WWII Imperial Japanese Army Officers Sword

I have found out more information on the sword dad brought back from WWII. I have previously described it as an Imperial Japanese Naval Officer’s sword, as that is as close as I could get from researching similar looking swords.  

After much additional research, and purchase of a rather expensive, out of print book on Japanese military swords, I have found that the sword originated from the Japanese occupation of Korea.  These swords were authorized for military officials of the colonial government of Korea from 1911 to the end of the WW II in 1945. 

Japanese occupational troops in Korea

Dad’s sword was issued to a Hannin, or junior-level officer in the Japanese Army that was assigned to occupation duty in Korea prior to, or during World War II.  It is in great shape overall, with a beautiful ray skin covered handle and brass fittings.  

A similar sword that was for sale for $600. I found 2-3, selling anywhere from $600-$1200.

The style of the sword is kyu-gunto (roughly “old”, or “first” pattern military sword). Starting in 1875, a new sword was developed that became the first standard issue for the new army. It is a hybrid of European ideas and Japanese sword traditions. If you’ve seen the rather fictionalized “The Last Samurai” with Tom Cruise, you know the time period this sword was originally designed in. 

At the start of the Meiji Restoration, the Samurai were disenfranchised and the Japanese government began creating an imperial army along European lines, changing their military swords from the traditional Samurai style, to a more European style.

The hilt is very European with its guard and knuckle bow, with the sacred Imperial Chrysanthemum, or kiku, incorporated on the pommel. The chrysanthemum is the emblem of the Imperial Family. According to historical records, Emperor Gotoba and his three succeeding emperors enjoyed using chrysanthemums as a pattern. Although this crest was reserved to the Imperial Family, it was also awarded by the imperial court to other people who had shown excellence in service to the imperial household. 

Chrysanthemum flower on pommel

The sides of the backstrap have a Kiri emblem of the Paulownia Imperialis flower bloom, with a main 7 floret bud arrangement with 5 smaller florets on either side, signifying government service in Korea. 

Kiri emblem on hilt

The Paulownia is a deciduous tree that is widely cultivated in Japan. It belongs to the figwort family Paulowniaceae and it is also known as the “princess tree” or “emperor tree”. 

This tree was adopted as a crest motif because it symbolizes good fortune. In China, people consider it a lucky tree where phoenixes reside. It was also believed that these phoenixes sing “long live the king!” in the high, blooming branches of the tree.

Because of this belief, the paulownia tree became a pattern used in the emperor’s clothes and then later became a crest during the end of the Kamakura period. This crest is awarded by the imperial court to retainers. The retainers also awarded the crest to vassals who had performed exemplary deeds.

The blade itself is in the style of a katana, with an edge that turns up abruptly just before the tip.

Blade showing fuller and katana tip

Like older, traditional Japanese swords, the blade passes through a rectangular collar (habaki) which appears to be made of copper, and a flat spacer with a rippled edge (seppa) before entering the guard. 

Showing copper habaki and rippled seppa on hilt

The grip is traditional Japanese same-kawa, white ray skin, wrapped in typical European style with a triple strand of wire.

White Ray skin handle

The sword also has a folding leaf that is part of the cross guard that serves as a catch for securing the sword in the scabbard.  

Hinged leaf to lock sword into scabbard

The blade is just a little under 26 inches long.  It has a blood groove, more properly known as a fuller, running almost the entire length of the blade. 

Full length fuller groove

The scabbard is constructed of wood, with a thin lacquered shark skin covering.  

Lacquered shark skin scabbard

This has three nice brass fittings, two at the top that serve as hangers, and one at the bottom to protect the tip.  

Brass hangers on scabbard
Brass scabbard tip

In the definitive (and expensive!) Fuller and Gregory book “Military Swords of Japan 1868-1945”, they call the sword a “1911 pattern Hannin (Junior) Officials sword of the Government General of Korea”. They go on the say that the sword should be considered rare, and is considered a purely ceremonial sword.

The description in the book:

Japanese Chosen Hannin Level Official Dress Sword

This is a rare example of a Japanese Chosen (Korea) Hannin Level Official’s Sword that would have been carried by Japanese Officials assigned to the occupational Government. It is mounted with a machine-made blade that has a cutting edge measuring 25 3/4 inches in length.  The sword is 31 inches overall. The plain brass frames a beautiful white Same-kawa, a ray skin wrapping of the hilt, with its original twisted wire wrap still tightly in place.

How dad came to be in possession of this sword is a mystery, and most likely will always be a mystery.  It is very possible he picked it up somewhere on the battlefields of the Philippines or Okinawa where he was subjected to a number of banzai charges as the Japanese grew more desperate.   

Page from dad’s diary describing his first banzai charge

A Banzai charge is the term used by the Allied forces to refer to Japanese human wave attacks mounted by their infantry units. This term came from the Japanese cry “Tenno Heika Banzai” for “Long live the Emperor”, and shortened to banzai, and it specifically refers to a tactic used by Japanese soldiers during the Pacific War. 

Banzai attack

Banzai was born of the militaristic government of Japan that had again adopted the concepts of Bushido to condition the country’s population to be ideologically obedient to the emperor. Impressed with how samurai were trained to commit suicide when a great humiliation was about to befall them, the government educated troops that it was a greater humiliation to surrender to the enemy than to die. 

During the war period, the Japanese government began disseminating propaganda that romanticized suicide attack, using one of the virtues of Bushido as the basis for the campaign. The Japanese government presented war as purifying, with death defined as a duty. By the end of 1944, the government announced the last protocol, unofficially named ichioku gyokusai, literally “100 million shattered jewels”, for the purpose of resisting opposition forces until the surrender.

Often, banzai participants drank large quantities of sake and beer to work themselves into a frenzy and give themselves additional courage to charge headlong into overpowering firepower.  It had to be terrifying on both sides of such a charge. 

As children, we, at least I, imagined exactly this type of situation occurring with this symbol of the most frightening kind of hand to hand combat…a crazed enemy emerging out of the darkness screaming banzai and swinging a three foot, razor sharp blade with a total disregard to whether he lived or died. 

Holding the sword, I imagined dad coming face to face with a wild-eyed Japanese soldier intent on running him through, surviving the melee, then collecting the sword as a trophy of battle.  It wouldn’t have been the first time in that war, as he had narrowly escaped a face to face run-in inside a Japanese bunker.

Although I asked dad how he acquired the sword several times, I never got a real answer. “During the war” or “Off a dead Jap” were typical responses.  He never elaborated, perhaps for good reason. It may well have been on the battlefield from an officer that had served in Korea prior to being posted in the Pacific But it may be just as likely that he picked it up wheeling and dealing after the surrender of Japan.

Dad was posted to occupy Korea right from the battle in Okinawa to help keep the Japanese under control and prevent the Russians from moving beyond the 38th Parallel.  

Army of Occupation Medal for Asian theater

So, he might also have picked the sword up from a Japanese POW in Korea, or from a pile of surrendered weapons, or he might have just traded a few cartons of smokes to another GI for a cool officer’s sword. 

Japanese soldiers being disarmed by US-forces in Korea

It wouldn’t have been easy packing a sword around in the jungles of the Philippines or the horrific monsoons of Okinawa. While they kept non-combat essential gear in rear areas, they were constantly on the move.

What I am sure of is that dad saw more than his share of charging Japanese infantrymen brandishing swords, bayonets and grenades, as witnessed by the shrapnel he carried in his body his entire life.

They were all trying to send him, as he wrote in the pages of his war diary, “to go see his honorable ancestors” before they saw theirs. I’m glad it took him eighty years to see them instead of just nineteen.

I grow stuff, and I know things…

Like most of us, the Covid quarantine has kept me home a great deal more than I have been used to. All that time at home has “allowed” me to give more attention to the yard and gardening.  The title of this article is more tongue in cheek than anything else…I saw it on a t-shirt on Facebook and thought about the simplicity of it all, but built on a lot of experience.

Growing things is not all that hard if you just let nature have her way. I can declare I’m going to grow the best crop of dandelions ever, do nothing, and my yard will fill with them…but figuring out how to bend nature to your will does take some knowledge and a bit of voodoo when dealing with picking seeds (surprisingly hard this year!), spacing, pruning, watering, fertilizing, powdery mildew, end blossom rot and all the other plant diseases, worms, bugs, beetles and critters, poor soil, and on and on.

As the oldest child, I spent so much time doing yard work in the horticultural chain gangs of my mother and father that some of it was bound to rub off, no matter how much I resisted. Whether by osmosis or having it beat into me, I picked up some “stuff” over the years.

Now, I have always had a love/hate relationship with yard work and gardening. Like many, I grew up being an indentured servant, doing yard and garden work for my parents for the proverbial room and board.  This of course turned it into a chore rather than an enjoyable past time. I have had full gardens, herbs in pots and boxes and everything in between, but I have always, at the least, thrown a few tomato plants in the ground.

I am not suggesting I am a master gardener by any means, and the incremental knowledge gained over time was almost imperceptible…but just how much I do know started coming into sharp focus after I joined several “garden groups” on Facebook, well, because that’s what you do on Facebook.

As I read through the various posts I became aware that I know a great deal about “growing things”, in no small part due to the influence of my parents. I would read a post and think: “good grief, any idiot knows how to do that”, but it became apparent just how much I had picked up from mom and dad over the years, as well as my own experience. Much of this I have taken for granted, because “you just do it” without much thought, as it has become a part of me.

As with all of my long-winded stories, I’ll start from the beginning.  Both my parents were avid gardeners.  Dad on the practical side with vegetables, and mom loving her flowers and decorative plants. Even while he was in the Army with our temporary housing, dad would grow at least a few tomato and onion plants.  

Me at Ft Knox in 1959 with my first pet. Dad’s tomato patch to the left behind me at Ft Knox.

I remember dad coming home one night at Ft. Benning after a neighbor had hacked his tomato plants all to bits chasing a black snake off our patio.  “It’s not even poisonous!” (with a few more colorful words thrown in) he said after seeing the decapitated snake.  “We told him dad, but he wouldn’t listen” we said…dad had, by then, explained the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes to us many times.  

Me and Greg at Ft Benning, with the tomato patch that was destroyed by the snake hunter.

With our backyard bordering a swamp, we knew most of the local snakes already anyway. We thought dad was going to kill the poor guy because we got a butt whooping if a ball bounced into his ‘mater patch, causing damage or not.

My earliest memories of doing actual yardwork begin when I was six years old in 1965.  We had just moved to Ohio from Georgia when dad was sent off to fight in Vietnam, leaving mom, me and my two brothers and sister in a brand new house, in a brand new development, mostly still under construction. 

Barebones new construction 1965. The topsoil is spread and straw is keeping the new grass from frying in the sun.

Being brand spanking new, the yard was a blank canvas…well more like a clay and limestone moonscape where nothing was growing. Mom made it her mission…our mission, to whip the yard into shape and make things grow by the time dad got back.  

Sad looking back yard, no fence yet. Note the new apartment building going up in the background.

Making anything grow entailed having many dump trucks of topsoil delivered, to be spread on top of the insufferable bare clay left by the builders. Mom had me and my brother out there with shovels, rakes, and wheel barrows distributing the massive piles of topsoil evenly over the front and back yards.

I’m not sure how helpful we actually were, but I remember it being real exhausting work. This took many days in the hot Ohio summer of 1965…which then led to painful sunburns for all of us.

I still can’t stand the smell of vinegar as my mother’s homegrown prescription was to slap strips of vinegar soaked brown paper grocery sacks all over our backs and tell us not to move. We had blisters on our backs and blisters on our hands, but we eventually got all the dirt moved, spread with grass seed, and covered with straw to help it grow. 

Mom then created her first flower bed, a small round one, bordered with broken bricks we snuck from the apartment building going up behind us. Greg and I had befriended a construction worker over there and he told us it would be “alright as long as you don’t get caught by the boss-man”.

Hey, those flowerbed bricks match the big building behind us…

The bare clay yard was “landscaped” by the builder with a few minuscule Arborvitae shrubs against the house and two Silver Maple twigs in the front yard…just like every other house in the development.

Photo mom sent to dad in Vietnam to show her our hard work on the yard. 1965. Note the Silver Maple “tree” to her right.

Of course, the servitude did not stop with getting grass to grow…when dad got back from Vietnam, my parents decided the house needed a hedge around the entire front yard.  This required digging a trench a couple of feet deep in that same limestone filled clay. Since the dirt was so hard, dad’s preferred tools were Army entrenching tools, which he was very familiar with.  

Army “eTool”. Great for making blisters. The pick was very useful to pry out Ohio limestone chunks.

These could have the blade bent 90 degrees to get into the narrow trench.  One of them even had a pick on it for levering the large hunks of limestone out of the trench.  Little did I realize then that my experience digging that long trench would come back to serve me well digging foxholes in the Army years later.

After the trench was dug it had to be lined with peat moss, manure and top soil as the native gray clay was terrible for plants. Then all the hedge shrubs had to be planted.  This hedge was to be my bane for as long as I lived there, as not only did I inherit cutting the lawn as soon as I was deemed able, but also trimming the hedge.  I’m not sure what kid assumed those duties when I went off to the Army.

1972. The hedge has filled out and the Arborvitae have grown up. The Silver Maples are branching out and dad’s willow tree is growing fast behind the right one.

Dad trimmed the hedges himself for many years, as he demanded that they were perfectly level and flat and didn’t trust me to get it right when young.  He accomplished this topiary perfection by pulling a string tight, from one end to the other, with a string level on it to use as a guide for his hedge trimmer. The corners and openings had to have square-cut raised platforms to set them off.  

He sounded like the father working on the furnace in “A Christmas Story” when he found the neighbor kid and mailman were cutting through the hedge as a short cut and making unsightly gaps.  Using his military training, he strung some hidden barb wire booby traps inside the hedge to thwart the hedge violators.  After a few years though, the novelty of a perfect hedge wore off and it was handed off to me. Yippee.  

Woe to those that try to pass through my hedge…

In the meantime, mom was still on her mission to beautify the landscape.  She absolutely loved flowers and plants and had already filled the house with Violets, Begonias, Spider plants, Dieffenbachia, Philodendrons, Rubber plants, Calatheas, Air plants, Jade plants, Aloe, Dragon trees, Bromeliads, Snake plants, cactus, Hens and Chicks and numerous other succulents, and especially ferns…of all shapes, sizes and descriptions.  If she could beg, borrow or steal a start she stuck it in a jar to root and coaxed it to grow.

A few Spider plants, ferns and other plants in the living room. Every window sill was covered as well.

But she had more space outside, so she ordered the crew (me and dad) out to cut up the grass along the entire perimeter of the yard and driveway to make flower beds.  Again, the entrenching tools were perfect for cutting up the sod and rolling it up to go somewhere else.

Phil showing off the flowerbed along the driveway.

She filled these to overflowing with every plant imaginable.  Canna lilies, Day Lilies, Black-eyed Susans, Daisies, Oxeye Daisies, Peonies, Primrose, Poppies, Dahlias, Marigolds, Hyacinth, Sweet pea, Petunias, Snapdragons, Honeysuckle, Crocus, Daffodils, Tulips, Phlox, shrubs like Lilac, Pussy Willow, Forsythia, you name it…but especially her beloved roses that reminded her of her mother.

Laurie showing off the flower bad along the front walk.

Some of my personal favorites back then were Snap Dragons and 4 O’Clocks. Snap Dragons simply because they had a cool name and looked like tiny skulls when they went to seed.

Snap Dragon seed pods…

The 4 O’clocks I liked not so much because they looked pretty and colorful mind you, but because the seeds were perfect for using as GI Joe hand grenades.

Pull pin and throw GI Joe…

When the perimeter beds got full, she had us widen them a foot or two here and there…eventually adding large triangles to double the square footage.  Of course, all these flower beds needed weeding, so I got double my usual rate of nothing to keep these under control. The yard had become a jungle.

Fully matured jungle.

Growing up a farm boy, dad’s focus was always food related. In the meager space that mom allowed him around the house, he planted apple, pear and plum trees, a Concord grapevine, Rhubarb and even transplanted a Poke plant he found out in the woods for Poke Salat (caution, you need to know how to prepare this as it can be poisonous). Every year mom put up grape jelly and jam, frozen apples, apple butter, apple jelly, and pears…but dad could never get a good crop off the plum tree. He would go down to old homesteads by the river and cut off flowering plum branches to help the bees cross pollinate, but what we got back looked more like prunes than plums.

Dads very green lawn with the apple tree right behind our dog Inky. There is a plum right behind it and a pear tree along the right side of the frame.

He also liked Willow trees, and cut a small branch down by the Miami river, stuck it in the ground and soon it was a big tree in the front yard. Of course, seeing this wizardry, I started sticking Willow branches in the ground all over the neighborhood…until I learned that they make great switches to swat misbehaving butts.

Dad’s main focus for decades though, was his vegetable garden.  With a family of eight, keeping food on the table was no small task.  Around the house, he only had room for a small garden with a few tomato plants, a row or two of table onions, lettuce, a cucumber plant or two, a few bean plants and various herbs.

But he always managed to find a place for a big garden from a relative that had extra space and bartered back with the produce he grew. Whether it was over at the Shores by Aunt Jeans or behind my Aunt Gladys’ house, he planted every vegetable known to me and many I had never heard of, and in such quantities that the season’s bounty would tide us over until the next year with all the canning and freezing mom did. 

Unfortunately for posterity, the big garden was a place to grow food and hard work and there was no phone cameras or Facebook, so I can’t find any photos.

He would buy seed packets that filled his old ammo cans and started the finicky ones off from scratch in the house when it was still cold out.  He used egg cartons, butter tubs, cottage cheese containers…anything that could hold a dab of dirt to poke a seed in and filled the window sills down in the basement. 

As soon as the ground wasn’t frozen I would help him load his big rototiller in the back of the station wagon and haul it over to the “big” garden.  

This was brutal work with a big garden, but better than the mules he grew up with.

Then he would spend several days tilling up the soil to make nice, straight rows.  I got to run it once in a while, but it was a beast for a small boy and would try to run off with me. He wore out the tines and broke metal bits on it all the time.

Well tilled soil…

Dad would get the cold weather crops seeded…lettuce, peas, spinach, carrots, radishes, cabbage, beets, turnips, garlic, leeks, onions, broccoli, collards, and so on.  Then, when he was sure the frosts were done, he would plant row after row of corn, beans of all kinds, squash, peppers, cucumbers, pumpkin, cantaloupe, tomatoes…all of many varieties.  

Then he had stuff that I didn’t even know what you did with it, until I saw mom do something with it and she had to learn from Mamaw for some of it as well.  Plants like okra, dill, mustard, chard and horseradish. What the heck is an okra? Something that mamaw and mom put in vegetable soup and pickled, that’s what.

What the heck is an Okra?

Dad also had his failures, but they were few and far between, except for two crops. Watermelon and peanuts. He tried them many times, but always to disappointing results compared to the rich bottomland results he knew as a boy.

The watermelons turned out the size of grapefruit and he would barely get enough peanuts to put in a box of Crackerjacks. I remember him dumping bags of sand in the peanut rows to loosen up that clay, but nothing seemed to help.

Once all of this was in the ground it was a daily grind to go to the garden and hoe each row for weeds, pull the horn worms off the tomatoes and dust the cabbage and broccoli to keep the cabbage worms off of them.

In the driest parts of the summer he would haul water over in 5 gallon army jerry cans and dole the precious water out like it was gold to each plant. If I got sloppy with the hoe or water dipper I got chewed out, so I learned quickly that our food was serious business and to be respected.

One of these full of water is HEAVY!

As veggies grew to a pickable size there was a continuous flow of them while in season. Every night for dinner there was a bowl of cucumbers and onion slices in vinegar water, a plate of sliced tomatoes and another dish of small table onions and radishes.

This was in addition to the ever present giant green Tupperware bowl salad of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, radishes and whatever else was good that day. You could have any flavor Italian dressing you wanted…and this was always already mixed in… kids couldn’t be trusted to dole out their own.

Once the crops started coming in in large numbers mom was soon overloaded with all the work involved with canning and freezing all that produce. Stuff piled up in the kitchen everywhere: hundreds of pint and quart Ball-Mason and Kerr jars, torn paper sacks full of jar rings and lids, pressure cookers and giant pots for cooking and blanching, paraffin and pectin for the jelly jars…it happened every summer.

Canning paraphernalia…mom had it all and more.

Tomatoes were probably the king crop…dad would bring home bushels and bushels of them, so many we ate them like apples with one of those big silver salt shakers.

Could never have too much salt on a ‘mater

They would soon be covered with zillions of gnats, driving everyone crazy. The ‘maters were processed whole, turned into sauce or paste and fried up green before they turned red and after the frost hit the vines.

They were the foundation of the ever-present kid food: elbow macaroni with tomato sauce and hamburger that seemed to be served every other day.

Greenbeans were probably second in stature…they accompanied almost every meal during the winter from the jars mom put up. It was a typical chore in the summer to be sitting watching TV and snapping beans in the big Tupperware bowls. If they had runners you’d have to have a paring knife to slice the end enough to pull the runner off and then snap them into bite size pieces.

So many beans…

Green beans were canned and also frozen in quart freezer bags. Once you had a big bowl or two they would be dumped into the big blanching pot for a quick dunk then either put into the freezer bags or jarred up to put in the pressure cooker. It was a common and reassuring sound to hear that pressure cooker relief valve dancing around all day long…it meant we would be eating that winter.

While I liked green beans, especially with a hunk of bacon or pork in them, I liked other types of beans as well…kidney beans meant big pots of chili, so I wanted as many jars of these put up as possible. But there were also white beans, lima beans, pinto beans, black beans and so on.

These dry beans were easier to work than snapping green beans: you just ran your thumb up the dry hull and spilled them into your bowl, you didn’t even need to look away from the TV.

A pot of soup beans with a ham bone might have been my dad’s favorite food. He would pour some pepper juice in them from a jar and be in heaven with a big hunk of buttered corn bread.

Ham and beans with cornbread…mmmmm good!

While I ate them just fine, I was not a fan of sauerkraut and pickling season. As mentioned, I had a negative Pavlovian reaction to the smell of vinegar from mom’s sunburn treatments, still do. And the entire house smelled like vinegar for days when mom processed the dozens and dozens of cabbage heads into Kraut. I still have nightmares about shredding the skin off my knuckles and fingertips from grating the cabbage for kraut.

Cucumbers were turned into every kind of pickle mom could find a recipe for from mamaw or other relatives. Dad provided all the dill and other pickling spices from the garden. Mom then made the cukes into brine pickles, bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, sweet pickles, relish, you name it.

Pickles galore…

She left them whole, hacked them into spears, sliced them into chips and other ways. Add to this pickled corn and okra, pickled peppers and beets and assorted other pickled vegetables and I tried to stay out of the house as much as possible…to avoid the work as well as the smell. But I did enjoy eating them, except for the beets and sweet pickles…blecht!

With a big family, we always had two freezers down in the basement: one filled with a side of beef and a whole hog from Uncle Chet and Aunt Shirley’s farm, and the other filled with all the frozen produce and store bought stuff. If there was a power outage you were not to open the freezers under penalty of death lest all the food thaw out and spoil.

We also had a pantry room in the basement to serve as a root cellar. It was full of shelving for all the jars of produce, empty jars and canning equipment as well as cool storage for potatoes, onions and squash.

The old pantry room just before we cleaned it all out to sell mom and dad’s house. Wonder how old those beans are?

Thinking back on it all, our primary sources of food were relatively unprocessed, but hardly entirely organic. While he did use a lot of manure and composted everything, I remember dad powdering tomato, cabbage and broccoli plants with Sevin, but he probably also used other insecticides to combat the various types of pestilence that descended on his precious plants. Hornworms were the devil…they could chew an entire tomato plant to dust overnight.

The Devil…a hornworm on a tomato plant.

You knew when he found one as he would cuss up a storm and graphically squish the daylights out of it. One of my early tasks was to systematically go down each row and check closely for these spawn of satan, but while I was a dead-eye on these vermin I was also prone to putting one or two of them in a jar to see if they turned into moths, which grow quite large.

Hornworm moth…

This of course, was consorting with the enemy in dad’s eyes, after all, he was raised in the tobacco fields of Kentucky where these things took money from the family’s pockets and food from their mouths. His decree was “show no mercy”. After all, it was about feeding his large brood, not feeding the critters.

Whew, that took a while...so?

That long-winded summary is an explanation of how gardening seems to come fairly naturally and makes sense to me, even as I have studiously avoided it over the years for more adventurous pursuits.

Whether by repetition by watching my parents, unconsciously by gradual osmosis, or perhaps there really is a genetic element from so many years of ancestors growing their own food, I somehow know what to do to coax life out of the earth, and it still brings much satisfaction.

As mentioned, I joined a number of Facebook groups having to do with gardening, partly out of boredom, and I have realized just how much I do know by watching the endless hordes of new gardeners failing to get anything to grow and the amazing amount of bad information given out on social media.

Some of this researching and navel gazing over gardening was also caused by not being able to buy seeds and plant starts from the usual suspects this year due to Covid. Everyone seemed to be sold out or on a huge delay by people doing the same thing I was.

Wanting to get plants going sooner rather than later, I bought some seeds on Amazon. One set of seeds was supposed to be for an entire garden of 20 different vegetables for $18.00. Open-pollinated, heirloom, non-GMO…such a deal!.

Note there is no indication of Chinese anything. At the time there were no ratings…the 2 stars have come from people like me complaining about the Chinese instructions.
An entire garden…complete with Barbie sized tools and watering can…All in Chinese!

I was not thinking for a moment that every Amazon seed pack I got would come from China. Most of these arrived with all the information written in Chinese, or with no information at all. Some I still have not received, even though I paid for them.

Still haven’t arrived 7 months later…

Not to be thwarted, I got out my trusty iPhone and Google translate app to decipher this mess. Some of them were straight forward translations:

Leeks I can understand…

Other translations were a bit more concerning…I decided maybe I wouldn’t plant this one:

West’s Corpse? That can’t be good.

Others intrigued me, but not enough to plant them…at least not yet:

Chicken Feathers? Is that a real thing? Szechwan style?

In any case I ordered them all in March and April and they didn’t start showing up until late May. I was pretty sure my season was a bust until a friend (thanks Terri P!) offered up some tomato, pepper and pumpkin starts. I hastily accepted and I’m very grateful. I did plant a bunch of starts from the Chinese seeds though, as I didn’t have many options at the time.

Chinese Seed starts production…

Meanwhile, among many other Covid projects, I had wanted to build some new raised beds for several years. The ones I had were rotting out and it so happened I had a pile of cedar 2×14’s that have sat unused since I decided on a gazebo rather than a pergola for my deck.

2- 10’x4′ raised beds down, 2 to go.

It took no time at all to cobble 4 big raised beds together, but getting them filled with soil took over a month for delivery due to Covid. I ordered the topsoil/mushroom compost mix and waited. And waited.

Finally! My soil has arrived!

I wasted no time in planting my starts once I filled the beds up.

Dirty work done…
Starts in the ground!

While gardening is, at its most basic, a straight forward and relatively simple endeavor, toss seeds in dirt, water, weed…I am a nerd at heart and need to reach the Nth degree with most things I do. I read voraciously on whatever subject or glittery object has caught my eye…every single time.

So where dad just piled everything in a heap, called it compost and turned it once in a while, I bought one of those “fancy” compost tumblers to keep the critters away from my inviting kitchen scraps and recycled Liam’s old playpens into compost bins. Very colorful.

Compost row…I can hear my dad chuckling now… “you spent money to make compost?”

But that wasn’t enough of course…if I’m going to do it I’m jumping in with both feet. These tomatoes are going to cost $100 a pound by the time I’m through.

So I also bought soil test kits, PH test meter, watering timers, more soaker hoses, hose manifolds and splitters. Doing my part to support Amazon, FedEX, UPS and the Postal Service.

I have long looked at yard work and gardening simply as necessary work, something you just do to maintain your property or get some better tasting produce, or because that’s “just what our family does”…but the situation this year has given me the time, wanted or not, to get back to my gardening roots and again find enjoyment from simply watching all of it grow.

I have never bothered to take photos of my garden in the past, and neither did my parents. It was just part of life. It seems crazy to me that so much of my parents time was devoted to growing things, and there is so little record of it other than these memories.

So snapping photos of my efforts along the way to serve as a record of what happened for next year has been a bonus…it’s pretty cool to look back and watch it all come together and compare then and now pics. Maybe it will serve as motivation for next season when this pandemic is over and life returns to “normal”…whatever that might look like. If nothing else I have done more than my part to feed the bees and squirrels.

The Big Road Trip and surviving the first year in Washington

I was fresh out of the Army in the winter of 1981, and staying for a while at my parents’ home in Ohio.  I still had a case of wanderlust after traveling the world and resolved to leave Ohio and head back out to Washington State. I had served out there from 1977-1979 at Ft. Lewis, near Tacoma, and had often regaled my buddy Rick with many stories of climbing and skiing the beautiful mountains, hiking in the massive old growth forests, fishing the clear clean rivers, the power of the Pacific Ocean, beauty of Puget Sound and the open desert country on the east of the mountains.  

It was where I had decided I wanted to live and play, and Rick was all in.  By April of 1982, Rick and I had both received our paltry tax refunds to serve as grubstakes and we were keen to hit the road to Washington.  I loaded my ’65 Plymouth Valiant and Rick and his girlfriend Bonnie loaded his fairly new (compared to mine) Datsun Kingcab pickup. 

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My $600 special…of course, mine was 17 years old.
Rick and his rig

They were packed full of all of our worldly possessions and high hopes of an adventurous life out west. Waving goodbye to our tearful mothers and families, we excitedly headed off.  

The three of us spent over a month on the road, doing the classic cross-country road trip.  My poor overloaded car (I had removed the back seat in order to haul more crap, including very heavy books) started overheating immediately upon getting on the highway in Ohio.  We limped along through Indiana, stopping at almost every other rest stop to refill my radiator.  It was not an auspicious start to a cross-country journey of several thousand miles.

We eventually made it across Illinois to Rick’s grandmother’s house in Alton, along the banks of the mighty Mississippi.  Having a place to relax a bit, I tried get to the bottom of my overheating Valiant situation. 

His grandma was a character…she would have us get the burn barrel going out in the field and continue bringing items out one by one. I swear she was pulling Kleenex out just to watch them burn. She had several dogs, a chihuahua she allowed in the house, and a small herd of mongrels that ran around in the yard.  They would commence to barking for one reason or another and she would light a firecracker and toss it out the door to hush them up.

She fed us with homemade cooking and let us spend a few nights with her.  I quite enjoyed our conversations…she did like to talk.  I see where Rick got it from.

But the Plymouth was still a problem. I dug in my trunk for my trusty old Motor’s Auto Manual, going through every possible solution they listed troubleshooting overheating engines.  I literally tried everything in the book. New thermostat, radiator flush, replaced the hoses and on and on.  I eventually took it to a local Alton mechanic that recommended replacing the radiator. I bought a used one at a junk yard and got back to work installing it.  

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My test drive route after each attempted “fix” was to drive from Rick’s grandma’s house, past the famous Piasa Bird pictograph (why it’s famous I have no idea, but Rick went on and on about it), and finally down along the Mississippi River along Great River Road and continuing up to the “Our Lady of the Rivers Shrine”. 

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This shrine became the “Holy Mother of Overheating Cars” to me, as no matter what I did the car would start heating-up about the time I got there, forcing a turn around.  I can’t tell you how many times I drove that route over the several days we were there. 

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Exhausting all the trouble shooting steps in the Motor’s manual, our plan became to simply drive only at night, during cooler temps.  Waving goodbye to Rick’s grandma as she threw another firecracker to quiet the barking dogs by scaring the shit out of them, we hit the road again. 

It was quite the experience trying to stay awake driving all night.  Rick had Bonnie to help him, but I resorted to screaming songs at the top of my lungs and sticking my head out the window.  There seemed to be an overabundance of country stations in the Midwest.

Cell phones were nonexistent back then, so walkie-talkies would have been nice, but we developed a workable signal code with headlight flashes and turn signals when someone needed gas, to stretch or a potty break.  

On our way in earnest once again, we stopped at any and all places of interest along the way.  These included all National Parks and monuments as well as tourist traps like the Corn Palace and Wall Drug.  

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We worked our way quickly through the flatlands of Nebraska and Iowa, spent more time in the Badlands of the Dakotas and mountains of Wyoming, winding up at Yellowstone Park, which was still covered by late winter conditions with ample snow on many of the roads.  There are a number of individual tales along the way that I will break out in the future.

Leaving the Grand Tetons, we were weary of living on the road… tired of eating pork and beans with generic white boxes of mac and cheese and doing laundry at out of the way dive laundromats. 

We decided to power our way through to Washington and drove north on the side roads up to I-90 in Montana.  We wound up in a late season blizzard as we crossed the continental divide.  It was a total white-out blizzard and we ended up following closely behind the bumpers of the only other folks crazy enough to still be on the road…long haul truckers. 

We tucked in behind a convoy, barely able to keep their tail lights in view in the driving snow.  Somehow, we were able to keep moving until we hit the WA state line and drove straight thru the dry desert side of the state to the rain forests of Mt Rainier…the promised land!

We spent a few days poking around there and as it started growing crowded leading up to the Memorial Day weekend, we headed off to Tacoma.  Unfortunately, my Valiant decided it had gone far enough by making it to Rainier…heading up one of the passes, it finally gave up the ghost.  I found out later that the oil pump had failed, and the engine was seized. Best $600 I ever spent.

Not to be denied, I broke out my least favored climbing rope and tied it to the bumper of Rick’s Datsun. Any climbers will note that this was a poor choice, since a climbing rope is meant to stretch excessively to help reduce the force of a fall, but it was all we had.  

Stretching and snapping the rope many, many times, we somehow made it to Tacoma with Rick pulling me around the mountain curves like a water skier in tow.  He had a shell on the back of his truck that I couldn’t see past, so I would creep out into the oncoming lane to see what was ahead and dash back over for on-coming traffic.  Some exciting moments, broken up by the constant repairing of the tow line.

We pulled into A+ Auto Repair…it was the first one in the phone book on Pacific Highway.  Being Memorial Day weekend, I just left it there to talk to the owner on Tuesday. 

We then went down the road a few blocks to find the Calico Cat Motel.  It was a seedy looking dive, but in our price range.  It had a locked-off kitchen suite so we picked the lock so we could cook our Mac and cheese in style. It was eventually closed down in 2016 after a murder happened there and all the rooms test positive for meth. Yeah, that kind of joint.

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The flea-bag motel…

While at the Calico Cat, Rick and I decided to ride our bikes down to Pt Defiance, a local park right on Puget Sound. I had some survival vest water bags which we filled with the cheapest Lambrusco we could find. We made it out to the pier and continued sipping our wine on the hot day and then headed back. On the way up the long hill, heat took its toll on Rick and he hurled Lambrusco over the rail onto the traffic on I-5. But that didn’t stop us from stopping at an air conditioned bar at the top of the hill and having a nice cold pitcher of beer to cool down before going back to the motel.

An Army buddy of mine, Ed, who had been a crew chief on a Huey, had lived in a trailer park in Olympia before I left.  We decided to drive down to Olympia and take a look to see if he was still there…he had married a local woman, Teresa, and even though it was three years later I thought there was a chance they might still be there, as he had gotten out of the Army around the same time that I left Ft Lewis for Korea. I had not seen, or even heard from him, since I left Ft Lewis and Washington in July of 1979.  

As we pulled into the shabby looking trailer court, Rick and Bonnie expressed some misgivings, but we continued on in.  The court was called “North End Manor”, a deceptive name if there ever was one.

As it was told to me, the place had been the site of a long-gone road house along the old main highway, now overshadowed by nearby I-5.  This trailer court was bulldozed at least 25 years ago and is now where a Costco gas station is.  I refuse to buy gas there as it is probably cursed with bad juju. 

What did remain at the “Manor” were the single room cabins closer to the road that had served as flop-houses behind the main road house.  These were for the working ladies catering to lonely loggers and truckers.  These were now rather dilapidated and the trailer park, equally or even more dilapidated, had sprung up behind them.  In Ohio, the place would have been prime tornado food.  

I spied the old trailer where I had partied with Ed and company many times when I was in the Army, so I knocked on the door and sure enough, his wife Teresa answered.  I was looking pretty scruffy after being out of the service over 6 months…and had let my beard and hair grow out as many do upon exiting the service.  I really didn’t expect her to remember me without an explanation.

She looked at my face and screamed “Profitt!  I remember those eyes in that hairy-ass face!  She was as extroverted as her hubby Ed was introverted.  We explained we had just gotten into town from our long journey from Ohio and were looking for a cheap place to live as neither Rick or I had a job yet.  We were existing on our tax returns and what little savings we had.

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It was a hairy-ass face.  Les in the den of iniquity trailer with what remained of the tow rope.

She immediately said she could get us set-up in the trailer court, no problem,  and started rattling off all of the available mobile homes in the park.  She took us by the hand and practically ran us to the office building.  She grabbed keys for the available trailers, many of which might have been more properly condemned, and by the end of the day we had moved into a small two-bedroom trailer.  You couldn’t really call it a mobile home, because if anyone had tried to make it mobile and move it someplace else it would have surely self-destructed. 

The one we chose could at best be called rustic, but livable.  Rick and Bonnie claimed the larger bedroom in the back, and I threw my stuff into the 2nd bedroom…this was more like a small walk-in closet.  With a single bed in there I had maybe a foot of space between the bed and a tiny closet.  The kitchen had an ancient gas stove that always gave off the odor of escaping gas from the pilot light, lovely vintage orange carpeting with mushrooms growing in a corner and a pocket door on the bathroom that gave everyone fits until you learned how to jiggle it around to open and close it.  Home!

Looking toward the kitchen of the trailer
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You can see our beer recycle pile in the corner, Rainer and generic Beer beer. We knew we could get a case of the cheap stuff when it was as tall as us.

We drove back to Tacoma and grabbed all my stuff from my car.  The garage owner had told me whatever the mechanical problem was, just don’t abandon the car here as he had dealt with that too many times.  When I called and found out the prognosis was that the car was DOA, I still had every intention of retrieving it…but it eventually was abandoned with the lack of money and distance to Tacoma. 

It is one of the few actual regrets I carry around, as I promised the guy and shook his hand that I wouldn’t leave it there, even though he probably made a few bucks junking it after the headache of going through the title issues.  OK, maybe I regret leaving my old Army Nomex flight suit and sturdy motor pool coveralls in the trunk the most.

Ensconced in our luxury mobile home, we immediately began looking for work.  If you are young or have a poor memory, this was not a good time to be looking for a job.  Lasting from July 1981 to November 1982, an economic downturn triggered by the Iranian Revolution of 1979, had sparked a large round of oil price increases.  

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Trailer park looked best at night.

Tight monetary policies by the Federal Reserve, in an effort to tame inflation, had the effect of squashing any economic growth.  In fact, prior to the big 2007-09 recession, the 1981-82 recession under Reagan was the worst economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression.  But we were young and dumb, oblivious to politics and economic policies and determined to scratch out a life in our new home.

Rick dropped resumes off at all the hospitals and clinics from Olympia to Tacoma.   Without a car, I walked as far as I could to find anything close by.  Bonnie found work at a daycare. Not finding anything close, I started selling Fuller Brush products. 

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What I felt like every time I went out…

Going door to door with my brown vinyl-covered cardboard sample case, I handed out free combs to bored and lonely housewives and extolled the virtues of various cleaning products and magical housewares.  I still have a few of those blue combs I handed out to everyone that opened their door. 

Please buy something…anything!

Rick got a job within a few weeks at Memorial Clinic in Olympia, and with cheap rent we made it through the summer.  My Fuller Brush gig was really only making beer money, so when Ed said he was fed up with working as a laborer for an old well driller that lived in one of the old flop houses… Roy McGill.  

I jumped at the chance to make some real cash.  I went along with Ed when he told Roy he was quitting, but pointed to me as a healthy young buck to keep you in business.  Roy cursed Ed every which way, calling him a quitter, no account, lazy good for nothing and plenty of more choice words.  He calmed down a bit, looked me over and told me to be at his place at 6AM.  I tried to shake his hand and he shook his head and told me I would have to earn his handshake. Oh boy.

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Now, Roy was a cantankerous old roughneck and roustabout from the Oklahoma oil fields that had gotten too old and infirm to deal with the rough physical work on the oil rigs and so had created his own business in Olympia drilling water wells. 

Everything he owned was as old as he was and twice as beat up.  Off the job he was just a skinny, well behaved, soft-spoken Okie that liked to get his western duds on and go “belly-rubbin” with the ladies at the local country line-dance saloons. As I recall he had been married and divorced several times and now lived alone in his little shack.  

Drilling rig like Roy had…

He was extremely independent and I think he resented the fact that he actually needed a young hand to deal with the more physical tasks associated with drilling…and there were many.  Everything from the well pipe, and bags of bentonite to the drill bits was big and heavy.  

One benefit of working with Roy was that he liked to start the day by buying a hearty breakfast at one of the local greasy spoons on the way to the drill site. This was great, he joked and told stories like someone’s grandpa while we were eating, but as soon as you were on the clock, he became a demon from Irish folklore.

He looked like a drunken leprechaun with a hardhat but had quit drinking because his ulcers were eating him up.  He drank Milk of Magnesia like it was water and nibbled soda crackers all day long.

I knew absolutely nothing about drilling, and he was only too happy to tell me in extremely colorful language how stupid I was and that I “wouldn’t be a real driller until I lost some meat down the pipe”.  Roy, of course, was a “real driller” and was missing  a few fingers, with several more that had grafts of his “belly meat” on his thumbs and other fingers where he had lost bits and pieces. 

It was an almost daily occurrence to tell him he was bleeding all over everything, as he had lost all feeling in most of his fingers and constantly snagged and cut himself around the rig.  He would just cuss, wipe it on his overalls and wrap some tape around it.

If there had been at least one other person on the crew to commiserate with, it might have been very amusing, but being alone as the sole focus of all the constant berating, complaining and cussing for eight hours, I could see why Ed had quit.  

I was determined to get out of this job before I “lost any meat down the pipe” or got my head bashed in from an old man swinging big drill bits around.  

I had been ruminating over college, as I had put money away in the Army and the VA doubled it. I had purchased a fairly nice camera at the PX when I first got to Ft Lewis and over the years had thought about photography as a career.

I happened to walk past a booth at the Puyallup Fair late that summer and saw a brochure on a two-year course in Professional Photography that might be covered by my GI Bill.  I talked to a counselor there and he said that it was not too late to join the program even though it was a couple of weeks along.

I went to Roy and gave him the bad news…of course, I received the same verbal thrashing Roy had given Ed, but he soon had another guy from the trailer court going off to breakfast with him.  I would love to know what happened to that old guy.

The idea of doing only 2 years of study in a field I was deeply interested in appealed to me.  I went through all the steps to getting VA assistance started and signed up for the course.  I soon had monthly GI Bill money coming in for school so just needed a part time job.  

Ed happened to be taking an airframe course at the same school in Tacoma, so I had a ride back and forth to class every day.  Future, full speed ahead.

I showed up for my first class and was introduced to the rest of the class.  By now, the class had been going on long enough to form the various cliques and groups natural in any of these types of situations.  

There were first year students, who were studying the basics of black and white, such as composition, lighting and other technical tasks like film development and darkroom work. There were also the 2nd year students, that were going into color development and printing and advanced techniques. 

Our classroom that first year was in an old control tower building next to the airfield in the middle of the campus.  The school was constructing a fancy new building, but it wouldn’t be ready for a while, so the run-down old tower kind of matched my new trailer life.

There was already a pecking order… starting with the upper-class students of varying talent, descending down to the first-year students that had shown some natural ability with composition and technique. They all looked at me with a rather jaundiced eye as the newcomer, but there were a few that offered friendly encouragement and welcomes.  

Our text books were the Ansel Adams series, so we learned the Zone System from the master along with how to work all the crazy buttons and controls on 35mm, medium format and even 4×5 and 8×10 view cameras. I was in hog heaven. 

My first real camera, a Canon AE-1, had been a constant companion for several years in the Army and I had also done a bit of darkroom work as a hobby when I was in Korea, so I wasn’t totally lost.   But I had to catch up with the photo assignments that had already assigned, so I practically lived with my new Canon A-1.

I got to know a couple of guys that were commuting from Olympia as well, 1st year student Doug and 2nd year student Tim.  Doug had a sporty little Mazda rotary engine sports car we called the Mazdarati and Tim had a little blue Vega beater that he drove like a mad man.

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Doug and Les at Clover Park Tech Institute in 1982

We got to chatting and decided we would form a carpool to share gas money.  Over time, we became good friends driving to school every day and having lunch with each other.  

Doug and Les hamming it up in the studio…

Back on the home front, Bonnie had gotten back in touch with her religious roots with some folks where she worked and decided she either had to be married or move on. 

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Bonnie and Rick 1982

I distinctly remember her telling us we were reprobates and needed to change our ways or we were going to Hell.  We weren’t sure what a reprobate was, so we had to look it up in the dictionary, but after seeing what it meant…

Reprobate:

noun: a depraved, unprincipled, or wicked person: a drunken reprobate.  A person rejected by God and beyond hope of salvation.

adjective: morally depraved; unprincipled; bad.

…Rick and I decided we pretty much had to agree with her.  Her ultimatum on marriage fell on deaf ears and she soon moved out to more holy ground.  

The trailer park itself was a true den of iniquity.  While Ed and Teresa were fairly “normal”, there were some real characters in this place.  We got along well with everyone in the park, but it was pretty wild there. Among them were several young married GI families that barely made enough money to stay afloat.  

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Party time at the trailer. Cheap booze in large quantities.

One of the GI’s, while his wife worked at a nearby burger stand to bring in some extra cash, would go door to door selling off her macramé hangers, houseplants and anything else not nailed down in order to buy a six pack or parts to his beat-up hot rod.  They had a toddler, which he was allegedly responsible for when his wife was working. 

A favorite method of his baby sitting style was to put him in one of those round, walker things that looked like a bumper car and leave him to his own devices while he tinkered on his hot rod.  I saw that poor kid tumble out the door and down the stairs of their trailer on several occasions and wondered if he would have any brain cells left by the time he started school…not that there appeared to be much genetic material to work with from his parents.

This guy had an Army buddy named Dewey that looked like he was straight out of central casting for one of those horror movies where the kin folk lived way back in the holler and maybe had too many sister-mothers.  He chugged a whole bottle of Jack Daniels one night on a bet and promptly fell flat on his face and broke his nose.  Pretty much standard behavior for infantry. 

An older Indian couple were just as entertaining.  The guy would come around half-lit offering to “pawn” his shotgun for $5 so he could buy more beer.  He also would come around selling us those good old blocks of government free cheese…I think they were like 5 lbs boxes and he would get a bunch of them them and sell them around the court.  We ate a lot of government cheese. 

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Remember this stuff? Gov cheese

I also bought a small woven basket his wife made, which I still have, for the usual $5 “pawn” fee.

I still have the pawn ticket…

His wife once passed out in their station wagon in the middle of the park on some kind of binge.  I don’t know what she was on but it was a very hot day and Rick and I worried that she might get heatstroke, so we tried to move her into their trailer…she was a very large woman and was totally out of it. 

We couldn’t manage to move her out of the car, so we told their kids to get some blankets and sheets to put over the windows to give her some shade and wetted down some towels to keep her cool.  Her hubby was pretty fried and was little help. She survived to party another day.

Another wild character was a crazy redhead that lived 2 trailers down.  She seemed to have a new boyfriend every week and would get hammered, walk to the center of the park in the middle of the night and throw a hissy fit… screaming at the top of her lungs how unfair life was and what an asshole her current beau was. 

One time the sound of breaking windows and screaming was so bad Rick and I ran over to see if someone was being killed only to have her turn her wrath on us.  She apologized the next day when she was sober, but she was always a mess.

Some of my favorite stories are about the family that ran the trailer park.  This older couple had 2 sons, Steve and Danny, that lived there as well, one-on-one, either wasn’t too bad and we got along well with all of them.  When they were drinking and together, they would often get into crazy fights with each other.  Now, our trailer door was almost always wide open, and denizens of the court would stop by at all times of the day or night to shoot the shit or party. 

To be clear to everyone in the court…I put a baseball bat by the front door and declared to all that entered that our space was to be considered neutral like Switzerland…don’t start no shit and there won’t be no shit.  You make trouble and the bat will start cracking heads.  It worked pretty well.

Around Christmas time, one of the brothers, who always seemed to be doing 5 days here, 30 days there in the county lock-up for various transgressions, came around drunk with a Santa hat on giving everyone nicely wrapped presents.  It was a bit unusual to get anything from him, but hey, it was Christmas time, so we thanked him and dutifully waited to unwrap them for Christmas.  

When we opened them, the gifts made absolutely no sense at all.  There were things like dolls and toys and socks for tiny little feet…come to find out, He had jumped the fence at the back of the trailer park and had broken into a house that bordered the park…and stolen the family’s entire pile of Christmas gifts, just like the Grinch in Whoville. 

He had no idea what was even in the wrapped packages when he passed them out. Of course, it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to determine who the perpetrator was since he had handed out these odd-ball gifts to half the trailer park, and he was soon back in lock-up.

Another time some kids went to this same guy with their cat that had been hit by a car…he decided the cat was not going to make it and the best path was to put the poor kitty out of his misery.  He got a ball peen hammer and knocked it on the head and then took the kids down to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, down the road a few miles, to bury it and give it a funeral.  

All was well until the cat showed up a few days later, looking like Bill the Cat on a bad day, all covered with blood and dirt and missing an eye. The poor thing had dug itself out of the grave, crawled all the way up the Nisqually hill…a 2-3 mile trip…back to the trailer court and home.  A responsible adult took the sad looking kitty to the vet… the poor cat recovered as best he could, but always limped after that and was blind in one eye.

At some point, we discovered that Rick’s cousin Roxanne was living nearby with her husband who was stationed at Ft. Lewis.  They became regular visitors to our humble party abode, along with some of their friends and I have many fond memories of good times that year.

As photography school progressed, I would often have to do a photography assignment and bring a bunch of equipment home to do what Rick began calling “Studio Trailer”.  

We moved everything out of the living room and set up strobes, backgrounds, light stands, and tripods to shoot all kinds of stuff.  One assignment was to do a classic Rembrandt lighting portrait, so I put Rick in a 3-piece suit that I had custom made in Korea. 

I was taller and larger than he was, so I used clothes pins and tape to make it fit, but it still received the lowest score I ever got…everyone said he looked like a holier-than-thou televangelist as he was looking up to heaven.  Rick vowed to never again be one of my subjects…of course, hanging out with me that vow was quickly broken whether he wanted to participate or not.

Roxanne had her turn as well…I needed to do a high-key portrait, so she wore her white duds from work…this one received good marks and Rick was sure it was because he wasn’t in it. 

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Roxy

We threw a Halloween party and for special effects I cut out black construction paper bats and hung them on thread from the ceiling, threw some colored cloth over the lamps and voilà, party city.  

The night proceeded in grand style, maybe a few firecracker incidents but nothing life threatening, until there were just a few of us left.  We had been pulling on a bottle of 151 and killed it off.  Rick and I decided to walk down to the corner store for more beer to finish the night in proper style.  When we got back, my buddy Doug had passed out on the couch and could not be revived.  

I got into my first aid kit and snapped a couple ammonia inhalants.  I waved them under his nose to zero effect, so I crammed them in his nostrils.  I know, but this all made sense at the time.  This didn’t work either, so he became an art project, with us taking markers and decorating his face, sticking a cigar in his mouth and darts in his ears and other juvenile distractions of young men.  

When we were done with our art project, we opened up our hide-a-bed couch to put him to bed.  This thing must have been used for the inquisition.  It was missing many springs, had a mattress about an inch thick and had crossbars right under the important parts of your back.  I had tried to sleep on it once and had moved to the more comfortable floor after waking up with a major pain in the back.

Rick and I grabbed Doug, who by now resembled the dead guy in Weekend at Bernie’s, by the arms and feet and started swinging him back and forth to toss him on the couch-bed. Being rather inebriated ourselves, this ended in disaster with a loud ooof out of Doug as he landed half on, half off the bed, with a cross-bar in his back.  The rest of the springs blew off the bed and he went straight through to the floor.  Mission successful.

Rick staggered off to bed and I ended up passing out on a love seat in the living room where Doug was.  A few hours later I hear an awful racket and pry one eye open to see a buck-naked Rick shoving a staggering Doug back up the hallway.  Doug was trying to get into the bathroom to pee but that damn pocket door was jammed closed and was not cooperating. 

Rick thought Doug was going to blow chow if he couldn’t get to the toilet, so he was pushing him back towards the front door so he wouldn’t barf in the house.  Through my one bleary eye, what I saw was two drunks dancing a tango, one buck naked and the other barely able to stand…both of them trying with all their might to go the opposite direction and mumbling gibberish.  A good time was had by all.

Soon, Rick had a new girl friend from St Pete’s hospital, Marta. By December of ‘82, Rick moved to a new trailer and I moved into a townhouse across town with Doug.  Doug’s mom worked in a bank as the real estate manager on homes the bank had repossessed.  Doug was working for her doing miscellaneous repair work, landscaping and other handyman jobs as needed.  

As the recession was in full swing, there were plenty of repossessed /defaulted homes, so Doug asked if I was interested in partnering up and so we began working on homes together in the Olympia/Tacoma area.  We did it all and saw it all.  It was truly eye opening to see how people treated their homes once they had given up hope.  I should say mistreated, as we saw some unimaginable stuff that we had to cleanup and fix. 

One of the worst was a place we nicknamed “The Turkey House”, as the first time we saw it we looked over a fence in the back yard to see a sheep and a turkey wandering around freely.  We saw signs that people were still in there, so we let the Sheriff do his thing which took a couple of weeks. 

When we came back, the critters were all dead in the backyard, as the sheep had scarfed all the grass down to dirt within the circle of his leash and no where to be seen, and the turkey was a big pile of maggots, bones and feathers.  The guy had apparently had a glass repair/window business, so he had taken out his frustration by breaking all the window glass he had stored in his side yard.  It was a massive pile of glass that took many pick-up truck loads to the dump…but that wasn’t the worst of it.  

Entering the house, we were immediately assaulted by hordes of fleas and a nasty smell.  We backed out quick, slapping the fleas off,  and went to a store to buy six-packs of flea bombs and duct tape.  We took the tape and wound it around our pant cuffs to hopefully keep the fleas out.  We took a flea bomb and coated our pants legs with the spray and went back in the house like we were doing a door to door military assault.  

We went room to room, popping the flea bombs like grenades and got to the great room and our jaws dropped.  Now, this had been a pretty nice old house at some point.  Oak floors, sunken great room with a big white marble fireplace, nice fixtures and so on.   

What we saw was a massive pile of garbage and trash piled almost to the ceiling, and these were the big old high ceilings.  It smelled awful and included rotting food, dog crap and God knows what.  There was a black ooze coming out of the bottom of the pile, staining and warping the 100-year-old oak floor.

They had obviously tried burning trash in the fireplace for a while as it was covered with soot and ash.  They had cracked the marble at the top with the high heat from the trash burning but had obviously just given up at some point and let the pile grow. 

It looked like what Arlo Guthrie described in Alice’s Restaurant when the Hippies that lived in the old church had so much room they just threw their garbage in a big pile in the old church.  I wish I had photographs with circles and arrows showing the horror. 

They had obviously been pissed off, as they had randomly broken fixtures, mirrors and porcelain along with the plaster walls.  I’m just glad the water, gas and electric had been turned off or who knows what we would have had to deal with.  That place took us a good month or two to clean, working into the night after school. 

By this time I had caught up in class and had become one of the top students in the 1st year photography class, along with a beautiful young woman named Terri, but that’s another story…

Who had the best hair?

It’s a Pirate’s Life for me…

I have had more than a few people ask why I seem to have a preoccupation with Pirates. The simple fact is, like many an actual pirate, I was shanghaied from a very young age into the life. The port of call I grew up in, West Carrollton, had the pirate as their mascot. So it was that I were a pirate from the first grade all through the receipt of my parchment.

Me alma mater’s mascot…

12 years before the mast as a pirate, at such an impressionable young age, leaves a lasting black spot upon your soul. Alas, it would be many a king tide until I commandeered a vessel of me own, the noble Rogue.

The waxy seal of fate on my salty preoccupation though, may have been the first chance I had to earn my own chest of gold while still in school. Me closest swabs, Bald Rick and Nod-off Steve, had signed on to crew at Long John Silver’s, a shady pirate establishment known for vast platters of seafood, peg legs and planks.

Treasures aplenty, at a price even a powder monkey could afford…
Eat hearty, me hearties…

They put in a good word to the captain of the Shoppe, although they may have told a crusty tale or two…and soon I was deep frying with the best of them. The crew uniform of the day was right out of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which would not be filmed for another 6 years.

Harrrgghhh…

The look started with a stylish white polyester smock, big and baggy with a corrugated finish to better hold onto crusty batter and grease, and fitted with a horizontal striped dickey to give it a proper salty appearance. These were tossed at you still smelling of fish, grease, malt vinegar and the last unfortunate crewman that had walked the plank.

Waitress version. Wenches were not permitted in the galley at Long John’s back in the day….

Black pants of your own supply were de rigueur of course, so that every speck of batter and dirt was highlighted admirably. This lovely haute couture was topped off with classic pirate haberdashery…the finest cardboard pirate hat money could buy. I am truly sorry to not have an image of us in our finery, but alas, iPhones were still decades away.

Only the finest cardboard for this crew…
Our wenches handed over the booty with a smile…

The vittles were grand…the Big Catch platter was more than an able bodied seaman could (or should) stomach in one sitting. It started with codfish fillets, with onion rings or fries, and crispy hushpuppies — all deep-fried, of course, with a garnish of coleslaw and topping out at 1,320 calories. Slather that with Long John’s own malt vinegar and you had yerself a proper salty meal…I’m not kidding, there was over 3,700 milligrams of sodium in it.

Add shrimp and a plank for a Captain’s platter!

The competition for first mate was fierce…we had crew battles to see who could drop the most cod into the vats of whale oil the fastest, without damaging the batter. A right proper gun drill it were.

To do this right, you needed to have a thick coating of batter on your hands, so you could dip your fingers into the 350 degree oil and let each fillet slide in without splashing the batter off. Only the bravest and most daring swabs could pull off this feat without scorching the hide off their digits.

But we did it all for the pretty wenches and little swabs…it did our black hearts a world of good to see them shoveling all that deep fried deliciousness down their gullets and wait for them to ring the bell.

Eat it all or ye’ll be swabbing the deck!

There were always long lines well out the door on Fridays and especially during Lent. We endeavored to give each passenger a meal fit for a King…or at least a King’s crew. We lived to hear the peal of the ships bell when each party disembarked, but cursed their black hearts when they did not ease our torment.

Ring the bell or we’ll cut your hearts out next time ya scurvy bilge rats…

The quartermasters were the overseers of every watch…each one carefully trained at his majesty’s elite “Cod College” down in Lexington. There they learned their trade in cutting the cod just so, weighing each slab and slice, keeping the crew from mutiny and ensuring all the gold was carefully scribed in the ships log as to make the King of the Pirates rich beyond compare.

The special booty was kept track of very closely, lest the captain break out the cat o’ nine tails and commence flogging. These treasures included shrimp and the wee pecan pies. These delicacies seemed to vanish into thin air faster than a mug of grog on a Friday night.

You see, it was not unknown for a crewman to suddenly hear a siren’s call for an order of shrimp to be put down in the fryer, only to find a patron lacking to cover such an expense when piping hot and ready. We gladly ate them to keep them from going to waste and saved the Quartermaster the embarrassment of logging the transgression.

The call of the Siren was powerful…

But all was not sweating and slaving away in the galley. When the last bell had rung and we locked the hatches down, we filled our Super-size grog cups up with the finest ale we had on tap, and merrily drank it through a straw lest the quartermaster find we were imbibing on watch.

This often caused more merriment, whence we would pull the cutlasses and pistols off the wall and begin sword fighting across the tops of the dining tables…much to the dining wenches dismay, as they had already scrubbed the planks down. But we were pirates with our pirate ways, and not to be denied the pleasures of the wicked after a long watch.

Avast and heave to ye scurvy dogs!

It was a glorious time and seemed to last forever, but our service with Long John’s was only a matter of a couple years, as Nod-off Steve and I were conscripted to serve in the Kings forces after schooling, and Bald Rick was off to fry the souls of the infirm with X-Rays.

But it wasn’t long before I once again heard the call of the pirate from Captain James Buffett…Bald Rick and I listened to his shanty’s and tropical sounds of the Caribbean and were lulled back to the brotherhood of piracy, our theme song became a Pirate Looks at Forty.

Captain Jimmy sings…Mother mother ocean, I have heard you call…wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall...

Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late…

But not too late to go to sea! A score of years after schooling I tasted saltwater and felt the snap of sail in a fresh breeze and knew in my blood I was still a pirate…and have flown the Jolly Roger ever since, pillaging, plundering, and swashbuckling along the way…captaining ever more powerful vessels until I had enough gold to gain my flagship Rogue…I’ve salt in my veins, and it didn’t all come from those Captain’s Platters.

Rogue sitting pretty on her moorings…
If the Kraken or Kings men ever catch up to me, I’ll go to Davy Jones locker with a mug of grog in one hand and a cutlass in the other…

Nanny and Floyd Proffitt

My great grandfather, William Floyd Proffitt, known as Floyd, was the son of Jacob Floyd Proffitt, my great-great grandfather, who went by Jake, and his wife Martha Corena Dennis. 

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Floyd’s parents…Jacob Floyd “Jake” and Martha Corena Dennis Proffitt

Floyd was born on January 12, 1882 when Chester A. Arthur was the 21st president and the outlaw Jesse James was shot in the back of the head and killed by Robert Ford in St. Joseph, Missouri,

To set the stage of the times a bit more, here are a few other notable things that happened that same year;  polygamy was made a felony, the world’s first trolleybus began operation in Berlin, Roderick Maclean failed in his attempt to assassinate Queen Victoria, Thomas Edison flips the switch to the first commercial electrical power plant in the United States, and The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first significant law that restricted immigration into the United States.

While Floyd had no brothers, he did have six sisters… an older sister named Martha, and five younger sisters; Linnie, Ida Mae, Liela Lee Rowe (who died at 25), Mittie and Mary.

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Jake and Corena Proffitt & Family Left to Rt back row: Martha Francis Blevins, Floyd, Ida Mae Sons, Linnie F. Igo, Mittie Ethel Hawthorne, Mary Adeline Barnett, Front row: Jake & Corena Proffitt

In their rural farming lifestyle of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, being the sole son would have put a lot of hard physical work on him and his father.

Young Floyd

I remember my father talking about how, as a young man, he and his family used to plow tobacco fields behind mules, and Floyd would have been two generations earlier, in even more primitive conditions.

Denton Egelston with his mule team. Dad on the right.

I remember traveling to Frenchburg for family reunions in the 60’s and having my delicate suburban values challenged by relatives still using outhouses, as they still hadn’t “brought the plumbing inside”. I was sure spiders, snakes and rats were going to attack any hanging meat and often tried to stave off bowl movements until the last second.

Classic outhouse

In the 1900 census, at the age of 18, Floyd is noted as being a laborer for the railroad.  At this time he was still living with his mother and father in Rothwell, a few miles west of Frenchburg proper, in their rented house.

Looking at old documents, it looks like a rail line was extended about that time from the Mt Sterling Coal Road line to McCausey Ridge, where many Proffitt’s lived.

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During the time that further expansion of the Elizabethtown, Lexington & Big Sandy RR was delayed in 1872, another railroad, the Mt. Sterling Coal Road, was built between Mt Sterling and Rothwell in Menifee County. It was originally built as a narrow gauge railroad to bring lumber and coal to market. It opened in 1875.

From Mt. Sterling, the Mt. Sterling Coal Road ran southeast through Gatewoods, Coons, Spencer, Oggs, Walkers, and Johnsons Station (Hope). It continued on through Menifee County with stops at Clay Lick, Cedar Grove, Chambers Station (Means), Sentinel, Cornwell, and Rothwell. Around 1898 it was extended to McCausey Ridge and Appearson.

A man by the name of McCausey had a large lumber camp there and employed many loggers. Local farmers in that area shipped hides, ginseng, snakeroot and chickens back to Mt. Sterling.

In 1882 the line came under the ownership of the Kentucky & South Atlantic Railway and later the C & O Railroad. The line was discontinued in 1911 when standing timber in that area had been depleted. Source: Ghost Railroads of Kentucky By Elmer Griffith Sulzer

At the age of 19, he married Nancy Jane Clair, known as Nanny, when she was 17.  Nanny was the 4th child born to parents Thomas R Clair and Suphrona Elizabeth Coldiron on November 3rd, 1884. Several census’ report she only went to school through the 4th grade, but could read and write…something it was noted that her parents could not do. We take so much for granted these days.

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Floyd & Nancy Jane Clair, very likely their wedding photo around 1901

By the 1910 census, Floyd is shown as owning his own home in Menifee County in Leatherwood.  Today, Leatherwood is no longer recognized as a town, but as an “historical place name”…it was made extinct by the damming of the Licking River to form Cave Run Lake, northwest of Frenchburg. Although many farms and homes were displaced, this didn’t take place until 1965, with the lake filled by 1973.

In 1910, Floyd and Nanny are farming, with 3 children; Maezella, the oldest at 7, John M, my grandfather, who was 5, and 1 year old baby Dolly, aunt Dot.

Maezella, John M, Dolly and baby Obie with Floyd and Nanny 1911

In the 1920 census, 37-year-old Floyd is still farming in Leatherwood.  By now, Maezella was 16, John M 14, Dolly was 10 and there were 4 more children; Obie 8, William 6, Claude 5, and Ray 2.

Floyd & Sons 1920, Floyd Proffit, John M, Obie, Clay, Claude, Ray

Floyd died on July 20th, 1923 at the age of 41. My father was born 2 years later on the very same day…July 20, 1925, so he never knew his grandfather Floyd.

Nanny with her boys at the Indian Creek farm after Floyd had passed. Nanny is holding Shelby, with John M, Obie and Clay in the back. Pete and Ray are in the front. Missing Maezella and Dolly.

Tax records show land that was owned or farmed by “William Floyd heirs” through the 20’s and into the 30’s.  This consisted of farmland on Indian Creek as well as the family farm plot.

John M Tax Bill 1938
Tax bill 1938

The 1930 census shows 45-year-old Nanny as the widowed head of a rented household.  They are listed as farmers living on Scranton Road in Frenchburg.  Children remaining at home were Obie 19, Clay 17, Claude 15, Ray 12 and Shelby 8.

Curiously, they are listed as having no radio set, so entertainment must have been pretty simple on the farm.

Floyd’s mother Corena died in 1930 at the age of 70, his father Jake died in 1938 at the age of 81.

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Nanny re-married to a man named George Snodgrass after 1930 but before 1935 sometime. Later in life, they went by “Mammie and Daddy George”

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Nancy and George…Mammie and Daddy George

George had been married previously to Clara Armitage. George and Clara had at least 5 children of their own: Albert Courtney, John Chester, Lilian M, Garner Clay and Elmer Roger. Clara had another daughter, Doris, born about 1923. The 1930 census shows that Clara moved back to Indiana before 1930 with Elmer and Doris.  She remarried to a man named John L Alexander before 1935.  She died in April of 1978.

By 1940, the census shows 55-year-old Nanny and 64 year old George living alone together on McCausey Ridge, just south of Frenchburg.

Nancy & her adult kids on McCausey Ridge. Back Row: Clay, John M, Ray, Shelby, Claude (Pete) Front Row: Obie, Dot, Mamie, Mazella 1946

Another interesting tidbit is that at the turn of the century, oil was being discovered in Menifee and the surrounding area.  Many oil companies were in competition to buy oil and gas rights all over the county.

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In 1942, this notarized document transferred oil rights on 125 acres on Meyers Branch, part of Indian Creek, from the heirs of William Floyd to a Detroit oilman named Joseph Thomas for $45.  Note that Asa Little, another relative, was the Sheriff  at the time. The notary, Zella Wells, is probably related to the Wells in our family also.

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Oil and Gas Lease 1942 pg1.jpg

I remember a number of family reunions down in Frenchburg…Nanny was of course the matriarch that gathered everyone together there, as many of her children had migrated to Ohio in search of work.

Nanny and George on the front porch of their last home. Mom and dad drove down to show me off at my 1st birthday. Aunt Maxine is holding me on the left on the 4th of July 1960.

George died on December 31st, 1968.  Nanny died a year later, November 21st, 1969, at the age of 85. 

Profitt's on Porch at Funeral
John M, Clay, Obie, Ray and Shelby sitting on the porch of Nanny at her funeral in Kentucky, 1969

Great grandma’s passing was the first death of someone close to me.  I vividly remember walking up to her casket at the service and thinking she looked like a doll or mannequin.

Children of William Floyd and Nancy Jane Proffitt gathering for Shelby when he had cancer: Back: Pete, John M, Obie Front: Maezella, Shelby and Dot

The Local Family Watering Holes on Miami Chapel Road

 

Way back in the 60’s and early 70’s, when my Mamaw and Papaw lived on the Westside of Dayton on Miami Chapel road, there was a small strip of blue-collar bar & grills just down the block, right across from the large Delco Moraine plant and caddy-corner to George’s Barber Shop.

My cousin Rhonda reminded me what the names might be, and I managed to find them in old Dayton City Directories and Newspapers.  Mamaw and Papaw lived at 1010 Miami Chapel, and Matty’s Tavern was right on the corner at 1100 Miami Chapel, and The Sportsman Bar and Grill was next door at 1116 Miami Chapel.

A number of my relatives frequented these watering holes, along with many other factory workers, as they were close to their employment at Specialty Paper and Delco.

Specialty Papers Co 1958 The Specialty Papers Company was locacted at 802 Miami Chapel Road, just down the street from Mamaw and Papaw’s house.

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In those days, it was not unusual to have a couple of beers for lunch along with a nice greasy burger or patty melt.

My memory doesn’t allow me to fairly rate which was the nicer of the two, but judging by newspaper accounts, the Sportsman seemed to be in the news more for being robbed and robberies performed right outside their premises.  These joints could easily be called dive bars, but they were a second home and family for many.

Here’s a shooting in their back parking lot:

Sportsman Shooting 25 Aug 1970

They also got shut down:

Sportsman Permit Suspended 20 Jun 1957
Sportsman Permit Suspended 20 Jun 1957

A break-in:

Sportsman Robbery 5 Dec 1955

Both of them advertised for Bar Maids and Porters on a regular basis.

Sportsman Bar Maid Wanted 20 Apr 1955

Matty’s Waitress wanted 17 May 1951

Darkly lit, with multiple neon and spinning bar signs for locally made brews like Bavarian, Wiedemann, Hudepohl, Burger and Schoenling.

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TV ads back then were full of beer slogans that made their way to these signs on the walls of the bars.  These included:

“Vas You Efer in Zinzinnati? (Burger)

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“It’s Too Good To Be Beer” (Little Kings Cream Ale)

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“All the Way with 14K” (Hudepohl)

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“It’s registered pure” (Wiedemann)

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“Bound to Be Better” (Schoenling)

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“A Man’s Beer” (Bavarian)

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“It’s Happy Hudy Time” (Hudepohl)

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Tax returns even show that Mamaw worked at Matty’s for several years, at least from 1956-1959…she may have quit when the owner she knew decided to sell the bar in ’59:

Matty’s for Sale 19 Jul 1959

Papaw was one of the grand patrons of both bars after Mamaw stopped working at Matty’s.  I think his allegiance may have varied based on where his tab was lower or whichever bar maid was being nicer to him at the moment.

After retiring from Specialty Paper, he was at one or the other quite often, as a man of leisure.  As grandchildren of some of their best customers we were fawned over by the bar maids each time we went in, either with papaw or my parents, getting a bottomless fountain coke full of maraschino cherries to spear one at a time with a swizzle stick.

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Top me off with your finest coke bar maid!

We usually got scooted away from the serious bar talk by being bribed with a few coins to go play the electric shuffle board bowling game or pinball machines in the back. These are the type of games you only see in old “retro” arcades these days, but they were king back in the 60’s.

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One time I remember thinking that if a little corn meal made the puck slide better, a whole can should be just the thing to create a rocket-speed puck slide. The bar maids did not agree.

Dump plenty of cornmeal on there!

Food was typical greasy-spoon bar food consisting of burgers and patty melts, with maybe a roast beef sandwich and some kind of daily special like meatloaf with a soup of the day.  A particular kid favorite was just a big plate of french-fries covered with ketchup.

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There were also the usual displays of beef jerky, pretzels & chips, Slim Jims and big jars of pickled eggs and sausages that somehow became appetizing when you were drinking…as long as you didn’t think of how many hands had dipped into the jar.

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Reach in there and grab a pickled egg son…

As times changed, bringing kids into smoky bars became much less socially acceptable, if not illegal, not to mention that we had gotten older and more adventurous and there were a lot more of us to keep watch over.

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We were then condemned to sit out in the old blue Chevy station wagon on the street, waiting for mom and dad to finish having their fun.  Can you imagine leaving a car full of unsupervised kids outside a bar in West Dayton these days?

The West side eventually got too racially charged and dangerous for the rest of the family to allow mamaw and papaw to continue living there. Pawpaw was mugged walking between the bars and his house, at least twice that I remember, getting beat up pretty bad and hospitalized in one instance, so they eventually moved back down to Moraine, in Miami Shores, where they lived until they both passed away.

 

 

Holy Holey Socks

Holey simply means full of holes. Holy has several definitions: 1. sacred, or associated with a deity; 2. worthy of worship; 3. saintly; 4. deserving reverence.

I suppose #4 applies the best to these particular socks, although they are certainly holey and may also be considered sacred and perhaps even worthy of worship.  I just keep them in my sock drawer.

I wear them again today on Christmas even though the elastic may be a bit saggy and the Redwing Boot logo has long faded away. The cotton is in remarkably good condition for being almost 40 years old and still in use.

To most, they look like a pair of ratty old socks, but they were a gift from my buddy Ricky Baker‘s mother 37 years ago and I could never toss them now.

Rick and I had moved out to Washington State together a few months before, and being the motherly type, Marie dutifully sent her son a care package for Christmas with some cookies, beef jerky snacks and of course practical things like underwear that she couldn’t trust Rick to buy on his own.

What touched me, and still does, is that she included 2 pairs of socks for me as well, so that I would have at least one gift under the tree. I’m sure her motherly instinct played a part there as well…as a man-boy I couldn’t be trusted to buy myself practical things when there was beer available.

I was impressed. These were not just some run of the mill, Kmart, 5 pairs for a dollar special…these were expensive Red Wing boot socks that you had to go to a Red Wing shoe store to purchase.

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She sent a pair of white ones and these gray ones.  I must confess, I wore the white tube socks much more often and they were worn to shreds years ago.  Now, my mother was still sending care packages as well…and we supped like kings for a few days on all the baked goods and snacks…but it meant a great deal to receive those high quality socks from her.

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Marie, “Ernie” at Olympic Hot Springs

By the way…Red Wing still sells socks and they start at $16.99.  Worth every penny.

 

 

 

 

Shackleton’s Spirit Penguin

Back on December 23, 1986 and on our way to Antarctica, Terri and I found ourselves strolling through the ghost town of Grytviken on South Georgia Island.  South Georgia is an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean that is part of the British Overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The population consisted almost entirely of elephant seals and penguins.

Remnants of the whaling fleet

 

When we visited Grytviken, an old Norwegian whaling station abandoned 20 years before in 1966, it only had a small outpost of British soldiers acting as a deterrent after the station was captured by Argentina during the Falkland Island War a few years earlier in 1982.

Processing a whale back in the day

This small conflict aside, the main claim to fame of Grytviken may be that it is the last resting place of Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of the legends of polar exploration. His epic leadership while overcoming unimaginable hardship during the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 is a tale of greatness.  Against impossible odds, he didn’t lose a single man in his crew, who fondly called him the Boss.

It was here, in 1922, on his way to yet another Antarctic expedition, that Sir Ernest died of a massive heart attack aboard his ship. He was eulogized in the small company church, and buried in the station’s cemetery, facing south, the direction he was so drawn to.

Grytviken Whaler’s Chapel

 

We had already been regaled with many tales of Shackleton on our journey to Antarctica, so it seemed impossible to think of leaving South Georgia without paying homage to Sir Ernest at his grave.

Looking at Grytviken from the dilapidated wharf

So, we decided to hike over to the small whalers cemetery containing Shackleton’s grave just south of the station. This grave yard mostly holds the remains of fallen Norwegian whalers that lived a hard life far from civilization.

We headed out through the slushy snow and about half way there we came across this King Penguin heading the same direction…not wanting to frighten it, we stayed back behind him as he waddled, slipped and slid through creeks and mud holes all the way to the cemetery.  This was quite some distance for his tiny legs and the little fellow looked like he was on a mission.

Looking back at Grytviken on our way to the cemetery

As we got to the cemetery we expected him to continue on past towards some other penguins in the distance…but he circled all the way around the small fenced cemetery to the gate opening, entered, and walked right up to Shackleton’s grave stone. We followed along behind him as he then stretched up straight,  pointed his beak upwards, flapped his flippers a few times and gave several loud penguin cries as if that was exactly what he came to do.

Shackleton’s spirit animal?

I snapped this photo and he then turned, walked out the gate and headed back the same way he had come.  Terri and I looked at each other with wide eyes like “what the heck just happened here”?  The whole experience was so extraordinary we decided that little King Penguin must have had a spiritual connection to Sir Ernest. Wild!

Paupers amongst Antarctic Kings

 

Tahoma Glacier Ghost Story

This is an improbable story from a summit climb of Mt. Rainier in 1992.  I will start off with the fact that I don’t particularly believe in ghosts, but something wildly peculiar happened high on that mountain that I have no logical explanation for.  With this account, I will focus on this mysterious side story and leave the tale of the epic climb for another time, as it is my favorite route of all the paths I have stumbled up Mt. Rainier on.  First, I will set the stage with what occurred on our climb in 1992, then I will follow it up with a news account of what actually happened along our climbing route back in 1946.

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We started our hike in to high camp on Westside road in Mt Rainier National Park by parking at the road closure gate. This road is notorious for being eternally closed off due to the mountain streams causing washouts along the way and making it impassible for all but someone on foot.  This makes it one of the longest and most remote ways to get to the top of Rainier, so we had set aside a full five days to make sure we had plenty of time.

I had used this exact starting point when I was in the Army in 1978 to begin my solo hike around Mt Rainier on the Wonderland Trail.  I had a buddy at Ft. Lewis drop me off at the gated road closure, circled the entire mountain and hitch hiked back after almost two weeks alone on the mountain.  It was on that long, lonely trek that I had decided solo adventuring was not really my thing.  While I had enjoyed high adventure along the way, it was tempered by the fact that no one had experienced it with me to share these stories with.

One of the memories I had from that past solo trip was the feeling of being watched or shadowed by something every time a twig snapped or a few pebbles rolled down a slope.  When alone, your mind, at least my mind, after a few run-ins with small critters, deer, and even a bear, very easily wanders to improbable scenarios like it’s a cougar stalking me, or after a few more isolated days, even Sasquatch or Bigfoot playing games.

This trip however, I had my partner in crime of many adventures, Rick, and some friends of his from work that we had been training for a few months to get ready for this remote accent.  We took off quickly with our heavy climbing packs loaded with gear and supplies to last the week we expected to be on the mountain.  We worked our way along the road in the foggy, misty morning, working on the occasional blisters and settling our individual loads.

Blister break along West Side Road

The path I had walked almost 20 years before was still familiar, but altogether different at the same time.  With four men full of testosterone there is much more noise… grunting, laughing and storytelling, so there was much less navel-gazing even as I passed places that I remembered where rocks had rolled down a road cut or bushes moved with an imagined adversary skulking in the shadows.

Our route on the Tahoma Glacier running up the center of Mt Rainier.

We worked our way along the west flank of the mountain, breathing in the rich dampness of the old growth forest.  Everything was green and earthy, with the undergrowth and streams encroaching into the road bed, even removing it in places. We paused at the Marine Memorial and glanced up towards the Sunset Amphitheater where the plane had crashed into the mountain.  Our route went just to the left of this massive cliff after traversing underneath the headwall where the crash debris would have fallen.

Marine Memorial along West Side Road. Our route runs just to the right of the rock spur in the center of the photo. The Marine plane ran into the big headwall to the right.

We moved ever upwards, noticing the plant life getting more stunted and sparse as we neared the timberline.

As we wandered up along the glacier moraine and onto the foot of the wildly fractured Tahoma Glacier, we watched a family of mountain goats climbing up and over the hump of St. Andrews Rock as we made our way up. I wondered what would possess them to take such a steep overland route.  I later discovered that many climbers also take this route when the glacier is so fractured with crevasses it is almost impossible to travel on.  We climbed up to around 9500’ to stake out our high camp, almost even with Andrews Rock to the north.

Trekking along the glacial moraine

I picked a spot that looked to be free of any crevasses and not in a potential avalanche path, as we had seen several big ones coming off the massive headwalls all day long.  Or site was fairly flat as glaciers go, and we settled in pitching our tents and getting camp set up. Rick and I were in one tent, and Jonathan and his friend were in another. We had been at it for some time through the heat of the day, into early evening, so I decided we would spend the next day resting, melting snow for water and recovering from the strenuous climb up to be better prepared for a summit bid.  We were pretty trashed and would only have a few hours to recover if we were to head out on a summit climb very early in the morning.

Our high camp on the Tahoma Glacier

As on many routes, an early start was mandatory to ensure the steepest part of the route, known as the “Sickle”, was frozen solid so we could crampon up the 40 degree sloop without being beaten to death with falling ice and rock.  As the name implies, the narrow blade of the Sickle curved around to the left, funneling everything released from the side of the mountain right down the middle like a bowling alley, with us as the pins.

sickle
The Sickle is the narrow bob sled chute curving left around the cliff.

So we spent a pleasant day high up on the mountain, kicking back in perfect weather, eating, napping and melting snow to replenish our water supply. Off in the distance, we watched the goats climbing up and back down the hump of St Andrews Rock again, undertaking some endless Sisyphean task only they understood.  Well rested, we turned in early in order to be off at the crack of dawn.

As a rule, I am a very light sleeper to begin with.  Put me on a mountain on a sheet of ice, with others depending on me to make sound decisions and get them back down safely and sleep is just an idea that sounds like a fantasy.  My mind goes over the intended route endlessly, creating mental checkpoints for “what ifs” for turnaround milestones, creating checklists for who is carrying required safety gear and performing other various risk management tasks the others are blissfully unware of as they snore away.

I eventually passed out for a few hours rest, until a sudden loud snap and was heard and felt.  I jerked up suddenly and pressed my face to the netting on the tent door.  We had left the flap open with just the netting zipped for ventilation. It was a very bright, moonlit night, especially out in the middle of the glacier.  I sat there motionless, wondering if I had dreamed the snap or if it actually happened.  All my senses were on alert from the odd incident and I was keyed up again, listening to Rick snoring away.  I laid back down, but couldn’t doze back off, my mind running through possible scenarios for what the noise might have been.

Maybe 10 minutes went by as I lay there…and then I heard what sounded like footsteps crunching in the snow.  The steps got louder and it was apparent that it was not a single person, such as Jonathan in the other tent going to relieve himself.  It sounded like multiple people, or more likely as I though further, the goats had come over to investigate the camp.   Goats are drawn to the salt in human urine and it is very common to find them wandering up to camps and licking the snow or ground like a salt lick.

I though, boy, those goats must have made a beeline from that ridge so far away to get here this soon.  I attached my flash to my camera to see if I could get a shot of the goats around camp.  I slowly pressed my face against the open door netting to look off to the side of the tent where the sound was coming from. Nothing there.  I looked out the back window of the tent and again, nothing in sight.  The steps now sounded like the goats were marching around in a circle around the tent…multiple footsteps stamping around crunching in the snow.

I unzipped the netting and stuck my head out to get a better look around. Our camp is hundreds of yards from the nearest place where anything could be hiding.  The moon was shining bright, reflecting off the snow, creating an amazing bright field with nothing showing but our two tents.  I wake Rick up and tell him to listen…he is woozy with sleep and is mumbling back “what the hell Profitt, go back to sleep”… I keep shaking him and he finally comes around and listens… “what the hell is that” he says.  “I don’t know, I don’t see anything out there” I replied.

The marching continues for a while longer, I’m not sure exactly how long as we sat there just staring at each other in the tent or pressing our faces to the netting to see outside.  He decides he has to pee bad enough to venture out no matter what is out there, as he always did, and starts fumbling for his frozen boots. As he is rustling around getting dressed the marching faded away.  This had to be over a period of 15-20 minutes.

He went out, did his business and came back in and said “there’s nothing out there”.  I said “I told you that already”.  “Then what the hell was that?”  “I have no fucking idea, but it was something.”  I then told him about the loud snap I had heard and felt just before the steps.  Our train of thought eventually decided it had simply been the glacier fracturing or popping as glaciers do all the time.  We fell back in our sleeping bags and he was soon passed back out.

For me, sleep was done for the night.  No way was I going to fall back asleep with what had just happened and so I started going over the facts.  Bright, moonlit night.  Complete calm, not a hint of breeze.  Tents are out in the middle of the glacier, no way for anything to hide for hundreds of yards as close as the steps sounded. The stepping sound was there.  I heard it.  Rick heard it.  I was wide awake, not even slightly drowsy.

I laid there for a bit longer and then roused everyone to get ready for the summit attempt.  As everyone else prepared their gear I looked around for tracks with my head lamp.  We had pretty well pounded the immediate area flat with our tracks as we had been there   for a full day, but I didn’t see any goat tracks or human tracks that we didn’t make.  I started relating the story to the others which got everyone coming up with wild theories.

We eventually headed out of camp and into the Sickle, staggering up the mountain the crisp morning air.  We all got to the summit and slogged our way back down the Sickle in horrifying conditions, but eventually safely back to camp.

Taking a break at the top of the Sickle

There in the heat of the day a few inches of snow had melted off and there was now an obvious open crack, several inches wide in places and many yards long, right under the center of our tent.  OK, well, that explains the loud snap and vibration.

You can see the fracture in the glacier running right under the tent.

Conversation then turned to the notion that it was the ghosts of the 32 marines that had perished in the plane crash on the headwall just above us.  I explained that their bodies had never been removed from the wreckage as it had been deemed too dangerous for a rescue team and they had been buried in the glacier for nearly 50 years.  With a bit more whiskey, this became the tale of choice:  The glacier had snapped open right under our tent, releasing the spirits of some of the fallen Marines who then marched, in step, around our tent, for what reason only they understood.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I do not believe in ghosts…but something freaky happened up there that I have no real explanation for. A squad of ghost Marines finding it endlessly amusing to go fuck with an old Army dude high on a mountain is as good an explanation as any.

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Historylink.com Article:

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A Curtis Commando C-46 transport plane crashes into Mount Rainier, killing 32 U.S. Marines, on December 10, 1946.

By Daryl C. McClary          Posted 7/29/2006             HistoryLink.org Essay 7820

On December 10, 1946, six Curtis Commando R5C transport planes carrying more than 200 U.S. Marines leave San Diego en route to Seattle. The aircraft, flying entirely by instruments at an altitude of 9,000 feet, encounter heavy weather over southwestern Washington. Four turn back, landing at the Portland Airport; one manages to land safely in Seattle, but the sixth plane, carrying 32 Marines, vanishes. Search-and-rescue aircraft, hampered by continuing bad weather, are unable to fly for a week and ground searches prove fruitless. After two weeks, the search for the missing aircraft is suspended. The Navy determines that the plane was blown off course by high winds and flew into the side of Mount Rainier (14,410 feet). In July 1947, a ranger at Mount Rainier National Park spots wreckage on South Tahoma Glacier. Search parties examine the debris and confirm that it came from the missing plane. Four weeks later, the bodies are found high on the face of the glacier, but hazardous conditions force authorities to abandon plans to remove them for burial. The 32 U.S. Marines remain entombed forever on Mount Rainier. In 1946, it was the worst accident, in numbers killed aboard an aircraft, in United States aviation history and remains Mount Rainier’s greatest tragedy.

Marine Plane
Curtis Commando C-46/R5C transport plane

The Tragedy

The Curtis Commando (C-46/R5C) was the largest and heaviest twin-engine transport aircraft used by the U.S. military during World War II (1941-1945). Originally developed as a 36-seat commercial airliner, it was used to haul cargo and personnel and for towing gliders. Although the plane had a service ceiling of 24,500 feet, it was restricted to flying at lower altitudes when hauling passengers because the cabin was unpressurized.

At 10:36 a.m. on Tuesday, December 10, 1946, six Curtis Commando R5C transport planes carrying more than 200 U.S. Marines departed El Toro Marine Air Station near San Diego on a six-and-a-half hour, nonstop flight to Naval Air Station Sand Point in Seattle. The flight encountered extremely bad weather over southwestern Washington and four of the planes turned back, landing at the Portland Airport. The two remaining aircraft, flying entirely by instruments (IFR), pressed onward toward Seattle.

At 4:13 p.m., Major Robert V. Reilly, pilot of aircraft No. 39528, radioed the Civil Aeronautics Administration (now the Federal Aviation Administration) radio range station at Toledo, Washington, that he was flying IFR at 9,000 feet and, with ice forming on the leading edges of the wings, requested permission to fly above the cloud cover. The plane was estimated to be approximately 30 miles south of Toledo, the midpoint between Seattle and Portland. When Major Reilly failed to contact Toledo, establishing his new altitude, air traffic controllers became concerned. Although buffeted by the storm, the fifth Curtis R5C flew through the weather without major difficulty, landing at Sand Point shortly after 5 p.m.

Under normal circumstances, the powerful Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) radio range station at Everett should have been able to receive transmissions from Major Reilly’s aircraft by 4:30 p.m., but heard none. Frantic efforts by the CAA, as well as the Army and Navy, to contact the plane were fruitless. The CAA’s ground transmission network queried other airfields around Western Washington, but there was no trace of the missing transport. All of the Curtis R5C’s had sufficient fuel to fly for 10 hours, giving officials hope that Major Reilly had landed his plane safely at some remote location.

The Search

At dawn on Wednesday, December 11, 1946, Army, Navy, and Coast Guard search planes were poised to start an intensive search of the area where the aircraft was presumed to have disappeared. But poor visibility and bad weather throughout southwestern Washington kept the search planes grounded. Air rescue units remained on alert, waiting for a break in the weather. Another concern was the missing aircraft’s color, black, making the wreckage extremely difficult to spot from the air. Most search activity was limited to investigating leads provided by local citizens who reported hearing airplane engines around the time the Curtis R5C disappeared.

Although it was well off Major Reilly’s designated flight plan, the search for the aircraft was concentrated around Randle, Longmire, and Paradise in the southern foothills and slopes of Mount Rainier. John Preston, superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park, and other park rangers reported hearing a plane fly over the area about 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, just minutes after Major Reilly’s last transmission to Toledo. Many of the rangers thought the aircraft might have crashed into the Nisqually Glacier on the south slope of the mountain.

On Friday, December 13, 1946, Assistant Chief Ranger William Jackson Butler (1909-2000) and Paradise District Ranger Gordon Patterson climbed to Panorama Ridge, elevation 6,800 feet, in a desperate effort to scout Nisqually Glacier for signs of the missing aircraft. But visibility there was almost zero and they were driven back by a blizzard. The rangers reported hearing the roar of avalanches on the glacier, which could have easily buried any wreckage forever.

Stormy weather in Western Washington continued for the next five days. High winds and heavy rain caused flooding at lower elevations, severely hindering search efforts and disrupting communications. More than five feet of snow fell on Mount Rainier, making it almost impossible to locate any trace of the plane on the mountain.

On Monday, December 16, 1946, the weather cleared for the first time in a week and conditions were ideal for an aerial search. Twenty-five Army, Navy, and Coast Guard aircraft were launched to search the slopes of Mount Rainier and as far south as Toledo in Lewis County for any sign of the missing Curtis R5C transport. But all the search planes returned without sighting any trace of wreckage. An intensive search around and west of Nisqually Glacier by air and ground units failed to uncover a single clue to the plane’s whereabouts. Still, authorities suspected that the aircraft had crashed on Mount Rainier or somewhere in the vicinity.

Two weeks of searching produced nothing and at that point chances of the Marines’ survival were nil, so in late December efforts to find the aircraft were suspended. Park rangers thought that recent heavy snows on Mount Rainier would have covered any signs of wreckage.

Reconstructing the Event

Still, the lost Marines would not be forgotten. The search for the missing plane resumed the next summer, after some of the snow had melted. Meanwhile, the Navy conducted a thorough investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the aircraft’s disappearance. Families of the missing men offered a $5,000 reward to anyone finding the plane.

After analyzing the evidence, Navy officials concluded the missing plane, traveling at approximately 180 m.p.h., crashed into the side of Mount Rainier. Major Reilly was flying an IFR course, corrected for a southeast wind. However south of Portland, the wind changed direction, blowing from the west at 70 m.p.h. This wind shift, unknown to the pilot, pushed the plane approximately 25 degrees to the east, directly on a path into Mount Rainier. Their analysis was bolstered by reports from persons on the ground along the supposed line of flight where the Curtis R5C disappeared, who reported hearing a plane flying overhead. They believed the wreckage, if it could be located, would be scattered on one of the glaciers on the south or southwest side of the mountain.

Bill Butler’s Eagle Eye

On Monday, July 21, 1947, Assistant Chief Ranger Bill Butler, 38, was hiking up Success Cleaver on his day off, monitoring snow levels and climbing conditions, when he spotted some aircraft wreckage, including a bucket seat, high on South Tahoma Glacier. The following day, Butler flew over the area in a Navy reconnaissance plane to assist photographing the area where he saw the debris. The wreckage couldn’t be seen from the air, but Butler was able to pinpoint the location without difficulty.

It was at about the 9,500-foot level on a huge snow-field rife with deep crevasses and sheer ice precipices, below an almost perpendicular 3,000-foot rock wall. The terrain was so treacherous that none of the park rangers or mountain climbing guides recalled anyone ever traversing the glacier’s face. As gravity drags the glacial ice down the mountainside, at an approximate rate of 10 inches per day, fissures open and close, causing avalanches and rock slides and collapsing snow bridges over crevasses.

Searching for Wreckage and Remains

On Wednesday, July 23, 1947, the Navy established a radio relay station and base camp at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, altitude 5,800 feet, on the slopes of Pyramid Peak. That afternoon, Butler, accompanied by seven expert mountaineers, hiked five miles from the Longmire Ranger Station to the base camp, where they spent the night. They planned to embark at 4 a.m. the following morning, but bad weather delayed the mission.

Finally, at 9 a.m. on Thursday, July 24, 1947, the search party started the arduous three-and-a-half mile climb toward South Tahoma Glacier. They split into three groups, each taking a different route, making the search of the glacier safer and more efficient. Because it was believed that vibrations from aircraft motors could trigger avalanches and rock slides, endangering the climbers, all planes were warned to stay clear of Mount Rainier.

That afternoon, the first fragments of an aircraft were found at the 9,500-foot level, strewn over a quarter-mile-wide area and partially embedded in the ice. Initial efforts to free pieces of the wreckage with ice axes proved unsuccessful. Although no bodies were located, searchers found a Marine Corps health record, a piece of a uniform, a seat belt, a temperature control panel and fragments of an aircraft’s fuselage. At about 5:30 p.m., the mountaineers returned to the base camp at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground with their discoveries. There Navy officials positively identified the health record as belonging to a marine aboard the missing Curtis R5C transport.

On Friday, July 25, 1947, the mountaineers returned to South Tahoma Glacier to search for signs of the 32 missing men, but the weather had deteriorated, greatly increasing the hazards on the glacier. Throughout the day, the climbers, battling rain and snow, were bombarded by falling rocks and encountered two large crevasses that had opened overnight. They recovered additional evidence identifying the wreckage, including a knapsack containing Marine Corps health and service records, and saw considerably more that could not be extricated from the ice. But no bodies were found although searchers dug several feet down into the ice at various locations to inspect debris.

On Saturday, July 26, 1947, Navy officials announced that, due to the extremely difficult and dangerous conditions on the glacier, the search for the missing men had been suspended. Photo reconnaissance aircraft would continue monitoring the crash site so that if and when conditions on the glacier improved, further attempts could be made to find and recover the bodies.

On Monday, August 18, 1947, Assistant Chief Ranger Bill Butler was on a scouting trip around the South Tahoma Glacier with two park rangers when he spotted a large piece of wreckage at the 10,500-foot level. The rangers investigated and found the crushed nose section of the Curtis R5C, which had been buried under several feet of snow since winter. The sun had melted the snow down to the glacial ice, revealing the nose section with the bodies of 11 men tangled inside. The rangers returned to park headquarters at Longmire and notified officials at Naval Air Station Sand Point of their discovery.

The Navy responded immediately, establishing a base camp at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground. Over the next few days, Navy and National Park Service officials discussed the feasibility of the removing bodies from the glacier for burial. The general census was it would take at least 20 experienced mountain climbers, at great personal risk, about two weeks to bring 32 bodies from the crash site to the base camp. Butler explained that conditions on the glacier were so bad, it took four hours to get to the site of the original wreckage. Snow bridges, which were there previously, had collapsed and new crevasses had opened up all through the ice. Although it was only another half mile up the glacier, it took another four hours to reach the wreckage of the nose section. Before making any decisions, Navy officials advised they would seek expert advice from the Army’s famous Mountain Division about recovery efforts.

Meanwhile, the Navy Department and National Park Service had been planning a memorial service for the lost Marines on Sunday, August 24, 1947 at Longmire. Parents and relatives were due to arrive in Seattle as early as Tuesday. Although circumstances had changed dramatically, the decision was made to proceed with the service.

On Friday, August 22, 1947, 17 climbers, led by Butler, returned to the glacier to survey the new site and search for more bodies. In addition to the 11 men found in the crushed nose section, 14 more bodies, most encased in ice, and a considerable amount of the broken plane, were discovered wedged in a crevasse. A heavy volume of rocks and boulders falling from the glacier’s headwall forced the search party to withdraw, but they brought out wallets, rings, watches, and personal papers of many of the men who died. The Naval Public Information Office in Seattle announced that all 32 Marine bodies had been located; 25 had been seen and there was no doubt the other seven were there also.

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, August 24, 1947, a memorial service for the 32 Marines was held near Longmire. The ceremony took place on a knoll at the 4,000-foot summit of Round Pass, overlooking Mount Rainier and South Tahoma Glacier. Approximately 200 persons attended the solemn service, including the families of 14 of the men. Marine Corps Commanding General Leroy Hunt presented each family that had lost a Marine with a folded American flag as a memorial. The ceremony concluded with a bugler playing taps and the traditional 21-gun salute. Before leaving, the families decided to hold a memorial on Round Pass in August every year to honor the dead Marines.

On Monday, August 25, 1947, 13 climbers, led again by Butler, returned to South Tahoma Glacier to assess the feasibility of removing the bodies for burial without undue hazard. Included in the survey party were nine experts in mountain and winter warfare from the Army’s Mountain Division. The following day, officials from the Army, Navy, and National Park Service met at Fort Lewis to discuss the recovery problems. After careful consideration, all the experts agreed to abandon the mission because it would endanger the lives of the recovery parties. Clinching the decision was a letter written after the memorial service by parents of six of the Marines aboard the ill-fated plane, stating that sufficient effort had been made to recover their son’s remains:

“It is our wish that the vicinity be properly posted to defeat any efforts of curious and uninterested parties who enter near this hallowed area and that all further activity be abandoned, leaving our sons in the care of our Creator” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

Parents who had left Mount Rainier before the letter was written also expressed the desire that no more lives be risked in recovery efforts.

Honoring the Fallen

On Wednesday, August 27, 1947, Captain A. O. Rule, Commandant of Naval Air Station Sand Point, announced the official decision to cease all recovery efforts on South Tahoma Glacier. A dispatch from the Navy Department, Washington, D.C., concurred with the decision and approved mass burial at the site. In effect, the 32 Marines would stay where they died, among the wreckage of the Curtis R5C.

Officials at Mount Rainier National Park affirmed that there were no predatory animals or insects on the glacier at 10,500 feet and the wreckage and bodies would be covered by several feet of snow which would start falling at that altitude in early September. “By next spring, this snow will be compressed into several feet of glacier ice and there should be no visible evidence of this tragedy left” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

On September 15, 1947, the Department of Washington Marine Corps League asked Secretary of the Interior Julius Albert Krug (1907-1970) to rename South Tahoma Glacier the United States Marines Memorial Glacier, stressing that “No finer memorial to our Marine dead could be found or erected” (New York Times). Instead, the National Park Service affixed a bronze plaque, bearing the names of the Marines, on a large granite boulder at Round Pass, overlooking South Tahoma Glacier.

On August 18, 1948, the first annual gathering of the families of the Marines interred on South Tahoma Glacier was held at Round Pass. During the ceremony, Butler was presented with the Distinguished Public Service Certificate and lapel pin, the Navy’s highest civilian award, for his determined efforts to find the lost Marines. The award was the first of its kind presented in Washington state.  In his presentation address, Colonel D. A. Stafford, USMC, told the audience that Butler had declined the $5,000 reward offered by the parents for locating the missing plane, explaining that he had only been discharging his duties as a park ranger.

Butler was honored again by the National Parks Service during a meeting at Grand Canyon, Arizona. On October 3, 1948, he was awarded the Department of the Interior’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, and given a promotion that netted him a salary increase of $126 per year. A year later, he was the subject of a full-length article in the Saturday Evening Post, entitled “Mountain Rescue Man.”

The Department of Washington, Marine Corps League, in conjunction with the families of the men buried on South Tahoma Glacier, had been conducting an annual memorial ceremony at Round Pass each year on the last Saturday in August. However, in the mid 1990s, the road to Round Pass washed out, making the area inaccessible to everyone except hikers willing to walk four-and-a-half miles from the Longmire Ranger Station. Consideration was given to moving the granite memorial from Round Pass to the new Tahoma National Cemetery near Kent, dedicated on September 26, 1997. But extracting a 10,000-pound boulder from a wilderness area wasn’t feasible and it would require an act of Congress to allow its removal from a national park. Also, the family members and local Marine veterans believed the monument should stay in its original location.

In 1998, the newly established Mount Rainier Detachment of the Marine Corps League received authorization to duplicate the monument. They located a similar boulder and had it moved to Veterans Memorial Park in Enumclaw, approximately 45 miles southeast of Seattle, in the foothills of Mount Rainier. After creating a flat space on the rock, the league affixed a replica of the bronze plaque on boulder at Round Pass. The new monument was dedicated on Saturday, August 21, 1999, at the 51st annual memorial ceremony held to honor the 32 Marines entombed forever on Mount Rainier.

In 1946, the loss of the Curtis Commando R5C was the worst accident, in numbers killed aboard a plane, in United States aviation history. Although there have been more than 325 fatalities in Mount Rainier National Park since it was established by Congress in 1899, the plane crash on December 10, 1946, remains the greatest tragedy in the mountain’s history.

Roster of Marines on board the Curtis Commando R5C, No. 39528

Crew:

  • Major Robert V. Reilly, Memphis, Texas, Pilot
  • Lt. Colonel Alben C. Robertson, Santa Ana Heights, California, Copilot
  • Master Sergeant Wallace J. Slonina, Rochester, New York, Crew Chief

Passengers:

  • Master Sergeant Charles F. Criswell, San Diego, California
  • Private Duane R. Abbott, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Private Robert A. Anderson, Raymondville, Texas
  • Private Joe E. Bainter, Canton, Missouri
  • Private Leslie R. Simmons, Jr., Kalama, Washington
  • Private Harry K. Skinner, Confluence, Pennsylvania
  • Private Lawrence E. Smith, Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Private Buddy E. Snelling, Columbus, Ohio
  • Private Bobby J. Stafford, Texarkana, Texas
  • Private William D. St. Clair, Los Angeles, California
  • Private Walter J. Stewart, Austin, Texas
  • Private John C. Stone, Los Angeles, California
  • Private Albert H. Stubblefield, Bakersfield, California
  • Private William R. Sullivan, Ardmore, Oklahoma
  • Private Chester E. Taube, Fresno, California
  • Private Harry L. Thompson, Jr., Kansas City, Kansas
  • Private Duane S. Thornton, Biola, California
  • Private Keith K. Tisch, Marne, Michigan
  • Private Eldon D. Todd, Fort Collins, Colorado
  • Private Richard P. Trego, Denver, Colorado
  • Private Charles W. Truby, Anthony, Kansas
  • Private Harry R. Turner, Monroe, Oregon
  • Private Ernesto R. Valdovin, Tucson, Arizona
  • Private Gene L. Vremsak, Calexico, California
  • Private William E. Wadden, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Private Donald J. Walker, Hoquiam, Washington
  • Private Gilbert E. Watkins, Tuscon, Arizona
  • Private Duane E. White, Ottawa, Kansas
  • Private Louis A. Whitten, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Sources:

“Ask Glacier Name for Marines,” The New York Times, September 15, 1947, p. 21; Robert N. Ward, “Marine Transport Feared Down in Mountain Region,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 11, 1946, p. 1; “Hunt Abandoned at Mount Purcell,” Ibid., December 12, 1946, p. 1; Jack Jarvis, “Bad Weather Halts Search of Ice Fields,” Ibid., December 13, 1946, p. 1; Gene Schroeder, “Storm Blocks Plane Search by Rangers,” Ibid., December 14, 1946, p. 1; E. P. Chalcraft, “Plane rescue Team ‘Sweats Out’ Delay,” Ibid., December 15, 1946, p. 1; “Long Missing Plane Believed Found on Rainier,” Ibid., July 23, 1947, p. 1; E. P. Chalcraft, “Arduous Trek Starts to Site of Craft Wreckage,” Ibid., July 24, 1947, p. 1; E. P. Chalcraft, “Searching Party Risks death to Reach Tragic Scene,” Ibid., July 25, 1947, p. 1; E. P. Chalcraft, “Search On Foot Halted for Plane Victims in Rainier Ice,” Ibid., July 27, 1947, p. 9; E. P. Chalcraft, “Rainier May Hold Forever Bodies of Air Crash Victims,” Ibid., July 26, 1947, p. 1; “Report Eleven Bodies Found On Rainier,” Ibid., August 20, 1947, p. 1; Lucille Cohen, “Risk Lives to Get 11 Dead Off Rainier,” Ibid., August 21, 1947, p. 1; “All 32 Marine Bodies Located,” Ibid., August 24, 1947, p. 9; Robert N. Ward, “Taps Echoes Over Rainier for Marines,” Ibid., August 25, 1947, p. 1; Lloyd Stackhouse, “Marine Plane Dead to Rest On Mt. Rainier,” Ibid., August 28, 1947, p. 1; “Fit Resting Place for Plane Victims,” Ibid., August 29, 1947, p. 8; “Navy Honors Finder of Plane Wreckage on Mount Rainier,” Ibid., August 19, 1848, p. 1; “Park Ranger Given Award,” Ibid., October 4, 1948, p. 4; Candy Hatcher, “God’s Monument to 32 Marines,” Ibid., March 30, 2000, p. A-1; “Search for Craft Moves to Randle,” The Seattle Times, December 11, 1946, p. 1; “Floods Slow search for Lost Marine Corps Plane,” Ibid., December 12, 1946, p. 2; “State Men on Missing Marine Corps Plane,” Ibid., December 13, 1946, p. 13; “Plane Searchers Wait on Weather,” Ibid., December 14, 1946, p. 2; “Weather Balks Search Parties’ Hunt for Plane,” Ibid., December 15, 1946, p. 3; “18 Planes Hunt Lost Transport,” Ibid., December 16, 1946, p. 13; “Rangers Start Plane Search Tomorrow,” Ibid., July 23, 1947, p. 5; Robert L. Twiss, “Bad Weather delays Search for Lost Plane,” Ibid., July 24, 1947, p. 1; Robert L. Twiss, “Some Wreckage found in First Assault of Ice-Choked Terrain,” Ibid., July 25, 1947, p. 19; “Army May Seek Rainier Bodies,” Ibid., August 20, 1947, p. 14;”Body Removal Plans Uncertain,” Ibid., August 21, 1947, p. 9; “Final Climb to Crash Slated,” Ibid., August 24, 1947, p. 10; “Climbers Study Removing Bodies,” Ibid., August 25, 1947, p. 5; “Parley Set on Body Removal,” Ibid., August 27, 1947, p. 2; “Crash Victims Will Remain on Glacier,” Ibid., August 28, 1947, p. 21; “Navy Rewards Ranger Who Found Lost Plane,” Ibid., August 19, 1948, p. 12; “Ranger Receives Service Medal,” Ibid., October 4, 1948, p. 7; “Butler, Veteran Rainier Ranger, Gets into Print,” Ibid., November 9, 1949, p. 12.

Trotsky’s Folly…AKA Les & Tom’s Folly

Climb – Trotsky’s Folly                             Date(s) –  January, 1995
Area/Range –   Banks Lake, Eastern WA
Approach Route – Devils Punch Bowl Area
Ascent Route –   Trotsky’s Folly
Decent Route – Same
Altitude –       feet       Elevation Gain –           40         feet
Total Distance – N/A   miles         Maps/Guides –   Desert Rock, page 116
Grade – I     Class – WI 3                  Pitches – 2
Weather – Snowing but warming enough to drop a lot of ice from above
Climbing Partners – Tom Nicholas
Climb Leaders – Les Profitt             Number in Party – 2

Comments:  Neat place, we wound up here after checking out the North face of Chair Peak and deciding there was too much avalanche hazard.  We also drove to Frenchman’s Coulee, but the ice there wasn’t well formed.

So we drove all the way to Banks Lake to do a recon and a little climbing.  We started up the slope to do the left side of Devil’s Punch Bowl, but a big chunk of ice cut loose as we were climbing up the slippery base.  Tom managed to duck behind a boulder but I was trapped out on the slope and decided to play dodge ball with the huge chunks.

I avoided all but one chunk about the size of a basketball.  It kept zigging and zagging and I wound up having to deflect it with my hand.  It bent my hand way back the wrong way; it hurt for a while and then became very numb and worthless.

We decided that was a bad place to be and climbed/slid back down the slope and over to Trotsky’s Folly. The photos are dark as it was the middle of winter and it got dark early…but we still wanted to crank a few more ice moves.

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Tom at the top of the pitch

This is a nice climb, too bad my hand was messed up.  We climbed up to the right and tried to find a solid place to put up a top-rope from on top of the first pitch, but couldn’t find a good placement.

I decided to aid up the pitch and place some screws.  I got up the pitch and we played around for a while, chipping, thunking and sticking front points all over the place.

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Tom’s brand new Footfangs came apart and he lost a bolt.  His foot was level with my head so he clipped off to a screw and I took off one of my crampons and attached it to his foot.

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We climbed until it was too dark to see and then Tom tied off a sling around a small tree and jumped off the route when it became too funky to traverse.  Sparks flew everywhere and I just hoped he didn’t bend my crampon all to hell.

A small frozen pool at the base provides a nice flat belay stance, but it wasn’t entirely frozen.  All in all a good trip.

Coming back we were going to bivy back in the Chair peak area but it was real late by the time we got to the pass and Tom decided he would spring for a motel room in North Bend.

I got no sleep because of the “snoremeister”, but at least I was warm and dry.  I watched the same music videos all night long.  The next morning we headed back up to Snoqualmie  Pass and decided to ski up to Chair Peak.

It was snowing heavily and we passed several fresh avalanche paths and heard the avalanche control explosions over on Cave Ridge.

Conditions were really primed for bad slides.  We met a couple of guys that had just got some new ice tools and wanted to try them out on Chair.  I tried to talk them out of it but they went on ahead.

I’m sure they got to the base of the climb and turned back.  Oh well. We got some good turns in on the way back and had a great time.

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