Monday, December 26, 2011

More Notable People I’ve Met

After Putzi Frandl, the celebrity I’ve been best acquainted with, and the only other one I would call a friend, is James Whitmore.  When I moved to Mammoth in ’81 one of my Forest Service co-workers was Jim’s son Danny.  Danny’s aunt, Louise Klaassen (Jim's sister-in-law), also worked for the Forest Service there.  Through the two of them I met Jim and spent a fair amount of time with him.

Both of you boys have also often met him.  In fact he “baby-sat” both of you at least once that I can remember.  We were at some function in Bishop and Jim was also there.  This would have been about 2002.  I took both of you outside as you were both getting a bit antsy and needed some exercise.  Jim was also outside, smoking his pipe.  Jim and I talked for a while and then I remembered something that required me to go inside for a few minutes.  Jim agreed to keep an eye on you two while I was gone.

Jim always enjoyed seeing you two and he often commented how wonderful children were and said that he hoped that I would always treasure both of you as much as he treasured his children.  I told him that I would do my best.

I often teased Danny when he, Jim & I were together.  Danny also has two boys, but neither are named James, and I would say to Jim that even though Danny didn’t name his boys after him, at least I had (of course my friendship the Jim had nothing to do with us picking the name James for our first-born, but it was fun teasing Danny).


William Kelley is another friend from my Mammoth days.  I met him through his daughter Moira, who was a Mammoth local and friend.  Bill was a Hollywood writer who won an Oscar for the screenplay of the Harrison Ford movie Witness.

I remember watching the Oscar Awards show on TV that year and the feeling that I had hearing my friend’s name called out as the winner and seeing him giving his acceptance speech.

Bill was also a novelist.  I really enjoyed his book Gemini, and A Servant of Slaves: the Life of Henriette Delille is non-fiction and very interesting.

A few months ago, I discovered that Moira lived in Davis for much of the time we’ve lived here.  Unfortunately, I did not make this discovery until several years after she had moved.


Andy Mill is another person I met via skiing.  He was America’s premier downhiller for much of the 1970’s.  I met him at a US Ski Coaches Association clinic at Mammoth shortly after his retirement from competition.  I was really impressed with his skiing – I’d skied with a lot of fantastic skiers over the years, but there was a power and smoothness in Andy’s skiing that was impressive. 

I was also impressed by the relationship Andy had with the coach running the clinic, Harald Schoenhaar.  Harald had been the US Ski Team’s Head Coach for a number years during Andy's time on the team and the warmth of their relationship was evident.  There was a great deal of mutual trust and the respect between them was obvious.

I ran into him again a few years later at Breckenridge, Colorado and rode up the chair with him.  After I reminded him where we met I was surprised that he remembered me.

Andy later got into the news when he was married to Chris Evert, the tennis champ.


Shortly after I moved to California in ’74 I met a number of people from southern California.  Once I was visiting a friend and her family down there and I got talking to the "Lady of the House" and found that she had been in the Navy during WWII and had been an aircraft mechanic.  She showed me a picture of herself working on a Douglas Dauntless dive-bomber.  This really surprised and impressed me, and I mentioned that I was very interested in aviation.

She said, “Oh, if you like planes, you should meet Lloyd.  He lives just across the street (Sunburst in Northridge).  He used to be the president of Boeing and designed the PT-17, one of the US’s primary pilot training planes in WWII.”  Many people just call this plane a "Stearman."

So she walked me across the street and I met Lloyd Stearman.  Mr. Stearman was very pleasant and we had a nice, short talk as he wasn’t in good health.  That was the only time I spoke with him as he died a few months later.


Andrea Mead Lawrence, a double Gold Medal winner in skiing at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway, is another acquaintance from Mammoth.  I met her through Jim Whitmore’s wife Nancy, who was the sister of my good friend and co-worker Louise Klaassen.

Nancy and Andrea became good friends when they met in Mammoth as they had similar backgrounds growing up back east and then moved west.  They started the Mono County Democrats Club together and Andrea was often at Nancy’s house when Louise and I visited.

I was one of the few people, Andrea told me, in Mammoth who had been to her home town of Rutland, Vermont.


When I lived in Shaver Lake (‘74-‘84) there were a number of celebrities who had vacation homes in the area.  I occasionally saw Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Richard Farnsworth (The Straight Story) around town, but never met either of them.  Pamela Sue Martin, best known for the Nancy Drew Mysteries TV show, also had a home there and I did meet her several times.  She was good friends with acquaintances of mine (in fact, she often stayed with them before buying her own place).

She skied at China Peak fairly often so I would see her around and often spoke briefly to her.  I can’t claim to know her well, but I did not find her very friendly.  She seemed to think very highly of herself, which maybe was justified considering how successful she was at the time.  I don’t think I ever saw her without a cigarette.   She is another actress who I think looks a lot better on the screen than in person.

Once in the summer I went to her home in Shaver Lake to do a fire inspection and issue a burning permit.  A guy met me and I mostly talked to him, although she did participate in the discussion.  She did not act like she remembered me, and we had met many times before.  I guess I should give her the benefit of the doubt as I was wearing my Forest Service uniform, so maybe the context was wrong for her as I’d mostly been in ski clothes during our previous encounters.


In June 1973 I attended the Jackson Hole Summer Racing Camp.  Due to a snow shortage in northwestern Wyoming, it was actually held at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area near Dillon, Colorado.

The Head Coach of the camp was Pepi Steigler, a former Austrian Skier and Olympic medal winner in both the '60 and '64 Olympics.  He was the Ski School Director at Jackson Hole.  It was a 10-day camp and we rotated with different coaches.  I spent two days with him, and talked to him a lot, most as a student to teacher relationship, but we did have adult to adult conversations too (I was 23 and he was about 40).

He was quite affable and modest.  He told me that when he watched film of himself skiing he was never very impressed and always thought he ought to be doing better.

He was, as you'd expect, very knowledgeable about skiing and ski equipment and it was a very enjoyable camp.


Robert Shapiro is the founder of, the online legal documents company.  He was also OJ Simpson's intial attorney during his spat with LA Law after getting in a spot of trouble for murduring his wife.

Shapiro was a friend of a client of mine when I was teaching skiing at Alpine Meadows.  Bill Shaw was an attorney from LA who had once worked for the LA DA, but had left that gone into real estate, in which he had done extraordinarily well (he lived in Beverly Hills between Steven Spielberg and Marvin Davis). 

He took quite a few ski lessons from me and we got on quite well.  One time when he was at Tahoe he brought a friend of his who he had worked with in the DA’s office.  It was Robert Shapiro.  Shapiro had also left the DA’s office and done well.  He was one of the premier defense lawyers in LA.  Shapiro’s son Brent was also with him and during the course of the day I mostly skied with Brent. Bob and Bill would take their own (usually easier) way down the mountain while Brent and I talked the more challenging runs and we’d meet at the chairlift.

About five or six years later I often saw Bob on TV due to his involvement with the OJ case.

Unfortunately, Brent later became heavily involved with drugs and died of an overdose.


Ben Abruzzo was a prominent Albuquerque Real Estate developer when I lived there.  He owned Sandia Peak Ski Area which I worked at in the winter of 73-74.  I often saw him there.  He wasn’t overly-friendly with employees, but he would say hello and I did ride the chairlift with him a time or two.  I skied with his oldest son Richie a fair amount.

Another person who I met at there, but later, during the following summer, was Larry Newman.  Larry was the first person I saw fly a hang-glider.  In fact I talked to him about taking lessons but we could never get our schedules together.

Abruzzo and Newman later became famous as the pilots of the Double Eagle II, the first balloon to cross the Atlantic.


For stories about other notable people I have met, click this link.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mom, Dad & the MAH-TROB-us!

A few years back, Mom and Dad took a trip to Washington, DC. 

One of the first days they were there they’re walking about on the Mall and Mom says to Dad, “What’s a MAH-TROB-us?”

Dad: “I’m not sure.  Why do you ask?”

Mom: “Well, I keep seeing these signs around that say MAH-TROB-us and a phone number to call for more information.”

Dad: “Well, the next time you see one of the signs point it out to me and maybe we can figure it out.”

They continue to walk along and a few minutes later Mom says, “Bill, there’s one of those signs now.  What do you think it means?”

Dad looks were she’s pointing and replies, “Maybe if you pronounced it ‘Met-Row-bus’ it might make sense.”

(Keep scrolling!)

Just shows how easy it is to confuse language!

Dad solves a mystery!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My GM Vehicle Experience

I love GM, or at least I want to love GM. My Dad started working there when he was 17, in 1947, running a machine on a subassembly line. He retired as a middle manager in 1989 with a salary in the low six figures. I worked there for five years while going to college from 1968 to 1973. My brother worked summers there from 1983 to 1987. Every new car I had ever bought (seven in total) had been a Chevy. Bona fides established, I will now state that I will never buy another GM product.

Here is a list of GM products that I bought brand new, followed by a list of the difficulties I had with each:

1969 Camaro – Owned it for two years before being sold after an accident.  Generally a pretty good car, but the throttle linkage was misadjusted so that the carburetor would never get to the “full-power” setting and the water pump failed at a pretty low mileage (although I've always suspected that it was damaged in the accident).  

1971 Vega – OK for me, but wanted a bigger car so I sold it to a friend after about two years. Lots of problems for him, including both front fenders rusting completely out in a few years after he bought it.

1973 Camaro – 350 V8 dropped a valve twice, battery failed first year, needed new clutch with very few miles, seatbelt broke and brakes went out suddenly.

1975 Chevy Pickup – intermittent electrical problem unable to fix, running lights would flicker, sometimes going out for long continuous periods.

1978 Chevy Pickup – intermittent electrical problem unable to fix, dash light fuse would trip losing all instrument and interior lights, heater core began to leak into cab.

1981 Chevette – worst vehicle I ever owned – front wheel fell off driving on mountain road the first week (while at dealer to repair this, someone stole the radio which dealer refused to take responsibility for). Weak A/C, overheating problem, incredibly rough running, often jerking down the road in a very embarrassing manner -- spent hundreds of dollars trying to fix this to no avail.

After this Chevette experience, for many years I drove used cars, mostly Toyotas, with few problems.  I did own one other GM vehicle -  1967 Chevy 4WD PU with 327, bought used in 1986.  This was a great vehicle and I wish I still had it.

Then, memory clouded by the passage of time and still feeling loyalty to GM (and having fond memories of the ’67 PU) I bought GM again: 1997 Chevy S-10 pickup – second worst vehicle I ever owned. When brand new the tailgate was missing several bolts and the A/C didn’t work as it was not properly wired. I still own this vehicle, 130,000 miles, it has needed two new transmissions, each about $1,600 (both times it failed when I was far from home or any facilities – each tow was more than $200).  It has never passed California smog without a tune up at about $500 a pop and once needed a new catalytic converter at $1,300. Check Engine light is almost always on. Often runs very rough, especially in wet weather. Heater-A/C fan doesn’t work properly, A/C has been repaired twice for $1,200 each time and is currently not working. Rear view mirror fell off, third-door latch has failed twice and is currently broken, windshield wipers have failed, windshield washer fluid reservoir failed.

My last, and most recent, gripe against GM is the 2009 Obama bailout which protected the unions (source of GM's problems in my opinion) and screwed the salaried employees and stockholders.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Skiing – the Ohio Years

Butler High Ski Club 1967

Valley High - wasn't quite this big in 1968!
Killy Downhill Gold Run Grenoble 1968I
I worked in the ski industry as an instructor, patroller and race coach for 24 years, from 1970 to 1993.  All because someone (I think it might have been Sally Brown, '66) started a High School ski club.

The first time I went skiing was in February 1968 at Valley High Ski Area (now Mad River Mountain), a 300 foot glacial moraine in Central Ohio, with the Butler High School Ski Club.

I had always thought that skiing looked fun, and had wanted to try it.  The 1968 Winter Olympics stoked my interest and I had become a fan of Jean-Claude Killy, the French racer who won three Gold Medals (there were only three skiing events then) at that Olympics.

One interesting thing, I was not the first member of our family to ski, my sister Helen (Class of '70) had gone with the Ski Club a few weeks earlier, but had not enjoyed it and, to the best of my knowledge, never went again.

They looked just about like this!
I rented skis.  They were wooden, tan color and made by Northland, with Cubco bindings.  I don’t know what kind of boots I wore, but they were buckle boots.  Most of the rental boots were lace-ups, but for whatever reason they gave me ones that buckled – I never skied in lace boots, although I think that virtually all of my friends did.  I really enjoyed the sport and skied one more time that winter, also with the Ski Club, and using essentially the same equipment.

Cable bindings - they didn't release very reliably.
First run on my own skis!
Mount Stonequarry (our front yard) 1968
I graduated from High School that spring and got a job.   One of my first purchases was the first pair of skis I owned.  They were white, 200cm wooden skis with screw-on metal edges and cable bindings made by Ski Persenico (which was later purchased by Spaulding and had much success in racing during the 70’s).  I bought them in the fall of 1968 at Jim Flynn’s Sporting Goods, the store that they had in the Forest Park Plaza on North Main in Dayton.  The boots were leather, with buckles and made by Dolomite.

Head 320, 360 & 800
I skied on those that season.  In the Spring of 1969 I bought a pair of 190cm Head 360’s which was a very popular ski at the time.  I had Tyrolia bindings installed when I bought them at Rike’s in downtown Dayton.  These were the skis I used before my first trip to a big ski mountain, Killington Mountain in Vermont (this was with the Wright State Ski Club in March of 1970).  I sold the Persenico’s to one of my friends, either Rick or Steve.  Later someone cut them so that they were only about 24”-18” long and lots of people skied around on them at Valley High.

Lange Comps - now I was in the big leagues!
Look Nevada's - best binding (IMHO)!
After skiing on the 360’s for a while I became a much better skier and wanted to get new boots.  I decided on Lange Comps which were pretty much the first plastic ski boot.  I bought them just before the 70-71 ski season for $175 ($971 in 2010 dollars).  None of my non-skiing friends could believe that I paid that much for a “pair of shoes!”  My fellow skiers were all jealous that they did not have “Comps.”  When I got my new boots, I also got new bindings, Look Nevada’s which I felt were a superior, and safer, product.  Except for one momentary lapse, I used Look’s for the rest of my skiing career.  And I guess I should add, that I was a full-time skiing professional for over 20 years and never had a leg injury of any sort.

The 70-71 winter was also when I started to work at a Ski area, getting on as a Patroller at Valley High.

VR-17 & Looks
Now, of course, I wanted new skis.  I really wanted Dynamic (a French product, the correct pronunciation is Dee-nah-meek) VR-17’s 207cm GS (this was the ski that Killy used in the ’68 Olympics).  When the Wright Ski Club went to Breckenridge, Colorado at Christmas 1970 I found a used pair for sale, the exact model and length that I wanted, with Look bindings, in excellent condition, and I felt so lucky to get them.

I mostly skied the VR-17’s for a while after that.  My friend, Terry, had been skiing on K2’s for a while and really liked them.  And there was a local shop which sold them and also gave a discount to Ski Patrollers so I bought a pair, the K2 Comp model 200cm slalom and really liked them.

Terry at Breckenridge 12/71
My 1970 K2s on his left
His 1969 K2s on his right.
I skied these skis for most of that season until they were stolen!  Fortunately they were insured – I contacted the shop and they had another pair in stock.  I decided to try a different binding, Gertsch was making a plate binding which had upward toe release. I liked that idea and also thought that removing the ski boot from the release process was good, so I had those bindings installed. This turned out to be a mistake as I could not keep the skis on my feet!  They were constantly pre-releasing and I soon went back to Look.

The stolen skis were recovered a week or two later (a Highway Patrolman saw them in a nearby cornfield).  I won’t go into details, but I suspect that they might have been swiped by a jealous ex!

Anyhow the insurance company reclaimed them and these skis were eventually sold to someone at a ski swap.  They had my name engraved on them, and since I was pretty well-known in the ski community in that part of Ohio, the poor guy who bought them was constantly being harassed for “stealing those skis!”  I believe he actually had the cops called on him once.

Lange Supercomp - Notice how the
ribbing forms the Lange "L"
The next season (72-73) I switched from the Patrol to the Ski School.  I had been using the Lange Comp boots for a good while by now and when Lange came out with a new model – the Supercomp, and made them available to instructors for a very good price, I picked up a pair.  That was the last significant ski purchase I made in Ohio.  The following summer I moved to New Mexico (read about that year here).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rosemary Clooney

Rosemary Clooney was a well-known singer and actress in the 1950’s.  Her most famous role is White Christmas with Bing Crosby.  She is also the aunt of the well-known actor George Clooney.

Our connection to Rosemary begins with the fact that she was born in Maysville, Kentucky, the same town as my Great-grandmother (we called her Grandma Stubbs, her maiden name was Anna Duncan).  The connection runs a little deeper than that though.  Rosemary’s parents bought the house Grandma Stubbs was born in from the Duncans (her parents).  Sometime after this purchase, Rosemary and her brother Nick were born in the same house.

Now I’m not exactly sure what house the three of them (Rosemary, Nick & Grandma Stubbs) were actually born in.  Where the actual house was seems to be lost in the mists of time, although if someone spent a few hours poking about in the Mason County archives, they might be able to solve the mystery.
NOT this house!

NOT this one either!

I do know several places that are not the right house.  It is not the Rosemary Clooney House.  That is actually in Augusta, Kentucky, several miles downstream from Maysville.   Rosemary bought that as an adult in 1980, well after her successful career.  None of the houses that Rosemary lived in with her Grandmother Guilfoyle, at least one of which is listed in the National Historic Register, are the correct house either.


To read about some notable people I actually have met, click this link.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Two Prayers

Shortly after James was born, a friend sent this to me (it was sent by USPS mail and I just stumbled across it again recently).  He thought that since I was now the father of a son, I might find this worthwhile and I have said it for both of you more than once.

A Father's Prayer (Build me a son)
by General Douglas MacArthur
May 1952
"Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.
Build me a son whose wishbone will not be where his backbone should be; a son who will know Thee and know that to know You is the foundation stone of knowledge.
Lead him I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.
Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.
And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.
Then, I, his father, will dare to whisper, I have not lived in vain."

Recently I was reading Micah Clark, by Arthur Conan Doyle and the protagonist prayed this prayer, which I find worthwhile.

"Lord, I pray that I might be of some use to you during my time on Earth, that you will help me to rise above my own wants and interests and that I will help move forward all that is holy, good and noble."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Matt Williams

Boys, neither of you are old enough to remember Matt Williams, slugging third baseman who played for the SF Giants from ’87 to '96 and stayed in the Majors with other teams until ’03.

Williams didn’t quite have a Hall of Fame career, but he was one to the best third basemen in baseball for many years.  A good enough hitter to bat cleanup for about any team and a good enough fielder to have played shortstop quite a bit, he was always a force to be reckoned with.

Your connection to Williams is arcane, but still kind of interesting.  Williams was raised in Carson City, Nevada, but he was born in Bishop, just like you.

Bishop is a very small town (it was even smaller back in '65 when Matt was born).  So small that of the three nurses who attended you, two were, and still are, friends of ours. Bishop is so small that it only has one hospital, Northern Inyo Hospital, and there is only one primary "birthing room." So both of you were born in the same room as Williams was.

So, like I said, not much of connection, but still (at least to me), an interesting bit of trivia.


To read about some notable people I actually have met, click this link.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

London 1994 - Incident on the "Tube"

In 1994 I visited London. I spent a lot of my time there with Mark Dalton, a native of London, who I had met in Truckee a few years earlier when he briefly lived there.

Two young cousins of mine, brothers Conor & Cormac Cahalane, from Downpatrick, Ireland, were living in London at the time I visited. I had never met them, but I called them and made arrangements to meet one evening.

A day or two before I was to meet my cousins, Mark and I were riding on the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground (which they call the “Tube” and we would call a subway). As we rode along I asked Mark if he knew why two of the Underground Stations had a peculiarity in their spellings. I had noticed that Earl’s Court Station used an apostrophe but the neighboring Barons Court did not.

Mark was mildly surprised by my observation, stating that he had never even noticed it before and that he had absolutely no idea why the difference.

Over the next while, whenever Mark would see someone he knew, he would ask them about this, and every time their response was the same as Mark’s; surprise by it, statement that they had never noticed it and lack of knowledge as to the reason.

Later, Mark and I went to the restaurant where we were to meet my cousins. I had seen pictures of the two, but wasn’t sure that I would immediately recognize them. As far as I knew, they had no idea what I looked like, and, of course, they didn’t know Mark at all. However, as soon as we walked in, two young men approached us. One (later identified as Cormac) turned to the other and said, “See, I told you it was him! And see, there’s the belt I told you about!”

Cormac and Conor explained. Cormac had been sitting next to Mark and me on the Underground when we had had our discussion about the apostrophe. He had talked to me briefly on the phone and upon hearing my voice in the Underground he thought it was me, but thought the chances of actually sitting next to his unmet American cousin on the London subway was too difficult to believe and thought it would be silly to ask. He looked at me very carefully so that he would remember me later.

When he got back to the apartment he and Conor shared, he told him about the event and Conor said, “Cormac, you’re daft [crazy]! It’s not possible.” Cormac then told Conor about the unusual belt the man on the Underground was wearing.

The belt I was wearing (and I’m wearing it as I type this) is unusual. It is made of woven leather. It has no holes as the buckle prong can slip though the weave at any point.

In closing, Conor & Cormac had been talking about the apostrophe difference since Cormac heard me mention it. Neither of them had ever even noticed it before and had absolutely no idea why the difference. There is a reason though, and you can find it if you look up either Earl’s Court or Barons Court on Wikipedia.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Retirement Letter

I worked as a Forest Ranger for the US Forest Service from 1974 until 2003.  The Forest Service oversees millions of square miles of land in the US.  I mostly worked as a fireman and in law enforcement.  These are a few thoughts I shared with my fellow Forest Service employees upon my retirement.  I've edited it a tiny bit to make some things clear to non-Forest Service folk and due to some things not having happened recently:


I started with the Forest Service April 13, 1974. Today, September 3, 2003, is my last day and I wanted to thank you for all the wonderful memories.  The Forest Service was great to me.  I had the opportunity to do many things that most people never experience.  I traveled to at least 15 different states on official business.  I drove fire engines, flew in innumerable aircraft (my first ever helicopter ride was just a few days after I started work), and inked in quite a few few flight hours in my own pilot's log.  I’ve hiked (in pay-status) over country people spend years planning and saving to visit.  I’ve lived in towns many think of as paradise.  And, of course, the best part was the wonderful friends I made.  I always had great crews and co-workers and I never had a bad boss.  It has been a terrific experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I would like to take a serious moment.  I’ve made it to retirement. Many, far too many, didn’t.  I will get the opportunity to spend lots of time with my wife and sons, to see and do things I’ve often thought about.  I wish that were true for all of us.

Only one real close friend of mine died in the line of duty, but our firefighter community is small and we oldtimers have many friends and an immense number of acquaintances.  When fatality situations happen or are discussed, there is always a closeness we feel for the stricken – we’d met them briefly at another fire or at training or some other meeting, we worked at, or covered, the station they were from, we worked a fire near that one some years before, one of the lost was a close friend of our friend, etc.  Invariably there is some connection.
It affects us deeply.  Two close friends of mine worked on the Inyo National Forest in 1970, and lost friends that year on the Romero Fire near Santa Barbara on the Los Padres National Forest.  More than 30 years later it still troubles them.

So I ask each of you to take a few minutes now to remember our fallen friends, to pray for them and for their families and friends.

And I also ask you renew your commitment to safety.  Firefighting is an inherently risky job, but we can, and should, do better.  I hope and pray that you will.

A few weeks after the September 11th terrorist attacks on America, I was in Sacramento.  Everywhere I went in my Command vehicle people would honk, wave and give me the “thumbs up” sign.  Many of you probably experienced something similar.

I understood why they were doing it, and I appreciated it.  But it made me pretty uncomfortable, even a little embarrassed.  I was a wildland firefighter, I wasn’t one of the firefighters who rushed into buildings.  I was in Sacramento for a typical bureaucratic budget meeting, which is pretty far away from entering burning skyscrapers.

But the waves and honks continued, and I thought more about it.

I remembered the many young Forest Service firefighters I’ve worked with who eventually went to structure departments.  They weren’t really any different than the ones who stayed with the FS.  I thought of my co-workers and the structure department firefighters I knew. I realized that both groups were basically the same sort of people.  They willingly go into situations most others are trying to get away from.

I knew that some of our Incident Management teams were back east at that very moment helping with the aftermath of that terrible day.

Then I thought about my cousin, a FDNY fireman (off-duty that fateful day), he and I aren’t all that different in many ways.  It occurred to me that if our families had taken different paths, he might have ended up out west fighting forest fires and I could have been with an eastern metro FD.

Lastly, I thought about wildland fire fatality situations.

When you look at these situations you see a lot of things which disturb you -- inattention, lack of leadership, misjudgment, disregard for safety rules, impatience, lack of overall situational awareness, sometimes even panic.

But, one thing you never see is cowardice.  In fact, you see the opposite, wildland firefighters risking their own lives, and sometimes losing them, to help their fellow firefighters.

In short, firefighters, structure or wildland, go where duty leads.

So, in thinking back over my nearly 30 years, I’m reminded of a story a World War Two combat veteran, a member of the famed 101st Airborne Division, once told.

Asked by his grandson if he had been a hero during the war, he replied, “No, but I served in the company of heroes.”

I wish good fortune and God’s blessing to all who read this.  Whether or not we ever met, I hope our paths will cross in the future.

Be careful out there, and stay in touch.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My Collection

Here’s my modest collection of military hardware
Remington 700 - 355,xxx, similar to an M24 sniper rifle. My sons and I call it “Ranger Chuck” after Chuck Mawhinney who used a similar rifle during 16 months as a Marine Corps sniper in Vietnam (‘68 and ‘69) to kill 103 Vietcong soldiers. An additional 216 kills were listed only as “probables” because it was too risky to take time to search the bodies. After the war, he returned home to Oregon and became a Ranger with the US Forest Service.

M1 Garand - H&R 4,736,xxx. My sons and I call it “Uncle Johnny” after my uncle who carried one while serving as an infantryman in the 45th Division in Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany from ‘42 to ‘45.

M1917 - Eddystone 457,xxx. My sons and I call it “Daddy Con” after my grandfather who carried one while serving as an 81st Division infantryman in the trenches in ‘17 and ‘18.

M1 Carbine - Inland 4,967,xxx. My sons and I call it “Uncle Bob” after my uncle who carried one like it while serving as an Army combat engineer in Korea in ‘52 and ‘53.

M1911A1 - My sons and I call it “Cousin Jack” after our cousin Roland “Jack” Hale who carried one like it. He was fatally wounded fighting the Nazis in February of ‘45 while serving with the 30th Infantry.

M44 Mossberg - Civilian model of an armed forces .22 training rifle. My sons and I call it “Grandad” since it was given to my Father by his Father in ‘44. My Father used a similar rifle while taking basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Base in ’47.  It is the first firearm I ever shot.

M1903 - Springfield 969,xxx. My sons and I call it “Cousin Bud” after our cousin, Vernon “Bud” Hale. While serving with the 24th Division, he fired one like it at Japanese aircraft attacking Schofield Barracks on December 7th, 1941.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Vietnam War Memorial

Visiting the Vietnam War Memorial, "The Wall", is tough for me. Standing in one place you can easily see the names of four boys who were important to me:

My best childhood friend David Bryant (lived right across the street from us on the corner of Donora and Spartan, moved in 4th or 5th grade. I only saw him once after they moved.) was killed on February 8, 1968.

My cousin Daniel Meade, killed the same day as David, February 8, 1968.

My good friend George Youngerman (Vandalia-Butler High School Class of '68, lived on Westhafer) was killed on April 1, 1971.

His cousin Joseph Youngerman (I didn't know him), who was killed the very next day, April 2, 1971.

It's possible to read all four names easily from the same spot.

You can touch both David and Dan's names with one hand.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hiroshima & Nagasaki

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been controversial almost since the moment they occurred. Some interesting thoughts on these acts are at the following pages.

Very interesting discussion here too, scroll down.

The Value of Work

The job everyone looks down on is "burger flipping" -- working in a fast food restaurant. But, as Theodore Dalrymple once said "There is nothing dishonourable or dishonest about stacking shelves. On the contrary, it is a socially useful thing to do."

There a many useful things a young person learns in such a job -- being on time, following directions, being neat and presentable, respecting customers and your coworkers, etc. Many have gotten their starts in work life in these types of jobs.

It does our society no good to denigrate any work, no matter how seemingly menial.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Some Notable People I Have Met

I already talked about my Olympic-medal winning friend Putzi Crotty, but I’ve also met a number of other notable people.

Jill St. John was the first celebrity I ever saw in person (I had seen President Johnson drive by in a limousine).  It was in Aspen, Colorado in 1971.  This was just after she had finished filming Diamonds Are Forever, a James Bond movie.  She would have been about 31.

Jill St. John
She was on the sundeck at a mid-mountain restaurant, I think it was called Bonnie’s.  I was with Jim Brenneman and some friends of his from Ohio State.  Several people pointed St. John out to me, otherwise I don’t think that I’d have recognized her.  I was about 15 or 20 feet away from her and I remember thinking that she really wasn’t that pretty.  She was wearing quite a bit of zinc oxide (a white cream which stops ultraviolet rays) and it was somewhat blotchy. There were lots of other young women there who I would have said were more attractive.  Shows you how photographic lighting and makeup affects perceptions.

Anyhow, there were a lot of people there and no one was paying any attention to her.  Aspen has a kind of snobby atmosphere and I suspect that no one wanted anyone else to think they were impressed by a movie star’s presence.

I was hungry and got in line to buy some food.  As I was waiting, someone said, “Excuse me.” as they wanted to get by the spot where I was standing.  I moved aside to let the person pass -- it was St. John.  That was the extent of our acquaintanceship.


In 1988 I was teaching skiing at NorthStar near Lake Tahoe.
William Katt
One student that I had for several days was the wife of William Katt, an actor most well known for The Greatest American Hero TV show.

I spoke briefly to him several times when his wife and I crossed his path.  He was very friendly and talkative, although I can’t remember anything that we discussed.


Bill Hewlett, of Hewlett-Packard fame, had a “cabin” in the Sierras near Donner Pass.  It was in an area known as “The Cedars” which is about due south of Sugar Bowl ski area.  This is a collection of very nice summer cabins (it is almost impossible to get into the place in the winter), most of which are owned by pretty well-to-do families from the Bay Area.

An example of the wealth of these families -- there is a large meadow in “The Cedars” which we were using a base to land a helicopter in to shuttle firemen into a small, inaccessible fire nearby.  There were a number of pre-teen boys watching our operations and I said to one, “Kind of exciting watching a helicopter land in your front yard, isn’t it?”

He replied, “Yeah, it’s neat.  I always like it when my Dad’s helicopter lands at our house to take him somewhere.”

Bill Hewlett
Anyhow, in 1992 they became concerned about their vulnerability to a forest fire and asked the Forest Service to help them devise a plan to minimize the potential for damage.  I worked with them to develop some plans to control the vegetation around the community, minimize the potential for fire starts and develop some sort of fire response plan.

Bill came to many of the meetings we held and was very interested and involved in the process.  I got to know him pretty well and found him very affable with a gentle sense of humor.  He did not in any way try to be the "leader," he seemed happy just to be one of the participants.


In the spring of 1974 I was living in New Mexico and some of my Ohio friends came out to visit me.  We went on a ski trip up to Colorado.  One night after skiing in Vail we went to a restaurant, the Blue Gnu, which had been one of my friends favorite places when he lived in Vail a few years before.  It wasn't really my kind of place, kind of noisy and dimly lit, and I was only there to be with my friends.  I was quickly bored and would have been ready to leave at anytime.

I had noticed one young lady sitting in a booth near the dance floor.  I thought she looked very fit and was pretty with very long, dark hair.

We hadn't been in the place for long when, on my way to the restroom, the young woman I had noticed earlier was standing along the railing overlooking the dance floor. As I passed her she suddenly stepped back and knocked into me.  She spilled some of her drink and I caught her to prevent her from losing her balance.  She smiled at me after I let go of her.  We exchanged short pleasantries and I went on my way.  She thanked me in English, but she had a strong French accent.
Fabienne Serrat

As I returned from the restroom I saw her from across the room.  A guy was talking to her and she shook her head at him several times.  By the time I got near her he had left.  She looked towards me as I approached and I impulsively asked her to dance (very unusual for me).  She agreed and we danced to a couple of tunes, probably less than five minutes.  We hardly spoke, as it was quite loud.  I'm pretty sure that my friends never even noticed this - I didn't mention it and they never commented about it.

Then I returned to my friends and she went back and sat in a booth.  I noticed that an occupant of the booth was the guy she had been talking with just before I asked her to dance.

A little later, my friend Jim, who was a big fan of ski racing, pointed to her and asked me if I knew who she was.  I did not.  He told me that it was Fabienne Serrat, a French racer who had won two gold medals at the World Ski Championship in St. Moritz, Switzerland just a few weeks earlier.

Jim also added that the guy she was sitting with was Piero Gros, an Italian racer who would win the overall World Cup skiing championship that season.


In April of 1974 I started working for the Forest Service.  I was assigned to fire prevention and visitor information services.  My duty station was at the top station of the Sandia Peak Tramway, just outside of Albuquerque.

Our job was to greet each tram as it arrived and explain to the riders the very high fire danger in the area, urge them to be fire-safe while visiting and then to answer any questions that they might have about the area.
One time when the tram arrived Lou Rawls, a well-known singer and sometime actor, was aboard.  I recognized him immediately as I prepared to give my little fire danger spiel.

Lou Rawls
After he exited the tram, it was obvious that he under the influence of something, but he asked a couple of question about what was visible from our vantage point near the top of the mountain.  I think this was more out of courtesy than curiosity. Two attractive young ladies accompanied him, but they both treated him more like they were nurses or caretakers than girlfriends.

The thing that I most remember about Rawls is that he was the actor who said the memorable line, “Ain't a horse that can't be rode; ain't a man that can't be throwed.”  This was on the TV show The Big Valley when he had a guest starring role as a hired hand.  I also remember that he was a talented singer with a very silky voice.


In May of 1983 I attended a US Ski Coaches seminar at Mount Bachelor, Oregon.  We stayed at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain lodge in Bend.  The US Ski Team was training there at the same time and during the course of the 10 days we were there I met a number of famous skiers, although some of them weren’t known at all yet.

Bill Johnson
Bill Johnson was the first American male skier to win an Olympic Gold medal – for the downhill in 1984 at Sarajevo, less than a year after I met him.  He was at the camp and I rode the lift with him a couple of times.  He told me that he didn’t expect to ever win the overall World Cup as he planned to specialize in downhill only and not really train for slalom or GS.  He said, “I just like to go fast, I don’t want to turn.”


Kim Reichhelm really isn’t that famous.  She’s a very good skier, who raced for the University of Colorado and then had a couple of seasons on the US Ski Team. I don’t think that she ever had any top results in international competition.  She was one of the people I met at Mount Bachelor.

I ran into her again a few years later in Colorado and skied about a half day with her.  She now runs a private company which specializes in taking women to various exotic ski destinations.

Kim Reichhelm
 She briefly attained some notoriety back in 1989 when she participated in a skiing film called, License to Thrill.  During one “extreme skiing run” that was filmed for the movie, she took a horrendous, spectacular fall, every moment of which was caught on film.

Although she wasn’t badly hurt, the film clip was so fascinating and eye-catching that it was aired on numerous TV programs and she got a guest spot on the David Letterman Show.


Phil & Steve Mahre are twin brothers from Washington who were very successful American racers in the 1970’s and 80’s.  Phil won the overall World Cup several times and they both won Olympic and World Championship medals.  Until Bode Miller came along, I think Phil was the most successful American skier ever.

Phil and Steve were both at the camp, but they also had their wives with them and Steve had at least one child, so they weren’t hanging out with the coaches like some of the other athletes were.  I did talk to both of them quite a bit during the week, including playing a couple of games of basketball against them.  They were both about my height, 5-9, but they were maybe 30 pounds heavier and all muscle.  Trying to guard them was like guarding a moving rock.  They were both really muscularly built.
Phil & Steve Mahre
They were quick players with excellent reflexes and good shots.  Some of the other coaches (many of who were excellent athletes in their own rights) were probably better basketball players, but the Mahre’s were very, very good.


Also staying at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain lodge were the cast and crew of a movie which was being filmed in the area at the same time.  The "Stars" were all staying in houses they had rented so we never saw any of them, but most of the other cast members were at our lodge and we saw them often.  The movie was called Up the Creek and was about a college rafting race.  It was a goofy youth comedy like Animal House or Nerds.
Jeana Tomasino
I, and several of my fellow coaches, met one of these "lower-billed" actors, Jeana Tomasino, one afternoon.  She was quite pretty.  I don't remember much of the conversation, which the other guys dominated, but I remember that she seemed very shy, and I think that she told us that she was scared of skiing.

She didn’t have much of a movie career, but became pretty well known as the “star” of a series of music videos by the band ZZ Top.


In 1985 I had gone down to LA with some friends for a Bruce Springsteen Concert.  The following night the sister of my friend Jim, and a bunch of her friends, all of who had gone to college nearby, wanted to go to a restaurant/bar in Santa Monica, called the Oar House, which they had frequented during their college years.  I’m sure this was October 1, 1985, because I know the concert was September 30.  Bill Schofield was also with us.

The restaurant had a small dance floor, and wasn’t crowded.  Our party made up more than half the people.  After eating we went over by the dance floor as the women we were with all wanted to dance.  We hadn’t been there very long when a group of very attractive, and obviously very fit, young women came in.

Paula Abdul
There were probably about twice as many women as men in the place, so the ladies kept us guys steadily occupied as dance partners.  The women who had just come in were incredible dancers.  I noticed one in particular, who was a bit shorter and a little stockier than the rest of her group, but whose movements were somehow more fluid, dynamic and eye-catching than the others.  I spoke with her and found out that her name was Paula.  As the evening went on we got to know all of them and found out that about half their group were Laker Girls, the cheerleaders for the LA Lakers NBA team.

A few years later, in 1987, an album by a new young singer became popular, Forever Your Girl.  It was the woman we had met back in 1985 - Paula Abdul.

Bill and Jim also both danced with her, but Bill (who imbibed more than one adult beverage that night) doesn't remember this.  Haven't spoken to Jim about it.


In the winter of 1986 I was teaching skiing in Mammoth.  One of my co-workers, his first name was Chris, introduced us to his neighbor, who, he told us, had acted in a few TV shows and movies.

Her name was Dona Speir and she was early in a career as a “B” movie actress.  I don’t think that she ever became well-known, but she was in movies and TV for about 10 years or so.

Dona Speir
 I should add that, like Jill St. John, she looked a lot better on the screen than in real life.  She was attractive, but I would not call her a "head-turner."


I’ve known Eva Twardokens, a US Ski Team member who participated in the Olympics and won a medal at the 1985 World Championship, since she was a little girl.  Her Dad, George, was a ski instructor who was one of the Far West Ski Instructors Association specialists on ski teaching.  I knew him through this and later worked with him at Alpine Meadows.  I also occasionally ran into him on the U of Nevada campus where he was a Kinesiology  professor.

Eva Twardokens
When he traveled around California helping instructors he would sometimes bring Eva so I skied with her a few times when she was small.  All the instructors were like big brothers to her and would all take turns keeping an eye on her.  When I knew her then she was more into trick skiing or freestyle, but she later got serious about racing competition.

She was also at the Mount Bachelor session in 1983 for a day or two.


Tamara McKinney
When I moved to Truckee in 1986 I seemed to see Tamara McKinney, another US Ski Team member every time I went out to eat.  She won the overall World Cup a couple of times and also won World Championship medals and participated in the Olympics.  I only knew her to say hello, but our paths did cross a lot.


For other notable people I have met, click this link.