Saturday, December 15, 2007

Best Birthday Gift Ever

My Son-in-Law Eric (who knew of my love for the Mopar 225 ci. Slant 6 engine and my need for a spare vehicle), wheeled and dealed a way to get me one. A 1987 Dodge Ram Pick-up Truck, that he planned to give me for my birthday this year.
He had fixed up a riding lawnmower that he traded for the vehicle, but when he went to get the truck he was despondent over its condition. After being told that it ran good, the motor was in very bad shape, but the rest of it was in pretty good shape for that old of a vehicle.
My son Eric and his friend Chris were with him to bring the vehicle to my home after loading it on Chris’s trailer. And they decided to let me make the final decision on whether I still wanted it. After listening to my son-in-law Eric (a professional mechanic)and my son Eric (a trained mechanic) describe the condition and options of the vehicle, I was sure that I wanted it. Now all I had to do was convince my wife. After telling her what the boys said and told her that our Son-in-Law knew a guy that had a good motor and its price, and that I REALLY wanted that truck and all of the ways we could use it, she said yes.
Then they hauled it away to my son’s house to start working on it. And work on it they did. I am sure it involved a lot more than what I heard about. Well many weeks and a lot of work by all of the “boys” later, I finally got to drive My Truck for the first time. How do you describe HEAVEN? Just listening to the purr of the engine and ticking of the tappets on that “Sweet 6” puts me there. The truck handles GREAT. Oh it has its faults, but nothing that really matters. All but 2 of the vehicles I have owned over my life have been used, and each one had there own “personality”. But I LOVE MY TRUCK. I don’t get to drive it often because of the price of gas and its thirst for it, but I enjoy every moment behind the wheel.

So THANK-YOU (it just isn’t enough to describe the way I feel) to my Son-in-Law Eric (I Love Ya Kid), and Son Eric (for all of the extras and work you did on ANOTHER one of Dads Damn Mopars) and my Wife for all the extra costs that were involved and everyone else who had a hand at giving me the BEST Birthday Gift Ever.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Xmas Frog

A few years ago my wife purchased a 90 gallon plastic pond for our back yard. After installing it we decided to add plants and goldfish. Before winter we scooped out the fish and brought them indoors and placed them in an aquarium so they would survive to be placed back in the pond in the spring. The next year my son and and now daughter-in-law went down to the nearby drainage ditch to get us some cattails to put in the pond and also returned with a couple of bullfrog tadpoles. The tadpoles thrived in our tiny pond and by summer's end we had not only 2 young bullfrogs but a woodland leopard frog as well, he just showed up one day and decided to stay. When the time came to bring the goldfish in for the winter, 2 of the frogs had left, and we decided to bring in the remaining bullfrog and placed him in a terrarium. We fed him crickets we purchased at a local pet shop, and by spring he was fat and sassy. However, after a couple of weeks he left our pond. Evidently he got used to the taste of crickets and went in search of some. Over the years we have had many guests appear and leave our little pond and waterfall.
An eastern box turtle, a very large painted turtle, a tree frog, and many other toads and frogs.

This year we were again blessed with a full grown bull frog, much to my 3 year old grand-daughter's delight. Whenever she visited she would search "Mr. Froggy" out and talk to him.
Well this year we were very busy and waited too long to bring in the fish and before I new it winter had arrived. As I was going by the pond last week, I noticed the fountain head of the water pump sticking out of the ice that had formed. We had turned the pump off when the weather started to get cooler back in September. I decided that I had better remove it for the winter and broke the 2 inch thick ice in half and pulled out the section with the pump in it. I then decided to see if the goldfish were still alive and got out the long handled net and a bucket. When I returned to the pond I pulled out the remaining sheet of ice, that still had cattails sticking out of it, and flipped it upside-down in the yard to break the ice to return the roots back to the pond for winter. Imagine my shock and surprise to see a large goldfish and bullfrog stuck to the ice. Neither of them were moving. I reached for the goldfish and he suddenly started to wiggle and dislodged his top fin from the ice. I quickly picked him up and placed him in a bucket of pond water and he started to slowly swim around. I then turned my attention to the frog, he was just lying there upside-down on the ice, not moving. When I touched him to pick him up, his legs feebly twitched, he was still alive, but his head was stuck to the ice. I scrapped at the ice crystals formed around his head with my fingernails and he easily came free came. I was overjoyed, but then became worried when I noticed how white his eyes and surrounding skin were. I placed him in the bucket with the fish and he sank to the bottom, moving feebly whenever the goldfish bumped into him. I then started dipping the net into the pond searching for the other 2 goldfish I was hoping were still there, but only came up with 1. Our largest and oldest goldfish with white markings was nowhere to be found. I returned all of the plants to the pond and placed the bucket on the freezer on the back porch. Hoping the warm air would slowly bring up the water temperature while we got everything ready to house our guests for the winter. My wife and I cleaned the aquarium and other necessities for the fish and the old leaky aquarium that we used for a terrarium for the frog.
I filled the aquarium with cold tap water, but our well water was still warmer than the water the fish were in. I brought the bucket indoors and when the water had warmed up a little, I transferred the fish to their winter home. I then took the bucket into the living room were we had set up the terrarium and placed it in a warm spot to bring up the temperature of our hibernating frog and noticed the white skin had returned to its natural color. Two hours later I looked in the bucket to see a wide awake frog starring at me with his head out of the water. He was going to be fine. I picked him up to place him in the terrarium and "Mr. Froggy" made me aware that he was not happy with the idea. He squirmed out of my grasp and was hopping all over the cover of the terrarium and me, until I finally got a hold of him and gently put him in his new winters lodging. I waited a couple of days for him to totally thaw out and wake up before he got his first meal of crickets, and he was ready for them. Gulping down seven of them in as many minutes.
My wife talked to my granddaughter on the phone the other day and told her of our new house guest, and my soon to be four granddaughter let grandma know that next week she would be staying overnight so she could see "Mr. Froggy" and watch him eat the crickets.

Now, why did I title this story as Christmas frog? Well my children, Miracles always happen at Christmas time. And I consider "Mr. Froggy" being alive and "well" a miracle. Maybe not a big one, but I will give thanks for little ones any day.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Road Kill

Well it was more like suicide on his part. While driving into town the other day on an errand, I was passing by a corn field near our house, when suddenly this large Fox Squirrel came running out of it right in front of me. I swerved to avoid it, but it was determined. I felt the crunch under my rear tire. I looked in the rear view mirror, and there it laid. I backed up to assess the situation an remove it from the road. Mr. Squirrel's poor little head was crushed. It couldn't have been a quicker kill if I had used a shotgun. But the rest of him looked alright so I took it home and skinned it and all was well, no bruising or broken bones in the rest of it's body. So tonight I put him in the slow cooker to cook until tomorrow when he will end up as a fine stew.
My wife has been kidding me about eating ROAD KILL, but it was fresh, because my car killed it. I was brought up with a "waste not want not" point of view and to hunt by the theory of "you kill it, you eat it" philosophy (with a few minor exceptions, like varmints, etc.).
I am sure my daughters will cringe while reading this, but it is local food and organic to a point. It is also healthy food.
Today was the opening day of gun deer season and last night I had the "FEVER" bad. This was the first time that I really wanted to go deer hunting in many years. Even before the Post Polio Syndrome slapped me down. I had planned on building a heated blind on our property and hoping for a chance encounter, but just couldn't find the time or ambition to make it. Maybe next year. I did go out with my cross-bow a couple of times but since the limb had cracked during pre-season target practice, I didn't have much faith in anything but a real close shot. My conscious got the best of me, I hated the thought of only wounding an animal and not having a quick, clean kill. So until I get a new bow for my cross-bow I won't use it. After all, I do have my own set of hunting ethics instilled by my Great-Uncle Joe Baker who was a mentor to many of my hunting and fishing skills. And of course Ol' Fred Bear. But those are stories for another time.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Living in da Yoop part III

My life in Rudyard is a collection of memories mostly related to winter and the third grade and of course, riding with my dad and other truckers when ever possible. My teacher was a young black woman who during the school year got married to an Air Force pilot stationed at Kinchelo AFB. She was a great teacher who celebrated each child’s birthday by sending a couple of us kids to a nearby store to pick up her order of cupcakes, cookies, and other party supplies which she paid for out of her own pocket. She also was a very encouraging teacher who spent quality time with each student not only for bookwork, but also for arts and each child’s individual dreams for the future.
Mrs. McDonald drove home my fathers teaching that skin color made no difference, but that each individual should be judged by their own qualities. I sometimes wonder what happened to her, and hope that her life was as happy as she made all of us who were blessed to have her for a teacher. I remember the day that her fiancé came to class in his dress blues and proposed to her in front of all of us. She launched herself into his arms and they kissed and swung around just like you see in the movies. We were all so happy for her and went absolutely nuts clapping our hands and hollering so loud, that many nearby teachers came to see what the commotion was about.
The only classmate’s name that I remember is Douglas Douglas III. But my best friend was Randy. He looked like Lou Diamond Phillips when he played the son of Lucas McCain of “The Rifleman” TV series. They lived at the top of valley just south of town on old US-2 in a big Western ranch style home that had a big double fireplace that separated the dining room from the living room. One of his chores was to help feed and water the many Shetland ponies that his father and grandfather raised. I was not allowed to help as they believed that only the men of the family should take care of their work horses. The closest I ever got to them was in the winter, when the road was icy. His father and grandfather would each take a team of 10-12 ponies shod with Ice-Cleats and pull the school busses up the steep hill out of the valley. Everyone on the bus had to QUIETLY get out and QUIETLY make our own way up the hill on the opposite side of the road. Then the bus was pulled up and we QUIETLY got back on. We were warned to NEVER talk to or try to touch the ponies as they were WORK HORSES not pets!!!
The next time we visited Rudyard about 12 years later, I noticed that they had filled in most of the valley and it is now just a dip in the road. And Randy’s home was empty and up for sale. I wonder whatever happened to him and those magnificent horses.
Ah yes, winter in the U.P. What a wonderous time for a child. However the school was never closed on count of snow. If you lived in or near town, you were expected to be there. We only lived about 1.5 miles away and when we rode the bus we were the first ones to be picked up and the last ones to be dropped off. So it didn’t take John and I long to decide to walk to and from school on the nice days. But when we got stuck on the bus in a blizzard until 9p.m. we decided to walk every day. I remember walking down the road with the wind and snow blowing so hard it was leaving small drifts wherever you put your foot down. When you looked back the way you came you could see a line if mini-drifts down the road.
I had never seen a county truck with a snow-blower attached to the front instead of a plow before, and before winter was over, the snow was so deep that all you could see of them going by our house was the yellow flashing light on top, behind a plume of snow. Many times my dad had to remove the small high window in the bathroom and boost John through it so he could shovel and chip ice away from the front door so we could get out of the house. And then we all had to shovel the driveway and find the car. That is except for my little sister Mary and newborn sister Carol. And when the electricity went out we used to sit by candle and kerosene lamp light and go through old family photo albums or read the new set encyclopedias dad had bought us. During one storm we ran out of LP gas and electricity and dad used a metal ashtray and some sand and kerosene to heat the baby bottles and our food. He even rebuilt the transmission of the old ’57 Ford Fairlane in the kitchen during one storm.

We had a young couple as neighbors, who rented the upstairs of the farmhouse. I don’t remember much of our landlord except that he was an old grouchy man. But Stan and Sandy became part of the family, we often had picnics together at a nearby park. Stan worked at the Air Force Base and Sandy stayed home and took care of their 2 year old daughter and their baby son. One morning we were woken up by Sandy’s frantic screams for help, it seams that their daughter had gotten out of her crib during the night and found her dads supply of .22 caliber rifle shells and swallowed some. Mom and dad offered to baby-sit while they took her to the base hospital. The Dr. told them to let nature take its course and let them pass, but warned them to keep count and make sure she didn’t fall until all of the bullets passed. During the wait she somehow managed to fall down the stairs and caused even more alarm. However everything finally worked out in the end (pun intended). After we moved back to Cass City we kept in touch, and one day about 5 years later, Sandy showed up at our house with the kids. Her and Stan had gotten a divorce after he had become an abusive alcoholic. She moved down here to Quanicasee near Bay City. After she remarried we lost contact with her.

There was a small cheese factory just down the road from us that we children visited often, and got to see the process of making cheese. And a little farther down the road was the family of another truck driver named Ollie Sprunger who we visited often too. There was a flowing well that was piped into a stock tank that he kept live suckers in. So when he wanted fresh fish all he had to do was reach in and grab them. Of course it was quite a game for us kids too.

Yup, life was fun in the YOOP.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Living in Da Yoop part 2

This old painted picture (1908)postcard shows the natural beauty of the upper peninsula or the U.P. (now known as Da Yoop, as made famous by a band from Ishpeming known as "Da Yoopers"). By the time I arrived in St. Ignace this was already turned into a tourist trap. But it's not hard to imagine how important this natural structure was to the Native Americans living in the area.
At the base of the Castle Rock lookout is an amusing Paul Bunyan statue accompanied by his mythical sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox. This Bunyan is rare. Instead of standing, ready to deforest Michigan, Paul sits, staring googly-eyed towards the lake. With a newspaper in his hands, we'd complete the visual that Paul is halfway through one of his mighty bowel movements.
Paul and Babe are surrounded by a low hurricane fence, to discourage lap monkeys. The statue and lookout are accessed via Castle Rock Curios, a gift shop with a classic neon sign out front and loads of souvenirs to salve that Upper Peninsula itch.
Castle Rock, ancient lookout of the Ojibways and often referred to as "Pontiac's Lookout", rises from the surrounding lowlands like an ancient castle of the middle ages to a height of 195.8 feet above water level and 183 feet above road level at that point. A view from its summit is inspiring. Located 3 miles north of St. Ignace, Michigan. With Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox statues.
Photo by John Penrod
My dad once told me that my Uncle Ray Darbee freehand climbed the face of this stone to stand on top. My first view from the top was a lot easier, by way of stairs now built for that purpose and a platform with railings and coin operated telescopes on top. The view from up there is breathtaking. You can see the Bridge uprights and Mackinaw Island and the surrounding countryside for miles. I am not sure how many times I have made that climb, but the view is always worth it. My last climb was a few years after having my first heart attack, and after descending I purchased a patch stating, "I Survived the Climb of Castle Rock"at the gift shop.
One of my greatest joys was riding in the truck with my dad. I also road with many of the other truck drivers. Louie Nemeth, John Gruber, Tom Rabideau, Ollie Sprunger,  Rich & Jim McDonald and Lawrence Smith (a cousin of Dad's), just to name a few. And of course sitting with Doc Johnson, the crane operator. Once, in a swampy area Doc ended up with a GIANT snapping turtle in the 3 yard crane bucket, it barely fit. Some of the truckers wanted to kill it and eat it, but doc wouldn't hear of it. He picked the bucket back up and gently lowered it back in the swamp where the guys couldn't reach it and tipped out the turtle. He said anything as old as that turtle deserved to live on unmolested, Dad and I agreed.
They used many gravel pits in the construction of I-75, one near St. Ignace was the place I first shot a .22 rifle that Dad borrowed from one of the guys. He took the whole family there on a picnic (something we did often, as did other truckers) and showed John and I how to shoot. It was lots of fun. Another near Rudyard was used a long time, it was also where the trucks and other equipment was parked. They hit a spring in one part and had a very cold pond where it became very handy to keep cold beer. There was a black bear that became a mascot to the construction crew and showed up at lunchtime to receive offerings of food. Other bears also showed up occasionally and once one found the beer stash, which made for some upset thirsty truckers after the work was done for the day. That bear season, one of the local ministers shot their mascot and proudly hung it from a tree branch in his front yard in town. After hanging there for so long that it surely was unusable. Someone backed a large truck up onto his lawn making very deep ruts and struck his tree so hard it had to be cut down, they also stole his trophy bear. They never found out who it was. But a white cross was discovered on a fresh grave in the gravel pit the next morning.
One time that I remember, was a fishing trip Dad took me on. Some of the truckers were staying at a motel in Cedarville, and got to use a small motor boat. So Dad took John and I there to go fishing with Tom Rabideau. Everyone but me was catching fish. No matter what Dad did to help, I just couldn't get one to bite and soon got bored. It was my first time fishing that I can remember. And it was many years later before I went again, but when I did, I fell in love with fishing in the Cass River, just 1/2 mile south from where we lived in Cass City.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Living in Da Yoop Part 1

As my father worked on building I-75 and in the winter the B-52 Bomber runways at Kincheloe Air Force Base, he had our mobile home (an 8x32 ft. trailer) moved from Cass City to a farm 1.5 miles south of Rudyard. Until this time we had lived in a rental cabin a few miles north of St. Ignace.

Across the road from the cabins and south a few hundred yards was a tourist trap built like an old wooden fort called the "Trading Post" it had all kinds of souvenirs and trinkets, many made by the local Indian's and some interesting displays. A real kids paradise. Now it is someones home.

Behind the cabins, about 1/2 mile was Lake Huron and north about 1/2 mile along the shore was a large hill with a huge rock face that faces the lake called "Rabbit's Back" because of it's shape. Many locals claim it to be bigger than the famous "Castle Rock" just a few miles away.

My brother John and I spent many hours playing along the lake and climbing Rabbit's Back, sometimes with the cabin owners children. We also discovered that in the treeline a few hundred yards from the sandy beaches grew some of the best blueberry's we ever had. Tons of large sweet berries on low full bushes. We picked so many that we soon grew tired of blueberry pies, muffins, pancakes and whatever else mom could think of to make them into. On our many trips to town (St. Ignace) I would always beg to stop at the "Indian Village", another tourist trap, but what made this one different was that they had teepee's and wicciup's outside with "REAL INDIANS". They were local tribes folk actually dressed in costume and making some of the items sold inside the store. My favorite was the old Chief. He never seemed to tire of answering questions and telling old tribal stories all the while keeping his hands busy carving totem poles or making miniature birch bark canoes or whatever. I could listen to him for hours and his tales of "The Land of the Great Turtle". He reminded me of my great-uncle Joe Baker and his love of children and telling stories (but that is for another time). I think my dad had to pry me away from that place many times. It still exists, but all of the Indians are gone and all of their handicrafts are now made in Japan, Tiawan, or China.
This is a view I can still remember very well, it is climbing the trail up the very end of the Rabbit's Back. From where the flag is, looking in the same direction you would have a grand view of the lake and islands, and a long long drop to the beach. However when I made those climbs there were no steps to cross the crevasse or flag and platform, so this old penny postcard was probably made after I was there as I don't remember the trees.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mackinaw Bridge 50th Anniversary

For more photo's and info go to

I have had a great love for this bridge since I was a little boy in the third grade. My father drove truck for one of the construction companies that built I-75 from Saginaw to the Soo. We spent the summer from Grayling to St.Ignace, and in the fall moved to Rudyard for the school year. We made many trips over the Bridge taxiing service men from the Kinchilo AFB in Kinross. When we moved to Rudyard the townsfolk came out to help set-up our mobile home with a kind of barn raising type atmosphere. The merchants of town brought out groceries and other gifts and the churches set out a feast. The only request was that "No Serviceman Walked" and if possible to give them a ride as far as possible toward their destination. I remember many Sundays after church, transporting servicemen across the bridge and picking up another load and driving them up to the Air Base, and picking up more for the ride back to Rudyard. Once we had so many guys in and on the car you could hardly see the old '57 Ford underneath. So how could I possibly miss out on the celebration and parade that had a second childhood love, the Budweiser Clydesdale's. My fist up close and personal view of them was at a parade in Waukeegan , Illinois when we lived there when I was about 5 or 6. They don't look quite as BIG now but they are still very beautiful and impressive animals.
We left home on Friday morning without any reservations and no definite plans, other than trying to find a motel close enough to the bridge to see the parade on Saturday and the fireworks Saturday night. We found a nice motel right in the middle of the parade route in St. Ignace and didn't even have to leave the parking lot to watch the festivities. The parade also included a 50 convertible car show. One for each year the bridge has been open. Many politicians and dignitaries rode in these cars, including "Bridgette" a woman who was born on the day the bridge opened, and the new Ms. Michigan and many of the older ones. I think the oldest was from 1958. They also had a float with some of the original bridge builders.
That night we saw the fireworks across the straights in Mackinaw City, but from our vantage point on the lake shore, couldn't see many from our side.
All in all we had a great trip and brought back many souvenirs and memories