The Great Train Robbery

Before he became a dairyman, Grandpa Bill claimed to be a lawman. Everyone doubted it though because Grandpa was also known for his stories.

For my eighth birthday Mom and Dad let me and Adam go for a visit to Grandpa and Grandma’s for a week. We were excited because we’d get to help take care of the cows with Grandpa and Grandma would let us collect the chicken eggs.

In the middle of the week Grandpa decided that he was going to take us for a train ride. On the drive to the train he told Adam and me stories about how he had hobo’d for a couple of months.

“I had to give it up because I found getting on and getting off to darned hard on my rear end and my head,” he told the boys.

Adam and I laughed as Grandpa rubbed the top of his bald head.

The train consisted of two flat cars with rails and benches and a steam engine. After a herd of folks got off, another bunch of folks got on; we were in the second bunch.

Once the train pulled away from the loading platform I stood up on the bench and tried to look over the car carrying the coal, catching a face full of smoke as the train belched and picked up steam.

Adam laughed at me as I sat there with tears streaming down my face and coughing.

About the time the tears started to dry up, the train began to slow down. It had come to a flat area. Grandpa pointed out the two men riding horses ahead of the train.

“The fools shouldn’t be gallopin’ in rough country like this,” Grandpa said.

One was tall and skinny while the other was shorter and just as skinny. They had neck scarves pulled up over their face and each had a six-shooter in their hand and they were robbing the train.

The taller one shouted, “This here’s a holt up! Give us your strong box and no one will get hurt!”

He pulled one of his guns and fired it into the air. Everyone jumped back, expecting to get shot at any moment. I covered my ears.

Grandpa was standing close to the tall train robber, when he grabbed the man’s gun. As he did that, he spun the robber around on the heels of his cowboy boots.

The bandit was so surprised that he let go of the gun and Grandpa hit him over the head with it.

Then Grandpa pointed the pistol at the other robber.

Jus’ as suddenly Grandpa busted the smaller robber along the side of his head. But he didn’t go down like the first one.

Instead he raised his fists and tried to punch Grandpa. His punch missed Grandpa completely.

Then the robber yelped out in pain. Adam had rushed forward and bit him squarely on the thigh.

The short bandit knew he was over matched and he tried to make a get away by quickly break for the side rail. Grandpa saw his move and took careful aim with the pistol.

Bang!

The sound the pistol made caused everyone to stop cheering and duck. The robbery had become serious.

Then the gun went click, click, click as Grandpa pulled the trigger. The short train robber jumped in the middle of his horse and disappeared into the woods.

Grandpa turned and looked at the first cowboy that he had laid out. It was his gun.

The train’s engineer was nursing the cut on top the robber’s head. Both of them were looking real mad at Grandpa.

The rest of the trip was uneventful for Grandpa and we two boys. Everyone made it back to the train station in one piece.

During the short ride back I kept looking at Grandpa as he sat there with the useless pistol in his hand. He looked dejected and he would sigh a heavy sigh every once in a while.

We were proud of Grandpa, though. He had caught one train robber by hitting him on top the head. The other one got away because the gun was empty.

We could hardly wait to tell Grandma all about what Grandpa had done.

When we got home, Grandpa headed out to his work shed. He was embarrassed that he had busted up a staged robbery on a tourist train.

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A Bear for Lunch

Uncle Adam took my brother and wandered down the coulee to see if they could scare up an elk. Dad sat in the front seat of our Studebaker truck we called Buella.

He was eating from his silver-colored work pail. I had Dad’s thirty-odd-six and walked around to the front of Buella.

The old truck was parked about fifty feet from a slope that over looked Gold Bluff near the town of Orick. From there, Uncle Adam and Dad figured they’d be able to see any elk without having to walk very far.

The gun had a telescopic sight on it and I held it up and looked through it. I scanned back and forth looking through the tall grasses and into the shadows of the low-lying scrub. I saw nothing but the grass and trees.

Dad could be heard eating one of the sandwiches Mom had made for us the night before.

“It must be good!” I thought.

Then Dad’s lip smacking grew louder and louder. Then he grunted.

It was a strange-sounding grunt. I had never heard Dad make that kind of noise before.

It was low yet sharp like an animal. I turned and looked back at the truck and to where Dad was sitting.

My eyes were met with a surprise. Dad was sitting in the truck absolutely still.

His eyes were as wide a saucer plates. His cheeks were bulging like a chipmunk during acorn season and he was as pale as a winter moon at midnight.

In the seat next to Dad was huge brown ball of fur, which moved with great force, rocking the old Studebaker from side to side.

It took a moment for me to figure out what it was. It was a bear.

I stood there with my mouth wide open.

Dad just sat there with his eyes wide and un-blinking. The wild look on his face was a combination of panic and stupidity.

The bear on the other hand, continued to grunt and groan. He licked Dad’s face and stuck his nose against Dad’s head and took large noisy sniffs of him, then he’d return to licking Dad’s face.

The bear’s huge pink tongue was long and quick. It darted across Dad’s unblinking, unmoving face.

It suddenly occurred to me that I was holding Dad’s thirty-ought-six. I planted my left foot and slowly raised the rifle to my shoulder, pointing it more than aiming it towards the bear as it sniffing and licking Dad.

‘Click’ was the nearly inaudible sound of the safety being switched into the off position. I was getting ready to pull the trigger and I could see Dad’s eyes grow even larger at the thought of the rifle’s report.

‘Snap!’

Nothing happened as I quickly lowered it and drew back the bolt, sliding a shell into the chamber. The sound of all the clicking and clanking was enough to wake the dead.

It was so loud that the bear had heard it. He stopped nosing Dad and looked in the direction of the noise and me.

Again I raised the rifle and slipped my finger inside the guard. I held my breath and prepared to squeeze the trigger.

Suddenly Dad’s door popped open. And jus’ as sudden, Dad was laying on the ground, trying to kick the door shut. Dad had literally popped out of the truck with a shot.

He was flat and stiff like a piece of barn floor timber. He dropped to the earth with a thud.

Meanwhile, the bear jumped back with great surprise. In all of the commotion the door slapped shut behind him as Dad kicked the door in front of him closed.

He had no way of escaping.

“Maaw!” the bear cried as he continued to back up.

He quickly discovered he could no longer get out the way he came in and was trapped. His situation seemed to get worse as he continued to struggle to get turned around.

The inside of the truck was not meant for the largeness of a bear.

The bear had turned sideways in Buella. He was stuck and starting to panic.

The horn sounded adding to bears panic. His rear end got hung up on the gun rack and his face was mashed against the windshield.

Meanwhile Dad had made it to his feet and he ran to the rear of the truck. I stood still, pressing the rifle tightly against my shoulder and cheek, finger still touching the trigger.

The bear struggled wildly to get un-caught. He twisted his huge frame sideways in the truck. The old Studebaker rocked back and forth as the animal shifted his weight from side to side.

To me, the eyes of the bear seemed to bug out and his long nose flattened as it pressed into the windshield. His cries became more pitiful as he struggled violently against entrapment.

Dad came around and stood by me. I also became aware of the cold trickle of sweat tracing its way down my back and I shivered.

The muzzle of the rifle shook a little as I lowered it. I was shaking, but not nearly as hard as Dad was when we finally looked at each other.

Ka-pop!

The explosion of noise made us jump at the same time. I jerked the thirty-ought-six back up to my shoulder as Dad stepped back.

The sound of cracking glass echoed through the valley. The bear in his struggle had popped the windshield out of Buella and it crashed to the ground after sliding off the hood.

Within a breath the bear scrambled for his freedom, his claws raking at the green paint of the truck and then the green grass as he ran for his life.

Dad took the rifle from me. He slipped the bolt back gently and out jumped a bullet. He started to slip it into his pocket, but then he handed it to me.

Then he said, “For the one that got away, thank goodness.”

A Track Fix

To say my senior year of high school was a difficult one, would be an understatement. Few things seemed to go well for me and worse yet, the stuff that went wrong seemed to be mostly of my doing.

One of those situations was to come out publicly against the track coaching staff, voicing my opposition to how they were treating another trackster. It all began after the Humboldt-Del Norte Conference finals.

Muneca Alcorn and Marcy Dennison were the best female distance runner in the conference. Their coach, Helen Caldwell had told them to “split the ticket,” meaning they were to divide the 440, the 880, the mile and two-mile

All went according to plan until the two-mile race. Marcy Dennison was having trouble maintaining pace and Muneca was doing her best to stay in second place as instructed.

In the end, Muneca beat Marcy by a wide margin and ended up with three first-place wins to Marcy’s one first-place. In response Muneca was told she was no longer on the team and to go sit on the bus for the duration of the meet.

Now, I knew that there was a strategy at work in the splitting of the races. But a dismissal from the team was in my estimation, unfair and I launched a stout protest to both Mrs. Caldwell and the boy’s coach, Brian Ferguson.

My protests, I believed, fell on deaf ears. So I decided to take it a step further.

If the coaches wouldn’t listen, maybe a little negative public attention would. I wrote a scathing letter to the editor of the Del Norte Triplicate.

As soon as it was published, I found myself kicked off the team as too. Mr. Ferguson only allowed me back on the team because our 440-relay had won a spot in the state championship finals, saying it wasn’t fair to punish my team mates because of my actions.

In the end, Muneca was reinstated and allowed to participate in the state championships as well.

For Reals

Dad was a scout master while Mom was den mother. I was a cub scout and eventually a boy scout, though I didn’t stay with it for very long after that.

One of the many events was a large scout dinner at the old Grange Hall on Hunter Creek Road. The dinner was arranged as fund-raiser to help all the scouts in Klamath attend that years Jamboree at Miller-Rellim Lumber Yard.

Each of the dens were given the chore of coming up with a skit for the entertainment portion of the dinner. Our den worked out a play about Bigfoot and how he was accepted by the local Indians.

While I don’t recall much about the play itself, I do know Scott Bruhy was Bigfoot. It was a natural part for him as he was a good head taller than every other student at school.

The other thing I remember was how we danced around a campfire, like a bunch of wild men in a B-western movie. I was a part of that.

What few people know is that I got in a lot of trouble from Mom for my performance. I misunderstood her instructions, and instead of wearing a pair of shorts underneath my breech-cloth, I wore nothing.

Talk about realism.

Keeping Quiet

It was the first and only time I saw Dad throw-up after working an accident scene. And I couldn’t blame him as it was one of the worst deadly wrecks I had ever responded too.

The little Volkswagen Rabbit was mangled beyond belief. And the same could be said for the lifeless male body inside the vehicle.

It was hard to tell who had hit who. There was debris spread out from one side of Highway 101 to the other side.

What was evident was how hard the VW and the large dump truck had collided. The engine of the dump truck was torn from its mounts and rested on the side of the road.

While the driver of the truck was injured, he would survive. There wasn’t much to do for Dad and me other than to help protect the scene until the California Highway Patrol released us from the detail.

We returned to the firehouse with jus’ enough time for me to get ready for high school. That’s when Dad went outback of the house and vomited.

Less than an hour later, I was on the school bus, passing by the accident scene I had been at earlier in the morning. While the male body had been removed from the VW, much of the scene remained as was before we left it.

Once at school, I noticed the hallways were extremely quiet. What noises there were came in the form of hushed whispers or tears.

Then someone told me: Cameron Allen had been killed in an early morning crash.

Reality Claus

Marcy was six-years old when she announced to the family that Santa Claus wasn’t real. We were sitting at the supper table, preparing to eat.

Without thinking, Mom responded, “Jus’ like the Easter Bunny.”

Suddenly Marcy’s face drooped as her look of confidence shifted to shock. Her mouth hung open and tears welled-up in her eyes.

Then Deirdre replied, “Mom, I don’t think she knew that.”

Without warning, both Marcy and Mom started crying, each for slightly different reasons.

The Rundown

It was deer hunting season and Uncle Ron, Dad and I were scouring the hillside for any sign of the animals. We had returned to the truck and had plans to head home when Ron decided to walk over to a nearby ravine and have a quick look.

Dad and I sat in the truck as Ron stood at the ravine’s edge, looking the area over through the scope on his hunting rifle. Suddenly he jumped and turned quickly to his left.

As he did, he lowered his rifle as if he were planning to shoot something. But he was too late in squeezing the trigger and the shot went high.

Within a second or two, Ron was laying on his back near the bottom of the ravine. I was racing to help him while Dad stood guard over us with his rifle at the ready.

Fortunately, Uncle Ron got up on his own and he was unhurt. However it was the first and only time he was attacked by a yearling.

Much to Uncle Ron’s discomfort, we laughed about it all the way home.