Living In the Henry Mountains

I earned my amateur radio license nearly 30 years ago. During that time my primary interest has been the use of Morse code. As a result I’ve read extensively about Samuel Morse, the man credited with the development of this language.

Morse searched for someone who understood the principles do electrical magnetism. And in his quest he located this person, a West Virginia country school teacher, Joseph Henry who went on to become the first president of the Smithsonian. The wisdom Henry shared with Morse made the telegraph system a reality.

By this time all the North American mountain ranges were already named except for a small range up in Southeast Utah, which was named in his honor.

About 20 years ago Barb and I found ourselves within a half-day’s drive of Southeast Utah, so we headed north for a look at the Henry Mountains. ONce there, we discovered the Butler Ruins.

(I apologize for the grainy photo. Evening comes early to the Henry Mountains, and the shadows were already gathering.)

However, a closer look at the “backwards “C” will reveal a cliff house tucked into the back wall.
This photo made the entire trip a success even if the quality is poor. It was taken with 35mm film asa 100. Trying to reproduce it with a Google Tablet hasn’t made it any better.

C-119 aka Flying Boxcar

A bit of background on this aircraft.

The Flying Boxcar was a front line aircraft during the early 1950, and beyond. The rear section of the fuselage could be removed, leaving it wide open for serving the purpose at hand. A late friend had served as a C-119 crew chief helped deliver hay to starving livestock during the severe blizzards of 1951 – 1952.

During the early space shots a C-119 was used to snatch a parachuting reentry probe in mid-air.

This photo shows a C-119 preparing for restoration before being moved to a museum. bit of background on this aircraft.


In 1964 I was stationed at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico. The US was fully engaged in the Cold War. SAC had settled down to a dull roar supporting Chrome Dome and maintaining training missions.

Our shop was located on the south side of the runway. On the opposite side of the runway were the hangars and the tower. The entryway faced west.

One evening a fellow airman burst through the shop door. “THERE’S A U-2 ON THE GROUND!” he shouted.

None of us had ever seen a U-2 in person, so to speak. So as a body of one we rushed the door. But our quest was fruitless. The aircraft ground-support team, in their efficiency, had already directed it into hangar 2 and all we saw was the doors closing on a darkened hangar. However, we knew sooner or later they would have to bring it out. We would be ready.

The following morning the doors opened and from the darkened interior came the aircraft and it took off directly into the sun. We saw nothing. Two more days this was repeated, and on the third evening it didn’t return.

Ramey was buzzing with rumors, which obviously generated an official announcement. The U-2 was here for air samples, it stated

Who would ever believe such a cock and bull story as that?

Years later I learned that missiles give forth an odor that can be detected and with the proper equipment and skill missiles can be identified without a visual image.

Weeks later the Dominican Republic Crisis evolved. It was a Communist attempt to create a second Cuban Missile Crisis. But this time the United States was ready.

Our first clue that something was afoot was when TAC, the Tactical Air command, arrived with 12 combat aircraft and a C-135 carrying supplies, equipment, and a crew of maintainers. They even brought their own shop and chow hall. All they needed from us was water and fuel. Two hours after their arrival two reconnaissance aircraft headed out to photograph the situation.

The following day other aircraft – additional combat aircraft and cargo aircraft arrived. They were parked on every square foot of concrete.

Cargo crews were instructed to log 60 airborne hours before time off. After a couple of days they began writing up phantom problems with the aircraft in order to earn a bit of downtime. I could hardly blame them, but that put our radio shop to the test.

We were well into the crisis when I picked up a work order stating that the HF radio was inoperative at the navigator’s position on a C-119

The entryway is at the rear of the fuselage and it was pretty well filled with a C-124 engine. Having not been aboard a C-119 for at least six years I lurked behind the engine a minute or two in order to familiarize myself.

The flight crew members were old, gray-headed men. The navigator, a major, was busy sorting through his maps, preparing for departure.

Since the navigator needs the use of both hands, he has a floor switch for keying the transmitter. To accommodate this switch there is a space large enough for the navigator’s shoe, but guarded to prevent accidental use. The navigator found this space a convenient place for his heavy map case. He was not aware that the weight had keyed the transmitter, which in turn activated a T/R switch that electrically removes the receiver so it isn’t damaged by the RF power.

“Are you the radio man?“ he asked, looking up from his maps as I set my tools on the floor.

“Yes I am, sir.”

“Good. The HF radio doesn’t work. We’re going to need it with 900 miles of water to cross.”

“Your map case has turned the receiver off, sir” I said pointing, but not touching stuff.


“It’s setting on the mic switch and it’s activated the T/R switch,sir.”

“So that’s were that foot switch is,” he muttered.

“Let me check it out, sir,” I said.

He got up front his chair, but he was right at my elbow. It was obvious he didn’t trust me, so I switched the audio from headset to speaker and turned the gain up so he could hear what I was hearing. And then I called McDill AFB in Florida, Charleston AFB in south Carolina, and the Andrews Airways in Washington, D.C. for radio ground checks. All three reported loud and clear.

I stood up and reached for the aircraft log to sign it off, but he was gun-shy of the radio and insisted I wait for him to check it out himself. So I waited and watched him return the map case to where I’d found it.

“it’s quit again,” he said

“I know, sir, you’ve sat your map case on the mic switch.”

He was staring at the map case when I signed the aircraft log with a brief note that the system was normal and started for the door. The crew chief, a regular air force Staff Sergeant followed me out the door.

“These guya are reservists, you know. I don’t know what the navigator did before being called back, but the aircraft commander was driving a train. He is making some major errors. They’re going to kill me.”

I felt his concern, but there was nothing I could do but monitor the report for aircraft ditched at sea. I never saw a thing.


The Old Man

One evening I stopped by a Safeway store on my way home. When I came out the west entrance I found an old man with a cart full of things. I asked him if he needed a ride. He told me a taxi would come by shortly and he would flag him down. I insisted and at last he relented. After loading his stuff in my car we began the trek to his house which was no less than fifteen miles. Not a cheap cab ride.

Eventually, we reached his house.

A steep path led from the road to his house. As I started to help carry his stuff – which included a fifty pound bag of bird seed – down the hill he insisted that I set it out on the shoulder. His brother would come up the hill and help.

He was so stern that I did as he said. Before I drove back to down I snapped this photograph.


Hospitality On the Katy

Everything was soaked

Several years have passed since Barb and I pedaled our Tandem Two’sDay on Missouri’s Katy Trail, a 255 mile long park that never exceeds the width of the old Katy Railroad right-of-way. Because it originally served as a railway nowhere is the grade steeper than two percent. That made it an easy ride until our legs turned to rubber. Our legs wouldn’t have given out so quickly had we not brought too much stuff which included McBark, our 35 pound dog who wanted to accompany us..

On our second evening menacing clouds seemed at treetop level. Rain was a certainty. And there wasn’t a motel we could reach before the sky opened up. However, a nearby sign indicated Clifton City lay to our left. It didn’t look too promising, with several abandoned building crowding against the gravel road. But there was also a large church. With nothing to lose, we left the Katy behind. However, at the crest of the hill we found a service station – Bill’s Place. Bill no longer sold gas. Instead, he provided passersby with beer, soda, coffee and sandwiches.

Bill, a retired navy man was full of questions. After a cool soda I asked if he knew where we could find the church pastor.

“Why? Are you wanting to get married?” he asked, smiling.

“We did that a few years back. We wanted permission to pitch our tent on the church lawn.”

“Well, you can pitch your tent here if you’d like.”

We agreed, and then when we saw he was making preparations to close we bought two sandwiches. He’d evidently been sizing us up with his questions, and with keys in his hand he said: “Why don’t you just stay in my store? There’s ham, cheese, lunch meat, sodas. Keep track of what you eat and drink and we’ll settle up in the morning. I’ll be back at six. If you’d start the coffee pot at half past five I’d appreciate it.

So we spent the night enjoying Clifton City hospitality.

The Boat Man

There was a boatman,

And man who always knew

When the tide was leaving

And then returning anew.

Always with a destination

An oar in each hand

Moving with the current

Midship he’d always stand

The young man had watched him

Since he was a young lad

Donned in his faded Mackinaw

Of red and black plaid

Then one day he missed

The old man’s familiar row

His friend made from afar

This man he’d come to know

Then he saw his boat

Tied fast to a river pile

Sitting on the river bank

Resting for a while

Arnold Paints His Room

Beale AFB had belonged to the army during World War II, Used for tank training. That accounts for the gigantic size – 34,000 acres +/-. Our barracks, where the  Armament and Electronic Squadron quartered had been the bachelor’s officers quarters. The air force had taken possession only a short time before I arrived.

The army, when it came time to leave, had evidently spit, leaving many things in their wake. Among these castoffs was a moderate-sized warehouse filled with a large number of gallon cans of white paint and apparently brushes too. Some said the paint been there since 1939. Indeed. A sharp screwdriver was needed to begin stirring.

Obviously, the powers that be had worried over this paint since day one. Shortly after my arrival we were notified of a “Self Help Program”. We were directed to paint our rooms any color we wished. To help, several airmen were stationed at the warehouse with dye of many colors – red, pink, yellow. Even black or gray.

My roommate and I settled on mint green walls with a white ceiling. Others chose yellow, rose, lavender. Arnold chose black and gray. Arnold had a room to himself. His choice. And ours. Because he was a loner we were unaware the Jaguar was his until the day he bought roll up window shades which he fastened to the window frames. From that point he kept his door shut and locked.

At last the “Self Help Program” was concluded. All the rooms were accounted for. An inspection day was published and placed on the bulletin board. That same day an open ranks inspection would occur at the parade ground. Everyone was invited. And while someone was conducting the inspection our Squadron Commander, a Bird Colonel, and our First Sergeant would tour the barracks and admire the results of our labor.

Someone had gotten a glimpse of Arnold’s room. He would not reveal what he saw. Instead, he suggested we find a way to put a tape recorder in the middle locker which always remained locked. No one had a key. While someone lured Arnold from his room our resident “safecracker” opened the middle locker and planted a Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder inside, set it to RECORD and then resecured the locker.

After our inspection at the parade ground was concluded  the safecracker retrieved his Wollensack while we waited in the day room to have a listen.

The owner fast forwarded the first half-hour that had only the hissing sound of the the tape passing over the record head.

We recognized the First Sergeant’s voice as he shouted: “COLONEL! COLONEL! COME SEE THIS.”

“MY GOD,” roared the Colonel. “WHO LIVES IN THE ROOM?”

“I’ll have to look, sir,”

“Then get to looking!” the Colonel ordered.

His words were followed by a rustling of paper. And then Arnold’s name was revealed.

“I want that man in my office, front and center at 1200 hours today.”

“That’s only ten minutes from now, sir.”

“Do it. That’s an order.”

We knew where Arnold would be at noon, so we beat it to his room. And then we understood.

The floor, walls, and ceiling were gray. The window shades were also gray with black bars painted on them like a jail. A large link chain was painted from the bed frame to the wall where it was connected to a large black ball.

There didn’t seem to be any immediate reaction other than he repainted his room under  the supervision of the First Sergeant and colors of his choice.

Weeks later, some of us were in the mailroom when Arnold checked his box.

“Ah, a letter from my Congressman,” he said, ripping it  opening. I peered over his shoulder. The text was short and to the point.

I’ll no longer support you. You are on your own.  

The PI (Political Influence) stamped on his records no longer carried any weight.

Arnold was awarded a Bad Conduct Discharge four days prior to his regular discharge date.

Arnold’s Coffee Shop

When I arrived at Beale Air Force Base I met an individual who may have possessed a negative attitude that was the worst ever. Rumors stated he had earned an electrical engineering degree from Princeton. With such a high-powered education I wondered how he ended up as an aircraft maintainer, fixing the things he should have been designing.

His air force job was maintaining the fire control systems on B-52G aircraft – guns, optics, and radar systems that controlled them. His shop was haunted by an aircraft with an intermittent gun problem. Sometimes they fired. Sometimes they didn’t. The shop chief and his underlings were beginning their second day into this intermittent malfunction and the Wing Commander, a brigadier general, had sent the Deputy Commander of Maintenance around asking questions. Someone suggested it might be a fuse that looked serviceable, but was fractured and somehow the result of inflight vibration. Desperate for any solution the shop chief let his eyes drift around the shop. They settled on Arnold.



“Go out to aircraft 579 and bring me all the fuses.”

Arnold headed for the flightline. A half-hour later he returned and dumped what may have been a hundred, perhaps two-hundred fuses onto a work bench.

“What the hell have you done?” the shop chief hissed, the veins at his temples standing out.

“I pulled all the fuses like you said.”

“Get out of here. Take the rest of the day off. Get out of my sight.”

After Arnold was gone the shop chief contacted the 579 crew chief, the man responsible for the aircraft when it is on the ground, and asked him to come to the fire control shop ASAP.

There are always security measures described as “a need to know” and I didn’t need to know. So I left.

Aircraft 579 was out of commission for several days while the hydraulic, engine, instruments, radios, navigation, autopilot people sorted through the fuse pile, claiming what they thought came from their systems. It had become a serious situation of the type that often cost supervisors their careers.

Arnold’s security clearance was modified. He was no longer allowed on the flight line. His sole duty was the coffee shop.

The coffee cost only a nickel, so no one expected world-class brew. But this coffee became so strong it had a taste all its own. I watched him open a fresh three-pound can of coffee and dump the contents into a 30-cup urn and then start it perking.

Word got around and we stopped drinking it. However, one morning officers were heading for Commander’s Call to present progress reports to the squadron commander. A captain en route with his report paused a cup.

“What have you done to this?” he shouted after spewing his first sip onto the floor.

“Sir, if you don’t like our service you may take your business elsewhere,” Arnold stated with a poker face.

The following day someone else was making coffee and Arnold   was pushing a broom.

In the course of time I learned Arnold had summoned political influence from his Massachusetts Congressman, making virtually untouchable. His adventure does not end with the coffee shop.

The Tunnel – chapter 1

Army Special Forces Major, Joe Wilks, has received a phone message. It is the first of three. This one doesn’t provide any clues about the other two. But he knows when Mr. Smith inquires about the family he and his team should prepare for a mission. Within an hour the phone rings again. It’s a vacation package offered by Willamette Ski Lodge. A canned voice gives a long-winded pitch about how they are offering a packaged vacation. Since he stayed with them two years ago they are offering him a special discount. If he wishes to know more he should press numeral one. Following his instructions he learns there will be a shuttle leaving the Eugene airport at 1000 hours sharp tomorrow.

After hanging up the telephone, Joe calls the Portland airport and books an 0700 flight to Eugene. Then he packs clothing suitable for skiing and calls a cab and makes arrangements to be picked up at 0600 hours tomorrow.

The shuttle is actually a chartered Greyhound. It’s packed, mostly college kids from the university, but Joe manages to find a vacant place in the rear. With his bag stowed in the overhead he produces a paperback novel from a jacket pocket in order to pass the slow eighty mile bus ride.

The weather is atrocious – great skiing weather, snowing on glare ice. Apparently the sand truck has not yet visited the highway leading to the summit. They are hardly forty miles from Eugene when the first sign appears: Chains Required. The driver uses the first turnout to install tire chains. Joe heaves an impatient sigh and checks his watch. But the driver is obviously experienced because in less than ten minutes they are once again underway. Traveling at a reduced speed another hour passes before the driver brings the bus to a halt at the front door, using a space reserved for shuttles. The sudden chill of the high mountain summit greets Joe with an icy jolt.

Joe’s been here several times, but he is awed each time by the massive facade, the large native stonework surrounding the entryway. It’s the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a remnant of the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal.

Mounting the two dozen steps, he enters the cavernous room. In the center, a gigantic, blazing  fireplace that is open on all four sides, provides more show than heat. Clutching his bag, he backs up to the flames hoping they will drive the chill away while he decides what his next move should be.

He doesn’t know who Mr. Smith will be this time.



What If

The year was 1958, and Ben was serving in Military Air Transport Service (MATS),  stationed in Charleston, South Carolina. His folks lived in Medford, Oregon, a long haul from that historic town, but hadn’t seen them in two years.

Hitching a ride with a fellow airman got him somewhere near Atlanta. In order to save money he decided to thumb the rest of the way to Kansas City which was a huge mistake. It was already dark when he and his friend had that final cup of coffee and he headed for home. Ben spent hours at the roadside staying close enough to be seen in the headlights without being run down by some dozing motorist. That night and part of the next day were wasted before he reached Kansas City and purchased a ticket on Union Pacific’s Portland Rose.

Sure, he could have flown. But flying is about as exciting as a prolonged elevator ride.

The best part of three more days were behind him by the time Ben reached Portland. From there he took a cab to the Greyhound station and after a few hours wait he resumed his trek toward Medford.

The bus was loaded and Ben took a seat next to an attractive girl about his age who was  headed for a new job LA. She was Her perfume was light, unforgettable. Her silky, dark hair was shoulder length, her voice low and pleasant. Easy to know, the two struck a warm friendship right off the bat, bonded, you might say, talking all the way to his destination. When the bus wheeled into the station she fell silent and her pastel blue eyes grew serious, brooding. It was obvious she wasn’t ready for their friendship to end. Nor was he.

The urge to continue to LA was overwhelming, but his folks were expecting him. Disappointing them was out of the question.

For weeks, even after returning to Charleston, the scent of her perfume shadowed him and he couldn’t help but wonder – what if.

Man Versus Machine

I continue hearing that desktops, keyboards, and laptops will soon be a thing of the past. There was a time when I agreed with them.

As a person who began writing with a Sears portable typewriter back in the early ‘60s such a change could only bring positive results. So in the midst of my 2014 National Novel Writing Month Challenge – producing 50,000 meaningful words within the 30 days of November the middle finger of my left hand went sour. I had succeeded the year prior with 50,254 words in 27 days,) This year, however, switching from 10-finger to two-finger typing wasn’t going to cut it.. Rushing to my neighborhood Best Buy I purchased a Nexus 7 tablet with voice recognition.

My first surprise was to learn it didn’t speak English. It had to be taught. So I read a novel to it. When its vocabulary equaled mine I put the novel away and my 50,000 word challenge…sort of.

My second surprise came when I discovered I didn’t pronounce some words clearly. When this occurred the Nexus 7 ad libbed. The results were a disaster.

My third surprise came when it was time to edit. It was no longer man versus story. It was man versus machine. If you think I’m exaggerating, imagine a Bostonian and a Charlestonian sharing a voice recognition machine. I wasn’t writing a horror story, but that’s what I had.

I suppose if I had stuck with it I would have eventually developed a stilted lingo this machine could deal with, but fighting a two-front battle – a machine and a story – brought the words of either John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway into very sharp focus: The secret to good writing is effective editing. Those words caused me to learn two-finger typing on my Nexus 7.

Eventually, my finger healed enough where it will tolerate a couple of thousand words before sending me back to the tablet. So I alternate between the two.

Reflecting on my personal experience, I’ve concluded that the folks who are predicting the demise of the keyboard have never met a deadline head on. They’ve never tried what they preach