Trouble In River City


Richard Bishop

© Copyright 2012 by Richard Bishop 


Photo of an Airstream trailer with a 22 bullet hole in it.

 “(Ya Got) Trouble* in River City and that’s spelled with a “T” and it rhymes with a “P” and that means Pool (or Pickup truck or Pain!).”

I have long wondered just how much trouble a young Farm boy can get into out in the Countryside. In rural areas, there is no clash caused by sheer numbers of people; no hot sweaty bodies stacked layer on layer in tall tenement houses. If you get into trouble there, it’s not a reaction to the cramped environment, it’s almost always of your own making! And Pickup trucks can make you or break you!

For me, living and growing up on a Farm meant being alone much of the time. I grew up on a medium sized Farm in Kalamazoo County, Michigan. My Brother was 6 years older than I -- he lived worlds apart from my life. My Sister was 3 years older than I -- she was closer but still a world apart. I was the youngest and to say I was spoiled because of that circumstance is exaggerating somewhat because I made my own mistakes but did the “upstanding thing” and paid for them . . . all by myself.

One of the earliest escapades that got me in trouble before my “teens” was playing with bows and arrows. One of my bad aims struck my Sister somewhere on her torso (without even leaving a mark) and she headed bawling for the “outhouse” and locked herself inside. All four members of my family came down on my case as if I had tried to assassinate the Pope.

Once, in the early Springtime when I was 12 years old, I was visiting a boyhood friend of mine ¾ of a mile away and he decided that by burning his yard, the coming crop of grass would grow up greener. He was the older, at 14 years of age, so, that sounded reasonable, and we lit the dry grass. We didn’t test for the wind, but luckily, it was blowing away from any buildings. Almost at once, to our great shock and horror, the Fire took-off roaring out across a 10- acre field covered with last-years bone-dry wheat stubble. The Fire Department got there when a couple of acres were already burned.

After the Fire was put out, his Father talked to my Father and we got off with a good “scolding” because we had been lectured on-the-spot and cautioned about “playing with Fire” by the Fire Chief himself, personally! No fees were charged.

When I was in my ‘teens, we had a Pickup truck, and as I remember, it was an 1937 Chevy. Someone had once installed a massive trailer hitch behind which used up the entire rear undercarriage. Because of this, they had had to remove the tail light and its accompanying license plate bracket. They then proceeded to attach it high up onto the back of the cab above and behind the Driver where the license plate stuck out into space as prominently as the modern Truckers rear-view mirrors do.

We always parked it facing a long storage building, towards the left end. I would later wish that we would have regularly parked the Pickup truck more to the right end of the building. The reason we didn’t is because our driveway was straight-in and ended right there a few feet short of the storage building where it was just easiest to coast in; brake it to a stop and shut-off the ignition. Inside in the center were stored a grain Binder and a corn Binder, each on a relatively permanent basis. The right end was outfitted as a workshop complete with a wood lathe, a battery charger for multiple batteries, a welding rig, a couple of work benches, a myriad of tools, and a wood-burning stove for involved winter equipment overhauls.

The left end, where we always parked the Pickup, was usually left clear to store miscellaneous things temporarily on an “as needed” basis -- mostly the kind of equipment that could be wheeled into place by hand. Once we stored an elevator (for bales of hay) that my Father had constructed. We once stored a hay-loader there (the kind that was towed behind the Farm wagon; thereby loading the hay up from the rear). I remember we once even stored a really neat all-white Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, that had been taken-in as a trade-in on a new car at the XXXXX New Car Sales and Garage where my Father worked Winters when things were slow on the Farm.

I did not always know what was stored inside since, at the time, I was off going to School at Mattawan Consolidated High School ten miles West of the Farm. I was gone (by School Bus) from 07:45 until 17:15 five days a week. My Father was in charge of placing stuff in there and our conversations didn’t always fill me in on such details. This is not surprising; it was normally none of my business!

One Saturday, on School day-off, while carrying a .22 caliber rifle loaded with Long-Rifle cartridges, I was sauntering in our driveway and I spotted a pesky Sparrow sitting up on the outside end of the license plate of the Pickup truck. Without thinking anything of it, I fired at the Sparrow and got him -- this made one of our 22 cats very happy! Just like Humans, they liked wild game once in a while.

Then I noticed that the bullet had done more than kill the Sparrow -- it gone into the left sliding wooden-door of the storage building and since the slug was not there for extracting, I knew that it had gone clear through to the inside of the building. Being dark in there, and the bullet hole being too high up, I couldn’t peek in and readily see what was being stored there “this season.” But the hair on the back of my neck began to stand up as I started to get a premonition that just maybe something could have gone terribly wrong! When I opened the sliding wooden door to investigate further, imagine my great consternation when I saw: Oh, Oh! . . . a large, beautiful house-trailer sitting there spotless except for a bullet hole in the right upper curved aluminum streamlining leading to the roof. Since the aluminum was so soft, the .22 caliber copper-coated bullet had gone straight through instead of ricocheting off the rounded roof-trim. It was a very expensive home-onwheels, with dual axles (2 wheels on each side, near the center) and the brand was “Covered Wagon.” You may have heard of it - - the Cadillac of luxury mobile homes.

Yikes! I had to tell my Father. Wow! Lucky for me, he delayed judgment -- he possessed the keys and wanted to look inside. I numbly accompanied him as if in a dream. Then, the second shock and horror. The worst had come true. The bullet had gone clean through splintering some very beautiful wooden paneling and bounced around a couple of times (ricocheting). At this moment, I knew that I was really in for it - no quarter asked for or given.

This fine late-model trailer belonged to the same “pillar of the community” who owned the XXXXX New Car Sales and Garage. Yes ( I might have known it), he was the one and the same who was my Fathers Winter “Boss.” He and his family always used it to go to Florida and live there over the Winter and he had asked my Father if he could store it there on the Farm for the time being where it was safe from the Sun and inclement weather. As a courtesy to his erstwhile Employer, my Father had said “yes” since the space was empty this particular Summer season.

Now what? My Father was unbelievably nice about it - as I sweated out the consequences. He said he would tell the owner the bad news - - while I was expected to check around for Specialists in House Trailer repair or Cabinetmakers or Metal Workers or anyone who would be willing to make these multiple repairs. Naturally, I was expected to pay for it - which I willingly agreed to. This cash “Fine” sounded “highly satisfactory” to me in place of other actions like “grounding” me or my car or my .22 (or all three) or other “nasties.” Part of the deal was for me to make a formal apology, which was duly performed.

I asked around at School, i.e., the Mattawan High School “Shop” Teacher and a few others; lo and behold, a couple of my classmates, two Brothers, knew of such a rural repair facility out in the country, over in Van Buren County about 15 miles further West of the Farm - - better yet, they would make arrangements for me and ask for a firm date for the repair.

The workmanship, they said, both outside and inside, would be guaranteed accompanied by first class cabinet work. Fine Cabinet Workers, “with fingertip sensibilities” always have been hard to find. . . . and out in the Country away from population centers, harder yet. This was too good to be true and after I heard this, a giant weight was lifted off my shoulders. My Father talked to the Trailer owner who, after he calmed down, said OK - if - all this would become such a complete “fix” that you never could tell that it had happened in the first place.

The appointment date came around and my Father gave me permission to use our new Model “D” John Deer Tractor (which had a “ball” hitch) to haul the trailer for the one-hour trip over to the repair facility. The “shocks” were bad on the Chevy Pickup and so that was ruled out as a tow (fish-tailing could have resulted). The tractor was as stable as a giant Wrecker and served admirably in this role - - it just looked weird (and even funny) to see this handsome mobile home being pulled swiftly by a farm tractor (the big Tractor could put out nearly 20 M.P.H. in high gear).

The two-hour delivery trip to the repair facility and the “empty” return were performed without untoward events. It took that repair shop about 10 days to finish up the work and I again hitched-up the mobile home to the Tractor and returned it to the Farm. This time, it got further unmolested storage. It cost me all of $ 95.00 which benumbed my Piggy-Bank for a while. That was quite a bit of money in those days. The cost of Tractor fuel for transporting which was used during the two round-trips was a gift from my Father.

The workmanship inside turned-out to be really exemplary and the owner was very happy since his wife also said it looked nice. Outside, the aluminum and paint were so carefully matched, you could not tell where the bullet hole had been. I thanked my lucky stars that the American Workman (especially one located quite a ways out in the countryside) can always put out a repair job equal to “factory quality” (OEM) whenever he puts his mind to it! And to my mind, the cost would have been cheap at double the price!

Our Pickup truck, that facilitated these tribulations, was just in the wrong place at the time, or was it the bird? Please notice that all these rural troubles of mine were settled in a civil manner. When thinking about all the distress in this civilized world that one can get into, it puts me in mind of the words of the late, great John Denver . . . who said in his song: “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy!”

*“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” . . river going through my hometown located 5 miles Northeast of the Farm and it’s called the “Kalamazoo River.” My apologies to the Award-Winning Broadway Show “Music Man” from 1957, Music by Meredeth Wilson; Starring the late Robert Preston.

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