Flashing Lights on the Side of the Highway

The beginning of the deer rut was in full bloom and visible to the Gator family. Reaching up to take an hour off the living room clock, Jack saw four deer on the driveway. It’s only about 25 feet away from the front porch and those deer were in top gear. Two does, two bucks. One of the bucks jumped into the fenced garden and seemed a bit confused when he hit the corner pole. Tumbling back into the Brussels sprouts bed, he leaped up and tried another jump. After that attempt, he ran back where he came in and performed one of those steeplechase leaps over the fence and into the woods close by. We noticed one of his horns was missing. So it goes.

Jack was running late in the next morning. It was still dark and the vehicles behind were lighting up the road, same as Jack was. Of course, being the leader of a string of cars means your first in discovering fur covered obstacles in the right of way. Jack swings his electrical side view mirror a bit away from the car to reduce the glare. It’s nice that their high beams reach miles ahead but it can be a bit deafening optically.

As expected, all the cars a distance behind passed Jack on the flats. Good, now I can drop down to five under instead of ten over! Remembering from his youth, the two speed signs that had day limit and night limit. Usually ten under for nighttime. Coming up to ‘deer alley’ Jack saw a vehicle on the opposite shoulder with it’s hazards blinking. About half ways down the hill. Very close to where a few years back an eight thousand dollar deer was encountered by Jack’s car. Jack pulled over to the shoulder, put on his emergency flashers and went across to the other car. He brought his special flashlight as well.

The driver of the car met Jack and filled in the blanks. “Hit a deer, front right tire went flat and I’m tryin’ to get this original equipment toy jack to lift the car.” Jack held the light and they finally got the plate under the pinch weld. The car began to rise a bit and there was a hopeful lug wrench coming out of the trunk. Custom wheels, it didn’t fit. At least they weren’t theft proof lug nuts but the size was bigger than stock. A sixteenth too small.

They began to chat about the coming election for governor and other offices. It quickly segued into the state of our country. As the two of them began to share their analysis of the unbelievable destruction of the economy and morals, they agreed to do what they could to counter this disassembly of our republic. The last things they said to one another was about our money. “It’s worth about seventeen cents on the dollar since a few decades ago, but the money we have has not changed in one way. Yet. Our wallets and pockets all contain the reassuring statement, ‘In God we Trust’ They both agreed this was a very good idea in these times! Faith and Trust in God.

Saying thanks to one another and Jack turned on his special flashlight function, it indeed flashed bright and Jack waved it to the vehicles approaching. No one had stopped when Jack and the stranded motorist were at work, and not one even slowed. The oncoming cars, seeing both hazards on and Jack’s flashing light swinging, slowed down a bit. Jack crossed safely and headed off to his late appointment with his son at the coffee shop, still miles away.

Jack did not speed but kept the limit. He looked behind him on a long hill descent and the vehicles behind him were perfectly, safely spaced. It resembled a string of pearls going down the road.

Very surprised, Jack pulled up to the coffee shop right on time, a little ahead of his sons Alfa.

Jack was only one minute off rendezvous time. The shop had just opened up. It didn’t compute as Jack had spent at least ten minutes with the stranded man. Compression of time. It has happened at various times and in different ways throughout history. It made interesting conversation after the Bible study that Jack and his son brought their coffees and Bibles to. It’s pretty good. Jack Gator

The Wreck of the Old 97 II

It was the call of the foreman. In the middle of the night as well. There’s been a derailment down by Red Wing! Report to the section house with some clothes and get aboard a section car or drive down to the mainline. Dreary and dreading, Jack drove to what he knew would be days of making wages the hard way.

Not resurfacing, not replacing ties on a crossing but cutting and drawing out bent rails. Pulling out smashed ties from steel wheels ruining them and gathering the plates and pulled spikes from the roadbed. Working around the broken cars while the huge cranes lifted pieces of them up. Sometimes lifting just the trucks of axles and wheels with the open bearing boxes dripping greasy packing.

The engine is already righted and placed on the continuing track siding, ready again to work. Sort of. The cleaning of the cab (the engineer and conductor were just injured but their coffee and lunch and such usually don’t fare as well) and the testing of the motor and generators has yet to be done. ’roundhouse’ men are already swarming about the engine panels and spreading absorbent around. It might run.

All of this mess creating by a train going through an open switch the wrong direction. Sometimes a yard engine would push through a set of points on a switch not set for them and get away with it. Fully loaded trains at speed hitting an open switch backwards is another matter. Oh yes, the switch would have to be totally rebuilt. Hopefully the wrecking crews transport would have brought some fourteen foot ties and all the steel and switch parts. The ties were a ‘bit’ heavier and the foreman would have to direct us in the building and precise gauging.

Thinking back on those times. Meals at picnic tables set up in empty box cars, sleeping quarters about the same comfort level. Sometimes, Jack could drive his old 40 ford coupe to the job site and bring along his fiddle. At night, after a late supper, he could lean back on a chair on the end platform, feet up on the brake wheel and begin playing what he knew how to do. No one complained, it seemed to fit. A harmonica would have been OK too.

Lonely sounds like the late night steamers going around the big city. Blowing the steam whistle at every crossing. The letter of Morse code, Q, Long long short long. The last long drawn out and fading to a bit lower note. Only the steam engines could do that. When he was a child, half asleep, Jack would hear that lonely sound from the west side of the cities. It told him, “I am lonely. I know what it’s like” It went in deep to Jack’s memory. The trains still do it today. At all crossings. The electric air horns do not make the same sound however.

So the work was hard and dangerous and Jack made a little extra overtime pay. The food was not roast beef slices on Brioche buns but it filled. Jack’s fiddling got gradually better and the section crew was gracious for the sound and even the mistakes. It felt old time, out on the plains of the 1800’s perhaps with the very old boxcars. Sort of like the old 40 and 4’s of WWII vintage. 40 men or 4 horses capacity.

Same gauge tracks, same wooden ties, same spike malls. Bolts and fish plates and plates under the track. The old rails were 80 to 90 pounds, still found in older switch yards and piled near section buildings. 120 to 130 pound rails unless there was ribbon rail ¼ mile long to be dragged into place, wriggling like a worm.

Nowadays, Jack reminisces and as an analogy, sees his own life as a train wreck at times. Getting off the right rails and into disaster. Who runs the gauge and lays those tracks for Jack? What are the switch points for and what’s the point anyway? Jack was made to run well, run smooth and stay the course. It’s getting better now that Jesus is the engineer and lets Jack know when the derailment is possible or happening. He is the road-master and builder of it all. He wears the white hat of pure light and is trustworthy through it all. It’s pretty good. JackGator

Soaring

It’s an incredible photo from a walk close to Gator’s homestead. It prompts another deep region, even a place unnamed, and familiar. A perfect photo by Gator’s son of an Eagle, flying overhead and a gasp of purpose and life as viewed when Soren showed Jack the photo. The eagle had a glint in his eye and his claws were tucked in back, out of the air-stream. ‘Rotation, gear up’ A slight flash of light on his incredible beak and Gator shivered contemplating this aviator with talons and sharp, piercing beak. Danger close.

It was flying into the wind, looking down. The intense stare at the camera and us, it told a story. A tale of life lived as a predator from the sky, silent and flying with irresistible death from above. No escape. No way to reason with the eagle. Can you envision a small animal, with a white flag waving desperately?

Gator thought back to the fighters he saw launch from an aircraft carrier about 300 feet away. On the port side of his ship, a huge fleet Oiler that was Steaming at flank speed. Barely able to stay with the carrier. The oiler’s huge screws, making the aft mess deck thunder and shake. As it must do, the carrier had to maintain wind over the flight deck to help those fighters get airborne. The flight deck blast door up, engine at full, burning gallons of JP4 per second and suddenly, the fighter leaped down the deck, dropped a little off the bow and already had gear up and climbing. Awe inspiring at night ops.

Steam swirling around the channel from the catapult, and the power heard of the fighter still climbing to watch over the battle group. Combat Air Patrol, CAP. Just like the eagle, deadly talons and loaded and armed. Looking for anything within range, anything moving where the fighter was, something that an enemies weapons radar would detect and cause terror for them. Now a target. A Tomcat fighter, armed with a tactical nuke, just in case it got ugly. A little vaporization reaches everybody.

Later that night, the enemy came near off the starboard and lit up Gators ship and quickly dropped It’s missiles midship, right at Gator. He was on deck, headed aft for mid-rats. It didn’t look promising. Gators ship had 8 million gallons of various fuel in it’s huge belly, a tanker with puny three inch gun turrets on the bow and stern. The strong image of a flaming, roaring death with the sea covered with burning bunker oil. Basic training coming to mind on how to impossibly swim beneath the flames.

It wasn’t a movie. Gator could see the 02 or 03 level on the enemy ship, it’s radar turning around and around and the spotlight from it still steady on our bridge, blinding our helmsman and the combat information bridge, just above (CIC). Those missiles dropped from vertical incredibly fast with the sound of a hammer being cocked on a very large pistol.

Suddenly, the missiles went back vertical and the cruiser sharply veered off and disappeared into the dark sea at full speed. The Tomcat was there with the battle group, flying overhead, painting the enemy cruiser with it’s radar. Dropping out of the sky at almost Mach 1 and It had and prepared it’s talons.

Gator was still alone on the long deck, still poised to go get a midnight rations (midrats). Suddenly Jack had lost his appetite for anything available, good or bad. A narrow victory for the big fat slow tanker with friends in high places. The fear felt is still sharply felt after five decades. It was Just a bit more scary than a man with ill intent, coming it at you. Terrifying is the word.

There is a bit of prose that Mrs.Gator remembers while Gator writes this memoir: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint” Old truth, timeless and steady.

It’s very good news to everyone that understands the book of promise and freedom. It’s pretty good. Jack Gator