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Workplace Injuries
Stories about Carl Sr.

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 trucks. 

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 top hatch.

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 channels.

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.