A One Eared Elephant

Sunset

I was on the phone to Charlie who was working up north at the time when a friend stopped by the house. He was in a very good mood and wanted to go celebrate the very first contract of his new construction company. He had invited everyone he knew that had encouraged him and helped make it happen and needed a designated driver, too. That would be me.

Charlie and I had helped out as much as we could and we were both happy for our friend. Charlie told me to go ahead and go, enjoy myself and tell him all about it later.
A lady friend was living in our basement apartment at the time, so she came along also as it was going to be an enjoyable evening out for everyone. The fact that it was around -40 degrees and heavy ice fog didn’t dim the mood of the celebrants.

I made sure we had enough warm clothing just in case of any problems with the vehicle and we headed over to the Pump House on Chena Pump Road.

This is a nice restaurant (President Reagan ate there) and most of the people invited were already waiting for us to show up. We were seated in the middle of the main dining room and the place was crowded. Just because it was a very cold night didn’t mean people didn’t go out on a Saturday night.

The food was great, drinks flowed freely and everyone was having an entertaining evening but the instigator of our group decided it was too dull. He wanted some dancing and music.

The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to extend the evening and enjoy being entertained. Finally he jumped up on the table and started telling jokes. Several people at other tables started clapping and hooting, encouraging him to greater lengths. He did a few dance steps but no one would get up on the table with him to dance.

He finally couldn’t think of any more stories or jokes to tell and decided to ask the growing audience if anyone there had ever seen a one eared elephant. No one had.

He pulled one front pocket of his jeans out and fanned the material out nicely, then started to unbutton his pants.

Several of us managed to get him down off the table and hustled out the door as management was on the phone even as we bundled him out the door.

The slap of the freezing night air hit him like an actual slap to the face as we stuffed him into his winter coat and then into the pickup. He tried to convince us he could drive but we overruled that immediately and he gave in.

The backseat was full of tools and winter gear, so all three of us had to squish together in the front seat.

I only had to pull over once for him to hurl and we were almost to my house, when the flashing red lights appeared behind us. I pulled over immediately.

The Officer was very nice, but there was a tail light out on the pickup. He got a recap of the entire evening from my passengers, he asked if he should follow us home and assist us into the house. I told him I thought we could get in the house okay, but I would appreciate him following us in the heavy ice fog with the back light out.

We made it home okay and the officer was kind enough to wait until we were in the house before he pulled away.

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Road graders, really OLD Road graders

Nothing to do with the post, just my favorite toy.

Nothing to do with the post, just my favorite toy.


I was building a road to the Homesite Charlie had won in a drawing while he worked up north. A friend was having some difficulties and no longer in the construction business so told me I could use the old Road grader he owned. The stipulation was, I had to start it and drive it away. No one offered assistance and I found there were 3 shutoff switches between the batteries and the starter. That part alone took me almost all day.

I did get it started and luckily for me, the blade was raised already so I didn’t have to try figuring that part out, just yet. I found a gear that it would move in without killing the engine and headed out toward the Homesite location up the Elliott.

I took the back roads as I didn’t know what the regulations were for someone driving something like that on public roads without a clue on how to operate it.

That weekend, Charlie was home from working up north and we went out to do some work on the Homesite. He admired the old Road grader, started it up and had me get up in it with him to ride along, I thought.

He drove it about 100 feet, raising and lowering the blade, tilting the whole deck and using all the array of gears and levers like a maestro. Then he stopped the Road grader, jumped down, told me to have fun and left. Sheesh, if I had known I was supposed to be the operator, I would have been paying attention.

Road graders are a lot of fun, but the newer ones are not be as rough on the Operator. The one I ran was gear driven, an OLD Wabco 440. No hydraulics but many levers and pedals. There were levers on the dash and ones up through the floor that you used your knees or thighs to press side to side while working the dash levers with your hands and the foot pedals with your feet, of course. If you didn’t release the knee levers quick enough the lever beat the insides of your legs black and blue. Gear driven is immediate pain for neglecting to pay attention.

Charlie tried to convince me to try operating a dragline, but after watching them on the river bank tipping up when the bucket snagged something heavy on the river bottom, I said “no thanks.”

Do-it-yourself Surgery, Part 1

1941 Ten Mile Creek Homestead

We lived in the Boonies and loved it. Wild as the woodland creatures around us, none of us had much for social skills. We played in the woods and the swift running creek that in most places would be considered a small swift river. Then we decided the off-limits abandoned mill pond would be a better swimming hole.

We didn’t mind that when we waded in, it had 2 feet of water and 2 feet of soft mud. Some areas had only a foot of water and 3 feet of mud. The bottom had sharp rocks and some random bottles thrown in by the former mill workers. At least most were deep enough that we seldom found them.

As we found the bottles, we removed them from the pond. Then one of us got the bright idea to build a raft. We crafted our raft from green alder wood, which was easy to cut down with an ax and shape. We built it on the steep bank that dropped off into the pond. It’s a good thing the bank was so steep. That raft was heavy. We finally managed to get it into the pond and it floated nicely. Well, it floated nicely until someone got on it.

The two youngest boys ended up using the raft the most. With both of them on it, it floated, but was about 2 inches under the surface. Due to the high amount of mud under the water which kept the pond a rich mud color, it appeared that the two boys were standing in shallow water holding a long pole, each.

The first time they tried poling the raft, the poles stuck and stayed in the mud. The boys could hang onto the poles and let the raft float on away from them, or they could let go and leave the poles upright, stuck firmly in the soft gooey mud. They finally figured out just how to pole gently to travel around the small pond.

Before we upgraded the mill pond to swimming hole, we used to rescue stranded salmon fry in drying puddles along the creek and dump them into the pond. They grew quite well and soon the pond was stocked with landlocked salmon and good fishing. The fish would freak us out when they bumped into our legs in the water. We managed to scare each other with tales of monsters lurking under the mud.

Somehow, I managed to step on a broken whiskey bottle in the mud and sliced the bottom of my left foot badly, leaving a large flap of flesh hanging. It was bleeding freely and I sat on a rock beside the pond trying to convince one of the other kids to go up to the house and get Mom.

Since we were not supposed to be in that pond, no one would go up and let her know I was hurt. I ended up having to trudge up the dusty road and tell her myself. The flap of flesh was totally caked in dust and mud by the time I got to the house. I was trying not to step down on the wound, but there is not many ways to walk without touching the bottom of your foot to the ground.

Mom tried cleaning the dirt out of the wound and finally decided it was too dirty to replace the flesh flap into the hole. She sat me down on one of the steps outside so we didn’t mess up anything in the house. Then I had to hold my own foot still while she cut the large flap of flesh loose from my foot. She used her sewing scissors as that was the sharpest instrument she could find. My foot would start jerking as she started snipping away the flap of flesh. It took quite a while as live human flesh isn’t easy to cut through. I was having a very hard time holding my foot still. If I let it jerk, I got reprimanded or smacked. She finally tidied it up fairly well and poured merthiolate into the hole. That stuff burns and certainly took my mind off what we had just did.

Mom made a bandage of sorts to cover the entire bottom of my foot as most of it was involved in the damage. I wore a couple of pairs of socks over it to try to keep more dirt out of it. It took several months to heal and at various times it would get infected and it was back to the merthiolate. I had to clean it daily with peroxide and rubbing alcohol which was one way to make sure I never went back into that pond.

Big Ben

House we were building

Big Ben was just what his name implied. He was a very big man. My Dad was 6’3” and at that time usually around 190 pounds of muscle. Big Ben towered over him. When we still lived in Mapleton during the war years, Big Ben lived with us as fuel was rationed and he had to be closer to his work which was tree falling as the spruce on the Oregon coast was needed to build airplane frames out of.

After the war, we moved up Ten Mile Creek, north of Florence and had an 1800’s type of growing up. No electricity, running water, phone, radio or mail delivery, just like I live now.

Big Ben lived out closer to the ocean about nine miles from where we now lived and would come visit quite often. He and Dad liked to walk up the dirt road, looking for game to shoot and bring back for dinner.

One time, as the crossed the bridge over the north fork of Ten Mile Creek, Big Ben spotted a nice sized buck deer drinking, just under the edge of the bridge. He decided against wasting a bullet by just jumping off the bridge onto the buck’s back and cutting its throat.

Almost everything went as planned. He climbed to the top of the railing without the buck even hearing him. He pulled out his large skinning knife and jumped. That’s where the plan fizzled.

The first thing the deer knew, some huge heavy thing landed on its back and grabbed it around the throat. The deer didn’t just meekly stand there. From that point on, it was a fight. Big Ben soon was trying to get away from the deer. By the time the deer allowed Big Ben to get away, Big Ben was completely stripped of his heavy clothing. The neck and collar of his work shirt was still around his neck, his socks were on his feet, the cuffs of his pants were around his ankles but all the clothing and a good portion of his skin was shredded and hanging in tatters between his collar and cuffs. The deer not only used his antlers to good effect, his hooves slashed and cut their way all over him. He said that was the first time he knew deer were so flexible and double jointed.

They walked the mile back down the road to our home. Big Ben stayed just out of sight of the house as he didn’t have anything to cover himself with. Dad walked on up to the house and got some clothes for Big Ben to wear. They cleaned up most of the hoof and antler slashes and none required medical attention and they were used to patching themselves up in the woods anyway. He decided not to stay and went home. He also decided to never save a bullet and use a knife to hunt with.

Using Daddy’s Falling Axes

Dad by the Jeep

While we still lived near the Oregon coast, we depended on ourselves and our imagination to entertain ourselves as kids. The 5 kids belonging to our Dad’s Catskinner and wife spent most of their time with us, so there were several wild imaginations to cover just about any possibility.

Our Dad started out as a logger before chainsaws were in use in the woods so was a master at felling trees using a double bit ax or a two-man whipsaw. His axes were kept in shaving sharp condition and no one ever touched them. They were works of art, with the heads shaped perfectly and balanced to the nth degree for ease of use during an 8 to 10 hour day.

We first used a couple of Dad’s axes when we devised a new thrill ride. We had been climbing as high as we thought we could safely slide down the outside of cedar trees, but that was starting to seem tame. We then decided to draw straws to see who the loser would be that had to stay on the ground while all the rest climbed the tree. The loser then chopped the tree down with the others riding it to the ground, screaming all the way, then grabbing more straws to do it all over again. It was fun the way riding an extreme roller coaster is fun but didn’t last as long.

We were trying to figure out some way to warm up the creek we swam in so we could actually enjoy the process. The huge trees bowing over the stream seemed to mock our puny kid strength. I don’t remember just who decided we should fall some of the trees along the stream to remove the shade. We quickly decided to just fall all the trees. Those axes were so sharp it usually didn’t take very long per tree to see them fall against the other bank and we soon had the entire area covered in downed trees crisscrossing across the stream we had planned to swim in.

Finally one of the two older boys said he would get those trees out of the way. He climbed up into the tangled mess of trees, taking one of the axes with him. He soon stood up on one tree and started cutting the tree directly in front of him and it made a satisfying splash as it hit the stream. This stream or creek was considered a creek but most of the time it had enough water rushing down it to qualify as a small river. It seldom saw the light of day except through the leaves of dense forest overshadowing it. Taking a drink out of it could give a person a headache it was so cold.

Jerry proceeded to step back onto the tree behind him and cut the one he had just stepped off of and was making great progress on clearing the new swimming hole. The current was fast enough that the cut trees were immediately out of sight on their way to the ocean about 8 miles away with a 500 foot drop in elevation. As Jerry swung the ax, the tree under him shifted and he realized he was on the one he was chopping, it was the last tree to cut.

The tree started down, Jerry flung the ax and was also falling toward the water quite a ways below him. As he rotated, the sun glinting off the razor sharp edge of the ax kept glinting in his eyes. He imagined he was about to not only split the tree but his own head as he hit the water.

My Dad had come back to the house early that day for some reason, heard the chopping and arrived on the scene just in time to see Jerry, the ax and the tree hit the water. The roar my Dad let out scared the rest of us into scattering like quail. Jerry surfaced, saw my Dad and promptly dove for the bottom of the pool. By the time he ran out of air and surfaced again, my Dad reached over the bank and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, picked him up and said “the next time you surface, you better have that ax.”

Jerry did.

Idiots With Horns

Rosalyn On Sweetheart

Reaching the ripe old age of 17 without ever having to use a horse while working cattle, I was not a natural. After more horse related accidents than I care to remember, I finally learned to ride quite well. I sometimes even enjoyed it, but moving our herd of cattle along the main highway from one pasture to the next was never a favorite time. It wasn’t a hard part of moving cattle as they were hemmed in with fences along each side of the road. It was the cars on the highway.

Why drivers thought it would do any good to crowd the herd and the riders on horses or start honking their horns as they pushed their way through the cattle, I don’t know.

As Goldy and I worked the stragglers, keeping them caught up with the rest of the herd, one car kept creeping directly up behind us and almost touching the horse.

She was not used to working cattle, nor was she used to traffic. We had brought her over with us from the Coast and she didn’t particularly like the changes in her life.

The closer the car would edge, the jumpier she got and kept trying to see directly behind her. I was getting yelled at the keep the cattle bunched closer and pay attention to the cattle while the horse was trying to keep away from the car. The car edged right up behind me and the fellow must have just laid on the horn. That was the final straw for Goldy. She kicked back with both hind feet, right into the grill on the car and got the radiator, also. As soon as she stopped, I got off and was checking her hind legs for injuries. My Dad rode over to see why I was off the horse and not keeping stragglers caught up and must have taken in the problem at a glance. The prolonged horn honking had got his attention, too.

The car driver was looking at the damage to his car and started yelling about who was going to pay. My Dad rode close to him and said a few quiet words I didn’t hear and the fellow immediately got back in his car and was still sitting there as we rounded the bend in the road and down the side road that would take us to the lower pasture on the hill, away from the hay meadows the cattle had just wintered on.

I wasn’t sure, but thought I probably wasn’t going to be in trouble this time. Dad never said a word about it and as we stopped for the day, he did check Goldy over to make sure she really wasn’t injured. The car was not there, when we returned home that afternoon. I never heard any more about it.

Snipe Hunt

Eastern Oregon

We were all spending the evening at one of the neighbor’s houses which meant somewhere within 20 miles of our ranch. I had been invited, Linda invited herself and my brother came along just because he wasn’t doing anything else at the moment.

Earlier, we stopped at another neighbor’s house along the way and picked up LaV. as she was a friend of Linda’s.

Those two immediately started making pests of themselves, vying for one of the young men present at the party. He was not interested but was trying not to be just plain mean to either of them.

His older brother, my brother and I were talking near the door when he hid behind us and asked how to get them to stop it. We decided on a Snipe Hunt.

Since it was a lovely warm summer evening, we made it seem like a group effort and gathered some gunny sacks from an old shed, a few flashlights although the night was bright with moonlight and set off up the hill.

There was a nice little gully coming down the hill which the boys told the girls was a perfect place to set up their traps while the rest of us drove the snipes up the hill into their gunny sacks which they were to hold open across the little gully. We had disturbed some quail on our way up, and could hear the birds making little bird noises in the brush.

The girls were spaced just far enough apart that they wouldn’t be talking and figure this out too soon, but not so far apart to get scared and rush back down the hill right away. They could just see each other in the moonlight.

The rest of the evening went nicely, with everyone enjoying a quiet get-together. The boy’s Mom got home and she was so pleased to find us all behaving well with the lights all on, our dishes done and the place spotless as when she left.

While she was still in the kitchen, the two Snipe Hunters showed up at the door, not very happy with the rest of us. We managed to keep them fairly quiet, said a goodnight to the boys and their Mom and went home. It was a quiet ride.

The two girls weren’t quite so obvious in their pursuit of the young man after that. Nothing like a good Snipe Hunt to give someone time to think.

Improvise, darn it!

Charlie & Me, Sketch

I wake up at 2 am to a freezing cold house. What the heck? We just had fuel oil delivered and what can I do now?
I jump out of bed and check the lights. Yes, we still have power, so that isn’t the problem. I pull on a winter coat, some mittens, a heavy hat and head downstairs to see what is wrong with the furnace.
Two weeks ago, I took and passed a State of Alaska Boiler Operators test so according to them, I was a qualified Boiler Operator and our furnace is a hot water baseboard heater. I should be able to figure this out. I can do it.
I look at the large black lump in the corner of the basement. It doesn’t make a sound although at least the circulating pumps still have to rapidly cooling water moving through the pipes. If not for that, I would already have a worse problem as it is a balmy 56 degrees below zero outside.
I click the reset button which usually fixes everything. Nothing. I click it a few more times in frustration and because kicking a many hundred pound chunk of cooling iron is really hard on toes. Yes, that was my first attempt at repair. Quit laughing.
Finally desperation sets in. Yesterday was Sunday. My husband is hundreds of miles away working on the Slope. I don’t want to think about what a furnace repair man would charge to come out in this temperature at this time of day.
Finally the shivering gets bad enough and I am worried about the water pipes and baseboard water lines so I stop acting like an idiot and start thinking. I pull the burner unit out of the furnace. Yes, it leaves a good sized opening. I shine my light around the inside of the firebox. Just maybe there is hope.
I manage to drag a 100 pound propane bottle over to the furnace from the garage. I put the weed burner on the bottle and fire it off. After I adjust the flame down a bit, I stick the flame into the opening left into the firebox and find the balance center to keep it going without it flopping out on the floor and burning down the house. Yes, that would warm the house up, but there are limits.
I stay by the furnace for an hour or so, to make sure it really is going to work and the pipes have started feeling warm, both the lines from the furnace and the return lines. Soon I can even feel a bit of warmth seeping through all the layers of clothes I have piled on. My breath is no longer making a cloud in front of my face and my nose has thawed quite well.
I check the thermostat and the temperature has started inching up a bit. I gently lower the flame a bit more on the weed burner, I don’t want to end up making steam and blowing the house up, either.
I fasten the weed burner to the furnace with stovepipe wire and go back upstairs to bed. I don’t think I slept much as I really was worried I was either going to burn or blow the place up. I wait until 8 a.m. and call a furnace repair man someone had recommended to me.
As soon as he heard I was Charlie’s wife, he almost hung up on me. He thought I was the other one. Then he said I didn’t sound like ——-. I said no, my name is Rosalyn. Then he became friendly and asked how he could help.
I told him the furnace had stopped during the night and he immediately had visions of a frozen up house and the mess associated with that at the temperatures we were having.
He must have broken a few speed limits getting there and was surprised when he walked in and the house was not really cold, just a bit cooler than most people keep their homes.
When he saw the weed burner set up, he scratched his head and asked whatever made me think of that. Desperation, pure and simple.
He repaired the electrodes and the furnace worked fine with no frozen pipes at all. Charlie called that night to see how I was doing. It was my first winter by myself in this house. I told him about the furnace, a moment of silence then laughter. “I knew you could handle my kids. I never expected you to have to deal with something like this, also. Wait until I tell the guys about this one.”
Just one more reason why I loved him so much. He was always proud of me and let me know it.

Uncle Bill, Again

Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill spent all of WW II in Japanese prison camps. Having been eligible for discharge for quite a while before Pearl Harbor but not allowed to return home, he was not in a very good frame of mind when MacArthur left them all to their fate while he left them behind. His “I shall return” speech did nothing to endear him to Uncle Bill.
Uncle Bill claimed they provisioned the enemy by half starving our own troops for the weeks leading up to war by cutting rations while guarding the caves filled to overflowing with food. Any soldier caught stealing food was executed. Later, after they had fallen to the enemy, they had to carry all those supplies along on the “Death March” while still being killed for stealing any of it to eat.
He always said he would cheerfully execute MacArthur if he were ever given the chance. He claimed every soldier there could have been evacuated long before the start of hostilities.
Once he survived the “Death March” he was placed in assorted prison camps, each one closer to Japan, each one more brutal than the one before. He worked for a very short time in a plant making ammunition and bombs which the prisoners delighted in sabotaging in any small way they could.
His skull was fractured at least three times for sure by rifle butts during beatings. Fingers, toes and ribs were fractured regularly on all the prisoners as they could still work with such trivial injuries.
Finally he was in a prison camp near the city of Hiroshima. During the day, the prisoners shoveled gravel by hand into buckets. At meal times, they had to stand at attention in front of the commanding officer’s building and watch him eat his meal with his pair of carved ivory chopsticks. The man delighted in making the starved prisoners watch him eat.
At one point, Uncle Bill told him that when he (Uncle Bill) left the camp, those chopsticks would be going with him. He earned another beating for such a threat.
However, when the camp was liberated, Uncle Bill said he would be right with them. He returned a short time later with a pair of hand carved chopsticks in his pocket.

My Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill

The first time I saw him, he looked so sad and heartbroken, I knew it was my job to cheer him up. He was sitting in a section of the old porch that seldom was bothered by the sun. I was being dropped off for my Grandmother to babysit.
My Grandmother plunked me down on a step of the porch and saying something about having work to do, we could take care of each other, she left us there.
He eyed me warily. After all, what did he have in common with a lanky 4 year old girl? He had only recently been allowed to come home after recuperating many months in a military hospital after being liberated from a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Japan.
This tall young American soldier was a survivor of the Bataan Death March and many long years of atrocities and depravation. Whether it was his mouth that always had to say what he was thinking or that he towered over all his captors, they delighted in bringing him to his knees in one way or another. His skull had been cracked several times by rifle butts and he had numerous scars and healed bones from their careful handling. Being deemed incorrigible, he finally found himself imprisoned on the homeland of his captors, working in a gravel pit outside Hiroshima the day it was the target for the first atomic bomb dropped, ever.
Leading up to that day, he regarded the Japanese women as the only reason he didn’t die. The women were told to parade around outside the fence of the prison camp, taunting and teasing the prisoners which they did. But they also dropped small rice balls as close to the fence as they could get. These rice balls were taken from their own family rations and shared with the skeletal prisoners that were reduced to eating any bug or rat that they caught within the prison walls.
He held a lifelong hatred of the Japanese men and didn’t always differentiate between Japanese men and any other Oriental male.
However, on our first day of meeting, he was uneasy being left in charge of a 4 year old girl.
I don’t remember exactly what all we actually did that day, but when my Grandparents and my Mom returned late that afternoon, they found us the best of friends, sitting in the two rocking chairs in the kitchen, feet up on footstools, leaned back with our hands behind our heads in identical poses, smoking huge smelly cigars.