Monday, March 31, 2014

"Invasive Species" Walking Stick

Click image to enlarge.

I've been watching a tree-of-heaven sprout in one of my forsythia bushes for a couple years now. Noting that it was in a life-and-death struggle with some Japanese honeysuckle, I left it to grow to a more usable size. I cut it about dark last night and carved most of the honeysuckle vine off this evening, while the Mighty Dachshund supervised. Neither species is native, though a lot of folks don't realize it. Japanese honeysuckle DOES have the slightly redeeming virtue of being fairly high in protein and making good deer browse. Tree-of-heaven has no redeeming virtue whatsoever that I'm aware of. Not surprisingly, it came here from China.

The stick measures 57" and would make someone a nice walking stick, if they didn't need it for heavy use. I doubt if I could sell it, and if I offered to give it to someone who needed it, I'd be more likely to get someone who'd pretend to need it, who would then include it in craft items to be resold. Oh well, it looks sorta neat leaning against the bathroom door in the photo, and it looks good, too, on the top position on my gun rack (which only holds one gun these days). I guess that's where it will stay for a while. © 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

He Should Know!


Under The Weather


The Mighty Dachshund and I are both under the weather a bit today. She apparently didn’t land right when she jumped up the porch step yesterday and has been limping ever since, though I can’t find a touchy spot on her. I, on the other hand, am carrying a slight fever and my nose is flowing like a maple tap. I had a post that I wanted to work on, but don’t feel like it right now. Think I’ll go take a nap!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Problem Solved!

I have a large "he-man" black umbrella that is just the right size for a ponderous pedestrian like me. I take it with me often as I take the pooch on her daily constitutional through the changeable spring weather. She's small enough that I can pick her up and carry her and keep her dry under my umbrella. The problem is that I have to fight the urge to use my portable rain roof as a walking stick. It's sturdy enough, mind you, but the plastic tip would soon look beaten and battered if I would give into my natural inclination. So, today, I stopped by the little mom and pop hardware store in town (the only one left) and picked up a half-inch black cane tip. Pushed onto the end of the umbrella, it was a perfect fit and cost only 49 cents. However, the perfect seal of the rubber on the tapered shank, and the resultant pressurized air under the tip, caused the tip to back off about 3/32 of an inch between steps. A tiny cut with my penknife in the end of the tip let the air out and the tip has remained in place thereafter. Now I can stroll down the avenue in style, with my cane-tipped bumbershoot in one hand and my mighty Dachshund in the other. Problem solved! © 2014


And Then It Was Evening

About a half-hour after the national news went off, the dog came to me and told me that she needed to go outside. Yes, she does talk to me, but in Dog, not English. After putting on my jeans and putting her in the leash, I took her outside to her favorite draining area. I suspect the reason that she likes to go back to the same area is not so much because it smells like “her,” but because every other dog (and some other creatures) that comes through leaves its own “mark.” I think it must be sort of a cross between a canine community bulletin board and an olfactory version of “Kilroy was here.” She sniffed a while, and then, when she found JUST the right spot, dropped and drained. A somewhat shorter visit to her “dumping area” was followed by a trip to the truck, where I dried and cleaned her hinder parts to carpet compatibility.

Instead of taking her back inside, though, I had her jump up on the porch. Then, I sat on the porch edge and she laid down beside me. We stayed there several minutes watching the cars go by and listening to the birds in the nearby forest edge and a dog in the distance. She would be an outside dog if we’d let her. Of course she’d expect us to move out there with her. However, my wife utterly refuses to make the move, so that’s why the pooch remains an inside dog. She wouldn’t want to remain outside without us anyway, and with coyotes, big dogs and cougars wandering the area anymore, we wouldn’t dare leave her out there unprotected.

Eventually, I could see that she was starting to think of my wife, so I let her in, but closed the door behind her. I got a flannel shirt from the truck and put it on. It was a Chinese model (is there any other kind) in 5X, but with short, narrow arms. Do you suppose that Chinese men with weight on them honestly have child-sized arms? Somehow, I doubt it, but they’re sending them to America, so they don’t give a hoot. Taking the splitting maul from the back of the truck, I walked over to where three large oak chunks lay on the ground. After standing them up, I rolled up the arms of the shirt, so my swinging of the maul would be less likely to tear a seam.

It was one finger ‘til sunset when I sat on another big oak chunk that I’d saved for a stool. The birds were still singing and the sky glowed pink in a strip below a dark cloud and above an orange sun. I split the first chunk into eighths and sat down to catch my breath. In the head of the hollow to my right, it sounded like a bull moose running through last fall’s leaves, so I assumed it was a distant chipmunk, or maybe a squirrel. I split the next piece and sat and listened, then split the final piece and sat again. By that time, the sun was long gone. The birds were singing less lustily by that time, but still they sang.

After a bad morning, such stolen moments of pleasure help restore my inner balance. Man wasn’t designed to work in factories, offices or mines, but for work and times such as I was enjoying. God had a good plan until human greed messed it up. Gradually, I became aware that a mosquito had discovered my bare ankle, so I put the maul away, put the flannel shirt back in the truck and joined my wife and dog before the electronic hearth. © 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

There Is No Joy In Mudville,…

…the would-be trucker has struck out! Yes folks, I blew it. Senior moments kept hitting at all the wrong times and I couldn’t recall things that I knew so well that I was sick of them. Hours of reading and re-reading the list of things to check on a pretrip were spent to no avail. Pages and pages of hand-written lists were likewise. My mornings spent standing in near-zero degree weather, wind howling and list in hand, forcing myself to look at truck parts that I’d looked at dozens of times before, seemed utterly wasted. All the knowledge in the world can be useless, if you can’t remember things when you need them.

I was never the type to get test-panic in school. I felt pretty laid-back this morning. The guy who gave the test was very nice and tried to give me plenty of time to recall things and even made it obvious when there was more that I needed to mention, but I’ve always been the type whose memory can’t be forced; it’s either there or it’s not. This morning it was not. The only thing that I can figure is that somewhere deep down inside of this old geezer, is a thirteen-year-old kid who chokes on tests. Some of you will remember that I had to take part of my “written” test a second time to get my CDL learner’s permit. Or maybe the Lord’s just trying to keep me humble.

Oh well, I have no choice but to keep going. As my time without a job keeps stretching out (14 months and counting), things keep getting tougher, but the Lord will provide. He put $50 in my pocket yesterday; perhaps, he’ll do it again soon. One thing’s for sure, the guy is going to see my face again next week! © 2014

P.S. For those too young to know the story about Mudville, you can learn about it at this link:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Matter Of Talent

My "West Virginia" post reminded me of something. Back in the days when I would actually spend some time INSIDE the Walmart while my wife memorized price codes, I frequently took advantage of their "facilities." Not only did it kill a little time, it also appealed to me to let the flush be on them and save my time at home for other things.

There was a lady who used to work there that we became acquainted with and would stop and talk to sometimes. Oddly enough, she seemed driven to tell me how I spent so much time in their restrooms. (Maybe she thought I was a pervert or something.) I always responded that I figured that anything that I did well, I should do often. She always got this look on her face like she couldn't decide if I was trying to be funny, or was just plain stupid. Yet, the next time, she just couldn't help commenting again. Of course, I responded the same. I have no idea if she ever made up her mind. © 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Guru Sounds Off On Dried Milk

Sanalak is so-so.  It is Non Fat and tastes it. The absolutely best, could not be identified as anything but real milk even by discerning and picky kids, was Foremost Milkman which was used in all those college and military cafeteria liquid milk dispensers.  Powder went in, filtered water went in, milk came out with the flavor and healthfulness of regular whole milk from the store.  I used it exclusively in Alaska and bought it by the case.

However, in 1982 Foremost Milkman was sold off and the country lost a quality dry milk ... although it was still made and marketed by the ton overseas where it is still available.

Finally, a couple of years ago, someone started importing it and it is available from Amazon.  It costs about $2 per quart, but keeps for a long time in the sealed 1 quart packets.

Sanalak has gotten better over the years, but I think it is only available in large sized cans that need to be used relatively soon after being opened, only has a two year shelf life, and still tastes not so good. However, PEAK, from Holland, is a WHOLE milk that rivals Foremost MILKMAN.  I tasted it once a few years ago and was not displeased.  I have not purchased dry milk, though, in about 5 years.

I just ordered a can of PEAK to see if the taste is still as good as I remembered.  I noticed there are some other "local-ish dairy" whole dry milks available, but have absolutely no knowledge about them or their taste.  I know Foremost MILKMAN was a whole milk when we were purchasing it, and it mixed VERY easily.

Will let you know about the PEAK ... it will be an outstanding coffee creamer at the very least!


After a year or so, we finally got our waterbed sold. I paid about $1800 for it and a couple night stands several years ago. We no longer use that bedroom for anything but storage, though, so there was really no need to keep it. I originally priced the three pieces at $700, but we ended up selling them for far less. The nice young couple who bought it got a heckuva deal, but they were so nice that I didn’t begrudge them the low price. The old saying is that something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.

My wife has decided to sell her clothes steamer that she just HAD to have a few years ago and then rarely used. I’m still trying to sell some once-fired Winchester AA 12 gauge hulls and now have them priced at half their value. I got them when Clinton was in office to have a way to keep hunting if he pushed through a really bad gun control bill. However, someone stole the wads and the black powder I had stored with them and, since I never got much shot purchased, so I decided part with them.

Several things we’ve sold, we’ve practically given away. I sold some small items at the antique store this week and didn’t get what I felt they were worth, but still more than I expected. I’m always reminded of the line in the Bible where it says that without the mark of the beast that we will not be able to buy or sell. In MY neck of the woods, it’s pretty much that way already, without worrying about any mark. Maybe those times are closer than we know.

Our funds were running low again, due to school dragging on as long as it has, so the sale was literally a godsend. If I can pass my CDL test Friday, I hope to be employed again in a couple weeks. That should make life a bit easier. © 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Driving School Update

For those who've been following CDL my misadventures, I was on the road a couple days this week. They plan on putting me on the road a couple days next week and then having me test with the stae on Friday. They show me with an hour more on the road than I really have, so they can get me out the door a little quicker, I'm sure. I'm starting to get better with the Eaton Super 10 transmission, but I wouldn't say I'm good at it yet. For those of you unfamiliar with it, there are two gears at each lever position, but it's NOT your old-fashioned split differential with high and low range. It's similar, but not the same. What may nail me on the test, though, is that alley-dock maneuver. I'm getting better, but I'm not there yet. Guess it's crunch time! Pray for me, friends! Thanks.

The "Guru" On Inflation

I recently received this email from the friend that I jokingly call "the guru." It's posted here with his permission.

I agree with JaneofVirginia on your linked Rational Preparedness blog. What bugs me is the government constantly changes the content of the "standardized" shopping cart they use to make statistics say what they want, as well as change definitions at the drop of a hat.

To see how bad inflation really is, simply translate prices into hours worked.  A pound of hamburger used to cost about 10 minutes of work at minimum wage.  Now, at minimum wage, it costs almost 45 minutes of work.  Bread has risen (no pun intended) from about 5 minutes of work back in the 80s to about 30 minutes of work today.

The minute you get rid of the dollar and look at hours worked for an item, you can see how bad inflation really is.  Like JaneofVirginia's daughter, my wife’s salary has increased a bit over the years, but the cost of taxes taken out and medical insurance has risen faster.  Just two years ago she brought home $580 a paycheck, and today it is only $450.

My salary (as well as my co-worker’s salaries) has remained static the past ten years or more.

We are buying more and more food at the dollar store.  A 3-pouch box of chicken noodle dry soup, which tastes EXACTLY like Lipton chicken noodle dry soup, costs only a dollar while the Lipton brand is now close to 3 for only two pouches in a box.  I remember about 7 years ago I was paying only 79 cents for that same Lipton box.

And that explains why the dollar stores, where everything is a buck, are doing so very well now ... people cannot afford the brand names.  Inflation, greed, and lust for money are the rule of the hour, day, month, and year.

Oh well.

Stanley No. 3 Cherrywood Level


Stanley No. 3 Cherrywood, Brass-bound Level, pat’d 5/3/06 and 11/3/08

This level belonged to Ulysses S. Fleming, a member of the once well-known blue-collar Fleming family of the oil boom-town of Volcano, West Virginia. “Lyss,” as he was known to his family and friends, spent his entire life in Volcano, and the surrounding area, working on various wells and for different companies. He may also have had some interest in a few wells himself at one point. During his early years, the oil derricks were made of wood, and he had a sizeable collection of needed tools for woodworking and carpentry. Even in later years, when derricks were made of pipe and angle iron, levels were still needed on the well-sites. This level was found wrapped in an old rag which was still slightly moist with crude oil.

As you might guess, good tools had a way of “walking off” if left unattended for a while, so Lyss stamped his initials on them to help prove ownership. Somewhere along the line, his “F” stamp became lost, or unusable, and he began substituting the “E” stamp in its place, often trying to tilt the stamp so it hit hardest on the top left corner, in hopes that the bottom bar of the “E” wouldn’t show. It wasn’t an entirely successful plan. He appears to have not even bothered with trying to do so with this level.

Lyss never married and lived his entire life in the small family home at Volcano with his unmarried siblings Frank, Ella and Mary. He died sometime in the 1970’s at the age of 97. Lyss is buried in the cemetery at Petroleum, West Virginia. © 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014

My Project This Week


The two axe heads above were purchased at antique stores in Ohio’s Amish country. I suppose because I cut my teeth on axe handles, so to speak, I can’t bear to see an axe head lying around unhafted. As a result, I often come back from taking my wife to the tourist traps of the areas frequented by the plain folk with an axe head in the back of the truck. I don’t NEED another axe, for heaven’s sake! I have a hatchet “collection” of sorts and the beginnings of a collection of full-size axes. It’s a sickness, I suppose, like kleptomania or gambling. With three chainsaws, I don’t even USE axes as much as I used to, when I was on the farm. However, let me go into an antique store and see a usable old axe head sitting unloved on a shelf, and something in me wants to save it from its embarrassing incompleteness and restore it to its formerly honorable usefulness. If it’s five dollars or less, and in decent shape, it’s coming home with me; it’s a given.

The top axe in the photo above was four dollars, I think. I’d guess it at 3-1/2 pounds. In carelessness, I let the blade tip away from the camera when I snapped the photo, and the blade looks shorter than it is. It has a pretty good nick in the blade, but nothing that won’t grind out with little effort. Despite being unmarked, it seems to have a blade thickness about right for chopping. I prefer a square cornered axe, but hey, it was calling to me for mercy; what could I do?

I’d guess the bottom axe head at 2-1/2 pounds. I think I only paid two dollars for it. From the grinding that’s been done around the poll, I’d say it was abused a little in the past and someone ground off the battered corners to make it more presentable. From the rust on the grinding, though, it was sometime in the past, but AFTER the blade was allowed to lie somewhere and rust enough to pit the surface slightly. It shows no markings, either, but appears to be of decent design. I’d wanted to put a 28 or 36 inch handle in it to make a light-weight cruising axe, but I couldn’t find any long handles to fit that were smaller enough in the eye, so I put it on a 20” hatchet handle. I could have worked a long handle down to fit, but decided against the effort. The head is almost too heavy for a 20” handle, but it would make a good heavy-duty camp hatchet, or a logger’s marking axe. Be assured that anytime you see a handle colored such as it is, that it’s done for a reason. This one has a big mineral streak in it, which could weaken a handle on a full-sized axe, but should cause no problem for the short handle of a hatchet. So, they stained it dark, hoping no-one would notice.

I’ve never tried making my own handles. With the amount of time I’d spend making them, I don’t consider it practical, as long as I can get serviceable handles for five to nine dollars. My usual method is to drive the handle in as far as reasonably possible, then start cutting or rasping a line on the handle, just below the socket. After driving it in until that line is covered by the socket, and small splinters are starting to form there, I take the rasp or knife to the handle again to work it down a little more, then, drive the handle in again. This, I continue until the handle is sticking out the top of the socket slightly, at which time I drive the wooden wedge in the slot in the handle to expand the top to fill out the socket. “Veeing out” the groove very slightly before starting to drive the handle into the head allows the wedge to start easier. After trimming the wedge even with the end of the handle, a little linseed oil or lacquer or such will help swell and seal the end of the handle.

Such things could be done in an hour or less, perhaps, but my work space in the basement is directly below my wife’s big screen TV upstairs. As a result, I can only beat on the end of the handle a few times before she threatens violence. So, I drop the project for the day and move on to something else. That project, too, may only get a few minutes of my time, often for similar reasons, but if you keep returning to such projects, they do EVENTUALLY get done. These two examples prove the fact.

Well, gotta run; the missus is calling for me to spend a little “quality time” with her and the dog in front of the TV! © 2014

Flowers For Chickenmom

As per her request on my "signs of spring" post, here's the daffodils that I mentioned.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Signs Of Spring


The newsman told us tonight that spring comes tomorrow. I could have told him it was soon. Us country folks have our ways of knowing. The pesky little fly-catcher that builds a nest every year on our front porch is back. My early Easter flowers (daffodils) are ready to burst into bloom. I’ve already seen several dead groundhogs on the road. And most importantly, today I saw the first rude, spandex-clad city-slicker bicyclist coming out my road deliberately holding up traffic unnecessarily. Spring, the season when the minds of redneck motorists turn to homicide! Hope yours is a good one! (And always remember to destroy the evidence.) © 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Memories For Sale


I’ve been selling things ever since I got married the first time, 38 years ago. The big stuff and valuable stuff, like my horse and saddle, tended to go first. Smaller things and items that I was especially attached to have tended to remain. I’ve been sorting and selling again since losing my job 14 months ago, yet I still have some junk laying around collecting dust.

A lot of the things have no real value except for the memories they elicit when I see them. In my youth, I’d thought that I’d keep a lot of those things to use as visual aids when telling stories to my kids and grandkids about their ancestors and ways of life long gone. Alas, as some of you know, I had no kids and the grandkids that I have by my stepson are basically unknown to me and unconnected to any of the stories in my mind. And so, some things have been saved just for my own pleasure and some just because I haven’t figured out the best way to dispose of them. Many are a combination of the two.

And so it was with the old ammo box that I came across in the basement yesterday. The box contained the seven paper-hulled shells that you see in the accompanying photo, five Winchesters and two Remingtons. Three shot sizes are represented in the small collection—4’s, 5’s and 6’s. Granddad used the 5’s and 6’s to hunt squirrels, I’m sure, probably in the 40’s, but maybe the 50’s. I’m not sure what the 4’s were for, unless he couldn’t find the size he wanted one time. It was with a paper-hulled shell from this box that I took my first squirrel at age 12, using his old rabbit-eared double barrel with the Damascus barrels. He’d been gone four years by that time.

The five little .32 Smith & Wesson shells in the photo were in the .22 long ammo box. That was a full loading for the little Iver Johnson owl’s head revolver that he carried in his hip pocket most of his life as he worked in the oil fields. Even after his “retirement,” he still used it to kill hogs at slaughter. There had been a few more rounds, but even with a broken mainspring, I learned that all it took to fire the gun was a strong rubber band. I saved the last five, though. I gave the pistol to an older cousin a couple years ago. I almost wish I’d kept it and had it repaired, but that would have been selfish, I guess. Besides, I don’t think you can buy ammo for it anymore.

The .22 box is definitely from the 40’s (maybe even the 30’s), because it would have belonged to my dad, and he was married and out of the house by the 50’s, and Granddad never had a .22. Dad took only head shots on squirrels and didn’t need the extra power of a long rifle cartridge, plus longs were cheaper than long rifles in those days, unlike now. Also, his Mossberg 37-A would hold a few more rounds in the magazine when using longs.

Dad’s rifle and Granddad’s shotgun left my home a few years ago in a previous round of poverty. They didn’t bring much, but much more than this little pile of memories will fetch. I’ll just advertise these few things for “best reasonable offer” in our local sale paper and see if I get a bid. I’ll always have my memories as long as I have my mind, and parting with these things will leave a tiny bit less clutter in the basement. © 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lost Business Opportunity


I’d mentioned in my last post about going to Beaver Valley Mall on my lay-over in Pittsburgh. I did that sometimes on Fridays to break the monotony of hanging around the airport waiting for my load. One Friday, I actually talked my mother into going along with me on the route. After taking her to supper at a steak house there, I suggested we take a walk around the mall. As I’d planned, we swung by Frederick’s of Hollywood so she could get an eyeful. Understand that Mom used to make a lot of our clothes and was pretty handy with a sewing machine. Jokingly, I suggested that she let me buy her a half-yard of fabric and a little tape and lace and let her make a few outfits on her way to becoming a millionaire. Not surprisingly, she laughed off the idea.

As things turned out, she stayed on her bank job until the new owners forced her to train a teeny-bopper to do her job and then let her go ten years before retirement. She spent the rest of her work life working dead-end, low paying jobs to make ends meet. She still jokes about my suggestion, on occasion, telling me that maybe she really SHOULD have accepted my offer! © 2014

Mail Truck Memories


For about a year (31 years ago), I drove a straight-frame truck with a box between my hometown and Pittsburgh. It was basically an eight hour day up and back, including load time, but there was a four hour lay-over that I didn’t get paid for, so that wasn’t so great. Still, the rate of pay was such that it was worth my while, despite the inconvenience. What I actually did was share the job with my brother-in-law. I joked that It gave me five days to earn a living and nine to pretend that I was a farmer, and then back to work, etc.

Not long after I started, the owner put the truck I was driving into semi-retirement and replaced it with a newer one purchased at auction that had a 22 foot box. (The old one had a 16.) It had belonged to a Canadian company that blew in cellulose insulation and had the slogan “Canadians serving Canadians” painted on both sides of the box. One day, an acquaintance rode with me and we ended up at the Beaver Valley Mall to beat in some time during the lay-over. When we exited the mall an hour or so later and got in the truck, we noticed some teenagers sitting in a car nearby having some beer. They waved and then asked if we’d like a beer. We both said yes (I wouldn’t these days) and talked to the kids a while (we were only in our 20’s ourselves). When they finally figured out that we were West Virginia hillbillies, instead of Canadians, you could see the disappointment on their faces.

That slogan may have saved my backside one time, though. There was only one lane open through eight inches of fresh snow as I headed up I-79 in Pennsylvania. I soon found myself stuck behind a string of traffic doing about 45 miles an hour. That was actually as fast as anyone should have been driving, but snow the whole way had caused me to push the limit on my schedule. (The contractors get fined if they’re late.) After what seemed like several miles of tooling along, I swung out into the eight inches of snow in the passing lane and started up the highway. Behind me, I could see nothing through the swirling snow that I was raising. Finally, at the head of the slower-moving traffic, I saw a car with the markings of the Pennsylvania Highway Patrol. I figured that if he wanted me, he already had me, so onward I went at 55 miles an hour, throwing snow like the proverbial white tornado. Not wanting to cut him off in any way, I ran on a little while in the left lane. Finally, a disgusted voice came on channel 19 saying, “Hey, Canada, do you think you could pull back over now and quit raising such a blizzard?” I just pretended I didn’t hear him and stayed over there for another minute before pulling back in line. The voice came on again giving me a very insincere-sounding “thank you.” If he’d known that he was being passed by a hillbilly, I suspect the blue lights would have come on. I guess he just figured that I was from Canada and knew what I was doing. I made schedule that day.

I made good use of my break some nights by catching some Z’s on a pile of mail bags in the storage room at the airport facility. I stopped doing that the night a poor postal worker came in to get some bags and nearly had a heart attack when I spoke to him from the bag pile. Apparently, he’d forgotten that I was in there. From then on, I took my naps in the truck. That’s when I learned that the human brain can “turn your ears off,” allowing you to sleep within 100 yards of jets winding up for take-off.

I also learned why parcels don’t always do well when shipped. In the bulk mail facility of that era, there was a big cone in one area with slides going off in every direction. A great big black guy stood at the top of the cone, sorting mail bags and parcels as they came to him on a conveyor. Then he would either carefully start a bag down the slide, or throw a parcel clear to the bottom. Directly over his head was a huge sign that said, “DO NOT THROW PARCELS!” I had to wonder how many other postal workers in the country did the same thing.

My route partially paralleled another driver’s route who drove for the same company, so we ran the road together some nights to keep each other company on the CB. He usually ran in front, as he was phenomenal at spotting distant deer. One extremely bright moonlight night, I saw his lights go off ahead of me. In a couple seconds, he came on the CB and told me to kill the lights, AND I DID! Suddenly, the whole wide valley opened up to view, instead of just the little area lit up by our headlights. We were running down a long straight section of two-lane highway (rare in West Virginia) and I could see a lone pedestrian in the extreme distance. We left our lights off, but he heard us coming, stepped back from the road (a wise move) and stopped to watch us. We could literally see the curious look on his face as we shot by in the bright moonlight. It was amazing how much more we could see in the “darkness,” but we soon approached a bend, turned on our lights and never pulled that stunt again.

One of our “pit stops” was a donut shop in a small river town, and we were a couple of the “regulars” there. One night after exiting the john, my companion picked up a nearby cup of coffee and in his best phony hillbilly accent asked, “Is this yur’n?” I quipped, “No, it’s supposed to be coffee, it just looks that way!” He cracked up, but if the waitresses look could have killed, I’d have been a dead man.

Further down the river, he always picked up mail at locked-up post office at 2AM. The jail was next door, and the inmates would all come to the window to watch us load. They waved when we arrived, and again when we left. I suppose it gave them something to do when they couldn’t sleep.

There’s an old expression, common in some circles that someone is “carryin’ the mail” when they go speeding down the road. I suppose that either goes back to the old fast-freight mail trains, or maybe even the Pony Express. Interestingly enough, my route was timed to run the speed limit on the interstate, with time allowed for pit stops, as we called them. However, I found that I could take the two-lane a large part of the way, drive slower, stay awake easier steering on the crooked roads and still get to my destination in plenty of time.

I did a few foolish things back then but, all in all, it was the only decent paying job off the farm that I ever thoroughly enjoyed. © 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Odds & Ends


I finally made it on the road at truck driving school. Unfortunately, I believe they’re trying to get some of us enough hours that they can give us the boot. Of course, if the school closes soon (which some speculate, including me) it may be just as well. There’s a lot of crazy crap going on there these days.

I didn’t like the little bit of winter that came back on us, but we only got a dusting of snow, so I shouldn’t complain.

I have a tree with a limb rubbing the roof, and another limb rubbing the top of the chimney. I also have another tree with a limb ready to grow into the little stained glass window in the peak of the bedroom ceiling. Both trees also need cut for other reasons, so that little activity is coming up soon. To get ready, I cut to length a short oak log that was lying where one tree needs to fall. I put the first 20” chunk in the wheelbarrow and the one piece completely filled it. It was all I could do to push it 50 feet up a short grade before taking a breather. Then I pushed it the remaining 75 feet of lessening grade, to where I wanted to split and stack it on an existing pile, dumped it out and took another breather. I then returned to my starting point and replayed the action three more times. I also cut a couple double lengths in half that were lying by the pile already. I called an evening for manual labor at that point. MAN I’m out of condition! I took the dog on a moderate walk afterwards; she really enjoyed it after so long penned in the house by foul weather.

The next evening, I took the pooch for another walk, but all she wanted to do was sniff and look and listen. I had to nearly drag her along, even though that excursion was shorter than the one the day before. I noticed a tiny bit of soreness in my hips from pushing the barrow the evening before. After scooting the pooch in the door, I split and stacked about half the wood that I’d moved the day before. When I finish splitting the rest, and cut a couple dead sassafras near the house, I may have enough to finish the face cord I have started, then I’ll advertise the stack for sale. I must say, it was nice to be able to do a little something outside for a change, including a little porch-sitting. Had it been warmer this evening, I would have split the rest of the oak, but it will hold for another day.

I noticed that our driving book teaches to stop your truck far enough behind stopped traffic that you can see their rear tires. That would be good advice for auto drivers, too, and would prevent a lot of chain-reaction rear-endings at stop lights if everyone did it. I think it would work out tom about a car-length for most auto drivers. The state suggests at least HALF a car length, but that really isn’t enough, despite that fact that many folks don’t even allow that much.

My stepson is working on my taxes this year. I thought he could just plug the info into the computer and voila! Nope, the government has to make it more complicated than that. I’ll try to do my own next year. I always used to do my own until I sold some property and the feds “simplified” the forms so much that I felt intimidated by them.

Back on the driving school – one instructor quit last week with no notice, one turned in his notice yesterday and, in desperation, the manager is planning to approach a former instructor that he’s already fired FIVE times. Yep, there’s trouble right there in River City and that starts “T” and that rhymes with “G” and that stands for “GREED.” (The owner doesn’t want to spend any money and lies like a rug.)

Needless to say, the natives (students) are restless! However, “This too shall pass.” © 2014

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Jobs I Liked (and some I didn’t)


My first job off the farm was working at Hickory Farms during my senior year in high school. It consisted of standing alone in a tiny windowless room making cheese logs. I lasted two weeks.

My next off-farm experience (sort of like an out-of-body experience, but different) was a three month stint at the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources as a fire patrolman the second spring fire season after I graduated. I enjoyed the job. I could wear my western boots, my narrow-rimmed Stetson (think Bob Evans), my blue jeans, plus uniform shirts (that they provided) with nifty patches on them that made me look more important than I was. I enjoyed picking up the mic on the two-way in my official state vehicle when someone speeded past me on the interstate and watching them slow down if they happened to spot the mic and my shoulder patch. My real job was contacting volunteer fire departments for their monthly wildfire reports, visiting country fire wardens and seeing that they were adequately supplied and writing burning permits for folks who wanted to burn brush and such. Times that I wasn’t actually doing one of those things, I could drive country roads on high ridges looking for smoke and call it reconnaissance. I saw some pretty scenery and met some interesting people. What’s not to like about a job like that? Unfortunately, it was a temporary position created until they could find a guy with a college degree to do exactly the same thing. It was fun while it lasted.

A few years later, I took a job driving a route truck for Red Rose Feed, which had just been bought out by Carnation. I delivered cattle feed and other “farmy” things to farmers and little country stores spread over about eight counties in West Virginia and a couple in Ohio. It was hard work, but I found the people interesting and the scenery enjoyable. I had worked there less than a year when they demoted the manager who’d been with the company for 30 years and replaced him with some big-city college-educated brat from out-of-state. I saw it was not a company to expect any loyalty from and started looking for other work the next day. The new manager ran the store into the ground in less than five years.

From there, I went to work at a locally owned store that sold stoves, fireplaces and related paraphernalia. I served as clerk, deliveryman, installer and part-time demolition man (the owner also had some old houses that he’d bought to rent). Unfortunately, though I liked the work, the guy had promised himself that he’d be a millionaire by the time he was 40, and he’d just turned 39 and hadn’t made it yet. Hoping to make some quick bucks before his next birthday, only eight months after I’d hired on there, he closed his store and went into real estate at Myrtle Beach.

Later, I drove a mail truck between my hometown and Pittsburgh. It was a twelve hour day with a four hour lay-over in the middle for which I didn’t get paid, but the pay was decent enough, and I enjoyed the driving, so I probably would have stayed there if the woman owner hadn’t fired me illegally to hire her out-of-work father-in-law. I probably could have ultimately caused her to lose her contracts with the postal service, but she was supposed to be a Christian, so I figured the Lord could deal with her. I doubt if He had anything to do with it, but she eventually divorced her husband (her second, at least) and married some other guy, so I assume she also fired his father if he was still there.

Then, I worked at a muzzleloader shop for three-and-a-half years. It worked out pretty well for a while, since the owner needed me full time in the winter, when my work on the farm was slow, but only part-time in the summer when the farm required the most effort. I might have stayed there, too, except his relatives/employees kept goofing off and he eventually demanded that I work for him full time to take up the slack. I explained to him that I made more money on the farm working part-time than I did for him working full time, so we had a parting of the ways. I didn’t really miss him much, as he was neither moral nor immoral, but amoral.

I worked the farm for a few years before going to work at the shovel factory. Work there was actually easier than my work in the Christmas trees and the sawmill, yet harder on the body due to repetitive motion. It paid decently enough and had benefits, though, so I probably would have still been there if it hadn’t moved to China after I’d been there twelve years.

After going to college a couple years under TAA, I ended up doing telemarketing for four years. That was the job from hell. I was literally glad when the place closed, though I had no job to go to, and felt bad for my coworkers.

So here I am, trying to get truck-driving school finished up so I can get a decent job, or at least have more options to choose from. I’m not sure how it will all turn out. Ask me in five years! © 2014

Friday, March 7, 2014

Grumps, Gripes And Updates

We had a little pow-wow this morning (Thursday) at the truck-driving school. The guy I call the “boss-man” told us that he is going to make it very clear to the owner that it’s time to spend a little of his profit. There have been a few times this winter that that only two of four trucks were running, and none are less than 15 years old. Of course the weather has been a pain this year, but that isn’t their fault, other than needing to be better organized to allow for it. The boss-man is going to try to convince the owner that he need s to buy two more trucks (newer ones) and to retire the oldest one. It will come too late to help my class much, but those following us should benefit. They have postponed the class that was to begin next week, and will be operating in two “mini-shifts” next week to try getting us the driving time we need. They are also going to be open Sunday for those wanting the extra time. This, too, comes a little late, but at least it’s an effort to help clear up the backlog created by too many students and too few trucks.

Friday update: The boss-man told us that the owner has agreed to purchase two more trucks, when they can be located (used and cheap, in other words).

Lately, I’ve been getting calls from (304) 292-3841. If I don’t answer, they hang up after only one or two rings. If I do answer, no one responds. I thought maybe it was one of those “one call” scams, but when I did a search online about the number, it turns out that it’s a fly-by-night law office somewhere trying to collect bad debts by getting the people to call them back and then harassing them. The problem is, they just start calling people with the same name as the folks with the debt and make no effort to see if they have the right person. Then, they expect that person to prove their innocence by, among other things, giving them their SSN, which only an idiot would agree to do. It IS a legal company, I believe, but their harassment is NOT legal. I had this problem with a shyster lawyer in California a couple years ago and finally had to register an official complaint with the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office to get them to back off. I assume that the first scumbag has sold my name and phone number (even though it’s incorrect for their purposes) to another scumbag. Yesterday, I put a form in the mail to register a complaint with the WVAG on the newest scumbag, so maybe the calls will stop soon.

Most of the snow has melted in our area, except on the north slopes and in shady areas. My wife said that she thought our hyacinths were starting to pop up. That means the deer should soon eat them off before they get a chance to bloom. The deer are near the end their starving time now. Everything from last fall is long gone (there wasn’t much to begin with) and nothing has come up yet, but those that can survive another couple weeks may start finding a few things sprouting. We have WAY too many deer, thanks to the WVDNR’s utterly sinful mismanagement, but I still hate to see animals starve to death. It would have to be an awful way to go. I guess such weakened animals are a boon to the coyotes, though.

Back on the subject of the driving school, I’m now ending the eighth week of a five-week program, and I’m guessing it will take two more weeks to get the necessary training to take my skills test with the state. I’m blaming three weeks of the five-week overrun on unfortunate weather. Two weeks of it, though, I believe was caused by lack of maintenance, and inefficient use of student’s and instructor’s time during the bad weather and breakdowns. Both the owner and manager are past retirement age, though, so I don’t expect much to change, until the day they just decide to close the business. The instructors are likeable and the boss-man reasonably fair, so I suppose most of the problem lies with the owner. The irony is, this is supposedly the best such operation in the area.

I’m about to run out of savings again, and needed to be working by now, but the Lord has provided so far, though, so I know I can trust Him to continue. Still, your prayers are appreciated. Thanks. © 2014

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Snowy Day “Conspiracy Theory”

I believe in a lot of the so-called “paranoia” that’s out there these days. Frankly, though, I think a lot of it is not so much huge organized conspiracies as it is groups of often unrelated individuals and smaller groups exercising their natural greed and lust for power. When multiple groups, or people, happen to be working on the same evil cause, it can easily be mistaken for an organized attack. Our snowfall last night brought one case to my mind. I was literally praying to the Lord that no-one would lose their power in this cold weather, and that got me to mentally reviewing some related thoughts.

The reason that we often lose power on my ridge is that one neighbor refuses to allow some pines to be cut, some of which fall on the lines during heavy snow. She’s not greedy, but she is selfish and uncaring towards her neighbors. That doesn’t make her a conspirator, though, just a contributor to the problem. That problem is made worse by the fact that the power company never bothers to properly maintain their lines anymore, thus saving up-front expenses, thus allowing more profit for the shareholders. When catastrophic storms come through and knock out the power for the entire region, the company then requests a rate hike to cover the cost of repairs, many of which would have not been needed, had they simply maintained their right-of-ways properly, like they USED to do. The government usually is “understanding” and grants those rate increases. I’m sure it’s only coincidence that many politicians have money invested in utility companies.

Earlier this winter, the power company predicted a brown-out or complete loss of power due to an extremely low temperature for a short time. Sure enough; it happened. AND YET, they were able to repair the problem while the cold snap was still in progress. That tells me that if they could fix it under extreme load, THEY COULD HAVE PREVENTED IT IN THE FIRST PLACE! I’m sure they were hoping to save the money for their investors, so were willing to endanger their customers to do so.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that the power company long ago jumped on the mini-florescent light bulb kick. Think about it, they can get their customers to use less electric, beg the utility commission for a rate hike, due to lost income, and end up making as much or more money, all without having to spend any money to update their equipment or lines.

This fall, the power company replaced my old mercury-vapor street light with an “ecologically friendly” one that casts an ugly orangish glow on the area. Yet they think mercury is fine in the little bulbs in my home. The reason, I suspect is that they knew to take advantage of the environmentalist’s push to lessen coal burning by reducing electric use. There was no push to save the outdoor lights, so they didn’t bother to point out the hypocrisy of the move on the part of the environmentalists. Of course, the environmentalists don’t care if their agenda makes things rough on the average person, so long as they feel like they’re “saving the planet.” Their cause is aided, of course, by power-hungry bureaucrats who jump at every chance to get more control of our lives.

And where are those poisonous bulbs made? Well, every one that I’ve seen so far has been made overseas (or south of the border) for one or another of our “American” companies. After all, there would probably be too much expense dealing with manufacturing a product in this country that used mercury, due to those same environmentalists. Naturally, the politicians are invested in many of those companies. Plus, you can be sure that someone with access to cheap mercury has been spending money to convince folks that mercury bulbs are the “green” alternative to incandescent.

I realize that this post is part fact and part conjecture and a bit vague. But my purpose was to make it clearer that conspiracy theories are not always technically correct, yet are still valid as to the effect on the people involved, both the victims and those who benefit.

Meanwhile back on our ridge, we still have power and the snow stopped quite some time ago. Thank you, Lord! © 2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Wood Smoke


I took the dog out a few minutes ago and smelled the heavenly scent of wood smoke drifting from my neighbor’s place. I grew up with wood heat. Both sets of grandparents had a grate. A wood fire said “home” to me then as much as coming home after dark to find the back porch light on and smelling the country supper cooking in the kitchen. We sold firewood for our living in the winter, so I often smelled it when I went with Dad on deliveries, too. It was always a pleasant sight to see the smoke curling from the chimney after a cold day of working outside. It meant warmth, food and being re-united with the people that I cared about.

It meant the same to me when I had my own home. Sadly, I let some “expert” (scammer) chimney sweeps clean my chimney once and they ruined it, later causing a chimney fire that necessitated tearing the top half of the chimney down. Foolishly, I caved into my wife’s wishes to switch to gas heat. She complains just as much about being cold these days as she did then. The main difference is that I now pay a fortune to heat this place some months. I miss not having a gas bill. I miss being able to hover around the stove when coming in from the cold. I miss seeing the smoke curling from my chimney when I return from going somewhere else. I miss the scent of good oak wood, or the crisp smell of burning pine. My wife says she doesn’t miss the extra dust, and I understand that. But I still miss heating with wood, if not all the work involved. And I still miss that wood smoke. © 2014