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...

Sunday, 12 February 2017

BOAT THIEF

Theft comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sometimes it's seemingly insignificant and sometimes it's a major crime. No matter what kind it is it's usually devastating and leaves the victims feeling violated and unable to trust anyone again. They feel ashamed, guilty and sometimes plain silly. There comes a time in nearly everyone's life when he or she might fall victim to to theft, and make no mistake, no one is immune.

Darren was a successful businessman. Through a lot of hard work and dedication, he turned his sales agency from a prosperous venture to a major player in the agricultural industry. He built up and branched from one dealership to over a dozen branch houses, some of which were doing as much in annual sales as the home base. From his business ventures he accumulated a substantial personal fortune. That enabled him to indulge in some of the finer things in life.

A luxurious mansion in an upscale neighborhood; fancy cars, motorcycles, airplanes, a luxury cabin on Whitefish lake; trips all over the world. A fancy boat...

Sometimes Darren was not merely satisfied with having fancy and sometimes powerful toys; he had to have the fanciest, or the most powerful, or both. He had his Porsche sports cars and he had them souped up to give him an edge over anyone who might want to challenge him. He bought a ski boat that was powerful enough to pull half a dozen trick skiers, or pull a couple of adventurous fliers to the stratosphere. But that wasn't enough; he must have had a neighbor at the lake who had a more powerful boat than he had so he wasn't to be outdone. I might add that Darren tried a bit too hard to keep up with his competition and ended up with some loud squeaking noises coming out of the engine compartment.

Darren showed up, boat in tow, at JC's shop. "I want you to rebuild that engine, and while you're at it, make it into a fire-breathing monster!" Darren ordered JC. "I want the fastest boat on the lake!"

"You got it," JC responded then side-lined everything else to get the crew going to first pull the ailing engine and then see what could possibly be done while keeping some degree of reliability. He got on the phone and talked with several engine builders and finally decided to get an engine specially built for what Darren wanted.

The engine showed up around three weeks later, much to the surprise of JC. It didn't take all that long to get it installed and tuned. Of course the next step was to take it to the nearby irrigation reservoir where they could put it through its paces and tune it to perfection. It was a blistering hot day and JC invited the crew to come along for the testing. And make sure you bring your swimming trunks, skis and life vests. Oh yes, your wives and girlfriends are welcome to come along too.

That boat was impressive. JC had driven it and skied behind it with the original engine and this new one really made that 28 foot monster go. The boys spent an entire Saturday skiing, tubing, wake-boarding and having a great time. The day ended all too quickly and the boat had to be loaded up and delivered.

Darren wasted no time at all, taking his family and friends back to the same reservoir the next day and he was very impressed, something that he seldom showed to anyone. I might add that he didn't waste any time settling on the job, which confirmed how satisfied he was.

Well, the next place to go was back to Whitefish Lake. Darren hitched up the boat and headed right down to his place. He launched the boat and he and some friends spent an hour or so seeing just how fast that boat could go. Finally convincing everyone that he had the fastest boat on the lake, he dropped his friends off then headed over to his own private dock where he tied up and covered the boat for the night.

It was a calm, quiet summer night. The gentle lapping of the waves against the shore; a light rustle of the breeze through the upper tree branches and occasionally the far-off call of a loon. In the distance one could hear the sounds of the town of Whitefish but otherwise everything was as quiet as it could be.

The next morning, Darren was up early. The only thing on his mind was to take that new toy of his for another frolic across the lake. He was as excited as a kid at Christmas and could hardly contain himself. As soon as breakfast was over, he bounded out the door and raced for the dock.

He only ran a few paces when he suddenly stopped, and fairly gaped at the empty dock. His beloved new toy was gone! Someone had stolen it during the night.

One thing I didn't mention before was that Darren was a hothead. Maybe a touch of small-man syndrome as well, but when Darren didn't get his way, he exploded and all but threw a tantrum, which fell miraculously short of a child flopping around like a freshly landed trout. I'm sure someone in Kalispell, some twenty miles to the south, heard Darren's wrathful commentary, which, would make that average sailor blush.

He phoned the sheriff and no doubt gave the poor deputy an earful. Whatever, everything else on the sheriff's to-do list had to be sidelined in order to find out who had stolen Darren's boat. The sheriff himself, drove to the scene of the crime.

After a barrage of pointed comments about the incompetence of the local law enforcement, the sheriff was able to begin his investigation. He headed down to the end of the dock, the place where the boat was last seen. He saw the heavy hooks where the mooring ropes were still attached, their supposedly severed ends dangling in the water. Squinting in the early morning light, the sheriff gazed off across the lake; then he took his field glasses and began to examine the lake and surrounding shoreline a little more carefully. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he re-focused his attention on where the boat was last seen.

He gazed at the mooring ropes then reached down to pull them out of the water. Then he realized that those ropes weren't merely dangling in the water; something heavy was attached to them.

It doesn't matter how watertight a boat is, being a watercraft, it will accumulate a certain amount of water in the lower hull or bilge. When a person goes out to start his boat he usually switches the bilge pump on to get the water pumped out and back into the lake where it belongs. Most boats are equipped with a rubber stopper at the lowest point in the rear of the transom so whenever the boat is brought out of the water, you simply pull the stopper and let the hull drain. Then you always put it back into the hole and pop the latch overcenter to keep it in place.

When Darren finished his frolic with his family at home, he loaded the boat and removed the stopper in typical fashion to drain the accumulated water. Unfortunately he got into such a hurry he forgot to reinstall it when the draining was finished. When he launched the boat in Whitefish Lake, he never thought about it. Driving the boat at speed across the lake would actually siphon the water out of the hull but the moment he shut it down for the night, the water came back in--quickly.

The boat was still moored to the dock; it just happened to be about five feet under the surface of the lake....

Monday, 25 July 2016

MAJOR MILESTONE

This post is going to be very short and sweet. My blogspot has recently crossed the 10,000 readership mark and is continuing to climb. It seems like only yesterday that I wrote my first post but that was over four years ago. Writing has been one of my passions and the only thing I enjoy as much as writing is sharing my stories with others; more specifically, You, my readers.

Thank you for stopping in to sample my stories and leave the occasional comment. Please feel free to drop in anytime. I have more stories in the works but I also have to admit that I've been very busy preparing to reintroduce my first novel: Lottery, plus a smaller story (I think they call it a novella) entitled: Family Reunion. I'll introduce you to both of them when the time comes. In the meantime, browse the stories and feel free to comment.

Thanks again. G.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

WEIGH IN

One of the trucking communities worst fears is that of reporting to the scales. Some will insist that it slows their progress down which might be somewhat legitimate but there's always the fear of being caught overweight and either being given a heavy (no pun intended) fine or being taken right off the road. But the scales are a fact of life and being properly loaded makes the road safer for everyone. But there are those in the trucking community who might argue that point.

Coutts, Alberta, and Sweetgrass, Montana, are two communities that comprise a major port of entry for Canada and the United States. Interstate 15 comes up all the way from the southern part of California and Highway 4 joins it on the north side of the border. For many years after the war, the corridor from Lethbridge to Coutts was free of so-called chicken coops. Of course, if you were headed south and weren't planning to get rid of some cargo in Sweetgrass, Sunburst, or Four Corners, you were likely to get waylaid just on the north side of Shelby. However, you could exit I-15 at Four Corners, itself, head west through Kevin and onto Cutbank then swing back and rejoin the I-15 at Shelby. But the Canadian side was rather devoid of scales, with the exception of one that would stop you just south of Calgary on Highway Two. As time went by someone decided to set up a scales just north of Coutts.

Now, even back in the 60's the highway was divided about three miles due north of Coutts, and continued that way all the way through to the border crossing. They must have planned to put in a scale between the two stretches of blacktop because when the installation went forward that scale was planted right in the dead center of everything; they couldn't have planned it better. Access from the north or southbound traffic was easy, with a long stretch of asphalt for each direction. Note that I said easy access. If you weren't paying attention, you could find yourself taking the family car in to get weighed; more than one motorist caught himself on that stretch of pavement and could only imagine the laughing and finger pointing from those who saw him make that wrong turn.

Back in the 60s the scales facility amounted to little more than the scales itself. The platform was outside and a tiny wooden structure housed the beam and kept the operator out of the elements. The scale house also provided a counter where a trucker could fill out the necessary forms needed to obtain a permit (in addition to getting written up on an overweight citation). From the outside the structure resembled either a tiny cottage or a unit from numerous motels that dotted the outskirts of almost any town.

Walt was a fun-loving individual. He enjoyed life to its fullest, especially when it included copious quantities of spirits. He loved his booze. Some of the temperance types might have hinted that Walt was an alcoholic but those who knew him well, knew that he was just a partier and loved to get feeling good. The downside of it was that he got behind the wheel and attempted to drive home when the party was over. If there could ever be an upside to driving while under the influence you could say that Walt drove very slowly--almost creeping--toward home.

Well, Walt had been to Milk River and on the way home, stopped at Art's place; or maybe Art's brother, Al's. For all we know it could have been both of them because they both consumed whiskey by the case. Anyways Walt stopped in to say hi and one of the brothers responded by offering Walt a drink--or five. The hours passed, the whiskey flowed, and the stories abounded, but like so many parties, this one had to end. So Walt bade the brother/brothers good-night and ambled out to his old reliable '56 Ford sedan and proceeded to drive home.

It was late winter or early spring, the skies had grown overcast and it had started to snow. At times the snow was falling heavily enough that the snowflakes, reflecting the light from the twin headlight beams of the car, tended to restrict Walt's visibility. His condition didn't help but undaunted, and also knowing the way home, he made steady progress down the highway. He crossed the railroad tracks and took note of the sign indicating a curve ahead where the highway would change its course to an easterly direction for two miles before curving south into the customs. Walt's farm was east of Coutts on the 500 road. Another mile and he would turn left. He watched for the next sign.

A Customs officer had just completed his evening shift and was busy brushing the snow off his car when he heard the crash. He quickly went back inside and told the duty officer to phone the police then he headed back out and drove up the highway. He was headed west slowly, looking for any telltale signs of a crash but found nothing. That was kind of strange because he heard something, and he was positive it came from the highway. However, finding nothing, he finally decided to call off the search and let the police continue. Following the sign warning truckers to STOP AND REPORT TO SCALES, he turned off the highway with the intention of turning back in the direction of Coutts. As he approached the tiny scale house from the east he began to notice that something was wrong.

The wall next to the scale platform itself didn't seem quite straight. In fact it appeared that the entire building wasn't straight. He drove closer and noticed a red glow in the swirling snow. He reached the house and stopped abruptly.

Barely protruding from the west side of the scale house were the taillights of a car. The car itself was almost completely inside the house; the only thing that caused the car to come to a complete halt and not bury itself was when its front bumper hit the steel scale post. That was lucky because the beam was less than an inch from the miraculously undamaged windshield and was pointed directly at the driver. The officer could see some movement from inside the car. He managed to gain access to the passenger's side and get the door open.

There was Walt, about twenty-three sheets to the wind still sitting behind the wheel. He seemed almost oblivious to what had just happened. "Where in the hell did that house come from?" he slurred, "I was driving home, minding my own business and all of a sudden, this house appears, in the snow. I thought there's no house in the middle of the road and must've been seeing things so I kept on going..."

Little did he know...

Over the next few weeks, the scale house was replaced with a more substantial unit, eventually to be replaced with a fully modern terminal and warehouse facility. Walt's car was repaired and he would drive it--more sober from now on--for many more years before his eyesight would fade and eventually terminate his driving for good. But Walt would stay on and continue enjoying a drink until he was finally called home sometime in his 90s. I just hope that St. Peter opened those gates wide so Walt wouldn't run into them...  

Sunday, 24 April 2016

FIRE FIGHTER

One of the problems with living out in the country is the hazard of being away from emergency services. We hear all the time about a fire starting in someone's home and by the time the fire department arrives, about all that's left to do is try to keep the fire from spreading and to push the charred remains into the now opened cellar and fill the hole in. Begin again in a slightly different location. There was a couple of occasions on the old ranch where we had some devastating fires.
Back in '59 the barn burned down with much the same results as the aforementioned situations. Some time after the place was sold, fire broke out in the old shop and leveled the place. At that time the fire department didn't need to control the spreading as it was raining a deluge out there. The worst was the early fall of 2012 when a fire that started in a combine about nine miles to the west of the old ranch. There was a high wind blowing at the time and the fire headed east right into what was left of the ranch.

The barn that replaced the one lost in '59 was lost again. The corrals and the outbuildings also succumbed to the fire storm; the only buildings that were saved were the main house and garage, and a house that Dad built in around '67 for a hired man and his wife. Oh, and the massive trees that surround the main house survived with only a temporary loss of color. But there was a time many years before the first barn fire that could've ended up as a disaster.

Winters in the Chinook Belt are by nature easy to take. No real deep-freezes unless you consider that 104 day cold snap in the winter of '69 when the temperature never rose above zero (Fahrenheit) until almost spring. True we can get those Siberian Expresses that float way up above the polar ice cap and drop down on us causing the temperatures to plummet below zero for upwards of three weeks. It's kind of nasty, especially when you have to venture out every day to look after and feed cattle.

The ranch was reasonably mechanized. That is to say that we had means, other than horse and wagon, to feed the cattle. We had trucks that could be coaxed into life fairly easily--unless the block heaters weren't working or someone forgot to plug them in--and when the snow got too deep, Dad would simply fire up the wheeled tractor or crawler and hitch it to the hay sled to deliver feed.

One bright sunny day, in the very early fifties, a day that turned out to be far from mild, Dad ventured out from the warm confines of the old ranch house to look after his means of providing said old ranch house with the means to continue giving the warm confines. Simply put, he headed out to feed the cattle. It was cold out, the fourth or fifth day where the mercury just simply hid, shivering in that bulb on the bottom of the thermometer; it was so cold that the brass monkeys were considering careers in hairdressing. It was almost as cold as JC's ex-wife's side of the bed.

There was a lot of snow on the ground, and where the cattle were holed up, passage by truck was hazardous in that there was a good chance that there would be more time spent shoveling the truck out of a snowbank than feeding the cows. A standard tractor was nearly as risky but that's where the crawler came in. Fire up the D-2 Cat, hitch it up to the sleigh and head out. It was next to impossible to get the Cat stuck.

The Cat was in the metal clad machine shed. Dad went out to the shed, slid the doors open and prepared to start the crawler. Now I don't know if it's just me, or Dad, or all of us who venture outside to go into an unheated building in the dead of winter, but it seems that the interior of a typical machine shed is at least twice as cold as it was outside. Dad took one look at the D2 shivering just inside the door and realized that his chances of starting that thing in 30 below weather were slim to none unless some outside source of heat was brought in to help warm the engine up. Dad didn't waste his time, he just headed over to the blacksmith shop and came back with the tiger torch and a bottle of propane. He carefully positioned a piece of thick-walled pipe under the Cat between the tracks then set the torch so that the flame would direct its heat more rearward than up. In that way the heat would thaw out the entire machine so that, should you luck out and get the engine running, you could still turn the transmission over, and thus get the crawler to move so that you could actually get some work done.

Everything went just fine. Dad lit the torch and made sure that it was secured so that it would direct the heat as planned. Confident that everything would be OK, Dad left the shed and went over to the barn to check on a couple of cows that were going to calve early. It turned out to be a good idea because one of the cows was down and the calf had a leg back. Dad, being a vet, quickly tied up the cow then worked away at the calf's front leg, eventually getting it pointing in the proper direction. The actual birth took place soon after that; so Dad, confident that everything was OK in the barn, donned his heavy coat again and headed back to the shed.

It was a good thing he came back when he did because he saw that one side of the Cat's engine was ablaze. It turned out that the hose to the torch had a twist in it which pulled itself around pulling the torch in a different direction. Where it was perched on that piece of pipe allowed the torch to point up at the left side of the engine, which thawed out rapidly, then the heavy accumulation of grease reached its combustion temperature and presto, Dad had a hot Cat.

Well, he first shut of the valve at the propane tank then ran back to the shop and came out with one of those old brass-bodied Pyrene extinguishers, the type which had a T-handled plunger at one end and a nozzle at the other. To operate the extinguisher, you twisted the handle to unlatch it then pull it out of the body and shove it back in. Of course it would also be prudent to have the spray nozzle directed at the fire. He unlatched that handle then pulled the plunger out. Aiming the spray nozzle at the flames he gave a mighty shove and pushed that plunger in.

Now when there's a rush of air or gas into a semi-closed area, there's a rush of displaced air or gas that rushes right back out. In the case of the extinguisher, there was a lot more chemical sprayed than there was capacity for air. Flames rushed out; hot air rushed out; extinguisher fumes rushed out, and if it could, I think the unburned grease and scorched paint would've rushed out as well. All Dad could remember was this wall of hot gas and flame that rushed right out into his face just as he was breathing in. It sapped his wind and sent a burning sensation right down his throat. He felt that he was breathing his last and it was about that exact moment that Dad thought: 'to hell with the crawler, let the damn thing burn!'

He lost track of time for a minute or so but when Dad woke up, he was laying flat on his back on the floor of the shed, the extinguisher on the floor just inches from his grasp. He lifted his head to see the Cat, a little pall of smoke still rising from somewhere underneath. The fire was out and a quick check revealed only superficial damage. Dad fired up the small 'Pony engine,' which was used to fire up the main diesel engine and Dad was able to feed the cows that day.

There's more than one moral to the story: When using a tiger torch to warm up a frozen piece of equipment, don't leave it unattended. And when using a pyrene extinguisher because of not properly adhering to the first piece of advice, take a deep breath and hold it before discharging it. Failure to do so can do more than just extinguish the fire...