Friday, April 27, 2012

Flat Tire at the Southern Ohio Lunatic Asylum

When I was a kid growing up in Vandalia there was a hospital for the mentally ill on Wayne Avenue in Dayton.  It was called the Dayton State Hospital, but before that name it was actually called the Southern Ohio Lunatic Asylum

In those days it was common for us kids to kid one another by saying things like, “Keep doing that and you’ll end up on Wayne Avenue.” or “Did you just get out of Wayne Avenue?”  This wasn't as mean-spirited as it sounds today, it was another way of saying "You're crazy." or "You're acting crazy."

One time, after one of us kids had made this joke about “Wayne Avenue” Dad told us a story.

“I was driving down Wayne Avenue one day,” he began, “when I got a flat tire.”

“I pulled over and began to change it.  As I took each lug nut off I was very careful to put them all into the hubcap so that I wouldn’t lose any of them.

“When I brought the spare out of the trunk, I noticed that there were a number of men just inside the fence watching me.  I got the spare in place, but I knocked the flat tire over as I was doing it.  The flat one fell over and hit the hubcap.  All the lug nuts flew into the air, landed and rolled right down the sewer!”

(At this point I should add that Dad told this story using very “colorful” language.)

“I was fuming!  Now what was I going to do?  Then I heard a voice.”

“’Hey, Mister.’  It was one of the guys on the other side of the fence.”


“’Why don’t you take one lug nut off each of your other three wheels and use them to attach your spare?’ he suggested.  ‘That will at least get you to a service station where you can get some more nuts.’”

“Wow,” Dad said, “that’s a good idea.”

“So I did what the guy suggested.  After I got everything put away and was ready to leave I thanked the man again.”

“Look, I said to him.  I don’t understand why a guy as smart as you is in this hospital.”

“‘Well.’ the guy responded, ‘They put us in here because we’re crazy, not stupid.’”

You know Grandad.  Do you think this is a true story?

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Dad & I at Cobh Railway Station
In April of 1994 Mom, Dad & I went to Ireland.   We visited the old family farm of Mom’s mother in Shronebeha near Banteer.  Among the relatives who went with us that day was a young boy, Owen (not sure of the spelling, but that’s how it was pronounced).

Owen was telling Mom about his school.  I guess he was about in the 1st grade.

Mom asked him, “Is your school all boys or are there girls too?”

His reply, in a (to us) thick Irish accent was, “Tismixt.”

Mom, Dad & I looked at each other with confusion and astonishment.  What did that mean!?  Was that Gaelic?

Mom replied, “You mean just boys?”

“No,” Owen assured us, “tismixt.”

Well, this conversation wasn’t going anywhere, so Mom changed the subject.

Later that day we left Banteer and headed to Cork City.  As we were driving along, Mom suddenly said, “It is mixed!”

Dad & I had no idea what she was talking about.

“That’s what Owen was saying.” she explained, “Tismixt.  'tis mixed.  It is mixed.  His school has both boys and girls.”

Mom solves another mystery!

Shronebeha is at the teardrop "A"

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Very Short Lesson in Irish Plant Taxonomy

Taxonomy is the science of plant identification.  In April of 1994 I went to Ireland with Mom & Dad.   There was a shrubby plant, three or four feet high, with pretty yellow flowers that we saw almost everywhere.

When we visited the old family farm of Mom’s mother in Shronebeha near Banteer there were many of these flowers.  As we looked at the remains of the old home I decided to ask an elderly relative who was accompanying us about them.

Standing about 15 feet from one, I pointed and asked, “What do you call this plant with the lovely yellow flowers?”

She looked very closely at the plant, and took a few steps toward it.  I could see the wheels turning as she searched her memory for its title.  After a few more moments of careful thought, she turned to me and said, “Bush.”

To this day, I’m not actually sure what this plant was.  There are a number of plants that match the general description, Furze, Whins, GorseBroom and probably many more, but which one it might have been will forever remain a mystery.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dad's Watch

Mom visited us last week and left Dad's watch behind when she left.  The battery is dead, so the hands don't move.  I have it setting here in front of me at my computer.

Today when I came home James showed me that he had set the watch to his birthday and birth time - March 13 at 12:36pm.

I have to admit that this really touched me.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sandia Exhibitions

"The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there."

In the Spring of 1974 a “streaking” fad swept across the nation.  For no apparent reason, people (mostly young) would take off their clothes and “streak” through a public place, like a college campus, a restaurant, sporting event, etc.  Some guy even streaked across the stage at the Academy Awards that year.  This still happens occasionally, but it was ubiquitous for a few weeks then.

So, that winter I was teaching skiing at Sandia Peak Ski Area, just outside of Albuquerque.  Near the end of the season, one of my friends from Ohio, Jim B, a fellow Instructor, visited.  We planned to ski the last weekend at Sandia and then go up to Taos and into Colorado.  Jim had a flight home from Denver.

On the very last day the area was open, a Sunday late in March, there was a big party.  There were contests like goofy ski races where you had to hold an egg while you skied a race course, slowest time in a course without coming to a stop.  There was a live band, Four Wheel Drive by name, all of whose members were on the ski school and there was a dance contest scheduled.

Exhibition Run at Sandia
Well, Jim and I skied the morning, but as the weather warmed up and the snow got slushy, Jim decided to stay down at the Lodge and enjoy the festivities (also there were several young ladies that Jim intended to chat up).  I continued to ski with some of my Sandia friends on the upper lifts, as I knew this would be the last time I'd get that chance.

One time as we rode the lift up we heard an electric guitar playing a rock & roll tune.  At first I thought it was the PA system, but we were far from either end of the lift, where the PA speakers were, then I saw one of the Instructors ski out of a side trail onto the main ski run under the chair.  It was Fritz, a member of Four Wheel Drive, playing the guitar which was plugged into a battery powered amplifier he wore on his back.

I wondered what the heck he was doing as I watched him slowly making his way down the run.  Then some movement behind him caught my eye and I looked up to see more skiers coming out of the side trail onto the main run.  I recognized the first skier, it was Angie, another instructor, she was wearing only ski boots and gloves -- she was a streaker!  Following her was Jackie and Carla, also instructors and also nude.  I was flabbergasted. 

At about this moment my buddy and chair partner, Joel, said, “Isn’t that Barbara?”

Yes, the fourth skier was Barbara, a good friend who I was supposed to take out that very night, similarly costumed (or should I say uncostumed?)!

The fifth and final streaker was the wife of one of the Instructors, I think her name was Debi.  She was not a strong skier and was having a bit of difficulty negotiating the run (which was appropriately named “Exhibition”).

We watched them until they went out of sight.  By the time we came down the run they had disappeared, probably by taking one of the side trails were we guessed they had stashed some clothes.

My friends and I skied a few more runs and then finally, as the day drew near its end, I made my way down to the bottom.  As I was taking off my skis, Jim ran up to me and said, “Tom, where have you been?  These ladies are taking off their clothes!”

“Yeah, I know,” I replied, “I saw them up on Exhibition.”

Sandia Base Lodge
“No, no,” Jim said with exacerbation, “I know some chicks streaked.  I’m talking about down here!  The dance contest – these girls are getting naked!  Look!”

He pointed over to the deck at the lodge.  The band was playing and there was a girl dancing on top of one of the tables.  It was Kathy, one of the Instructors, and a girl that Jim had gone out with a few times during a previous visit.  She was wearing only jeans.

The song she was dancing to soon ended and Kathy stepped down to be replaced by Debi, one of the steakers.  The song had barely started when she whipped off her t-shirt.  A few seconds later she unbuttoned her shorts and dropped them down.  She then proceeded to dance completely nude for a good two minutes.

As Jim and I watched this amazing event I noticed my friend Elaine sitting alone by the lodge.  She was wearing a red & white one-piece ski-suit.  Jim asked her why she hadn't joined the contest.

"Because I don't have a t-shirt.  I'm not wearing anything under this," she replied and zipped the ski-suit down far enough to prove her statement.

Jim, ever eager to prove that chivalry wasn't dead, immediately whipped off his own shirt and offered it to her, "Now you can participate."

Elaine went into the lodge and came out a few minutes later wearing Jim's shirt.  She'd tied the sleeves of her ski-suit around her waist.

Now that Jim had made sure Elaine was properly equipped for competition, I began to look for Barbara. Locating her inside the lodge I approached her.  Her face turned beet red when she saw me.

"You were on the chair weren't you?" she said.

"I sure was," I replied.  "We passed right over the five of you."  I paused and looked at her.  "What were you thinking?"

"They talked me into it, you know.  Safety in numbers and so on.  I thought with that many doing it no one would recognize me.  We only went down Exhibition about 100 feet and then we went to the other cutoff where Holly had our pants and jackets."

"Are you in the contest?" I wondered.

"Oh, gosh no!" she replied, "Streaking is one thing, stripping is another!"

As we talked we went back out onto the deck.  Elaine was up on the "stage."   I watched with a measure of dread and fascination -- Elaine was a beautiful girl, but she was only 15.  She danced for the whole song in a very provocative manner, but I'm happy to say that she did not take Jim's shirt off.

The “contest” continued for at least another half-hour and quite a few girls participated.  Debi was the only girl who danced totally nude, but well more than half danced topless and several momentarily exposed their behinds.  Of the ones who kept their tops on, several flashed the crowd by quickly pulling their shirts up and exposing their breasts.

When they announced Kathy as the winner of the contest, Debi cried and was inconsolable.

At the end of the day as we were preparing to leave, Elaine told Jim that if he wanted his shirt back, he was welcome to come pick it up in person at her house. She said there was no way that she was going to take it off and give it back to him there.  Elaine must still have it -- that evening Jim went out with Kathy and I had my date with Barbara.

Al's Run on left
I knew most of the girls who “danced” and I know that some who danced partially clothed were not yet 18.

Another shocking thing was that there was a grown man setting on the deck watching all this with his child, a toddler, on his lap.  I knew him.  He was a part-time Instructor who was a physics professor at the University.  There were actually a number of children wandering around, not really watching as they were otherwise occupied.

Al's Run from the top
It’s funny the different attitudes towards streaking that prevailed in the industry at that time.  Purgatory Ski Area, near Durango, Colorado announced that anyone who streaked there would be permanently banned from their slopes.  On the other hand, Ernie Blake, the owner of Taos Ski Valley offered a season pass to any woman who would streak “Al’s Run” one of the steepest mogul runs in the Rockies.  I’m pretty sure that no one took him up on the offer.

I understand that when Ben Abruzzo, the owner of Sandia Peak, heard about the Closing Day festivities he blew his top. Not sure if anyone lost their jobs.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Grandpa & Orville

I wrote about notable people I’ve met here & here, but Grandpa Locker met someone I think is a lot more famous than anyone I've met.  It happened at the Vandalia airport during World War Two.

Grandpa Locker was working at the Aero Products (later called Inland) plant on North Dixie Drive in Vandalia during the war.  The factory had been tasked with making aircraft propellers.  One day, late in the war, they reached some production milestone. 

At that time, the airport terminal was on the east side of the airport, right across Dixie Drive from the Inland plant.  Many of the plant’s workers went across the street where they had a ceremony celebrating the milestone and mounting the propeller onto an aircraft.

As they were getting everything ready, Grandpa was standing at the end of one line of workers when another man walked up and stopped next to him.  Grandpa assumed it was another worker from the plant so, without actually looking at the man he said, “Nice day, isn’t it”

As the man replied, “Yes, it is, isn’t it?” Grandpa looked up at him.  He instantly recognized him since he had often seen his picture in the paper.  Both he and Grandpa were Dayton-born and raised.  It was Orville Wright, younger of the two Wright Brothers, the first aviators.

“I’m glad,” Mr. Wright continued, “that it didn’t rain.”

He and Grandpa exchanged pleasantries for a few more moments before he went up to the speakers’ platform.  Grandpa never said, but I imagine Wright was there, not only for his fame in the aviation community but also because the plane they were attaching the propeller to was powered by a Wright Company engine.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Brushes with Evil!

I’m going to be somewhat cryptic in this post, because I’m writing about the disreputable side of human nature.  I really don’t want this post showing up on internet searches for the subjects I’m discussing.  If you really want to know more, using some of the facts stated here in an internet search should provide some info.

In August 1969 a group of low-life hippies living at the Spahn Ranch in the San Fernando Valley, who called themselves a “family”, went on a violence rampage, murdering seven people in Los Angeles, including a well known actress.  The leader of the group, a guy named Charlie, became quite well known following these events.

In 1985 I visited LA, staying at the home of the parents of a friend and co-worker from Mammoth.  His sister, a nurse living in Idaho, was also visiting at this time, with her two-year old daughter.  I didn’t talk to Barbara a lot, as we didn’t spend that much time at my friend’s parents’ home.  And when we were there Barbara was usually chasing or scolding her daughter, who was quite unruly.

A few months later my friend was at my house and noticed a book on one of my bookshelves.  The book was written by an LA District Attorney and it documented the August 1969 crimes and the following investigations and trials.  My friend pulled the book off the shelf, opened it and pointed to a picture, “That’s my sister, Barbara.  You met her at my folks' house.”

Barbara in 1969
Yes, Barbara was one of Charlie’s family.  She is a minor figure in the book, but plays a key role in a couple of episodes.  She did not directly participate in any of the awful crimes, but she did play a supporting role.  For example, when the “murder team” was preparing to go out on the “mission” which resulted in the actress’s death, Barbara gathered clothes and weapons for them.  Also, the “Family” stayed at the Spahn Ranch rent-free because the female members of the family “entertained” Mr. Spahn whenever he liked.  Barbara was one of the girls who helped in this “entertainment.”

BTW - I have seen speculation on the internet that Barbara may have had a child with Charlie.  This isn't correct.  Barbara's oldest, and as far as I know, only, child was about two in 1985, so she couldn't have been conceived much before 1981.  Charlie has been incarcerated since 1969.

In the summer of 1999 I attended a fire management conference at Yosemite National Park.  We stayed at the Cedar Lodge, which was notorious.  In February a woman and two teenage girls had been abducted from one of its rooms and murdered.  Just a few weeks before our visit another woman who lived near had been murdered.

Cary's booking photo
Due to some prior commitments I was a bit late to the meeting.  I parked and walked towards the conference area.  I saw a couple of guys working in a room as I walked by so I opened the door and asked if they knew where my conference was.

One of the men, I later learned that his name was Cary, came out and pointing to the proper place, gave me directions.  He was very friendly and helpful.  I saw him several more times over the next couple of days and we said hello in passing.  I did not have any significant conversations with him, although some others of our group did.

A few weeks afterwards the police solved the cases. Cary was arrested and confessed to these murders.

The last “Brush with Evil” I’ll describe was actually the first I experienced.  I doubt if there is any information about this case on the internet. 

In the early 80’s I was working as a Fire Marshal, focusing on fire prevention, in Mammoth.  One of the prevention activities that we regularly performed was to visit various summer camps in the area for “Smokey Bear” presentations.  There are a number of organizations which run these summer camps – the Boy Scouts, YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, various church organizations and others.

One camp was very enthusiastic about our programs.  They rotated kids every week, so there were always new kids to teach and entertain.  We went there often, two or three times each week through the summer.  This particular camp was run by a non-profit community organization associated with a small city in LA County. 

I was really impressed with the Head Counselor at this camp.  Gabe was about 40 and really easy to work with.  The kids seemed to love him.  From what I could observe the camp was a happy, well-run place.

As it happened, one of my assistants, Jaime, was from a town adjacent to the city which sponsored the camp.  Jaime and Gabe became good friends and Jaime often went out to the camp on his own time to hang out with Gabe and the kids.  During the winter, when Jaime was in college and would visit his home, he would go over to Gabe’s “club” and play basketball with him and others.  I think Jaime even did some coaching or teaching at the “club.”

The next summer when Jaime came back to firefighting, he came to me and said, “There’s something I need to tell you.  Remember Gabe, from [the camp]?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I remember him.  I’m looking forward to working with him this summer.”

“Well, he’s not going to be here.”  Jaime was despondent.  He went on to explain that Gabe was in jail, with no possibility of bail, for child molestation.  Apparently he had been molesting children, both at his “club” in LA County as well as in Mammoth.  The police suspected that he had molested hundreds of children over the years.

I was stunned.  I had grown genuinely fond of Gabe.  To this day, I cannot reconcile my image of Gabe with the deeds he committed.  He completely fooled me and many, many others.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fireworks Smugglers

I was once instrumental in shutting down a major fireworks smuggling ring.

In the summer of 1988 I was working as a Fire Engine Captain on the Tahoe NF in Truckee.  One day we were on our way to the west side of the Ranger District, out towards Donner Lake.  As the Engine drove along Donner Pass road, right across the road from Tahoe-Truckee High School, I saw two boys (about 10 or 12 years old) huddling next to a high wooden fence.  They were watching something on the ground by the fence.  Suddenly they both jumped up and took off down along the fence away from the road.

This, of course, caught my attention so I looked back at the spot where they’d been.  Just at the moment there was a loud crack and a puff of bluish smoke appeared.  I immediately realized that they’d set off some firecrackers.  Since it was fire season and fireworks can easily cause a forest fire, I told my Engineer to stop the Engine.  I jumped out and took off after the boys.

As I was leaving the Engine I saw them squeeze through a little space in the fence to get inside the neighboring businesses’ premises.  When I got to the place they’d gone through, I realized that it was too small for me so I hopped the fence.

As luck would have it, when I got inside the fence I found that I had cut off the boys’ escape route and easily got them into my custody.  Since this had occurred on private property and not Forest Service land, I radioed the local Fire Department.

While we were waiting for the Fire Marshall to arrive, one of my crew said, “Man, Tom, you went over that fence like you were Batman or something.”

I looked over at the fence I had scaled and it was a six-foot wooden fence.  With my adrenalin going, I had vaulted over that fence without a thought.  Now that the excitement was over, I was sure that I would struggle to repeat that action.

Our Engine Crew - at Martis Peak
Greg, Trish & Me
The Fire Marshall arrived shortly (we were only about 200 yards from the main Truckee Fire Station) and we took the boys in for questioning.

The boys were still in possession of a good number of little firecrackers. When asked where they got them, one of the boys stated that his older brother gave them to him.  He added that, “He's got a whole bunch of them.”

That was the extent of my involvement in the case, but a couple of weeks later, the Fire Marshall came by our Station.

“I wanted to tell you something about those kids you caught with the firecrackers,” he told me.

It turned out that the older brother they’d gotten the firecrackers from had a girlfriend from San Francisco.  Her family was involved in a scheme to smuggle non-California approved fireworks in from China.  The older brother was one of the “distributors.”

“We’ve gotten the California State Attorney in on this.  We have already confiscated several tons of fireworks and arrested almost a dozen people.  This was a multi-million dollar operation, but it looks like they’ve gotten most of the operators."

He also added that they believed that the illegal fireworks were responsible for a rash of fires in the Sierra foothills, some of which had burnt down homes.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fog Lights in the Sangre de Cristos

California’s San Joaquin Valley, around Fresno and Bakersfield, can be incredibly foggy in the winter.  In the mid-70’s I was living near Shaver Lake and frequently had to travel through this fog which can be frightening.  Fatal accidents are not uncommon as sometimes drivers literally can’t see stop signs, traffic lights and sharp curves until the last moment.

Because of this, when I got a new truck in 1975, I installed a set of fog lights under the front bumper.  Fog lights are a headlight modified by shaping the light’s lens so that the beam is broad, flat and low.  Sort of a fan shaped beam (a regular headlight has a conical beam).  This keeps the light from hitting the fog, rain or snow directly in front of the driver’s eyes and puts more illumination on the road.  The lower you can mount the fog lights the better.

The proper way to use fog light is to turn on the vehicle’s parking lights, leaving the regular headlights off, and using the fog lights alone to illuminate the road.

After I installed the fog lights, I often drove in fog and especially on snowy nights and knew that my fog lights worked well, but their effectiveness was really illustrated to me one night driving through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado. 

I was on Highway 160 going over La Veta Pass late at night, eastbound, heading for Colorado Springs.  The snow was coming down pretty hard, but I was able to drive “normal” considering the slipperiness of a snow covered road.  I had the fog lights on and the headlights off.  Every time I came upon an eastbound vehicle, they were just crawling along.  As soon as there was a reasonably straight section of road, I was easily passing them.

I was genuinely puzzled why the other drivers were going so slow.  I must have passed 50 cars in a half hour or so.  Coming down the eastside of the pass I came upon a “train” of very slowly moving cars, trucks and semis.  They were following each other so closely I had trouble passing because there was so little room to pull back into the proper lane after passing a vehicle.

I was finally able get around all of them and said to my traveling companion, “I wonder why they’re going so slow? The snow isn’t that slippery and while the snow’s coming down hard, visibility is OK.”

As I said this I wondered if the fog lights were helping.  I reached down and flipped on the headlights.  It was shocking.  There was a huge wall of snowflakes right in front of my truck.  I couldn’t see a thing.  I quickly snapped off the headlights and all returned to normal.  My companion and I erupted in laughter.  Neither of us could believe what a difference the fog lights made.