Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Short Pickle

When we got to the point where we could see the end of the enlistment, we would call ourselves "Short"!! We would make comments like, "I'm so short, I tripped on a dime." And other such remarks like, "I'm so short, I'll only smoke cigars from now on. That way if I get out before I finish, I'll be celebrating!!" Or, "I'm so short, I can walk under the door without opening it."

A friend of mine found a pin shaped like a pickle with Heinz on it. He put it on his cap and called it his Short Pickle. When I was up in Iceland, I got a Marine fatigue cap. After getting the globe and anchor scrapped off the front of it, I started wearing it as my short hat.

This started several months before the scheduled discharge date. One day, we received notice that all short-timers were to report to the base theater the next morning. We all went there first thing in the morning. Finally someone got up on the stage and announced that anyone staying in until their normal discharge date for whatever reason can leave. A few fools got up and left. After they were out of the building, he announced that we were all getting out early, some would be out in a week, all of us would be gone in three weeks. This meant we would have to start processing out. First thing to do was get a physical to make sure you were well enough to get out of the military. I got very little sleep the night before I went for my physical and had to lay down and rest to get my blood pressure down enough to pass the physical.

I had things worked out for getting out, or so I thought. I had started doubling my car payments so I would have it paid off when I got out. When they moved up the date by another two months, (I got out about 4 months early because 'Tricky Dicky' cut the budget and they couldn't afford to pay me) it threw all that planning off. As a matter of fact, I was broke enough at the time that I had to borrow money to pay for items I had lost, like my blankets. The night before I got out, we were scrounging up all the loose change (which consisted mostly of pennies) in order to have enough money to buy something to eat that night.

And even tho we were super-short, we still got hassled. We had to go get haircuts before we could process out of the squadron (I could have used that money to eat). Looking back, I can see it was just another power trip on the part of the sergeant in the orderly room (make them get their hair cut so it'll take them longer to look like long-haired hippies).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bringing My Car Home

In the fall of the year that I was stationed on Cape Cod, I decided to go home on leave. I had a feeling that my grandfather had died (when my aunt wrote in a letter that he had left them his car, I had a hunch that he was dead!!), and I wanted to bring my car home because I had two vehicles and could only drive one at a time. At the time my enlistment had about 6 months to go (turned out to be less, but that's another post) and I thought I'd bring my car home and then drive the pickup home when I got out of the military.

I managed to get a leave OK'd because I had leave time accrued and I used the excuse that I wanted to go home to see if my grandfather had died. (Later I found out from my brother and others that they didn't notify me as they figured I wouldn't be able to get there for the funeral anyway. Hell, I could have gotten an emergency leave and flown home, and it would have been a break from the stupid military.) Anywho, I took off for home in Oct.

Most of the trip was uneventful, drove across Taxachusetts, and New York to Niagara Falls. Went across Ontario to Port Huron, MI. It was as I was heading toward the bridge that things started to get interesting. I seem to remember it was almost 100 miles south of the Mackinac Bridge that I ran into snow. My little Corvair had summer tires (back in the day of bias ply tires, you needed different tires for summer and winter, all-season tires started after they started making radial tires), but because the car was a rear-engined rear wheel drive, I figured as long as the snow didn't get too bad, I'd be OK. When I got to the bridge, it was icey, but I thought if I could get up to where the metal grating was, I would have enough traction to get over the top. Once I got over the top and was heading down, I thought, "Oh Shit, I got to stop at the toll booth!!" (Side Note: at the time the toll was $3.75 for cars and several years later the license plate fees were raised and the toll dropped to $1.50 for cars.) After the bridge, I had to go across the UP.

The Seney Stretch is 26 miles straight as an arrow through a swamp. Under good conditions it is tiresome. This time it was in the middle of the night and snowing hard. There was enough snow on the road that my car would slide all over when I had all the wheels on the pavement, so I drove with one set of wheels on the shoulder and one set on the pavement. Had to stop on the Seney Stretch to hack out the snow and ice built up in the front wheel wells as it was getting hard to steer. Every once in awhile I would see lights ahead and think I was almost to Seney and it would be an on-coming vehicle.

It was almost daylight by the time I got to Munising and the snowplows were out. Coming out of Munising there is a hill and the plow had scraped one stretch of pavement bare. My rear wheels were spinning coming up the hill and when I hit the bare patch, it almost stalled, but caught and continued up the hill. Several miles down the road, smoke started coming in the car through the heater vents (the car drew warm air from around the air cooled engine for the heater). I knew something was wrong, but there was nowhere to stop. When the idiot light for oil pressure came on, I pulled over on the shoulder. When I checked the oil, there wasn't any on the dipstick, but there was a lot of oil covering the engine. I hitch-hiked to the nearest gas station (I think it was the Laughing Whitefish Trading Post, a combination store, restaurant, and gas station). I got 3 qts of oil and hitched back to the car. I put in two and took off. Got almost to Marquette and put in the last qt. In Marquette I got a two gallon can of cheap oil. I put in a couple of qts. and drove to my cousin's house where I took a nap. Added more oil and drove to my brother's house.

While the car was parked at my brother's house, my nephew managed to break the shaft on the driver's side windshield wiper. Later we convoyed to the 'Ranch' (was an interesting drive as it was sloppy weather, sleeting, snowing and the wiper on the driver's side was missing) and parked the car there. All together it took 13 qts. of oil to go the last 100 or so miles. This was the second time my car broke down while on my way home, but both times was able to limp the cars home.

I then went to the bank where I had my car loan and notified them I was dropping the insurance because the car was parked as it broke down and then refinanced the loan (this was a last resort as I tried to get a personal loan at a local bank and was turned down because I was in the military) to have money to buy my plane ticket back to Cape Cod.

I was going to rebuild the engine after I got home from the military, but sometime after getting back home as a free man, I learned that my best friend from high school had crashed and burned in his Corvair. Decided against the rebuild but still have the car -- anyone want to buy a rusted hulk?????

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Upstate New York

All this attention to the election in the NY-23 district has reminded me of an enjoyable weekend that I spent in upstate New York and I can still remember parts of it. Some call anyplace out of NYC upstate, but this was really upstate and what I still think of as upstate, the Adirondacks.

A friend whose grandparents lived in upstate NY suggested that we go up there for the weekend. As I had a car, my little Corvair, we would drive up in it. We managed to talk our supervisor into letting us have a long weekend, 3 or 4 days, I forget which, by promising to bring back some fish.

Here is a picture of a '64 Corvair similar to the one I had at the time. This one is a little fancier than mine as my Corvair had plain wheels with dog dish hubcaps.

It was about an eight or ten hour drive from Cape Cod. We drove thru Lake Placid and Saranac Lake to where his grandparents lived. I think he called that place Paul Smith, NY. I know there was a college by the name near there.

Anywho, we did go fishing the next day. We put a rowboat on my car and launched it in a stream. Went upstream and hauled it over a beaver dam into a lake. We did manage to catch a few fish, but they were only hitting one lure. My friend caught a frog and was using that for bait with no luck. When he decided it wasn't working, and released the frog, it started swimming to shore. Just before it reached the shore, there was a big splash and it disappeared.

Another thing we did was some target practice. We had each brought a box of .22 cal. ammunition, which we used in a couple of single shot rifles. A couple of his cousins and their husbands were there also and they had at least 10 times as many .22 cartridges. They were blasting away and not hitting much, whereas we made sure most of our shots hit what we were aiming at. That is the point of target practice after all. Shooting to just burn powder doesn't make much sense.

At night we would go to bars and drink, most of that is fuzzy. One night we went to Rouses Point,NY which is up in the corner where NY, VT and Canada meet. Don't remember much other than that.

We did make it back in time, even tho we got lost in Boston (Damn One-Way Streets). Missed the exit for the Cape and I-90 ended in downtown Boston. When we spotted the Playboy Club, my friend said, "Now I know where we are." After getting our bearings, we got out of Boston and back to the base on the Cape without any more trouble.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oh Mighty Sun God

Watching Survivor Samoa last week reminded me of something that happened during the summer on Cape Cod. The contestants were complaining about all the rain they were getting. We didn't have rain like that on the Cape, but we did have a long stretch of days without sun, some rain, but mostly overcast and some days just so humid that the sun was just some indistinct blob in the sky.

Anywho, one day a friend of mine, as we were on our way to work said, "Oh Mighty Sun God what have we done wrong. We'll sacrifice a lifer." Still no sun, so on the following day he upped it to two lifers. Nada, and on the third day it was three lifers. Still Nada, so he upped to three lifers and a First Shirt (a senior NCO directly below the Commander in the chain of command). That day the sun came out and afterwards we always said that in order to get what you want you have to throw in a First Shirt as that was the clincher.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Good Eats, Not!!

The food in the chow halls was not very good. I may have gained ten pounds in basic, but that was only because I was eating three meals a day. Before I went in the military I was too busy partying and running around to eat regularly. Anywho, like I said the food in the chow halls wasn't very good and I ate a lot at the BX cafeteria and snack bars on base and had pizzas and other stuff off-base. After I made E-4 I was able to go on 'separate rats' (separate rations) which gave me about forty bucks (whatever they figured it cost for a months worth of meals in the chow hall) a month to eat on and meant if I were to eat at the chow hall, I would have to pay for the meal as I no longer had a meal pass. When I was at Dow Airplane Patch, I used to go for midnight chow fairly often. You had to get a pass from the CQ in the barracks and the chow hall started serving around 10 pm or 10:30 pm. It was basically breakfast and sometimes even the grits were good. Which meant I ate breakfast before going to bed and didn't bother eating in the morning before going to work. I could sleep later.

At K.I. I would go off-base to get pasties (rhymes with nasty, not hasty which would be a nipple covering and they are usually not edible).

As for the meals I ate at the BX, they were mostly hamburgers, chili dogs and other stuff on that order. I still remember the chili on the chili dogs as being super thick from sitting under the lights all day. On the weekends I would get a pizza or something off-base. That is basically how I survived while in the military. When I was at Otis on Cape Cod, I only ate one meal in the chow hall and that was while very hungover on Xmas day because no other place was open on that day. (And that was not the last time I had trouble finding a place to eat on Xmas day. While in Anniston, AL in the mid-80's I had the same problem.)

For my last meal at Otis, I was searching for any and all loose change to come up with enough money to get something at the snack bar because I was broke until I got my final paycheck the next morning along with my discharge.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Besides the truck and the car I bought for the drivetrain to put in the truck, I also bought a '54 Ford ragtop while stationed on Cape Cod. I had no intention of buying another vehicle, but I was made an offer I couldn't refuse. The guy that followed me from K.I. to Otis had bought a '54 ragtop in addition to the truck he had. Long story short, he got transferred and asked if I wanted the ragtop. I told him I had enough vehicles at the time. He said that he had just bought a new 6 volt battery for the car and would sell the car to me for what the battery cost. (I seem to remember it was only $5 or $10.) I really didn't need or want another car, but I bought it from him just to help him out as he was leaving. I think I fired it up a couple of times and even drove it with the top down once a few blocks on base, but mostly it sat outside of the Auto Hobby Shop on base.

This picture is of a restored car that I found on the intratubes, and not of the car I had.

The car I had was drivable but I didn't have the time to do anything with it. Later on my last day at Otis when I was leaving to go home I gave the car away. I had just cashed my final check at the Credit Union and met one of my co-workers and tossed him the keys and said, "It's parked at the Auto Hobby Shop. It's all yours." Because of the "Early Out" (that's another tale) I had a lots of running around and other things to do in a short period of time and didn't even think about trying to sell the car until it was too late to do anything.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Danny Kaye's

One of the first places I was introduced to on Cape Cod was a place called Danny Kaye's. When I first saw the name on the sign, I thought it belonged to the comedian Danny Kaye. Turned out it was the first names of the couple that owned the restaurant. It was an Italian-American restaurant and I was told that we all were to order our own pizzas. When the pizzas arrived, they were on large serving trays and were oval. I had never seen anything other than a round pizza before and it was cut into diamonds, lots of diamonds. The first time there I wasn't able to eat the entire pizza, maybe there were too many pieces, or maybe it was the fact that I had had a snack shortly before heading out to the restaurant. Almost every payday several of us would go to Danny Kaye's for pizza and after that first time, I was able to eat all of the pizza.

Twenty One years later I was working on Cape Cod at Otis and went looking for my favorite pizza place. The building was still there, but now it was a Chinese restaurant.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Like I said before I drove out to Cape Cod in my little Corvair. After driving around there for awhile, I realized that the Corvair was not a good vehicle to drive there. Other cars were always pulling out in front of me, seems like a little white car is almost invisible or just poses no threat to other drivers. That is why I bought the pickup in the picture below. Drivers on Cape Cod had a bad habit of creeping out until they were far enough out into the traffic lane that someone would stop to let them in. Whenever I spotted someone trying to creep out into traffic, I would downshift the truck to second gear and step on the gas. If they still kept coming, I would drift to the right and usually they would back up. Summertime was a miserable time to drive on Cape Cod and that was forty years ago. One town just off-base had about 10,000 year-round residents, on some summer weekends like July 4th it would swell to around 100,000.

Notice the broom sticking up behind the cab. A buddy said every truck had to have a broom and he stuck one there.
The other truck in this picture belonged to another guy in the shop. He followed me out to Cape Cod from K.I. and when he saw my truck, he bought one like it. Mine was a '56 Chevy and his was a '57 Chevy. He had a new Cougar that he bought with his re-enlistment bonus and had already wrecked it once while at K.I. and after seeing the traffic on Cape Cod, didn't want to take a chance on wrecking his car again.
I did a lot of work on the truck. It had a worn-out transmission and the rearend was shot. One of the wheel bearings in the rearend wore out and it was so bad that the axle wore a hole thru the top of the rearend housing. I bought a '56 Chevy car and put the entire drive chain from the car into the truck. There were some exciting moments during the process from getting the car to the base to finishing the project. While towing the car to the base, my buddy popped the clutch and started the car. It had a carburetor from a Caddy and the gas pedal linkage worked the opposite of the Chevy and after it started and he let up on the gas, it revved up and was running wide open. This happened to be on the bridge on to Cape Cod and there was a traffic circle at the bottom end of the bridge. He shut it down and didn't try again the rest of the way to the base.
Looking back, hindsight being 20/20, I might have been better off getting rid of the truck and keeping the car, but for some reason I preferred the truck over the car.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Psychic Car Repair

I drove the Corvair out to Cape Cod. One day it wouldn't start and after checking things out, I figured out that it wasn't getting any gas to the carburetors. I thought it was the fuel pump and got another one from an auto parts store. After changing the pump, it still wouldn't start. Finally found the problem, there was a piece of rubber hose in the gas line where you could disconnect it to remove the engine. It was underneath the engine at the front end of the engine. For some reason I didn't feel like making another trip to the parts store, so I just wrapped it with electrical tape and was able to get it running. Some time later, it might have been a couple of weeks later, I was driving around the area and the car sputtered and died. It would not restart, so I just pushed in the clutch and coasted into a parking lot. While the car was still moving, I said "I think the rubber hose in the gas line at the front of the engine let go." There was an auto parts store within sight, so we hiked to it and I bought some rubber hose to replace the piece on the gas line. After making the repair and we were on our way, one of the guys with me was amazed that I had diagnosed the problem before the car had even stopped moving. I never did let him know that I knew what the problem was because of the half-assed fix I had done before.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Screwing With The Lifers' Minds

One thing that those of us on the first (and usually only enlistment) liked to do was screw with the minds of lifers. It was fairly easy most of time, or so we thought at the time. One day at Otis while standing around and bullshitting, me and a buddy decided to mess with the shop supervisor's mind. We went into his office and announced we were going to let our hair grow long and grow beards. After he picked himself up off the floor (figuratively), he asked why we thought we could get away with letting our hair grow long and growing beards. My buddy said he was Irish and the Irish used to have long hair and beards. I said I was Scandihoovian and the Vikings had long hair and beards and those funny hats with the horns on them. ( My cousin was in the Navy at the same time and after I told him about this, he would threaten his supervisors that he would start wearing a funny hat with horns on it like the Vikings had.) We said since the blacks could grow Afros because it was part of their ethnic heritage, we thought it would only be fair for us to be allowed to follow our ethnic heritage. In truth I was a little pissed at the hair policy because if my hair started to creep over my ears, I'd get told to get a haircut, but blacks could have an Afro that stuck out an inch.

Now we really didn't mean to grow our hair or beards, but somebody took us seriously. It was either later that day or the next day we had to go see the zebra (lots of stripes E-7,E-8, or E-9) who was the supervisor over all the shops in field maintenance. He chewed us out and told us that there was no way we could grow our hair or have beards. We told him we thought we were being discriminated against and he kinda agreed but said there was nothing anybody could do about it.

Looking back, this may explain why I had to get a haircut in order to process out of the squadron when I was discharged. I probably would have fought more if I hadn't been getting an early out. Tricky Dicky cut the budget and they couldn't afford to pay me so they kicked me out almost 4 months early, but that's another story for another time.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


One of my fond memories of Iceland is when some guys from my unit went and added airplanes to the Marine Corps Globe and Anchor on the Marine barracks. Someone cut out a stencil silhouette of the Super Connie (See pic in last post below) and used it to paint blue planes on the globe on both sides of North America. The emblem was on the end of the barracks next to a second floor window and they wondered how it got painted. We had vans like bread trucks and they backed it up to the building, got on top of the truck and did the deed, dropped down and drove away!! Afterwards, they posted an armed guard to prevent it happening again. Jarheads have no sense of humor!! I got a chuckle seeing the bright yellow places where they painted over the planes.

Below is a picture of two radar planes showing the before and after. The Connie is in the foreground and the AWACS is in the background. I used to say the Super Connie had a million dollars worth of electronics in a two-bit airplane. They were all built in the 50's and while searching the Intratubes I found out they didn't get replaced by the AWACS planes until '78!!

Below is a picture of the base at Keflavik, Iceland. Another thing I learned while looking for pictures of Keflavik was that the base closed in 2006. There is no active base left that I was at while on active duty. This picture is probably a fairly recent picture as it looks like there is an airline terminal in the foreground. When I was there the airport terminal for the airlines was in the middle of the base which is in the background of the picture. There is a large building on the center left of the background that might be the hanger I worked in.

One of my souvenirs of Iceland is a transistor radio. It's about the size of a paperback book and has two bands labeled LW (am band) and MW. There was Armed Forces Radio and TV on the base with a radio station on the AM band. There was an Icelandic station on the MW band. One day I had it on the Icelandic station and left the room to go take a shower. When I came back the radio had English coming out of it. I asked my roommate if he had changed the radio to the American station and he said no. Turned out the Icelandic station would alternate between speaking in Icelandic and English. The music was music which is why I had it on the Icelandic station. As for the MW band, after I got back to the states, the only thing I could get on that band was weather.
Armed Forces Radio and TV also had a TV Station. It would come on late in the afternoon and be on all evening. Some of the shows I remember were the original "Lassie" show (where Timmy didn't have a father) and others from the 50's.
When I did Spell-Check it wanted to replace Keflavik with cleavage, but that would be another story!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Orders

I had been at K.I.Sawyer less than a year when one day I got a call from the orderly (never could figure out why it was called that) room and told to go there. When I got there,they said there was a new set of orders for me. The orders were for Otis AFB, MA. I was asked if I would except the orders or was there some reason why I would turn them down. I did some quick mental arithmetic (I still could do that then as I was still young) and figured out that I had a little over a year left on my enlistment and with a minimum of 6 months on a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) I would have less than a year left on my enlistment and no long have enough time left to be eligible for a tour in 'Nam. So of course I said, "I don't see any reason why I could turn down these orders."

I took some leave and then headed for Cape Cod. When I got to the base and turned into the Main Gate, I got a surprise. Instead of a Sky Cop in the shack guarding the base, there was a huge sign on the building saying incoming personal report to building number.... I thought this is great, how in the hell am I supposed to know where this building is?? I drove on to the base down a divided highway for a ways and came to a traffic circle (my welcome to Cape Cod was a traffic circle [or is it a roundabout] at the foot of the bridge on to Cape Cod) and looked around and headed for the nearest building with a flag pole in front. In the building, after looking at my orders, they called the shop where I would be working and someone came to lead me to the shop.

At the Sheetmetal Shop I got introduced to everybody there at the time. When talking to the supervisor, one of the first things he asked me was, "How would you like to go to Iceland next month??" I said, "Not really." He said, "Well, you don't have a choice. Everybody has already been up there and now it's your turn." Turned out 'Everybody' was all the white guys, the black guys got sent to Thailand for their TDY. Since the big one, WWII, Iceland wouldn't let blacks in the country because of something that happened during the war. The guy that was up in Iceland decided to stay another month to get some more per diem (at the time only a couple bucks a day), so I had a little more time to get settled in before leaving.

When I was to fly up to Iceland, we got delayed by fog. I noticed that a guy going up from the Avionics Shop was black. I walked over to the shop and told my supervisor that there was a black guy going up from the EM Squadron. He said they would send him back on the return flight. Well, he flew up with me and flew back with me 30 days later. NATO had pressured Iceland and they were finally allowing blacks in the country. When I told my supervisor that on my return, his reply was that our squadron still wouldn't send blacks up there.

Iceland was interesting, I was there from the first week in May until the first week in June and I wore my parka everyday except the day I got there. There were no trees within sight. Everyday we had to sweep the lava dust out of the hanger. We worked 12 hour days, six days a week. We had EC-121 Super Constellations that were the predecessors of AWACS. We would send them out to patrol the North Atlantic using its radar to keep track of the Russian planes.
Once the plane was launched we didn't have much to do other than the daily sweeping of the hanger. I learned many different types of solitaire and worked on a lot of jigsaw puzzles. After the plane came back we would go out and service it. That included wiping off all the oil from the engines, (I used to say they didn't fly, they slid thru the air on their own oil slick) filling the gas tanks and of course pumping the oil tank full. On an eight hour flight it could use about 40 gallons of oil.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

More K.I.

I would have liked to post some pictures from my time at K.I.Sawyer, but at this time I don't know where they would be if I still have any pictures left of that period in time. I'm pretty sure that at one time I took a picture of my little white Corvair buried in a snowdrift with just the orange ball on the antenna sticking out. There would be times when the base would be shut down because of snow. I would bust my ass getting my car out of the snow where it was parked and leave the base so I wouldn't get shanghaied into shoveling snow on base. Looking back on it, I probably worked harder at getting my car unstuck than I would have if I had stayed in the barracks. (Sometimes people work harder at getting out of work than they would if they just did the job.)

During times like that (base closed because of snowstorms) driving past the end of the runway to get to the main gate would involve driving in 'White Out' conditions. Once while riding with someone else, I got to witness an accident. The guy rear-ended another car in the white out. If memory serves me correctly, it was the guy whose radiator sprung a leak it the 'radio move' and the repaired radiator sprung a leak again.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


After I got to my first permanent base (Dow) I was allowed to grow a moustache if I kept it within the limits set in the regulations. As I was only shaving once a week at the time it took awhile to grow enough fuzz on my upper lip to have a moustache. When I first grew a moustache it was so blond that the picture on my ID looked like I had a fat lip. One of the black guys I worked with once suggested I use mascara on my moustache to make it show up better. I never put anything on it, just kept it trimmed according to the regs, although at times I pushed the envelope by letting it extend past the corners of my mouth.

As for the shaving bit, there were times when by Friday it would look like maybe I forgot to shave that morning. It took five days to get a Five-O-Clock shadow!! Sunday night I would shave and be good for another week.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New Fangled Tire Repair

One day I got a flat tire on my car. I took the flat to the base gas station on K.I. They said they had a new way to patch flat tires. I don't remember if it was a nail or a stone that poked a hole in the tire, but anywho, they reamed out the hole and glued a plug in the hole. The spare tire on my Corvair sat above the engine in back. I guess the heat from the engine was too much for the repair on the tire as after awhile (I don't remember how many days it was) the plug blew out of the tire and it was flat again. I took it back and they put a patch on the inside of the tire and I didn't have a problem with it again.
One of my cousins said that at about the same time period he had a flat tire and took it to a gas station. The owner of the station says "I got a new way to fix flats. I don't have to take the tire off the rim to repair it." He proceeded to ream out the hole and install a plug. After that my cousin told him, "But that tire has a tube in it."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Traffic Lights

Something recently reminded me about the traffic lights in Maine. I had had very little experience with traffic lights before being stationed in Bangor. I had spent most of my life up 'til then in the sticks where you had to go to a big town to see traffic lights, at most there were only a few flashing caution lights or a flashing 4 way stop light in the county. When I got to Bangor, ME I saw a traffic signal I had never seen before and very seldom since. I was familiar with the traditional traffic signal with the red, yellow and green lights, but I had never seen one before where both the red and yellow were lit up at the same time in all directions. Turns out that was the walk signal in Maine. In a way it makes sense as all traffic would be stopped when people are crossing the streets and would probably be safer.

That was one of the things I learned when I went to driving school at the Dow Airplane Patch motor pool to get my military driver's license. They covered a lot of things, but the guy teaching the course probably had less driving experience (at the end of Basic Training I remember one guy who had never driven a car getting orders to be driver in the motor pool at K.I.Sawyer) than I did, certainly less winter driving experience as I got into an argument with him about driving on snow and ice. He said that if you go into a skid on snow or ice on a curve, you should apply the brakes. That may be what the book told him, but my experiences had taught me that that was a good way to wind up in the ditch. Which is exactly what I told him. I said you should ease up on the gas and steer into the skid to get the car under control and once you got it straightened out you could gently apply the gas. On the test at the end of the course I answered the questions with the info we were given in the class and passed so I could get my license to drive military vehicles.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Moving The Radio

My roommate got married and moved off-base. He took most of his stuff with him, but one of the things he left to be moved at a later date was an old floor model radio. One day me and another guy decided to bring the radio to where the roommate now lived. The radio was big enough that it wouldn't fit in my car, a '64 Corvair 2dr coupe. The other guy had a Chevy Impala convertible, so we decided to use it to haul the radio. We had trouble trying to get it into the car until we put the top down and then just lifted it up and over into the back seat. If we had laid it down on its side on the back seat, we could have put the top back up. We decided that because we would have to put the top down to remove the radio that we would just leave the top down. In hindsight, putting the top up might have been a good idea as the temperature was about -10 degrees. Anywho, with the heater on high we made the trip to deliver the radio. We got some funny looks from other drivers, especially when we would wave over the top of the windshield. We managed to make the trip without getting frostbite, but the trip back was not so lucky. After consuming a number of beers while warming up (it took a long time, several hours), we headed back to the base. It was a little drunk (a little drunk, maybe a lot) out and doing crazy things like sliding around curves and corners caused us to hit a frozen snowbank. We didn't get stuck in the snowbank, but it caused the radiator to spring a leak. We made it back to the main gate at the base before the car overheated (in below zero weather no less).


After Basic and Tech School, I was stationed at three bases, K.I.Sawyer being the second one. There was a Lifer in the 62nd that had basically spent his entire career with the unit. Other than a couple of tours to 'Nam, he had spent his 26 years with the 62nd. 26 years was one of the magic numbers for retiring from the military because there was a large uptick in retirement pay at the 26 year mark. Anywho, this guy had started with the unit when it was still at O'Hare in Chicago before the 62nd moved up to K.I.

Friday, February 20, 2009


This afternoon I was listening to Radio Free Georgia and they were talking about the Military Industrial Complex. When they mentioned KBR building bases in Vietnam back in the 60's, it reminded me that this business of privatizing parts of the military is not new. While I was in the military, I only had to pull a few hours of KP and that was because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were supposed to do KP while in basic, but our T.I. or D.I. swapped with another flight and we pulled guard duty instead. When I got stuck with KP, I hadn't gotten my pass yet to leave the base so I was in the barracks dayroom watching TV on a Saturday night when a guy came in and rounded up everyone there to go do KP because either someone screwed up the scheduling or a bunch didn't show up for KP. So I got to spend the rest of that night working in the chow hall.

When I got to my first permanent base, everyone was supposed to do a week of KP when they first got there. I never had to because they had hired civilian workers to work in the chow hall. The only military working in the chow hall were those who specialty was food service. All the serving, cleaning pots and pans, peeling potatoes and the other shitty jobs were now done by civilians.

Like I said privatizing is not new. The other day I realized that as of the end of January I have been a free man for 39 years. If you think my saying I became a free man is like getting out of prison, there are many similarities between an enlistment and a prison sentence. (Sometimes the option was either join the military or go to jail, but not in my case.) They even gave me time off for good behavior. Altho the way it was phrased on my DD214 was, "Early Release Due To Budgetary Limitations"!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Games

Back in the day we used to make up funny ways of answering the phone. Like; "County Morgue, you stab'em, we'll slab'em" or "County Morgue, you kill'em, we'll chill'em". One day the phone in the shop rang and someone answered with; "Maggie's Whorehouse, we don't give a fuck for nothing". Turned out the caller was from the Squadron office and may even have been the Squadron Commander (memory escapes me at this time), whoever was very surprised but not as surprised as the one who answered the phone in that manner when he found out who was calling. Needless to say he hang up immediately. A minute or so later the phone rang again and someone else answered in the normal manner giving the name of the shop and name and rank of the person answering the phone. When asked who had answered the phone earlier, the answer was that the phone hadn't rang all morning until just now.

Sometimes someone would come back into the shop after being out of the shop to work on an airplane or for some other reason and when they walked in would be handed a note with a phone number on it and told to call it. Usually it would be a number for Dial-A-Prayer or something similar. (Yes we did have dial phones back them, rotary dial phones.)

New guys were called Jeeps for some reason that I never found out. Anywho, the green guys would have various tricks played on them. One day a guy came in the shop looking for 50 ft of flightline. (The flightline is where the airplanes were parked). He said he was told that we might have some. We told him that we did have some flightline but we couldn't just give it away, however we would be willing to trade for it. When asked what we wanted for 50 ft of flightline, we said we would trade for a bucket of propwash (the air moving behind the propeller.) The guy didn't even question why we wanted propwash when all our planes were jets! This guy didn't work directly on the planes and that may explain why he fell for the gag.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hamtramck West

One of the guys I knew at K.I. was Polish. He was happy being there because it was far enough away from Hamtramck (at the time a Polish neighborhood in Detroit) that he didn't hear many Polock jokes, just Finlander jokes. Every once in a while he would tell me about his scheme for becoming rich and tell me about it as he thought up new ideas. First he would develop plastic coated paperclips (he was slightly ahead of his time) and convince the government to replace the regular paperclips with plastic coated ones as they would save on wear and tear on the paperwork. After the government had filled the supply chain with plastic coated paperclips, he would introduce new and improved color-coded plastic coated paperclips. You could have red for Top Secret, yellow for Secret, and blue and green and other colors for other classifications. Of course the government would have to buy the all-new color-coded plastic coated paperclips even though they are fully stocked with the plain plastic coated paperclips. After making his fortune by selling the plastic coated paperclips (color-coded and otherwise) he would invest his money and develop Hamtramck West. He would buy up some desert land out west and build his town. At first he had trouble figuring out how to build basements in the sand, then he hit on the idea of using large shipping crates like they use for shipping household goods overseas. Just sink several of them together in the sand and roof them over and you have a ready made basement. He didn't plan on putting a house on the basements as Poles just lived in the basement anyway. (Jean Shepherd [he wrote A Christmas Story, the one that ran for 24 hours on TBS last Xmas] wrote a story about a Polish family living in the basement while the upstairs part of the house went unused. They even painted the furnace robin's egg blue.) I think the only industry he planned for his town was a brewery.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Playing A Game With Coke Bottles

Yesterday when The Old Lady mentioned her co-worker and the Mexican Coke and how she had never had coke in a glass bottle before, it reminded me of when cokes came in glass bottles in the coke machine (soda machine for some and pop machine for the rest). I don't remember doing this at K.I. (we might have done it, I just don't remember at this time) but I do remember playing a game with coke bottles while I was in Maine. Coke bottles used to have the city and state of the bottling plant molded into the bottom of the bottle. (No, it didn't say open other end!!) What we would do is decide before going over to the coke machine whether the loser would be the closest or farthest from Bangor. After everyone got a bottle of coke out of the machine, we would all look at the bottom to see where it was from. The loser would give everybody else their dime back.(Yes, they were only a dime back then.) At the most there would only be about 6 or 7 of us in the shop at any one time.

I guess I'm showing my age when I'm writing about coke machines having glass bottles in them, not cans or plastic bottles. So Be It!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009


While I was at K.I. I bought a set of skis, boots and poles from another GI. But because I broke my leg that fall and didn't get my leg out of the cast until the middle of Jan. and then my ankle was too stiff after being immobile for months means I never got a chance use those skis. Also the doctor (the real one, the orthopedic specialist who operated, not the Air Force one) told me not to try skiing that winter. Anywho, before winter was over I got orders for Cape Cod (that's another story) and so I left the skis, boots and poles at the Ranch.

While I was gone putting in the rest of my hitch, someone broke in and stole my skis and boots. The poles were not in plain sight, so they missed them and the poles were all I had left of my ski outfit. I didn't feel like replacing the skis and I never did ski at a commercial ski hill.

I had been looking forward to skiing at a ski hill with lifts and groomed trails etc..... From the time I was a little kid I had been skiing, but it was on the hills around home and with old skis with binders made out of circles of rubber cut out of innertubes. The innertubes for car tires were kinda weak and you would need two or three on each foot.

Friday, January 30, 2009

More About Getting Home

I usually would wait until the beginning of May before trying to drive into the Ranch UP on the tundra when the driveway (or road) hadn't been plowed all winter. If memory serves me right, at the time my car died it was snowing. My brother who lived UP on the tundra was following me the last 30 miles from his house to the Ranch when the '58 T-Bird died. He tried to tow it with his car, but because it was snowing, he wasn't able to pull it up the hills and we left it about 5 miles from home. Later I used my dad's pickup to tow it home. (Re: the Ranch, one of my teachers in high school started calling the place the Ranch. I told him that it was a farm and he said anyplace with acreage is a ranch out west, so I figured 'What the Hell' and have been calling it the Ranch since.)

It seems like most of the time when I would come home from farther away it would snow unless I came home in July. But it has snowed in July and every other month of the year at one time or another. My roommate at K.I. bitched about how it had snowed every month the previous year.

Anywho, the first week of May was the time I would plan on so as to be able to drive in without getting stuck in the snow. Sometimes there would still be snow in the shady areas of the driveway and it would take several tries to make it thru the snow.

At this point in time I have moved the timeline up to April. It would depend on what kind of winter it was as to whether it would be the middle of April or earlier.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Some Adventures at K.I.

This is a picture of a F-101-B with the 62nd markings on it. I ran into one of the people involved in repainting the plane last year. He said it isn't one of the original 62nd planes, that when it was decided to get one for static display at K.I. none of the planes that had been there was available anymore.

As I mentioned in the post about when I got orders for K.I.Sawyer that I thought I would be able to spend time in the old stomping grounds, or so I thought. That summer I had 3 full weekends off where I could go home. Whenever someone would ask how far home was from the base, I would say it depends on whether it is Summer or Winter. They would say what difference would that make and I would say that they don't plow my shortcut in the Winter. It was about 80 miles in Summer and 100 miles in Winter. What ruined most of my weekends was practicing for ORI or TAC-EVAL on most Saturdays and I didn't feel like driving all that way for just one day. Oh, those 3 weekends, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day (Labor Day only because one of the guys in the shop covered my stand-by for me.) Stand-by was where you were on call if they needed someone from your shop at night or on weekends.

ORI and TAC-EVAL were supposed to be surprise inspections to determine how well you can play War Games. The times for these were supposed to be secret so that it would be a surprise when the inspection team came to the base. Rumor had it that the Squadron knew almost to the minute when the inspections would be held. Because of all the practicing I didn't have many free weekends.

One memorable event was when I broke my leg when I fell off the wing of one of our planes. I got called out one night to remove some screws from a panel that the flight line guy couldn't get out. (I was on stand-by that week and got called out at night.) On the Squadron level, screw removal went to Sheetmetal because we didn't have a machine shop whose job screw removal would normally be. When I got up on the plane and asked what screws were the ones that wouldn't come out, the guy pointed at a couple. The panel only had a few screw removed and probably 95% of the screws hadn't been touched. I asked if he had tried getting all the screws out and he said no because he knew that sheetmetal would have to get called out because he had a couple that wouldn't come out. I told him I wasn't going to take all the screws out because he found a couple he couldn't get out. Told him to try getting the rest of the screws out and then call me again. The flightline guy had leaned a ladder used to get into the cockpit of a T-33 against the wing of the F-101 and when I went to get down from the wing it slipped out from under me and I came down tangled up in the ladder and broke my leg. (Did I mention before that we used call Crew Chiefs [flightline types] glorified gas station attendants. Fill up the gas, check the oil, and change tires.) I should have refused to go up on the wing until there was a proper stand to do so, but I just wanted to get it over with and go back to the barracks and back to sleep.

When the ambulance got there, they had me hobble out to the ambulance between two guys instead of on a stretcher. They put me up front, probably because I had to give directions to the driver on how to get off the flightline and back to the hospital.

Because of the broken leg, I got to watch the Olympics on TV. The break was a bad one in that it broke on a spiral instead of straight across. Not one of the base doctors knew how to set a bone because basically they would have been Interns or Residents in a civilian hospital. It took them 3 weeks to figure out what they were going to do with my leg. Finally they had an Orthopedic Specialist come out from the Medical Center in town and operate on my leg. He broke the bone again and set it and put a bolt through both bones above the ankle to hold the short piece of bone in place. A couple of months later an Air Force doctor removed the bolt under a local. First he cut open one side along the scar and found the nut. He started to turn the nut and wondered why it wouldn't come off.(Did I mention I was screaming in pain all the while and someone was holding me down on the table.) I think I told him it's a bolt and you need to get at both ends. He snipped the nut off and cut open the other side of my leg to pull the bolt out. When it was installed, there was a bolt, nut and two washers all stainless steel. What got removed was a bolt, nut, and one washer. When I went back to have the stitches removed, they took a X-ray of my leg and the washer showed up on the X-ray. The doctor said he wasn't going back in to remove it and I said "You damn right you ain't"!! As far I know it is still there just above the ankle.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Musical Cars

This is the car I left Maine in. The picture was taken at my brother's house in Taxachuesetts while on my way home from Maine. It's a '58 T-Bird that I paid $50 for and put another $50 or so into it and some time to fix it to the point where it was drivable.
This is the garage on the Ranch UP on the tundra where the T-Bird got parked after it died and had to be towed the last 6 miles. 200 miles from home one of the mufflers fell off and helped to keep me awake thru the night. 100 miles from home the transmission lost Drive and I had to drive in 2. About 6 miles from home it died with a bang and a cloud of smoke and had to be towed the rest of the way. It sat in the garage for about a year and a half until it got replaced with another car that died while I was on the way home from Cape Cod. A couple of years after the T-Bird died I swapped junk cars with a friend and he changed engine&transmission in the T-Bird, patched some of the rust on the body and drove it up the AlCan to Fairbanks,AK and back.

This is the car I used when I went to K.I.Sawyer. I had bought this car the year before while home on leave. The reason the parking/turnsignal lights look to be covered by the bumper is that when I bought the car it didn't have a front bumper and the base required a front bumper on which to place the sticker that got you waved onto the base. I happened to have a front bumper for a '57 Ford but obviously there were changes and it didn't fit quite right on a '56 Ford. While at K.I. I bought a '64 Corvair and parked the '56 Ford. While my brother was rebuilding the engine on his car, he borrowed the Ford. Afterwards he said he would go broke buying oil for that car as it used so much. He brought a 5 gallon can of SAE 30 motor oil home from the mine where he worked. I used that oil in everything that required some kind of oil. (Engine, Automatic Transmission and Power Steering.) I eventually sold it for what I paid for it, $50. I have bought more cars for $50 than any other price!! At the time that was a popular price for beater cars.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Orders For My Next Base

When I arrived at Dow Airplane Patch, I was told the base was going to be shut down in less than two years. Six or seven months before the scheduled closure of the base we all got to put in for base of choice and country of choice. When I was finally notified of where I would be stationed next, I was very surprised. It was K.I. Sawyer AFB, MI. I thought, cool I'll be close to home and get to spend some time on the old stomping grounds. (Turned out to be a lot less time than I had hoped.)
Above is a decal of the 62nd, the Squadron that I was assigned to at K.I. The bulldog was named Tige and I heard that at one time they actually had a dog for a mascot.

After our aircraft were gone, we spent some time going through our inventory of equipment and trying to come up with all that was on the list. If we had extras then we would dispose of them somehow. I wound up with some tools to take to my next base. I packed them along with the uniforms I would not need for awhile in my duffel bag. It weighted over 100 pounds. I had it shipped by the military (when I found out I could ship it for free courtesy of Uncle Sam, I decided to ship it rather than haul it myself), but hindsight being 20/20 I should have thrown it in the trunk of my car and hauled it myself. After I dropped my duffel bag off to be shipped I never saw it again. I didn't miss the uniforms, as a matter of fact I never replaced the lost uniforms. What I did miss was the tools and stuff I had managed to scrounge before leaving.

My next post I will show the car I left Maine with and the car I arrived at K.I.Sawyer with.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wind Chill Factor

All the talk lately about what the wind chill temp is in different parts of the country reminded me of what they used back in the day. They didn't bother breaking it down to the degree, instead it was grouped in 'Wind Chill Factors'. There were 4 Wind Chill Factors with 4 being the most severe. The chart would have various shaded areas for the different Wind Chill Factors. The one below is almost like the ones I remember as it is the only one I could find that had 4 zones as to 3 on the other charts I was able to find.

One amusing tale from my time in the land of Mainiacs concerning the Wind Chill Factor. One time they decided to play war games (practice how long it would take to load weapons on our fighters) when the Wind Chill Factor was 4 in which exposed flesh freezes in seconds. As my specialty as a tin tacker (tin bender, whatever) wasn't needed for anything on the airplanes, they had me manning the speedy dry cart. Speedy dry or oil dry is like cat litter and used to soak up oil and other liquids that may spill on the ground so people won't slip in it. On this particular day there wasn't an ounce of speedy dry on the entire base let alone on the speedy dry cart I was manning. If I remember correctly, I even had to go thru the motions of using the imaginary speedy dry while I was out there freezing my ass off!!

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Doing the post about flying home reminded me of something. Northeast Airlines used the base runway and had what looked like a shack off to the side of the base near the street that ran along one side of the base. Anywho, there were many days when the B-52's and KC-135's of Sac Sucks and our fighters weren't flying because of the weather. The cloud ceiling would be too low or it would be foggy and the military planes would be grounded. Then we would hear either a Northeast DC-6 or DC-9 come in for a landing and taxi over to their terminal? Then a little while later it would take off again, all the while the military planes sat on the ground.

We used to joke about how we had all-weather interceptors and fair-weather pilots. We were sure that in Squadron Operations they had an index card with a hole in the middle and colored blue on one side. Someone from Ops would come outside and hold the card up and if the sky in hole in the card matched the blue on the card, then it was OK to fly.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Flying Home

While I was stationed in Maine, I flew home on leave. The first leg was on Northeast Airlines.

At the time they were calling these planes "Yellowbird" and used a song about a yellowbird in their commercials. The plane I flew on was a DC-9 like the one pictured. They also used DC-6's to fly in and out of Bangor. After flying from Bangor to Boston, I flew to Chicago on one of the major airlines, which I don't remember which one anymore. I do remember I was flying stand-by and as a result got to fly this leg First Class as those were the only seats left when it was my turn to board. Had my first Vodka Martini and enjoyed it, especially when drinks in First Class were free!!
From Chicago to UP on the tundra, I flew on North Central Airlines. They liked to call themselves the Blue Goose, but some who worked for them and some of us passengers called it the Ruptured Duck!! This plane is a Convair 580, which is the type of plane that I flew on this trip. Eventually all of their fleet was DC-9's before becoming Republic Airlines when they merged with Southern Airlines. Later they bought Hughes Air West which also had DC-9's. The Hughes Air West planes were solid yellow and after Republic bought them, they did an ad saying they were peeling the top banana in which they peeled off the yellow Hughes Air West colors to reveal the Republic colors underneath. (This was about 15 years after my trip.)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Promotion That Wasn't A Promotion

While I was at Dow Airplane Patch, I went from Airman Second Class to Airman First Class, but never received any more money each month. When I enlisted, the ranks were E-1 Airman Basic; E-2 Airman Third Class; E-3 Airman Second Class; E-4 Airman First Class. Between the time that I made E-3 and E-4 they changed the titles for the lower ranks. Then E-1 was still Airman Basic, but E-2 became Airman; E-3 became Airman First Class; and E-4 became Sergeant. The rationale was that there were no Third or Second Class Airmen. Also the E-4's were allowed membership at the NCO clubs and by calling them Sergeant, it made them the same as the rest of the NCO's.
My life has had a number of little ironies and this is one of them.