Stories about Carl Sr.
Carl Sr. is my dad, but he died long before my son Carl
was born so he was never referred to as Carl Sr or granddad.
My dad taught me many things and these are few stories about him are
worth passing on.
The Amphibious Boat
It was Friday and prepping for a fishing trip
into Mexico was fairly routine. Pick up the
16-foot aluminum boat from the shed at granddaddies, clean it out,
fix any thing that was broken and pack it with camping supplies,
water and fuel to last for three days, plus the fuel needed by the
Ford Bronco. It’s not like they don’t sell
gasoline in Mexico but it’s expensive compared the US price. In all
there must have been over 100 gallons of gasoline in the boat tanks
and several jerry cans. Maintenance was mostly
simple things like charging the battery and checking the engine
started, but this time I was also given the job of replacing the
rope on the boat winch, so on when a new piece of three quarter inch
nylon rope and I was sure to tie a good knot to the stainless steel
hook that slipped through the eye bolt on the front of the boat.
Saturday morning we were off early and I took
my place in the back seat for the trip from Brownsville to Lake
Guerrero near Padilla Mexico. We crossed over
into Mexico and started down the long stretch south. The
fishing in this lake was well worth the drive. This
is the lake that destroyed me as a fisherman.
After fishing Guerrero it’s hard to find the patience required to
fish anything else. The road we were on was a
typical Mexican highway with the exception that it was often raised
above the surrounding desert floor with steep embankments on either
side like a train track. The two lanes were
narrow, and the pavement was mostly patches. The traffic that day
was the normal Mexican fair of semi-trucks, busses, pickups and more
And then it happened, maybe it was a noise,
maybe a new sensation to the bumps or just the motion in his rear
view mirror, but Daddy said “Uh oh”. I had head
this before, Daddy had a specific way of saying “Uh oh” which
singled impending doom. I am reminded of it when
I hear about that joke: “You might be a red neck if one of your
friends died shortly after saying ‘Hey ya’ll, watch this!’” I
looked up to see Daddy looking intensely into the rear view mirror.
Quickly I turned to see the front of the boat bouncing five
or six inches into the air in rhythm with the patches in the road.
The hook from the wench was swinging wildly, now free form
the eyebolt. Daddy had already taken his foot
off of the gas and began the deceleration from 70 mph.
I knew this was my fault because the hook I had worked on the
previous day was clearly not where it was suppose to be.
Note to self: When replacing wench rope be sure to wind the
rope onto the wench with a load attached so that any stretch is
removed. The boat had bounced backwards on the
trailer, but recovery was in sight because we knew the deceleration
would force the heavy boat forward and keep it on the trailer.
In the moments it took to reach 65 mph my confidence had
started to recover. Maybe I’d get off easy, but
the years of south Texas salt air and water exposure had done its
thing on the trailer and the left rear side of the trailer gave way
under the bouncing weight of the boat and its cargo of gasoline and
camping equipment. There was nothing that could
be done. In an instance to boat was launched onto the highway at 65
mph. My heart stopped as I watched the boat slide along behind the
trailer. Daddy began to brake perhaps in an
attempt to recapture the runaway boat, and the gap closed between
the boat and trailer. But then the boat began a left turn like a car
that was going to pass us. It continued its turn
while continuing to slide due south down the highway.
Now broadside it was blocking both lanes and it started to
heal up onto its side giving us a good view of gasoline cans and ice
chess and cots carried inside. The oncoming
traffic was putting their brakes to good use and only in the nick of
time did the boat complete its first 180-degree turn and clear the
oncoming lane for a car to slide by. Now sliding
engine first down the road, it began another dead defying game of
chicken with the on coming traffic. The opponent
was time was semi truck and the driver grabbed his horn and I am
sure he blew a kiss to the Virgin Mary riding the dash.
In hindsight the horn only severed to increase my terror. Was
he hoping there was a driver in the boat? Again
the boat cleared the lane in time to let the semi pass squeeze by.
Perhaps that Virgin Mary didn’t want to melt in a blazing inferno.
Each time the boat turned sideways it rolled up on the
outside keel and threatened to dump it cargo of gasoline but luckily
it was drifting to the right shoulder of the road, and when its
forward speed reached 0, it was again facing due south, having
completed two slow 360-degree turns. I took my
first breath for what seemed like a lifetime.
Then it struck me then that ever since the boat’s close encounter
with the semi truck bumper, Daddy had been rolling with laughter!
Even as we got out to in inspect the damage he was jovial.
He enthusiastically conversed with the man who had been
driving behind the boat. No doubt he have a
story to tell too.
Recovery was quite easy.
Daddy drove down off the road and backed the trailer into the
embankment just below the boat. With a few
pushes the boat slid down the embankment and onto the trailer.
The boat had lost about 6 feet of its center keel, a few feet
from each of the side keels, about 4 inches off the motor’s keel.
The prop was a total loss. Since we
carried a spare prop, ever since we dropped one into the Gulf of
Mexico, Daddy decided we could continue on. We
finally concluded that turning back would be the safer choice
considering the condition of the trailer, but I know he was quietly
disappointed with the decision. I have always regretted not choosing
to continue that trip. To this day I remember
this trip and the lesson Daddy thought in less that 60 seconds: stay
in control, do what you can to protect others, property losses are
not relevant when nothing can be done and when nothing else can be
done: live life and laugh!
What is it you see?
It was deer season and so it was time to build
another deer blind. The red Dodge pickup was
loaded with circular saw, 2 x 6’s and 5 sheets of plywood.
I met Daddy on the on the tennis court at granddaddy's house.
Earlier in the day we had been to Gloor Lumber Yard to buy
the material. The plan had been to build the
blind out of 2 x 4’s and ¼ inch plywood, but Gloor had discounted
some ½ inch rough sawn exterior plywood with a
nice 4 inch groove detail. The price was great
and we’d have a very stylish deer blind! In
order to accommodate the extra weight we’d just use 2 x 6’s for the
legs and base instead of 2 x 4’s.
Having spent hours is tiny blinds that you have
to crawl into; Daddy wanted this one to be comfortable.
This blind was about 3 ½ feet square on the floor which would
let it lay on its side in the back of the pickup and just fit
between the wheel wells. And it was tall enough
to let you stand up and stretch your legs. We
also needed room for the old WWII office chair Daddy had scrounged.
I have to admit it was easy to build. The
floor was the only thing that had any framing; the walls and roof
were just nailed together. We cut out some
windows and a door the screwed them back on with some hinges and we
were done! It wasn’t until we were loading it
into the back of the Dodge that we saw the flaw in the design.
This thing weighed a ton! It took all we
had to push it over and slide it up into the truck bed.
Immediately those 2 x 6’s started looking like skinny legs.
Then I started worrying about how we would ever manage to get
the thing up in the air on top of its 16 foot legs. Daddy assured me
there was a plan, …something about pushing it up with the truck.
With the tuck bed completely occupied with the
blind and its legs laying beside it and hanging out over the tail
gate, packing was a matter of putting everything inside the blind.
So the office chair, our guns, ammo bag, and other deer hunting
accessories went inside the blind thought the door that was now a
It must have been 1 am when Daddy woke me.
We climbed into the Dodge and started off toward Rio Grand
City. We chatted a bit along the way, but my
mind was focused on the two issues. The first
was weather the piece of junk Dodge would make it without loosing a
vital component, and the second was not getting crushed when we
tried to stand the blind up in the pitch black of night.
The Dodge was making 70 mph but it was anything but smooth
running. Perhaps it was just water in the gas again.
At one point it surged with a burst of power.
Enough so that it woke me from my daze and prompted Daddy to
ask if it had done that before. It did seem to be
running much better, so we concluded that it must have started
running on all 8 cylinders. Pleased with this
good omen I dozed off again.
About a hour latter I was awaken by the
deceleration as we approached an all night gas station on the edge
of Rio Grand City. We pulled in under the
brightly lit awning and I took the opportunity to get out of the
truck and stretch my legs. I leaned over the back
of the pickup and looked across to watch Daddy remove the gas cap
and start filling the tank. He looked back at me and then he and
began to smile, and then he started to snicker, and that quickly
became laughter. I was looking right at him, and
he was looking right at me, but I couldn’t see the joke, so my
response was “What? What?” which only caused him to laugh harder. “What?”
I insisted and his reply was “What is it you see?” So
I scanned the back of the truck for something funny.
Rope, a tire iron, the 2 x 6’s…. “What’s
so funny?” I said. He couldn’t bear it any
longer so he told me the punch line… “Where’s the blind?”
My God! It was gone.
We had been looking at each other across the back of the truck,
something that was not possible once we had loaded the blind.
On a full tank of gas we started back toward
Brownsville. We figured that burst of
acceleration was not the 8th cylinder, but was moment
when we parted trails with the bind. Some
friendly truckers on the CB Radio confirmed a crate sitting on the
side of the road about 70 miles back. When we
arrived we discovered the benefit of the design was that the blind
was hardly damaged. You could clearly see where
it hit the road and slid about 50 feet before stopping on the
shoulder. However someone beat us to the spot and
had pulled the roof of the blind off and cleaned it out.
They had even taken the office chair. One
lesson from this story is: have good insurance and know your
insurance provider. Houston Insurance got a good
laugh from the story and decided that it was breaking and entering
since they had obviously pulled the roof off in order to get inside.
The real lesson Daddy taught me was that no
problem or loss of property should get in the way of enjoying life,
because It’s not the destination that matters, but the journey.
On Wings of Eagles
Flying down to Mexico with Daddy in our single
engine Bonanza was always an adventure. Hell,
flying anywhere with Daddy was an adventure. The
fact that he had been in two airplane crashes was always in the back
of your mind, so you were extra vigilant in order to try and
compensate for what you knew was a risk. This
trip like many others started Friday afternoon.
We went to the Brownsville Texas airport, prepped the plane, and
then he told the control tower we would be flying out over South
Padre Island. And we did fly East and over South
Padre and on into the Gulf of Mexico and then once clear of
Brownsville radar we turned south headed down the cost and then back
west into Mexico where we would soon be on the ground at Matamoros
just a stones throw across the Rio Grand from Brownsville.
In Matamoros we filed our travel plans on into Mexico,
indicating that we would spending night at Linares before flying on
to Ciudad Vicitoria, then Queretaro, and then Chiquanquac before
turning back north. The customs at Matamoros did
a quick inspection of an empty airplane, stamped the visa and sent
us on our way. But our way was back out over the
Gulf and into Brownsville from South Padre Island.
Back on the ground we now loaded the plane with everything
that we didn’t want the Mexicans to see. Ice
chests filled with thousands of livestock vaccines, grass seed,
branding irons, chicken de-beakers, and barrels of a chicken feed
supplement that would dye the chicken’s meat yellow.
[Side Bar] Little known to people in the US is
that when a chicken gets old its meat turns yellow, and in the US
you never see an old dead chicken in the grocery store because it is
not economical to feed and house chickens while they grow old.
Now Mexicans on the other hand were accustom free range
chickens that lived long and comfortable lives compared to US
chickens. They would wonder around the farm,
scrounge for bugs and seeds, lay an egg once and a while, and make
little chickens. Finally, when there was no
chance for any more eggs the chicken with its old yellow meat would
end up hanging by its feet in the market. Well
that’s great if you’re a chicken, but if you want to make money on
chickens you do it like Tyson Foods. Jam as many
chickens as you can into as small the smallest space possible,
provide them with a constant supply of food and water, and leave the
lights on to make sure they don’t get any sleep.
Sounds a bit like some corporate cubical farms.
As soon as the chicken’s growth peeks than it’s off with their
heads, just like early retirement. So with a
little dye in the chicken’s last supper it's meat turns yellow and
it’s ready to hang in a Mexican market.
We also packed the normal 40 pounds of Hershey
Chocolate bars, and assorted candy. At that time
these were hard to find in Mexico. On this trip
we were also delivering a 2-way radio system including 2, 7-foot
long directional antennas. These were proving
especially difficult to pack, until Daddy decided to remove a panel
from the luggage area and lay the antennas in the bottom of the tail
fuselage on top of the tail fin control cables.
I questioned the potential danger of the antennas interfering with
the control cables but he assured be this would not be a problem. …I
stored this piece of information with the knowledge that he had
already crashed 2 airplanes.
Saturday morning he pulled the throttle back
and the now grossly overloaded plane accelerated down the runway.
A few items bounced over the seat back, but I pushed them
back into place along with the memory that the antennas were
bouncing on top of the control cables. This time
our Brownsville flight plan said Matamoros, and points south but we
would skip the stop at Matamoros because they thought we were in
Linares. Since there was no radar in Matamoros
they would not see us, and the airstrip at Linares was a grassy cow
pasture without any Mexican customs so no one would know we didn’t
really land there last night. The other thing
playing in our favor was the fact that Mexico at that time lacked
the radar stations needed to secure its air space.
I always enjoyed our family vacations to El Potosi but those
trips were in part to monitor the progress of construction on a huge
radar station on top of the mountain.
Flying is a wonderful experience, but it is
best when low to the ground in a small airplane.
Only then do you really get the sensation of speed and
maneuverability. Daddy could over do this on
days. We sometimes flew over the deer lease and tried to herd deer
with an airplane that flies at 120 mph. Today
was less dramatic and I could keep my breakfast where it belonged.
We crested a forested mountain pass and Daddy pointed to the
white roof of the radio transponder building that has guided us on
to Linares. The valley opened up in front of us
and we followed the highway to the hotel. The
first pass over the grass strip behind the hotel was to clear the
cows from the runway. I recalled another trip to
this hotel when Red Wright, “Uncle Red” was with us.
We were late departing Brownsville and Daddy was worried
about having enough daylight. We were even
further behind schedule when we flew over that same transponder.
I could see the transponder building just fine and so I was
not worried, but then I looked ahead and followed the highway down
into the valley where it disappeared into the shadows and smoke from
evening fires. Already you could see house
lights in the darkness. I was always the last to
see a runway, even when they were lit, but on this approach there
were no lights. There was however a beacon, the
hotel was one of the few buildings in town with more than a few
lights and that is what Daddy found. A hard left
turn and that should be the runway. We descended
into the blackest opening of the valley below.
There would to no fly by to clear the cows, so the suspense was not
over even once the wheels had touched ground.
We had dinner that night with Rafael.
I had heard many stories about Rafael. I
knew he had been a Grand Prix race car driver and there was a
wonderful story of about one day after he had purchased grass seed;
grass seed as in African Star, it makes great pasture for cows.
He packed the seed into the doors of his car and headed south
across the border. The first check point was
suspicious but a small bribe got him through.
The second check point was more difficult and a friend at this
checkpoint advised him of plans to arrest him at the third and final
checkpoint. So he approached the third checkpoint
at 140 mph, hoping to avoid bullets and dissuade them from giving
chase. However he was not even past the station when three men with guns were
running toward a yellow Charger parked an the side of the building. With
great respect for the driver of the Charger Rafael recounted that
until daybreak every time he slowed to less than 120 mph the
headlights of the Charger would appear in his mirror. I
was excited to meet Rafael until Red told me that he did not like
children. While I sat through dinner like a piece
of garden statuary I wondered how someone could not like children.
Then Rafael told about some remote land he had purchased in the
desert to the West and his idea for building a resort there.
He drew on a napkin as he told plans to supply the resort
with an air ship. It would be lifted by helium
and its frame would be shaped like an airplane wing so as to provide
additional lift while in flight. I imagine that
few dinner conversations are ever remembered by 13 year old boys,
but this one was like a Tom Swift book that had come to life. Daddy
latter explained that Rafael had an overactive imagination, but it
was too late, the words of a dreamer had already swept me in and
even if it was just dreams, I wanted to live my life with that kind
of adventure. At the end of dinner we walked out
onto the porch and after they had said good night, Rafael reached
over, placed his hand on my shoulder and told me what a wonderful
boy I was. That did it; this guy was good as
gold in my book.
Our stop at Linares on this trip would be
routine and we were soon off to Ciudad Vicitoria, and then Queretaro.
Customs would not be a problem because our visa showed that
we had already passed inspection in Matamoros.
This was not just a delivery trip; Daddy was also collecting
accounts, hence the chocolate to ease the pain of paying the bills. So,
down the street would walk the well dressed businessman in ostrich
boots with a leather briefcase, and at his side a young boy in blue
jeans and tee shirt caring a beat up old vinyl covered briefcase
obviously trying to walk in his fathers footsteps. My
true role in collections was easy; I was the bagman. Who
would suspect that my briefcase actually contained tens of thousands
of dollars while Daddy carried aeronautical charts and a bag of
lemon drops. I was only nervous about this when
I as back in the US standing beside a poster on the wall of the
Customs office that said something about needing to declare currency
in excess of a few hundred dollars. I was not
only caring cash but also a substantial amount of Mexican Government
Bonds. It was an unlikely form of payment to
smugglers but one of our best customers was the Mexican equivalent
of the US Department of Agriculture. They could
get much needed vaccines from us and at a better price that what
they would have to pay if they brought them in through legal
Chiquanquac (Chi-kwan-kwak) was high in the
mountains south of Mexico City. A 12-year-old
boy met us at the airport. Daddy wouldn’t dare
let me behind the wheel of a car, but he got a big kick out of it
when this kid got behind the wheel of a VW bug and drove down the
mountain roads to a chicken farm with two 7-foot long antennas
sticking out the side window. The chicken farm
was like all other chicken farms except it was built inside of an
old fortress of some sort, with 8 foot high and 3 foot thick rock
walls. The base station we erected 20 miles away
at the owners house back in town. Most of the
time I was only marginally helpful. When we
returned home mother would always inquire if I was any trouble and
Daddy would pay an obligatory “he was good” testimony to my credit.
But this night I was a hero, after trying to raise the
chicken farm for over an hour and having adjusted the antenna and
each knob on the radio several times, I noticed that Daddy had not
attached the antenna cable to the back of the radio set.
And voila! A crackle and then a clear response from an
excited employee back at the chicken farm. Drawn
by the sound of success the owner was all smiles as he came into the
room and Daddy gave me my moment of fame as he explained about the
cable that had been left lying on the floor.
On the flight back we got a great view of a
snow capped volcano “Popocatepetl” that climbs 14,000 feet from the
surrounding plains. Its cone shape reminds you
of mountains that a child would draw. Further
north and later into the afternoon thunderstorms began to form.
It was always exciting to watch storm clouds especially when
flying so near but a little too exciting when the storms close
together in front of the plane. Daddy did not
have the necessary instrument flight rating required to fly in these
conditions but they don’t have police to check these kinds of things
either. That was the longest 15 minutes I have
ever spent in an airplane. One minute we were
flying down a green jungle valley with storms to both sides, and the
next we could only see rain beyond the prop.
Daddy was unfazed or at least doing a very convincing display of
calm. My eyes stayed busy looking for trees
through the clouds and watching the numbers change on the Ground
Altimeter Radar or GAR until the clouds opened up and my eyes could
confirm what the GAR had been telling me all along.
Back on the ground in Brownsville we passed
through customs without a hitch. Good thing they
didn’t ask the kid to open up that beat-up briefcase in his hand.
Fish For Sale
One day Daddy and I were walking into the back
of the store from lunch at one of the greasy spoons, when we were
met by a tall thin man. He was well weathered
and his dirty blond hair looked to have been cut with a pocketknife.
His cloths tattered and dirty. I had never seen him before
but Daddy greeted him by name. I missed the
first part of their conversation because I was wondering how Daddy
knew this guy who was obviously sleeping on the streets. That was
not unusual for the Mexicans who worked the alleys for used
cardboard, but this was not Mexican. I tuned back in when the man
took a roll of newspaper from under his arm and unveiled a very
large red fish announcing it to be fresh off the boat and for sale.
I think the asking price was $3. Daddy pulled
out his wallet, dug out a 5 dollar bill and handed it over along
with the admonishment "Go buy yourself a bottle". The man smiled and
asked if he should put the fish in the cooler and the response was
"No, you keep it". Now I was really confused, so
after the man walked away I ask Daddy why he didn’t want the fish.
The reply was something about not knowing where he got that
fish or where it had been.
I still tell most bums "no not today" or don’t even turn to
acknowledge their existence as I wait for the light to change.
But every once in a while I pull out my wallet and hand over
5 dollars knowing damn well it will only feed an addiction, and I
remember my father’s honest compassion.