Posts Tagged ‘camping’

So far, so good

September 8, 2010

Well, things are looking up.  My diagnosis, along with some serious hedging by the Doc, is that I have an inflamed prostate.  I maintain that if the various Docs hadn’t poked and prodded it that it wouldn’t be so inflamed.  I’m sure that flinging electrons and magnetic lines of force at it couldn’t have done it much good either.

I can at least sit for longer periods of time without feeling like I’ve sat on a pine cone – the size of a football.  The little blow-up circular ring thingy my wife came up with looks suspiciously like the neck brace you use so you can sleep in a moving vehicle, but what the hell it appears to work.

I’ve been rummaging through my extensive collection of yellowing, fading, black and white prints in search of the next post.  Nothing is coming to me.  There is one picture of me and my cohorts standing in front of what looks like a pile of debris left over from an explosion in a laundry, but, in reality, was our first attempt at a submarine.  It even worked – at 50% capacity (down, but not up).

Oh Emm Gee!  I just found a picture of me in my finest, going to my first big junior high dance, getup.  My mom insisted that I wear my prophylactic black-frame government-issue glasses.  I say this because they were guaranteed to keep me “in” and girls “out”.  I wore my hair in a high, pompadour, which fairly glistened with bear grease.  The sides were shaved up to approximately the height of my eyebrows.  Thank goodness the picture is in black and white because, as I recall, the suit was one of those that shimmered a deep purple in the right light (i.e. light above 12 lumens).

And here I am astride my mighty Monark with the huge balloon tires and the fat side panels in indestructible iron that always managed to hit a knee when you least expected it.  I suspect that the name came from a spelling-challenged marketing type who listened to the word ‘monarch’ and spelled it phonetically.  My dad bought it for me in place of the Schwinn Black Phantom (another spelling challenged name) I really wanted.  His explanation for this was that the Monark was much nicer (his euphemism for ‘cheap’).  I figure the net weight of the bike was around 150 pounds.  And, all I had was one gear forward.

Moving onwards to the Europe category I see the Germany slot is filled to capacity with bunches of pictures of countryside, cities, and suburban areas.  Here’s one of me and three of my buddies getting beer delivered to our table at one of the locales Bier Halle.  The server is a very buxom young lass and, yes, my eyes are diverted down the front of her dirndl.  In all fairness, I should add that the other three guys are similarly engaged.  I can’t for the life of me remember who took the picture.  Not Virginia, I hope.

A self-portrait of me.  I took it while focusing on the mirror in front of me.  Why?  Nobody knows; least of all, me.

What’s this?  A crash scene?  No, wait, that’s one of my tent on a backpacking trip down the Rhine River.  We had been rained on, very heavily, and once the sun came back out we flopped out sleeping bags over the spine of the tent.  At first, it looked like a couple of people were getting artificial respiration by being rolled over a barrel.

Many pictures of Virginia.  Some are flattering and other not so flattering; like this one here of her just getting up while we were all on our bicycle trek.  She is brushing her teeth and trying to make be go away at the same time.  She looks rabid so it’s best to stay away from that one.

Here’s one of the many I took at Oktoberfest.  When I got ready to print this one I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t look right until I realized that I took it when inverted in a ride called, here in the States, a Hammerhead.  I haven’t a clue what they called it in Germany.  It’s the ride that swings back and forth like a pendulum and then, for some insane reason, begins to rotate the pod you are sitting in.  As I recall, the camera weight went from over 200 pounds to somewhere around minus 50 pounds.  Mmmmm, what fun.

Hey!  I made a blog entry.

T.O.M.

Advertisements

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (7)

June 21, 2010

It was so much nicer the next morning to wake up to the tapping on my door instead of rain tapping on the roof of my tent.  By the luck of the draw I managed to get a single room this time so I was sleepily intrigued by who might be tapping on my door at oh six hundred.  I rose, rearranged my morning woodie and opened the door a crack.

Virginia peered back at me with one eye to the narrow slit.  I whispered that we had agreed to the no hanky-panky rule, but stopped when I saw tears in her eyes.  I opened the door and let her in; taking a fast glance around the hallway to see if she had been detected.  She went and sat on my bed and grimaced.  I knew it was serious when she didn’t make some sort of ribald comment on my erection.

She told me she had woken up with a huge cramp in her calf.  According to her it pulsed with pain every time she tried to straighten her leg.  I came over, took her leg in my hands, and examined it.  She had a huge knot of muscle that tightened when I pulled the leg out towards me.  She bit her lip but still gave a small cry of pain.  I let her leg go and went to my shaving kit for some sports cream I kept there.

I told her to roll over on her stomach and bend her knee to elevate her calf.  It wasn’t until that very moment that I realized that she only had on her nightgown and nothing else.  Oops!  So much for our vow of chastity and non-panky.  I did my best to concentrate on applying the cream to her calf but my attention span there was measured in microseconds.

I used my thumbs over the tendon while holding my fingers around her ankle and working them upwards towards the bunched muscle.  I massaged as carefully as I could until slowly the knot went away.  A red place was left, but she reported that it felt much better.

She flipped over on her back, which made the hem of her nightgown ride up dangerously high and held out her arms.  I leaned down for a chaste kiss, but was pulled over into a really great smooch.  She stuck her tongue up against my lips until I opened them to admit her.  Several seconds of this brought me to a rolling boil but the fates intervened.  About the time I was ready to throw caution to the winds and jump into bed beside her, we heard a door slam and footfalls down the corridor.  I lifted my watch from the bed stand and saw that it was now oh six thirty – the time we had all agreed on to get up.  What a bummer.

I sprang back to the vertical (and, believe me, everything was vertical) and pulled her to her feet.  We held each other, kissed, and then I reluctantly opened the door a crack and reconnoitered.  The coast was clear so she pecked me on the cheek as she passed out the door.  Great!  Here I was all dressed up so to speak, and nowhere to go.  Fortunately, the shower was cold as the boiler hadn’t been fired up yet.

Breakfast was the usual Continental breakfast of various small rolls, pieces of lunchmeat, jams and jellies, and assorted sticky buns.  Coffee was plentiful and tasty, but I decided to have tea this morning just to be different.  Today was the day we would pedal all the way home.  It was a longish run but if we left early enough and didn’t dawdle too much we’d be home by late afternoon.

The one place I intended to poke around was along the Kyll River because the train tracks followed both banks.  It was possible to get some really spectacular shots of steam trains while standing on bridges over the tracks or on paths beside them.  Both of which we would be using today.

Virginia and Cleo, her roommate, showed up on time and descended on the food laden table hungrily.  For as light and somewhat thin as Virginia was, she ate food like a ranch hand.  Today was no exception: two rolls loaded down with some sort of smelly cheese and a piece of bacon, a big sticky bun slathered in butter, and two cups of coffee.  While we were eating, Cleo sidled up to me and asked if everything came out all right; meaning, of course, the kink in Virginia’s calf.  I smiled and told her everything was just fine and to mind her own business (while stuffing a half-roll into her mouth).  She smiled back at me.

With a quick check of equipment we began our final day.  The air was cool at that time of morning but promised to become hotter as the day wore on.  Sunscreen was definitely going to be used if the clouds went away.  They showed signs of fading right now so I predicted they’d be gone by noon.

Almost immediately we entered and left Herforst.  This village was also surrounded by a low Roman wall, which we pedaled along for quite some time.  Soon it gave way to field after field of various cultivated crops.  There were trucks, tractors, and horse-drawn trailers spotted all over the place.  Some were laden with bags of what appeared to be fertilizer which indicated that the fields were probably owned by some major company.  Most German farmers fertilized their fields with left over animal fluids which they kept stored in wheeled tanks called ‘honey wagons’.  It was for this reason that most Americans wouldn’t eat anything bought at a farmer’s market.  Me?  I loved fresh tomatoes and stuff like that.  A little washing and after two gulps it was gone.

Speicher was a larger town with well laid out streets and nice little squares interspersed with older buildings.  The Ratzkeller was a true work of art that begged to be explored, but we didn’t have the time.  We pressed onward towards what our topographical map showed as a series of descending switchbacks to the Kyll River.

We paused at the crest of the hill and followed our road down through four huge loops as it dropped to Philippsheim.  Past the town we could also see two climbing switchbacks which we knew we would be walking up.  Oh well.

With gay abandon (with great care, really) we swooped down the curves at a stately pace.  We wanted no repeat of the disaster we had a few days earlier.  One crashed bike and banged body was all we needed this trip.  The urge was to fly down, but the turns were very tight and had loose gravel at the sides of the paving.  A sure accident in the making.

As we entered Philippsheim we heard the musical whoot of a steam engine.  As we made our way down the last bit of hill we came out above the tracks.  I stopped and took some pictures of the short passenger train while it stopped at the station for a few moments and then made off into the distance.  A glance at our trusty map showed that we would rejoin the tracks after passing though Hüttingen an Der Kyll.

Once again we climbed out of the valley on foot, pushing our bikes.  We reached the top and paused for a drink of water and a couple of buns we’d liberated from the breakfast bar.  They were delicious.

Continuing onwards, we cruised the flats, went through Gondorf, a sleepy farming town, and through even more fields of produce.  We entered the woods on the crest of the hillside over the Kyll River valley.  Through the trees we could make out sections of river glinting under the sun.  It was a long, slow drop into Hüttingen an Der Kyll.  We paused on the south bank of the river near the railroad tracks and waited.  Within ten minutes we could hear the short honks of a diesel engine as it entered town and signaled for a stop at the station.  We had hoped for a steam train, but diesels were rapidly replacing steam engines for short milk runs.  Steam was still used to great advantage on long passenger runs though which was much more to my liking.

We tried waiting for another ten minutes, but felt the press of time and moved onwards.  A very long uphill grade was taken in low gear as we climbed back out of the valley temporarily.  We would re-enter it again just past the headlands before us.  Across the valley was the road we had ascended on our outward-bound trip days ago.  We would join with it at the town of Albach and make our way home from there using the same road we left from.

Soon the air was split by another flight of jets, also F-100’s, as they took off from the base.  They weren’t overhead this time but they were still impressive.  We slowed our pace until we were barely moving.  Taking a little-used side road through the fields we weren’t bothered by traffic and remained in a bunch swapping talk, laughs, and plans for another trip.  This time, we vowed, we would just take the train.

Slightly earlier than our forecast time of arrival, we pulled into the school parking lot.  Our faithful chaperones met us there, passed out our dried tents and cold drinks.  Both were welcome.  I rode next to Virginia to her house and then peeled off towards mine.  Luckily, our bike storage was down in the basement because I was so tired I couldn’t have carried my bike up a flight of stairs.

All in all it was a great trip.  There is nothing better than the satisfaction of doing something like this with friends you really like and feel comfortable with.  There was some good-natured bantering but no harsh words were ever spoken; at least to each other, but the weather was something yet again.

NOTES:  As I go over the route we took in Google Earth, I am saddened to note that most of the rail lines we crossed or paralleled are now gone.  Ripped up in the name of progress I guess.  Major rail lines still exist in Germany, and huge amounts of passengers and goods are transported, but steam is a thing of the past.  I am sorry to see it go.

As far as Bitburg Air Base goes, the runway still exists, but there appears to be a dirt bike track near the end of runway 06, and part of the apron where jets warmed up has been converted to a go-cart track.  The taxiway that ran to the “hot standby” area from the 24 end where jets fully laden with weapons to fight the Soviet menace waited on alert has been closed.  It appears that many of the original buildings on the base are in the process of being torn down for some project or another.  The housing area still exists, but only with about half the buildings present.  My old living quarters are still visible, but Virginia’s has gone.

In many ways I really grew up on that base.  I changed from a little kid to a young man while I lived there, fell in love, made love, and had love depart from there.  I think it would sadden me greatly to go back for a visit now.

T.O.M.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (6)

June 17, 2010

I woke to soggy footfalls outside my tent.  When they stopped, Virginia asked me if I had any dry covers as her tent had let water in and gotten her backpack completely wet.  I glanced at my watch – oh four hundred; four in the morning – and freed one arm to search among my bag.  I found a flannel sheet that appeared dry so I unzipped the tent fly and passed it out to her.

Her hair was stringy in the reflected light from her flashlight, which she considerately pointed away from the tent.  She added that she was really cold, and threw in a chatter or two of teeth at the end.  She looked really bedraggled and I felt really sorry that I couldn’t just have her slide into the tent with me.  I’m sure my tentmate, Barry, would have said something about that though.  Maybe not, though.  He was currently between girlfriends.  But, no way would I share.

I told her that if it was any consolation, I was pretty cold myself and the rain wasn’t helping.  Making a decision, I told her to wait a moment and that I’d come out maybe we could find a dry spot and warm up.  She flicked the light off and sloshed away.  I tried my very best to get partially dressed without waking or rolling over Barry.  As I left the tent, he cracked an eye and mumbled ‘Glück’ (Roughly: good luck).  I am sure he meant finding a dry spot.

I didn’t bother to put on boots so by the time we got to the cooking area my feet were thoroughly wet and cold.  She was sitting on the cook bench with my sheet thrown over her Indian style when I came up.  She lifted one side of it and I sat down and pulled it over my shoulders.  She snuggled closer to me and put an arm around me tightly.

She wondered aloud if the rain will ever end.  I replied that according to my nose it should right around sunup; which wasn’t for another hour yet.  All she said was ‘oh, rats’.  I had to agree.

We whispered in low tones with large pauses between sentences.  Slowly, her shivers subsided and she lowered her head to my shoulder and dozed.  I leaned back against the tent pole and nodded off myself for a little bit.  I was the first to hear the door on the Volkswagen van slide open.  One of the chaperones stepped out and landed directly in a huge puddle of water.  There was a moment of very un-chaperone-like language – especially for a lady – and then a dash for the tree line.  Virginia giggled and said that she must really have to go.

It was light enough now to asses the campsite.  Wet and sagging little tents dotted the grass amid puddles of water.  Some tents were now showing signs of their occupants stirring.  Since Virginia and I were almost dressed we started up the stove and put on a big kettle of water for coffee and tea.  Our big two-burner gas stove was working out well.

As we waited for the water to boil, the chaperone came back into camp and headed for the kitchen.  She approached and slid under the canopy with a sigh.  All she said was that she hoped the water was hot enough for coffee.  It was, so she ladled a heft amount of powder into a mug and poured in water.  In three gulps it was gone.  That seemed to make her feel better.  After fixing a refill, she slogged over to her camper bus and dove inside; slamming the door.  Virginia and I looked at each other and, at the same time, said ‘what a grump’.

The camp was coming alive now as more people were emerging from their wet tents.  Vast stretches, deep groans, and back creaks were heard as they tried to remove kinks from their spines.  I felt a lot better myself since I’d spent the last hour cuddled up to something warm.  I was still a little stiff and sore from our foolish slide down the grassy slope, but now that the gloom was being replaced by some light things didn’t appear as bad as before.

One by one the others drifted into the kitchen area and filled up on hot stimulants.  We were allowed one small half-shot of Schnapps each in our coffee to help ward off the cold.  It certainly helped me anyway.

Four of us started fixing breakfast:  rolls with butter and jam, cold cereal with milk, and a huge pan of scrambled eggs.  Nobody felt like taking the time to fix anything other than scrambled eggs so that’s what we got.  Bacon was cooked in another pan and, once it had drained, added to everyone’s plate.

Once we all had eaten, things looked a little better.  I predicted, after looking up at the cloud movement that the rain would quit in about an hour.  It was down to an intermittent drizzle even now so I had a fifty-fifty chance of being right.  The chaperones were huddled in the car having a powwow of their own.

They emerged and came over to the kitchen.  They asked us if we wanted to just go on home now instead of finishing the trip.  We thought about it for a moment and then told them we’d like to finish.  We had no more camping to do and the inn at Binsfeld was a good one with a nice restaurant close by for a good meal.  Some discussion followed, with a strong plea for us to change our minds, but we held fast.  None of the chaperones were willing to ride with us though.  In fact, they told us, as soon as we packed up and started out they were going to go to Binsfeld and check into the inn.  This was fine with us.

We washed all our dishes, packed them into the camper, and rolled our wet tents up.  These were put into the trunk of the car.  We could dry them out later today in the back of the inn.  We gathered our gear, put the panniers on the bikes and cleaned up the campground.  One never left a campground without cleaning it up.  It was an unwritten rule in Europe that you always cleaned up after yourself.  Campers here in the US could use that ethic themselves for the most part.

I was just a short push uphill through dripping trees on both side of the road until we reached the plateau on top.  Just as we emerged from the woods, the sun finally made it’s appearance.  Off to our left was the town of Dodenberg.  We discussed taking a brief detour into town.  The guys were for pushing on, but the girls claimed they wanted public restrooms.  They won; and we cycled into town.

It wasn’t much of a town, just a crossroads in fact, but it did have a huge barn where several people were working.  We approached and asked if the girls could use the facilities.  We were given permission by the farm owner himself.  While we were taking turns washing up, we chatted with him.  He was a florid guy, fairly tall, with huge hands.  While we talked, he pitched hay into a large bin from a trailer packed with it.  In order to repay him, several of us grabbed forks and helped.  Bet you thought I was going to say ‘pitched in’.

Refreshed and rejuvenated (and drained of early morning coffee), we left the group in the barn.  We left Dodenberg, swept across a small hill and descended into a valley to the town of Gladbach.  The town itself was interesting because it still had bits and pieces of Roman architecture within a partial Roman wall.  When we emerged on the other side, we all groaned at the sight of our ride ahead.  It steeply ascended the far side of the valley through a forest of trees.

I consulted the topographical map and said that there was a small trail that led directly to the top and shortened the trip to Niersbach, but was soundly booed by everyone.  They’d had enough of shortcuts to Hell.

In the full sunlight we trudged up the hill.  We had to walk single-file because of the narrowness of the road.  Every time a bus or truck went by, we’d get a blast of diesel smoke.  Maybe it was my imagination, but it sure seemed that trucks liked to shift gears when they were right next to us.

We attained the top, blew past the turn off to Greverath, and continued on the ridgeline towards Niersbach.  Once we got there, we stopped for a leisurely lunch in a very nice outdoor restaurant.  Cold cuts never tasted like this in camp that’s for sure.  Big slices of spicy salami, broad chinks of yellow and orange cheeses, plus gobs of very hot German mustard from Düsseldorf made perfect sandwiches.  I ate two of them.  We realized there were no chaperones so we allowed ourselves one beer.  To help wash down the sandwiches, of course.

We waited almost an hour before starting our again as we still had one smallish hill to climb.  It was somewhat gentle, led us past a huge gravel pit and tilled fields.  When we reached Arenrath in the early afternoon, we knew we were close to our goal.  We unconsciously worked a little harder and rode faster.

As we made a sweep to the west, we could look across the wide valley and see the road we had taken out of Binsfeld several days ago.  We would eventually join up again with it and enter Binsfeld.  By three-thirty we were pulling to halt at the inn; tired and thirsty.  Water never tasted so good as it did right then.

Two of the chaperones had decided to leave and go back home today.  That left us with only one of them; luckily, the one with the Volkswagen camper.  She had taken on all the repair items the other car had had so if we had a breakdown we stood a good chance of fixing it right away.  The departed chaperones had taken our wet gear and would air it out for us on the grass  at the center of the housing area.  We thought that was a really decent thing for them to do.

We registered, received our room assignments (under the gimlet eye of the remaining chaperone) and went across and down the road a bit to the restaurant.  There were no other travelers in town tonight so we had the place practically to ourselves.  We sat, four to a table, in the main dining room, and had a great dinner.  The servers remembered us and took very good care of us.  I like to think that they really wanted to, but it probably had to do with the fact that Americans tipped rather well.

Not a lot of people know that in Germany (as well as most of Europe) a tip is already added into the bill before being presented.  Since a lot of Americans can’t speak the language anyway, they hardly ever check the bill out and see the added tip.  They just look at it, mentally calculate a tip, and add it into the payment.  Thus, they get double their tip.  My dad was completely at ease paying his bill and walking out.  My mom always went back and added some money.  It was a game they played.

Since tomorrow was going to be a long pull home, we decided to limit our evening to around twenty-two hundred.  Amazingly, we actually drifted out of the inn’s lounge at about that time and headed for our rooms.  Being good little boys and girls there was no fraternization – darn it.

T.O.M.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (5)

June 10, 2010

Another cloudy day greeted us as we rose for breakfast at the inn in Maring.  Since I was the closest thing to a weather forecaster in our group (by default as my dad was the CO of the base Weather Detachment) I predicted that we might have some small showers during the day, but should clear up by evening.  We packed and walked our bikes up the hill from Maring to the sister-town of Maring-Noviand.

It was a tough climb since the cobblestones were wet with the rain that had fallen during the night.  Our shoes kept slipping so we had to keep a grip on the brakes to keep us from falling when we slid.  With a large effort, we all made it to the top and rested for ten minutes.

When we reached the east edge of town we almost missed a turn and went up the wrong valley.  If it wasn’t for our sharp eyed map reader we would have ended up miles from where we wanted to be.  As it was, we had to backtrack about a half mile to take the right road.

We were now on a big sweeping loop through bean, corn, and beet fields again.  The ‘honey wagons’ (you don’t really want to know what they are) were out in force and the smell was horrible.  We went through yet another split town, Monzel and Osann-Monzel.  Some time later, when I asked down at my office about the split towns I was told that most of them were once separate towns, but merged their city governments and became hyphenated.  Made sense to me.

We rested beside a small stream and ate our lunch.  Clouds began building up again and, with the threat of rain, we decided to pick up the pace to our camp area.  A gentle slope up, through a narrow valley, with vineyards on the north side and a nice lake opposite was a much more pleasant climb than hiking over wet cobblestones any time.

Along the way, we passed a winery but both chaperones said we couldn’t stop for a tour.  What a drag, man.  It would have been nice to have a taste of their wine because it was a brand that most of us recognized.  Wines in Germany tended to be distributed in a smaller area than those in the States.  A thriving, local, winery built it’s reputation on the good will (and good taste) of the citizens in the immediate area.  Most Gasthaus’s, Inns and hotels utilized the local wineries and breweries almost exclusively.

We started up another slight incline and began diving into a deeply wooded area.  The trees hung over the road and put us into an even darker shadow than just the clouds alone.  A slight foggy drizzle began making us miserable.  It wasn’t enough to stop and put on rain gear, but it was enough to make us wet.  The rain gear would have kept us drier, but since it was plastic we would have steamed ourselves into dehydration rapidly.

Once through the woods, we began to cross a very wide valley which contained several small villages.  One of then, named Neuminheim, apparently existed only as a sign and nothing more.  As one of our resident wags put it “should have been painted on both side of the sign”.  Klausen, Pohlbach, and Esche were mere one-road towns with maybe two or three cross roads.  Clearly they were farming towns as we met a great many trucks laden with produce going to them and coming back empty to the fields again.

Finally, we reached Sehlem.  Our group descended on one of the local markets and loaded up on fruits and vegetables for our meal tonight.  We were also allowed one beer apiece so we made the best of it by choosing a nice, dark, ale brewed just down the road.  There was a small park in the middle of town where we filled our water bottles and rested for a bit.

Prodded again by spitting rain showers, we mounted up for our climb through the wooded hills to our camp spot which was located about halfway up the hill.  This time, the entire hillside was covered with old-growth timber and darkened our way yet again.

The first bit wasn’t too bad and provided a little levity into a dreary day.  A sign pointed up a narrow valley to the town of Heckenmünster.  We all started to laugh at an incorrect translation of “Heck Monster”.  The rain was beginning to warp our brains.

About halfway up the next slope, we were met by our caravan of vans and cars at the junction of our road and a dirt track.  The turnoff was gravel so it wasn’t muddy, but it was wet and slippery.  One of us slid sideways and almost crashed into a tree so we decided that care was dictated here and walked the rest of the way to camp.

Our logistics crew had picked a very nice spot for us to camp, right on the edge of a sea of grass which led downwards to a small stream which crashed its way noisily downhill over a series of waterfalls and boulder strewn stretches.  At our camp we could hear it, but down in the background so it wasn’t intrusive.  Unpacking and setting up our tents occupied us for a while and preparing for dinner was underway soon.  A couple of us, including myself, were drafted into slicing and dicing vegetables for the stew pot while two of the girls cut strips of beef began dropping them into the pot also.  Apples were cored, pears sliced, and fresh strawberries would be our desert.

Dinner was superb tonight and, as we were cleaning up, the skies opened and torrents of rain fell on us.  The cook area tent fly wasn’t up to the task of keeping the rain off and collapsed right into the middle of the camp table.  Things got a little soggy, but the plates had to be washed anyway and this turned out to be the fasted way to get the job done.

Once washed, with no hope of drying them, we drifted off to do some exploring.  Sharon, Paul, Virginia and I went to the top of the grassy slope to see what we could see.  In the process of leaning over a large log, Paul slipped and fell across it.  When he landed on his stomach, face downhill, he didn’t stop.  With increasing speed, he slid like a toboggan down the grass and fetched up on a muddy bank of the stream.

He stood, arms waving, and laughing like a hyena, said that he was fine.  It was the best ride he’d had in a long time.  I figured that I couldn’t get any wetter and leapt down the hill feet first on my butt.  Virginia and Sharon were right behind me shrieking with joy at the ride.  I slipped sideways and made one complete loop only to land back on my bottom for the rest of the ride.  When I hit the mud feet first, I showered it all over Paul who was not wise enough to have moved away from the muddy spot.

Virginia crashed into me, tumbled right over my shoulders, and planted herself on her back in the middle of a muddy puddle, gasping for breath.  Sharon, trying to slow herself, twisted enough to come into the puddle at an angle and stop dead when she hit it.  This was accomplished by shooting a huge bow wave of muddy water over all of us.

We were laughing so hard we could hardly stand.  I don’t know who really started it, only that I remember being slapped in the back with a huge mudball by someone (I suspected Virginia, but she only looked at me wide-eyed with innocence).  The fight was on.  By the time several others from camp had joined us we all looked like chocolate soldiers.

Dave had the idea first of simply splashing into the creek to wash off – and did so.  If this was a cartoon, he would have levitated up until he was tiptoeing across the surface while voicing claims that the water was COLD.  This particular stream had, as it’s source, a very deep spring about halfway up the mountain.  It never had the benefits of the sun warming it because it was way too swift.  By the time it got to where we were, it was still very cold.

We stripped off as much clothing as we dared and dunked them in the water to clean them off.  This was not a co-ed bath however.  The girls had found a large bunch of bushes to go behind and used them as a shield while they cleaned off.  Yeah, we peeked.

Finding a path leading back up to the camp was difficult as the grass was much taller down here on the bottom of the hill but we managed it.  We arrived, huffing and puffing, back in camp to the stern eyes of the chaperones who asked us just what the heel we’d been up to.  We couldn’t lie so we told them that an avalanche had swept us up and buried us.  We were all okay though and no broken bones.  They just rolled their eyes.

The rain continued most of the night.  Lightning flashed and thunder rolled across the valley.  We were beginning to wonder if the Heck Monster actually was stomping around the hills at night.  This led to a chain of ghost stories as we lay in our tents facing each other in a circle.  One of us would start it off and reach a climax only to pass it to the next person who added their own embellishments.  By the time it got back to the original storyteller the entire plot had changed.  This is a great way to pass the time.

One by one we dropped off to sleep as best as we could in our soggy tents.  It was not a fun time.

T.O.M.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (4)

June 3, 2010

The next morning dawned later than normal.  Overnight, clouds had moved in and a chill had settled on the campsite.  I noticed it around four in the morning and simply piled on another blanket.  Several others did the same.  Hot coffee was the order of the day when breakfasts were being built.

One by one our tour members struggled out of their warm bags and into the chill air.  Up on top of the mountain on either side it wouldn’t be so bad, but down here in the river valley it was cold.  We sat on logs around a larger than normal fire and poured hot drinks down our throats.  Once warmed, the rest of breakfast didn’t seem so grim.

I felt refreshed after several smallish butter rolls and a large Danish.  The sugar wound its way through my system and got me up and moving.  My tent mate and I tore down our tent, folded it, and lashed it to my pannier.  He took the poles and stakes in his.  Others did pretty much the same but nobody moved very fast.

Today we were to travel down the north side of the river, curve around a huge bend, and cross using a ferry system.  Originally, we were to spend the night in an inn at the center of Mühlheim, but there had been a mix up in reservations and ours didn’t exist.  We were now booked into a tiny little Gasthaus in Maring; just across the river.

With stiff limbs and our breath condensing in front of us we puffed off like a whole brace of steam engines.  Slowly we warmed up as we pedaled along the trail on the river bank.  Talk was desultory and carried on in subdued tones.

We passed the little Bierstube the four of us had visited the previous evening and waved to the owner and his wife as they swept the porch and steps of the building.  They paused to watch us stream by.  Just minutes later, the first touch of sun reached the valley floor and put animation into our attitudes.

Conversations began to pick up a little more volume, and people would speed up or slow down to join with friends instead of poking along with their eyes straight ahead.  A wonderful thing, the sun.  It warmed one not only physically, but emotionally.

Off to our left were vast vineyards staggering their way up the slope.  Numerous threads of dirt roads connected them with switchbacks appearing everywhere.  Even this early, trucks were laboring up the slope with workers who kept the vines in top shape.  Directly ahead we could see a fairly large valley leading off to the north.  When we reached it, in the middle of the small village across the river from Bernkastel-Kues, a sign told us the road lead up to Monzelfeld.  A quick look at our topographical map and we could see that this town was almost three hundred and ten meters higher than us (1016 feet).  Nobody even mentioned wanting to take a side trip.

The road up the canyon divided the village and swept over the river to the larger town of Bernkastel-Kues.  Small homes dotted the hillside in between plots of pine trees all the way to the crest of the hill.  When we stopped to take some pictures, Virginia came over to me, put her arm around my waist, and leaned close.  She said it was a beautiful place and we’d have to drive over here some day and go church hunting.  She was quite a lover of churches – all types and denominations.  I agreed that the trip would be nice indeed.  With time for no more than a peck on the cheek, we mounted up and went on down the street.

Once past the town, our road plunged into a deep green tunnel of mixed trees.  Some pine, but primarily larch and maple dominated overhead.  Traffic had picked up somewhat.  Huge, stinky, diesel busses blatted past us on their way to town filled with morning commuters.  We pulled into the trees and rested until most of them had passed us for the day.  It was hard to take a breath when the air was filled with fumes.

It was during one of these rests that one of our group was sitting right next to his bike when the tire gave out with a bang.  He rose up about two feet from a sitting position and landed about five feet away with a very startled look on his face.  He’d had no indication of any trouble before the moment it popped.  We helped him remove the wheel, pull the tire off and patch the tube.  Fortunately, it was the front wheel and easily changed.  He, and everyone around the bike at the time, were charged with a little adrenaline.

Lunchtime came and we found a very nice picnic area just outside the town of Andel.  An enterprising vendor or two had set up their pushcarts on the grass and were minting money selling bratwurst and big, salty, pretzels with loads of hot mustard.  All thoughts of field rations left us as the smell hit us from completely across the green.  We parked our bikes and walked en-masse to the carts for our fuel.  We noticed that the chaperones were between us and the guy selling beer in the normal bottles with wire and rubber-covered ceramic snap-caps.  This was the kind that let you take a swallow or two and reseal the bottle to keep it from going flat.  American beer brewers could take a page from the Germans here.  Anyway, we didn’t, actually, weren’t allowed to approach the vendors.  I didn’t try because I still had half a bottle of wine in my pannier – so there!

On our approach to the town of Mühlheim we passed through vast fields of produce.  We identified sugar beets, lettuce, beans, and potatoes.  Most of the fields were populated with people whacking at weeds, setting up large sprinklers, or generally wandering around so we didn’t try anything.

We arrived at the ferry landing just in time to see the churning at the stern signifying its return to the other side.  A posted schedule said the next run was in an hour, but according to the board, it was supposed to arrive on this side at the current time.  Nobody appeared to be around to ask about the discrepancy so we just decided to sit and wait.  Some of us walked a little ways into town and took pictures or shopped.

Five of us managed to slip the chaperones and duck into a dark cellar bar.  Refreshed with a quick Schnapps, we went back to the landing.  Mints were passed around before we got there.

About half an hour later we heard the faint toot of the ferry’s horn and three minutes later it moved away from the dock and started back to us.  Nosing carefully upstream, the driver balanced thrust against current to put himself right at the ramp on our side.  Now we knew why the ramp was at an angle to the river.

There was room for six cars and lots of bicycles.  Three more touring groups had joined us while we were waiting.  One of them was French, but they seemed to stay away from the rest of us for some reason.  The other two were German and they moved freely amongst us and asked loads of questions about our rides.  We took a lot of pictures of each other and the riverine traffic as we slowly motored our way across the river.  At this point, it was about a half-mile wide and the current was fairly slow.

When we got to the other side, they didn’t lower the pedestrian gate until all the vehicles were off the ferry.  I guess this was a safety move so that the sudden appearance of many bicyclists wouldn’t scare the drivers; or something like that.  Anyway, once the gate was us, we trooped off and headed for a lemonade stand.

Now, for all of you who are keeping track of our little jaunt, we have just completed a twist in the river which started with us in the campground on the north side of the river.  We cruised down that bank until we were waiting for the ferry on the south side of the river to go back to the north side.  A neat trick.  It was accomplished because the river made a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn.  Also, while I am explaining that one, I might add that Google Earth now shows nothing of both ferry landings except for what appears to be a boat ramp on the south side and a gravel spot which could have held the north ferry slip.  A small boat yard appears there now.  A very nice bridge spans the river here now.

Refreshed by a tart and zesty lemonade, we mounted up and started along the road that led to Maring.  We picked up some speed once we left the river because we passed along the city sewage plant and the wind was coming off the settling tanks.  Not a very nice smell.

We went through Maring and crossed a small stream.  Our inn was immediately across the stream and looked wonderful.  After checking in and getting our room assignments, we went out and found a couple of very nice nature trails that led along the stream.  Since another of our group had given up (muscle cramps that wouldn’t go away) there were only five guys and four girls left; plus, of course, the two chaperones.  The other two chaperones were back on the base lining up our next campground supplies.

Virginia and I eluded the chaperone (more easily done now that there were only two of them) and left to wander the trails along the stream bank.  Stone and log benched were places at strategic places where one could contemplate nature, listed to bird calls, or just plain neck.  We chose the last one.

We couldn’t get too heavily involved because the ground cover was pretty sparse, but it was enough to get me fired up a little.  And that was as far as I got too because another couple walked along the path and sat at the bench about fifty feet away.  They weren’t with our group so that inhibited Virginia a little; which, of course, inhibited the hell out of me, darn it.

Daylight began fading soon and we reluctantly started back.  Dinner consisted of a very nice veal dish, with the inevitable potatoes and/or noodles.  The salad was one of the best ones I’ve ever eaten and when I asked about it, I was told that the components came from their very own garden.  I asked for, and got, a second helping.  We were also allowed one small beer (hooray!) to help wash it down.

After dinner, most of us gravitated to the large room set up with several stuffed couches and chairs arranged as conversation centers.  I sat in a chair that was big enough for two.  Virginia proved that by sliding down and lying across my lap with her feet hanging over one arm, her shoulders resting on the other, and her head on my shoulder.  It was our favorite sitting position as we could talk in low tones and nobody could hear us.

Once again the chaperones were being sharp-eyed so we kept it decent even though both of us were getting up a good head of steam.  We murmured to each other for an hour until Virginia suddenly yawned.  It was one of those yawns that no power on earth can stop.  She giggled, apologized, and then waited.  Sure enough, she’d made me start yawning.  We gave up and went our separate ways to bed.  It took me a while to get to sleep.

T.O.M.

The Rhineland on 75 cents a day (3)

May 25, 2010

Dawn broke with a crash – literally.  A few of the guys were outside playing a pick-up game of soccer in the back yard and one of them kicked the ball a little off center and sent it through the window in our dorm.  There is nothing like being awakened by the crash of glass, and the screaming of girls (and, to be completely honest, some of the guys; not me, of course).  Nobody would fess up so we all chipped in to pay for the window.

Since we all woke up at the same time, there was a decided crush to get into the WC and take care of business.  Once that was done it was time for breakfast.  No huge breakfasts this time as all that was offered was small broetchen, various jams and jellies, and pieces of bacon.  Strong coffee was also the norm.  What you didn’t drink you could lube your chain with.  If they didn’t use very heavily plated spoons, they’d melt.

Today we had a fairly easy day planned.  We were going from Wittlich to Mühlheim.  Well, not entirely all the way to Mühlheim but to a small camping ground right on a peninsula on the bank of the Mosel River.  It was pretty much downhill all the way.  Something we could definitely use right about now as our muscles got used to all the activity.

Since there was no real hurry because we had only eight or ten miles to go, we took the time to tune our bikes up a little.  They’d taken a pretty good beating in the muddy field and needed to be cleaned and oiled somewhat.  We brought out the big toolkit from the station wagon and set to work.

We gathered a few spectators from among the other transients staying at the hostel.  Most of them had never seen the type of bikes we had as most German bicycles had at the most two gears.  Ours were set up as touring bikes and as such had three gears in two ranges for a total of six.  It made climbing hills much easier.  We showed off the gearing system and let some of the kids ride the bikes to see how they liked them.  One fellow offered the equivalent of almost a hundred dollars for Jim’s bike.  It wasn’t for sale.

A word here on the bikes themselves.  They were called English Touring Bikes and had narrow tires with tubes in them.  The braking systems were a right and left-handlebar caliper that caused a clamp to ride on the rim of the front and back wheels.  Very similar to bikes nowadays, but definitely not what you would call ‘mountain-style’.  They were very susceptible to punctures from stones and other sharp objects; plus the little rubber stoppers were prone to jumping out at the most inopportune moments.

Finally we loaded up our panniers and straggled our way in double file down the road.  The first section was pretty much on the level.  We rode past fields of grain, potatoes, sugar beets, and corn (nope, we didn’t stop this time).  We skirted Wengerohr and Platten then started down a very long canyon that would eventually bring us to the Mosel River.

On one side was heavy forestation and the other, across huge fields of grass we could see fledgling vineyards.  Some of the finest German wines come from the Mosel River (in my opinion anyway) and in ten or fifteen years these small vineyards would be producing great vintages.  For now, however, they were just very junior vines.

Vineyards are placed on the north side of the valley and the river so that they faced south and absorbed as much sun as they could.  If we thought these small vineyards were expansive, we really got a surprise when we entered the Mosel valley itself.  Finally, as we swung around a huge curve the entire river valley opened up to us.  It was a great sight.  We stopped for a snack and took loads of pictures.

After one final curve we approached a huge traffic circle.  We whirled around it and exited on the road that led to a very old bridge over the river.  Zeltingen was on the other side.  This bridge, as well as most of the Mosel River bridges, had been heavily damaged during the war.  It still had some pockmarks and shrapnel damage.  It was very hard to imagine what conditions were like back only twelve years earlier.  It took us twenty minutes to cross as we kept taking pictures of boats as they navigated up and down the river.  The girls called and waved to the crewmembers and they waved.  Several captains tooted their horns at us.

A very small café that resided right on the bank of the river seemed a great place to stop for lunch.  The two very pretty servers seemed a bit apprehensive as a load of Americans began to fill the small dining room, but warmed up very fast when they realized most of us spoke German well enough to discuss what would be best for lunch.  Soon, they were bustling to and from the kitchen, setting down plates and bringing copious amounts of lemonade.  The girls both enjoyed having their pictures taken with some of our group – mostly guys.  Virginia clamped her fingers on my knee and kept them there virtually all during lunch.

We settled up our bill, tipped the servers, and filled our water bottles with more of the delicious lemonade.  Not too far down the river road, we saw what appeared to be a dam.  As we got closer we could see it stretching all the way across the river.  We got to wondering how boats could get past it until we realized that there was a small barge sitting on what appeared to be dry land on the opposite bank.  Using zoom lenses, I could see that there was a lock system.  If we had stayed on the south bank we would have ridden directly past it.  On this bank, we could barely see it.

We watched as the barge cleared the lock and maneuvered around an oncoming flatboat pushing two other small barges upstream.  It was a tight fit, but they made it through also.  We walked out as far as we could on the dam and took some more pictures.  Finally, we started out again for our camp ground.

We pedaled slowly down the pathway next to the river.  No cars to worry about so we took our time and bunched up.  Off in the distance we could see a small finger of land that extended towards us and enclosed a little bit of water.  As we got closer we could see several tents and small camper vehicles.  That must be our spot.  We passed it, crossed towards the river even more, and rode back to the campground.

It was a pay-by-the-day campground and collected in advance.  We were assigned adjoining slots and began setting up our tents.  While we were doing that, the two vehicles that kept pace with us arrived and unloaded the cooking items.  Since it was early afternoon we were in no rush to fix anything yet, so we all just scattered and walked around.

Virginia, Cleo, Roger and I went back towards where the peninsula left the north bank.  We did it with enough stealth that none of the chaperones saw us leave.  Roger and I had noticed a small Gasthaus up the road opposite the one we had gone down to the camp.  That was our destination.

They had a very nice little six-table vine covered garden area set up as a Biergarten.  What does one order in a Biergarten?  Bier, of course.  We sat and relaxed to the sound of a fake water wheel slowly turning in the current of the river.  It wasn’t connected to anything so we figured it was decorative.  It was apparently a slow day so the proprietor joined us and asked, in halting English, if we were on tour.

I answered in German to his visible relief that we were camping down the road with a few more of us.  We talked of this and that for almost an hour.  He seemed very pleased that we had stopped and kept bringing us snack foods to try.  We did, of course, only to be polite.  Cleo and Roger excused themselves and wandered down one of the paths through the garden.

Suddenly, a huge outcry of honking geese and shouting guy and girl began behind some bushes.  The proprietor jumped up and shouted to Cleo and Roger.

“Nein.  Nein.  Kümmern Sie sich nicht die Gänse.  Sie werden angreifen!”  (No.  No.  Don’t bother the geese.  They will attack!)  “Können sie nicht lessen Deutsch?”  (Can’t they read German?)  He asked me.

I turned to look where he was pointing and, sure enough, there was a white sign with red lettering warning everyone not to mess with the geese as they would get nasty.  I told him I guess they didn’t notice it.  And, as an afterthought I offered to write the warning out in English for him.  He grinned hugely and brought a piece of paper and a pen for me.  I wrote an appropriate warning that added somewhat to the terse German warning by way of telling parents to keep an eye on their kids.  When I explained my addition, he laughed and said he’d have to add that to his sign also.

After a very pleasant afternoon the four of us reluctantly readied ourselves to leave the little bistro and walk back to the campground.  The owner pressed a bottle of wine into Virginia’s hands and winked at the two of us.

“You have for later,” he explained.  I thanked him profusely and we bowed our way out.  It was a very good vintage.

Back at camp, we smuggled the bottle into my tent and went back to help with dinner.  We brought out the ears of corn we had liberated from the cornfield, dropped them into a huge pot, and salted the water.  One woman from the neighboring camp introduced herself, in French, and asked what we were doing to the corn.  Virginia was better at French that I was (which is to say she wouldn’t get her face slapped) so she explained as best as she could that we were boiling it to eat.  The woman looked a little askance at us and pressed for more details.

Virginia told her that Americans are what we called ‘corn on the cob’ with lots of butter and salt.  While she was talking, she fished out an ear and poured melted butter and dashed it with salt.  With a flourish, she handed it to the woman.  She took a tentative bite, took several more, and then began to run her teeth down row after row of corn kernels.  Finally, with butter dripping from her chin she pronounced that it was an amazing thing to do with corn.  I’ve explained before that most Europeans didn’t do anything with corn except to feed their pigs and barnyard fowl.  I guess nobody had thought of boiling it.  She shyly accepted two more ears, with butter and salt, for her husband and son.  She left calling their names and encouraging them to try this new food.

Dinner was wonderful.  Fresh bread that our motorized crew had bought in town, lots of corn and butter, plenty of grilled pork chops, and greens loaded down our tables.  We chattered all through dinner, washed up, and wandered back out from the dining fly – mostly two by two.  In some cases, four by four.  The chaperones called to us not to stay out too late and then settled down by one of the fires to have a beer or two.

Virginia and I wrapped our gift bottle of wine in her sweater and went down to the riverbank.  As darkness fell completely, we lay back and watched the river traffic as they muscled their way upstream or drifted down.  Cheery little toots of horns as they passed sounded very friendly.  Like the Dutch, most of them had dogs aboard who barked as the vessels passed each other.  They were used when fog obscured the river.  The dogs would alert a captain of an approaching boat that he may not see.

I opened the wine and poured into our plastic cups.  She toasted me; we clicked rims, and sipped.  It was definitely a good vintage.  She rested her head back on my arm and snuggled in close.  We talked of pretty much anything we thought of.  We had really nothing we wouldn’t discuss so we never lacked for conversation.  I quoted some poetry, which she loved me to do, and we just sat and watched the stars come out.

With the bottle half empty now, and the fire at the chaperone’s camp gone low, we figured it was time to go back to our (separate, darn it) tents.  Tomorrow we would be taking a ferry back across the river and climbing up and out of the valley.

T.O.M.

Across the USA (Pt.6)

April 20, 2010

Our visit with grandparents was a huge success.  We learned our morning chores well and soon I could milk all five cows in just under forty minutes.  My sisters learned to spot the wooden eggs and leave them alone.  My brother finally was able to split wood small enough so that it fit into the wood-burning kitchen stove.  We all toned up our muscles, got a little tanned, and began working as a team.

We were originally to spend ten days, but my mom got a little restless to see her mom out in Los Angeles so we packed up on the eighth day and pulled out the next morning.  It was a very long, hot, tedious, hot, mind numbing, hot, ride.  Have I mentioned how hot it was?  Our window mounted swamp cooler failed to swamp and just allowed the arid air to sweep over us.  We drank gallons of water and panted.

We had gone back north towards Durango, but then peeled off west on good old US160.  This highway passed just north of Mesa Verde National Park and, as planned, we made a stop there to look at the cliff dwellings and explore ruins.  Despite the heat, it was very interesting actually.  When we left, we passed through Cortez and headed directly to the Four Corners.

Everyone, except my dad who thought it was undignified, got on all fours and did the tourist thing of being in four states at the same time.  A little further down the road we took an interesting little sandy road and found a small water hole to camp by.  This time, there were no bugs that we noticed; however, all night long we’d be awakened by huffings, puffings, growls, and grunts as the various residents of the desert came to drink.  One of them, a coyote I think, got interested enough to tip over our aluminum cooler.  The resulting crash as it hit the ground from our camp table had everyone on edge for the rest of the night.

At around four in the morning we agreed that we weren’t going to get much more sleep and took off while it was much cooler.  We passed through colorfully named towns such as Teec Nos Pos, Teq Nec Lah, Dennehotso (which we thought was hilarious), Baby Rocks, and Cow Springs (another couple of thigh-slappers).

When we reached Tuba City, my dad roamed around to all four gas stations looking for a bargain.  When he found that fifty-two cents was everywhere he really got ticked off.  He picked the station that looked to be the least prosperous and gave them his business.  Big deal.  We rarely put more than eleven or twelve gallons in anyway so what real difference did it make?  He was big on teaching us “the principles of the thing” instead of calling it “cheap”.

After fortifying the bus with gas, and our tummies with semi-decent food, we went back on the highway towards our night goal of a place near Williams, Arizona.  But first, we had to pass through Flagstaff.  The road was very poorly marked and if it hadn’t been for my ‘bump of direction’ we would have gone a long ways towards Phoenix – which was definitely the wrong way.  About the time my brain went “ding!” my dad saw the sign telling us that Phoenix was ahead and pulled over to look at the ‘damn map’ again.  We only retraced about eight or nine miles and ended up on US66 towards Williams.

Williams appeared in front of us as we rounded a bend.  We had a nice long drink of very cold water in the town square and, after stopping at another gas station, we were directed to a great campground not too far out of town.  We swung through a big western-style gate with a huge signboard overhead announcing the Bunnyville Campground and pulled up at the clubhouse.  We were assigned a spot right down on the water of a nice lake where the fishing was free.

My dad, my brother and I pitched camp in a hurry and dashed off to the lake juggling fishing gear.  All we had was spinning gear and everyone else had fly casting rigs.  It also appeared that the only ones catching anything had boats or rafts and were out in the lake.  Not a good thing for shore fishermen.  I think it was my brother that came up with the idea to put an one of those clear bubbles that you can partially fill with water.  Once that was attached, you stripped off about eight or nine feet of plain leader with a dry fly at the end.

Raring back and letting fly with the weight of the water filled bobber made for casts of heroic proportions.  We found we could easily get ranges of over a hundred feet.  Since the bobbers had just enough water to make them barely float, once they hit the water we’d just let them sit for a moment and then slowly reel it back to shore.

My dad got the first hit.  It was a huge trout that jumped completely clear of the water and splashed back down.  His drag started whining loudly as the fish took off for the center of the lake.  Laughing maniacally, he horsed that fish all the way back to shore.  It weighed two and a half pounds.

Invigorated by his success my brother and I began whipping the surface of the lake to a froth with our casts.  First I landed a nice trout and then my brother got the biggest one at just over three pounds.  We hated to quit, but all we needed for dinner was at our feet.  I got to clean them after what I think was a rigged ‘rock/paper/scissors’.

Our trout dinner was very tasty and afterwards we just sat around the fire and slipped into a food-induced stupor.  Day turned to twilight which didn’t linger very long because of the surrounding mountains and then to full dark.  In the stillness, between various noises from other campers, we could hear fish jumping.  We told my sister that it was the swamp monster coming to get her.  Yeah, I know that’s cruel, but what are brothers for?

The next day we spent all day running up one hill and down the backside of it.  Nowadays, I40 takes off at Seligman and runs pretty much due west to get to Kingman.  Back then, US66 took a path that went way northwest to Peach Springs and back down to the southwest to hit Kingman.  It was a very long trip.  When we passed trough the town of Antares, my mom remarked that it certainly did feel like the surface of a sun.

We finally reached California at Needles.  It had been a long trip and now our goal seemed a lot closer.  There was a state park west of Needles where we camped that night.  To get to it we had to travel up a huge dry wash.  The road was crushed gravel and it seemed like every mile or so we had to cross a big concrete culvert sort of thing.  My dad said it was for flood control.  Flash floods are a real danger out here.  Everyone looked to the skies for signs of rain.

This was the first night we actually felt cold.  Blankets were thrown across sleeping bags and when we got up the next morning dew had formed on everything.  We also found we had another flat tire.  This one wasn’t so bad though.  A sharp stone had cut through the tread and nicked the inner tube.  We had the wheel pulled, the tire off and tube patched in just under a half hour.

Today we should make Santa Ana if we were lucky.  One of the town we passed through caused gales of laughter.  We pronounced it like the train station announcers in a Bugs Bunny cartoon:  KooooooooooK-A-Mongaaaa.  I bet they really hate Warner Brothers for that.  At least we didn’t make “that left toin at Alber-kurk-ie”.

Down through the valley we went, passing grove after grove of orange trees.  Thousands of them.  Then, on some of the low hills, we started seeing the donkey engines of oil wells.  The smell of citrus trees gave way to petroleum products.  Cruising through Orange, we saw a sign telling us of the new complex opened up in Anaheim called Disneyland.  We had been promised a visit there as well as my favorite of Knotts Berry Farm, which was just up the road from Disneyland.  The rest of the way to grandma’s house was filled with speculations on when we would get to go there.

We arrived in Santa Ana.  It was a beautiful little town surrounded by orange groves.  (What else?)  My mom’s mother lived in a two story house that had a backyard courtyard and a small apartment over the garage.  My brother and I were assigned beds there.  This was a very cool thing because it got us out of the house and away from everyone we’d been sitting next to for the last billion miles.  We were to stay here for ten days also.

T.O.M.

Across the USA (Pt. 4)

April 8, 2010

The drive to Dodge City was very hot.  We panted while sitting on the hot cloth seats.  We could barely sit back because the vinyl inserts got hot enough to raise welts.  As a consequence, we kids got a little out of hand.

It started with a classic ‘stop touching me’ and went bad from there.  Soon, we were surreptitiously pinching, hitting, poking, and needling each other.  The swamp cooler ran out of water and we couldn’t find any to refill it with so that air stayed hot and dry.  Our supply of drinking water, not the best anyway since it had been filled with pale yellow water from the faucet, ran out.

We finally pulled over at a gas station that had an attached store.  The owner should have worn a woolen overcoat with brass buttons, an eye patch, a bandanna over his head and carried a cutlass.  He was a pirate.  Sodas, which normally sold for around thirty cents had a price tag of seventy-five cents on the ice tub.  We bought only two.

While he kept a wary eye on everyone in the store, my brother and I went to the side of the store outside and discovered a water tap.  He went back to the bus and found all our canteens and, trying not to clink them together, brought them to me.  I eased the tap open and filled every one of them.  The water tasted cool and clean to me.

When Bluebeard mentioned that the next gas was almost seventy miles away my dad just scoffed.  The pirate’s last shot was ‘see you in a couple of hours’.  My dad just smiled.  We had almost a half-tank of gas.  That would get us all the way to Dodge City and then some.

Dodge City turned out to be a real bust for us kids.  We’d been watching western serials on television over in Germany and thought that with a name and history like Dodge City had they would still be packing six-shooters in the streets.  Not so.  People seemed normal, if a little irritable in the heat, and didn’t even say ‘shucks’ to us once.

There was an old portion of town, set aside for the tourists, that was supposed to be authentic.  It looked the part, but I got the impression if you went behind the false fronts you’d see nothing but timber shoring them up.  It wasn’t quite that bad, but it did seem that every building had some sort of entrance fee.  Just drop a dime into the bin and come see ‘authentic this’ and ‘old-timey that’.  For a half-dollar they’d lock you up in the ‘hoosegow’ for ten minutes.  Whee, what fun.

A couple of guys stepped into the street from two different saloons and drew on each other.  Amid some fairly good gun work, they shot each other on alternate hours and twice on Sunday.  It was a good show.  The stage rattled in twice a day with appropriate dust cloud and properly dressed schoolmarms and dudes stepped down looking like their shoes hurt.

We came away mostly unimpressed with Dodge City.

We took US 50 out of Dodge City and dropped southward to meet US 160.  Our eventual goal now was Durango, Colorado.  Night began to fall as we passed through sleepy, dusty towns until we found an arrow pointing to a lake.  We turned off and wandered over a bumpy road until we came to the lake.  It wasn’t much of a lake, but the tall cottonwood trees gave some shade.  It wasn’t deep either.  I could wade across it and not get my tummy wet.

The evening breeze picked up and kept the mosquitoes at bay.  And, if that wasn’t enough, the smoky fire we started would.  Dinner was good and, once the dishes were washed, we were allowed to go run around for a while.  My brother discovered the blackberry patch and didn’t tell anyone.  I asked him why his fingers were blue and he finally told me.  I grabbed a big pot and went back around the lake to fill it.

The berries were very ripe and were probably the largest blackberries I’d ever seen.  There appeared to be a whole hillside of brambles and I filled the pot and myself before coming back to the bus.  My mom saw them and wanted more so she sent me and my sister back with two more pots.  We filled those also.  She had plans for them in the morning.

Around midnight, a pickup truck with its lights off idled past us and went around the lake.  I could hear doors slamming and an occasional snatch of conversation.  Most people have no idea how well sound carries across water so when I began to hear girlish giggles and manly chuckles I had a pretty good idea what was talking place.  I was either asleep or they were really quiet when the left.

We entered Colorado the next morning.  The air seemed to get cooler as we gained altitude.  Around noon we got to Trinidad and pulled into Trinidad Lake State Park to eat.  It was so nice there we stayed several hours.  My brother and I found that canoe rentals were reasonable enough so we rented one for an hour and messed about the lake.  We’d flit from one part of the bank to another, ground the bow, and take off exploring.

I was amazed at the amount of just plain crap thrown aside into the weeds.  Tons of fishing gear wrappers, empty bait tubs, beer cans, and other items littered the small trails that ran everywhere.  In Germany, you would have a hard time finding anything lying around like that.  Not only are there laws, but there are a sort of park ranger there to back it up.  If nobody official kept you from littering, there was always pressure from just plain folks to keep your act clean.

Once, as we drifted slowly across the lake, my brother looked down and pointed with a shout that there was a huge fish following us.  I looked and sure enough there was a very large catfish just swimming and nudging the frayed end of a rope dragging behind us.  He’d come up, grab the rope in his mouth and then try to dive.  I thought it was my brother doing something behind me until I saw the fish.  I could have just barely covered the catfish’s head with a paper plate.

Towards the end of the hour, we paddled back and turned the canoe in.  By the time the two of us walked back to our picnic table, everyone was almost packed and ready to go.  We jumped into our assigned seats and left to begin the long climb up towards Wolf Creek Pass.

First we had to go north until we got to Walsenburg then west past colorfully named places like Muleshoe and Seven Mile Plaza.  By the time we got to South Fork we had started up the eastern grade to Wolf Creek Pass.  My dad found a pullout next to the road and we let the engine cool down a little before beginning the climb.  Being air-cooled, the Volkswagen runs efficiently and cools down very fast.

Refreshed with a drink from the very cold stream we got aboard the bus and started out.  Most of the time we remained in third gear until the grade got really steep.  Down to second gear at times, our top speed was just over twenty-five miles per hour.  Luckily, there were quite a few pullouts where a slow moving vehicle could let others pass while not having to stop.  We did a lot of pulling over.

The final grade had us in first gear.  Whining up the slope at a stately ten miles per hour we had all the time we needed to look out at all the patches of snow under the trees and the huge piles of it where the snowplows had dumped it at the side of the road.  In one small stretch we couldn’t see anything but a ten foot tall wall of dirty snow.

We ground into the parking area at the summit – right at ten thousand eight hundred and fifty seven feet.  It was the highest I’d been in over four years except for the one time we went skiing down near München.  We all stood in front of the rustic sign naming the pass and showing its altitude and had our picture taken by a guy from a passing family.

My dad asked me if I wanted to drive back down the west side.  I said I’d be happy to.  We loaded back up and down the hill we went.  He cautioned me to never get above third gear until we got down into the flats.  He explained that I could get too fast and the brakes would heat up enough to lock so use the engine as a brake.  Good advice.

I wound around sweeping curves, taking quite a bit of time between light brake applications.  Cars would whiz past us whenever they could pass us.  The downside didn’t have tow lanes so they had to wait until they could pass us in the single lane road.  One guy in particular was very obnoxious when he passed me but signaled that he though I was number one in his book.

I smiled greatly when we came up on him at the side of the road – two huge black streaks leading to the smoking rear end of his car.  He’d hit his brakes too many times or too hard and they locked on him.  Happily, it was his two back brakes and not a steering brake.  I tapped the horn as we passed and waved.  He signaled to me again with both hands.

We reached our interim stop, Bayfield, in the early evening.  This was to be a short stop to visit some sort of relative on my dad’s side; an uncle, I believe.  He was a big, rough hewn kind of guy that rarely smiled.  He lived on a farm with lots of outbuildings we could explore while the grown-ups chatted.  My brother and I peeked into a big barn first.

There were two horses in stalls at one end, and a huge pile of left-over horse at the other.  Both smelled a lot so we slipped out the back and ended up in a chicken yard.  Now, I’ve never been afraid of a chicken, but when this one little black dude with half his feathers missing charged us cackling and squawking, we beat a hasty retreat.

Two smaller buildings proved to be just storehouses for ‘stuff’, mostly canned food.  Then, one shed way out in a field showed some promise.  Through the open door we could see a couple of old cars.  I’ve always been a fan of old cars and, as we got closer, I could see one of them was a 1937 Chevy Coupe.  It appeared to be in pretty good shape, but it was up on blocks and had no wheels or tires on it.

Right next to it was an old Willy’s Jeep.  It was the convertible model called a Jeepster and I thought it was from 1949 or 1950.  I opened the door and sat down in the driver seat.  It was set pretty low because of my uncle’s height so I couldn’t see very well over the dash.  It was originally an old maroon color, but it had two blue fenders on the left and a gray rear quarter panel.  Obviously, he’d been fixing it up.

We threw a few rocks into his pond trying to hit the ducks floating around but didn’t come close.  They just quacked at us and swam out of range.  A faint voice called to us from the house so we had to cut our explorations short and get back for some dinner.

Dinner was good.  Heavy farm food like corn on the cob, thick slices of roast beef, mashed potatoes and stiff brown gravy and the like was on the table.  For dessert, we had a huge slice of cherry pie.

Rather then try driving the miles to Durango, my dad elected to just camp out in one of their pastures for the night and drive in the next day to my grandparent’s farm in Breen.  We unloaded just the bare minimum for comfort and cover and slept under the stars.

Next morning, we kids were assigned duties.  I drew egg gathering and asked if there was some secret method of dodging that nasty little rooster.  My aunt told me that when I opened the first gate he’d charge me and to dodge to the side and trap him by swinging the gate through the opening and he’d be caught in that little triangular area behind the gate.  Sounded like a plan to me.

I was prepared for his charge, but it didn’t come.  I eased past the gate carefully looking in all directions and still no feathered missle.  I crept towards the henhouse and cracked the door.  It squeaked just a tiny bit.  That did it – he woke with fire in his eye and began pecking at my feet and ankles.

I swatted at him but he deftly dodged every swing of my basket.  His gabbling woke every hen in the house and they began to add to the din.  It was insanely noisy with all the cackling so I tried to make the best of it and reached for the first nest of eggs.  The owner took exception to me grabbing them and pecked at me the whole time.

I finally got those three eggs in the basket and moved onward through the rest of the nests.  I had at least four pockmarks on my arms from attacking hens and two of them were bleeding.  Those damn chickens have a really sharp beak.  I counted around eighteen or so eggs and decided to beat a hasty retreat.

This time the head rooster followed me beating at my heels with his wings.  I smiled when I managed to hit him with the gate as I opened it.  A small victory, but I felt better.

Breakfast was also farm fare.  At least three frying pans on the wood-fired stove were cooking things like omelets, bacon and leftover mashed potatoes.  The bacon was not the paper-thin stuff you see in supermarkets but nice thick slices manually taken from a huge side of smoked pig.  All of it was delicious.

After packing up and saying our goodbyes we headed out for the few miles to my dad’s father’s farm.  We were held up in Durango while the Silverton Steam train rattled across the road.  All of us asked if we could take the train while we were here.  Dad said ‘maybe’, which is a pretty sure thing sometimes.

We arrived at the farm in early morning and settled down into visit mode.

T.O.M.

Across the USA (Pt.3)

April 3, 2010

We got up early, cleaned up, had breakfast in the haute cuisine establishment of “Eats” out on the highway, and puttered west towards St. Louis.  About noon, a fairly strong wind developed that held out speed down to around fifty miles per hour.  At that speed it was a judgment call as to whether you used fourth gear of third gear.  Fourth gear bogged the engine down until you eventually had to shift to third anyway.  No matter what you did, you always held the gas pedal to the floor.

In most cases, this would have been a nice thing to cruise along at forty-five or fifty but there seemed to be an awful lot of people lining up behind us.  Occasionally, my dad would drive close to the side of the road and let cars pass us.  Every time a big truck passed though we’d get a huge boost in speed from the suction created by the trailer.  My dad would slap the bus into fourth gear and let himself be dragged along the road by the draft.  Eventually, the truck would outrun us and we’d be back to forty-five in no time with irate drivers behind us.

Every time we stopped for gas we were asked the same thing:  What the heck kind of car was that?  Where do you put the gas?  Where’s the engine?  Things like that.  My dad would get creative at times and tell people that it ran on water, or that there was really no engine and we just stuck our feet through the floorboards and ran.  When he got serious though, the mileage would always impress them.  So far on our trip the lowest figure we had was in the mountains of New York where we got only 32 miles per gallon.

Eventually the wind died down and our speed picked up.  At a Western Auto my dad picked up what he called a swamp cooler.  It was supposed to fit in the window of a car and, using an evaporative process, cool the interior.  Our major problem was that we didn’t have any windows that opened up and down.  All of ours slid left to right.  He finally ended up grabbing a screwdriver and completly removed one of the side windows so that the cooler could fit in and not tip water all over the place.

He added water and once we started down the road we were amazed that it actually did work.  Naturally, everyone fought for a seat next to the cool(er) output from the device.  Mom pulled rank and got the first stint, followed by me, then the “other ranks”.  I spelled my dad (the first time this trip I’d been allowed to drive) so he could see how well the cooler worked.  He pronounced it a good idea.

I drove for about an hour or so, zooming down gentle hills and zipping up them until gravity took over to slow me once again.  I probably ticked off the drivers behind us when I did that because the only time they could pass was on the down slope – and I was getting the most our of the slope.  They had to really kick it in the butt to pass.  I waved merrily at their friendly gestures as they went by.

We took lunch at a small roadside rest stop nestled in a grove of trees.  My sisters amused themselves by feeding the squirrels that would gather looking for handouts.  They got quite pushy until the largest one of the bunch decided that “no more bread left” was not a good answer.  He ran up my sister’s leg and stared her right in the kisser chattering all the time.  She reacted badly.

Towards late afternoon we hit Saint Louis.  My dad had been trying to get there before rush hour and we thought we might have made it until he realized that we were going into the city against traffic coming out.  When we got to the center and began moving the same direction it was stop and go all the way.  Hot, sticky, not a breath of air was the order of the day and we sweltered in the heat until we reached the western outskirts.  Once we transited from US40 to US50, westbound again, the traffic thinned and my dad’s temper eased a little.  We had missed the turn and ended up in a series of one-way streets that all appeared to be going the wrong direction for us.  There was no such thing as ‘going around the block’.

We stopped at a small gas station and filled the tank, emptied our tanks, and refilled them with sodas.  The attendant told us of a great campground about twenty miles down the road so that was our goal for the day.

We arrived almost at dark and found it was next to a drive in movie.  The price for camping ($3.00) included a bench seat at the back of the theatre for campers.  It was a Disney movie but to this day I can’t remember what it was.  I fell asleep towards the end and when I woke up to the noise of rumbling exhausts I went back to the tent and crashed.

Next morning, after breakfast from a box, we headed out again.  The rain clouds had formed with huge thunderheads floating up well over forty thousand feet.  Big, black, anvil-shaped clouds that signals serious rain.  The sky got darker, the wind picked up but it was from the side now.  It would push in bursts that threw us all over the road.

We did not have radial tires on the bus.  Those were very expensive and my dad, being my dad, opted for cheaper tires called retreads.  These were supposedly sound tires that had had new treads vulcanized to them to form a nice “new” tire.  For our weight class (flyweight) they worked great.  Tubeless radial tires help to keep your vehicle running in a straight line as the sidewall flex, but normal, tubed, tires won’t.  As a result we wove from the double line to the sideline with regularity in every blast of wind.

After about an hour of this side-to-side motion, my mom said she heard a ‘rump, rump’.  My dad didn’t, and kept going.  She tried again a little more forcefully “I hear a RUMP, RUMP!”  Just as he turned to chastise her, the tire blew.  It was spectacular.  The entire right front retread peeled off the base tire with a huge BANG and shot out the back to lay smoking on the pavement.

Everyone jumped a foot as my dad eased the bus to the side of the road and onto the grass berm.  We got out and looked at the mess.  When it blew, it took the entire sidewall out right up to the bead.  Just the short distance we traveled on nothing but the rim and a little bead had scuffed the rim but hadn’t bent it.  Luckily we hadn’t hit any rocks or holes.

Our first flat for the trip.  Actually, this was a pretty good record for the bus.  We’d gone almost ten thousand miles with just one flat, but that was a slow leaker that allowed us to get off the road and take our time to fix.  This was a little more urgent.  My dad got back in and, with my guidance, pulled over under a tree so we could change it.

We unpacked the ‘way back’ until we could get to the spare mounted under the rear pad over the engine compartment.  The jack worked as it should have and we had the tire changed in about fifteen minutes.  Packing the stuff back in was tricky but we accomplished it in due time and were back on the road towards somewhere west of Wichita.

Every place we stopped, we checked for a replacement tire.  Finally, at yet another Western Auto store in Emporia, Kansas we found one.  It was a new one though, not a retread, so my dad decided to just mount it as the spare.

The further west we went the hotter it seemed to get.  The heat just made us kids more restless and argumentative.  Finally, my mom suggested we stop at a roadside rest that seemed to have river access.  We pulled in, and even before we got our of the bus we knew something was wrong.  It smelled horrible.  We cruised down the access road and when we passed the river, we saw what was causing it.  Someone had left a dead cow lying on the riverbank.  Yuk.

We went just a little farther down the road and came to a dirt road that angled down to another river that we crossed on a bridge.  Down the road we went until we were under the bridge.  It was cool in the shade.  A light breeze blowing upriver kept the bugs down to a minimum and we all soaked for a bit in the water.  Refreshed, we loaded back up and continued onward.

We found a nice motel with cabins situated around a small lake outside Newton, Kansas.  The cabins were only one bedroom so we ended up having to take two of them.  My brother and I, along with my dad, got one, and my sisters and mom got the other one.  The water was so hard that we couldn’t raise a single bubble of soap in the shower.  It tasted awful to boot.  We were completely exhausted by all the heat and lay on the bed with no covers trying to believe that the fan in the room was actually blowing cool air over us.

Tomorrow, we were excited to learn, we would be going through Dodge City.  That was worth the wait.

T.O.M.

Across the USA (Pt. 2)

March 26, 2010

The next few days consisted mostly of the five of us settling down for a long trip.  We chose seats according to our age.  Since I was the oldest so I got so sit where I wanted to, and so on.  My brother built a wall of pillows, comic books, and luggage between he and I while my younger sister utilized most of the far back seat to torment my youngest sister who was barely out of toddlership.

We wiggled, twiddled, nudged, squabbled, informed on each other, and generally were miserable until we left the western portion of New York and entered, in rapid succession, Pennsylvania (just the sliver up near Erie), and then onward into Ohio.  When we hit the lake, we turned south and drove towards Dayton.

I think the main reason we were unruly for the first few days was that we had lived in a mountainous region of Germany for three years and we wanted to see something different.  Ohio is pretty different – flat.  We buzzed down the highway looking at the fields, farms, other things we missed about America.

We stopped just west of Dayton at a campground with another lake at its center.  This one had electrical hookups so we were able to use our small table lamps instead of the hissing white gas lanterns.  White gas was hard to find.  Every service station pumped leaded gas and to find one with what was called “white” gas was rare.  Whenever we did, my dad would be sure to fill up our small one gallon can.

Note:  What we called white gas back then is now the familiar “unleaded” gas we all know and love.  Lantern gas, now, is another thing – and much more expensive since Coleman is the only one who produces it now mostly.  But, who cares because propane lanterns are now “in”.

This campground was built by the owners of a large dairy.  Their farm operation was just over a fence from the campground.  We didn’t realize just how close they were until the westerly winds came up that evening.  Woooooh!  Who knew cows could produce that much stink!  One of our neighbors told us that every evening this happened, but the wind would die out just a bit after sundown and it would get calm again.  We couldn’t wait.

We had dinner.  It was a quick meal.  Mostly it was quick because we would dash out of the bus, grab a few bites while holding our breath, and dash back to the bus.  Food wasn’t allowed in the bus, that’s why.  That edict was brought on by my sister leaving a half-eaten salami sandwich in the bus while we took a tour of Buffalo’s famed attraction – Niagara Falls.  When we got back, the heat had mummified the sandwich and filled the air inside with the pungent aroma of baked salami.  Every one of us kids denied ever having eaten that day so some passerby must have pried open a window and done it.

The winds died down.  As soon as they stopped wafting malodors at us, the mosquitoes decided that now was the time to come forth.  They zoomed towards us in waves from the lake area.  They’d hide in the willows and cattails until nobody was looking and then attack in swarms.  We broke out the repellent but that only seemed to irritate both them and us.  My skin took on a blotchy sheen highlighted by angry red bumps where the probes of the alien bugs had siphoned off a gallon or two.  Finally, dressed in the longest sleeved shirts and long pants we had, we tried to get some sleep.

Sheer exhaustion after fighting the bugs finally took its toll and we dropped off one by one.  Sometime during the night, a light wind and a small rain shower came along and banished the mosquitoes back to their swamp grass hangars where they would pump our blood into large containers for use when no campers were available.

Next morning we launched towards our eventual goal of Saint Louis.  My dad had a friend stationed at the base there he wanted to see so that’s where we were going.  Indianapolis came and went.  The day got hotter and hotter.  The windows were opened to allow the rushing wind to heat us up more.  We even slid back the top so we could take turns catching bugs in our teeth.  I won the prize with a nicely fielded June bug that smacked me in the forehead and actually left a welt.  If I hadn’t looked down into the bus right at the moment it hit me I’d have probably lost a tooth.

We didn’t make it all the way to St. Louis.  We ended up in a tiny little motel with rusty colored water and no ice.  There was a dilapidated country store and “eatery” out near the highway from our cabin that dispensed cold pop from a galvanized bucket filled with ice.  A fan blew over it to help the cooling process.  We just stood in front of the cool breeze taking our time making a selection.  It felt really good after all the heat we’d endured.

Supper consisted of what we kids called “hot plate stew”.  This was in striking contrast to my mom’s famous “Whatzit Stew”.  With the former we were involved in what went into it; with the latter we didn’t have a clue.  This particular stew had meat chunks, a can of little round potatoes, a can of tomato chunks, and a can of hominy.  Stir that all together with a soup base and ladle it into cereal bowls.  With a side of fresh buttered bread it couldn’t be beat.

By the time the other kids took their showers the water had cleared up to a light yellow hue.  I was next and braved the cool water long enough to hose down the road grime (and the remains of the June bug embedded in my head).  Earlier, I was called out to help my dad change the oil.  In our bus, it was relatively simple to change the oil.

There were eight little nuts on a circular plate at the bottom of the engine.  One simply turned them until they were all loose, removed them one at a time until one side of the plate began to leak oil.  The you quickly slapped a bowl down to catch the oil as you finished removing the nuts.  My dad was always careful about unleashing invective around us kids, but since it was just me he apparently decided that it helped the situation to curse as warm oil began coursing down his arm and into his shirt through the sleeve.

“Well, gee whiz and gosh almighty that really gets my goat!  Son, would you be kind enough to pass me that rag?”  (Not exactly his words.)

I passed him the rag and he did a little horizontal jig so he could wiggle out from under the back of the bus.  This, of course, allowed sand and dirt to be scooped up by the tail of his shirt and mix nicely with the accumulated oil.  By the time her got vertical, he had a huge slick of oil as wide as his shoulders running all the way down his back.

My mom chose that moment to arrive on the scene to ask what all the hubbub was.  He must have tried three or four times to describe what had happened but kept running to a speech block that wouldn’t let him swear in front of her.  Finally he just turned around.  My mom silently took it all in and began swabbing at the dark stain.  Sometimes she can be pretty cool.

The oil stopped dripping into the pan and I was elected to drag out the pan and fish for the nuts, washers, filter, and plate that had dropped into it.  My dad had oil changes down to a science.  First you got it out of the vehicle, and then you fished for the hardware.  Next you cleaned the little oil filter basket and added two new paper gaskets – one above the filter and the other below it, next to the plate.  Carefully, you slid the plate with the filter on it up onto the six embedded bolts.  Once there, you finger tightened the nuts and then used a wrench to tighten them in order.  Now came the good part.

My dad punched holes into the cans of new oil and applied a homemade funnel to the oil filler at the top of the engine.  Since there were absolutely NO Volkswagen dealerships, parts shops, or garages in the U.S. at the time we had to make do with a manually generated funnel.  This one started out life as a small juice can.  My dad flared the top and soldered pieces of another can to expand the dimensions enough to allow pouring oil from a can into it.  The long body of the funnel was actually electrical conduit (the snaky kind that you could bend) and you poked that into the filler hole.

It worked surprisingly well and as soon as we put exactly three and one-half cans of oil into the engine he took the remainder and put it into a jar for next time.  He had a quart jar so that every fourth oil change he wouldn’t need to save any.  Then, pulling the funnel out of the engine he stuck the end of it into one of the used cans of oil.  I held it while he carefully poured the used oil back into the cans.  We left the cans next to the motel garbage cans.  Since the EPA hadn’t been invented yet that was the easiest thing to do.  The motel owners would probably throw it on the dirt road to hold down the dust.

Another note:  Until I sold the bus (which I had purchased from my dad) the oil funnel performed hundreds of oil changes.  The odometer had just over three-hundred thousand miles on it when I sold the bus – for three-hundred dollars less than what my dad paid for it.

I took my shower, slurped up the stew and hit the sack.  It had been a really long day.

T.O.M.