Sunday, 21 July 2019

LOTTERY

After many months and a lot of misfires my newest release has finally reached completion. I have to say that a remake of an original could not be that much work, but it is. Lottery has been revised and improved, and is even more affordable.

Mark Driscoll is somewhat of a loner. A hard worker but is not really satisfied with the directions his life has taken. However, he is willing to leave things as they are and do the best he can. He has a small circle of friends and has adjusted well to life in a small town. That is, until he finds out that he has won a massive jackpot in the lottery.

Suddenly his life heads in a whole new direction, and the last thing he wants is publicity. He devises a plan--a game--to cash in his ticket while attracting the least amount of attention. Unfortunately there are others who want to cash in on his fortune and are willing to use the same clandestine methods to get what they want. Murder and coverup follow Driscoll as he finds himself at odds with his friends and the law.

Like his military service in Indo-China, he wonders who his enemy really is and it takes him on a journey that might easily cost him his own life. His wits, experience and just plain luck help to identify his opponents and reset his future.

Lottery was a labor of love for me. It began when a couple of locals in my hometown won significant jackpots in the local lottery, and what happened to them afterwards. A friend of mine and I were sitting on his deck one hot summer night discussing how we would keep it a secret if we were to luck out. I didn't realize it would take on a life of its own. When I got home I began to assemble a plot and a loose story that quickly ate up a legal pad and several cups of coffee.

I was on my way.

Eventually Lottery was a reality. It had great reviews and modest success but readers wanted something more so I came out with a more refined version which I submit to the public today. Happy reading.

Friday, 28 June 2019

FAMILY REUNION

I never get tired of sharing my stories, both here, and in full-sized novels. I have several projects in the works and hope to have more of them available in the near future. However, I wanted to direct your attention to my newest addition.

My second book, FAMILY REUNION, has been released. If you're inclined to mystery-thrillers with a hint of a ghost story included, then this could be for you.

RC's wife and daughter left to attend the annual family reunion in the old hometown. They never returned and no one seems to know what happened. RC eventually exhausts all of his resources and tries to settle down to get on with his life. He becomes somewhat of a recluse and cuts all ties with his family. But that image of his wife and daughter continues to burn into his subconscience and never lets go. Ten years has gone by, and many family reunions have come and gone. As he looks again at that precious photo, he makes a decision to attend the reunion for one last time, not knowing that the road ahead will take him to places he has never been to.

Available through Amazon.
   

Friday, 19 April 2019

SOLOIST

One Sunday morning, JC was getting himself ready for the day, he was looking into the mirror and finishing up his shave when he heard the most sickening, ear-splitting screech coming from across the house. It was a cross between nails grated on a chalkboard and someone dragging a bastard file across the edge of a piece of glass. Whatever it was, even the razor suddenly seem like it had cracked.

He didn't hear Mattie shriek so he first thought that everything must either be under control, but then, Mattie could also have become incapacitated, or worse. He decided that it would be a good idea to check it out, just in case, so he slipped on a pair of blue jeans and headed out to see what went wrong. Possibilities bombarded him as he strode through the bedroom. A really humorous one went through his mind as he opened the door.

He looked out into the kitchen to see Mattie busy at the counter churning up fruit and assorted juices together in the blender to make some breakfast smoothies. "Oh, that's what it was," JC said, a smile playing about his lips. "For a moment I thought Cousin Jackie had dropped in for a visit and was practicing her solo for church this morning."

Mattie cast him an annoyed glance but couldn't help but snicker at the derogatory comment. In a way, JC wasn't that far off. His cousin at one time had been a very talented singer. Aunt Edith had discovered Jackie's singing ability back many years ago when she was still in grammar school, so she signed her up for singing lessons. Jackie had since performed in numerous community stage productions and had actually attempted a career as a professional. But years of raising kids, yelling at said kids, and yelling at her husband had taken their toll. Her voice, once so clear that it would all but shatter a glass, had gone long past its 'Best Before' date.

JC had made numerous jokes about it. He first compared Jackie's singing voice to a car that wouldn't start, then an older starter that was in need of a rebuild. Then he talked about the typical soloist tuning in for a song, where the accompanying pianist would strike a note, then the singer would sing the same note. JC would mimmick the note and then mimmick the grinding sound of the Osterizer blender. Every family reunion, those in attendance had to endure Jackie singing her heart out. Of course, JC and several adolescent cousins all grimaced and cupped their hands over their ears.

The trouble was: Jackie still thought she was as good as she ever was. One could blame her mother for that. Aunt Edith was always giving her those sickening compliments, praising her to death and assuring her that she was better than ever. Of course, JC had to add that shortly after uttering those compliments, Aunt Edith probably plugged her hearing aids back in; she had to be deaf as a post.

There was a time when JC's father had stopped in at Uncle Norman and Aunt Edith's condo for a visit. Jackie was there at the time and she was practicing her singing, with Aunt Edith accompanying on the piano. JC's dad and Uncle Norman were engaged in deep conversation, talking alternately about ranching and politics, both of which dealt with offing some idiot politicians. The family cat was dozing on a pillow at the end of the couch. Everything was relatively peaceful.

Then it happened. Jackie opened her taps right up and shot out a shriek that was so shrill that it broke some of the glass panels in the Seattle Space Needle a couple thousand miles away. JC was sure that the traffic signal on the street below suddenly went to a flashing red, forcing all the cars all to resort to alternating with a Vroom--screech, vroom--screech, as they attempted to proceed through the intersection. Everyone's ears went fuzzy and their eyesight was permanently blurred. The cat, once having a peaceful snooze, suddenly sprang straight up in the air, then bolted down the hardwood floor of the hallway, tried to make a ninety-degree turn at the end of the hallway, and in doing so encountered a loose scatter rug, which shot out from underneath him, causing the cat and the rug to have a major wreck against the closet doors at the end of the hall. The cat got itself back on its feet and charged under the bed turning around to peek out at what disaster had suddenly hit the household.

Jackie suddenly stopped singing then turned to glare at her dad and uncle who were killing themselves laughing. Of course, she thought they were laughing at her. If the truth be known, she might have been correct at that assumption. But they were also laughing at the cat, and those two tiny lights staring at them from under the bed.

It's really too bad that parts of the body go south before everything else does. Jackie loved to sing and perform; it was unfortunate that her voice was broken long before the rest of her. I'm sure that someday, when she makes that journey into the great beyond, like Jim Reeves' Brother Eyer, she'll be reunited with her once beautiful singing voice, and be able to entertain thousands, looking forward to some beautiful sounds. And she will no longer have to deal with the likes of JC and his band of merry men (and women) grimacing and acting like it was the worst sound since neutering a cat, the old-fashioned way...

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

DOING THE TON



My father always wondered what it would be like to travel at 100 miles per hour. When quizzed about that in his later years, he never could zero it down to when that idea popped into his head. It might have been after watching a newsreel covering the latest Indy 500 at the local theater or just seeing a modern speed demon flash past the family conveyance while out for a Sunday drive.

Dad was born in 1925 and was seven years old by the time Ford released its spectacular new V8 in 1932. In fact, Dad's oldest brother bought one of those marvels, and since he and his family still lived at home, Dad had almost complete access to that new beauty. The sleek lines and that powerful engine were like a fix from a powerful drug. Well, Dad was also fascinated by the electric cigarette lighter and couldn't seem to leave that alone either. During the early thirties, the stories of John Dillinger, and Bonnie And Clyde got the adrenaline pumping, especially about the high speed chases with police so just maybe that's where Dad thought it would be fun to drive that fast.

Grandpa was an extremely busy man and needed reliable transportation. Consequently, he bought a new car every year. He'd put roughly 25,000 miles on one in a year then it was time for another. He seemed to gravitate toward Fords, mostly because they had an uncanny ability to stay together on those gravel and dirt roads. He tried other makes but always came back. There was one independent brand that kept breaking something in the front end. Grandpa took it back in time and time again to get it welded up. The salesman was an aggressive type that declared: "We know what to do this time and if it breaks again, I'll eat it." I believe Dad said it was less than a week later when Grandpa drove up and asked the salesman if he would like a little salt on it. It seems to me that during that time Grandpa did try a Chevy, which was said to attain that ghastly speed of 70 mph. The neighbor had one of those and even claimed to have achieved that speed, except that he conveniently left out the part about the engine blowing up 20 mph ago.

So Grandpa stuck it out with Fords. In the spring of 1941, Grandpa drove home his latest beauty, a Super Deluxe 4-door sedan, complete with that flathead V8 that some people claimed could attain 100 mph right out of the box. Of course, Dad was all over and under that shiny new chariot. He heard something about more horsepower and got to wondering if this would be the car that would break that almost unattainable ton. It went without saying that Dad had recently turned 16 and, for only a dollar, received his driver's license shortly after.

It was interesting in those days. If you wanted to drive and had reached the age of 16, all you had to do was show proof of age, then hand over a dollar. They filled out a form then handed you a temporary license which would be replaced within a month or so. I doubt if a person even needed an eye exam back then. Of course, I would imagine that if a person came into the office brandishing a white cane, and having to use it to navigate his way to the wicket, the officials might question his actual driving capabilities.

Dad's best friend, Alan, was almost as daring as Dad was. At least he was close behind. He seemed to be able to get into almost as much trouble as Dad did so maybe he was up to the task when Dad told him that Grandpa's new car could reach 100 mph. He just had to be there for that monumental achievement.

The highway west of the city was described by many as 'The Old Goat Trail.' For many years it was a two-lane blacktop, sans shoulders, and almost sans full-width lanes. A lot of people who worked in the city lived outside and commuted every day. It was actually quite comical to watch them all lineup and drive to work with the line getting longer and seemingly slower the more cars joined in. Until the war ended it was only paved for the first and last ten miles along the 27 mile stretch from Lethbridge to Fort Macleod. But there were a couple of straight stretches: once you crested the hill west of the city the road ran fairly straight for about three miles past the communities of Coalhurst and Kipp, then the road bent more toward the west and there was a straight stretch that ran for another four miles.

One warm evening in the late spring, Dad managed to obtain permission to take the car over to Alan's place where he would pick Alan up and go for a drive. There might have been something about attending a movie over on the north side, which was quite a hike, even in a small city with a population of only 11,000 back then.

A little bit of trivia for that time period: Lethbridge was a main location for a POW camp, and when it was at full capacity (around 1944) it had 15,000 prisoners.

Like he promised, Dad drove over to Alan's place. After Alan was in and the door secured, the two boys made their way up 12th Street, left at 6th Avenue then over to 1st Street which would connect with the Old Goat Trail. The new flathead V8 was purring away as they drove under the railroad viaduct that spanned the river. They continued down into the river bottom where they crossed the bridge before the road made its way up the other side, past the Number Eight Coal Mine where it swung north and then west toward Coalhurst.

Well, the highway was virtually deserted. As far as the eye could see, the only lights were from the buildings in Coalhurst and Kipp, a mile further. Dad carefully checked around him and pressed the accelerator to the floor.

Sixty-five was no problem. It didn't even seem to take long to reach 75; maybe a little longer to reach 80. They passed Coalhurst on their right as the speedometer crossed 85.

Things started to happen rather quickly now. Dad decided that he'd best keep his eyes on the road while Alan slid over to watch the speedometer more closely.

They passed Kipp with the speedometer approaching 90. The car started to shake and twitch but it seemed like it still had some left to give. Alan watched the needle as it passed 90. He began to call the numbers out, having to shout them over the wind noise from outside.

"Ninety-four, Ninety-five!" Alan shouted excitedly. "Ninety-six!" They could hear the roar of the engine and the whine of the rear end, even over the roar of the wind.

"Ninety-eight, ninety-nine!" The adrenaline was really pumping by now. The car felt as if it would fly away at any second. Alan continued to watch the speedo but that needle didn't seem to budge. It even acted like it was slowing down.

The curve to the west was coming up fast. Just before the curve was a slight dip. The '41 Ford Super Deluxe flew down that highway as if every law enforcement officer was in hot pursuit. Dad kept his now sweaty hands on the steering wheel; his knuckles so white they rivaled the moon in the sky. "Come on!" Dad shouted.

'Ninety-nine!" Alan shouted again. "Come on, come on!" both boys shouted.

"One-hundred!" Alan finally exclaimed. Actually,

if the truth were known, he sounded more relieved than anything else. Who knows? Maybe it didn't actually reach that speed but Alan decided that it was close enough.

Dad took his foot off the gas and allowed the car to coast. They were probably still going past 80 when they entered the curve to the west but that newly christened family race car had no problem whatsoever.

Well, they pulled into Monarch, where they treated themselves to a soda at the local gas station. When Dad told the story, years later, he even hinted that they had to stop to use the facilities as well.

Unofficially Dad drove a car at 100 miles per hour. It was a story that he did his best to keep a lid on, lest he lose all driving privileges for an extended period of time.

That '41 Ford ended up being the family chariot for the duration of the war. In February of 1942 civilian car production ended as the factories converted to war production. Dad was mildly surprised that the engine in Grandpa's car held together remarkably well for all those years, considering that high-speed run when the paint on the engine was still curing. Uncle Woody, who had actually started a Plymouth-Chrysler dealership in 1942 finally managed to have new vehicles to sell in the fall of '45 and Grandpa took delivery of his first Chrysler product, a Chrysler Windsor in 1946. It would be nice to know what happened to that '41 Ford but it no doubt went from one family to another until it was used up like so many others.

I might add that Dad never wanted to drive that fast again...




Saturday, 21 July 2018

ANIMAL CONTROL

When you live in an urban or semi-urban setting there is often more to getting along with neighbors than the neighbors themselves. Yes, you might have to deal with their kids who can sometimes give challenges of their own but just as often, you have to deal with their family pets.

They say that a dog or cat contributes to a longer life. I guess if you like pets then, yes, that can contribute. But there are some who choose not to own a dog or a cat who might dispute that claim. JC grew up on a ranch with cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, dogs, and cats. When he got into the Second Grade in school, he was in charge of looking after the chickens. He fed them, gathered the eggs and cleaned out the chicken house. For that bit of effort, he got a percentage of the egg sales, providing the family and ranch workers left some over for selling. He was also the grounds keeper which required him to drag out the mower and push it around for an entire Saturday--there were some large yards on that spread. Needless to say he was busy on the weekends and after school, and the last thing he needed to do was put up with wayward pets.

Oftentimes he could hear some agitated chickens when he approached the hen house. He would enter to find a dog in there killing chickens. He took a bullwhip and beat the dog within an inch of its life, then let it loose, hoping that it had learned its lesson but, in reality, only to find it back in there a couple of weeks later. This time the dog would try anything to avoid the whip. Realizing that there was no cure to killing chickens, a .22 caliber shot of lead fixed the problem, once and for all. I might add that JC had heard about tying the marauding dog up and taking a chicken carcass and savagely beating the dog with that often cured the dog. However, the rifle worked a lot better.

Of course getting rid of the dogs on the ranch was only a bandaid. It seemed that the neighbors' dogs, who lived about nine miles away, decided that the chickens on JC's ranch were more sporting than the ones on their home place. That's right, they wouldn't dream of killing chickens at home but sure didn't hesitate to go to JC's place to do it.

Hail, the .22 hollow point.

Another problem with dogs was they would rumage around the barnyard in search of something to do and during calving time, they would drag a filthy piece of decaying afterbirth onto the lawn where they would chew on it then leave it in a far corner. JC would come by with the lawn mower and not see the small strand of placenta (which led to the main cache) in the grass. The blade would catch it and instantly wrap that disgusting mess around the blade and shaft of the engine, often requiring removal of the blade to get everything dug out. The stench would be with him for the rest of the weekend.

The kids couldn't have a sandbox because the cats would use it to make unwanted deposits which had to be carefully strained out before the kids could get back in.

Yes, after a life on a ranch, pets were about as welcome to JC as the proverbial turd in a swimming pool. He grudgingly consented to his wife bringing a dog home (she did it on the sly); he tolerated the thing but soon after his wife left (and left the dog behind because dogs weren't allowed when she moved to), the dog went to a deserving and loving elderly couple. Since then he viewed dogs as a 7-letter word that began with D-I-V, and ended with R-C-E. But he still smiled and tolerated the neighbors' pets, until they began to come over to his place.

The dogs were easy to control. A well-aimed pebble from his wrist-rocket usually sent a dog back to its own place to dump on its own lawn. Ditto if the dog tried to mark its territory. It was interesting that the neighborhood dogs would actually cross the street to the opposite side instead of crossing in front of JC's property. Cats, though, were another thing.

Cats are independent, and nocturnal. And once they decide that a certain plot of dirt is their latrine, that's it. JC didn't have a sandbox but he had flowerbeds (left there by the previous owners of the house). His next door neighbors (who also hated pets) had a fabulous flower garden in the backyard. Between the two yards the neighborhood cats swarmed and proceeded to anihilate every plant in existence.

Some said that scattering coffee grounds in the flowerbeds tended to keep cats away. Apparently the grounds get in between the cat's toes and make things very uncomfortable. That almost seemed true because after JC and his neighbor started scattering spent grounds, almost overnight, the unwanted cat population almost ended; all but one.

There was one black cat with a bell on its collar. JC and the neighbor referred to it as 'Tinkerbell.' That cat was oblivious to coffee grounds in the flowerbeds and kept on doing its business as if nothing was wrong. JC had seriously considered a .22 caliber remedy and even discussed it with the neighbor. Well, one summer morning just before dawn broke, JC was out on the deck enjoying the first cup of Joe for the day when he heard a POP, followed by a ZAP, and a THWACK; the sounds were almost simultaneous. Then silence.

JC knew what the sound was; he had fired enough of them to know that someone had just discharged a .22 rifle within town limits. He didn't say a word; he just went back into the house and proceeded to get ready for the day ahead.

That night, JC and his neighbor pulled into their respective driveways at the same time. It often happened that way and the two of them would get into some good conversation before heading inside.

"Don't have to worry about Tinkerbell anymore," the neighbor said with a grin. He turned and indicated the board fence that separated the alley from the trailer park beyond. On one of the posts was a cat's collar with an acorn-shaped bell. "I threw the carcass into a dumpster a hundred miles away; no doubt it's looking for a flowerbed in the next world by now."


Monday, 18 June 2018

SCAMMERS

This is probably the way, NOT TO DO IT, but, not having experienced anything like this before, I had to learn. And learn, I did.

Don't let this happen to you.

I had read of similar incidents regarding telephone fraud before but in them there was always a clue right from the get-go that it was fraudulent and easy to pick up on. However, as unsavory scammers go, they all learn more, the more they play the game.

I was at work one day and had my hands full when I heard my cellphone chirp (Chirp? Maybe I had it on Guitar mode, or Morse Code). It was strange in that it rang just once and went immediately to message. I thumbed the message button and got a partial recording: "You can arrange to have your counsel meet with you prior to appearing before the magistrate but all we can say for the time being is, Good luck."

Now I was a bit unnerved at hearing this. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of trouble I was in. I knew I wasn't completely flush with what I owed the federal government but I had kept in touch through the phone and was making sizeable monthly payments so I was sure that I wasn't in trouble with them. What else could it be?

They did leave me a number to call, so I went ahead and called back. The party at the other end told me that they were from the IRS and that I was about to be arrested and jailed for tax evasion. In fact authorities were on their way to pick me up at this very moment.

Now I've been phoned by government agencies, and even collection agencies in the past but they usually don't tell me that I'm about to be slapped into matching silver bracelets and hauled away to the pokey. They're usually more interested in your paying your bill and incarceration makes that next to impossible. So this was somewhat of a surprise. But it also hit me at a bad time and I really didn't have a chance to think clearly so I went along with the guy. He told me that I would be arrested within the hour but if I acted quickly I could avoid all the trouble and extra court costs. I was listening and told the man that I was willing to co-operate.

I was put on hold then another man came on the line. He identified himself with a typically Anglo-Saxon name which seemed a bit strange as he had a noticeable accent. I might add that the first one spoke with an accent as well. I first thought East Indian, which wouldn't surprise me if he was working for the government but then, I've talked to tech support for various products and services and knew full well that those people were East Indian and talked different. I began to think that this guy was more Nigerian.

Well, he told me I had to drop everything and run to the bank to get the money. I began to relax a little and started to think that these guys aren't who they say they are. In fact the more we talked, the more convinced I became that they were attempting to scam me. Being a trifle adventuresome and somewhat tenacious I decided to ride this out a little further and see what was going on.

I told the guy that the bank was closed for the day in the town where I worked and I would have to drive thirty miles down the road to see the main branch of the bank. I then informed the guy that my vehicle was low on fuel and I would have to fill up before I left. The man told me that he would allow me to do that but I was NOT to hang up the phone and I was to run a voice check every five minutes. I did that, and about fifteen minutes later I was on the road.

My curiosity was rising and I realized that this guy hadn't mentioned my name or anything else. I asked him to tell me my social security number, as any call allegedly from the IRS, they always confirm your identification; he immediately snapped back that he wasn't allowed to say it over the phone, but he assured me that all of my information was open in front of him. That only helped convince me a little more that this was a scam.

I made it to the city and drove immediately to the bank. I told the man that I was there and was going inside. He told me to go to the automatic banking machine and get the cash. I responded that I would have to talk to a banking officer because I could not take $4800.00 from the ATM in one lump sum and that I would have to have an official do that. The man told me to get the cash, but under no circumstances was I to tell the officer what I needed it for. He also said that I could withdraw a lesser amount if that worked better.

That was all I needed to convince me that I was being scammed; he might as well have confirmed it right then and there. I maybe should've just hung up and let it go but I decided to have some fun with the guy. I found the staff actually leaving the building for the day but I did get hold of one individual who politely told me that I would have to come back in the morning. I kept the phone near so the scammer could hear that. But the official added that the branch on the south side of the city was open late and they could help me if it was an emergency.

I got back in the car and drove off but didn't head directly for the bank. I first stopped at the club cigar store and bought an iced tea and the latest issue of my favorite magazine. Of course I had to chat with the owner for a couple of minutes. Back in the car I spoke to the man who was getting quite impatient by then. After all we had been on the phone for over an hour. He told me to speed up or he was sending the police if I didn't co-operate. I told him that I was doing the best I could and to relax because I was negotiating afternoon rush hour traffic.

I made it to the bank on the south side of the city and walked in, cellphone in hand and the number visible. The receptionist actually knew me as on several occasions before, my wife and I were hired by the bank to do some photography for some special events. I told her that I was sure I was being scammed and showed her the number which she immediately checked out and confirmed that it was fraudulent. I also had her access my accounts and confirmed that there were no problems with any of them.

I thanked her and went back to the car. This time I drove directly to the police station. I went up to the desk sergeant and told him what was happening. He smiled and told me that he'd received a similar call just the weekend before, and just to hang up.

Which I did.

Having consumed a fair quantity of my beverage by then I was seized by the urge to use the facilities so I excused myself and headed for the bathroom. I was just finishing up there when the phone rang. My caller ID showed the number of the police station which rather surprised me. I answered and a very angry man with a heavy accent shouted: "We are the police and we are arresting you for tax evasion!" I responded with: "I'm already at the police station."

"I want to talk to the arresting officer--NOW!"

"Sure. Right away. But I'm in the head, taking a whiz right now; I'll put him on the phone as soon as I'm finished."

I went back out to the desk and told the sergeant that the goons had called me back--on the police line. He raised his eyebrows and told me that that particular line was the general police inquiries line. He took the phone and identified himself but the caller immediately hung up.

The sergeant immediately called the same number and got the switchboard operator who told him that no calls had gone past her desk. She checked my name on the computer and couldn't find any outstanding warrants, thus completely clearing me of most of my wrongdoings.

Anyways, the sergeant told me that the police had investigated a number of complaints pertaining to those claiming to be part of the IRS. He added that the typical victims are usually older and that one had been defrauded of $85,000.00 before his kids stepped in and put a stop to it. He said that I would likely be instructed to take the cash and deposit it in an account in another bank or wire it through the local wire service. Whatever way I did it, the money would've evaporated.

I was lucky. In the following months, I've been phoned twice and received the same recorded message that included the final wish for Good Luck. My wife has been phoned too but she contacted the proper agency and confirmed with them that there was no trouble. I have to say that initially, I was somewhat shaken up but I'm forever thankful that I had my wits about me and was able to avert a disaster. I really feel sorry for those poor souls who didn't fare out so well...

Sunday, 20 May 2018

ROCKET MAN II

Disclaimer: This one should've actually been the first one. No particular reason except that this story took place quite a few years before the one that I featured before. And I have to admit that I heard this story long before I heard the other one.

He was a welder and had spent a lifetime applying his trade. From working in a welding-blacksmith shop in the city in the thirties to building aircraft for the war effort, to working back in the welding shop until he semi-retired to a position of welding instructor at the local tech institute. Everyone called him 'Sparky.' And yes, many people in the trades don't have much imagination when it comes to labeling certain people, or even pets. For example JC had a cat for a few years. He called it, 'Cat.' Back when he was in the 4-H club he raised several calves, the identification of each was duly noted in his record books: 'Calf.' And Sheriff Walt Longmire's dog is aptly named: 'Dog.' So having a welding instructor named Sparky was actually a step up; after all, he could've been given the handle: 'Welder.'

As already mentioned, Sparky worked in a welding shop, which began as a blacksmith shop. It is quite likely that it began life as such as there aren't many blacksmith/welding shops that morph out of a tea room or florist, and it's even more unlikely that the opposite would happen, in case the question comes up. Sparky entered the trade while still in school. He didn't have the opportunity to actually complete high school until he was well established as a welder and metal fabricator, but sometimes the road that takes you there is filled with educational opportunities.

During the thirties, as the amount of cars on the roads increased, so did breakdowns. A very common problem was a leaking gas tank. A stone thrown up from a tire at the most inopportune moment could find its mark right square in the gas tank and before you knew it, ten gallons of precious fuel ended up on the road.

There were two ways of fixing the problem: Take the gas tank out and replace it with a new one, or take the gas tank out and repair it. Since it was the thirties and everyone was broke, the vast majority chose to repair the tank. That in itself was a hazardous procedure and gasoline is designed to atomize and explode. Draining/siphoning the gas out of the tank leaves a large cavern that is saturated with gasoline fumes and heating that to weld a hole shut--well, the tank was probably halfway to the moon and the shop may or may not be ablaze.

Some guys said that if you filled the tank with water to almost cover the area where you were welding, you could weld it quite safely. But the water tended to quench the metal thus not allowing the sheet metal of the tank and the welding rod to completely melt into that puddle that mixes everything together. Consequently the weld might not seal very well or last very long. The ideal way was to get a bucket of water with a secure lid boiling on the forge (remember that the welding shop began life as a blacksmith shop?), run a hose from the spout into the gas tank so it could be filled with steam, which is completely inert (unless you're distilling moonshine), and wait for the steam to exit the filler neck. Weld away.

Well, there were several renegades, including Sparky's crew, in that welding shop. They thought that steam was just another task that got in the way of what you needed to do. They thought: why not simply take care of the hazard first and foremost? Eliminate the liability once and for all, and then the hazard would be taken care of. The tank was removed the tank from the car, carefully drained, the float removed and the interior of the tank was thoroughly swabbed out. The tank would then be carried out to the alley behind the shop. After lighting a hand-held torch, the welder simply stuck the flame into the filler neck or the opening left from the float mechanism, and let the games begin. Of course, before he did all that, he prepared himself by donning a heavy leather apron, coat, gloves and welding goggles.

You've probably seen in the movies where a car is burning and the gastank explodes with enough force to level a building. Well, that's only in the movies. The reality of a gastank exploding is usually a loud 'Pop' or even a 'Boom.' Sometimes there was enough force to send the welder back against the brick wall and knock the wind out of him. But most of the time, a loud pop, or even an anemic 'Chuff' was all that happened. But then there was the spectacular 'Boom' that not only flattened the welder up against the building but the ruptured, flaming gas tank would skitter down the alley and out into the street, surprising some unsuspecting motorist. There was one occasion where the gastank shot out into the path of a truck that promptly crushed the tank, thus turning a simple repair into a major task. I might add that Sparky told another one about a flaming tank jumping over a fence into the neighbor's place.

The local fire department caught wind of this activity and paid the shop a visit, telling everyone within earshot that such acts were prohibited and could result in heavy penalties. To that the boys just got more creative and made an enclosure out of railroad ties. An exploding tank was no match for those timbers although a couple of guys got a good thump on the noggin.

The fire out and the welder's wind back, he would take the tank, hammer it back into shape (it was often warped outwards into the shape of a jelly bean), weld the hole shut then weld the ruptured seam back together. The repaired tank was reinstalled and the happy owner was on his way, until another leak occurred.

But there were other incidents that happened at that particular shop, one of which was rather exciting. The shop where Sparky worked was a large operation that employed in the neighborhood of eight welders and welder's helpers. The shop supplemented its bottom line by selling welding supplies which included welding rods, goggles, helmets, leather aprons, oxy-acetylene torches, and recharging oxygen and acetylene bottles.

It happens every once in a while that an exchange bottle goes out and the valve is faulty, or the tank is damaged. The shop would always make the necessary repairs and return the bottle--refilled--and ready to go. This one particular oxygen bottle came back with a faulty valve. It was given to a welder's helper who was thought to have some experience in the handling and refilling of the bottles. He stood that five foot bottle on the floor and proceeded to remove the faulty valve.

Today, oxygen is pressurized to 2,200 psi. But back in the thirties it was less than that, only 1,800 psi. Either one is one heck of a blast when the contents are suddenly left to exit on their own. Now, normally, when you would need to replace the faulty valve, the proper procedure is to discharge the bottle before you remove the valve. Apparently the man assigned to replace the valve hadn't been briefed in the proper procedure. He simply took out a wrench and unscrewed the valve.

Well, that valve, with 1,800 psi of pressure behind it blasted skyward, with a deafening roar, through the ceiling and continued through the roof and somewhere into the stratosphere. I wouldn't be surprised if John Glenn saw it orbiting the earth when he went up there in 1962. The blast of escaping oxygen had everyone scrambling to get the hell out of there.

In the melee that followed, the bottle tipped over and began to skid across the floor in an almost serpentine pattern, gathering speed as it went. It finally got straightened out and streaked across the floor like a rocket (or a torpedo) it aimed itself squarely at the brick wall that separated the room where they kept the bottles and the front office. It went through that wall as if it was the paper wall of a Japanese house. Charge of oxygen not expelled yet, it kept on going, breaking a couple of legs off of desks and through the opposite wall and into the street.

The bottle finally ran out of steam and came to rest at the curb across the street. The poor kid who perpetrated the whole event was sent home--probably to change his pants--and then brought back to retrieve the wayward bottle.

Everyone's ears rang for several days after that. A brick mason came in to repair the walls and a carpenter was hired to fix the damaged ceiling, roof truss and the roof. They never did find that valve...