Monday, July 10, 2006

Reliving Some Old Memories, And Making A Few New Ones

As I mentioned in my last post, a very dear family friend passed away last Sunday. Ron was my Dad's best friend since the early 70's, a huge mentor and positive influence in my life when I was a child, and my uncle in every sense of the word except for blood relation. Whoever it was that said "blood is thicker than water" can kiss my ass. Ron, and his wife Ruth, were/are as much family to my parents, my sisters, and I as anyone could ever be.

I'll never forget the many good times we all had together, camping, hunting, fishing, traveling, tinkering in the shop, flying, shooting, you name it. I'll never forget all of the things that Ron taught me, but I'm sure it will be a long time before I can look at a picture of him without a tear or two streaming down my cheek. So much of who I am today came from him. My interest in electronics, building and flying model airplanes, shooting, gunsmithing, reloading, fixing just darn near anything ever made, that all came from Ron because he was a man that could do it all and do it well. Ron was the textbook definition of a perfectionist, and one of the kindest and most generous human beings I've ever known.

I remember as a child of maybe 4 years old, looking up at one of his RC planes sitting on a shelf, (I knew better than to touch it), and wondering what it was made of because the covering job on it was so flawless that I simply couldn't conceive how it was possibly made of wood, even though I'd asked him a hundred times and the answer never changed. It wasn't until almost 20 years later, when I built and covered my first plane, that I truly understood how much of a perfectionist that he was. Taking wood and making it look like something that was originally made of aluminum isn't as difficult as one might think, but it isn't something that just anyone can do their first time trying it. Ron never flew that plane, he sold it years later only to get back into the hobby and accumulate a large collection before his passing, but I remember him firing it up and taxiing it around his yard one time much to the delight of one very interested little boy.

I had the priveledge of flying with Ron several years later when I first entered the hobby, and I remember how proud I was to see two of my planes in the sky. One expertly piloted by Ron, and the other at the mercy of my shaky, beginner hands. When Ron was undergoing cancer treatment in Billings, we spent several more days flying together, and several more hours sitting around talking about airplanes and browsing through the hobby shops. Even though I hadn't flown in years due mostly to financial constraints, upon hearing the news that he would be staying in town for several weeks I immediately ordered a ready to fly plane so that we'd be able to fly together. That plane was my Hobbico Sky Fly, and I'm now absolutely positive that it was the best hundred bucks that I've ever spent. In spite of all he was going through, he still had his trademark grin on his face when he was flying, a grin that all who knew him will never forget, a grin that was as contagious as any disease you can name. As long as I live I'll never fly so much as a paper airplane without thinking of Ron and how much joy he got from the hobby he introduced me to.

Not only could he do almost anything, he delighted in someone else taking an interest in what he was doing, especially if that someone else was a curious young boy like me. Whether he was putting the final touches on an airplane he was building, refinishing the stock on some beat up old rifle and making it look new again, or soldering parts into one of his many CB radios or pieces of satellite TV equipment, he'd always give me a play by play of what he was doing and answer question after question. Next to my father, I don't think there's a man alive or dead that has taught me as much as I learned from Ron.

The world would be a far better place if there were more positive role models like Ron for young men to follow. In all of the years I knew him, I don't think I ever heard him say "the F-word" or raise his voice more than a decibel or two. He didn't drink, and although he appreciated a pretty girl as much as the next guy (especially if they had big boobs, Ron liked boobs) I don't remember ever hearing him say anything rude or vulgar even in jest. Ron was a Hunter Safety instructor at different times throughout his life, impeccable about responsibility with firearms so any young person that hunted with him was going to learn how to handle a gun properly whether they liked it or not. Hunting or target shooting with him and my father together offered a double dose of instruction, habits that I strive to pass on to my children.

Although he was a "Jack of all trades", and had many different and quite unrelated jobs throughout his life, for the last several years Ron was a "detention officer", not exactly a prison guard, the jailer at the Richland County Jail in Sidney to be exact. If any of the prisoners there ever took the time to talk to him during their stay, I'd be willing to bet that the odds of them ever winding up in jail again dropped significantly, he was just that much of a positive role model.

As you can probably tell, I held Ron in pretty high regard, and he will be greatly missed. If there isn't an RC airfield in heaven, you can bet that there will be soon, and all of the angels will be lined up for their chance on the trainer box, big grins all around.

I miss you, Uncle Ron.

Now, on to a more positive note. Ron's funeral was held in Sidney on Friday morning, and of course I wasn't going to miss it. My one or two day a week excuse for a job was just going to have to do without me for a few days. Since I had to go back to "the old stomping ground" to say goodbye to an old friend, I figured that we just as well try to bring back at least something positive from the whole experience. Between work or the lack thereof, and money problems, and unreliable vehicles and all of the other problems of life I hadn't had the family on any kind of a trip in several years.

I grew up in Eastern Montana, in the oilfield between Glendive and Baker, so I figured it was as good a chance as any to show my kids where I came from. I took my wife and son back to the old homestead once, but the boy was just a baby so he didn't remember any of it. My daughter has been on precious few road trips to anywhere so here was a good chance to show her that there's a lot of world outside of Billings just waiting to be seen.

After a marathon wrench twisting session on the old Ford Wednesday night, (fixed the leaking injectors, replaced the two bad universal joints, replaced the compressor and recharged the air conditioner which was about the smartest thing I've done in years let me tell you), we made our way East on Thursday to Glendive. Stayed the night there, got up in the morning and had breakfast with my parents and my sister that came down that morning, and made our way to Sidney to attend the service. We hung around with Ron's family members at his home for much of the afternoon. Then as everyone else headed back to Billings, we started what we hoped would be the positive part of our trip, a trip back down memory lane to the place I called home so many years ago.

After dining on pizza at the Gust Hauf, a Glendive original and prominent memory from my past, we headed back to our hotel for a swim, a shower, and some much needed sleep. Saturday morning we got up, loaded up, checked out, and headed down the 35 miles of gravel road that would take me back in time 25 or so years, to a time when there were no neighbors, no traffic, no noise, no pavement, no cares, no worries, just a whole lot of countryside for a young boy to explore with his motorcycle, his dog, and his .22 rifle. His only impedances being his mother, wood ticks, and rattlesnakes. All of which were quite avoidable if he payed attention.

Here's a few pics from the trip, now you'll know that I'm not full of crap when I tell you that I grew up in the sticks. What people call living in the "country" these days, isn't a pimple on the ass of where I used to live. Imagine having 35 miles of gravel road between you and your mailbox. No convenience store on the corner, no newspaper on your front porch every morning, no water when the power was out which was a very frequent occurrence by the way, no cops, no ambulance, no fire department, no Wal-Mart, no paved roads or sidewalk, no street lights to obscure your view of the stars or the Northern Lights, no neighbors to bitch if you made a little noise, and nothing but 35 miles of ass deep snow between you and all of those things in the winter time. Think you could handle it? I could, I did, and damn I wish I could do it again, I'd just like to do it somewhere with trees. Maybe now you'll know why I can be so antisocial sometimes, why I don't like crowds, and why I don't like people trying to control me.

Heading down the long road home, just south of Glendive. Quite a driveway isn't it? Only about 20 more miles to go!

My kids and I standing on what used to be our driveway. Most of it is all grown over with weeds these days, but there was still this little patch of gravel showing. I have to laugh when I think about how that driveway used to be occupied by a pickup almost identical to the one in this picture. The only difference was, that pickup was brand new!

Poking around looking for artifacts, and teaching the kids how to watch for rattlesnakes.

This is where my parents' trailer house used to sit, the shop was to the right of it and ended about where my son and I are standing. The little bunch of Juniper trees behind us is what we used to call "the park", it's where we had our barbecue grill and a picnic table for cookouts. The orange thing in the front is a guy wire leading to a power pole that didn't used to be there. There's a cathodic protector box for a nearby underground pipeline right in the middle of what used to be our driveway. The old power pole was right about where my son is standing.

An old Sears Dynaglass snow tire. I remember this tire, I think it was laying around when we moved in, as a kid I rolled it about a million miles, and it's still laying there today. It was laying there the last time I was here about 13 years ago, and I hope it'll still be there the next time I go back if I ever do. Every time I see it it's moved, but it's always there. Still got good tread on it too, but the sidewall's a bit weather checked. Laying around in the hot sun for 30 years will do that.

My daughter takes a walk up a road I walked more times than I care to remember.

Coming back from poking around at what used to be our closest "neighbor's" house. "Okie" was a fellow that retired from Shell Oil Company years ago. Originally from Oklahoma, he'd go back there in the winter but he kept an old trailer house just up the road from our place where he'd visit for a month or so in the summer, "Cuz it was just too gosh dern hot down there in Oklahomer". His trailer is still there, but it doesn't look like anyone's been around in a long, long time. I've never heard what happened to Okie, even though my mom's tried to contact his family several times over the years.

I'll always remember when that driveway looked like this. Who is that handsome young fellow on that Fonzy tricycle? I'll bet he grew up to be quite a hunk. ;)

There's that good looking young man again. This time he's changing a tire on a brand spanking new 1978 Ford pickup. What a multitalented fellow he is!

This is the farmhouse where we used to meet the school bus . . . . . it was only 7 miles away . . . . . a mere jaunt . . . . . . uphill both ways of course . . . . . . . . in six feet of snow . . . . . . . . . with no shoes. ;)

This sign should actually read "WELCOME TO THE EXACT MIDDLE OF FUCKING NOWHERE!"

This is where I went to school, in the bustling metropolis of Plevna Montana. A few new additions have been built since then, but for the most part it's still the same. If you think this is a big school, keep in mind that it was K-12, and the big rounded roof and the peaked part in front of it is the gym/auditorium. My Kindergarten class had 16 kids, it was the biggest class in the history of the school, and a friend told me a few years ago that we still hold the record. If my camera had a slightly wider angle lens, we could've gotten the whole rest of the town in the shot as well. They put a stop sign in Plevna years ago to keep people from missing the whole damn town if they happened to blink on their way through.

After showing the rugrats my old home, and my old school, we jumped on Highway 12 and headed East through Baker and on to Rhame North Dakota where some friends of ours live, reaping the profits of the recent resurgence in the oil business. We stayed the night at their place, then cruised into Bowman the next morning to have breakfast and buy some smokes without the benefit of Montana's ridiculous babysitter tax. After breakfast and saying our goodbyes I wheeled the big Ford into the truck stop to take on some fuel, and what should I spy?

B15 BIODIESEL! Right there at the pump, and for the same price as regular Dino Diesel!

Throughout our trip thus far, the big Ford had been protesting. Surging and sputtering something fierce at highway speeds, I wasn't sure if it was an injector, the fuel pump, or possibly something heat related but my corn binder power plant wasn't running right. Nothing that made me think it was going to quit on us, but annoying and bothersome nonetheless. I'd checked and tinkered and bled the injectors and checked the delivery pump and cursed and scratched my head but there was nothing more I could do without test equipment or a heavy outlay of cash for some "try it and see" replacement parts. So here I am, in Bowman ND, faced with a decision.

Should I fuel up with regular diesel and surge and sputter my way back home? Or should I try some B15 and see if it makes any difference?

Of course I couldn't resist the temptation, and with the rear tank of the Ford full of B15 we set out on the long journey home.

First of all, I'd like to sware to everyone that reads this, I'm not making any of this up. You all know what a big fan of biodiesel that I am, and I'm sure you'll all be tempted to believe that my enthusiasm might sway my story a bit, but I sware on my unopened package of classic Dukes of Hazzard puffy stickers that this testimonial is true.

By the time I reached the edge of Bowman, the sputtering and hesitating had absolutely and completely stopped!

As I accelerated up to 65 MPH at the edge of town the former bellowing black smoke from the tailpipe had been replaced by a half sized grey puff. The engine became noticeably quieter, and the temp gauge stopped climbing a fair bit lower than it had previously. On our trip so far, the clutch fan had cycled constantly in an effort to keep the big diesel burner cool, running on biodiesel the fan cycled 3 times between Bowman North Dakota and Custer Montana, for 20 or so seconds at a time to cool the engine after topping a hill. Somewhere West of Custer, the smaller rear tank was getting close to empty and I had to switch back to the Dino Diesel in the front tank. The temperature climbed a little, and although it wasn't nearly as bad as it had been, the surging was starting to come back by the time we made it back to Billings.

Now I'd like to ask a question to our benevolent Governor Schweitzer, too bad his email link doesn't seem to work anymore, so I guess I'll just have to ask it here and hope by some bizarre twist it's brought to his attention. How come sir, if you're such a champion of the environment and so dead set on breaking our dependence on foreign oil, can I buy B15 biodiesel at the pump in North Dakota, but I can't even make it myself in Montana without being accused of being a meth dealer and going through a ton of red tape? Why can't I buy biodiesel in Montana? Huh? I'm waiting for your answer.

The fact of the matter is this. The government keeps dropping the sulphur levels in diesel fuel. Biodiesel counteracts the negative effects of low sulphur contents since it has much higher lubricity. Older diesel engines like the one in my Ford aren't designed to run on the modern low sulphur diesel fuel, they're designed to run on 1984 diesel fuel. A mere 15% blend of biodiesel made my truck run like new, and that's 15% less of my fuel money that's going into Haaji Abu's pocket, and 15% more going into the pockets of American farmers and producers. Add that to the fact that emissions are markedly reduced and what's not to love? I now have a renewed interest in producing my own biodiesel. Even if I don't run my truck entirely on biodiesel, I now know that just using it as an additive makes a world of difference. Instead of passing laws to require ethanol in gasoline, I think it would be far more productive to require at least a small percentage of diesel fuel to be bio. Just my opinion, and lord knows I'm no expert, but I know what I know. What I know, is that my old truck runs worlds better on B15 biodiesel than it does on the low sulpher swill that I can buy around here, and I want more of it.

There you go, a whole week of posts all crammed into one, and I still haven't had time to do anything with last week's video. Don't worry though, unless I get another job soon I should have plenty of time to get it done this week, that is if my internet access doesn't get shut off because I have no idea how I'm going to pay the bill. Anybody need a truck driver?


Ken Hayes said...

I enjoyed your trip. Thanks for letting me go with you.

Montana Girl said...

Hey Justin -- I had the pleasure of meeting your Uncle Ron a couple times as he worked with my dad. He was a great guy and will be very very very missed.

Jay Stevens said...

My condolences for your Uncle Ron. He sounded like a pretty cool guy.

mikk_19 said...

Hi Justin,
I am very sorry to hear about this person's passing. Obviously, he was an important individual to you and molded many attitudes and beliefs you espouse as an adult. Like you, I lost someone very close to me several months ago (my Dad). Many of your words you have written in your blog I can closely relate to.

Thank you for the pictures of your journey to Eastern Montana! Many years ago I rode dirt bike in the areas you mentioned! I recognize the areas that are in your photos as well! WoW! Did those pictures take me back in time!

Thank you for sharing your story of your Uncle and your trip to Eastern Montana! And by the way, the Gust Hauf was the least expensive place to eat lunch back in the days I worked in Glendive!

As an ex-oilfield worker, how busy is the patch these days between Glendive and Baker? I recall when Shell was a big player in that area (but they are not any longer, as far as I know).

One more comment before I go away! Did you happen to read Ed Kemmick's City Blight from last weekend? :-) Tell me if you did and I can poke some good natured fun at Ed!


Justin said...

You're welcome ken, there's lots of room in the old Ford for passengers. ;)

I'm glad to hear that montana girl, that you got to meet Ron that is. The phrase "to know him is to love him" definitely applied in this case, and he will be greatly missed by a large number of people for sure.

Thank you jay.

Howdy mikk, sorry to hear about your Dad. I know that I'll have to go through that experience someday, but I'm certainly not looking forward to it. My father and I have always been extremely close, I hate to even think about life without him around.

How many years ago was it that you were in that country? It's a pretty small world, chances are that if you worked in the oil patch, you probably knew my dad and his brother. They both worked out there at different times right up until the whole thing shut down.

The patch is hopping these days. The last time I was there was about 10 or so years ago and there was nothing going on. This time there's pumping units and treater batteries galore, drilling rigs poking up all over the place, trucks barreling up and down the road, pumper pickups darting here and there. It reminded me of the good old days. LOL. Shell doesn't have any of it anymore though, they sold out to some company called Encore a few years back.

I always catch up over at City Lights at least every few days, but I didn't see anything over at Ed's that really grabbed my attention from last weekend. Overall, I really like Ed, or at least his writing. (He could be an asshole for all I know, I've never actually met him after all, LOL) All the jokes about the Billings Gazoo and Lee Enterprises aside, you have to give Ed credit for one thing. He's about the only one of us that's smart enough to do this stuff for a living, I sure wish that I could get payed for it instead of having to have a "real job" besides.

Whaddya say Ed? Is the Gazoo hiring any "roving reporters"? How about paper boys? Even that would be a step up from what I've been doing lately. ;)

Joe Visionary said...

My condolences as well.