recalling them. Life wasn’t taken as seriously back then by either of us.

Rod had one unfortunate experience that I suppose he would’ve liked to have avoided. Him and his older brother, Keith, had just finished building a turbocharged, methanol-fuel-burning Yamaha. My friend elected to road test it first. He was just wicking the throttle up on a stretch of asphalt when a radar unit nabbed him doing 70 in a 45. The officer immediately turned on his lights.

Eluding police on a motorcycle in Anchorage back in the day was easy to do. There were so many places to pull off the road and disappear into tight alleys or thick woods. It was common procedure. Rod was looking to do just that when a State of Alaska – Fish & Wildlife pickup truck pulled directly in front of him. The fish cops overheard things taking place on their police radio and decided to intervene.

Rod hit the brakes yet couldn’t stop, smashing into their driver side door. His Yamaha was pretty much totaled. Besides suffering a broken leg, he had to pay a hefty fine, plus cough up funds for damages to the truck. Rod believed the fish cops went to extreme measures to stop him.

I had similar instances but fortunately never had an accident in the process. Rod, knowing that I liked to write, jokingly mentioned that a book should be written about my escapades. When I said that I didn’t have sufficient material for a whole book unlike him, Rod’s answer was, “Give it due time!”

We even came up with a humorous name for our brainstorm, “You Don’t Know Squat!” This was a popular saying used quite often back then. Squat was a nickname we had for several people, including ourselves. I think for us it was more of a nickname for Sasquatch. Rod and I both had reddish hued beards during this time.

This all happened some forty years ago. It’s taken me that long to archive enough material to place between book covers. Having not talked to Rod for at least ten years, I was just getting ready to write him, when word came of his unexpected death. I wanted to inform my friend of a story in the book explicitly written about him and me. There was one additional item.

When Rod’s father passed away in 2003, I stopped by his parent’s home as he searched through things in the garage. Inside one of his dad’s high school yearbooks was written in fading ink: “All great men are dead. I’m not feeling too well myself!” Rod chuckled, mentioning that it was his father’s handwriting.

We saw great humor in the words, and it became our motto of sorts, not contemplating that it actually had serious meaning. I liked it so much that I decided to add Mark Twain’s attributed quote to the last page of my book.

Sadly, and ironically, the Friday I did so is the exact day my friend departed this life. Once humorous words instantly took on deeper meaning. Older and wiser have a way of changing thoughts. It did mine!

DIVIDED NATION

“It’s not fair!”

Because of growing tensions, by 2030, the United States is divided into two separate entities. Socialists, or Democrats live in one half of each 50 states, while Capitalists, or Republicans make up the other. A stipulation put to citizens beforehand was that whatever side was picked, they, along with children and grandchildren, will remain there indefinitely. Relocating was not a choice.

By 2035, Capital Heights is flourishing. Things were actually great at the start, because most intelligent people in the United States decided this was the best place to be. Small groups of immigrants from other countries are being courteously vetted and allowed in via organized procedure.

Jobs are plentiful and newcomers are happy to start at the bottom, realizing that they can work their way up. Food is plentiful made possible by supplemental gardens and fruit orchards. There’s a surplus monetary supply thanks to conservative leadership. Crime is almost nonexistent due to sufficient police.

Over in Socialville, things aren’t exactly the same. With political leaders promising to hand out free stuff in order to get folks on their side, those looking merely for handouts drifted that direction. Undocumented aliens and criminals not wanting to earn a living crossed unchecked borders like pirates on a mission. Water is scarce including food. Drugs and drug pedaling runs rampant.

So many sickly residents live within, that understaffed hospitals can’t take care of them all. Topnotch medical care is nonexistent, because the majority of well-educated doctors and nurses elected to go capitalist. Abortion clinics and methadone dispensaries flourish.

Instead of subsistence gardens and orchards being planted, weed is the number one crop in Socialville. Medicinal and recreational users lay around like driftwood waiting for the next tide to arrive. A few menial jobs are available, but people don’t commit. Why work when the government hands out bigger checks for doing nothing. Businesses go under at a rate never before seen in American history. Crime is off the scale.

Come 2050, Socialville has been reduced to that of a third world country. Residents angrily glare across state borders, complaining that they don’t have what the capitalists have. They fail to remember that they voluntarily reduced themselves to have not status. Now, looking for political or government assistance, there is none to be found. The cookie jar is empty. Their brainless leaders have left the building.

Across the border in Kansas, a child trapped in Socialville cries out to another youngster on the other side,

“It’s not fair!”

The Capital Heights resident thinks for several seconds before yelling back,

“Blame your parents. They put you there!

A WHOLE LOTTA DAMAGE

“A cookie jar doesn’t remain full forever.”

I read daily where people are illegally walking across our border. They hail from various places, all walks of life. I understand folks wanting to better their lives, as everyone should have an equal opportunity to achieve such. It needs to be done according to the rules.

Legal means do exist for entering the United States. Millions of immigrants chose that route during the last 200 years. They filled out the paperwork, marked appropriate boxes, and over time, became legal residents. Becoming a U.S. citizen isn’t akin to picking up a burger at a fast-food joint, yet some now think it is.

What I don’t understand is this: Why are government officials allowing this to go on, yet the rest of us are held to the laws of the country. One party in particular appears to be behind it all. Do they condone illegal acts merely for a vote at the next election? It appears that way. I call this cheating.

If Sarah was running for sixth grade class president, and wanted to easily win votes, she’d offer up free cookies in exchange for ballots. The word for this is bribery. Of course, cookies aren’t free as someone has to pay for them, and it wouldn’t be her. Sarah has no job nor allowance.

Someone is also having to front the bill for illegals flocking across the border. Food, clothing, cellphones, lodging, medical help, doesn’t come from gardens. Working stiff taxpayers are footing the bill here, and they have no choice in the matter, at least where Democrat politicians are concerned. I use the term Democrat loosely, because this isn’t the same Democrat party of fifty-years ago. They’ve shifted 100% to socialism where platform is concerned.

There’s nothing I can do to stop this madness other than vote for politicians opposing such. Regardless, it will cease on its own somewhere down the line. A cookie jar doesn’t stay full forever and money doesn’t grow on trees.

Ultimately, if allowed to go unchecked, the Democrat party will be successful in dragging us down to the level of those countries that people fled. Venezuela comes to mind here. A scary thought.

To quote successful television entrepreneur, Phil Swift,

“Now that’s a whole lotta damage!”

So much damage, that even Flex Seal can’t fix it.

STAMPEDE TO OATMAN

“You’ll be welcome there, at least by the tourists!”

I’ve been through just about everything in my life. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, quicksand, threat of nuclear war, and last but not least, covid.

My encounter with quicksand wasn’t so much sand as mud. When the tide goes out of Cook Inlet in Anchorage, Alaska, a thick mud made of silt and clay is left behind. You can walk across it, but don’t stop and jiggle feet, because it quickly turns to goo. Many a person has been trapped in this muck, with several people tragically drowned when water came rushing back in.

I became mired on one fishing expedition and was fortunate to be wearing hip waders. My brother and a friend quickly lifted me out of the rubber boots. With some effort, they were able to yank them loose as well. I only made that mistake one time. Newcomers to Anchorage are warned about walking on the mudflats. I’d been told, but gave it little thought up until then.

One thing I never encountered is a stampede. Vintage western movies dramatize them all the time, and in some cases, regurgitated the same film footage over and over. I became good at recognizing such.

We were driving from Lake Havasu City, Arizona to Chapman, Kansas a few years back. Part of this trip took us through through Texas on US-54. I could smell the Dalhart cattle feedlot before seeing it. Tooting my horn to say hello as we rolled past, my wife asked me to cease, claiming the animals might stampede. I respectfully obliged.

A fellow at a gas station said there was close to 60,000 head crammed in that place. They were hunched together tighter than raisins in a box. It’s hard to envision delicious hamburger patties and steaks originating from such a ghastly scene.

I’ve often wondered if stampedes were something dreamed up by Hollywood producers. After a bit of research, I came across a newspaper account of one taking place in Arizona in 1891. It’s rather a short story, so I’ll transcribe things exactly as is from the Tombstone Weekly Epitaph. I did make a couple of slight sentence adjustments, as they were quite archaic in composition.

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Stampede in the Mule Mountains

“A drive of 900 head of steers, to be delivered at Wilcox for J.V. Vickers, had reached a gap in the Mule Mountains, on the way from the southern part of the county, on Friday night, when for some unforeseen reason they stampeded and scattered in all directions.

The stampede occurred at about eleven o’clock at night and when daylight came, but 238 head were in sight. A stampede to most people unacquainted with the range, is believed to amount to some similar act of cussedness as a cow kicking over the milk bucket, or a bull jumping over the garden fence and eating the cabbages. A stampede, however, is an entirely different thing.

Imagine 700 steers in a race away from some object which they imagine is after them, each one trying to outrun the one ahead of him; the air trembling with the sounds of their hooves; trampling each other under foot and carrying everything before them.

After the band, in the present instance, had passed the level country they made for the mountains with seven cowboys after them, trying to control them and allay their fear. All night long they rode through brush and rocks to head them off from getting back to their old range. When daylight came the horses and men presented a sorry looking sight.

The clothes were nearly torn off from the men and the horses bleeding and crippled from contact with brush and rock in the darkness, and 237 head of cattle to be seen out of nearly 1000 head was a discouraging outlook.

Word was brought to Tombstone, and fresh men and horses went to the rescue and the work of rounding them up still goes on. But one steer was killed; he fell and was trampled to death by those which followed.

When they broke, they made directly for the camp where the wagon and supplies and bedding were located. It seemed as though there would be nothing left of it, or the occupant of the wagon, who was asleep.  The cook, however, heard the noise and being no tenderfoot, he grasped the situation and a blanket at the same time. Standing up, he waved the blanket in the face of the oncoming avalanche. The effect was marvelous; the terror-stricken animals parted, went around the camp, and came together on the other side.

The cattle belonged to Dick Clark, the Snake Ranch, Fred Herrera, and others. It is expected that by tomorrow they will be on their way to Wilcox.”

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Looking back on my trip to Kansas, perhaps honking at those incarcerated steers in Dalhart, Texas was the right thing to do. Had they stampeded and escaped from that horrible place, a few might’ve made it south to Mexico unscathed. In western movies, that’s where outlaws on the run always go.

There’s another popular sanctuary for creatures on the lam a bit further down the trail, with Oatman, Arizona being refuge to quite the population of wild burros. Those four-legged creatures will never starve as long as visitors with sacks of alfalfa cubes keep stopping by.

Next time I’m driving on US-54 and pass that cattle prison camp, I’ll honk for all it’s worth. Most definitely, 60,000 stampeding steers can easily bust through the metal fences, and I doubt there’s enough real cowboys left in Texas to stop them. Slowing to a crawl, I’ll yell out an open car window with my best western drawl, while pointing the way,

“Head west little dogies and don’t look back ’til you git to Oatman. You’ll be welcome there, at least by the tourists!”

Oatman burros looking for a handout.