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The Adventures of Jake West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ADVENTURES

OF

JAKE WEST

 

 

 

 

THE ADVENTURES

OF

JAKE WEST

 

 

 

 

 

by

 

Bill Manchee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Publications, Ltd.

Dallas, Texas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEDICATION

T
o my father, Leonard T. Manchee, who

was always seeking adventure on the open road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Adventures of Jake West

Smashword’ Edition

 

© COPYRIGHT

William Manchee

2013

 

ISBN 978-1-935722-84-7

 

No part of this book may be published or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or information storage and retrieval systems without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This work is a work of fiction and any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

Prelude

 

When I was a child I wanted to become a congressman, senator or maybe even the President, because politicians seemed to have the power to make life better for everyone. Since I wanted my life to be meaningful, I worked hard to make my dreams come true. When I grew up, however, I discovered that there were many occupations that were important and would make life meaningful. To be successful at anything, however, I discovered you had to devote almost all your time and attention to your chosen career, often at the expense of your family. This was particularly true for lawyers, the career I finally chose.

Since I loved my wife and family, I vowed I wouldn’t let my career keep me from spending valuable time with them. Of all my childhood memories, the many vacations and road trips my father took us on were the best. So, over the years, I made sure we embarked on as many vacation adventures as possible. One of them was a long trek from Dallas, Texas to Yellowstone National Park. There were six of us in the West family, me, my wife Amanda, and our four children, Joel, Bart, Paul, and Julie. That meant we needed a big car. Luckily, we had just bought a big Chevy Custom Van that was perfect for the trip.

 

 

1

Fisherman’s Paradise

 

It was August 1981 and we were just leaving my favorite place on Earth, Yellowstone National Park, after two glorious weeks of hiking, camping, and sightseeing. The Chevy Custom Van had served us well on the journey. Amanda was riding shotgun and keeping a close eye on the map to make sure we didn’t get lost. Joel, who was eleven and Bart, age nine, rode in the two luxurious captain’s chairs directly behind the front seat. My seven-year-old, Paul, and his five-year-old sister, Julie sat on a bench seat in the far back both scanning the forest for wildlife.

As the road turned and began following a rushing river, Joel perked up. “We never went fishing, Dad.”

Fishing was one of Joel’s great passions and whenever he saw a river or a lake he got the urge to fish.

“No. We don’t need to stink up the van,” Amanda said irritably.

“He’s right, though,” I noted. “We haven’t gone fishing yet. We brought fishing gear.”

A minute later we passed a sign that read: Fisherman’s Paradise Camp.

Joel’s face lit up and he began pointing to the sign. “Look, Dad! Over there.”

Fisherman’s Paradise Camp,” Bart repeated. “We should check it out.”

“Yeah, Dad,” Paul agreed.

“Come on. I don’t want to go fishing. That’s not my idea of fun,” Amanda complained.

“Can I fish, Daddy?” Julie asked.

Amanda gave Julie an exasperated look but didn’t say anything.

“Of course, you can,” I replied. “But it’s getting late. We won’t have a lot of time before it gets dark.”

“Goodie! Goodie,” Julie exclaimed.

“But tomorrow we’ll do what momma wants, okay?”

Everyone nodded, so I turned the van around and drove back to the sign to Reflection Lake and Fisherman’s Paradise Camp. As it turned out, the fishing hole was behind Reflection Lake Dam where the river continued on down the mountain. We turned down the narrow winding road and followed it until we came to a crystal-clear stream running beside the road. Pretty soon we saw a small bait shop with two gas pumps out front. We pulled in, bought some worms and cold drinks, then continued down the road to the fishing area.

Fishing was not new to the West family as we often went Striper fishing back in Texas. Too often, however, we came home empty-handed or with just one or two small fish that we should have thrown back. Over the years we had spent hundreds of hours, made thousands of casts, and lost dozens of expensive lures trying to catch those elusive little rascals. Despite our limited success at fishing, the excitement of the hunt never wore off and we would try time after time to make the big catch.

We got out of the car and excitedly unloaded the fishing gear. Amanda got out a lawn chair and settled down to read a book. I helped Julie and Paul get set up and then the fun began. Joel got his hook in the water first with Bart close behind.

“Daddy. Bait my hook,” Bart said.

“What? You don’t like worms? I questioned.

“Yeah. They are okay, but you can do it better than I can,” Bart responded with a smile.

“Daddy. Fix my pole,” Julie said, as she nearly poked me in the eye.

“I got one!” Paul yelled. “It’s a big one, too.”

Amanda got up and walked over to where Paul was fishing. “Oh, that’s wonderful!”

Joel looked over at Paul with an envious look and said, “He always catches the first one. . . . Oh! I have one, too!”

Paul pulled a good size trout out of the water. “Look, it’s a big one.”

“Dad, look at mine!” Joel said excitedly.

“Daddy. Daddy. Get my line in the water, I want to catch another one,” Julie pleaded.

“Okay, sweetheart, give me a minute,” I replied.

“I got one,” Bart said as the fish nearly yanked him into the river.

“I got another one,” Joel said gleefully.

“Holy smoke, I’ve never seen anything like this,” I said as I helped Julie cast her line back into the water. “Okay, babe, you’re in the water. Now hold on tight.”

“I’ve got another one!” Paul screamed.

“Wow! How many do we have now,” I asked.

“Five,” Amanda said as she watched the fish thrashing around in the cooler. “And, we’ve only been here ten minutes.”

“I know. This is awesome!” I said.

“Daddy! Daddy! I’ve got one,” Julie shrieked

“Alright. Good girl. Now everyone has caught one.”

“What about you, Daddy, aren’t you going to fish,” Joel asked. “No, I think I’m going to be busy just keeping your hooks baited.”

“What are we going to do with all these fish?” Amanda asked.

“Well, I have always wanted to have a fish fry over the campfire,” I replied. “I think tonight is the night.”

“Isn’t there a limit to how many fish we can catch?” Amanda asked.

“Yeah. Five each,” Bart said.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“That’s what the man said when you got your fishing license.”

“Really. I’m glad you were paying attention.”

“Don’t you remember. He said you couldn’t keep any fish over ten inches. The Rangers want to be sure that the big fish aren’t caught so they can spawn each year and keep the fish population stable.”

I laughed. “Well, okay then.”

Within an hour we had caught our limit and were packing up our gear. It was by far the most successful fishing excursion we had ever had and everyone was in good spirits. After the 20-rainbow trout were safely in our ice chest, we got back on the road.

We were now officially on our way back from our vacation and I, for one, was not looking forward to getting home and going back to work. The kids had been great despite being cooped up in the van for nearly three weeks. I feared I wouldn’t see much of them once we returned home, since I would quickly get wrapped up in my legal practice and they’d be busy with all their summer activities. It was late in the afternoon when we pulled into a state park near Twin Falls, Idaho, to camp for the night.

“This is going to be great,” I said. “I’ve always wanted to have rainbow trout cooked over a campfire. They should be delicious.”

“I’m not going to eat those stinky fish,” Amanda said.

“You’re not, Mom?” Joel asked.

“No way. I don’t want to eat something I just saw you catch. I only eat fish from a supermarket.”

I just shook my head. “Well, I’ll cook you a hamburger.”

“Fine.”

“You kids want trout, don’t you?” I asked.

“I’ll have some,” Joel said.

“What about you, Paul?” I asked.

Paul looked at me warily but finally said, “Sure Dad. I’ll give it a try.”

“I want some,” Julie said bravely.

“Good. Then I’ll get started. I’ll need butter, flour and potatoes.”

After a fantastic fish fry the kids played around the camp ground but when it got dark they all eagerly returned to the campfire for one of our most cherished vacation rituals—sitting around the campfire talking, roasting marsh mellows, telling stories, but, most of all enjoying each other’s company. Often times we wouldn’t get to bed until far into the night.

As I mentioned, my father liked to travel so we did a lot of it when I was growing up. My children loved to hear the stories of these many trips and would demand that I tell them to them again and again, even though they all knew them by heart. Of course, the more I told the stories the better they got. Before long Joel and Bart had built a beautiful bonfire and we all sat around it in lawn chairs staring at the flickering flames.

“Dad. Tell us a story, would you, please?” Bart asked.

“A story?” I replied. “That’s all I do is tell you kids stories. Don’t you get tired of hearing the same stories over and over again?”

“No. Tell us the coyote story,” Julie demanded.

“Yes. Tell us the coyote story,” Bart echoed.

“Well. Okay, if you are sure you want to hear it again,” I replied. “The story is actually called Blood Brothers and it took place when I was thirteen.”

 

 

 

2

Blood Brothers

Back in 1961 President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to get fit. I would have been fourteen at the time. My two best friends, Randy and Steve, and I were all Eagle Scouts and members of the Order of the Arrow. The Order of the Arrow was a national honor society of the Boy Scouts that used American Indian-style traditions to promote scouting, camping and outdoor activities. One of the popular activities suggested by the President was a fifty-mile hike. Since we all loved hiking anyway, we decided to accept this challenge and hike fifty miles through the Topa Topa Mountains from the Ridge Route to California State Highway 33. We had never hiked this far before, but were confident that if we did it over a two or three-day period it wouldn’t be too bad. In early spring, the weekend before our trip, we had all gathered at Randy’s house to plan our trip. Randy had just returned from a weekend excursion to Tijuana, Mexico with his parents. We were in his garage at his father’s workbench.

“Hey, I got something for you guys?” Randy said.

“Oh really, what is it?” I asked.

Randy dug down into a bag sitting in front of him and pulled out a black and silver object with a button on the side.

“What is that?” Steve said.

Randy smiled, pushed a button and immediately a six-inch blade flipped out.

“Whoa! What is that?” I asked.

“A switch blade,” Randy replied.

“Isn’t that illegal.”

“Only if you get caught with it,” Randy laughed. “I got one for both of you.”

Randy tossed one to Steve and me and we both spent several minutes figuring out how they worked.

“This is pretty wicked,” Steve commented.

“Hey, I got something else you’re going to like,” Randy said. Randy dug back down into his bag and pulled out a handful of round, red objects with fuses.

“What are those?” I asked.

“Cherry bombs,” Randy replied.

“What’s a cherry bomb?” Steve asked.

“They’re like giant fire crackers. Come here, I’ll show you how they work.”

Randy rummaged around the garage and found a tin can. Then he brought us out in the front of the house, lit one of the cherry bombs and dropped it on the ground. Quickly he covered it with the can and then screamed, “Take cover.”

We all scattered and a second later there was a loud bang that sounded something like a gun shot. The tin can shot rapidly into the air about twenty-five feet and then fell back to the earth bouncing several times on the concrete driveway. Immediately, the front door flew open and Randy’s mom, Mrs. Hanson, ran out.

“What happened! I heard a gunshot,” she said.

Randy began to laugh. “It wasn’t anything Mom, I just lit a cherry bomb.”

Mrs. Hanson put her hands on her waist and frowned at Randy.

“You nearly scared me to death, Randy Hanson. Jake, do you scare your mother like this?”

“No, she’d kill me if I did,” I replied.

“I bet she would,” she agreed. “You boys all ready for your hike?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied. “We’re ready and very anxious to go.”

“Well, I know you boys are going to have lots of fun.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Steve said.

“Now, no more shooting off cherry bombs, it’s against the law to set them off in the city limits.”

“Alright,” Randy replied. “I just wanted to show Steve and Jake how powerful they were.”

The next week went very fast and before we knew it the day of our departure had arrived. Most of our camping experience had been in fair weather. California doesn’t get that much rain and the temperatures are pretty mild. None of us even bothered to check the weather forecast as it rarely rained between April and November. In fact, we often slept under the stars and usually packed rather light. It was not uncommon for us to hike in tennis shoes rather than hiking boots.

My mother drove us to the Ridge Route and the trail-head for the Topa Topa Trail. I brought a small nylon, very light, pup tent just in case it rained. I had an old army hard hat, a canteen and a back pack with assorted cooking utensils, light clothing and food. Randy wore jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. Although I never searched through his back pack I would guess it had several issues of Mad Magazine, comic books and lots of snacks. Steve, on the other hand, was a model Boy Scout who brought everything one could ever possibly need on a hike. Unfortunately, with all of these amenities his pack was exceedingly heavy.

An item I always brought on a camping trip were fire-starters. In an old issue of Boy’s Life Magazine, it gave instructions on how to make fire starters out of rolled up newspapers and candle wax. Of course, we knew how to start a fire with a stick or flint and steel, but those methods were too difficult to be practical. Fire-starters, however, were great because just one of them and a single match could start a fire under any condition. Earlier in the year I had made several hundred of them, so I always carried an ample supply.

We were all in a good mood and eager to get started. I kissed my mother goodbye, gave my dog, Sheila, a hug and then proceeded up the mountainside. I wanted to bring Sheila along on the hike but decided against it since I would have had to carry all of her food. The trail was not the greatest in the world. It obviously wasn’t heavily traveled and from time to time it would seem to disappear. After a few miles, we came to a sign that read: “Lyon’s Canyon 2, Topa Topa Pass 7, Pyramid Lake 12 and Maricopa Highway 47.”

By this time Steve was beginning to pay the price for all the luxury he was packing. He would frequently stop and shift his pack. After a while he began to lag behind us a few paces. We kept asking him how he was doing and he always insisted he was doing okay. After another mile or so we entered Lyon’s Canyon. The trail was cut along the steep canyon walls above Piru Creek and was quite narrow. About midway through the Canyon I looked up and spotted a giant condor from the Sespe Condor Sanctuary North of Fillmore. I yelled in delight and pointed at the condor gliding through the Canyon. Randy looked up and smiled.

Just then we heard Steve stumble as he took his eye off the narrow path to observe the majestic bird. We turned around just in time to see him rolling down the side of the hill. We dropped our packs and scrambled down the hillside to where he had come to a stop.

“Are you okay Steve?” I said.

“Yeah. I think so.”

“What happened?” Randy said.

“I don’t know. . . . I just lost my footing.”

“It’s your pack, you’ve got too much junk in it.” Randy said as he helped Steve up.

“No, it was you guys making such a big deal over that stupid bird. Just leave me alone, I’ll be all right, let’s go.”

Other than a few bruises he was okay and we hiked on until noon. Then we stopped on the top of the crest for lunch and to rest. We could see Topa Topa Pass in the distance rising some 6,210 ft. above sea level. We had started at about 4,500 feet and guessed we had climbed at least 1,000 feet already. After lunch, we continued on figuring we would go another four or five miles and them camp for the night. Before long, thick puffy clouds began to roll across the sky. We didn’t think anything about it as these types of cumulus clouds in the mountains are not unusual.

As the day progressed the clouds thickened and it began to get dark, even though it was only mid-afternoon. Before long it began to rain. Luckily, we all had ponchos which we immediately utilized. By this time Randy was regretting that he was wearing sneakers. They began to get wet and his feet were getting cold as the temperature was falling rapidly. We couldn’t see Topa Topa Pass anymore as the clouds had totally concealed it.

It was about four o’clock when the rain turned to snow. We couldn’t believe it. Never in a million years would we have believed it would snow this time of year in these mountains. Although the Boy Scout motto is “be prepared,” we were totally unprepared for what lay ahead.

Before long the snow flurries turned into a blizzard. Randy kept complaining about his feet freezing and Steve was too scared to talk. I suggested the wise thing to do would be to pitch my tent, all three of us get inside in our sleeping bags to preserve body warmth, and wait until the storm was over. Getting no opposition to my suggestion, we followed that course of action. It was actually pretty warm inside the tent in our sleeping bags. After a few minutes Steve dug deep into his back pack, pulled out a transistor radio and turned it on.

“Stay tuned for the KMPC News coming up next after this commercial announcement.”

“I wonder if they’ll give the weather report,” Randy said.

“And now for the news. A freak spring storm has rolled over the Southern California mountains bringing up to 10 inches of snow and blizzard conditions. This storm was such a surprise it has left many hikers and campers stranded in the mountains. Now let’s go to Barbara James at Arrowhead Lake where a troop of boy scouts is missing in the blizzard.”

“Hello, this is Barbara James and I am with Robert Jensen of the United States Forest Service. Mr. Jensen, I understand a troop of boy scouts is missing in the mountains behind Lake Arrowhead.”

“Yes, Barbara, the troop had been camping at the lake and were on a hike to Eagle Rock when apparently the blizzard struck.”

“Has anyone been able to reach the scouts?” “No, the conditions are too rough right now to travel. We’ll have to wait until the weather breaks and then we will send in a search and rescue unit.”

“Do you know if the scouts were equipped for this unexpected weather?”

“Well, we’ve got to presume so. After all they are boy scouts, right?”

“Well this is Barbara James reporting from Lake Arrowhead where family and friends have gathered to pray that their teenagers return home safely.”

Steve turned off the radio to save the battery. Randy then asked, “Do you think anyone is out looking for us?”

“I doubt it,” I said, “My parents have complete confidence that we can handle any situation that might arise. After all, we are all Eagle Scouts with thousands of hours of camping experience.”

“But none of us have ever camped in the snow,” Steve pointed out.”

“So, what’s a little snow. We just need to get a good fire going tomorrow and everything will be fine. Besides, this storm can’t last very long this time of year. Tomorrow the snow will melt off so fast our only problem will be scrapping the mud off our boots,” I promised.

After each of us found something to eat out of our backpacks, we talked for a hour or so and then fell asleep. Tired from hiking all day, we hardly noticed the blizzard raging above us.

I was the first to awake the next morning. The first thing I noticed was that the tent had collapsed and we were buried several feet in snow. It was warm in my sleeping bag, so I pondered whether I wanted to brave the bitter cold that I knew awaited me above. It occurred to me that our only hope of survival was to get a good fire going as soon as possible, so we could keep warm while we ate breakfast and then packed up. It was fortunate that I had a good supply of fire-starters as this weather would certainly not be conducive to rapid combustion.

After unzipping the tent, I struggled outside and dug myself out the snow. As I gazed across the landscape, I was amazed at the incredibly beautiful transformation that had occurred during the night. I had always been fascinated by snow. Being a California boy snow was a rare commodity and I was always bugging my Dad to take me up into the mountains to go tobogganing. My dad didn’t like the snow since he was from Canada and had got his fill of it as a child, but he would break down a couple of times a year and take me to see it.

It looked like about a foot of snow had fallen and the temperature must have been about 20 degrees. I knew I needed to get a fire started so we could stay warm until the temperature started to rise. Since all of the dead wood laying around our tent was extremely wet, I knew it would not be easy to start a fire.

I searched around to find the driest wood available. After I had a good supply rounded up, I got out my fire starters and some matches. Then I laid the wood tepee style over half a dozen fire starters. I had never needed more than one before but this was an extreme situation and I didn’t want to fail. I struck the match and lit one of the fire starters. They began to burn with a vengeance and before long I had a hot fire going.

“ Randy…Get up,” I yelled. “I’ve got a fire going.”

Randy and Steve reluctantly began to stir. One by one they finally got out of their sleeping bags, struggled out of the tent and huddled around the fire. I fixed breakfast consisting of pancakes, coffee and bacon and then we discussed what to do.

“I think we should turn back,” Steve said. “It’s too darn cold to hike anymore and we’re not equipped for this type of weather.”

“But the weather will probably get better this afternoon,” I said.

“I am with Steve,” Randy said. “My feet are freezing and I don’t even have a jacket.”

“What kind of a Boy Scout are you going on a fifty-mile hike in sneakers and without a jacket?” I asked.

“I don’t know. All I know is I am going to freeze to death if we don’t get out of here soon.”

“Okay, let’s pack it up and head on back to the trail-head,” I said reluctantly.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to realize the trail had been totally covered by the snow. We had no earthly idea which way to go!

“I think we should go South since we were heading North before,” Randy said.

“That would be great except the trail wound all over the mountain and I am not sure if it’s even possible to go straight south,” Steve replied.

“Why don’t we just go downhill, that way we will soon get out of the snow anyway and hopefully to some kind of civilization,” I suggested.

We all agreed to try the downhill strategy and get to a lower elevation where it wouldn’t be so cold. After a hour or so tracking through the snow Randy began to moan, “My feet are killing me. I think I am getting frostbite. I’ve got to warm them up.”

“Come on Randy, I hate to stop now, we need to keep moving,” I said.

“I can’t walk anymore,” Randy complained.

“Okay, I’ll build another fire and you can warm up your feet. Take your socks off so we can dry them over the flames. I started another fire and Randy followed my instructions. After about thirty minutes Randy was feeling a little better and we started down the mountain again. Progress was very slow walking in the deep snow. After a hour or two Steve began to get panicky as the depth of the snow hadn’t changed that much as we hiked down the mountain.

“We’re never going to get out of this snow,” he said.

“Yes, we will. We have to eventually,” I assured him.

“We’ll probably freeze to death out here tonight and they’ll find us all dead in the morning.”

“Don’t be stupid! We’re not going to die. We can get in our pup tent again tonight if we have to,” I reminded him.

It was starting to get dark again and I was beginning to get worried myself about another night out in the cold. I wasn’t so worried about myself as I was for my companions who weren’t taking the adversity very well. Soon we had no choice but to stop again for the night. We started a fire and then pitched our tents. Steve and Randy huddled up next to the fire while I made dinner.

“Why don’t you try your radio again, Steve,” I suggested.

Steve went and got his radio and then sat back next to the fire. The radio blurted out a bunch of static, so Steve fiddled with the dial until KMPC came in clearly again.

“It’s the bottom of the second inning with the score, the Dodgers two and the Pirates one,” Vince Scully, the Dodger announcer said.

“Crap! Randy moaned.

“Too bad,” I said. “I told you to forget the Pirates and become a Dodger fan. You don’t live in Pittsburgh anymore.”

“The game is not over yet.”

“True, but it’ll only get worse.”

“I don’t really give a flip about the game,” Steve interjected. “I’m just worried about making it through the night.”.

“You guys are a bunch of wimps,” I said. “This is fun. Man against the elements.”

“That’s easy for you to say, your feet aren’t frostbit.”

“Come on, the snow is going to melt and we’ll find our way back to the trail-head in the morning. You’ll feel better after I get some hot food down you.”

I began making some hot soup, biscuits and threw some potatoes in the fire to bake. Then Vince Scully said, “And now back to our local station for an important announcement.”

“This is Barbara James here with Robert Jensen of the United States Forest Service. Bob, I understand the Boy Scout troop lost near Lake Arrowhead has been found.”

“Yes, Barbara they were found by rescuers late this afternoon.”

“What was their condition, Bob?”

“There were a few minor injuries and a lot of cases of frost bite, but all in all they came out of it okay.”

“Bob, are there any other hikers and campers stranded up in the mountains after this freak blizzard?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact there are a half a dozen or so hiking parties unaccounted for in the Southern California mountains. We’ve got search parties looking for them, but the problem is we don’t know exactly where they are. They don’t have to register a hiking plan with anyone, so it’s anyone’s guess where they might be.”

“What’s the weather going to be like up there tonight? Is it going to be as cold?”

“The mountain forecast is for scattered snow flurries with possible accumulations of up to three inches and temperatures in the low 20’s.”

“One last question Bob, what do you think are the chances of survival for those hikers still up there in the mountains?”

“Well Barbara, it depends on whether they were equipped for cold weather. If they have warm clothes and good footwear they should be okay. What we’re worried about is, since this snow storm came so late in the season, that many of these hikers weren’t prepared for cold weather. If that’s the case then they may be in for a rough time.”

“Okay, thank you Bob. Now back to Vince Scully and the Dodger game.”

“Yes, thank you Barbara and our thoughts and prayers are with all those hikers stranded in the Southern California mountains this evening,” Vince said.

Steve shut off his radio and there was dead silence around the campfire. After a minute, I began to smell the strong odor of the vegetable beef soup. I looked down and saw that it was boiling, so I began dishing it out for everyone to eat. Before I had even filled one bowl I heard the bushes rustle. I turned around but couldn’t see anything in the darkness.

“Somebody get a flashlight,” I ordered.

Randy jumped up and ran to his pack, pulled out a flashlight and flashed it into the bushes. Something moved again and we all jumped to our feet. Whatever it was it was keeping its distance.

“What’s out there?” Steve whispered.

“I don’t know, I can’t see anything,” Randy replied.

Just then the bush moved again and a raccoon came scampering across the snow, stopped a moment, looked us over and then ran off.

“Jesus, that little guy nearly made me piss in my pants,” Randy said.

“I’m glad it was just a raccoon and not a pack of wolves,” I said.

“There aren’t any wolves up here are there?” Steve asked.

“I don’t think so, just a few coyotes and a mountain lion or two.”

“You don’t think they would bother us do you,” Steve asked warily.

“No, not unless they were hungry and smelled our food,” I replied. “Hmm. With all this snow, they might be having trouble finding food. We better eat quickly and put our food away.”

Just then we heard rustling in the bushes again. This time it wasn’t isolated in one direction but was all around us. Randy flashed his light out toward the perimeter of camp. This time the light fell on the cold green eyes of some coyotes. My heart began to pound as I tried to think of what to do. I looked around the camp hoping to see something that would trigger a solution in my mind. I saw the fire and remembered animals were afraid of fire. I dashed over to it to grab a burning log. Reacting to my movement the coyote bolted after me. I turned and waved the flames in the coyote’s face. He growled as he backed off slowly. Unfortunately, the flame on my stick began to go out.

I wondered if I should grab for another stick or just stand my ground, hoping the coyote would lose interest and run off. Somehow, I couldn’t see the coyote abandoning his quest for food so easily, so I lunged for the fire. The coyote attacked and sunk his teeth into the left sleeve of my jacket. I could feel the pressure of his bite but the two sweat shirts and heavy coat I was wearing protected me from his sharp teeth. I fumbled for another flaming stick but couldn’t reach it. Then, as I rolled in the snow I felt a sharp pain against my leg. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my switchblade and flipped it open. The coyote let loose of my sleeve and lunged for my throat. I raised my left hand to blunt the attack and stuck the blade of my knife in the chest of the coyote.

The other coyotes, reacting to the smell of blood, began to attack. Suddenly I heard gun shots. I wondered if a rescue party had arrived just in the nick of time. Then I saw Steve and Randy throwing cherry bombs into the fire. As the bombs exploded the coyotes made a hasty retreat. Once they were gone, Steve and Randy ran over to where I was laying in the snow next to the dead coyote.

“Jake! Are you okay?” Randy said.

“I think so, I am not sure.”

“Look, you killed the sucker,” Steve said. “Come on, I’ll help you up.”

Steve grabbed my arm, pulled me up and began brushing off the snow from my jacket and blue jeans.

“I know, but if you hadn’t fired off those cherry bombs, I’d be dead.”

“We’d all be dead,” Randy observed.

“I am sure glad you went to Tijuana, Randy,” I said.

“No joke,” Steve replied.

After the attack, we moved our camp a good distance away from the dead coyote. We sure didn’t want to be anywhere near a dead animal with a forest full of hungry predators looking for food. We pitched our tent again and settled in for another bitterly cold night. It snowed a little but nothing like the previous night. The next day we began our journey again down the mountain, hoping to get out of the snow and down to warmer weather.

The going was slow as the snow was deep and slippery. After hiking all morning, we stopped for lunch and then pressed on. Just as I was about to suggest it was time to stop again for the night, I heard Steve yell, “Look! A log cabin.”

Steve and Randy rushed toward the cabin. They knocked furiously on the door but no one answered. When I caught up to them they were peering in the front window.

“Darn! There’s nobody home,” Steve said.

“Who cares. Just break a window,” Randy said.

“We can’t do that. That would be illegal,” I said.

“Who gives a rat’s ass. I am sleeping in that cabin tonight!” Randy said.

“You guys can break in if you want to, but I am not going to jail for breaking and entering.”

“You’re crazy, West. We’ll freeze tonight if we camp out again,” Randy replied.

“I am not going to jail. I couldn’t stand it in jail. I’d go bananas.”

“Don’t worry, this is an emergency. We won’t get in trouble,” Randy promised.

Randy broke one of the windows and entered the cabin. It had a big fire place and was well stocked with food. That night we sat around the wooden table in front of a raging fire pondering our adventure. We had stuck together and we had survived.

“We should make it official,” I said.

“Make what official?” Steve asked.

“Our kinship, the fact that we are blood brothers,” I replied. “None of us have a brother, but we can change that.”

“How do we do that?”

“Do both of you have your Order of Arrow necklaces that we made when we inducted into the tribe?”

“I do,” Randy said.

“Yeah, it’s in my pack, somewhere,” Steve advised.

“Good, get them.”

We all went and got our induction necklaces and laid them on the table. Then I pulled out a bottle and unscrewed the lid.

“What’s that?” Randy said.

“Coyote blood,” I replied. “I took it from the coyote I killed.”

“Jesus, what are you, some kind of vampire?”

“No, we needed it for the ceremony. Haven’t you ever read the Bible. They’re always putting lambs blood all over everything.”

“What’s it for?” Steve asked.

“It’s symbolic of our close friendship and brotherhood,” I said. “We can use this, unless of course one of you wants to volunteer some of your own blood.”

“No, that’s alright, we’ll use the Coyote blood,” Randy said.

I dropped some Coyote blood on each of the necklaces and then said, “Now stand up and we’ll make this official.”

Randy and Steve stood up obediently. I picked up Randy’s necklace and held it out in front of him. The words Free Spirit were etched in the leather below the symbol of the Order of the Arrow. This was Randy’s Indian name given to him when he became a brave of the mighty Comanche Tribe. Steve’s Indian name was Thunderbolt and mine was Swift River.

“Free Spirit, you have smeared the blood of the coyote on your necklace as a sign of your kinship to Thunderbolt and Swift River. Do you pledge to stand by them as a brother and faithfully defend their honor to your death?” I said.

Randy smiled and said, “I do.”

“Thunderbolt, you have smeared the blood of the coyote on your necklace as a sign of your kinship to Free Spirit and Swift River. Do you pledge to stand by them as a brother would and faithfully defend their honor to your death?” I repeated.

Steve looked me in the eye and said, “Yes, I will.”

“I likewise pledge to stand by Free Spirit and Thunderbolt as if they were my brothers and faithfully defend their honor to my death.”

I then gave Free Spirit and Thunderbolt their necklaces and we all put them on.

“Wear these necklaces as a symbol of our kinship and our strength as blood brothers.”

The next day the Rangers found us and Randy was right, no one complained about us breaking in the cabin. We were reunited with our families who, contrary to my expectations, were actually worried about us.

 

 

 

“Do you still have your necklace?” Julie asked.

“Yeah, somewhere,” I replied.

“Does it still have the Coyote blood on it?” Bart asked.

“Uh huh. Why?” I said, amused by the question.

“That would be so cool to take to school for show and tell?”

Amanda frowned. “I don’t think so.”

“Were you afraid when the coyote attacked you?” Joel asked.

“Sure, but I didn’t have time to dwell on it. Luckily I remembered I had the switchblade.”

“It was a good thing Randy went to Mexico,” Bart said. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have had firecrackers to scare away the coyotes.”

I nodded. “Yes, that was a lucky break.”

“You could have been killed,” Amanda noted. “I can’t believe your mother let you go on that hike.”

“Well, ordinarily it wouldn’t have been so dangerous. The snow storm was really a big surprise for everyone.”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Joel said. “The weather forecasts are much better now than they were in the olden days.”

I laughed. “Actually, the time I really got scared was when we almost got sucked into a whirlpool at the mouth of the Klamath River in Northern California.”

“Tell us that story, Dad,” Bart said.

Amanda rolled her eyes. “Yeah. I can’t wait.”

I smiled. “Okay, that happened on the way home from Portland, Oregon one summer.”

 

 

3

River of Peril

 

It was late summer 1962 and my mom and dad had come to Portland to pick me up and bring me home. I had spent six weeks with my Aunt Jane and Uncle Bob. This was my third summer in Oregon and I thoroughly enjoyed each visit primarily because of my cousin, Karen.

Karen was the same age as I was and she always had a lot of girlfriends hanging around. She was good looking and very popular, so her girlfriends were usually quite attractive. At home, I was shy and getting dates was not easy, but since I was her guest she felt obligated to line me up with as many cute girls as I wanted. As a result, for the past few years I had really looked forward to summer vacation and dreaded when my parents showed up to bring me home. But there was nothing I could do, so sorrowfully I left Portland and headed South with my parents along the rugged Oregon coast towards California.

As a child one of my great passions was fishing. At least once or twice a week you could find me down at the Ventura Pier with a line in the water. The fishing wasn’t too spectacular from the pier, but I caught enough perch and seven elevens to keep up a keen interest in the sport. Occasionally, someone would catch a baby shark, a jelly fish or a stingray which was always very exciting, if not a little scary.

What I remember the most, however, was when the Barracuda were running. The normally quiet Pier suddenly would be bursting at the seams with fisherman. I don’t know what the fascination was with Barracuda. Was it their reputation for being fierce fighters, their menacing appearance, or just their sheer numbers that insured each angler of a bountiful catch? Whatever it was for a week each spring every angler in town dropped whatever they were doing to stake out a small claim on the Ventura Pier and fight for their share of sea’s generous harvest.

Before I had left to go to Oregon I had made my father promise to take me Salmon fishing. My Uncle Bob had told me many stories of his deep-sea fishing trips along the Oregon and Washington coastlines. He bragged of catching a dozen or so large fish each time he went out and how hard it was to land each one of them. All year I had bugged my Dad to take me Salmon fishing and finally he agreed that on our way home from Oregon we’d find a place that had Salmon charters and go out.

My Dad was not a fisherman. He was the youngest of twelve children and had nine older sisters. With nine sisters, fishing was not something he was destined to learn much about. It’s not that he didn’t try to fish with me, but he just didn’t have any idea how to go about it. Luckily Salmon fishing was pretty easy when you go out on a charter. Since the captain provides all the tackle and bait and leads you right to the fish, Dad and I were sure to catch our fair share.

As we traveled down the rugged Oregon coastline toward Crescent Bay, the little fishing village where we knew they had Salmon charters, I was filled with anticipation. Mom wasn’t overly excited about the fishing trip as it meant she would have to spend the afternoon alone reading or knitting on the beach. She had vowed never to set foot in a fishing boat. Dad was kind of excited but he wouldn’t admit it.

“How long until we get there, Dad?”

“It’s just a few more miles,” Dad replied.

“How are we going to bring all the fish home?”

“Don’t worry about that until we catch something.”

“What if I catch a twenty pounder?”

“Your Uncle Bob says he always takes his fish to the cannery and a week or ten days after you get home they come in the mail,” Mom said.

“When I catch my twenty pounder I want to have it stuffed and put on my wall,” I said.

“That costs a lot of money,” Dad noted.

As we rounded the bend, Crescent Bay appeared up ahead. It was a serene setting of small cottages all nestled around a small harbor with hundreds of boats bobbing in the pale blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Several ships were gliding in and out of the harbor and around the lighthouse guarding its entrance.

“What time is it?” Dad said.

“Eleven forty-five,” Mom replied.

“Hopefully the afternoon Charter goes out at one,” Dad said.

“Are you sure they have afternoon Charters, Leon?” Mom asked.

“The desk clerk at our last motel said they did.”

As we came into town we turned down a narrow winding road that appeared to lead toward the harbor. Before long we were in the midst of hundreds of small boats with their captains and crews diligently preparing them for the afternoon run. We drove slowly through the harbor until we came to a small shed with a sign that read, Salmon Charters.

“This looks like the place,” Dad said.

“Good, let’s go get our tickets,” I replied as I opened the door and ran over to the shed.

“Wait for your Dad,” Mom said.

“Okay, hurry up!”

We went inside the cluttered office and observed a man on the telephone. While we waited I noted a picture on the wall of proud fisherman holding up what must have been a twenty-five and thirty-pound salmon. I closed my eyes and imagined myself in the picture holding up such a magnificent fish. Finally, the man got off the phone.

“Hello, can I help you?” he asked.

“Yes, we were interested in a salmon charter this afternoon,” Dad replied.

“Oh, I sorry, the afternoon charters leave at 11:30 a.m.”

“What! Eleven-thirty. That’s not afternoon,” Dad complained.

“Well, I know it’s a little confusing but by the time we get out to the Salmon it’s afternoon,” the man said.

“You mean we can’t go fishing today,” I said.

“I afraid you can’t, Jake,” Mom responded with an air of relief. “You can go another time.”

“Crap! You promised, Dad.”

“Watch your language, son.”

“Let’s go, maybe we’ll find another place down the road,” Mom said.

To say I was disappointed would be an incredible understatement. I was crushed. All year I had looked forward to the adventure of reeling in a gigantic Salmon. I had often caught myself day dreaming about it and often bragged to my friends about the impending trip. When I got home I would be humiliated when I told all my friends I didn’t even get to go.

The mood in our little Nash Rambler was solemn as we drove out of Oregon toward Klammath, California which was near our next destination, the great Redwood Forests. Mom got out the AAA travel guide and began to read about the wonders of the Redwood Forest hoping to cheer me up, but I managed to ignore her preferring instead to sulk and feel sorry for myself. As we neared Klammath we crossed over a long bridge that traversed the Klammath River. As I looked out my window I saw hundreds of boats on the river and the banks were crowded with fisherman.

“Dad! Look at all those boats. What’s going on down there?”

Dad slowed down and peered down at the river crowded with thousands of fishermen.

“Dad, that man just pulled in a monster fish! You’ve got to stop.”

Dad reluctantly pulled over and we all got out to look at the mass of humanity beneath us.

“Gee Leon, I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Mom said.

“Dad, let’s go fishing here, everyone is catching something.”

Just then another car pulled up behind us and the passengers got out to look down at the activity below. The grey haired, unshaven man who emerged from the car smiled at us and said, “Quite a sight, isn’t it?”

“It sure is,” Dad replied. “What exactly is going on down there?”

“It’s the annual migration of salmon up the Klammath River to spawn. Every year thousands of fishermen line the banks to catch the salmon as they go up the river.”

“Looks pretty chaotic to me,” Dad said.

“That it is, but that’s part of the fun of it,” the man said.

“Come on Dad, let’s get down there before the fish quit biting.”

“Okay. Okay, I guess we can fish here for a while, but we don’t have any bait.”

“Ah, there’s a bait shop just half a mile down the road,” the man said.

Dad rolled his eyes, forced a smile and said, “Thanks.”

The excitement and anticipation that I had felt earlier that day had miraculously returned. I couldn’t wait to get my line in the water and feel the sudden tug of a salmon sinking his mouth into my hook. We got our bait and then drove down to the dirt road that followed the river to the ocean. With much difficulty, we found a parking place and then searched for a place amongst the crowd of fisherman to cast our lines.

“Look Dad! That man caught a giant one,” I said as I watched in amazement as he pulled in what must have been a fifteen-pound salmon.

“Be careful Jake, it’s going to be difficult keeping your line from getting tangled.”

“Okay, I will,” I said as I put the bait on my hook.

Dad threw out his line rather awkwardly into the swift running river and then waited for the Salmon to strike. Then I made a cast out toward an open spot in the river. The lead weight hit the water with a splash and instantaneously my pole began to bend as the line was yanked from my reel.

“Dad, I’ve got one!” I screamed as I struggled to keep from being pulled into the river. Dad grabbed my arm to help stabilize me while he held his rod in his left hand. I strained as I began to reel in the big fish when suddenly it turned and headed down stream under the lines of at least a dozen other fisherman. The fish then defiantly leaped out of the water and fell back entangling my line with that of several other fishermen. Chaos immediately ensued as we all tried to untangle our lines without losing my fish. It soon became impossible to turn my reel. Then suddenly my line went limp, the Salmon had escaped.

“Dad, I lost it! I can’t believe it. I had him.”

“I’m sorry Stan, we all saw it. It must have been a twenty pounder.”

“There’s too many people around here. Can’t you find us a place where there aren’t so many people?” I screamed in bitter disappointment.

“Well, let’s walk down toward the ocean. Maybe it’s not as crowded down there,” Dad said obviously feeling very sorry for me.

After Dad spent twenty minutes untangling my line, we walked toward the beach. The bounty of salmon being pulled onto the shore hadn’t stopped. I became more and more frustrated with every happy fisherman I observed showing off his catch. Unfortunately, the entire bank of the river was packed all the way to the ocean. Then I looked out onto the river and saw an abundance of small motor boats on the river.

“Dad, look at those people in boats don’t have any trouble getting their lines tangled. We should get a boat.”

“Jake, come on. Those people brought their own boats.”

“No, I think I saw a boat rental place by the bridge. Let’s go check it out, okay?”

Dad gave me a stern look but eventually said, “Okay, but we can’t afford to spend a lot of money on a boat.”

I smiled when Dad gave in and scampered up the riverbank toward the bridge. When we got to the small boat dock my spirits were quickly dampened as it appeared every boat was out. When Dad caught up to me I looked at him with great despair.

“It looks like you’re out of luck, Jake,” Dad said.

“Crap!” I replied.

Just then a young man emerged from the boat house and said, “Can I help you?”

“Well we wanted to rent a boat but it looks like you don’t have any left,” Dad replied.

“Yeah, it’s been a zoo around here today. We’ve got one due in about an hour and a half,” the young man said.

“No, that’ll be too late. We’ve got a way to go yet before we get to our campsite for the night.”

“Well, I am sorry,” he said.

“What’s that?” I said as I observed a small boat behind the boat house.

“That’s one of our boats but the engine isn’t working,” the young man replied.

“Do you have oars?” Dad inquired.

“Sure, but the river current is pretty strong, most people want an engine.”

“Oh, when I was a kid we lived on a lake and I used to row my sisters across the lake all the time. How much to rent that?”

“Two-fifty an hour.”

“Good, we’ll take that for a couple hours,” Dad said.

I was surprised to hear my Dad talk about his oarsmanship. He had never talked much about his childhood and I frankly had never thought much about it. I made a mental note to ask him about it later but for now the only thing on my mind were salmon.

We loaded up the boat, I carefully got in and Dad shoved us away from the dock. As Dad began to row we slowly made our way into the middle of the river. I immediately threw in my line and anxiously awaited another strike. On the bank of the river Mom was waving at us so I waved back. A few minutes later I looked for her but couldn’t find her. Then I realized we had drifted quite a way down the river in just a few minutes.

“Boy this river is running pretty fast, Dad.”

“I know, I’m rowing as fast as I can just to keep us from moving down stream.”

Suddenly I heard some fisherman yelling in the boat behind us. I turned and saw them bring in an enormous salmon.

“Look Dad, that’s a gigantic one!”

Dad smiled and kept on rowing. He looked tired and a bit preoccupied.

“You okay, Dad,” I said.

“Sure, just catch me a big fish.”

“I will, I can just feel it.”

Not five seconds later I felt a tap on my line and then my pole doubled over as a salmon nearly ripped my pole out of my hand.

“Dad! I’ve got one, it must be a whale.”

“Don’t let it get away this time,” Dad said as he momentarily stopped rowing.

The fisherman in the boats around us looked over at us with keen interest as I fought to reel in the big fish. Dad began to laugh in anticipation of the great catch. Then suddenly the Salmon went under the boat and I nearly fell overboard. Dad grabbed by belt to keep in the boat. The Salmon headed straight toward the ocean so Dad started rowing in the opposite direction trying to slow our acceleration downstream.

With the fish pulling us downstream together with the strong river current Dad was waging a losing battle. Before long Mom was just a speck on the horizon. For the first time, I began to worry about our predicament. Where were we headed and how would we get back?

Dad quit rowing in complete and utter despair. “It’s impossible with the current and that fish pulling us out to sea. We’ll have to cut the line.”

“Dad! We can’t let the fish get away,” I screamed in horror.

“We have to, it’s our only hope. I might be able to make some progress against the current if that fish isn’t pulling us.”

Dad proceeded to pull out his knife and cut my line. I gasped in utter despair as my line disappeared into the river. He immediately began rowing again but it was soon apparent the river was stronger than he was. I looked into the distance and for the first time could see the ocean. It was a magnificent sight to see the river meet the ocean waves. Then I noticed giant rocks where the river plunged into the ocean. My concern turned to alarm.

“Dad, look ahead, we’re going to crash into those rocks.”

“I know, I’m trying to steer us to the shore.”

Dad began to furiously row toward the shore but to no avail. We were now at the mercy of the river and our destiny was no longer in our hands. I tried to think of what we could possibly do avert disaster as I looked up at my worried father.

“Maybe we could swim to shore,” I suggested.

“No, we’d both end up drowned,” Dad said soberly.

“What are we going to do, Dad?”

“I don’t know. Just let me think.”

For several moments, we sat silently as the river began to flow faster and faster towards its final destination. The situation looked hopeless unless we could somehow steer our boat around the rocks and make our way to the beach. It wasn’t long, however, before we realized the rocks were the least of our problems.

In all my years in school there had never been a discussion about what happened when a great river finally flowed into the ocean. Had this topic have ever come up I would have scoffed at such a discussion as being a waste of time, but now suddenly I was getting a demonstration of what happens when two great forces of nature meet. As I looked ahead I saw a gigantic whirlpool that was about to consume us!

“Dad! What is that!?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life!”

“What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know, just hang on, son.”

Suddenly our tiny boat was pulled into the whirlpool and we began to spin wildly around and around, slowly descending into the deadly maelstrom.

What happened next was totally unexpected. As I appeared into the darkness below us, I saw the face of death. My life suddenly flashed in front of me. I thought I saw my great grandmother looking down at me from heaven. I felt my father clutch my shoulder as a silent gesture of his love. Then there was a shrieking noise that pierced the silence of our doom. Our boat was suddenly jolted and jerked out of the vortex by what seemed no less powerful than the mighty hand of the Lord. I looked up to see a big white boat had fixed a clamp on our bow and was tugging us up the river to safety. It was the United States Coast Guard to the rescue.

Needless to say, we didn’t do any more Salmon fishing that day. My father was totally humiliated by being towed past all the fisherman by the Coast Guard and then scolded for going out in the river in a row boat. My mother, once she had us back safe and sound, thought the whole affair was hysterical and couldn’t wait to return home to tell all her friends.

My Dad and I never went fishing again after that experience, but it didn’t matter. We had shared the ultimate fishing adventure and anything we might have done in the future would have been pale in comparison.

 

 

 

The fire was beginning to die, so I got up and put several more logs on it.

“I hope you kids are learning something from your Dad’s foolishness,” Amanda said.

“Foolishness,” I protested. “I just wanted to catch a salmon.”

“Didn’t it occur to you that you couldn’t row against the current of a river?”

“No. I hadn’t ever been on a river before and my Dad did all his rowing on lakes where there wasn’t a current.”

“So, did you ever catch a salmon?” Bart asked.

I shook my head. “Not on that trip, I am afraid.”

“Will you take us fishing on a river sometime?” Bart asked. “We haven’t ever fished on one.”

“No. I don’t think so. The Klamath River isn’t the only river in which I nearly died.”

“It isn’t?” Joel asked warily.

“No. There was the time my friend Steve and I fell off a railroad bridge traversing the Ventura River.”

“Oh, cool! Tell us that story, Dad,” Paul said.

 

 

 

 

4

Hobo Jungle

The Ventura County Fair was by far the extravaganza of the year for all of us kids. As summer came to a close and the school year was upon us, we couldn’t help but anticipate our most cherished holiday, Fair Day. Historically on the first Monday of October every year a huge parade marched down Main Street marking the commencement of the fair which lingered for fourteen glorious days.

The Fair Grounds were located on the Pacific Ocean directly south of the mouth of the Ventura River. The main Southern Pacific Railway line stretching from San Diego to Seattle abutted to the east. Two long train bridges spanned the Ventura River. Between the two bridges there was a grove of majestic Eucalyptus trees that provided temporary housing for the bums and hobos that rode the Southern Pacific freight trains up and down the California coast. We called it Hobo Jungle. The only way to get to Hobo Jungle from Ventura was over the railroad bridges.

The hobos were always a great curiosity to my friend Steve and me. On this particular weekend before the fair we were in the jungle exploring when we came across two hobos cooking their lunch over an open fire. We approached them curiously.

“Hello, what is that you’re cooking?” I asked.

“Lima beans,” the tall, muscular hobo replied.

“Oh, I hate lima beans.”

“Lima beans don’t taste so bad.”

“Is that all you’re going to eat?”

“We got a ham bone in there somewhere.”

“That’s it?”

“It will keep us alive another day,” he said.

“Would you like a ham sandwich?” I said. “My mother made it for me but I am not really hungry.”

The hobo’s eyes lit up and his mouth started to drool.

“That would be mighty nice of you now, lad.”

I grabbed by backpack and pulled out a brown paper bag and handed it to the taller of the two hobos.

“Here, take it. There’s some potato chips too.” I looked over at Steve and said, “Steve, give your lunch to his friend.”

Steve tucked his lunch under his arm and scowled at me. “But I am hungry.”

“It won’t hurt you to skip lunch. All these poor guys have are lima beans.”

Steve began to loosen his grip on his lunch and finally handed it over to the short, stout, red-headed hobo.

“Here. . . . It’s peanut butter and jelly.”

Steve and I watched them eat their unexpected bounty with great interest. The red-headed hobo stared at Steve’s bike while he savored the crunchy Skippy Peanut Butter and raspberry jelly sandwich.

“You like my new ten speed?” Steve asked.

The hobo nodded and kept on chewing. After about five minutes the hobos got on their feet, extinguished their fire, and began packing up their things.

“Thank you, boys, that was great,” the tall hobo said. “Who are you kids anyway?”

“I am Jake West and this is my friend Steve Reynolds,” I replied.

“Pleasure to meet you, boys. I am Sam and this is Red. Sorry we can’t stay to shoot the breeze but the 12:02 is due any minute.”

Up on the tracks a workman was busy throwing a switch. Sam and Red waited until he had left and then quickly climbed up to the top of the embankment. We could hear the shrill sound of a whistle blowing. The hobos waited next to the railroad tracks and positioned themselves to jump on board. After the orange and silver engine had rolled by, they looked for an open box car. Spotting one they ran alongside the train, hurled in their bed rolls, grabbed onto the car door and pulled themselves inside. As the train disappeared over the bridge, I wondered why men became hobos. What were they doing wandering from city to city anyway?

“Why did you have to give him my lunch?” Steve said.

“All Red had to eat was lima beans for godsakes!”

Steve shrugged, making it clear he didn’t care much about Red.

“I’m hungry,” he said. “Let’s go home.”

“You want to jump on the next train and go to Santa Barbara?” I asked.

“Are you crazy? We might get caught and thrown in jail.”

“Nobody ever seems to catch hobos? Why would they catch us?”

“They know where to hide and when to get off the train so they won’t get caught,” Steve noted.

“Wouldn’t it be cool to be a bum and travel all over the world, never having to do what your mom tells you?”

“Yeah. . . . That would be cool,” Steve replied nonchalantly. “But I wouldn’t want to eat lima beans every day.”

“Oh yeah, lima beams. . . . Yuk! We better get going, the fair opens at two and we don’t want to be late.”

We picked up our bikes and headed toward the railroad tracks. We climbed up the embankment and were out of breath by the time we reached the top. We looked both ways.

“Do you see anything coming?” I said.

“No.”

“Why don’t you put your ear on the track to be sure?”

“Okay,” Steve said as he bent down and laid his ear on the cold steel. “I don’t hear anything.”

“Okay, you go first,” I said. “I’ll be right behind you.”

Steve pulled his bike up onto the tracks and started crossing the railroad bridge. I followed close behind and peered up and down the tracks warily but saw nothing. The wheels of my bike bounced up and down over each railroad tie making travel across the bridge very slow. I looked up at the steel girders above my head and wondered how anyone could have built such an enormous structure. Steve stopped briefly to tie his shoe. While I waited for him, I leaned over the side of the bridge and watched the river slowly winding twenty feet below. As we reached the midpoint of the quarter-mile bridge I looked up at the signal light facing northbound trains. A chill darted down my spine as I noticed it was red. I looked down the track anxiously but saw nothing. Then I heard it. It was a soft and distant shriek at first but soon grew in intensity. Steve jerked his head up and gazed nervously down the tracks.

“Oh no! The train is coming,” I said. “Run for it!”

We both took off running across the bridge but it was difficult to get up much speed carrying our bikes.

“Ditch the bikes, we’ll never make if we don’t!” I yelled.

“But it’s my new ten speed,” Steve replied.

“It will be all right, just drop it by the rail.”

We both dropped our bikes and looked back toward Hobo Jungle. The train was on the bridge, just fifty yards behind us. We ran as fast as our bodies and the rugged tracks would allow, but the train was gaining quickly.

“Go out on the ledge! We’re not going to make it,” I said.

“What!” Steve said.

“The ledge. Come on. Go out on the ledge. Just hold on tight.”

I climbed over the railing putting my foot on a three-inch steel ledge that protruded outward. Steve followed my example but missed the slim ledge and nearly fell into the river. I grabbed him by his shirt and somehow managed to hold him until he could get a foothold. Almost immediately the bridge began to shake violently as the train rolled past.

Our bikes were immediately sucked up by the turbulence created by the engine and then slammed repeatedly into the railing. Steve gasped, then lost his footing again and was soon dangling from the rail by just one hand. I stuck out my left foot so he could grab it and keep from falling. He took a swipe at it but missed. In order to stretch it out another inch or two, I had to loosen my grip slightly. He took another swipe and connected with my sneaker. His weight was more than I expected. I tried to reestablish my grip, but it was to no avail. Suddenly the bridge shook with greater intensity as the heavy tank cars crossed overhead. The jolt caused Steve to lose his grip on the rail entirely and he fell grabbing my leg now with both hands. My fingers began to ache as I tried desperately to retain my grip. Suddenly the vibration stopped as the caboose rolled past, but it was too late, my fingers finally surrendered to the intense pain and we began to fall.

The moment between our separation from the bridge and the plunge into the Ventura River seemed like an eternity. I knew the water wasn’t that deep and wondered if we would survive the fall. As we saw the water rapidly approaching Steve and I screamed in unison. Steve hit the water first and sunk deep into the river. Then I felt the cold river fluid engulf my body. I sank quickly, plunging all the way to the bottom. Fortunately, the river’s soft sandy floor cushioned my fall and prevented any serious injury. For a moment, I hovered near the bottom, disoriented. Then instinctively I thrust my body upward searching for air. As I swam furiously toward the bright surface, I felt like I was being crushed by the vicious teeth of a steel vice. Just before I succumbed to unconsciousness, I reached the surface and sucked in a breath of precious air. After a moment of recovery, I looked around for Steve but saw nothing.

Panic overcame me as the seconds began to tick and Steve was nowhere to be seen. Knowing he must be somewhere close by, I decided I should dive down and search for him. Suddenly from behind I heard the sound of splashing water and frantic coughing. It was Steve. I quickly swam over to assist him as he struggled to remain afloat.

“Calm down Steve!” I said as I put my arm around his waist to steady him. “You’re going to be okay.”

“Get me out of here,” he said as he put a choke hold around my neck. We both began to sink as I struggled to get free. His arm was like a noose around my neck cutting off my oxygen. No matter how hard I fought, it couldn’t be budged. My left foot felt the sandy river bottom. Instinctively I thrust us back up towards the surface. We emerged from the water long enough to get one quick breath of air before we descended one more time toward the river bottom.

Finally, I broke his tenacious grip, flipped around behind him and pulled him to the surface. As he exuberantly inhaled the cool air he began to relax and I slowly eased him to shore.

“It’s not that far to shore. You’re a good swimmer, Steve. . . . Come on, help me out.”

After a while Steve began to swim on his own and before long we made it to the riverbank. We pulled ourselves onto the shore and collapsed into the sand’s soft embrace. For several minutes, we didn’t move but just inhaled the cool ocean breeze waiting for our heads to clear. Steve suddenly jumped to his feet.

“My bike!” he yelled. “I’ve got to find my bike.”

I reluctantly got up. “Okay, let’s go see if we can find it.”

We climbed out of the river bed and up onto the railroad bridge. It was a long strenuous climb that made us appreciate how far we had fallen. We looked both ways again for oncoming trains and then, seeing none, walked over to where we had left our bikes.

“Oh no! My bike is wrecked,” Steve said.

“You’re kidding?” I replied.

Steve pointed to the twisted pieces of metal that just moments earlier had been a beautiful new Schwinn Ten Speed.

“Look at this. Now what are we going to do? My mom is going to kill me.”

I walked across the train tracks to where I had left my bike. Unfortunately, it was in no better condition than Steve’s.

“We’re going to have to ditch them,” I said.

“What?” Steve replied.

“We will have to throw them off the bridge and then tell our parents they were stolen.”

Steve glared at me in dismay but said nothing.

“Well, do you want to tell your parents what really happened?”

“I guess not.”

“Okay then, we’ve got no choice.”

I grabbed my bike and threw it into the river. Reluctantly Steve picked up his bike and dropped it gingerly off the side of the bridge too and then peered over the railing and watched it sink into oblivion.

“We can’t tell our parents our bikes were stolen until tonight,” I said.

Steve frowned. “Why?”

“Because they’ll come get us immediately and we won’t be able to go to the fair.”

“You think so?”

“Oh yeah. My mom will freak out when she finds out someone stole my bike. She will want to call the cops and contact our insurance agent for sure. We definitely have to break the news to them later.”

Steve thought a moment, then shrugged and said, “Okay.”

“Come on then, let’s go into the restroom and get some towels to dry off.”

“But I’m soaked, paper towels won’t help.”

“Well, they’ll have to do. We can’t go home and change clothes now, it’s nearly two o’clock and the fair is about to start.”

After we dried ourselves as best we could, we headed for the entrance to the Fair Grounds. There was a large crowd gathered around waiting for the gates to open. When two o’clock arrived, the mayor cut a large ceremonial-ribbon and the Ventura County Fair was officially opened.

As we always did, we headed first to the midway to ride the giant roller coaster, the hammer and Ferris Wheel. Then it was to the arcade to test our skill with a baseball, darts and the Kentucky Derby. Finally, we strolled through the Exhibition Hall to see the marvels of modern technology that were always on display. This year what everyone was talking about was the Univac Computer. It was an incredible machine that could manipulate numbers and information so fast it staggered the imagination. The one at the fair this year was programmed to analyze handwriting and predict the future.

“Let’s get our handwriting analyzed,” Steve said.

“Okay, how much does it cost?”

“Twenty-five cents.”

“All right, lead the way.”

Steve muscled his way through the crowd until he stood before the large Univac Computer. A man dressed in a dark suit with glasses was just finishing his explanation to the crowd of the marvels of the machine. “And this machine will truly revolutionize your life in the very near future!” he concluded.

The man looked down at us, smiled and said, “Hi, boys.”

“Hi, we’d like to find out our futures,” I said.

“Okay, step right up. Here are two computer cards. Each of you just sign your name on the dotted line and I’ll run them through the computer.”

He handed us two long cards each about the size of an envelope. There were many holes punched throughout the cards. We both wrote our names carefully and handed the cards back to the man. He put the cards into a machine and began typing on a keyboard. The machine punched additional holes in the cards.

“Okay, here we go,” the man said as he placed the two cards on top of a stack of similar cards and deposited them into the computer. The computer began to whine and lights began flashing wildly. After a few moments, the large printer attached to the computer came to life and printed out its analysis. The operator tore off the two printouts and handed them to each of us. Steve began to read his.

You are patient, kind and loyal,

A better friend no one could be,

Standing always as a beacon,

Providing light so all may see.

“It writes poetry, can you believe it?” I said

“What does yours say?”

“Let me see.”

Struggling in a hostile world,

Pursuing your destiny,

You will stand resolute against adversity,

Undaunted.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Steve asked.

“I don’t know. It sounds like a bunch of garbage to me.”

“What I wanted to know was whether or not I was going to be a millionaire,” Steve said shaking his head.

I nodded in full agreement. “Yeah, I was hoping to find out if I’d ever own a Corvette.”

“What a rip off, huh?”

“Yeah, really,” I said as I looked at my watch which fortunately was still ticking in spite of our unscheduled bath in the Ventura River. “It’s getting late, I guess we better call somebody to get a ride home.”

“You can go ahead and call your mom,” Steve said.

“No, that’s all right. Why don’t you call your Dad?”

“Let’s flip for it.”

“Okay.”

I pulled a quarter from my pocket, tossed it in the air and said, “Call it.”

“Heads,” Steve replied.

The coin fell into my palm and I flipped it over onto my forearm. It was heads.

“Shoot,” I said. “Okay, let’s find a phone booth.”

We searched around the exhibition hall until finally we found a bank of phone booths. I took a dime out of my pocket, deposited it into the coin slot and dialed my number.

“We need a ride home, Mom,” I advised.

“What happened to your bikes?” she asked.

“They were stolen.”

“Stolen! Oh my God. Who would do such a thing?”

“I don’t know.”

“We need to call the police,” she said.

I took a deep breath. “Mom, just come and get us, okay?”

“Okay, I’ll be right there. Wait for me in front of the main gate.”

A half hour later Mom drove up in our Nash Rambler station wagon. We jumped in the car and were immediately hit with a lot of questions.

“Tell me what happened to your bikes?”

“They were stolen,” I repeated.

“Well, where did you leave them?”

“In the bike rack in front of the Fair Grounds.”

“Oh my, we will have to report it to the police tomorrow.”

“That won’t do any good Mom. They’ll never find them.”

“You never know. They just might,” she said sternly.

“Don’t call the police,” I pleaded. “It’s a waste of time.”

“We have to Jake, that is why we have police.”

“Mom, come on. . . . Please.”

“Jake, that’s enough. I don’t want to argue about it. . . . Now, how was the fair?”

I fell back into my seat defeated. “It was pretty good until we wasted fifty cents getting our handwriting analyzed by a computer.”

“Oh, you mean the Univac Computer. I read about it in the newspaper. What did it have to say?”

I pulled the fortune out of my pocket and began to read it.

Struggling in a hostile world,

pursuing your destiny,

you will stand resolute against adversity,

undaunted.

“Hmm. I guess that means getting what you want in life won’t be easy. But no matter how difficult it might be, you’re going to keep fighting until you get it.”

“How can the computer tell all that just from your handwriting?” I asked.

“I don’t know honey, but computers are supposed to be the wave of the future.”

The next day mom called the police and reported our bikes stolen. Officer Barnes paid a visit to our house and took our statement. Steve and I stuck by our story that our bikes had been stolen although we were feeling pretty guilty about it.

The next day Steve and I were sitting on our front porch when a black and white police car drove up. It was Officer Barnes.

“Hi boys. I’ve got good news for you.”

“What is it?” I replied.

“We caught the guys who stole your bikes.”

“What?” I said.

“We’ve arrested the guys who stole your bikes,” Officer Barnes repeated.

Steve and I looked at each other in sheer horror.

“How do you know they are the right ones?”

“A railroad switch operator out at Hobo Jungle saw them talking to you boys and eying your bikes. He told one of our officers who was out there investigating the theft.”

“But you didn’t catch them with the bikes, did you?”

“No, but that doesn’t make any difference. They’re just a couple of bums who would steal anything to make a buck. They have probably already sold them.”

“What’s going to happen to them?” I asked.

“They’ll probably get thirty days to six months in jail.”

“They’ll have to go to jail?”

“Yeah, is your mom home?”

“She is inside.”

About that time Mom walked out onto the porch wondering who we were talking to.

“Hello, Mrs. West. I just came by to tell you we have apprehended the men who stole your son’s bike.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” she said.

“We’ll need Jake and Steve to come to court tomorrow and identify them.”

“What?” I said.

“It will just take a few minutes. Nothing to worry about.”

“Okay, where should I bring them?” Mom asked.

“Just bring them to the Municipal Court at eleven-thirty.”

“Okay,” she said. “Thank you, Officer Barnes.”

Steve and I were sick after Officer Barnes left. We couldn’t believe what was happening to us. What were we going to do tomorrow when we faced Sam and Red? That night I couldn’t sleep. If I told mom what had really happened she’d never let me go to Hobo Jungle again. Or, worse yet, the judge might put us in jail for lying to the police. Oh my God! What was going to happen to us?

The next day I got up at dawn and ran over to Steve’s house. I knocked on his window and woke him up. He opened the window and stuck his head out. I told him to come out so we could talk.

“What are we going to do, Steve?”

“I don’t know. You’re the one who said we should ditch the bikes.”

“Listen, we’ve got to keep our stories straight. They’ll never convict Sam and Red since no one saw them take the bikes.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Don’t worry about it.”

At eleven o’clock, Mom picked us up from school and took us to the Municipal Court. We were scared to death as we walked in a courtroom for the first time in our lives. Sam and Red were sitting at a table directly in front of the judge. The trial was already in progress. The prosecutor was in the process of questioning a tough looking man with black hair and a mustache. When the judge saw us enter he interrupted the prosecutor and said, “All right boys, come on in and sit down.” We sat in the front row as directed and watched the prosecutor continue questioning the witness. When he was done he said, “Mr. West, will you please take the stand?”

Reluctantly I got up, walked to the witness stand and sat down. My hands were trembling so I tucked them underneath my legs so no one would see how nervous I was.

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?” the Judge asked.

I stood there staring at Sam and Red in a daze as the Judge spoke.

“Mr. West. Will you tell the truth?”

I looked over at the judge. “What? . . . Oh, yes, Sir.”

The judge looked at the prosecutor and said, “Okay, you may proceed.”

The prosecutor, a tall bald-headed man, began asking me questions.

“Mr. Turner, have you ever seen these two men?”

“Yes, Sir. We saw them down at Hobo Jungle on Saturday.”

“Did you have your bikes with you?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you talk to them?”

“Yes, sir. They were hungry so we gave them our lunch.”

“They ate your lunch?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What happened next?”

“The train came and they jumped into a boxcar.”

“Which direction was the train headed?”

“Toward Santa Barbara.”

“Did you see them at any time after you saw them in Hobo Jungle?”

“No.”

“Now did you have your bikes with you when you went to Hobo Jungle?”

“Yes, I had my three speed and Steve had a brand new ten speed.”

“A Schwinn, right?”

“Uh huh.”

“Where did you leave your bikes?”

“Ah, . . . well, . . . Ah. Out in front . . . you know, in the bike racks.”

“Did you chain them to one of the racks?”

“No, I didn’t have a lock with me.”

“They were gone when you got back?”

“Yes.”

“What time was that?”

“About six.”

“That’s all for this witness your honor,” the prosecutor said.

“You may stand down,” the judge said. “Call your next witness.”

“The prosecution calls Rodney Pelt.”

A bald-headed man in his forties took the stand.

“Mr. Pelt, how are you employed?”

“I am on the maintenance crew for the Southern Pacific Railroad at the Ventura maintenance yard.”

“Were you working last Saturday?”

“Yes.”

“Did you see either of the defendants that day?”

“Yes, I saw them in Hobo Jungle cooking their lunch. Those two youngsters were talking to them. Then, later on in the day I saw them near the fair grounds.”

“What were they doing?”

“They were acting rather suspicious.”

“How do you mean?”

“They were wandering around like they were searching for something.”

“Were they near the bike racks?”

“Yes.”

“Did you see them take the bikes?”

“No, but I saw them eyeing them earlier over at Hobo Jungle and they were hanging around the bike racks all afternoon.”

“Thank you. No further questions.”

“Okay, you may cross examine if you wish,” the judge said to Sam.

Sam and Red gave the judge a blank stare. After a minute of silence, the judge said, “Okay, the witness may stand down.”

The judge looked at Sam and Red and said, “What do you two have to say for yourselves?”

Sam stood up and said, “We didn’t take nothing judge. We were just looking for food. We always go to the fair cause there is always a lot of good stuff thrown away.”

“Do you have any witnesses?” the judge asked.

“No, I reckon not,” Sam said. “We always travel alone.”

“Does the prosecution have any questions of the defendants?” the judge asked.

“Yes, Your Honor, I would like to ask Red a few questions.”

“Proceed.”

“Now Red, you heard Mr. West testify earlier, is that right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you dispute anything he said?”

“No, sir.”

“He and his friend had their bikes with them, didn’t they?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Now, it is true you took a liking to the new ten speed, didn’t you?”

“It was a fine-looking bicycle, but I didn’t take it.”

“Didn’t you? You were hanging around the bike racks, weren’t you?”

“Yes, but we weren’t looking to take any bikes. We were just hungry and were hoping to get a handout.”

“Isn’t it true you had just eaten a nice lunch provided by Mr. West and Mr. Reynolds. You couldn’t have been that hungry.”

“Well. . . . Ah. . . . We were looking for something for supper.”

“You took the bikes and sold them, didn’t you?”

“No, Sir.”

“Come on, do you expect this court to believe you?”

“All right. I’ve heard enough,” the judge said. “Although no one actually saw you two take the bikes I think there is sufficient circumstantial evidence which forces me to find you guilty of this offense. Accordingly, I do find you guilty and sentence you both to ninety days in the county jail.”

Sam and Red looked at Steve and me with a cold stare. Suddenly my knees grew weak and I nearly collapsed. The bailiff walked toward Sam and Red and began to escort them out of the courtroom. I couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Wait, Your Honor. You can’t do this,” I said.

“What’s that son?” the judge said.

“Sam and Red didn’t do anything.”

“What do you mean?”

I glanced over at Mom and then back at Sam and Red.

“Our bikes weren’t stolen. The train ran over them and we didn’t want to get in trouble so we, . . . I made up the story about the bikes being stolen.”

“Oh my God!” Mom exclaimed.

The judge peered down at me from the bench and said, “Son it’s a very serious offense to make a false report to the police and lie under oath. You’re in big trouble, young man.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I told my mother not to call the police, but she wouldn’t listen.”

“She would have had you told her the truth.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

The Judge stared silently at me for a moment and then said, “Release the prisoners. Does the prosecution wish to bring charges against Mr. West and Mr. Reynolds?”

“Well, Your Honor, perjury is a class A misdemeanor punishable by a $2,000 fine and one year in jail . . . but, in view of their age and the circumstances, no, Your Honor.”

All right Mr. West, I am very disappointed in you and your friend’s behavior but I am greatly relieved that you couldn’t let innocent men go to jail. Therefore, I am going to overlook this incident this time but I don’t ever want to hear about you and your friend ever lying again.”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“We won’t” Steve said.

Steve and I were greatly relieved after the judge let us go. Mom wouldn’t let us near Hobo Jungle any more but it didn’t make any difference since Steve refused to cross the railroad bridge ever again anyway. Our parents wouldn’t replace our bikes, so Steve and I had to sell walnuts and mistletoe at Christmas to earn enough money for new ones. We didn’t mind; however, we were just glad this whole mess was over.

Over the next few weeks I thought a lot about my encounter with the criminal justice system and started thinking about becoming a lawyer. It seemed like judges and lawyers had lots of power and that appealed to me. I asked by Mom and Dad about it and they told me all they knew, but suggested I talk to Pamela Brown, one of my schoolmate’s mom. I had never realized that Mrs. Brown was a lawyer, she was just Tommy’s mom to me. Anyway, the next time I saw her I barraged her with questions.

“Mrs. Brown, what do lawyers do exactly?”

“Well they try to help people in trouble.”

“You mean like get people out of jail?”

“Well there are a lot of other ways people get in trouble.”

“Like what?”

“Family disputes, financial problems, business problems and lots of others.”

“What do you do?”

“I do family law.”

“Do you like being a lawyer?”

“Yes. I like to help people solve their problems.”

“Do lawyers make a lot of money?”

“Most of them do pretty well.”

“Is it hard to become a lawyer?”

“Yes, you’ve got to graduate from college and then go three more years to law school if you can get accepted.”

“Huh. I always thought I wanted to be a forest ranger until I found out they didn’t make much money. Now I’m not so sure. I don’t want to be poor like my parents.”

“Money isn’t everything.”

“Well whether you’re a forest ranger or a lawyer you’ve got to work hard, right?”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Well then if you’ve got to work your butt off anyway, why not get paid well for it. Yeah, I think I want to be a lawyer.”

“Well you’re definitely starting to think like one.”

 

 

 

“They should have put you two in jail and thrown away the key,” Amanda said. “It would have taught you a lesson.”

“Well, if my mother hadn’t overreacted we wouldn’t have had a problem, but you’re right, we shouldn’t have lied.”

“Did you really give the hobo your lunch?” Julie asked.

“Sure, they were always hungry, so we would bring them extra food whenever when we went to visit them.”

“Weren’t you scared?” Bart asked.

“No. Most of the hobos were really nice. I’m sure there were bad ones, but I never ran across any like that.”

“I can’t believe your mother was so lax. I always know where our kids are,” Amanda said.

“Well, when you grow up without a mother and with a father who is a drunk, you have to become pretty independent. So, I guess since she never had much supervision as a child, she didn’t think I needed it either.”

“What happened to her mother?” Julie asked.

“She died when my mother was very young. Actually, I could tell you a cool story about your grandmother.”

“Let’s hear it,” Bart said.

I laughed. “Okay. . . .”

 

 

5

Rescue at Goodsprings

 

When your grandmother, Sarah, was very young her mother died of diabetes. Your great grandfather, Tom Chavez, was a drifter and couldn’t take care of Sarah very well so she was passed back and forth between different relatives. She would live for a while in Portland, Oregon with her Grandmother, Jane, and then when Jane got tired of her she would be sent to one of several aunts and uncles. One summer when Sarah was about eight years old she was very excited. Her father had got remarried and they had a small home in Good Springs, Nevada. She had just received a letter from her father saying they had an extra room and they wanted her to come home to live with them.

Jane loved Sarah but she was very old and it was difficult taking care of an eight-year-old girl. She was glad that her son was finally settling down and taking responsibility for his daughter. Sarah was very happy to be leaving. She loved her grandmother, but she missed her father and longed to be with him. She was a little scared to meet her new stepmother. She prayed to God they would get along. Considering the life Sarah had lived, she was remarkably stable, a little sad, but very smart.

When the train pulled into Las Vegas, Sarah looked out the window with great anticipation. Her father was tall, lean and very muscular. It usually wasn’t hard to pick him out in a crowd. When the train came to a stop Sarah got her things together and got in line to get off the train. As she climbed down the stairs she looked around for her father but saw nothing. After a while she sat down on a bench to wait. It had been a long night so she was tired. Before long she laid down and fell asleep and began to dream.

She was playing hop-scotch on the sidewalk in front of a big house in the city. She looked toward the house and her mother was sitting in a rocking chair knitting. There was a rose garden in front of the house and the scent of the beautiful yellow roses permeated the air. As she was playing, a car drove up and parked in front of the house. The door opened and her well-dressed father jumped out and smiled at her. She dropped her chalk and ran over to him. He picked her up, swung her around and gave her a big hug. After he put her down her mother walked down the walkway towards them. Her mom and dad embraced and kissed passionately. Sarah was the happiest child on earth.

“Wake up Sarah, it’s time to go to your new home,” Tom said.

Sarah opened her eyes to see her father’s kind smile. “Daddy!” she said as she threw her arms around him.

“I’m sorry I was late, honey, but we got a flat tire on the way into town. I hope you weren’t scared.”

“I was a little bit. I thought maybe you’d forgotten me.”

Sarah starred at the woman standing behind her father. Tom seeing this said, “Oh, Sarah, this is your step mother, Agnus.”

“Hi Sarah, I am glad you made it here safely, now come along we’ve got a long trip back to Good Springs.”

Tom went inside the station, got Sarah’s luggage and loaded it onto the truck. It was a 1931 Ford that belonged to the Good Springs Mining Company and Tom felt very lucky to have the use of it. Several hours later they arrived at Sarah’s new home. It was a very small shack, sparsely decorated but quite adequate. Actually, for the first time in her life Sarah had her own room. When Sarah went to bed that night she felt good. She didn’t really know Agnus yet but so far, she seemed alright.

For the next several weeks Tom and Sarah did everything together. Tom showed her the mine, took her to the Colorado River, let her ride a mule around the mining camp whenever she wanted, but most of all just spent time with her and got reacquainted. After a while Sarah got tired of the competition and began to become jealous. She started to be abusive to Sarah and was constantly on her back about one thing or another.

One Friday night there was a church social scheduled. Sarah had been looking forward to going to the social all week. Friday afternoon she had been working on the dress she was going to wear when Agnus walked in.

“I thought I told you to mop the kitchen floor,” Agnus barked.

“I will in just a minute,” Sarah said.

Agnus walked over to Sarah and ripped the dress out of her hand causing it to tear down the middle. “Put that dress down and get in there and do your chores, girl!” Agnus screamed.

“Look what you did! You’re so mean! I hate you!” Sarah yelled.

Agnus’ face tightened and then she raised her hand and slapped Sarah across the face. “Don’t you talk to me like that little girl! I’ll take the belt to you. You’re a spoiled little brat!”

Sarah stormed out of the house and ran down the street. At first, she was going to run away but then she realized that would be exactly what Agnus would want. She loved her father and didn’t want anything or anybody to keep them apart. Somehow, she would have to just stay clear of Agnus. That night Agnus went to the social and Sarah stayed at home. Tom had to stay and watch the mine since everyone else was going to the social.

After dinner Agnus decided to go see her father at the mine. She walked out of town and down the road that led to the headquarters of Good Springs Mining Company. The camp was deserted except for an elderly security guard on duty near its entrance. He nodded at Sarah as she went by. He had seen her a hundred times before so he took little notice of her. Sarah began to wander around looking for her father. After searching all around she decided he must be in the mine. She grabbed a hard hat with a light and started down into the shaft. She was a little scared going down the metal stairs that led into the darkness of the mine, but she had been down there before with her father so she felt confident she wouldn’t have any trouble.

When she got to the bottom of the stairs she started walking down the short, narrow tunnel toward where the men usually worked. It was damp and she could hear water dripping down the walls beside her. She saw a big puddle of water that had accumulated behind the staircase. Before long she began to smell a strange odor and began to feel sick. Suddenly she heard a noise up ahead. It sounded like someone coughing. She knew it must be her father as everyone else had gone to the social. She picked up her pace toward the noise. She too began to cough as the gas became stronger and stronger. At times, she thought she was going to faint as she breathed in the toxic fumes.

Finally, she saw her father on the ground struggling to get up. She rushed over to him and helped him to his feet. Together they staggered back towards the mouth of the mine. Unfortunately, Sarah too was overcome by the poisonous gas and finally they both collapsed and lay silently on the earth near death. Suddenly there was a breath of fresh air from mouth of the mine. Sarah opened her eyes and looked at her father’s limp body. “No! she screamed. . . . I am not going to let you die.” She grabbed the rocks on the wall of the mine shaft and pulled herself up. Then she leaned over Tom’s body and began slapping his face.

“Wake up Daddy! Wake up!”

Tom struggled to open his eyes. He smiled faintly at seeing Sarah there over him. Then he realized what had happened and tried desperately to get up. Together, somehow, father and daughter started slowly making their way toward the light at the end of the mine shaft. Luckily for both of them the security guard came looking for Sarah. He was worried about her and feared she had entered the shaft.

“Sarah, you down there?” he yelled.

Sarah perked up at hearing his voice. “Yes, down here! We need help!”

Pete came down the metal stairs and carefully made his way towards Sarah’s voice. When he arrived, he began to gag at the stench of the poisonous gas.

“Let’s get the hell out of here. One spark and this place could blow.”

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“This methane gas could ignite at any minute and this place will be a fiery hell hole!”

The threesome picked up their pace and finally reached the metal stairs. By this time Sarah was too weak to make it up the stairs so Pete carried her up and then went down get Tom. When he got to the bottom of the mine he leaned over and tried to pull Tom over his shoulders. This was a real strain for a sixty-year-old man with a bad knee and lungs full of methane gas. Sarah looked on from above with great fear and anxiety.

As Pete slowly brought Tom up the stairs his heart began to beat faster and faster. He became dizzy and started to stumble. Sarah jumped up at seeing Pete’s distress and started to go down to help him but it was too late. Pete fell and he and Tom tumbled down the stairs. As they fell Pete lost his hard hat and it crashed against the steel stairwell creating a spark. Suddenly the mine exploded into a fiery inferno and Sarah had to quickly retreat to avoid the torrid flames.

A massive stream of black smoke began to flood out of the mine. Sarah screamed in terror and realized she had to do something fast. She looked around and saw the water tub used for the mules that worked in the mine. She ran over to it and jumped in, drenching her body. Then she grabbed two saddle blankets and held them under the water until they were saturated. After that she ran back into the mine, holding one of the wet blankets around her body. She quickly descended down the hot metal staircase. The smoke was so thick she could barely see. When she got to the bottom of the pit she saw Pete and Tom huddled against the side of the mine shaft in a pool of water. They were both unconscious, but somehow not seriously burned.

Sarah shook them and tried to pull them up, but she got no response. There was no way she was going to get them out of the mine so she wrapped one of the wet blankets around each of them and then ran back up the stairs to get help. Just as she cleared the mine there was another explosion. Fire shot out of the mouth of the mine high into the air and Sarah’s heart sank. “No!” she screamed as she fell to her knees and began to cry.

Just then she heard voices. She looked up and several men were approaching. “Sarah, what happened,” one of the men asked.

“Dad and Pete are at the bottom of the stairs! You’ve got to save them!”

The men began running toward the mine as fast as they could. They ran into a shack and came out with heavy coats and gas masks. Quickly they descended into the fiery pit. Sarah ran back to the mouth of the mine and waited anxiously. She couldn’t stand the thought of losing her father. He had to be alive. She knelt down and put her face in her hands and prayed.

After what seemed an eternity she heard a familiar voice.

“Sarah, are you all right?” Tom said.

She looked up and tears of joy began flowing down her cheeks.

“Daddy, you’re alive! Oh Daddy, I was so scared,” she said and then stood up and embraced her father.

“I know honey, so was I.”

“Oh Daddy, I love you.”

“I know, you’re a brave little girl. You saved my life.”

“I had too, I couldn’t live without you. Please don’t ever leave me, Daddy.”

“I won’t honey, never again.”

Sarah looked up and saw Agnus watching them. Then Agnus ran over and put her arms around Tom.

“You okay Tom”, she said.

“Yeah, thanks to Sarah.”

After that day Agnus treated Sarah a little better. She realized Sarah was there to stay and she couldn’t compete with Tom’s love for her. After a few years Tom and Agnus got a divorce and Sarah and Tom moved to Bakersfield where Tom became a short order cook. Agnus wasn’t the last stepmother Sarah had to put up with but she didn’t care as long as she was with her father.

 

 

 

“Your mother had a tough life,” Amanda said.

“Yes, she did,” I agreed. “Her father was a drunk. I only met him a couple of times. One of them was to get him out of jail.”

“Did your mother try to keep in touch?” Amanda asked.

“I guess, but he moved around so much it was hard to keep track of him. Usually we only got together when he called needing money.”

“Did you parents give him any?”

“My parents were poor. They didn’t have anything to give.”

“Daddy. Can we make some popcorn now?” Julie asked.

“You’ve toasted about a dozen marsh mellows already. Don’t you think that is enough?”

“No. Bart ate half of them.”

Amanda rolled her eyes. “I guess so. I think there is a Jiffy Pop in the cooler.”

“Goodie,” Julie said getting up and scampering to the back of the car where the cooler was stored.”

“I’ll pop it,” Bart said.

“No. It’s my turn,” Joel reminded him. “You did it last time.”

“He’s right,” I said. “You did it last time.”

Bart sighed heavily.

“Are there any bears around here, Daddy?” Paul asked.

“Probably. Why do you ask?”

“Because I thought I saw one when I went to the bathroom.”

“Really?”

“Yes. A bunch of kids were following it.”

“How long ago?” I asked.

“Just a few minutes.”

I stood up. “Well, let’s go take a look. . . . Are you coming, Amanda?”

“No. I’ll watch the fire. Don’t let the kids get too close.”

We all got up and started walking toward where Paul had seen the kids following a bear. Sure enough, we soon caught up with two dozen children following a brown bear going from one garbage can to the next. We joined the onlookers who were following about ten yards behind it. The bear stopped at a stand of three garbage cans. He lifted them up and dumped the contents onto the ground. Then he foraged through the garbage, eating some things and tossing aside the items that didn’t interest him.

After a few minutes, he moved on and the crowd of onlookers again took up the chase. Before long he came up to a campground where an old man was cooking something on the stove. The bear must have liked the smell because he headed straight for the pot that was sitting on a portable grille. When the old man saw the bear coming his eyes narrowed and he stiffened. Just when the bear was about to take a swipe at the big pot, the old man picked up two frying pans and began banging them together. The noise startled the bear and he stopped in his tracks. Then the man began screaming and banging the pots harder as he walked toward the bear.

Suddenly the bear turned around and started running toward the children. Everyone began to scream and scatter in every direction as the bear ran straight through the middle of them. I grabbed Julie’s hand and pulled her out of the path of the bear. Joel, Paul and Bart ran behind a pickup truck and took shelter. I started to laugh as the bear disappeared into the woods. Several other campers who had witnessed the melee were laughing too. I turned to one of them.

“I have never seen my kids run so fast.”

“Ours too,” a man said. “I think I better go find him before he gets lost.”

When we got back to camp we were all laughing. Amanda looked at us and frowned.

“What’s so funny?”

I told her and she shook her head in disgust. “That was so dangerous.”

“Not as dangerous as the time I tried to lure a bear to a garbage can with bacon.”

“Oh! Tell us that story, Daddy,” Bart said.

I drew in a big breath. “Okay, I had just gotten a new camera and I was determined to get a picture of a bear. Unfortunately, we hadn’t seen any during the day, so I decided to lure one into camp with a pound of bacon.”

“Oh, God help us!” Amanda said.

 

 

6

Shooting the Bear

 

It happened during my summer vacation in August 1959. We were headed up State Highway 97 near Ft. Klammath, Oregon. My Dad was driving our 1956 Nash Rambler that was loaded to the hilt with suitcases, camping gear, and all the other paraphernalia that one needs on a vacation. It was hot and my father had his eye on the temperature gauge as the Rambler was prone to overheat. My Mom, Kristina, was riding shotgun and handling navigation. My sister, Luci, was nestled in the front seat between Mom and Dad. My friend Steve and I were in the back seat planning our next adventure which would be at Crater Lake less than 30 miles ahead.

Our ultimate destination was Portland, Oregon where my great grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived. I liked visiting my Mom’s family but the adventures along the way were always by far the most fun. Crater Lake National Park was of particular interest because of the abundance of black bear. Bears had always fascinated me, and since I had taken up photography as a hobby, I was ready this time to record everything I saw on film. Steve hadn’t had much experience with bears so he was a little leery of some of my planned photo shoots.

“How much farther, Dad?” I asked.

“I think it’s about 25 miles but it’s all up hill so it will be pretty slow,” Dad replied.

“Do think the car will make it, Leon?” Mom asked.

“Oh yeah, we’re still a quarter inch from the red zone,” Dad said. “It will make it.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t have brought so much stuff. We’re pretty loaded down. Do you think it’s going to overheat before we get to Crater Lake?”

“Relax, we’ll make it,” Dad repeated with a note of irritation.

Mom wasn’t the worrying type so when she started asking Dad if we were going to make it, we knew things were not looking good.

“We just have too big a load for these steep grades. You know with you and me and the kids and all this camping gear it’s pretty tough for this little six-cylinder engine. But we’ll make it, don’t worry.”

Dad kept staring down at the temperature gauge which was making me nervous. I got a pencil and started calculating in my mind the weight we were carrying in the car. My Dad weighed about 185 lbs. and my mom, well, she had always been pretty big, maybe 250 lbs. Luci weighed maybe 115 lbs., Steve weighed probably 130 lbs. and I weighed 150 lbs.

“How much does our cargo weigh Dad?” I asked.

“I don’t know, maybe 250 lbs.” Dad said.

“Then we’re carrying a little over 1000 lbs.”

“Shoot! This baby will never make it with that kind of load.”

“Ted! What are we going to do?” Mom moaned.

“I don’t know but we’re already barely crawling up this grade. Damn! The temperature gauge is hitting the red zone.”

The car began to sputter and steam began to roll out from the seams in the hood. Dad pulled over to the side of the road. Mom jumped out of the car and just as soon as she hit the pavement and was free of the car it began to take off like a sprinter getting a second wind.

“Dad you’re leaving mom behind!” I yelled.

“Well, if I can just get to the top of this grade then I think we’ll be alright the rest of the way.”

“Dad, you left momma!” Luci screamed.

“It’ll be alright Luci, she’ll meet us at the top of the hill.”

Luci began to cry and Steve and I just looked at each other. “Jake, stick your head out of the window and tell Mom to meet us at the top of the hill.”

“Okay.” I said and quickly rolled down the window. I stuck my head out the window and saw Mom standing by the road looking rather bewildered. “Mom. Meet us at the top of the hill!” I screamed.

Mom began to walk slowly up the hill looking rather disgusted. Soon she had disappeared behind us.

“Dad! I can’t see Mom anymore!” Luci screeched.

“It’s alright, honey. We are almost at the top of the grade.”

When we reached the summit, Dad pulled over and put up the hood to allow the engine to cool down.

“Jake, you and Steve hike down and escort your mom up here. Take some water, she’ll probably be pretty thirsty.”

“Can I go?” Luci asked.

“No, you stay here with me. There’s no use all of you going.”

Steve and I started hiking down the grade toward where we had left Mom. It was very hot and I began to worry if she was going to be okay. Pretty soon we spotted her slowly making her way up the road. We began to jog toward her and finally began running full speed. With the help of gravity, we quickly reached her.

“Mom, are you okay,” I asked.

“Yes, but I can’t believe your father left me behind.”

“Well, I think he had to, so the car would make it to the top of mountain.”

“Yeah, well just wait until I give him a piece of my mind!”

Mom was pretty upset and I was afraid of the conflict that was sure to erupt when we got to the top of the mountain. Mom and Dad didn’t fight too much and if they did it was usually over money. I didn’t like it when they fought, so I tried to smooth things over as we climbed toward the summit.

“You got to admit Mom it was kind of funny what happened.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well the car was dying and just as soon as you got out it took off like a rat out of a burning barn.”

“Jake! Are you insinuating that your Mother is fat.”

“Well, pleasantly plump and I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

“Hmm…I guess it was kind of funny wasn’t it,” Mom agreed.

“Yeah, but it scared Luci. She cried.”

“Did she?” Mom replied. “Well I guess somebody loves me.”

“We all love you Mom.”

We didn’t have any trouble with the car the rest of the way to Crater Lake. Mom told Dad she would never forgive him for leaving her on the side of the road the way he did and she was seriously considering calling the family attorney to arrange for a divorce when we got home. Dad responded with a detailed analysis of how much trouble we would have been in if we hadn’t of made it to the top of the summit. He said he was sorry, but he had no other choice.

That night at dinner over the campfire we all had a big laugh about the incident and it was soon forgotten. After dinner Dad informed us we were going to the Park Headquarters for a lecture on Crater Lake. These lectures put on by the National Park Service were usually pretty good, so we were anxious to go. We arrived at Headquarters at 6:50 p.m. and took our seats. Precisely at 7 p.m. a Ranger showed up and started the lecture. He talked about the history of the U.S. Park Service, the facilities that were available in the Park and escorted hikes that were available. The lecture really got interesting when he began to discuss the American Black Bears that frequented the Park.

“Now I want to warn you about the many bears that you will be seeing at Crater Lake. I know the bears look nice and cuddly but remember that with one strike of their powerful front paw they can kill even large animals such as cattle or deer. One of the problems with bears is they do not fear man. You will see them stroll right into your camp searching for food. It’s very important that you do not feed them as they are very short tempered and if they think you have food they will come after you,” the Ranger warned.

“The black bear you will see around here aren’t actually very black. They are actually a more cinnamon color. They weigh 200 to 300 lbs. and are about five feet long. They look much larger because of their thick long fur. These bears are fierce fighters and they are very strong. If they are pursuing prey they can run up to 25 miles per hour and they are great tree climbers. Don’t think you can get away from them by climbing a tree as they are much better at it than you’ll ever be,” the Ranger said.

“I am not trying to scare you. I just want you to be careful around the bears. Most of the time they are pretty even tempered and would rather run than fight. If you just keep your distance and don’t provoke them you’ll be fine. Thank you all for coming tonight if there are questions I’ll be here for about ten more minutes so feel free to stay and ask any questions.”

After the program Mom, Dad and Luci went back to camp but Steve and I stayed to ask the Ranger some questions.

“Sir. What should you do if a bear attacks you?” Steve asked.

“There isn’t a lot you can do. If you run they will think you are prey and they will pursue you. Like I said before, you shouldn’t climb a tree because they’ll be all over you before you know what happened,” the Ranger replied.

“What about a gun or a knife?” Steve persisted.

“No guns are allowed in the Park and a knife will have little impact on the bear other than to make him raging mad.”

“What do you do then?” Steve persisted.

“The best thing to do when confronted by a bear is to be perfectly still. If you have any food throw it far away from you. Bears have a strong sense of smell but don’t see so good. They’ll follow the smell of food, so be sure you don’t carry any around with you. If you don’t have food and the bear doesn’t run away like he will usually do, then I’ve been told if you pick up a large stick and hold it above your head he will think you are a much larger animal than he is and possibly retreat.”

“Possibly?” I asked.

“I don’t know anyone who actually used that technique successfully but I’ve been told that sometimes it works. You see a bear doesn’t have the ability to distinguish a man from an animal, so they will instinctively retreat from what they perceive to be a larger animal or one that is not their usual prey.”

“Has anyone ever been killed by a bear here at Crater Lake?” I asked.

“Oh yes. Just last year two campers were killed over a pound of bacon they were trying to feed to a bear,” The Ranger noted.

“Holy smoke,” Steve said.

“Well, it has been nice talking to you boys but I’ve got to go now,” the Ranger said. “Have a good time here at Crater Lake.”

“Okay, we will,” I said.

When the Ranger had gone we left the Park Headquarters and started to wander back to camp.

“It doesn’t sound like we want to mess with the bears.” Steve said.

“Oh don’t let the Ranger scare you. I’ve seen lots of bears and they never hurt anyone,” I replied.

“I don’t know, you heard what he said about the two campers that were killed last year.”

“I think he was just trying to scare us. All the bears around here are pretty tame. They’ve seen so many campers they don’t give them a second thought. The only thing the bears are interest in is food.”

“So, when do you think we will see a bear?” Steve asked.

“We’re going to see one tonight,” I replied.

“Tonight?”

“Yeah, and I am going to take his picture.”

“Take his picture?”

“Yeah.”

“How are going to do that?”

“I’ll show you tonight when we go to bed.”

After we got to camp my Dad had a campfire raging so we all sat around the fire and talked. I always loved it when we had a campfire as it seemed to make everyone feel good. We always had great conversations, told jokes and even sang a song or two. Tonight, was no exception as we talked well past midnight. Finally, Dad said it was time to go to bed so we doused the fire and Steve and I got our sleeping bags and backpacks and started looking for a place to sleep.

“Where are you boys going to sleep tonight?” Mom said.

“We’re going to sleep under the stars,” I replied.

“You’re not going to set up a tent?” Mom asked.

“No. We have to be mobile tonight.”

“Mobile?”

“Yeah. We’ve got to be ready to move in a hurry when the bears come.”

“What bears?”

“You know the bears that come at night and raid the trash cans. I am going to get a picture.”

“Oh, well be careful honey,” Mom said.

“I will. Good night.”

“Good night.”

Steve and I picked up our gear and started walking toward the road where the trash cans were located.

“Are you sure the bears will come tonight?” Steve said.

“Positive.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because I am going to lure them over to the trash cans.”

“How are you going to manage that?”

“Bacon.”

“Wait a minute. Wasn’t bacon what got those two campers killed?”

“We’re not going to hold the bacon. We’re just going to use it as bait.”

“Bait?”

“Yeah, the bears will be coming into camp tonight to rummage through the trash cans. We’re going to sleep right next to them so we will be sure to hear the bears when they come.”

“How are you going to take the bear’s picture in the dark?”

“Flash. I’ve got my flash attachment all ready.”

“Huh. Let’s not sleep too close to the trash can.”

“Just close enough to be sure we are awakened when the bears come.”

“What if they trip over us?”

“They’re not going to trip over us. Come on don’t be a chicken.”

“I am not…I just don’t want any stupid bear walking over me.”

We took our gear and walked over to the nearest trash can. It was about twenty yards from our camp and was situated next to the gravel road that wandered in and around the many campsites.

“This looks like a good spot,” I said. “These trees will protect us from any bears accidentally tripping over us on their way to the trash cans. I’ll just stack some tin cans on top of the trash can and then open up the bacon and set it next to them so we will be sure to hear the bears when they grab the bacon and knock over the cans.”

“Okay,” Steve said warily.

“Now all I have to do is get my camera ready and put in a flash cube so I’ll be ready when the bears come.”

“Are you going to go to sleep?” Steve asked.

“Yeah, the cans crashing to the road will wake us up, don’t worry.”

“Okay. Goodnight,” Steve said, and then scooted way down into his sleeping bag.

“Goodnight.”

I placed my camera and flashlight in my backpack right next to me so they would be ready when I needed them. I went to sleep. Several hours later I was rudely awakened by the sound of tin cans crashing to the ground. I jumped up quickly and grabbed my camera and flashlight. It was dark but with the flashlight I could see a bear leaning over the trash can enjoying the pound of bacon I had left for him.”

“Steve, get up,” I whispered, but he didn’t stir. “Steve, wake up.”

“What?” Steve muttered.

“A bear is here.”

“What? A bear?”

“Yeah, the bait worked. Come on I am going to go take his picture.”

Steve slowly got out of bed and followed behind me as I moved toward the bear. When the bear finished the bacon, he began rummaging through the trash. As I grew closer the bear either didn’t see me or didn’t care that I was approaching him as he continued his search without looking up. I began to worry that my picture wouldn’t be too spectacular if the bear didn’t take his head out of the trash can and look towards me. I decided I needed to make some noise so the bear would hear me and look toward the camera.

“Hey black bear!” I yelled. “Look this way.”

The bear didn’t budge from his position deep inside the trash can, so I yelled a little louder.”

“Come on, big boy! Look up and smile for the camera!”

The bear took his head out of the trash can to see what all the commotion was about. I closed in to about ten feet, centered the picture, and tripped the shutter. The flash exploded in the bears face and he seemed stunned momentarily. I sat motionless watching him as he slowly regained his eyesight.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Steve whispered.

“Okay, but wait a minute,” I replied.

I shone my flashlight toward the bear to see what he was doing. When I spotted him, he was walking slowly toward me.

“He’s coming after us. Let’s get out of here,” Steve demanded.

Slowly backing up I replied, “Okay. . .your right . . . let’s make a run for it.”

Steve and I began to move quickly back toward camp. The bear began to chase us. The faster we went the faster the bear pursued us. We looked back and the bear was only ten yards behind us and gaining quickly.

“Where can we go!?” Steve screamed.

“I don’t know…we can’t out run him and we can’t climb a tree,” I said.

“How about the restroom?”

“Good idea.”

We sprinted toward the public restroom, ran inside and locked the door.

“That was close,” Steve said as he gulped for air.

“Too close,” I said, my heart pounding like a Las Vegas heavy weight.

Just then the bear smacked the door with his powerful paw creating a deafening sound that echoed through the concrete structure. “Oh no! He’s trying to come in,” Steve screamed.

“I don’t understand why he’s chasing us,” I said. “I’ve never seen a bear chase anyone before.”

Steve began to sniff the air. He moved toward me and took a deep breath near my hands.

“It’s you. You smell like a pound of bacon!”

“What?”

“You didn’t wash your hands after you took the bacon out of the wrapper and put it on the trash can,” Steve noted.

“Oh no! The bear thinks we’re food.”

The bear continued to strike the door with his massive paws. Suddenly the small metal lock sprung open and the bear stood in the doorway glaring at us.

“Oh crap!” Steve said. “Now what are we going to do?”

“Should I wash my hands?” I said, trying to remain calm.

Steve shook his head. “It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”

The bear began to move cautiously toward us sniffing the air as he walked. We pushed ourselves hard against the concrete wall like maybe it would give way and let us escape. It didn’t.

“Look over there!” I said. “It’s a mop and a bucket.”

“So,” Steve replied.

“Remember what the Ranger said?”

“What?”

There wasn’t time to explain. “I am going to get the mop.”

Slowly, I walked over to the corner of the bathroom and picked up the mop and threw the bucket to Steve. The bear looked at us curiously.

“What’s this for?”

“Stick it on your head. It will make you look eight feet tall. I’m going to hold up this mop so that black little mamma will think I’m Bigfoot.”

Steve held the bucket high over his head as I swung the mop menacingly back and forth. The bear stopped and seemed confused. Then, much to my surprise, Steve let out a gut-wrenching wolf howl that scared the shit out of me and the bear. The bear quickly turned and ran out the door.

“Darn! Where did you learn to howl like that?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never done that before. it just happened.”

I laughed. “Well I’ve suspected it all along, you’re a werewolf.”

“Shoot, you found out,” Steve said. “So, do you think he’s gone?”

“Yeah, I think he’s long gone after you scared the bacon out of him.”

“Good, let’s go back to camp.”

The next morning Dad was up at the crack of dawn, as usual, and Mom soon joined him to make breakfast. When breakfast was ready Mom woke us up. “Come on boys, breakfast is ready.” We reluctantly climbed out of our sleeping bags and sat down next to the campfire.

“Well Jake, did you get a picture of the bear last night.” Mom asked.

“Yeah, we sure did and it’s going to be a great picture.”

“How did the bear react to his picture being taken? You didn’t have any problems, did you?”

I looked at Steve and stifled a laugh. “Oh no. No problems.”

 

 

 

“Will you take us to Crater Lake, Dad?” Joel said. “It sounds like a cool place.”

“Oh, It is! It was formed in the crater of a volcano and is very deep, almost 2,000 ft. Its depth and clear water give it an intensely blue color.

“There is an ancient legend of the Klamath people that tells of two Chiefs, Llao of the Below World and Skell of the Above World, pitted in a battle which ended up in the destruction of Llao’s home, Mt. Mazama. The battle culminated in the eruption of Mt. Mazama and the creation of Crater Lake.”

“Awesome. You have to take us there, Dad,” Paul urged.

“It is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The winters there are spectacular too. Did you know they get more snow there than almost any place in the world?”

“Really?” Bart replied.

I nodded. “Yes, over 500” per year.”

“Is the fishing any good?” Joel asked.

“I don’t know. Steve and I rented a rowboat and did some fishing but we didn’t catch anything. Even so, there is lots of good fishing in the rivers and streams in that area.”

Amanda yawned. “Okay, we’ve got to get up early tomorrow, so one last marshmallow and then it’s time to go to bed.”

“No!” Julie moaned. “Tell another story, Daddy.”

“Your Dad is out of stories,” Amanda replied.

“Well, actually there was the time I got run over by a truck on my paper route,” I advised.

Amanda sighed.

“Oh! Tell us that one, Daddy,” Julie urged excitedly.

 

 

7

The Dichondra Dilemma

It was a brisk Saturday morning and I had been loafing around with Sheila trying to recover from another trying week of school. It was almost summer and I was hoping somehow, I could suffer through just four more weeks until vacation.

“Jake, it’s time to do your paper route,” Mom said.

“Okay, I’m leaving in a minute.”

Despite a lazy streak common with most teenagers, I was fairly industrious and my paper route was just one of my money-making ventures. Since my parents were not wealthy, I had to earn anything I wanted to spend. Consequently, I sold all-occasion cards, walnuts, mistletoe, and kept up a half dozen of the neighbor’s yards.

I hopped on my bike and took off to the pickup point. The papers weren’t there yet, so I lingered around and shot the breeze with some of the other paper boys who were standing around waiting. After a few minutes two girls walked by on their way home from the shopping center down the street. One was a gorgeous blond with blue eyes but kind of sassy looking. The other one was pretty brunette with big brown eyes and a petite figure. We all smiled at them as they approached, hoping they would stop and strike up a conversation, but they were oblivious to us and walked right by. I had seen these girls at school but I didn’t know their names. I asked the guys if they knew who they were and was advised the blond was Roberta and brunette was Melissa. Pretty soon a big flatbed truck showed up and dumped our papers off.

I immediately started folding them and packing by bags so I could deliver them. After they were folded I loaded them up and took off. Five points was the intersection of four major city streets in Ventura and California Highway 101. Almost all traffic in the city went through it making it a most dangerous intersection. My route started on Walnut Street, a half block south.

As I rode down the street throwing my newspapers, I noticed the two girls I had seen earlier standing by one of their front porches talking. I couldn’t help but look over at them. Roberta looked at me as I went by and said, “Why don’t you take a picture.”

I stopped, somewhat startled by the question, and gave her an annoyed smile. “Oh, I’m sorry, I just have a hard time keeping my eyes off of cute girls.”

I thought flattery might get me somewhere but I was sorely mistaken. After a short pause, she shook her head and said, “Just mind your own business and leave us alone.”

“Well, excuse me. Here’s your paper,” I said as I threw it directly at her. She ducked and it landed in the bushes behind her. She turned and gave me a angry look. As I rode off I noticed her friend Melissa smiling.

After I finished my route, I folded up my bags, secured them behind my seat and started home. To get home I had to cross the street just south of the Five Points intersection. As I approached it, I was distracted by the thought of Melissa’s smile. I proceeded across the street and almost made it safely when I heard the sound of screeching tires. I looked to my left and a pickup truck was headed right at me. Before I could do anything, I felt the angry jolt of the pickup’s bumper. Starting to fall I extended my hand to break my fall. When my hand hit the pavement the heel of my hand split open.

Suddenly, I was sprawled out on the highway moaning in pain. The first thing I remember is feeling my heart beating hard and my hand pulsating. A bit embarrassed, I rolled over and tried to stand up. Much to my shock I felt someone grab my arm and help me up. When I got up I was shocked to see it was Melissa.

“Are you alright?” Melissa asked.

I dusted myself off and then shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“I saw you get hit, it was horrible.”

The driver of the truck ran up and gasped, “God, I am so sorry. I never even saw you. I’ll call an ambulance.”

After a few minutes, the ambulance came and took me to the hospital. My parents were already there when I arrived and were very concerned. After an initial examination, the doctor determined I needed stitches and told my parents. A few minutes later he put thirteen of them in my hand. While he was noting what he’d done on my chart, I thought of Melissa. Had I really seen her after the accident or had it been a dream? I wasn’t sure.

The next Monday was a real problem since my hand was wrapped heavily in bandages and it was rather difficult to write or carry anything. As I was leaving my first period history class I hit my arm against someone and dropped all of my books. Bending down to pick them up I heard a sweet voice.

“Let me help you,” Melissa said as she bent down to help.

“Melissa? Is that really you?” I said.

“Yes,” she replied seeming amused by the question.

“I wasn’t dreaming the other day, then?”

“You mean when you got hit by that truck?”

“Yeah.”

“No. You weren’t dreaming. It was me. I saw you get hit and rushed over to see if you were alright. Then the ambulance came and took you away.”

I stood up and fumbled with my load of books. “If you’ll help me realign these books, I think I’ll be okay.”

“Sure,” she said as she began rearranging them for me. “How are you feeling?”

At that moment, I was feeling pretty good looking into Melissa’s big brown eyes but I couldn’t tell her that. “Oh, not so bad. It looks worse than it is.”

“Well, I hope you get well soon.”

“Thanks,” I said flashing a big smile.

“See you later,” she said and walked away.

After that I saw Melissa several times a day at school and always stopped a minute to talk to her if she was out when I came by delivering papers. When the school year was over, however, she went away for the summer and I really missed seeing her. My had heeled nicely over next few weeks, and before long, I forgot all about the injury. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my only injury that summer.

The first Saturday after school let out Sheila and I were sound asleep about 10 a.m. one morning when our slumber was abruptly interrupted by my father’s piercing voice. “Jake, some help me out front.” Sheila perked up and went to my bedroom door obviously anxious to go outside.

We had just moved for the fourth time in two years. Moving was something I really dreaded, but was even worse was the inevitable task of putting in a new yard. My dad had a vision that someday he was going to have the perfect Dichondra lawn. It was going to be the talk of the town and the envy of all our neighbors.

The task always began with Dad renting a rototiller and spending innumerable hours turning the hard, smooth ground into a massive pile of brick-like clods. Then he would call upon me to somehow break them up with a rake and smooth out the dirt into a fine bed ready for seeding.

“You got the tilling all done, I said.

“Yes, I’m ready for you to rake it and get it ready for seeding,” Dad said.

“Great,” I groaned.

Sheila ran out into the yard and sniffed the new turned earth. I wished somehow, I could harness her energy to help me with the task but I knew, unfortunately, that wasn’t possible. I went into the garage and got a rake and began banging of the clods trying to break them into small chunks. Hour after hour I worked until finally Mom granted me a break for lunch. Sheila and I went inside and sat down. Mom had cooked up hot dogs, beans and potato salad and her and Dad were already eating.

“How’s the job coming,” Mom asked.

“Pretty good,” I replied unenthusiastically. “I wish I were done, though.”

“I hope you’re going to be done soon, Jake, we’ve got to go buy the steer manure soon,” Dad said.

“I should be done pretty soon, maybe an hour or so,” I replied.

“Good. Let me know when you are finished.”

The second phase of putting in a dynamite Dichondra lawn was spreading the clover and Dichondra seed and then covering it with steer manure. Dad explained that the clover grew quickly and would protect the Dichondra until it matured, but would eventually choke out the clover. The steer manure would generate heat for germination, provide needed nutrients for the seedlings as well as protect them from hungry birds.

“Do, I have to help you spread the cow shit,” I asked.

“Jake! Watch your mouth. It’s steer manure.”

“It still stinks, no matter what you call it.”

My father shook his head angrily. “Anyway. Yes, I’ll need you to dump it into the spreader so I can roll it.”

After I finished raking, I informed Dad I was done and he and I jumped into the front seat of the station wagon.

“Can Sheila come,” I asked.

“I guess. Put her in the back seat.”

Sheila eagerly climbed in and sat down with her mouth open anxiously awaiting our departure. We drove toward downtown Ventura until we came to the Sears store near Five Points. We stopped and purchased twenty-five bags of weed less steer manure and placed them neatly in the far back of the station wagon.

This brings me to phase three of the task of putting in gorgeous new Dichondra Lawn. Immediately after spreading the steer manure you then put a fence around it so dogs and children wouldn’t run through it. Dad tried every type of barrier imaginable from kite string to chicken wire but nothing was ever very effective. Invariably when he would come home there would be foot prints across the lawn, large divots and the fence would have been broken down. After Dad stopped yelling and screaming at everyone in the world for sabotaging his lawn, he’d spend half of every evening repairing the damage while cursing under his breath.

After loading up the station wagon we took off for home. Traffic was very heavy along Highway 101 and Dad was driving very intently as he usually did. As we approached a light signal not two blocks from Sears, I noticed two police cars next to an old Ford pickup. The police were in the process of arresting the driver for something. I looked over at my father excitedly.

“Look Dad, the cops are arresting that guy!”

As Dad looked over in the direction of the police car, the car in front of us stopped suddenly. By the time Dad slammed on the breaks it was too late. The force of impact jolted me forward and I crashed into the windshield. Then I felt Sheila’s body slam into the back of my head causing me to hit the windshield a second time. She began scrambling round frantically as a bag of steer shit smacked me in the head knocking me into the windshield a third time. Sheila was whimpering by now and digging her paws into my back trying to get out of the car. Several of the bags of steer manure had ruptured and the contents pouring over me. The stench made me gag.

“Jake! Are you alright,” Dad screamed.

“No. I think I’m bleeding,” I replied.

I felt my forehead and discovered a deep cut. Blood was dripping from my face. Suddenly, the door opened and a policeman appeared. A name tag advised he was Sgt. Baker.

“You alright?” Sgt Baker asked.

“I think so,” I lied. “Just smashed up a bit.”

“You sure did. It looks like you will need stitches. Here’s a handkerchief. Apply some pressure to stop the bleeding.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Sir, are you alright?” Sgt. Baker asked my father.

“Yes. I am fine. I had the steering wheel to hang on to.”

“Shall I call an ambulance,” Sgt. Baker asked.

“No. I don’t think so,” Dad replied. “Jake, you’re okay, aren’t you?”

“I think so,” I said tentatively.

By this time Sheila had jumped out of the car and was roaming around aimlessly.

“I hope Sheila isn’t hurt,” I said. “Sheila, come here!”

Sheila look up seeming confused.

“Come girl. You okay?”

“I think she will be okay. She is just a little bit dazed,” Sgt. Baker said. “You may want to take her to the vet just as a precaution.”

“She will be fine,” Dad said.

After we were all out of the car, Sgt. Baker looked inside to survey the damage. “God, it stinks in here. What in the blazes were you carrying in hear?”

“Steer manure. We are putting in a new lawn.”

“Boy, I don’t envy you in having to clean up this mess,” Sgt. Baker said laughing.

The next day my nose had swollen to twice its normal size and both eyes turned black. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to explain what happened to all my friends at school. I didn’t want them to know I’d been hit by a flying dog and buried in cow poo.

I knew I would see my friends who lived next door first, so I decided to concoct a less embarrassing story to explain my desperate condition. I went outside and where Bradley was changing a tire on his bike.

“Hi, Bradley,” I said.

Bradley look up and gasped, “Holy Moses! What happened to you?”

“Ah . . . well . . . ah . . . I was thrown off a horse and rolled off a cliff.

“What?” Bradley said, eyes wide. “When did this happened.”

“Yesterday.”

“Where were you horseback riding?”

“Ah . . . Up in Ojai . . . you know . . . up where they have stables and stuff.”

“I saw you outside yesterday breaking up rock.”

“Well, we went late in the afternoon,” I lied.

“How did you fall down a cliff?”

“Oh. . . . well . . . my horse got spooked by a . . . ah . . . snake . . . yeah . . . a snake and then took off running. The horse was running fast and I was holding on for dear life when suddenly the horse sees he is coming to a cliff, so he stops suddenly. . . . But I didn’t stop. I just went sailing off over the cliff.”

Bradley’s mouth fell open and he tried to speak but nothing came out. Finally, he said, “Does it hurt?”

“Nah, unless I touch it our move too suddenly.”

“Do you get to stay home the rest of the year?”

“No. Mom won’t let me.”

“Too bad.”

“But maybe I won’t have to water the stupid lawn. I’m so sick of doing that.”

This leads me to explain phase four of growing an award winning Dichondra lawn. After the seeds have been sown and a secure barrier has been placed around the lawn to protect it, then you must water it five times a day so it never gets dry. Because if it gets dry, even for one minute, all the seedlings will wither and die. This meant dragging out the hose before school every day, immediately after I got home from school, before dinner, and before I went to bed. I guess I was lucky my mother didn’t make come home at lunch to water it, so she wouldn’t have to do it.

Before long hundreds upon hundreds of sprouts of Dichondra and Clover popped up and intermingled with thousands upon thousands of weeds. One day when Dad was admiring his new lawn coming up I asked him something had been bothering me. “Dad. If it is weed less steer manure why do we have a million weeds coming up?”

“Those weeds that are coming up were already there,” he assured me. “The steer manure just helped them germinate.”

“Isn’t there a way to kill them before we plant?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I don’t know of any?”

The reason I asked this question was Phase Five of growing a luscious Dichondra lawn was pulling out all the weeds. This required hours upon hours of carefully picking out each weed, being careful to get them by the roots so they wouldn’t grow back and not disturbing the clover or Dichondra. I detested this job so much just thinking about it made me scream. It was an impossible task as you couldn’t step or kneel in the grass because you’d crush the seedlings under you. I guess my Dad expected me to throw a rope over the telephone line that stretched over our house and hang upside down while I weeded. Since I could never get that plan to work I cheated and waded into the weed field kneeling, bending, stretching and gentle digging into the ground until by body ached so badly I couldn’t stand up.

 

 

 

“Your Dad was mean,” Julie observed.

“No. Hard work is good for you. It makes your body strong and you appreciate the things you have because you’ve worked so hard to get them.”

“I don’t think so,” Joel disagreed. “It’s better to hire someone to do the hard work.”

“Sure, if you have the money, but most people don’t, so they have to earn it. . . . You guys are lucky. There are four of you to divide up the chores around the house. I only had my sister.”

Amanda stood up and stretched. Bart looked at her anxiously.

“Tell us another story, Dad,” Bart said.

“I don’t know. We should probably go to bed.”

“No! No!” the kids yelled in unison.

I looked at them and shrugged. “Let me see. . . . Oh, there was the time I got bitten by a rattlesnake.”

Amanda rolled her eyes.

 

 

 

8

Devil’s Canyon

 

It all started in the Summer of 1961 when I was thirteen years old. I had gone to bed early anticipating a predawn departure for the Mojave Desert. I had no idea that the events of the next two days would radically affect my life for years to come.

Earthquakes were not uncommon in California, but they were rare enough to cause great excitement when they occurred. I knew that they could be dangerous to life and property, but somehow that didn’t bother me. In fact, the several small quakes that I had experienced in my short life seemed nothing more than a playful shake from Mother Nature. Whenever I heard of a report of an earthquake, I listened with great fascination and anticipation of the day I would next feel the ground shake beneath me.

It was 4:12 a.m. and the house was quiet as I was asleep in one of the two upstairs bedrooms. Suddenly I was awakened by the vibration of my bed and Sheila, my Collie, barking and growling at everything in the room that had begun to move. After rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I looked around the dark room. I noticed my lamp had been knocked over and a picture had fallen off the wall. Then the tremors intensified, jolting my bed so violently that I was thrown onto the floor. I got up unhurt, but I was dazed and rather confused. I tried to turn on the lights but nothing happened. From across the hall I heard my sister, Luci, crying. Then, suddenly there was another jolt which knocked me to my knees.

But just as abruptly as the earthquake had begun, it quit. From across the hall I heard my father talking to Luci and then the creaking floor as he made his way to my room. My door opened and a bright light blinded me.

“You okay, son?” Dad asked while shining his flashlight in my face.

“Yeah, I think so.

“That was quite an earthquake, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, wasn’t it cool?”

“Come on downstairs. Mom has a candle lit.”

I got up and went downstairs where the family was gathered around a candle flickering on the kitchen table. Watching fire, whether it was a blazing campfire or just a single candle, was always mesmerizing. I sat down and stared at the flame.

My mom put her arms around me and said, “You didn’t get hurt did you, Jake?”

“No,” I replied. “What happened to the lights?”

“The quake must have knocked out a substation,” Dad said.

My dad was an expert on electrical service as he used to work for the Edison Company as a meter reader when he first got out of college.

“Well, I guess we didn’t need an alarm clock today. Mother Nature must have wanted us to get an early start,” Dad said.

It was Saturday morning and, of course, Dad had planned another weekend excursion. I was particularly excited about this trip because we were going to the Mojave Desert. My dad had an old college friend, Walt Matthews, who was working at a borax mine in the desert and we were going to visit him. We had planned to leave at six a.m., so the earthquake actually got us on the road an hour early. We traveled in our blue Nash Rambler station wagon which was a roomy car but prone to having mechanical problems, especially overheating.

Ventura is about 60 miles north of LA so by ten a.m. we were passing through Palm Springs and then headed east into the desert. My dad had an excellent sense of direction and he could travel to any place on the earth as long as he had a map. In fact, our glove compartment was the depository of every map you would ever need in North America.

After a couple, more hours we came to a sign that read Whispering Ridge Construction Camp. It was a dirt road which Mom complained about, but didn’t faze Dad in the slightest. We turned down the road and soon came to a couple dozen trailers that were apparently used as the temporary homes for the crew’s families. Dad saw a group of men standing around a mailbox and stopped to ask if they knew where we could find Walt Matthews. One of the men pointed to a mobile home in the distance and we proceeded over to it.

Dad went up to the door and knocked while we waited in the car. After a minute, a tall, slim, partially bald-headed man stepped out and greeted us. “Leon West, you son of a gun. Good to see you!”

“Hi Walt. How have you been?”

“Great.”

“Who you got out in the car there with you?”

He walked over to the car and we got out to say hello. Dad introduced us.

“This is my wife, Kristina, my son, Jake, and my daughter, Luci. Jake’s eleven and Luci’s eight. Oh, and of course this is Jake’s dog, Sheila.

“Nice to meet all of you. Come on in and meet Martha.”

We entered the small single wide mobile home. A sofa, chair and TV were situated to the right, a small kitchen and dinette to the left and back beyond the kitchen was a door that presumably led to a bedroom. As we walked in, it was apparent Martha had been busy cooking. She looked up and smiled and then Walt introduced us.

“Martha, this is Leon, Kristina, Luci and Jake. We left Sheila outside.”

“Well tell her to come in.”

“Sheila’s a dog,” Walt laughed.

She shrugged. “Oh, well you can bring her in if you want. I hope you all are hungry. I’ve cooked up some hamburgers for lunch.”

“Oh, they smell so good,” Mom replied.

“I’m starving,” I said.

“Did you feel the quake this morning?” Mom asked.

“Yes, wasn’t it awful?” Martha replied.

“Ah, it was nothing,” Walt said. “I heard it was only 6.0 on the Richter scale. Wait until we get the big one.”

“Jake thought it was pretty big, didn’t you Jake?” Dad laughed. “I found him wandering around in the dark this morning in a daze.”

“Yeah! It knocked me out of bed.”

After lunch, the adults sat in the living room and talked for a while. I got bored and went outside to look around. This part of the desert was flat with lots of sage brush, yuccas and cacti. Off to the north was a rugged range of mountains and to the West about a half a mile was an enormous mass of red boulders, each ten to twenty feet in diameter. The boulders intrigued me and seemed to be inviting me to climb them. I knocked on the mobile home door and asked Mom if I could go rock climbing. She said no since we would be going soon. I was disappointed but didn’t say anything as I knew later that day, when we found a place to camp, I could do all the climbing that I wanted.

Walt invited us to stay for the afternoon but Dad looked at his watch and said, “We can’t stay any longer Walt, we need to find a place to camp tonight.”

“You know there is an old abandoned mining camp about forty-five miles from here in the Hackberry Mountains called Devil’s Canyon. It’s a beautiful spot that very few people know about,” Walt said.

“Oh really, that sounds interesting,” Dad replied.

“You’d probably enjoy exploring the old buildings around the camp,” Walt added.

“It sounds kind of desolate,” Mom said.

“It sounds perfect, let’s go,” Dad replied.

Walt had given Dad explicit instructions on how to get to Devil’s Canyon which he had followed meticulously, however, as the time passed it didn’t seem like we would ever get there. Mom said it was no wonder that no one ever came out to it, as it was impossible to find.

After a while we came to sign that read Hackberry Mountains State Park. Walt had said the road to Devil’s Canyon was three miles South of the state park, so Dad began watching his odometer. Sure, enough after three miles a dirt road took off to the east. We turned onto the road and before long were following a canyon which wandered through the mountains. Finally, we approached an old, worn out sign next to the road that read: Devil’s Canyon Mining Camp. As we pulled into the ghost town we went down what must have been Main Street many years earlier. There were a couple of hotels, some shops, a saloon, a café and a telegraph office. Most of the buildings were made of adobe since there was no wood in the desert. There were a few frame buildings apparently made from wood hauled in many miles from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the North. Just past the downtown area someone had built some picnic tables, so Dad pulled in next to them.

“This looks like a good place to camp,” Dad said.

“Can you believe this place?” Mom replied. “I’m glad we took Walt’s advice and decided to camp here.”

You’re glad we decided to take Walt’s advice?” Dad replied playfully.

“All right, I am glad you decided to take Walt’s advice,” Mom said.

“Thank you.”

While Mom and Dad were setting up camp, I decided to go explore the town. Luci insisted on tagging along. I protested but Mom gave me one of her dirty looks, so I reluctantly consented. As we walked down Main Street I could imagine the street full of people, horses and wagons going about their daily business. I noticed a sign hanging by one end which read, The Devil’s Canyon Hotel.

I decided to go inside and look around. Sheila bolted ahead and began sniffing all around while Luci followed closely behind me. The cobwebs were thick as I moved through the lobby so I gently moved them aside. The floor creaked with every step and I feared that it might collapse at any moment. Luci grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let it go. Straight ahead lay a long counter which must have been the front desk. To the left was a beautiful staircase leading upstairs. To my right was the entryway to what appeared to have been a restaurant or club. Even in its dilapidated state I could imagine how magnificent the hotel must have been.

After we finished exploring, I was hungry so I decided to go back to camp. On the way back, I noticed several buildings scattered in the distance. My curiosity was aroused, but not enough to overcome my hunger pains. Further explorations could wait. When we arrived, Mom had dinner almost ready.

“Well, how was the ghost town?” Mom said.

“Cool! You should see the Devil’s Canyon Hotel. It’s enormous.”

“I guess we’ll have to go see it after dinner,” Mom replied.

“Be careful, the floor is very weak and could collapse at any time.”

After dinner Mom and Dad cleaned up and got ready to go into town.

“Are you coming with us Jake?” Mom said.

I pointed east and said, “No. I’m going to go rock climbing and explore the buildings that I haven’t seen yet.”

“Mom, can I go with Jake?” Luci asked.

“No, you better come with us. I don’t want you climbing on those rocks.”

“Oh Mom,” Luci protested.

“Okay Jake. We’ll see you in a little while.”

It was about a half mile to the rocks and the first of the frame buildings. As Sheila and I approached it, I noticed its windows were still unbroken. I tried to look inside through one of them but couldn’t see much because it was so dusty and dirty. With my hand, I tried to clean a small segment of the window but the dirt was so thick it was no use. In desperation, I spat on my hand and was able to clean a small peek hole with my fingers. When I peered through the hole this time I was delighted to see what appeared to be a laboratory. There were three large tables with test tubes, Bunsen burners, flasks and bottles of chemicals. Five or six big barrels were set up against the wall. I tried the window to see if it would open but it wouldn’t. I tried the front door but it was securely latched. The excitement of my discovery overcame me and I succumbed to the urge to run and tell Dad. I raced toward town and as I got close enough for Dad to hear I yelled, “Dad! . . . Dad!”

Sheila barked and ran past me thinking I was playing with her.

After a minute Mom and Dad appeared from the telegraph office and Dad said, “What’s wrong?”

“Guess what? There’s a fantastic laboratory not too far from here.”

“A laboratory? How do you know?” Dad said.

“All of the equipment and stuff are still there.”

“Really, let’s go take a look.”

We hiked up to the building and Mom and Dad began to peer inside.

“See Dad, what did I tell you?”

“Well it’s kind of hard to see inside, but there is definitely still some kind of equipment in there. I’m surprised this building is in such good shape after all these years.”

“Do you think someone is still using this building, Honey?” Mom said.

“I seriously doubt it,” Dad replied.

My curiosity was about to overcome me so I walked over to the door of the building and twisted the handle again hoping it would open. Then I asked Dad the inevitable question. “Can we break in and see what’s inside?”

“Break in?” Dad said.

“That’s against the law,” Mom reminded us.

“Oh, no one is going to care. They’ve abandoned this place,” I said.

“No, your mother’s right, it wouldn’t be right to break in to the building.”

“Crap!” I yelled as I kicked the door in frustration.

As I turned to leave, the door began to creak and then swung open. Before anyone could stop me, I ran inside. As I entered the laboratory it was like going through a time tunnel. Everything in the room was just as it must have been when Devil’s Canyon was a bustling little town.

“Leon, look at this place,” Mom exclaimed.

“Unbelievable,” Dad replied. “This must have been an assayer’s lab.”

“Look here, a calendar,” Mom said. “It reads May 1921.”

“Can you imagine, no one has set foot in this place for nearly forty years?” Dad said.

“Dad, can we take all this stuff home with us?” I asked.

“No. We shouldn’t disturb it. It belongs to someone else.”

“Please Dad, can’t we just take one souvenir at least?”

“Well, I don’t know, what do you think, Honey?”

“A few things won’t be missed, I suppose,” Mom replied.

“I am taking this giant flask and these test tubes?” I said.

“What can I take Mom?” Luci asked.

“How about this pretty red bottle, Sweetheart.”

“Yeah that’s beautiful,” Luci said.

“I think I am going to take the calendar,” Mom advised.

“Look at this,” Dad said. “It’s some kind of log or diary.”

Dad began to turn the pages in the large grey book.

“It appears to be a daily log for the laboratory.”

“What does it say?” Mom asked.

“Well the last entry is August 23, 1921. Do you want to hear it?”

“Yeah Dad, read it to us,” I replied.

Dad began to read the last journal entry.”

 

“It’s been seven days since Devil’s Canyon felt God’s wrath as a colossal earthquake choked off the life blood of our camp, Crystal Springs. Our water supply is nearly gone and most of the town’s people have vanished. There is just a handful of us remaining and we must soon depart or surely perish. It sickens me to abandon the lab and all our hard work, but we don’t have water for the horses and we must let them go before they die. We will have to seal up the laboratory and come back for it another time.

Please Lord, have mercy on us poor sinners.”

“P.T. Wallace”

 

“Well, this is definitely the souvenir I’m taking with me,” Dad said.

We locked up the laboratory as best we could and took our souvenirs to the car. Mom carefully packed them away so they wouldn’t get damaged. When she was done she asked me to build a campfire so we could roast marshmallows. I gathered as much wood as I could find. There were no trees in this part of the desert, so I had to settle for dried Yucca and sagebrush as fuel for the fire. It was very dry and burned quite readily which meant it took a lot of it to keep the fire going. After the fire was blazing Luci got a coat hanger, stuck a marshmallow on the end and put it in the fire. Before long, the marshmallow became a flaming torch.

“Oh, Mom. My marshmallow is on fire!” Luci screamed.

“That’s all right Honey, I like mine burnt,” Mom replied with a forced smile.

“Yuk! How can you eat a burnt marshmallow?” I asked.

“I like mine golden brown.”

“They taste good burnt,” Mom said as she gave me a wink.

“It’s beautiful out here tonight with the stars so bright and such a nice fire, isn’t it?” Mom said.

“It sure is,” Dad replied.

“Well, tomorrow I am going to search this entire valley and see if there are any other neat places like the laboratory,” I said.

“You’ll need to get your hiking done by noon,” Dad advised. “We’ve got to get out of here early.”

“Okay, I’ll get up early.”

With that, I went and got my sleeping bag and air mattress and laid them out under the stars. Then I laid out a blanket next to me and Sheila immediately curled up on it. Dad doused the fire and then joined Mom and Luci who had pulled the seats back in the Rambler into a bed. Silence then overtook Devil’s Canyon Mining Camp, and we all slept.

At first light Dad was up making a fire and cooking breakfast. He couldn’t sleep past daylight for some mysterious reason, even on the weekends or on vacation. During the summer, I usually stayed in bed until noon and during the school year I got up fifteen minutes before school started. This particular morning, however, I arose just as soon as I heard Dad rummaging around. I was excited about the laboratory we had found and was curious to see what else Devil’s Canyon Mining Camp had in store. After breakfast Sheila and I took off toward town.

The day before I had seen a mass of boulders which looked great for climbing. I decided to go check them out first thing. I was wearing sneakers as they gave the best traction for this type of climbing. Hiking boots with leather soles would slip but rubber sneakers were great. I began my ascent up the rocks. The climbing was easy until I came to a large gap between two rocks. To reach the next rock would require a pretty long jump. After picturing in my mind how far I could jump, I decided I could do it. I backed up, got a running start and leaped successfully to the distant rock. Being quite proud of myself, I continued eagerly. Sheila whined and paced back and forth afraid to make the same jump. Finally, she found an alternate route and quickly caught up with me. After about fifteen minutes I had reached the highest elevation and could see the entire valley and mining camp below. It looked much smaller from this height. I waived at Mom and Dad but they didn’t notice me.

As I examined the landscape around Devil’s Canyon I noticed to the East what appeared to be a small gulch leading into the mountains. Something in the gulch was sparkling and I was curious to see what it was. I climbed down the giant rocks and advanced toward the sparkling object. As I neared it I realized what I had seen was the sunlight reflecting off some water trickling down toward the mining camp. This was strange since according to the diary there wasn’t supposed to be any water in Devil’s Canyon.

I decided to follow the water to its source. The area was barren with only a few plants scattered amongst the rocks. After walking a mile or two I came to a dead end. The trickling water was coming out beneath a large manmade pile of boulders about twenty feet wide and fifteen feet high. It appeared the only course of action to discover the source of the water was to climb to the summit. After a few minutes, I reached the top of the pile and was delighted to see on the opposite side a small pond. Off to my left I noticed a sign lying on its side. I walked over to it and saw it read, Crystal Springs.

In the middle of Crystal Springs, cool, clear water was bubbling up through the rocks beneath it in considerable quantities. As I stared at the pool of water it seemed to be gradually filling as if someone had just recently turned it on. Except for the trickle of water escaping from the foot of the boulders, which now I realized was a dam, none of the water was flowing from the pool. I sat on the rocks to ponder the situation. The earthquake must have opened up the spring just as it had closed it up forty years before. That would explain the diary entry from the laboratory. As I sat quietly enjoying the silence of the desert I wondered what it would have been like forty years ago. Unexpectedly my meditation was interrupted by a terrifying hissing sound. Sheila began to bark and growl incessantly.

My pulse quickened as I observed in my peripheral vision a rattlesnake to my right. I knew from my Boy Scout training not to move or make any noise but my instincts told me to run. I suddenly darted toward the water. Unfortunately, I tripped on a rock and fell down. The snake attacked swiftly with one vicious bite to my calf and then slithered off into the brush. Sheila took off after the snake. I yelled at her to come back but she was too preoccupied with her hunt to pay any attention to me. She chased the snake as it escaped toward the mountains. Suddenly, the snake stopped, coiled and struck Sheila in the abdomen. Sheila reacted by pouncing on the snake, sinking her teeth into its head and shaking it back and forth until it was dead. After killing the snake Sheila came over to me and began licking my face.

“No Sheila,” I moaned. “Oh my God!” I exclaimed as I grabbed my leg.

Panic overcame me as my worst nightmare had suddenly become reality. Snakes had always terrified me. Quickly I began to feel an intense pain around the area of the bite. I began to cry and moan as the pain intensified and began to spread. I knew then exactly what I had to do. Snake bite procedure had been covered many times in Scout meetings. Two small incisions across the bite would be required and then I would have to suck out the venom. This had always seemed like a kind of obscure and theoretical task. Never did I dream that I would ever actually have to do it.

I could feel the venom spreading and knew time was critical. Reaching into my jeans, I pulled out my knife. I opened the longest blade and stared at the bite which was quickly swelling. I knew I should make the cuts but I couldn’t force myself to do it. The knife quivered in my hand as I slowly forced myself to make the incisions. As it turned out, I hardly felt the sharp steel blade as the pain from the venom was so intense. Then I leaned down to suck out the blood, but couldn’t reach my calf. Again, and again I tried, but I couldn’t do it. I decided the best that I could do would be to squeeze as much blood out of my leg as I could. After a few minutes, I grew weak and passed out.

While I was unconscious I had a dream. I was sitting on a rock as I had been just before the snake attacked. Before me was Crystal Springs except it had swollen from a pool to a pond that now encompassed the entire basin. There were cottonwood trees and thick bunch grass around it and birds could be heard chirping. My attention was then attracted to the sound of laughter. I looked toward the noise and saw a pretty girl slowly through the water toward me. The woman had long, blond, silky hair and beautiful smile. When she reached me, she took me in her arms and kissed me.

The vision faded and I could hear faint voices in the distance.

“Got his legs?” yelled the paramedic to his partner as they lifted me onto the stretcher.

“Yes.”

“Okay, lift.”

They lifted me on the stretcher and began walking double time toward Devil’s Canyon to an awaiting ambulance.

“Is he going to be all right?” Mom said.

“Yes,” Dad replied. “The paramedics gave him some anti-venom.”

“Where’s Sheila?” Mom said.

“Sheila’s dead,” Dad replied.

I passed out again and didn’t wake up until the next day. When I opened my eyes, Mom was asleep in a chair beside me. Dad was at the window staring outside.

“Mom, where am I?” I murmured.

Mom looked up and uttered a great sigh of relief. “Jake! You’re awake.”

“What’s going on?” I said.

“You’re in the hospital honey. You were bitten by a snake.”

“A snake? I thought that was part of my dream.”

“No, I am afraid it wasn’t. There really was a snake and it nearly killed you.”

“What about the beautiful girl?”

Dad looked up and smiled. “The girl? Well now. I don’t about that. I guess that part must have been a dream.”

“Oh, shoot. Her kiss felt so good.”

“You were probably hallucinating with all that venom in you,” Dad said.

“Ah. . . . Ouch,” I screamed as I suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my leg. “Am I going to be okay Mom?”

“Yes, the doctor says you will be fine in a few days. You just need rest.”

“Good, what about Sheila? Is Sheila okay?”

“No, son. . . . I’m afraid Sheila is not all right. After you were bitten Sheila killed the snake and then ran back to camp to get help. As we spotted her coming toward us she began to limp and wobble. Before she made it back to camp, she collapsed. We searched for you in the general area from where she had come until we found you. When we got back to her, she was dead.”

“She’s dead? . . . Oh, no! I said. “She can’t be dead. Not Sheila.”

Mom took me in her arms and tried to console me. “She died saving your life, Honey, I am so sorry.”

 

 

 

I stood up and stretched. Then I started rearranging logs in the fire so they would fully burn.

“Your dog died saving your life?” Julie asked.

“Yes, she did,” I replied. “She was a great dog. I was crushed when I woke up and found out she was dead.”

“That is so sad?” Julie said.

I nodded. “I shouldn’t have run. I knew I was supposed to be perfectly still, but seeing that snake slithering by unnerved me. I panicked and took off running.”

“I would have run, too,” Bart said.

“Well, it was a mistake. Had I just stayed still, I probably wouldn’t have been bitten.”

“And Sheila wouldn’t have died,” Joel said.

“Maybe not, but she wasn’t on a leash, so I couldn’t have stopped her from chasing after the snake once she saw it.”

“Did you still have the skin of the snake Sheila killed?” Joel asked.

I laughed. “No, my parents didn’t bring it home. I’m sure the vultures got it.”

“That is too bad,” Joel said. “That would have been a neat souvenir.”

“I still have the flasks and the test tubes from the laboratory, though,” I said. “They are in a box somewhere in the attic.”

“Oh. Will you show them to us when we get home?” Bart asked.

“I will,” I said looking at my watch. “It is getting late. I think we should call it a night.”

“No. Tell us another story,” Julie said.

I shook my head. “No. That’s enough for one night,” I said as I stood up. “Who wants to put out the campfire?”

“I’ll do it,” Joel said.

“Good. . . . Alright, everyone else to bed!”

Joel picked up a bucket of water and threw it on the fire. There was a sizzling sound and a cloud of stream rose into the sky. Joel waited a minute and then spread out the ashes, so they wouldn’t start up again.

“Good job. Now hit the hay,” I said.

After all the children were in bed and fast asleep, I climbed in the tent where Amanda was waiting for me. She shook her head. “I can’t believe your mother let you get in so much trouble as a child.”

I laughed. “What do you mean, let me?”

“Taking pictures of bears, getting sucked into a whirlpool, and bitten by a snake. . . . “My Lord. I wouldn’t let things like that happen to my children.”

“Well, sometimes it is just fate and there is nothing you can do about it.”

“Yeah, right,” Amanda snickered.

 

9

Twister

 

The next day we had planned to drive 300 miles to Denver. It was a hot humid day and the sky was filled with fluffy, white cumulus nimbus clouds. Since we had such a long drive ahead I wanted to get everyone up at 7 a.m. to break camp so we could get on the road. Unfortunately, since our campfire the night before had gone on until the wee hours of the morning, I didn’t get much response when I tried to wake up the kids. I walked over to the tent and poked my head inside.

“Time to get up bums,” I said. “We’ve got to hit the road.”

There was no response so I tried again, “Come on your sleepy heads, get your buns out of bed!”

Joel lifted his head up and struck it out of his sleeping bag and muttered, “What time is it?”

“Seven o’clock,” I replied.

Joel fell back onto his pillow and said, “Wake me up at eleven.”

“No. . . . No, we’ve got a long way to go today, come on . . . get up.”

“Since there was no movement in the tent I got on my knees and climbed in, and began shaking Mark’s sleeping bag. “Alright, if you guys don’t get moving I’ll have to tickle you.”

“Don’t tickle me,” Bart pleaded. “I’m trying to sleep.”

“Get up! Come on. . .it’s getting late.”

Finally, everyone began to stir and slowly began to get up and get dressed. Suddenly I felt a heavy object on by back. “Ah . . . who is that?”

“I’m up, Daddy,” Julie said. “I’m ready to go.”

I stood up lifting Julie off the ground. “Well, I’m glad someone is alive this morning.”

“I’m hungry,” Bart said.

“There is a town not too far down the road., maybe it will have a McDonald’s.

Eventually I got everyone in the car and we hit the road. When we reached the next town, it turned out to be much smaller than I had imagined so the only place to get breakfast was a small donut shop. After breakfast, everyone settled in for the long drive. Before long I looked around and everyone was asleep. Luckily, I was on my second large cup of coffee and caffeine had flooded my system helping me to stay awake.

We were driving on an interstate so we were making good progress. As the morning progressed it became very warm and I turned on the air conditioner full blast. The sky was very black ahead and I had been hitting intermittent rain all morning. The terrain through which we were traveling was semi-arid with very little vegetation. The soil was red clay which was very beautiful and off to our right were the mighty Rocky Mountains.

After a few hours, my passengers began to wake up.

“What time is it,” Amanda asked.

“It’s almost noon. I thought you were going to sleep all day,” I replied.

“Well, if you wouldn’t keep us up all night with all your tall tales, I might be more awake in the morning.”

“Hey, your children are the ones who kept insisting I tell them one more story. Anyway, they are all true stories . . . more or less.”

Mark, who was in the far back of the van, sat up. “I’m hungry.”

“You are, huh? . . . Well, it’s almost lunch time,” Amanda said.

Pretty soon everyone had awakened so we stopped at a Wendy’s for lunch. Traveling with four children was expensive, so fast food restaurants were a necessity. No matter how reasonable the prices actually were, when you multiplied it by six it was always expensive. Since we were down to the last few days of our trip we were almost out of money and charged our credit cards to the limit.

After lunch, we made good time and three o’clock were just eighty miles from Denver. Since morning the intermittent rain had turned into some pretty heavy downpours and a couple of times we had slow down to a crawl in order to see the road. Traffic was heavy and the cloud cover was so dense it was dark enough that everyone had turned on their headlights.

“I don’t like this weather, Jake,” Amanda said.

“It’s no big deal. A little rain won’t hurt you.”

“I don’t see how you can see it is so dark.”

“That’s why I have my headlights on.”

“We’ve had such good weather the whole trip, I don’t know why it has to rain now.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter, we weren’t planning to stop anywhere.”

“How long until we get to Denver?” Amanda asked.

“A couple of hours.”

“Hey, Dad. It’s so dark I can’t read,” Joel complained. “Can I turn on my overhead light.”

“Sure, go ahead, as long we’re driving it won’t drain the battery.”

“Mommy. Look at the lightning up ahead,” Julie said.

“Wow! Isn’t that cool,” Bart added.

“Jake, it looks pretty bad,” Amanda said worriedly.

“There’s no way we can avoid this stuff. We’ll just have to drive until we get out of it. Stopping on the side of the road isn’t going to help and it would be dangerous with all this traffic.

Since the sky had darkened it was getting harder and harder to see the road ahead. A car in front of us began to slow down, so I got into the left lane to pass him. After a few minutes, I looked ahead down the road and saw the sky was very fuzzy and hazy ahead. I blinked my eyes trying to see exactly what was going on ahead. I noticed a big Ryder truck ahead and thought some poor fool is having to move in this bad weather. Just then the Ryder truck rose into the air, flipped over twice and rolled off the side of the road.

“What in the blazes! I said.

“What’s wrong?” Amanda asked.

“That big truck ahead just got blown off the road.”

“What! . . . Where?” Amanda asked urgently.

“Over there. See that Ryder Truck, it was traveling on the road ahead of us two seconds ago.”

“Dad, what happened? Joel said.

“I don’t know,” I said as I squinted to see better what was going on ahead.

“Oh, my God!”

“Jake, what is it!” Amanda exclaimed.

“There’s a tornado heading straight for us.”

“Daddy, what are we going to do?” Julie asked.

“Jake! What should we do?” Amanda echoed.

“Just sit tight. Let me think. Somebody get a camera.”

“Are you nuts!” Amanda screamed.

I ignored Amanda’s question as I was desperately searching for the appropriate course of action. I pulled the van over to the side of the road and stopped. The tornado continued on its path directly toward us ripping up and tossing everything in its path. I knew if we got out of the car we would be completely exposed to the elements. How could I protect Amanda and the kids if we abandoned the van and ran for it? But what if the van got flipped over like the Ryder truck. It didn’t seem like there was anything I could do.

“Jake! What are we going to do?”

“Just wait a minute, if it looks like it’s going to hit us we will have to make run for it.

“Daddy, I’m scared,” Julie said.

“It will be okay, sweetheart,” I promised.

By now all the traffic had stopped. Several people began to abandon their vehicles and run off the road into the desert. The van began to shake violently in the gale force winds that were now pelting it. I began to pray that God would somehow guide us through this perilous moment.

“I got a good picture of the tornado, Dad,” Joel said.

“Good, that will be something to show your children someday.”

“If we survive,” Amanda added.

Suddenly the occupants of the vehicles in front of us began to evacuate their cars a run for it. A couple of cars were blown up into the air and tossed several hundred yards away. I turned around and looked at our frightened children.

“Okay kids. Get by the door,” I said and pointed out into the darkness. “Now if I say go, open the door and run over to that creek bed over there. Julie, you wait for me. I’ll hold your hand. Mark, you hold Mom’s hand.”

I glanced back to check on the tornado and saw nothing but pure chaos. Debris was flying everywhere and then the van suddenly lifted off the ground and fell hard back to the ground. The kids screamed.

“Okay, run for it,” I ordered.

Joel threw open the side door and Amanda jumped out. I grabbed Julie and carried her in my arm closely behind Bart and Joel who were dashing for the ravine. I looked back and saw Amanda and Peter struggling against the vicious wind and driving rain. I stopped a moment to wait for them when a loose road sign blew over my head, nearly decapitating me. When Amanda finally made it I grabbed her hand and helped her and helped pull her and Bart into the ravine next to Jake and Joel.

“Lay down flat and cover your head!” I yelled.

For several moments, the roar of the tornado was deafening. We could hear cars and other debris from the tornado crashing to the ground around us. I wondered if the van would survive the tornado or we would return to find a twisted pile of junk. Amanda clinched my arm and began to sob. I could feel Julie’s terror as I held her tightly in my arms.

Suddenly the wind and rain stopped, the clouds lifted and for the first-time light began to filter through the clouds.

“O, thank God. It’s gone,” Amanda said.

“Are you kids okay,” I asked as I surveyed the family on the ground beside me.”

“I’m okay,” Joel said.

“Me to,” Bart said.

“I hope the van is okay.”

“I don’t know how we will get home if it isn’t,” Amanda said.

“I hope I paid our insurance policy before we left on the trip?” I said half-jokingly.

“Did you?” Amanda asked.

“I think so.”

“We climbed up the side of the ravine slowly. Debris was scattered everywhere. A lot of people were running around trying to figure out what had happened, several were crying. Several cars were turned on their side a hundred feet from the road. I diligently searched the roadway for the van but didn’t see it.

“Oh, no. Where is the van?” I moaned.

“Oh no. What are we going to do?”

“Shoot! I can’t believe we ran into a tornado. I mean, what are the odds?”

Joel and Bart ran ahead and yelled back. “Dad, there’s the van.”

I broke into a trot toward where they were standing. Out in the middle of the desert, a hundred yards off the road, was our van sitting squarely on four tires just as if someone had driven it out there. Joel and Bart ran out to it and climbed inside. A moment later they stuck their heads out and Joel reported everything was okay.

When I got to the van I noticed one side was smashed up pretty good. Apparently, it had landed on that side and then rolled upright. I got in and tried to start the engine, but nothing happened. I popped the hood and looked around and quickly discovered the problem. The battery had exploded and the battery cables were dangling loose in the engine. Everything else seemed to be okay.

Before long police cars and ambulances began to arrive. Luckily no one died and only a hand full of people were taken to the hospital. We had to have a tow truck pull us out of the mud and the van needed a few mechanical repairs, but other than that we were very lucky.

That night when were safe in our motel room in Denver, I asked the kids the inevitable question. “Well kids, you wanted some real adventure, right? So, how did we do today?”

“Totally cool,” Joel said.

“That was awesome,” Bart added.

“I can’t wait to show grandma the picture of the tornado,” Peter said.

“I hate tornados,” Julie noted.

“I don’t blame you, honey,” Amanda said. “They are very nasty.”

“Hey, before we go home why don’t we do some river rafting?” I said smiling at Amanda. “I saw a brochure out in the lobby.”

“Over my dead body!” Amanda replied curtly.

Other Works by

William Manchee

 

The Stan Turner Mysteries

 

Undaunted

Disillusioned

Brash Endeavor

Second Chair

Cash Call

Deadly Distractions

Black Monday

Cactus Island

Act Normal

Deadly Defiance

Deadly Dining

 

The Rich Coleman Novels

 

Death Pact

Plastic Gods

Other Works by

William Manchee

(continued)

 

Suspense Novels

 

Uncommon Thief

The Prime Minister’s Daughter

 

Non-Fiction

 

Go Broke, Die Rich

 

Science Fiction

 

Tarizon: The Liberator

Tarizon: Civil War

Tarizon: Conquest Earth

Shroud of Doom

Desert Swarm

 

 


The Adventures of Jake West

Jake West's father liked to travel and took Jake on many vacations all across America. Over the years Jake loved to tell his children about all of his wild and wonderful adventures on these trips. His children loved these stories and made him tell them over and over again. But they often complained that they hadn't experienced their own adventures and desperately wanted to do so. The Adventures of Jake West, Campfire Tales, is a collection of eight exciting and often amusing stories as well as a chronicle of the extraordinary events that took place on a trip Jake and his own children took to Yellowstone National Park. Step into the shoes of Jake West as he tangles with a black bear, is attacked by coyotes, tries to escape a deadly whirlpool, dines with hobos, and is forced to jump off a railroad bridge to escape being run over by a freight train.

  • Author: Top Publications, Ltd.
  • Published: 2017-07-26 00:50:14
  • Words: 32651
The Adventures of Jake West The Adventures of Jake West