The Good Home
The Fahey Boys had good reason to appreciate their summer home in the loft. It had more space than any room in the main house. The furnishing consisted of two full size beds, several chairs, an old phonograph with a collection of fantastic records like Steamboat Bill and Casey Jones. Even with no electronic amplifier, just a megaphone-type horn built in, the volume was quite ample. A centrifugal flywheel governed the speed at exactly 33 RPM. The music did not have any static, but the needle arm was so heavy that the grooves in the records soon became channels. The new LPs and compact disc players are an improvement if you have a critical ear.
The loft was also a research lab. Dennis made a crystal set and was listening to the two local radio stations before their parents even had a radio. Their father had to get a Wards Airline radio so he could tune in and hear the upcoming boxing match of the year between Joe Lewis and Max Schmeling. Joe kept the title in the USA. Dennis wound his tuning coil on a four inch long section of a two inch diameter mailing cardboard tube. For the crystal, he went to the police target range and brought home a shell casing and some of the lead slugs. The primer cap was punched out of a 45 calibre casing and a small bolt set in for mounting later. Some lead was melted in the casing, and while still molten some flowers of sulfur were stirred in with the result being lead sulfide, which was sold in small pieces as galena. It was an easy matter to assemble the parts and mount a hand wound "cat Whisker", used to find a hot spot on the surface of the crystal. The only part not on hand was the earphones that were easy to find in those days.
As Dennis was working on his crystal set he found the smell of the lead sulfide rather interesting. This led him to acquire some hydrochloric acid. When the acid was added to some of the powdered lead sulfide, the result was hydrogen sulfide gas, the same gas that gives rotten eggs their awful smell. He decided the best place to test the effectiveness of his gas would be in the high school auditorium. Due to the fact the gas was heavier than air, he decided to release it in the balcony when the auditorium was filled with students for a school event. The experiment was a howling success as the gas first got to the balcony then flowed down to the main floor. The only escape was outside until the gas dissipated. The only person that had an idea as to who was the culprit was his science teacher, and he could appreciate the ingenuity of the experiment.
By this time the youngest son, Theodore, had come into the picture. Ted, as he was called, was allergic to cow's milk so a nanny goat was always part of their menagerie along with the chickens, geese and sometimes a pig. The nanny had to have an offspring periodically to supply milk, and usually the newborn was a little billy goat, which was enjoyed at the table when it reached proper weight. The goat not only benefited Ted, but resulted in a more sweet smelling loft. Alfalfa grew alongside the dirt roads. After the city street department mowed the curbs, the boys gathered the hay which was then stored in the loft. The hay was used to feed the goat during the winter, when she couldn't be picketed out to feed. The smell and taste of goat milk tells the story of what the goat has been eating. It so happens that Sally, the goat, loved onions. So the older boys would give her onions at every chance and then sit back and watch Ted when he drank the well-flavored milk!
Ted suffered badly from asthma throughout his teen years and had to use inhalers and take it easy. When he was old enough, he enlisted in the US Navy, which took him in even with his condition. The amazing thing was that after he got into uniform and away from the parents, the asthma all but disappeared. The kid was just too late to get in on any of the Fahey Boys capers, but he loved to hear about them. Because of the difference in their years, the older boys watched over him and took good care of him.
The boys "Grandmither," as she was referred to even though she seldom visited them in Sioux City from her home in Lakota, North Dakota, had a profound impact upon their lives. The old dame lost a foot above the ankle in an accident with a hay mower when she was only nine years of age. She was a devout Catholic and was instrumental in naming the last of the Fahey boys Ted. He started out being named Theodore Robert Fahey. When the grandmother heard this, she blew her cork. No Christian Fahey boy could have a name that did not include the name of a good Irish saint, so Patrick was added. The older boys in flip moments would call him Ted, Bob, Pat Fahey.
In spite of her handicaps, the grandmother did bring into the world twelve offspring to ensure the Fahey clan lineage did not die out. She was strict with the boys, as when she called them a bunch of "Divils" for their antics on All Saints Eve. They just called it Halloween and took advantage of a good situation. She got around in boots that would be in style today and she was listed as the oldest resident of Lakota until she passed away just short of the century mark.
Theodore to this day insists that religion can kill you, citing the case of Grandmother Fahey. At the age of 95, Grandmother Fahey would walk to the church every morning. It was on one of these trips that the old dame fell and broke a hip. Six months later she passed away from complications. Perhaps she was ready to go to heaven, even though at her age she still read the Bible every day or else knew what was on the pages from memory and just had to go through the motions of turning the pages.
The grandfather was also one-of-a-kind. He lived in Troy, Wisconsin at the time and most of the residents were either Norwegian, Swede, German, or other than Irish. He could not find a good Irish, Catholic Colleen to be his bride. Off he went to Ireland and found the proper merchandise. The big problem at that time was the men did not seek a bride until they were financially capable of supporting a family. The intent was admirable but the result usually ended with the father dying from a heart attack just after the last child was born. This left the mother alone to rear the children as best as she could. In those days everyone died of heart failure, the heart stopped beating. Today that will not satisfy a coroner. The surviving spouse never did forgive the husband for abandoning her.
The grandfather brought to Ireland his very own capable gift of gab so he did not feel compelled to kiss the Blarney Stone. For this he was indeed grateful, because he knew the local boys would go to the stone and put their mark on it just as a dog would. The next day they would stand back and watch the pompous tourists kiss the stone. When one of them kissed the spot that one of them had marked, the tourist would be given a rousing cheer. Open season all year for this sport.
In those days scientific knowledge was not stressed, as was evident when three farmers were struck by lightning while on the way back from the field they were working in. Neighbors witnessing the strike hurriedly raced to the scene and immediately dug a trench to put the victims in to "ground" out the electricity. The accepted result was that it only worked on the one and only survivor. No artificial resuscitation -- give them the real thing was the motto. Another incident in the boys' life was when their mother told them about a lightning ball that came down the chimney of the stove, flipped the lid off the cookstove, and spattered her bread dough around the room before it dissipated. Because of her serious countenance when relating the story, they didn't dare laugh. Even to this day not very much is known about lightning balls, but they are not known for causing fatalities, as is the case of lightning bolts or sheet lightning as it is sometimes referred to.
The duration of this lightning bolt was probably in the time of 20 seconds or so, but when the boys' mother, Clara by name, told the story 40 years after the event, they could still see the terror it instilled upon her mother and sisters who were in the kitchen at the time. The mother insisted that the bolt went back out the chimney, but in reality it probably just dissipated when it collided with the heavy cast iron cook stove.
With their early introduction to electricity, Dennis and Bill had their kicks when they would stand barefooted on the dirt floor of the garage and stick a copper tube into a light socket just to get a little shock. They had a variable voltage control transformer, used for the popular Lionel model train sets of the day, even though they couldn't afford the train set. With the transformer properly hooked up to a Model T Ford ignition coil, they could generate several thousand volts and initiate a spark over an inch long. Very efficient at electrocuting grasshoppers and other insects they did not care for.
To this amazing source of electrical shocks they connected two large carbon electrodes from the dry cells used to power doorbells at that time. Very good contact was possible to get the maximum shock, and one of the boys, usually Bill or Dennis, would hold the electrodes while the other one would crank up the voltage until the other one yelled stop. On one occasion Bill did not back off but continued to up the voltage. Dennis found his fingers tightening on the electrodes and his wrists and arms pulling in toward his body. His only escape was to pull back and disconnect the electrodes from the power source. Being that this was all in the name of good fun, no animosity resulted and they had a good laugh over the incident.
To this day Dennis seems to be incapable of realizing the dangers of electrical shock. He tries to discern the difference between a 110 volt or a 220 volt source by wetting his fingers and feeling which is the greater. He usually picks the wrong one and burns out a good test light trying to verify his opinion. On one occasion he changed the service to a cottage without having PG&E shut off the power. On another occasion while working on a DC-10 airplane for United Airlines, he wanted to be sure a relay with a 440 volt power source had power. To verify this he wet his finger, put one hand on the aluminum floor of the aircraft and touched all three of the contacts of the relay that he wanted to check. The foreman on the plane rushed out of the cockpit and was ready to dial 911. He had no reason to worry as Dennis informed him they didn't make electricity the way they used to.