Time to Grow Up
The Fahey Boys were not pyromaniacs insofar as they never started any fires that they could not control. They just had a fascination for anything that could burn rapidly or better yet explode, like a dried out tumbleweed or kerosene sprayed from a fly sprayer held over a lit match. In the newspaper was an article about a flour mill that exploded as a result of the flour dust accumulating in the improperly ventilated installation. With this knowledge they acquired a five gallon milk can that came with a very snug fitting lid. In the can they drilled a small hole they could fit a small funnel snugly into. A flexible hose that snaked behind the shed was stuck to the funnel. Regular baking flour was measured into the funnel, a lighted candle left in the milk can, the lid was slammed on securely and presto. When one of the boys blew into the hose, the flour filled the can. The flour dust immediately blew the lid off the can with a pleasing amount of noise.
The Fahey Boys respected the danger of explosive materials, as was indicated when a welding shop with many cylinders of both oxygen and acetylene caught fire. The shop was next to the house where Dennis lived with his family. He immediately got them out of the house and to the protection of the gas station building as the police and firemen were trying to keep the crowd of gawkers away from danger. This incident reminded him of the incident in Galveston, Texas when a fertilizer ship caught fire at a pier. The police and firemen could not keep people at a safe distance and when the ship exploded there was an unnecessary loss of lives.
The fertilizer was a sodium chlorate. That caught the attention of Dennis because he had been trying to make an explosive like his father used to make in Montana, with potassium nitrate (called Potash) and sugar. His father used this mixture to blast out the stumps of the trees that they had felled to make room to plant wheat. Dennis tried every combination of potassium nitrate with sulfur, sugar, and even ground charcoal with no good response. The potassium nitrate had been so diluted for medical reasons that it just couldn't do the job. When he complained to a druggist friend, the druggist said he would help him to commit suicide if that was his intent. The druggist promptly supplied him with an ample supply of sodium chlorate.
Using the sodium chlorate and sulfur combined with powdered charcoal, Dennis found a mix that would propel a rocket in a fantastic manner. The neighborhood children would often come to his station with the rocket body and say "Here is your rocket." The big problem with this mixture was whether it was going to go up or blow up. More often than not the experiment ended up blowing up instead of going up. In one instance a little two inch toy auto had a carbon dioxide cylinder attached to it for propulsion. The cylinder was packed with the rocket material. When the fuse was lit to cause the rocket auto to speed on its way, the thing exploded, sending shrapnel flying in all directions. As luck would have, no one was hurt in this incident.
In one instance Bill and Dennis made a retort out of an old teakettle. In the kettle they put some anthracite coal, sealed the lid and applied heat. The resulting gas that was produced, even though not explosive, did manage to burn with a clear blue flame, much as does natural gas of today. They were convinced that the invention of fire ranked right along with that of the wheel. They did do a lot with various types of wheels for amusement. Unsightly soap box derby cars made with wagon wheels and any available axle would suffice. They did not win any of the contests primarily because the wheels they had did not have any bearings to cut down the friction, but they had fun. Today kids seem to be more interested in winning instead of having fun, or at least their parents seem to be. Just watch a little league ball game and see how the parents fight over the outcome of the game.
A practical and inexpensive favorite of the day was their scooter. This was in the 1930s when parents had no money for frivolous toys. The scooter was made with a length of a two-by-four, with a vertical two-by-four in front that had a handlebar attached. A discarded roller skate was taken apart and one set of wheels installed on the front and the other on the rear. One set of old skates wound up making two scooters. This type of scooter would even today compete against many of the expensive bun boards of today that command such a dear price. If you don't have the money, you can't spend it.
When James was 16 and old enough at that time to get an unrestricted driver's license, he bought a 1925 four-cylinder Chevrolet for a grand total of $25.00. While James was on his job, Dennis, age 13, and Bill, 11, decided to try out the car. All went well until an over-correction in the steering caused them to jump a curb and blow out a tire. Blowouts were commonplace in that era and they fixed the flat and returned the car with James being none the wiser. Dennis at this time had made his own lock-picking tools so he could bypass the lock his father had put on the shed for security reasons, and hot wiring the Chevy posed no problem for him. This ability was very useful in his gas station and in his neighborhood when keys were lost or misplaced.
As is probably evident by now, the author of this narrative is Dennis, who had no intention of making it an autobiography. But due to the fact that the Army split the boys up to the point that they didn't do too many things together after the war was over, most of the post-war story is about the Fahey Boys as individuals. Dennis, Dewain and Theodore, as well as their parents, wound up in California right after the war ended. William signed up for an extended hitch to serve in Germany for an extra year after which he also wound up in California. James tried for a couple of years to make a living in Sioux City, Iowa primarily because his wife's parents lived there, but he soon gave that up and moved to Stockton, which is still his home town. His street address is, of all things, Irish: Tam'O'Shanter Lane.
My point at this time is to say that hereafter instead of referring to Dennis all the time, I am switching to the first person and just saying I instead of Dennis when it is appropriate. I will be recalling incidents that happened not as the boys doing some things together, but as individuals. Many of their noteworthy events happened as individual acts and should be recorded as such.
At this time I am going to say that, of the five Fahey boys, Ted was the only one that managed to get a college diploma, thanks to the generosity of the US Air Force. After his discharge from the Navy, he tried his luck as a gas station owner but due to his difficulty in differentiating between credit and charity, he gave it up and enlisted in the Air Force for a hitch with the promise of going to college as part of the deal.
Ted's first act was to challenge many of the required courses so he could take the tests for them. He easily passed the tests and got full credit for them, thereby cutting his time in class by at least two years. His high school was in Lodi, California. The graduates from there did not have to take extra classes in bonehead English and math to enter even a Junior college. In contrast, look at the case with our high school graduates of today who cannot even balance a checkbook, and yet the teachers are still being paid as if they were teaching them.
Ted went to work with the State of California Department of Corrections, as did his second wife Carletta. They both enjoyed their work, so much so that when I visited them I had to be content to talk about recidivism and other things of interest to parole officers. Some of the incidents were very humorous, as was the case when Ted asked a prisoner why he stole that big box of rope. The prompt answer to his question was "How was I supposed to know what was in that box?" Both of them are happily retired and living in Ft. Bragg, California now, and different topics come up now during conversations with them.
When James moved to California, he hired on as a gardener at Micke Grove Park, named in honor of Mr. Micke who donated a beautiful grove of oak trees to the San Joaquin county. At that time it was only just that, a grove of oak trees and picnic tables. James soon became superintendent of the park, and before he retired it had a golf course, a zoo and a conference center and was a renown place. James was offered a very good position at the San Diego Zoo, but he did not want to move and he was nearing retirement age, so he declined.
Dewain spent most of his adult life in the US Army, and much of that time in Germany, where he worked in the preventive maintenance operation. There he found that about the only place in the hospitals that were without staph microorganisms was the cleaning buckets of the janitorial staff. He did enjoy a period in Panama eating coconuts and shish kebob iguana sold by street vendors, much the same as tacos or tamales are sold in Mexico. His life was rather boring after he retired from the military and not long after the passing of his wife of many years, he decided to join her.
Bill, like the rest of the Fahey Boys, when he got out of the Army did not receive any counseling insofar as job qualifications or the possibility of enrolling in a college. He drifted along driving a taxi in Stockton and working in gas stations until after he married his second wife, who had five children from her previous marriage. With supporting them in mind, he went to work at the Coronado Naval Base in San Diego. He soon became one of the top painters on the base and was one of the few who were allowed to paint and trim the aircraft of the Blue Angels flying team.
Don't let statistics fool you in regards to the longevity factor of male and female life spans when it comes to the Fahey Boys. Bill's wife succumbed to cancer of the pancreas and Dewain's wife had a total kidney failure. I myself have outlived two wives, one of which died of throat cancer and the other from Multiple Sclerosis. My latest contribution to the female species is my vow not to get married again.
Some of my neighbors have labeled me as being a racist because of comments that I have made about various ethnic groups when taken collectively. Some of them had to change their opinion as a result of an incident that happened on the highway in front of my place in El Granada. A man of color had his young son on a motorcycle ride when he was involved in an accident on the highway just across the highway from where I live. The Sheriff on the scene did not want to hear the statement of the witness to the accident. The man's son, although only slightly injured, was taken to St. Catherine's in Moss Beach. The father was facing having his motorcycle hauled to a facility and paying an impound fee to recover his cycle. The sheriff at the scene did not even want to hear anything from a female witness to the accident and was very rude to her.
Taking action into my own hands, I went home and got my old Datsun pick-up, a plank, and some rope and returned to the scene. With the aid of willing bystanders we managed to load up the cycle and tie it down securely. At this point I drove to Moss Beach where the man was assured his son was not seriously injured. From there I trucked his cycle to his residence in South San Francisco. We were met by two burly occupants of the place who, upon hearing what had happened, would not even let me help to unload the cycle. They said that I had already done enough. With this small act, I did more good for race relations than anything I could have said on a soap box. Needless to say, when the word got out, it completely blew my cover.
In my gas station in Monterey, California forty years ago, I hired a young man for his first job. He had a bout with polio in his youth and needed a special boot to compensate for the shortness of one leg. Some people said he had one bad leg, I responded that he had one good leg. He was a good student and picked up the fundamentals of repairing things mechanical. He is now doing "At your place" auto repair and also work on the boats in the marina. He recently called to tell me that he wished that I could join him to take care of some of the electrical problems on the boats due to corrosion during the winter months when the engines are totally neglected.
The second so-called handicapped person I hired was a young man who was with his brother in Fort Ord when they detonated a land mine. It killed his brother and left him laying injured through the night. When he was discovered the next day, he had to have both his legs amputated at knee height. With his artificial limbs he got by quite well and only fell infrequently, at which time I would call him Bumble and tell him to stop goofing off. Because I did not over-sympathize with him, we got along very well, until he got a settlement from the Government for his injuries. (It took a special act of Congress to OK the settlement).
The settlement was set up to take care of him for the rest of his life. He was given a sizable lump sum in cash, which he and his wife spent in short order on a new Cadillac and all the toys like telescopes, cameras, or anything that caught their eyes. Before the cash was in their hands they were content to drive an old Hudson sedan. The sedan had its advantages because they would go to the beach in Pacific Grove and drink beer and toss the empty cans in the back seat. This act caused no problem until driving on the highway near Hollister one day, they were involved in an accident in which the rear doors flew open spilling beer cans all over two lanes of the road. The resulting sobriety tests did prove to the skeptical highway patrol that they were both sober.
Money was also made available to them to purchase a business and a home. A Deli became their business but nowhere did the judge rule they had to maintain the deli for any length of time, so their next step was to sell the business and squander the proceeds. Their home suffered the same fate. After they had title to the place it was on the market and the new source of cash was rapidly spent. The last I heard of him was he was trying to make a living selling instructions on finger painting. These experiences have convinced me that physical handicaps are overcome more often than mental, as was his case and that of other employees I had over the years.
In my employment was also a man of color that was welcome to dine at our home. He was writing a book, and may now be famous, and the hours and low pay suited him fine. He was very radical and could have contributed to my early demise. He told me he was starting a society called SPONGE, which meant Society for the Prevention of Niggers Getting Everything. Somehow I had acquired a very light plastic wing pod that looked like a bomb or torpedo, and I had taken it into the gas station on a large flat bed truck. I had just finished hooking a chain hoist and was lifting it from the bed of the truck when two squad cars came roaring up. The people in the liquor store across the street had panicked.
When the squad cars pulled up I unhitched the lightweight pod and tossed it to my buddy on the ground, whereupon the cars left without any comment. The story did not end there when we decided to pull off a publicity stunt. We decided to build a gantry and paint the pod like a rocket, complete with tail fins and a long fuse. We were going to chain the colored man to the "rocket" and have signs like "We will beat the reds with a black", "A coon on the moon by June," and "We will have Him there in Jig Time." We were going to call out the press for the scene but fortunately I unloaded the gas station and went to work for United Air Lines before the event unfolded.
Another man of color by the name of Paul was a TV repairman and being that I had a half interest in a TV Repair shop next to my gas station, we would get our heads together to solve stubborn problems with the sets we were working on. I gave him the nickname of grasshopper because, although he stood about 6 ft. 7 in. to my 5 ft. 7 in., he was no taller than I from the waist up, he was all legs. In those days TV sets, like autos, were much simpler. We could look at a part and identify it, to wit, a vacuum tube, resistor or capacitor, and the test equipment needed was not sophisticated. With the advent of printed circuit boards and little rocks, I gave up on TV repair.
At this time I am compelled to put into print an event that occurred recently in El Granada that might lead some people to believe that I had kissed the Blarney Stone in the Emerald Isle.
Two of my neighbors both of whom are very intelligent, one a college professor and the other an author both shared my interest in the rainfall. I gave my forecast of rain as not in opposition to the weather forecast and was right so often they wanted to know what my secret was. I told them that when I went out at night with my flashlight to kill the slugs in my Swiss chard, I would look at the earwigs hanging on my garden fence. If they were hanging with their heads up, it would not rain, or if they were hanging with their heads down, rain was coming.
I had to confess to the scam when I found out they were trying to get a TV crew out to document my proven theory. We are still good friends, even if they kick me out of their house after about 15 minutes when I go to visit them. They just don't seem to appreciate a Devil's Advocate even though it gives a good reason to review both the pros and cons of any issue.
Speaking your mind can have drawbacks, as was the case when my neighbor's daughter-in-law went public with a letter to the editor blaming proposition 13 for all of the problems in the California school system. When I pointed out the fact that property taxes had risen 10 percent over inflation and that all of the people feeding at the public trough think the answer is just to raise taxes, she got so irate that she said she would never speak to me again.
In winding down this narrative of the life of the Fahey Boys, I have decided to include a little about nutrition which is so much in the news today. Today the Faheys would have been considered as being below the poverty level and living in a poverty stricken neighborhood. When it came to the food served, we had most of the upper class beat in terms of good food. We raised chickens for eggs, fattened a pig to butcher in the fall for meat, and our mother spent many hours canning the vegetables we grew in our garden. Applesauce and rhubarb with strawberries were available throughout the winter.
All was not the best insofar as the garden produce was concerned though. Rutabagas and string beans were certainly abundant. The beans were canned for winter and the rutabagas kept in the basement until they were all consumed, with not a great deal of gusto. The plum jellies, applesauce, and cherries from the trees were always welcome, however. The amazing thing about it all was that we never pruned any trees nor fertilized anything and still got good crops from a yellow clay that should have not been able to support plant life.
Attached to our garage was a large glass-fronted chicken coop. In the house we had an incubator heated by a kerosene burner that would hatch out 100 chicks in the spring. The little roosters were fattened up to make delicious fryers later in the year and the pullets were kept for laying a bountiful supply of eggs until they got too old for the job and then they became stewing hens. The hens were stewed in homemade noodles with real eggs and would be a true gourmet's delight today. In those days the flour for bread and noodles, etcetera was bought in 50 pound bags and put in a cupboard-mounted container. The container had a sifter that sifted out the required amount needed for the baking needs.
The pig raised would reach its optimum weight of 200 pounds just when winter set in and the carcass could be hung in the garage and kept frozen without a deep-freeze. The only thing not used were the entrails, the bristles and the squeal. The lard was rendered out on the cook stove and our father made fantastic donuts with it. A very savory head cheese was even made of the head. The belly was converted to salt pork, used like bacon, and all of the prime cuts were devoured with gusto.
We had an ice box that wouldn't keep milk for more than two days, but that was not the problem it is today. In those days sour milk had a pleasant taste and could be made into good cottage cheese. Today, with the advent of homogenization, when milk starts to go bad all you can do is throw it out. Today Little Miss Muffet could not eat her curds and whey, so much for progress. We also did not have to go to the grocery store twice a week. In winter that would have been too much for the Model T. In very cold weather, a rear wheel had to be jacked up so the Model T could be crank-started. This was because the viscosity of the transmission and differential fluids kept the engine locked up so it could not keep running with the load upon it.
Although the Model T was probably the next best thing to come along since fire, it did have its drawbacks. It was very inexpensive to buy and operate. Gasoline went for eighteen cents a gallon and it couldn't be driven very far without problems coming up. A Sunday pleasure ride of over ten miles would usually result in a tire blowout of at least one of the high pressure tires and a roadside repair job. Progress in balloon tires and then tubeless has eliminated this problem.
Henry Ford blew it on the transmission deal also. The Model T had a band transmission that was controlled by mechanical means to change the power train. Henry Ford junked his idea in favor of a geared unit, whereas the others adapted the idea to shifting gears with hydraulic pressure to come
up with the automatic transmission. Ford had to follow suit to keep up with the times. I will say the Model T was the reason for my interest in things mechanical and electrical.
Although I was the third boy to come along, my father chose me to help him replace the bands in the transmission and work on the ignition system. There was a coil for each cylinder that jacked the six volts up to where it could throw a spark over an inch long and the points had to be filed flat and the gap adjusted properly to make sure of proper ignition. Early on I got initiated to tools and also became interested in electricity. Both of these interests proved of value in my adult life. I qualified for radio school when I was drafted. After I got out of the Army I ran a gas station and repair facility. When that took up too much time without proper remuneration, I hired on with United Airlines in the capacity of a radio electric mechanic.
Going to work with United was the smartest move I had ever done. I paid the maximum into Social Security for almost fifteen years before I retired and so today I can sit around and babble away about my past without much worry about my future. I actually retired earlier than I had expected to because my wife had a very bad session with MS. That passed soon after I retired, but I was able to stay around more and make life more comfortable for her.
At this point I think I should close this narrative. My wheels are still spinning, but I don't seem to be getting much traction. I will just say that I hope that someone other than a Fahey can find a little bit of interest in the above, that's all folks.