Rant n' Rave – Piss n' Moan – rambles and rants of an old man…

November 30, 2014

Yeah! He’s The Lone Ranger!!

Filed under: Raves — Tags: — Bob @ 4:27 pm

This true story is about my real-life hero, my Pop, Ralph.

I got my driver’s license back around June, 1960, and at about that time, probably in September, my Dad’s Mother’s sister, Auntie Ida, who was elderly and not well enough to live in her house alone had one of several hired women stay with her overnight, but at this point, her current lady had to leave for some personal reason.

It was decided, with my agreement, for me to sleep there until another woman could be found and hired.  I would go over every evening, after supper at home with my Mom and Dad and Brother Rick.  Sometimes I went earlier to have supper with Auntie Ida.  We would eat in the kitchen, then retire to the study where we would watch the GIANT COLOR cabinet 25″ TV!!  …y’know the kind I mean, built into a long oak cabinet with a record player and multiband radio, and a couple of REALLY good speakers!  …and best of all Auntie Ida LOVED to watch ‘travel documentaries’, as she referred to them.  This is 1960, remember!  …COLOR TV!!!

Well, on school nights, I would go up to bed around 10 o’clock and read a while before sleep,  and wake up to the smells of hot cocoa warming up, with some toast, or a couple of eggs.  We’d sit at the kitchen table, have our breakfast while looking out at the trees changing color during the Fall season, listening to the news and weather on the radio.

When it was time to head home to change and go to school, (Boston English High School) I’d go out to my Mom’s 1953 two-tone-grey Buick 4-door Special, with the straight-8 engine and the Dynaflo transmission.

This is not the actual car, just some pix to show what I’m talking about:

1953 4-door Buick Special

1953 4-door Buick Special – That grill and bumper combo weighs in at around 2,900 lbs. of chromed steel!

1953 4-door Buick Special

1953 4-door Buick Special

1953 4-door Buick Special

1953 4-door Buick Special all-metal dashboard. …and NO seat belts!

…and it had a heater unit under the front seat so it could blow heat to the front back seat areas!

…NO air-conditioner!

…NO power steering!

…NO power brakes!

…NO power windows!

…NO power seats!

…AM radio, NO FM!

…and you could open the hood sideways from either side by unlatching that side’s latch inside the car.

1949 Buick hood open right

1949 Buick hood open right

1951 Buick hood open left

1951 Buick hood open left

…COOL, huh?  …not sure if you could open the hood normally from the front.

…and the the radio antenna was at the top-center above the windshield, just barely visible in the 1st pic above.

…and you had to rotate a ball on the inside of the car at the top of the windshield to rotate the antenna down to where you could reach it from the front window!  …visible in the 3rd pic, above the rear-view mirror.

…and you started it by turning on the key, then stomping the gas pedal to the floor to engage the starter!

Enough about the tank, errr, I mean Buick.

So, on this particular day in late October, 1960, I was excited to have my first drive in snow!

I had a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of khaki pants, and was wearing a pair of penny loafers (no pennies – not cool) and had a light-weight canvas jacket.

It was snowing fairly heavily, big wet flakes, piling up quickly as I walked through the 6″ or 8″ of snow, fired up the Buick, then cleared off the windows and waved goodbye to Auntie Ida, who was watching from the kitchen window.

I backed out of the driveway and onto the street, put the gearshift into ‘D’ and gunned it a bit to feel the rear wheels spin.  The Buick  would NEVER spin on a dry or even sandy road, as the Dynaflow tranny was a soft and smooth transition from standstill to fast-forward, and didn’t have gear-changes, rather a turbine was spun by transmission fluid flowing through it to make it move.  …and yes, the road was a little slippery, even with the studded snow tires that were customarily on my Mom’s cars from mid-October to late April.

I was sent to a tire retreading shop on Washington Street in Dorchester to get them every couple of years, as the tungsten carbide studs would wear out and some would pop out while driving.  I regularly used to get bald tires from the junkyard for about $5.00 and take them to that shop where they would get fresh treads vulcanized onto them for probably about $20, making them almost as good as a new tire that would cost at least $50!

So I cautiously made my way out of Hallwood Road, onto Newton Street, turning right on Grove Street, and around the rotary at West Roxbury Parkway. Yes, I would make the Buick skid a bit here and there, getting a feel for driving in the snow.

I went around the rotary and onto the Veterans of Foreign Wars Parkway (‘The VFW’), and left onto Centre Street.  There were only a few other vehicles out at this time, and no snowplows had been around yet.

I turned right onto Walter Street at the Hebrew Rehab Center and left onto Bussey Street, then right onto South Street.  South Street is lined with 1 and 2-family houses, and parking on the street was always filled.  Now add about 12″ of snow already on the ground, and I knew from my Dad’s previous instructions about snow driving that you had to keep going or you’d get stuck.  By this time the front bumper was acting like a snow plow and the Buick was being slowed down by the drifts that were forming across the roads by the strong winds.  Also, back then, it was a 2-way street, not like now as a 1-way street.

Well, as my luck goes, Mr. Joe Blow, who lives about half-way down the street, without being too cautious of his driving, and not checking for any traffic before he plowed out of his driveway and onto the snow-covered street, backed out onto Bussey Street and got stuck, blocking the street completely, just as I was about to get through and finally reach Washington Street, which looked like it had already been plowed!

I stopped and waited for him to get out of the way, but he couldn’t move the car at all, (no snow tires, of course!), so I backed up about 40 or 50 feet to get off Bussey Street and try for a different way to Washington Street, but I got into a drift that I had just made it through going forward, and got hung up, so I couldn’t move in either direction.  “THANKS, JOE BLOW!”

It was coming down pretty hard now, and I locked the Buick up, grabbed a lap blanket out of the trunk, and took the ‘window-wiping towel’ that was always behind the drivers seat, which I wrapped over my shoulders under my light jacket, draped the blanket over my head, and started my trek to get me to Forest Hills Elevated Train Station, where I knew I could catch a train to Egleston Square Station, and then a bus over to Blue Hill Ave. heading towards Mattapan Square.

I can’t find the Egleston Square Station on the Google Earth map, but Jackson Square Station is about where it was back then.  Egleston Station was where McDonalds is now, at the corner of Columbus Ave. and Washington Street.

So I walked the ¾-mile stretch to Forest Hills Station, took the train the 2 stops to Egleston Station, and went down to the street to wait for a bus heading my way.

WELLLLLL…  NO buses running due to the deep snow!!  So I started walking up Columbus Ave., heading towards Blue Hill Ave. in over 12″ of snow.

Shortly after starting my walk, I came to a Hood’s Milk truck that was delivering to an apartment house there, so I waited for the milkman to get back and asked if I could hitch a ride with him.  He said he would be happy to have a ‘pusher’ along, in case he got stuck, even though he had tire chains on already.  I hopped aboard, and we slowly headed up the hill on Columbus Ave., moving towards Walnut Ave., at the top of the rise.

H.P. Hood & Son's milk truck

H.P. Hood & Son’s milk truck

We didn’t get very far due to deep snow packing up under the milk truck, even with the chains on, and he had to back down the hill, where I jumped off at the station as he turned around and headed downhill on Columbus Ave., which turns into Mass. Ave.

I was already frozen, so I looked for someplace to warm up a bit before moving on, and spotted a newspaper/variety/coffee shop down the block on Washington St.  I went in and had enough cash for a cup of hot chocolate and a pair of socks.  I sipped the hot, creamy drink while I replaced my cold and wet socks with the new pair.  …ahhhhhh!

I then went back up to the elevated train for a ride back to Forest Hills Station, as it was closer to home than Egleston Station, even though I had walked home from Egleston many times before.

I left the moderate warmth of the train station and headed up Hyde Park Ave. and onto Walk Hill Street, for the longest leg of my trip.  I stopped into the fire station at the corner, and warmed up a bit while I called home to let them know where I was and what I was doing.  My Mom was very concerned that I had to walk from there in such deep snow, and I assured her that I would be okay.  The couple of firemen that were there said I should stay there until a snowplow went by so I could walk in the plowed path, but I wanted to make it home, so I headed out into the blizzard, quickly appearing like Omar Sharif in ‘Dr. Zhivago’, with snow sticking to my eyebrows and hair and coating my shoulders as I plowed my legs through the now 16+” of heavy snow still falling.

I just measured the trip from Forest Hills Station to my house, and it’s only about 1¾ miles, but back then in those circumstances, it seemed about 275 miles, for sure!  I have no recollection how long it took me to get home, but I do remember how the snow pushed up inside my pants legs as I lifted each foot to step forward and press it down into the snow again.  I had tried tucking my pants legs into my socks, but that didn’t last long.  I even tried tying my original (wet) socks around my ankles to hold my pants legs closed, but they pulled off in the snow somewhere.


and COLD!

So, I finally got across American Legion Highway and was on the last leg of my journey, waiting to pass the entrance of the Mount Hope Cemetery, just before Harvard Street.  Still, no people or traffic of any type, just me and the snow and the wind and the cold.

As I got about half way between the cemetery entrance and the intersection of Walk Hill St. and Harvard St., I raised my eyes up to see how far I had to go to get there, and I spied a dark object moving rapidly down the middle of the road.  It quickly became obvious that it was a man running in my direction!  He was bounding in long leaps as he made his way in my direction, and he suddenly started waving his arms, and I heard him shout my name!  I then knew it was my Hero, my Dad, my Pop, Ralph!

Yeah, The Lone Ranger to the rescue!

I kept moving slowly homeward as I watched Dad speeding towards me.  We met, he hugged me firmly, wrapped a wool Army blanket around me, then picked me up in his arms and started carrying me home, almost as fast as he had been running toward me!  To this day, I don’t know how he did that!!

I had my arm around his shoulders and we got home in about 10 minutes.  He carried me up to the porch, but had to put me down to get up the stairs to our 2nd-floor home, but he supported me and pushed me up the stairs.

I was greeted by Mom and brother Ricky and a warm cup of cocoa, my preferred warm drink.  I was quickly ushered into the bathroom, where I was gently but quickly stripped down to my skivvies, and made to get into a bathtub already full of lukewarm water, and told to sit there until I started feeling warm again, even after the water cooled off.

Eventually I did warm up, had a hot meal, and relaxed for the rest of the day, as I knew tomorrow would be a busy one.

The next morning it was warm and sunny, as it so often is after a big storm like this.  It had snowed over 2-feet the day before, and the plows finally managed to get around and clear some of the main streets before attempting the small side streets, like where I left the Buick.

My 2 buddies, Mike and Robert drove over, and we grabbed some shovels and drove to where the Buick was stranded.  The street was still impassable, but we shoveled the Buick out and I managed to slam it through the drifts and piles of snow being built up by shovelers who were clearing their cars and walks.  I told you it was like a tank!

I got the Buick home, fired up the 5½ hp. Ariens snow thrower and cleared our driveway and sidewalks, then Rick and I split the machine in two pieces, put the front end into the Buick’s back seat, protected by old blankets, and the engine/drivewheels into the trunk, and sped off to find snow-clearing jobs, and earn some cash.

The 2 snow throwers shown below are much newer than the original one my Dad bought in the 1950’s. I purchased the original size 5.5 hp unit back about 1971 to clear my gas station in Walpole, MA.  I bought the big one, a 10 hp, 32″ cut unit around 1988, and sold the small one shortly after the pic was taken. I sold the big one in July, 2002 as my commitment to moving to Florida, which we did in December 2002.  No more snow for us!!

Ariens snow throwers

Ariens snow throwers

That’s right, THE LONE RANGER!

Thanks, Pop.  Love ya!




May 21, 2010

Last Place

Filed under: Last Place — Tags: — Bob @ 12:47 pm


This canoe event took place sometime around the Spring or early Summer of 1981 or 1982.  I was about 38 years old, Danny was about 10 or 11 years old, and Mikey was about 2 or 3 years old.

The race sign-in point was on the South side of Rte. 27, South Main Street, Medfield, MA where the Charles River runs under the road.  I parked the van (yes, the same 1970 Ford E-300 Econoline van we had on the trip in Death Valley) and Danny helped me untie and unload the 14′ Coleman Ram-X canoe from the roof of the van, while Mikey carefully watched the cooler and the bags of food.

14' Coleman Ram-X Canoe

14' Coleman Ram-X Canoe

This picture is not our canoe, but a newer version.  As you can see, it is not meant to be a racer, but more of a tugboat to haul people and supplies, and have fun.  It has a wide stem and stern to accomodate flotation zones. 

Danny and I had gone out on several training exercises in preparation for this race, fully aware that we would be taking Mikey along for moral support and additional ballast to keep the boat low and, alas, slow(er) in the water.  But we had entered the race not to win so much as to enjoy nature, the weather and surroundings, the friendship and good humor of our fellow racers, and, of course, each other.

One of those training sessions was on Lake Massapoag, about 1 mile from our home in Sharon, MA.  We were paddling around the lake when a severe thunderstorm sprang forth, causing us to hug the shoreline and hope we didn’t get struck by lightning!  It was a bit scarey to say the least, what with the thunder crashing all around us, and our canoe being braced with aluminum and the paddles had aluminum shafts!

The big race was broken up into different classes/groups based on the paddlers.  We fell into the ‘Father-and-Son’ class, and I think there were actually 3 or 4 different groups in this class. 

The competitors were eyeing us and our equipment as we carried the canoe down to the water.  I left Danny and Mikey there to go back to the van for the rest of our ‘necessities’, such as cooler, waterproof bags of food and snacks, and a waterproof bag with a change of clothes for each of us, including diapers for ‘you-know-who’.  When I got the supplies down to the canoe staging area, I went back up to the road to park the van in a field across the street. 

Now, I know some of our competitors saw our racing equipment and knew that we had no chance of winning against their long, pointy racing canoes with the bent-pole wooden paddles.  That, and the fact that there were 3 of us plus a load of supplies probably weighing around 30 lbs. by itself.  But this did not deter us in any way, even noticing the occassional smirk or sneer from some of them. 

We knew we had a secret weapon to help us.  Our goal was simply to get to the take-out point and enjoy the free bar-b-que!  The secret weapon was the knowledge that we knew in advance that we wouldn’t be finishing first, so the pressure was off us and we could enjoy the day!  Other teams were obviously intent on ‘the win’ and were snacking on power bars and drinks and practicing their paddling form, etc.  The boys and I had smiles and waves to any who looked at us.

Well, the time came to line up in our heat and get going.  The starter blew his air horn to signal our group to begin, and we started our pre-planned easy paddle stroke to let the anxious and energetic racers get their fast start mixed in with the traffic jam under the bridge.  We hugged the shore to get by this jam of canoes, and kept up our paddling for a while as more and more of the other racers got their paddling in sync and started pulling ahead of us.

Before too long the next group of racers came into view behind us, and soon caught and passed us as they paddled furiously by.

In the meantime, Mikey kept up a running discourse on just about anything that came to his mind, especially what snack he could have next.  He was known far and wide for his non-stop conversations, and we took this in stride as we paddled along, calling attention to this bird or that tree or that leaf floating on the water.  Danny paddled well and kept the canoe moving when I shipped paddle to fetch another snack for Mikey.

Also, at this time, I was dealing with a nerve problem in my arms, which sometimes caused weakness and pain.  Of course whatever it was decided to bother me at this point in the race, so I had all I could do to just steer the canoe around bends and obstacles.  I could barely hold the paddle with my left hand, so I cradled it under my arm to steer and give the occassional stroke to help Danny keep us moving for the rest of the 2.6 mile race.

Well, as luck would have it, the rain didn’t last too very long, just about 45 minutes or so, at which time Mikey poked his head out from under the tarp keeping him relatively dry, and close to the snack supplies.

The passers-by finally stopped passing us by, telling us that we were actually the very last canoe on the river.  They were all friendly and smiling and waving, and we smiled and waved back at them, having a lot of fun.

When the take-out point finally came into view, we felt great relief as we hauled the canoe out onto the river bank to the applause of a crowd of racers and onlookers!  We were guided over to the award booth where we were presented with a certificate stating that we had succeeded in being the last canoe to finish the race, and we were SO happy and excited!  Really!!

We enjoyed a cold drink and a cheeseburger, and then I had to find my way back to the van somehow.  I instructed Danny to stay with Mikey, sitting right in the canoe that was pulled on shore, and don’t get out for any reason.  I got a ride back to the starting point with a family that had brought 2 cars for just this purpose.  By road, it was probably about 5 miles back to the van, and I drove right back to find Danny and Mikey sitting almost completely alone in the little grove where the bar-b-que was held.

We loaded the canoe onto the van and piled inside for the 20 minute trip home, each of us with big, happy grins on our tired faces for having such a great, fun day together!

So, as I said at the start of this story, Last Place is not always bad!


Thanks to the The Charles River Watershed Association

I will be looking for pictures of this amazing race, but I don’t recall if I ever took any, although there is a small chance I did use my Kodak disk camera on that day.  The problem is, there are several large boxes of photos and negatives in the garage, and none are in any particular order, but I think the disk photos are all in one shoe box.  That remains to be seen.  I will be keeping my eyes open for maybe finding the Award Certificate, too!



May 12, 2010

My 1939 Plymouth Business Coupe

Filed under: My 1939 Plymouth Business Coupe — Tags: — Bob @ 11:50 am

This story is prompted by my watching an episode of ‘American Pickers’ on the The History Channel.

1939 Plymouth Business Coupe

1939 Plymouth Business Coupe

The Car was built around 71 years ago, but was a mere 23 years old when I bought it from a classmate of mine at Cornwall Academy, a private prep-school in Great Barrington, Massachusetts back around November, 1962 for 4 monthly payments of $25.00.  I didn’t have quite enough credits to go to college right from high school, so I was sent there to the post-graduate class.  I don’t recall the kid’s name now, the school burned down years ago and was never rebuilt, and the car is just a fond memory and a saved gearshift knob (it’s around here somewhere!).  The one picture I had of the car is now long-gone.

Ah!  …found the gearshift knob:  

1939 Plymouth Floor Gearshift Knob

1939 Plymouth Floor Gearshift Knob

Part # 111/113.711.141

Part # 111/113.711.141

I have always been mechanically adept, thanks to my Dad’s influence, so at the tender and know-it-all age of 18, I figured I could get this really cool-looking car running on my own, get the interior tuck-and-roll Naugahyde covered, including the HUGE trunk, with maybe some switches and gauges on the roof interior, similar to the Studebaker Avanti.  The spare tire and jack was stored behind the driver’s seat, and there was a door behind the passenger seat that opened into the trunk, which was about 6 feet long!  I imagined being able to slip into the leather-paneled, neon-lighted trunk with my date, right from the cab of the car!     *woo-HOO!*    I was 18, remember?

I knew it had a dead engine and no brakes when I bought it, but I had already made a connection with my math teacher to buy a 1952 Dodge 6-cylinder engine that would fit it exactly, and the cost was only $25.00, so I made the deal with the kid I bought the car from that I could use his small box of Craftsman tools on weekends to get the car running.

We pushed the car down behind the school’s maintenance shed, out of sight of the main building, where no one would bother it.  I parked it under a stout, almost horizontal limb of an oak tree so I could use it to pull the engine, then did what it really needed most; I polished the dashboard!

Oh, part of my deal for the tool-use was that I could borrow the 6-volt battery from his ’56 Ford while I worked, so I could listen to the radio and eventually test the electrical circuits once I had swapped the engine.  I spent many Saturday nights sitting in that car, listening to the radio, thinking about how I would customize her and dreaming of the cruising I would be doing once I got her running!  That is… once I got permission from my Dad to even HAVE a car!

Now, my math teacher, whose name I have forgotten, played an integral part of my ownership experience.  I have somehow lost the school yearbook that would have his name, and because the school no-longer exists, there is no record of it online to do any search for the info.  I did have contact with a local newspaper editor who gave me the info about the school burning down, and the headmaster/owner having passed away not long afterwards.  So this being the case, I will give the name of  ‘Mr. Curtis’ to the math teacher, using poetic license, also to protect him from any connection to the matter even all these years later.

Mr. Curtis had the ’52 Dodge engine stashed at a farm somewhere around 20 miles from the school, and he took me and a friend there to pick it up.  We went in his 1950-ish Dodge station wagon.  Well, the engine was carefully wrapped in a canvas tarp, and we loaded it into the back of his wagon and brought it back to the school, placing it on the ground next to the ’39.

I must say here that the extent of my automotive ‘mechanical know-how’ to this point had been cleaning the spark plugs and adjusting the idle of my Mom’s ’53 Buick Roadmaster, along with changing the tires when they got a flat.

(Is this story starting to sound like a version of John Carpenter’s ‘Christine’  [a red 1958 Plymouth Fury] movie from 1983, starring Keith Gordon and Robert Prosky, written by Stephen King?)

During the following days/weeks, I un-wired and unbolted everything I could from the ’39 engine compartment, carefully laying out the wires so the bends and curves didn’t change when I put them in the trunk, so I could later (maybe) figure out where they went after the engine swap.  …no clue what a regulator or a coil did!

I (ahem) ‘borrowed’ the knotted 2″ x 15′ rope that was meant to be the fire escape method from the 2nd-floor 8-student bedroom I was in, to use for pulling out the engine.  I do recall struggling to come up with a way to pull out the engine without a chain-fall or any pulleys, and finally used a system similar to a Spanish windlass.  This was done by tossing the rope over the branch, then securing the ends to 2 points on the engine, then putting a strong pole through the space between the 2 ropes coming down from the branch, and twisting them with the pole for leverage, causing them to shorten up a little each time, then blocking up the engine and shortening the rope over and over, until it swung free of the engine compartment so I could push the car back from under the engine.

Then I did the reverse with the ‘new’ engine.  It was a very long and slow process, and I had to jam branches under the engine to hold it in place while I altered the rope, and also when I left it for the night so I could return the ‘fire escape’ to its proper place in the room.  The only time the escape rope was put to actual use was when one of us would sneak out after lights-out and push someone’s car down the driveway so he could go to town and do a ‘Friendlies run’ for us and some of our friends in other rooms.  This was usually done by the guy who had a ’61 Chevy Corvair Monza (…light to push, and relatively quiet).  I can still taste the ‘Big Beef’ and fries and chocolate ‘Awful-Awful’ thick shake (‘awful thick and awful good’).

I didn’t even take a peek at the clutch or throwout bearing, not ever having been this deep into a drivetrain before.  Ignorance IS bliss!  I was a happy puppy working on my car!

I got the new engine in somehow, and then connected the wires as best I could. They were the old cloth-covered variety, with (now) hardened rubber insulation that would crack if bent at all.

Then I tackled the no-brakes situation by spotting the broken brake line down near the rear wheel.  I couldn’t afford a new brake line, so I kinked and crimped the old one and poured in some new brake fluid, and it actually held!  I also freed up the emergency brake, which was wrapped around the drive shaft, with its own brake drum  just behind the tranny.  Oh, the tranny was a floor-shift 3-speed, so I was told.

Well, lights worked, radio worked, horn worked, don’t recall that there were directional signals (doubt it), and wipers were vacuum-controlled, so they would only work when the engine was running.  So I stepped on the clutch and hit the starter, and the car jumped forward!!  Of COURSE the clutch was rusted in place, so I would have to pop it somehow.

I got my Buddy with the ’56 Ford to give me a push, once I had replaced his battery, and we made a few fruitless runs on this dirt trail down near the athletic field, to no avail.  The clutch wouldn’t cooperate, and the brakes didn’t really work, because who knew about bleeding them?

Well, time really does fly when you’re having fun, and graduation was upon us, and I finally told the Headmaster, Mr. Moran, about the car, and I promised that I would come and remove it from school property within a few weeks after graduation.  He agreed, and the pressure was off me until it was time to go get the car in early July, 1963.

I called Mr. Curtis and made arrangements with him to pull the ’39 to his house, where I would come out as often as I could to get it running and finally drive it home to Boston.  I got my buddy Jay to go with me to get the car moved to Mr. Curtis’ house, and we set out in my Mom’s ’53 Buick with about $10 between us.  Now, gas was maybe 22¢/gal at that time, and the big straight-8 engine (that’s right, not a V-8!) was probably getting around 6 mpg. on a good day, and we had nearly 350 miles of driving to do that day, the tank was already full when we left, so we would have just enough money for gas and we stopped and bought 6 bananas to eat, as we left before sunup, telling our parents we were going to the beach for the day.  Still hadn’t gotten ‘permission’ to have a car!

Side-notes about the ’53 Buick Roadmaster:

1953 Buick Roadmaster

1953 Buick Roadmaster

  • Straight-8 engine
  • Dynaflo automatic transmission
  • Heater under the front seat so it vented to the front AND the rear
  • Hood that tipped open from side-to-side, depending on which side you unlatched
  • Radio antenna mounted to the top center above the windshield and had a knob inside so you could swivel it down either way to raise or lower it
  • Starter button was depressed by stomping on the gas pedal once you turned the key on
  • Chrome front bumper and grill probably weighed more than a bus made today

We got to Mr. Curtis’ house, met his wife, and left in his Dodge wagon to get the ’39.  He had already mapped out the route we would take, pulling the ’39 over all dirt roads through the woods to avoid any paved roads where the unregistered, uninsured car might cause a problem with John-Law.

Well, things went fairly smoothly for a while.  We tied the ’39 to the rear axle of the Dodge wagon, and with me behind the wheel of my dream-car, planning to use the emergency brake to slow and stop, we pulled away from the school property and headed off into the woods of the Berkshire Mountains.  I had clamped the 2 battery cables together, fully planning to engage 3rd gear once we got rolling, hoping to get her to kick over so I could actually drive her for a bit.  The problem was that the clutch was still rusted together, so the rear wheels would only skid along and the engine didn’t turn over at all.  Oh, well…

Before too long, the Dodge started overheating, and we had to keep stopping to let her cool down after some long uphill grades.  The day wore on this way until we came to a paved road that we had to cross to continue on our merry way on the dirt roads – the ONLY piece of pavement we would see that whole trip!  All we had to do was go diagonally across the pavement, maybe a distance of about 75 feet, and be off into the woods again.

Well, guess who happened to be sitting at the side of the paved road about 1,000 feet away…!  If you guessed the ice cream man, you’d be wrong.  Too bad, ’cause we sure could’a used a nice cold popsicle about then.  Nope, it was a proud Officer of The Massachusetts State Police, who rushed right over to see if he could be of any assistance to us.

After the usual formalities of asking us to produce our licenses and registrations, and upon hearing my sad tale of having to move my precious ’39 from the school grounds or lose it to a junkyard, he ticketed Mr Curtis for towing an unregistered and uninsured car on a public way, resulting in a $35.00 fine.  He then ordered me to park the car and go to a local gas station to arrange for a tow truck to move the ’39 wherever I wanted it moved, but under no circumstances were we to move it by utilizing gravity (we were on a slight hill), pushing by hand (we hoped he would let us push it off onto the dirt road on the other side of the roadway) or by using Mr. Curtis’ wagon to move it.  *sigh*  The ‘Statey’ then drove off to chase down more bad guys.

Knowing the empty condition of my wallet, and knowing full-well that I couldn’t afford a tow to Mr. Curtis’ house, even if it cost only $20, I unscrewed the above-pictured gear shift knob, broke my pocket knife blade trying to pry off a memorial hubcap, said a sad ‘farewell’ to my beautiful ’39 Plymouth Business Coupe, and rode off onto the remaining dirt road to Mr. Curtis’ house.  It was a pretty quiet ride.

We got there around suppertime, and Mrs. Curtis had made macaroni and cheese with hot dogs mixed in, and convinced us to stay for supper before our long drive home.  It was a nice gesture, but I was truly miserable.  I assured Mr. Curtis that I would send him payment for whatever fine he had to pay, which I eventually did.  The $35 fine was just another heart-stab to me, as I was earning $110/week working for the Boston Sanitation Department as a fill-in rubbish-collector, working from about 4am to 5pm, 6 days a week, collecting trash (not garbage, that was a different department) in the Dorchester/Mattapan areas.  Yeah, $110 a week, and that was BEFORE TAXES, so I probably got about $65 a week take-home!  …and it was considered a GREAT summertime job!  I had to ride my bike (no car, remember?) to where the truck would pick me up depending on the route for that day, and I would get dropped off somewhere else at the end of the day, walk or hopefully take a bus to where my bike was stashed, then pedal home.

The trip home from Mr. Curtis’ was fun, too.  We had to take the Mass. Pike which is a toll road (of course!), and we didn’t have enough money for the toll, which was about $4.00, I think.  We hid our wallets in the car, parked at the side of the toll booth area, and went into the control building, noticing the manned police car idling at the side of the road, waiting for someone to try running through without stopping.

Inside, I fibbed to the sergeant at the desk, telling him I had lost my wallet and didn’t have any money to pay the toll.  He wrote my name and address on a form and had me sign it, explaining that I would pay the toll within 3 days or the police would come to my house and take my license from me and fine me.

I drove the remaining few miles to my neighborhood, dropped Jay off at his house, and went home.  It was probably around 10pm by then, so I said ‘Hello’ to my parents, then excused myself to go shower and go to bed, as I had to go to work in the morning.  I fell asleep clutching the only remaining item I had from my ’39 except the sweet and sad memories of the experience.

About a year later, I happened to be driving in that area of the Berkshires and passed a junk yard, and thought I spotted the ’39 in a pile of old cars, but I couldn’t stop at that time, and have only thought about her from time-to-time since then.

Another case of  ‘should’a, could’a, would’a…   *sigh*


September 29, 2009

Charlie Manson and Me – part 7

Filed under: Charlie Manson and Me - part 7 — Tags: — Bob @ 5:39 am


Charlie Manson and Me – part 7

~Striped Butte Valley~


 Once we got down into the Valley, and the trail leveled out, the drive was much more comfortable. The view of this magnificent Butte kept us looking at it for quite a long while.

Of course, I was quietly looking around with the thought of what a nice new home this valley will be when we settle here while I build that ramp to get back up to Mengel Pass if there wasn’t a way out of here! LOL 

Striped Butte Valley - 04/04/2008

Striped Butte Valley - 04/04/2008

  • Peak Type: Summit
  • Latitude: 35.948563
  • Longitude: -117.071996
  • Peak Elevation: 4,744 feet
  • Base to peak: I think I saw that it is about 800 feet. Not sure.

.We saw several mules, assuming them to be descendants of the 20-mule-team era.

[Okay, I was wrong about the ‘mules’. They are actually feral burros (aka: donkeys. A mule is a completely different animal.). What do I know about burros? I know about Mustangs, Jaguars, Impalas, etc. I was a mechanic, after all!  I just checked a chart from 1974, and there were about 350 feral burros in Striped Butte Valley back then!  BTW… they’re ‘cute’, but are very hard on the environment. Thanks again to David A. Wright.] 

Striped Butte Valley feral burro - 10/1976

Striped Butte Valley feral burro - 10/1976


Striped Butte Valley - 3 feral burros - 10/1976

Striped Butte Valley - 3 feral burros - 10/1976

 Sadly, the next photo is the only shot I took of this amazing monolith! 


Striped Butte - 10/1976

Striped Butte - 10/1976


That shot, as are all my color shots from back then, are very recently scanned from 33-year-old Kodak transparencies (slides – Kodachrome and Ektachrome), and saved onto a photo-CD. I then had to reduce their size to be accepted into this blog software. So, the quality is grainy-looking. Also, I believe I was using an old Kodak Instamatic camera to shoot these color slides, so the quality would be low, anyway. Too bad I didn’t have a nice 20 mpx digital slr to use back then! Maybe I would have taken more pics! *sigh*

…similar to this one shot in July, 2008 (by someone else): 

Striped Butte - 07/14/08

Striped Butte - 07/14/08

See? Not much has changed in 32 years! LOL

I have found a lot of images of Striped Butte and its valley, each of which looks different from the other. And each one shows a beautiful rendition of Nature’s work.

We drove Eastward beside the Butte, passing the Geologist’s Cabin and at least one other dwelling. 

Geologist's Cabin - 04/16/2005

Geologist's Cabin - 04/16/2005

We didn’t stop there, and of course didn’t take any pictures. We finally left Coyote Canyon Rd., which turned into Butte Valley Rd. We did come across this important bit of guidance:

Striped Butte Valley road sign - 10/1976

Striped Butte Valley road sign - 10/1976

The upper sign says ‘Goler Wash – 5 mi.’ 

Road sign and Striped Butte - 10/1976.

Road sign and Striped Butte - 10/1976.


.It’s nice to be sitting here at my computer, looking at all these places we went through way back then, using nothing more than a push of an index finger to travel along the route we drove in 1976.  But the excitement and wonder and yes, fear, of what lay around the next bend that could halt our homeward progress is missing, except in our memories.   I actually recall looking around at these tall mountains surrounding us in Butte Valley and thinking, “Yup!   I could enjoy living here for a while, looking at this gorgeous scenery!   Of course, the shrieking and hollering (sorry, Barb) would be a constant disturbance, but yeah, I could enjoy the scenery!   Of course, walking out would be the most sensible thing if we could not go any farther.  After all, it’s only about 53 TRILLION miles to civilization!  LOL  “WOW!   Lookit those mountains, Honey!”

Looking South from Striped Butte - 01/15/2007

Looking South from Striped Butte - 01/15/2007

“Yep, sure is purdy!”.


Charlie Manson and Me – part 8

~It’s All Downhill From Here~



August 11, 2009

Charlie Manson and Me – part 2

Filed under: Charlie Manson and Me - part 2 — Tags: — Bob @ 7:03 am


Charlie Manson and Me – part 2  

~Enter Goler Wash~  


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<name>Goler Wash</name>

These pictures don’t show the big boulder that we were looking for at the entrance to Goler Wash because it was removed sometime in the past. No idea why.  

Goler Wash in the distance. Photo by David A. Wright - 03/17/2001

Goler Wash in the distance. Photo by David A. Wright – 03/17/2001

Entrance to Goler Wash - photo by Hal Newman, 11/05/2001

Entrance to Goler Wash - photo by Hallett Newman, 11/05/2001

 We were on Wingate Rd. and then headed East on Coyote Canyon Rd. into the mouth of Goler Wash, and I’m sure we got some people talking about us, due to the vehicle we were driving, but the trail heading in seemed completely passable, so I drove on. 


Headin' in...

 Here are some ‘treckers’ that apparently believe they need an extreme off-road vehicle for their Sunday drive!


"Is the winch cable long enough for this trip?" "Where's the GPS?" "Does AAA know about this road?" "How far to The Burger King?" "Daddy, I have to pee! Where's the next gas station?"

 I’m jes’ funnin’ here, Folks. NOW I know how lucky we were back then! Yes, God watches over children and fools! We were basically prepared, but didn’t have a CLUE about the lay of the land or how to survive in it! …or what lay ahead! But boy-oh-boy was it fun and exciting! It STILL is! 

 At this point I will apologize to those who actually know and love this area. These pictures might not be in their exact order of progression throughout this trip, as we didn’t keep a log or a chronology of our movenemts. I will call it ‘poetic license’ to get around this matter, but if someone does spot a glaring error where I have inserted a photo of a trail in Idaho or somewhere, please let me know so I can make it right(er). Remember, I collected these pics from the Web, and they were labled as ‘Goler Wash’ and that’s all.  


Western Entrance to Goler Wash - 04/16/2005

Western Entrance to Goler Wash - 04/16/2005

Into Goler Wash – 04/16/2005

Into Goler Wash – 04/16/2005

 I recall the sound of the dual exhaust pipes bouncing off the steep walls of the wash as we drove in.  

Goler Wash near the West entrance.

Goler Wash near the West entrance.

Goler Wash near the West entrance.

Goler Wash near the West entrance.

I think I read somewhere that the walls run from about 300′ to over 600′ high! As we slowly drove forward, trying to take in all this absolutely amazing scenery, while I was managing to stay on the trail and avoid most of the rocks, it was like being in a dreamworld!  

Once in a while I would have to stop to let a rider on horseback or a dirt bike pass, mostly heading West as it was already past noon. We, of course, were planning on staying at the Newman cabin which was about 3 mi. up the Wash, so we weren’t pressed for time. I did worry that we might have needed an advance reservation to stay there, but we were self-contained, so what-the-heck!  

In places the canyon walls went almost straight up into the sky, leaving us in cool shadows. I recall spots where the trail was so narrow that I had to pull in the side mirrors for clearance. Remember, we were in a full sized extended-length van, not a short wheel-base off-road vehicle! There were absolutely no turn-around points once we got into the deep part of the Wash!  

I now know this is not Goler Wash, but it has the look of the area. Per David A. Wright, "This might be a picture of Titus Canyon, which is in the Grapevine Range northeast of Stovepipe Wells".

I now know this is not Goler Wash, but it has the look of the area. Per David A. Wright, "This might be a picture of Titus Canyon, which is in the Grapevine Range northeast of Stovepipe Wells".

See description of previous picture.

See description of previous picture. Goler Wash, near the West end.


Charlie Manson & Me – part 3 

~ Newman Cabin~  


August 4, 2009


Filed under: That's gratitude for ya! — Tags: — Bob @ 6:03 am


The video below shows how to say “Thank You” to someone you don’t know.





Thank You

Thank You

July 13, 2009

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow… 07/13/2009

Filed under: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow... — Tags: — Bob @ 11:52 am

Goodbye, Dutchess!

 *waving sadly*

Dutchess is gone…

Born around the end of October, 1993.

Adopted on April 29, 1994, from the Animal Rescue League shelter in Dedham, MA.

Laid to Rest July 13, 2009, after 15½ years of love, loyalty,  companionship and friendship.

She was Norwegian Elkhound / German Shepherd mix.


Dutchess, you will be missed.

...ever-watchful Dutchess, on the job! 05/04/2008 - 14.5 yrs. old.

...ever-watchful Dutchess, on the job! 05/04/2008 - 14.5 yrs. old.



Dutchess-12-06-2002-9 yrs. old

Dutchess-12-06-2002-9 yrs. old






Dutchess - 2009

Dutchess - 2009

Charlie Manson and Me – part 1

Filed under: Charlie Manson and Me - part 1 — Tags: — Bob @ 6:58 am


Charlie Manson and Me



One hour of life,

crowded to the full with glorious action,

and filled with noble risks,

is worth whole years of those mean observances of paltry decorum.


Sir Walter Scott



(…with apologies to those with slow connections,  as there are a lot of images in this story!)

This is a l o n g story about an exciting adventure trip to a ghost town, haunted mountains, gold mines, borax mines, Death Valley, 20-mule teams, tarantulas, sand and much more excitement than most folks would ever consider attempting!  Our historic tale began back around June, 1976. We were living in North Hollywood, CA. An acquaintance of mine, in partial payment of a small business deal that had gone awry, drew a map for me, showing the way to a cabin in the Panamint Mountains, by way of a ghost town. The cabin was owned by a Captain of the Riverside, CA Fire Department, who didn’t mind folks using it for an overnight camp. (more about this later…)

I convinced my wife, Barbara, that we will have a GREAT time going there with our son Danny, who was 5 years old. We planned to go for the weekend of Halloween to make visiting a ‘ghost town’ more exciting. We planned to camp there if we could.


The Explorers – 1976 – Bob (32), Barbara (29), Danny (5)

We packed up the old ’70 Ford E300 van (1 ton, 2-wheel drive, auto trans, manual steering, manual brakes, ‘2-20’ air conditioning [open 2 windows, go 20 mph]. I know, too much information, but this will become important later in the story)…

 …with all the goodies we wanted or thought we needed, plus a mattress in the back for sleeping, an extra 5-gal. can of gas, extra oil, oil filter, spare spark plugs, points, rotor, condenser, cap, wires, tools, 2 spare tires, etc. I was a mechanic, y’see, and would ‘be prepared’ for just about ANYTHING!  I also packed my S&W .38 revolver (for protection from who knows what), my trusty ol’ Red Ryder b-b rifle (for plinking fun), CB radio (it was WAY-before cell phones were commonly available), 5-gals. of water, food, drinks, fresh fruit (gotta fend off scurvy, ya know!), munchies (yessss, m.u.n.c.h.i.e.s.! *DUH!*), and some other stuff, too!




1970 Ford E-100 - not ours!

1970 Ford E-100 – not ours!

  • This pic is NOT our van! Ours was an E-300 1-ton van with a 302 hp V-8, auto, with about 200,000 miles at this point, and not a body panel without a dent! 

Our 1970 Ford E-300 van - 10/1976


  • It was dark green, no hubcaps, with stock 8-lug wheels and 10-ply tires. …but mechanically it was in GREAT shape! I bought it with 150,000 very rough miles on it from a newspaper-delivery company back in 1973 – with that front bumper! I liked the ‘sneer’ so much that I never replaced that bumper. I actually drove in New York City during a grid-lock in 1980, and City cabs would stop to let me pass by!!   LOL

So, on Saturday morning, quite early I’m sure, we headed off to the wilds of East-Central California, with the hand-drawn map and an old road map of the area. No GPS, no cell phone, just good ol’ ‘seat-of-the-pants’ driving fun, and a great sense of adventure!

Me, shouting… “Is Danny heeeeere?”

Danny, shouting… “Yeeees!”

Me, yelling louder… “Is Mommy heeeeeeere?”

Danny and Barbara yelling… “Yeeeeeeeesss!”

Finally, all three of us screaming… “Is Daddy heeeeeeeeeeeere?”

All three of us, screaming ’til our throats hurt… “Yeeeeeeeeeeesssssss!”

This was how we always set off on our trips, with a roll-call. Louder and longer shouts. Then lots of giggles.

We headed up Rte. 14, The Antelope Valley Freeway. (I’m using Google Earth (GE) here to retrace our journey. I sort-of mapped it out a couple of years ago.)

Here is a GE map of our route: (the red dots are just part of the path-mapping process in GE)

N. Hollywood to Ballarat

N. Hollywood to Ballarat.

(…to the tune of “Route 66” by Nat ‘King’ Cole) …past Palmdale, then Lancaster, through Mojave, still on Rte. 14, but now named Sierra Hwy. Then East on the Mojave-Barstow Hwy., meeting up with Rte. 58, through Boron, then North on Rte. 395 at Kramer Junction. This turned into the 3 Flags Hwy.
…Atolia, then Red Mountain. Then we picked up Trona Rd. between Red Mountain and Johannesburg. Trona Rd. later meets up with Rte. 178, and we turned NE, continuing on Trona Rd.
Eventually we went through Westend, then South Trona, Borosolvay, Argus, then Trona. For quite some time Searle’s Lake (dry) was on our right, to the East. We were looking for a sign somewhere along between Pioneer Point and Trona (I think) marking the dry lake.


“Welcome to Searles Valley”

Next we were looking for Ballarat Rd. We were still travelling North on Trona Wildrose Rd., Rte. 178. About 15 mi. farther we finally spotted Ballarat Rd. heading East from a sweeping left curve, so we left the pavement and turned onto a packed sand road.

Ballarat Rd. heading East towards the Ghost Town.

Ballarat Rd. heading East towards the Ghost Town.

 We drove about 3.5 mi. over an easy graded road, arriving at Ballarat Ghost Town. No signs that I can remember, no commercial buildings, nothing but some bumps in the sand. Remember, this was 1976! As we got closer it was apparent that this was the ghost town as described on my map.

It was cause for excitement just being off the paved road and driving toward the Panamint Mountains in the distance!

The ghost town consisted of a group of maybe a dozen wind-worn and sand-covered foundations just barely visible, and there were 2 or 3 structures where you could see the bottom rows of stone foundations. There was one spot that had part of a wall still standing, maybe 6 feet of it, but not much else. There were a couple of wind and weather-torn cabins.


Ballarat ghost town. There were no fences when we were there.


Ballarat Ghost Town partial foundation.  Are those bullet holes?


Move-In Condition!

   (note regarding images posted in this story: I found these images online during my research of our trip. They were shot much more recently than when we were there, so please keep that in mind. Places and things change over time. I will try to describe what you are seeing and what we actually saw when we were there.  I will add dates to the photos when I find them.

Back then, I had very recently become involved in photography and actually had a 35mm camera with me, using only Tri-X b/w film which I developed and printed myself. However, on this trip, due to the tremendous amount of attention to driving, safety, the enormous amount of interesting and beautiful scenery and some SCAREY roads, plus being very stupid about it, I did not take many pictures. I just found the few color slides that we took and I have had them scanned for this story. I also just found those b/w negatives and I will scan them and post them into this saga where they actually fit, like the b/w pic of our van . I will also mark them in Google Earth and post them there as well.  Also, all MY pics have the old-time photo corners that were used to stick the pics into an album.  The ‘borrowed’ pics have no corner stickers.)

O-KAAAAY… so we looked around at these decrepit structures, saw that we wouldn’t be camping in the ghost town, and decided to move on.

We checked the map and the lay of the land, looking for the trail to take us to Goler Wash, which was supposed to be marked by a huge boulder. We went South on Wingate Rd. which runs along the base of the Panamint Mountains. This would eventually lead us to Goler Wash on about 14 miles of graded road, meaning lots of washboard, holes and some rocks to dodge.

As we approached the alluvial fan of Goler Wash we could see a bunch of vehicles parked in a group. There might have been 10 or more trucks, some of them with trailers attached for hauling horses or dirt bikes or 4-wheelers. There were small groups of people with these horses or vehicles going to and from the trail that headed into the mountains that loomed right beside us.

(Alluvial fan: Sediment deposited by flowing water, as in a riverbed, flood plain, or delta.)



Goler Wash alluvial fan.

Goler Wash alluvial fan.

[I have to pause here to relate this moment in time to you.  Remember, it was way back in 1976 that we were there.  There have been more than a lot of miles traveled since then, so memories are a bit faded, and I don’t have many photos to reinforce the memories.  *knocking myself on the head for being so stupid*  I am, however, collecting images from around the internet to help illustrate what we were seeing.

   On the GE maps there are numerous trails apparently carved out by groups of 4-wheelers, etc.  Back when we went there, there were mostly dirt bike tracks and horse tracks, with only a few 4-wheel-drive vehicles going there. And keep in mind, our van was 2-wheel drive!

…and lemme tell ya, I just went over the ‘escape route’ to get out to a paved road on the other side, and I am amazed that I’m sitting here telling you about it!  WE WERE OUT  THERE!!  *whew*]

Now, back to our story…


Charlie Manson and Me – part 2

~Enter Goler Wash~






July 3, 2009

Charlie Manson and Me – part 9

Filed under: Charlie Manson and Me - part 9 — Tags: — Bob @ 8:34 am