She’s Gone

She’s Gone

We had a friend whose favorite saying was: “That’s an event to mark time by.” She recited that line every time something important happened. Weddings. Graduations. A new house. Retirement. My preferred metaphor for those events is comparing to a book. “We’ve turned a page.” Or “That’s a new chapter in our lives.”

Judy and I had another event to mark time by, perhaps a new section in the book, or maybe the next volume in a series. Our Blue Lady just rolled out the driveway, never to return.

If you’ve read this blog long, you maybe remember Jim talking about his hitchhiking experience in the early fifties. Someone in a 1953 Cadillac sedan picked him up in the middle of the night on a deserted road in the mountains of Virginia. He loved Cadillacs after that.

I inherited that love, partly because he taught me how to drive in a 1952 Cadillac coupé. I bought that car from him to take to college and into our first year of marriage. I learned a lot in college, and not just electrical engineering. My friend Brad showed me how to rebuild a carburetor on the ’52. Another friend helped me install new brake shoes on our ’65 Mustang. We did it in the parking lot of the engineering campus. The chairman of the electrical engineering department, “Father Ed,” let me use his garage and tools to rebuild the heads on that same Mustang. Those experiences hooked me on getting my hands dirty working on cars.

Cars in that era required a lot of maintenance, and we had little money, so I ended up doing a lot of the work myself. Tune-ups, oil changes, wheel bearing packing, and much more. We loved our ’52 Cadillac and drove it thousands of miles, including trips to visit my family in Denver. It started giving us trouble when a back wheel fell off. Then the driveshaft went out of balance. Then the transmission rear seal started leaking. We decided to move on, and sold the ’52 Cadillac for a ’65 Mustang.

Jim was disappointed. We were disappointed. Our family no longer had a Cadillac. Jim immediately bought another, a 1953 Sedan that he nicknamed “The Blue Lady.” Years later we bought the car from him. Maybe you read that story, too? Continue reading

What changed?

Down in our basement are several big plastic tubs. If you took the time to open one of them, which I haven’t in years, you might find dozens, maybe hundreds, of N-scale model railroad cars, buildings, engines, and miscellaneous equipment. Poke around in my home office and you would discover more trinkets, track, and a half-built modular section.

The other day my friend Jay and I were talking at coffee, and we got on the subject of trains. Railroads held an important spot in our lives in the fifties. If you wanted to travel any distance, it was probably on the railroad. Both he and I had taken significant trips by train.

The little house we lived in until I was about ten was across the river from a railroad branch line. The line served the ice house (now there’s a whole ‘nother topic!), a lumber yard and a couple of other businesses downstream from our house. That line was important to me, especially during the winter when the river froze over. We’d walk across the ice, clamber up the steep river bank, and the follow the tracks for a block or two on our way to school. If we had a spare penny, we’d leave it on the track in the morning, hoping that sometime during the day a train would come by to flatten it.

I wish I still had one of those big pennies.

1962 NPRR Jamestown ND

Operations tower – NP Jamestown, ND

If we followed that branch line another three blocks north, we get to the Northern Pacific’s freight sorting yard. The yard extended a block or two east, and at least a mile to the west. To the east was downtown, where I found interesting equipment and operations, especially exciting for a boy who would become an electrical engineer. Just off First Avenue was a wooden tower, probably twenty-five or thirty feet high, with an operations room at the top. There were two or three men in the room, watching for trains. When they saw one coming, they’d operate switches and levers to activate the crossing signals that held car traffic on the avenues.

View looking west from main street switch tower - Jamestown ND - 1962

View looking west from main street switch tower – Jamestown ND – 1962

Those signals were nothing like the huge illuminated arms that block every lane of traffic these days. They were simple “wig-wag” signals, with a bell and a couple of blinking red lights. Hanging off the bottom was a tail like thing with one of those blinking lights. When the men activated the signal, a tail wagged back and forth to catch drivers’ attention. Eight or ten passenger trains, and many more freight trains, came through every day. The guys in the tower didn’t get much time to nap. Continue reading

Radio days

Vintage Zenith Royal 150 Transistor Radio (8397268271)Radio was different in 1961. I had a brand new pocket transistor radio.

According to Wikipedia, the radio probably cost me about twenty dollars. Adjusting for inflation, that’s well over a hundred of today’s dollars. My memory is foggy on where the money or the radio came from, but having one of those little Zenith radios says something about my interest in technology.

Jamestown had only two radio stations in those days. KSJB and KEYJ. Both are still on the air, but now there are many more. That summer I listened to a few baseball games, but they didn’t hold my interest. Roger Maris was almost a local boy, but that wasn’t enough. KSJB played top ten hits, which did catch my interest. I collected their weekly Billboard Top Ten sheets for years, saving them for decades. It took a while for me to get my first RCA 45 RPM record changer, which allowed me to start buying those top ten records. Nat “King” Cole got the honors of the first record I ever bought: Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.

KSJB had much more than music. One of my grandmother’s favorite shows was the Reverend N.E. McCoy. He preached in the small town style. No asking for money, as not many people in our town had much for money. Most important, from Grandma’s point of view, was McCoy’s hospital visits. He would make the rounds of the hospital in the morning, visiting with all the patients, then give everyone in town an update on his noon-time radio show. From what I know about privacy and HIPAA laws, he wouldn’t have much to talk about today. Continue reading

I’m afraid it’s a perfect day

Kutzky Park, Rochester MN

A perfect morning in Kutzky Park

I love my morning walks to coffee. Thanks to vacations and other complicating factors I hadn’t been to my favorite coffee shop for three weeks. This June morning was the perfect time to get back into the routine of walking the trails along Cascade Creek. A family of ducks swam among the rocks looking for breakfast. Bikers (always looking so healthy) smiled and greeted me warmly. The temperature hovered in the mid-sixties, with the clear sun promising a warm day.

Since the last time I’d been along the creek the wildflowers and naturalized areas on the bank had fully grown, the flowers overwhelmed me with beauty and fragrance. I couldn’t count the varieties of grasses and flowers.

What’s to be afraid of? Everything seemed so clean and well planned. The parks department maintains the edge of the trail, keeping the weeds at bay. In one flower bed they were half way through clearing overgrowth from around the milkweed. No wonder so many people get out early on a summer morning to enjoy the path.

I love taking my grand children over to the park, along the same trail, to the playground. There are usually several other little kids with moms or dads playing on the equipment. Their happy smiles remind me of when I played in Klaus Park in Jamestown, North Dakota. But something has changed. Continue reading

Ad Est Virum

Chrsitmas TreeIt’s all about who you know. My friend’s mother Adeline knew the people at White Drug, and she knew that I desperately needed money for college. I don’t remember who she talked to, but they gave me jobs during all the breaks throughout my freshman year of college. Some of the skills I learned ended up being useful, others not as much. One week I worked in the pharmacy. They had only one job for me. Count pills. Hundreds. Thousands of pills. Put them into jars of 100 each. Using a little tray, I’d count by fives. Five … ten … fifteen … all the way to a hundred. Put a lid on the jar. Repeat until lunch. Once again, I learned that my choice of an engineering career matched my personality.

Another week I worked in the general merchandise part of the store. Right after Christmas Day it was time to clear the holiday aisle for the new things. White’s sold a myriad of types of Christmas light bulbs. Tiny ones. Small ones for tree decorations. Larger ones to use along the roof. Red ones. Blue bulbs. Green. Every color, every size. These were the days before plastic bubble packs; all the bulbs were loose. Just pick out the few that met your needs and pay the lady. Thank you.

My job was to collect all the light bulbs into one large box and move them to storage. It was a huge box. Maybe a cubic yard? Three feet on a side, but light bulbs are light, so it wasn’t a big deal. Except for the little stumble I took going down the stairs. I dropped the box.

What a magical sound; hundreds of glass bulbs shattering. Continue reading

Road trip!

Jamestown, ND, 1966

Patty

We were a couple of kids. Patty and I wanted to go to a basketball game. We’d been to lots of games at the high school. They’d all been at the school we went to, the one a few blocks from my house. This was an away game. We wanted to drive over there on a Friday evening. I’d been on trips before, but this would be the first time on our own.

We were both loners, not a lot of friends. There never was a discussion about getting together with a group of friends to make the trek, we just wanted to go. Just the two of us.

Looking back on it, I wonder how we ever figured out how to make it happen. The freeway did go from Jamestown to Valley City. This was the mid sixties, wasn’t it? Compared to what we have today, so much was missing. I probably had a map. It would have been the good old paper map produced by the North Dakota Tourism board. It had detail on every exit of the freeway, so we knew that there were only a couple of options to get off the highway to get into town. The map also had an insert describing the town. It might have had the local high school marked. Continue reading

NDCUL 1966

Jim worked with a lot of people at the NDCUL, including a team from Uganda.

Jim worked with a lot of people at the NDCUL, including a team from Uganda.

The new job at the North Dakota Credit Union League was exciting for Jim, and that excitement shows through in this letter. This was where he belonged. He became the expert, traveling the state to help people organize and run credit unions.

As mentioned in earlier letters, I learned a lot from Jim’s job at the league. He showed me how to deal with people, teaching both by example and through evening conversations during commercial breaks in the Red Skelton Show. Jim dealt with a lot of people, some nicer than others. One of the nicest people worked as a secretary at the league. Judy was just a couple of years older than me (and drove a hot 1957 Chevy).

Their special relationship lasted from that first meeting in the office to the end of his days in 2007. Watching them helped me understand how to treat other people, especially a woman who deserves love and respect. Jim was part of Bob and Judy’s wedding, a guest at their holiday meals, part of the children’s celebrations, and a friend for life. Jim had us in Rochester and Judy’s (not my Judy, the other one) family in Jamestown.

He was one lucky man.

Jim writes:

The Director for Personnel of the State Employment Service was also the Treas. of the IAPES Credit Union in Bismarck. Even tho he knew I had been hired by the league some two months prior he called to inform that I was still on the register and that there were several openings in the state for interviewers … would I be interested in Valley City at $430 a month? Now they tell me! Again I was in a quandary!

Continue reading