Saturday, March 31, 2012

Road Trip

This afternoon we took a road trip - Dan, Patsy and Alven and I.  My Sister-In-Law and Brother-In-Law had seen this amazing tree when they were exploring. So they showed it to us.  Here are my photos.


I have stood here
Growing towards the heavens.
Buffeted by wind,
Snow Covered,
During droughts.

Lightning burned 
my heart.
Opening, Twisting
I bend.
But do not break.
Now I am
A wooden Arch,
A portal.

Friday, March 30, 2012

One Pickup too Many

One of the vehicles that Dan bought was a red 96 Ford F-150. He bought it from his son.  He really liked that pickup.  I on the other hand had great difficulty reaching the pedals.  I don't think I ever drove it.  Dan bought it in Feb 2010 and sold in June of  2011.  

In April of 2011 Dan bought a 1997 Dodge Ram 1500 with an 8 foot box.  When he was negotiating for it the sale price came down to $4,000 with the red pickup as the trade in.  I checked the Kelly Blue Book and decided it was priced way over value.

The salesman brought up NADA on the computer and showed a different base price.  We offered $4000 cash no trade in. We finally bought it for $5000 no trade in.

Prior to buying the pickup my sister-in-law had driven by the car lot and saw a green pickup in the front row.  She told me later she had wondered if Dan had seen.  Not only had he seen it, but that is the one he bought. 

We had planned to list the red pickup on Craig's list and sell it ourselves.  I procrastinated.  Finally a month or so later.  Dan said, "I think I will keep the red pick up instead of selling it."
I figured he was giving me a bad time because I hadn't done anything about it.

So I promptly went out took some pictures and posted it on Craig's List.  The pick up sold for $2000 within 24 hours.  Dan still says he should have kept it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Windows to the Wild Side

Mallard hen on the roof ledge.
From the wall of windows I can see the trees and bushes in one of the courtyards.  I have watched the trees bud early.  Autumn leaves still litter the ground.  One class is watching their seedlings sprout.

On the ledge overlooking the courtyard.
For the past couple of weeks a female Mallard duck has been visiting.  I have watched her locate a place for her nest.  Mr J. the 4th grade teacher has also been checking on her.  Yesterday he showed me her first egg.  She had burrowed out a hole and laid her first egg.  She then covered it up with leaves.  Hiding it from prying eyes.

The first egg.
Mr J used a stick to uncover the eggs and then cover them back up.  He told me that she won't incubate the eggs until she is finished laying.  This was something I didn't know.  She actually stays away from the nest until she is ready to start sitting on them.  She will lay an egg a day until there are 12-14 eggs in her clutch.

Checking things out (still on the ledge).
Yesterday morning some of my students watched Mrs Duck land on the roof ledge and then fly into the courtyard.  We got a first hand view of how her feathers worked as camouflage.  She was hard to see as she walked on the leaves.  Today Mr. J. brought 2 of his students to look at the nest.  Today two eggs nestle together.

She made her nest in the courtyard last year.  After the ducklings hatched the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks was called to relocate her and her brood.  Mr H. suggested a live webcam so the kids could watch her and her family.  I am investigating how to do that.  I have never worked with webcams.  So this will be my next challenge.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tell Them to Bring Their Tools

Communicating with people is challenging at times.  Communicating with people about an inanimate object can be more so.  

It was a warm summer day and I stopped at the school to do some work.  A number of my colleagues were doing the same.  I worked for a while and decided to head home.  The maroon Malibu would not turn over.  I checked the battery plenty of juice.  

Several male friends came and checked it over.  Still couldn't get it started.  I mentioned to each of them I thought it was some kind of sensor.  I was reassured that "those sensors wouldn't be the problem".  Finally I called a tow truck and had it carted to a new mechanic.  

The tow truck dropped the Malibu off at the repair shop.  They called me later and said it started just fine.  They would keep it for a couple of days and see if it would stop again.  It didn't.

 A few more weeks passed.  I was leaving the house and it wouldn't start.  I called the mechanic.

"Hi, I have a dead car that won't start would you send someone over to look at it.  This is the Malibu that was in the shop a few weeks ago."

"It's probably just your battery."

"No.  I checked that."

"Call a tow truck and we'll take a look at it."

"No.  I want someone to come look at it here.  The last time the tow truck picked it up and literally dropped it at the shop something reset and it started just fine.  I need someone to come look at it here.  Please bring your tools."

About 20 minutes later a mechanic arrives.  He pops the hood and the first thing he does is check the battery.  

"Well, your battery has juice."

"Yah, you asked me about that on the phone."

"You're not out of gas."


He tinkered a little under the hood.  But I did not see him bring out any tools.

"Um, you're going to need to call a tow truck and we'll look at it at the shop.  I'm not sure what is wrong."

"Why can't you check it here?"

"I didn't bring my tools because I thought it would turn out to be the battery."

"I specifically asked you to bring tools.  What ever it is gets re-set when the tow truck drops the car on the ground.  It will start and you won't be able to determine what's wrong.  I think its a sensor."

"Ma'am that's not how these things work. If it doesn't start now it won't start when it gets to the shop."

"Well, you'd be wrong.  I'll call the tow truck but when it drops it will start."

The tow truck arrives slides the car onto a flat bed and takes it a few blocks to the repair shop.  I follow.  As soon as it is dropped in the yard I get the mechanic and walk over to the car.

"Watch this, it's going to start."  The machine snickered as it purred like a contented cat.

Eye brows up, "Ma'am this doesn't make sense."

"It's a sensor.  Good luck finding it.  This is what happened the last time I brought it in."

They kept it for several days.  The mechanic called me and said he'd found the problem. Dan was home so he went with me.

Ironically when we got there he turned to Dan and started explaining, completely ignoring me.  To give him his credit he had dug into files and discovered that the Malibu cars had problems with the starter system.  After a specific number of starts some of the cars would freeze and shut down because it thought it was being stolen.  This little shop did not have the computer tools to fix the problem.  He did give Dan the print outs and the code.  He had spent hours researching the problem.

We decided to trade the Malibu in before it froze again.  I took the manual out of the jockey box and in the front wrote.  "If the car stops this is the code to the problem, its a sensor.  Tell them to bring there tools."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What's Your Asking Price?

"Why didn't you negotiate the price on the pickup?"

"Never have.  I just pay their asking price."

"Yah, I gathered that.  The next car we buy I'll negotiate the price.  I always talk them down some on the  price."

"Oh you won't get very far doing that."

"Watch me!"

The next car was for Dan's daughter.  We found a 1998 Taurus, with 101,000 miles.  The asking price was $3800.  We bought the car for $2600.00.

Chuck was our salesman.  As we negotiated he shook his head and asked me. Do you want to come work for us?"

I told him,  "No".

He turned to Dan, "Next time please leave Ruth at home."

Dan asked Chuck, "Do most people negotiate the price like this?

"Lot's of people try.  We expect some negotiation."

As we drove home I could tell Dan was thinking about something.  I often tease him about how much he argues with himself.  I often ask which side is winning.  Depending on the answer I know if I want to weigh in on one side or the other.

I didn't yet know what he was thinking about.  I would quickly learn.  It was less than two weeks later that he told me he had bought a 1990 Lincoln Town Car for 1300.00.  He had done an excellent job negotiating - and has been doing it ever since.

Monday, March 26, 2012

I Am From Car Memories

I am from seeing the family car burn, gravel roads, and the new car smell of our blue Valiant.

I am from life as seen through windshields - seeing
dust devils - dancing, spinning, twisting, gritty sand  in my mouth.

I am from prickly pear cactus, stalled cars and flash floods.

I am from lost keys, and coat hangers fashioned to open car doors, I am from Elizabeth, Grandpa Earl and Grandma Kate.

I am from tenacious-ness, and never give up.

I am from "you can do what ever you make up your mind to do", and "they can take away everything but your education".

I am from a driver's license at 15, 
a car of my own at 17 and Idaho plates.

I am from Kate who at 18 loved to ride the new 1905 Indian motorcycle yet - never drove a car, and from Elizabeth who learned to drive when she was 35.
I am from photos of Grandpa's Model A - Mom and Uncle Marion sitting on the running boards. 
I am from car keys hanging on hooks, and kitchen tables stacked with books.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Beat Goes On

Dear Sir,

We were in the room next to yours last night.   You remember that Mom and Pop motel.  My husband and I were reading when I heard you. I heard a rumbling sound, as the walls began to shudder. I wasn't sure what it was at first. I listened carefully, deep grumbling, rumbling sound vibrating through the walls. 

There would be slight pauses of dead silence. Then the deep base sounds would start again. My husband and I could hear it clearly and wondered if your companion wore earplugs. What it must sound like within your room.

We talked about leaving you a note suggesting you get a sleep study done. We suspect you have sleep apnea. You see both my husband and myself suffer from sleep disturbances his is sleep apnea, mine is hypo apnea, We both use a CPAC machine at night.

I remember the first time I woke up after using it. I felt euphoria.  I had never experienced refreshing sleep before. It was amazing to wake up rested. My family doctor looked at my tests and said its a wonder I hadn't had a stroke. Because it wasn't a question of if I would have one, but when.

You were gone when I got up. I should have written this letter last night.

My husband used to snore, then he would stop breathing, then snore some more. This was the discordant symphony that played at night. It was so hard to get through the day.

The couple in room 23

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Buck Fever


"Honey, I have good news and bad news.  Which one do you want to hear first?"

"The bad news."

"I wrecked the pickup."

Believing he was jerking my chain, "the pickup we just bought?  Did you get buck fever?"

"No, I didn't have buck fever!"

"Seriously, you wrecked the pickup?"

"Yes, I told you that."

"What happened?"

"I hit a tree."

"You hit the * lone tree in Jordan, Montana."

"We're not in Jordan we're in Brusett.  And you know they have trees."

"So how did you hit the tree?"

"I was backing up and if I'd been a little more to the right I would have missed it all together."

"How did you NOT see the tree?"

"I was watching this buck and I was backing up."

"So YOU DID have buck fever! So what was the good news?"

"We got our deer."

Dan had dented the left corner of the box.  The left panel had to be replaced.  The side of the box had to be replaced.  It had to be repainted.  The tailgate needed a new skin.  All total the damages came to $5000.00

About a week after Dan turned in his insurance claim they called him back and asked if they needed to replace the tree he hit.  He told him no the tree was doing fine.

Dan still contends he didn't have "Buck Fever".

  • *Today there are no trees between Miles City Montana and Jordan Montana.  For years there was one lone tree.  Locals referred to the tree as "Rock Springs National Forest".  The first tree was planted and as people drove by in horse teams local legend says they would pour a cup of water on it to keep it alive.  Eventually it grew old and died.  A new on was planted and had stood many years.  I think it was in the early 1990's when they were rebuilding the road someone cut it down.  Everyone was upset.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Christmas Eve Car

What was the first vehicle Dan and I bought together?  It was a white 2001 Malibu.  We bought it Dec 24, 2002.  I remember sitting by Dan across from the salesman.  As we signed the contract I was surprised Dan hadn't haggled more over the price.

We took a trip that summer.  I got to meet his cousins and he got to meet my aunt.  I remember watching the Columbia River as we went down the road.  We went from point A to point B with no meandering.  As a truck driver his approach to driving is very efficient.  I like the occasional point of interest.

In the book "Marley and Me" the author talks about the dog they had while he was writing the book.  He said she was a good dog, but not a Marley.  Not a dog that he would write a book about, because nothing ever happens with her.  For most of the time that was the white Malibu.  A good car that  kept on going.  Well almost.

March 5, 2005 Dan was home and he joined me for lunch at school.  He was on his way home when he was involved in a collision.  It totaled the car.  He called to tell me about the accident.  I remember going down to the office to let my principal know what happened and that I was leaving.  One of our parents was in the teacher's lounge.  My principal took over my classes and Kim drove me to the accident.

Dan was arguing with the EMT when I got there.  He didn't want to go to the hospital.  I informed both of them that since he had recently had his pacemaker, he WAS going to the hospital.  They both shut up.

No visit to the hospital is fun.  Waiting for results was hard.  Ours had a good ending though.  They could not tell if his sternum was cracked or just bruised.  It turned out it was cracked. They put some stitches in his noggin where he had cracked the windshield with it.  I always told him he had a hard head.  Now I had proof.

When it was time to replace the white Malibu we looked for another one just like it.  We found a 2001 Maroon Malibu and bought it.  Now the Maroon Malibu had some stories.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

And the List Goes On

The blue 82 Ford Escort was my next car.  It was about 20+ years when it came into my hands.  It had gone through a lot of amateur mechanics and sound system technicians.    When you opened the door the wires and cables were everywhere. They looked like black spaghetti, tangled and twisted.  It looped and hung in bunches, like garland on a Christmas tree.

I drove it back and forth to school.  The fan kept running for a short time after the key was disengaged.  Many people would come find me to tell me they thought my car was running.  I explained often that I had removed the key and it would shut off soon.

One of my neighbors had his car in the shop and needed a temporary one to drive.  I lent him the Escort.  He still laughs about that week.  He asked me if I knew where all the wires went.  I told him not really.

Sometimes I wish those old cars could talk.  What stories they would tell.  I'm sure that Escort had a whole collection of stories of it's own to tell.  Sadly they were ones I never knew.

I eventually gave the car to Dan's son.  He promptly sold it to his aunt.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Have You Ever Had a Naked Chicken Sandwich?

What's a naked chicken sandwich?  My husband usually brings me lunch.  I know I'm spoiled and I love it.  I'm not crazy about breaded chicken on a bun.  So I usually tell him I want a naked chicken sandwich.

Last week we were helping Dan's sister and her husband move from their home in Brusett, MT to Billings, MT.  One of the things that made the trip was a plucked plastic chicken.  It was about the size of my fist.  I remember seeing it laying on the kitchen table.

This morning Dan asked me what I wanted to eat and I wanted some Hardy's chicken strips.  I had forgotten my phone this morning.  So when he came to bring me lunch he asked if I wanted him to swing by the house and get my phone for me.  I told him no I didn't think I needed it.

At lunch time I went out to meet him.  Our neighbor Ted was with him.  We talked for a few minutes and I took  the bag with my lunch in it.  I sat down in the teacher's lounge.  Opened up the paper bag.  There was a wrapped sandwich in the little paper deli tray - hoagie bun, lettuce, sandwich filling.  What was the secret ingredient? Yes you guessed it the plastic chicken.

I turned around and used the lounge phone.  He was sitting outside waiting for my call.  He and Ted go for coffee at a little diner most mornings.  One of the cooks made the sandwich especially for me. I gave Dan the sandwich and he gave me the chicken strips I had requested.

Ted took the bag with the sandwich home and told Carol that he'd brought her lunch.  She fell for it too.  And that my friends is the tale of the naked chicken sandwich.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More Car Stories


"Ruth, can you go for a test drive tomorrow?"

"Yes, I can go."

"Ok, I'll pick you up."

"What is it?"

"Subaru at Columbus.  Private party. Took some cars in to cover some one's debt."

"You checked it?"

"Yah, it looks pretty sound."

"Thanks. Sounds good."

After I had learned that I had almost run the wheels off the Horizon.  I had been at the Armory attending drill.  I worked as a TAMMs Clerk with the mechanic section.  I told the guys my story.

I thought they would laugh and shake their heads.  Instead I watched them raise their eyebrows as they looked at each other.  I realized that a message had been sent and received.  What I didn't know, was what the message was.  At least not until I got the call from Keith.  They had gone and found me another car.

When we got to this fellows house there was a "for sale" sign on a 1988 silver Subaru and a price tag of $1500.  We took the car for a drive.  It handled well I liked it.  I offered him $750. He looked at Keith. Keith nodded, and I had a deal.

The Subaru became my main transportation and I parked the Horizon at the house.  I drove the silver Subaru for about a year and a half when Dan and I started to date.  He rode with me a couple of times in the Subaru.  It was starting to overheat at times and no one could find out why.  It would take a long time to warm up.  I'd replaced its thermostat and other sundry parts to no avail.

Dan was a long haul truck driver and was not impressed with my old clunkers.  He told me they were just worn out.  He lent me his new 2000 Grand Prix to drive the spring of 2001.

I was on the phone with some friends in Virginia after we started dating.  I told Bernie about driving the Grand Prix. She relayed the information to her husband.  I could hear Ron in the background:

"I like this guy already."

I ended up giving the Horizon to a neighbor who got it running again.  I later gave the Subaru to Dan's son.  The Subaru engine blew up on the way back to Miles City. This was not quite the end of my "old car stories" but it was the beginning of my new car stories.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mechanic's Special

I bought my Hyundai in August of 1990 and it died September of 1995. It was my first brand new car.  It had 118,000 and some odd miles when the transmission went out.  The mechanic said $1500.00 to replace it.  I had kept it in good repair.  I didn’t understand why it hadn’t run longer.  

A friend checked with someone he knew - about why it had died so young.  They were surprised I had gotten so many miles out of it.  Most of that make during those years only got around 88,000 before the transmission went.  He called them throw away cars.  Today cars made by Hyundai are well built and have a great warranty.  

My next car was a mechanic’s special. It was a 1982 two tone Plymouth Horizon.  It was white and orange.  White with speckled rust spots, except for the right front panel. That was orange.  It had a Volkswagon engine (original).  The turn signal lever was made from a screw driver.  I upgraded the screwdriver with a manufactured model.  A friend helped me take the steering column apart to replace it.

One door would only open from the inside.  I later replaced the latch system.  It always worried me when I had to take doors apart.  When I finally got done there were always left over parts I didn’t know what to do with.

I bought the car for $100.00 and it had 250,000 on it at that time.  I ran it for about 5 years and put another 150,000 miles on it.  It would be some years before I bought another brand new vehicle.

I had been driving the Horizon for about 4-1/2 years when I noticed that it had begun to wander down the road.  I figured it needed to have the tires aligned.  

I had planned a trip to Kalispell and wanted to have the car looked over before I left.  I took it into the KMART automotive shop to have the tires aligned.  The mechanic told me to come back in a couple of hours.  

When I returned a couple of hours later I asked the mechanic how much I owed him.  He told me there was no charge.

“No charge?”


“Why isn’t there a charge?”

“I didn’t do the alignment.”

“Why didn’t you do the alignment?  

“Lady, there’s nothing left to align it to.   You’ve driven the wheels off that little car.”

I cancelled the trip to Kallispell.

The Hyundai and the Buffalo Calves

I really liked my little Hyundai.  I was often teased about my little tin can on roller skates.   It was very dependable and I could see over the dash.  It fit me so much better than my big "boats".

One trip I took with it was to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. My mother and two friends went with me.  When we entered the park in the morning I noticed signs that reminded drivers to be aware of the local buffalo.

We continued our exploration never once catching a glimpse of any of the herds.  We spent the whole day in the park.  Just before dusk we decided it was time to leave and headed for the main road.  Up a head was a large herd of buffalo.

I slowed down and cautiously drove forward.  A number of young calves became curious and surrounded the car.  If I had rolled down the window I could have stroked their curly hair.  Their Mama's were none to thrilled at the "odd black calf" in their midst.  The one with round hooves and frankly smelled a little off.

The bulls watched carefully as they tried to determine if "the odd black calf" should be run off.  Four bold young calves walked beside the Hyundai. They were almost as big as the car.  I knew that if they rubbed up against my little car, it would not fair well.  I certainly did not want to irritate the "Mamas and Papas".  Because I knew they would make my little car go rolling. Several times one of the bulls rolled his eyes at me.

I am sure we were quite a sight as I put-zed along through the middle of the herd.  It was with delight that the buffalo were only curious and not ill tempered that day.   

Sunday, March 18, 2012

New Beginnings

I drove the Mercury Cougar the rest of that school year and summer.  In August my mom encouraged me to go check out the Hyundai Dealer - they had a campaign going.  "Buy a car and get two tickets round trip anywhere continental USA.

I picked out a little black Hyundai and traded the Mercury Cougar.  Looking back my negotiating skills needed work.  I still got a good deal though.

My friends and family all celebrated my good fortune.  Several friends commented that now that I had a new car they wondered how many mechanics would go out of business.  Sadly one of them closed his doors 6 months after I bought my new car.  Most friends simply said they didn't worry as much now that I had a dependable car.

My mother had never had many vacations so I asked her where she wanted to go.  She chose Hershey, PA.  It was our first visit there.  The air was intoxicating - I would breathe deeply enjoying the chocolate smell.  We stayed at the Hershey Hotel.  I loved that they put chocolate kisses on your pillow.  It was a great trip.  One I  want to take again.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Then the Sparks Flew

Keeping old cars running was always challenging.  Repairs and maintenance was always more than I expected (hoped).  Like most people you do what you can.  Each car develops its own set of idiosyncrasies.  Like when I learned starting the Scout with a key was optional.  You just twisted and it would go.

We had it a long time when I started noticing sunlight coming up from the floor boards.  Parts of the floor had rusted through making quarter size holes.  We often got comments on the denim blue seat covers.  Mom made those after Corduroy ate the seat when she was a pup and left to long unsupervised.

This story takes place after I took the Scout in to have the wheels repacked.  After I picked it up I was hearing some funny knocking coming from the wheels especially when I would turn corners.

I had been driving it for about two weeks.  I was about to go around a corner and I could hear the rattle.  I decided to slow down and listen closely.

"Mom, there is a rattle and I think it's coming from the front."

Just as we got around the corner the front wheel came off and started down down the road, going down the oncoming lane.  Usually this is no problem but that Saturday morning there were five cars on the street.

With horror I watched that tire barrel down on the cars.  Veering off just as it would get close. Diving and weaving like it knew what it was doing.  In the meantime I watched sparks fly as the metal made contact with the pavement.  The metal screamed in protest as it continued on minus one wheel.

The tire came to rest just off the side of the road.  The Scout came to rest on the other side.  The Scout had traveled about 1/2 a block.  I quickly realized that someone and failed to tighten the bolts.  People in the nearby trailers had come out to see what was going on.

I used a phone and called the shop.  They came and towed us away.  They put the wheel back on.  I checked to make sure the bolts were tightened.  Then decided it was time to shop for a new mechanic.

Friday, March 16, 2012

International Scout

I stopped at Mr R's in Bozeman to say hi.  Sitting in his driveway was a red 1973 International Scout.  As I left I thought about that vehicle.  My mom needed a 4-Wheel drive.  When I got home I called him back and asked how much he wanted.

He told me $500.  It took me awhile to arrange for the money and get back to Bozeman.  When I arrived the scout had sustained some new "ow-ees".  The windshield had a major crack and a few new dents.

I paid Mr. R the money and drove the jeep.  Mom followed me in my car.  Driving it proved horrendous.  I had a dickens of a time keeping it on the road. I hate driving at night to start with.  Then trying to keep it from wandering off course was not my idea of fun.

My mom always believed that the cheapest car insurance is new tires.  So that was the first thing I did as soon as I could afford them.  When I went to collect the Scout.  The mechanic asked me why I had 4 tires that weren't the same brand, same size, or the same ply.

Understanding dawned on me when he asked, "Wasn't it hard to drive?"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Taking A Detour

Detours are part of many trips.  This journey down memory lane also comes with a few short detours.  This is not exactly a car story though.

I was still working at the USPFO (Helena at Fort Harrison) when this took place.  I was over at one of the shops to meet one of the off duty mechanics.  When I went inside, one of the tanks was sitting on the floor for repairs.

“Have you ever driven one of these?”

“No, haven’t been inside either.  I’ve looked down the hatch and have been up on the tracks, though.”

“Well you should drive one.”

“I can’t drive a stick-shift.”

“Ah, these are automatic.  Heck, you’re so short you won’t even bump your head.”

“Aren’t there a lot of gears?”

“You WON’T be operating the turrets.”

“I’d be afraid of running into something.”

“You can’t be worse than some of the troops we’ve had.  One of the guys made the shop a drive through for a while.  Took out a big section of the wall with one of the tanks.”

“Yah, I remember hearing something about that.”

“Come on get in.”

I climbed up and went in.  I had lots of headroom.  When I got to the seat I said, “I’ll never be able to see out that window.”

“Sit on the seat and I’ll show you. Hit this button.”

Hesitantly, I did.  Up popped the seat.  I used levers to move forward.  My friend laughed as he gave me instructions on how to maneuver.

It was quite the joy ride.  It was a bear to parallel park though.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Flashing Lights In the Rear View Mirror

I bought the red Mercury Cougar, and down the road we went. That was the year I got my dog Corduroy.  Her mother was a golden lab and her father was a "travelin man".  I suspect her antecedent's had coyote cousins.  She was a beautiful brindle color.  She traveled everywhere with me.

I still remember the first time I stopped at a drive-inn with her.  I ordered her a small hamburger.  She gobbled it with delight.  She spit out the pickles.  The next time I stopped I ordered her hamburger naked.  She took a bite and looked at me with disgust.  She liked ketchup and mustard, just not pickles.  I never fed her onions.

One time I went inside with my mom and had a meal.  I ordered Corduroy's hamburger inside and took it out to her when we left.  She looked at the burger and ignored it.

"What's wrong with the dog?"

"I don't know."

It would take a couple more of those episodes before I learned that she expected the hamburger to come out the window.  She wouldn't touch it otherwise.  She was spoiled.  She also loved vanilla ice cream.  She was always a great hit with the employees.  As I would drive away I could always hear the laughter and conversation about the dog at the drive up.

One night we were coming back from Miles City.  The road from the Colstrip turnoff to Busby is a two lane road.  I had just passed the town of Colstrip.   I noticed that I was getting really sleepy.  I was glad that I had only about 35 miles more to go before I got to Busby.  I kept fighting to stay awake.  I remember looking over at the passenger seat and noticed Corduroy was curled up fast asleep.

Flashing lights reflected in my rear view mirror.  The road had narrow shoulders.  As I pulled over I mentally ran a checklist.  I put my hands on the steering wheel at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock and waited for the officer to arrive.  I could hear the crunch of gravel as he approached the car.

He told me to roll down the window.  He used his flashlight to illuminate the interior of the vehicle. It rested on Corduroy.  I mentally questioned why she hadn't  barked when he approached the car.  I was aware that she was still sleeping.

"Ma'm have you been drinking?"

"No officer."

"I want you to step out of the car and roll your window up.  Is your dog aggressive?"

"No.  She's still a puppy and is asleep.  May I get my purse and registration?"

"Where's your purse?"

"Officer it's on the floorboard in front of the passenger seat.  The registration is in the jockey box."

"Get them."

I retrieved my things and stepped out of the car.  He told me to get in the cruiser.  I handed my driver's license, car registration and insurance card to the officer and waited for him to run my tags.

Again he asked if I had been drinking.  He had been following me and I had crossed over the center line on several occasions.  I told him I was heading to Busby and I had been feeling sleepy.  He talked to me for about 15 minutes and then let me go with a warning.

This part of the road had been the scene of many fatalities often associated with driving under the influence.  The Northern Cheyenne Reservation is a dry reservation.  Jim Town is a bar just a few miles from the border.

I was pretty shook.  I passed Jim Town and crossed the border onto the reservation.  It had been about 20 minutes since I had been pulled over by the sheriff.  Again I saw flashing lights in my rear view mirror. When I pulled over the second time I was about a mile from Lame Deer.

Again I waited for the officer with my hands on the steering wheel.  I could not imagine why I was being pulled over.  As I watched the officer approach.  I realized it was "Lady Blue" the nickname given to the BIA female Police Officer.

She asked me to roll down the window.  I complied.

"Have you been drinking?"

"No officer.  I just got pulled over by the County Sheriff a little while ago.  He asked me the same thing."

She told me I had been crossing the center line.  This shook me to the core.  She told me to go into Lame Deer and get some coffee before I headed down the road.  I followed her advise.  I was shaking badly as I walked into the convenience store and bought a cup of coffee.  I decided to leave my window down for the rest of the trip.  Corduroy started to wake up just as we got to the house.

The incident bothered me and I talked to several people about it.  Especially the fact that Corduroy didn't wake up.  They told me to have the car checked for a possible carbon monoxide leak.

I drove with the windows down until I got back to Miles City.  The mechanic found an exhaust leak and repaired the car.

Those two officers probably saved my life that night.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Just Couldn't Put the Car In Reverse

After getting the starter repaired again the Dodge Aspen drove just fine.  It loved going up and down the roads. One afternoon I was visiting with my neighbor Kitty Little Wolf.  She surprised me when she said, "Ruth I'm a little worried about your car.  You probably need to be looking for another one."

I assured her the Aspen was running well.  Or so I thought.  It was about a week later that I headed to Miles City.  I stopped and visited some friends.  When I got ready to leave I couldn't put it in reverse.  Mencil came out helped me push it out into the street and it started just fine.

"Probably the transmission.  Get it fixed when you can."

I said I would and headed to Mom's house.  I parked it on the street and didn't have any problem.  It just wouldn't go in reverse.  Sometimes I had to put it in neutral and push it out into the street so it could go forward.  I traveled this way for a time.  Before being able to fix it.  Again I thought all was well and drove it most of the time.  Sometimes I borrowed the Cougar.

Easter came and Mom, my dog Corduroy and I had Easter Dinner with friends in Red Lodge and were headed back to Miles City.  We got past Forsyth and broke down near the Rosebud turnoff.  I noticed a farmhouse about 1/2 mile away. I hiked over to the farmhouse.  Apologized for disturbing their Easter Dinner and asked to use the phone.

I got a hold of the local tow truck owner, identified myself and told him at what mile marker we were broke down at.

"Let me finish dinner and I'll be out to get you."

About 1/2 an hour later he showed up.  We got in the truck and he towed us to Miles City.  Fortunately the Cougar was in Miles City and I was able to get back to Busby.  The transmission was shot and it would have cost more to replace than the car was worth.  I ended up selling the car for parts.

The next time I went to Billings I stopped and talked with Clint about buying the Cougar that I was still driving.  I told him that just before I started having all the problems with the Aspen Kitty had told me she thought the Aspen was in a bad way.

Clint looked incredulously at me, and emphatically stated, "Ruth when the Indians tell you, that you need a new car.  Believe them!  They know what they are talking about."   

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Cattle Drive and the Aspen

Roundup, Montana was the Trailhead (beginning) of the 1989 Centennial Cattle Drive.  The drive took 5-6 days to go 50 miles.  It was a celebration of Montana’s 100 years of statehood.  The cattle drive had approximately
  • 3600 horses and their riders
  • over 300 assorted wagons
  • 3000 head of cattle
All these people and livestock made the 50 mile trip from Roundup to Billings in 5-6 days.

A couple of weeks before the Cattle Drive I drove my Dodge Aspen to Helena.  On the way back the starter went out in Bozeman.  I found a mechanic and he replaced it.  I was on my way to Busby, MT;  where I was teaching at the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School (K-12).  

With the starter replaced the car was working great.  I decided to go to Lewistown, MT a couple of weeks later.  I didn’t even think about the Cattle Drive.  I got as far as Grass Range and had problems.  Pulled over and the Aspen wouldn’t start.  Of course it was late at night.  I walked back to Grass Range called a friend to come get me.  Monday was a holiday, but a local mechanic came and looked at it for me.  It was the starter again.  He didn’t have one in stock so couldn’t work on my car.

Picture this - mechanic working on the side of the highway until he got the car started.  The mechanic  told me, “Lady don’t turn it off.  Keep it running because once you shut it off you’re done.”

I thanked him and headed home.  It was early afternoon.   I stopped in Roundup to see how far the Cattle Drive had gotten.  The officer on duty told me which road was closed and which road out of Roundup to take.  As I confidently left I had no idea I was about to intersect with the Cattle Drive.  

As I drove down the road I got as far as the Tumbleweed Saloon.  Flaggers told me the road was closed up ahead and I would need to pull into the makeshift parking lot until the road reopened.  They estimated a 30 minute wait or I could go back and drive another 150 miles.  I decided to park the car and wait.   Soon the sweat was running down my eyes.  And I waited.

The parking lot began to fill up.  The parking area was a section of field alongside the road that had been mowed to accommodate about 50 parked cars.  Most of the people had walked across the road to the bar.  The second hour went by.  It was now about 4:00 and I needed to get to Billings to buy the replacement starter before the store closed.  

I waited.  The heat continued to beat down. I worried about the car overheating - it had idled since 2:00 pm.  I suspected I wasn’t going to make it to Billings in time.  I really didn’t like leaving the car unlocked and running,  but now I had no choice.  I decided to call a friend and ask him to pick up the starter for me.  I walked over to the Tumbleweed Saloon.  The place was wall to wall people.  Standing room only.  One telephone in the whole place, behind the bar.  I called my friend and yelled into the receiver that I wanted him to get me a starter.  I would be in as soon as I could.  

Back to the car I went. I continued to wait.  It was 6:00 before the road was open for travel.  I drove to Clint’s home to get the starter and figure out what to do.  He told me to take his extra car, a deep red Mercury Cougar.  I left the Aspen. The borrowed rig purred all the way to Busby.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chilton Repair Manual

The Fury and I moved to Bozeman, Montana where I attended Montana State University.  The Fury broke down and it meant major repairs.  The mechanic let me store the machine until I either had it towed away, sold as scrap, or fixed.

While trying to decide I used the school shuttle to get to and from college.  I had no phone, no car, very little money - I felt trapped.  Finally I came to a decision to see if I could find a cheap car to run until I could get the Fury repaired.  I looked through the local paper the good news there were 3 cars under $400.  The bad news they were all standard transmission.  

I cannot drive a standard.  I had begun to feel desperate and decided that I would buy one of them.  From the trailer park where I was living the closest phone was in the bar 2-3 miles from the trailer park.  I had been arguing with myself about what to do.  I took the paper and headed for the bar.

I had been walking only a short distance when an older blue pickup slowed down.  The gentleman driving was vintage, somewhere in his 70’s - white hair, twinkly blue eyes.  He offered me a lift.  

“No thanks, I’m only going a little further.”

“Where are you going?”

“The bar.”

“Little early in the day for a drink isn’t it?”

“I’m going to use the payphone.”

“I’ll give you a lift.”

I had always been taught never to accept rides from a stranger.  So it came as a shock when my wee small voice urged me to accept the ride.  I was hesitant.  He looked harmless, he had been driving slow.  I figured worst case scenario I could jump out.  (I was in pretty good shape at that time.)  I usually listen to my intuition - but I argued with myself but finally got in to the old pick up.

“I live just ahead on the right.”

The only place I could think of was what I thought was a business.  There were always road construction equipment parked by the big shop and lots of old cars.  I couldn’t remember a house in that area.

“Going to call a boyfriend.”

“No,  I’m looking for a car?”

“How much you want to spend?”

“As little as possible.”

“You don’t need to make a phone call.  I’ll sell you a car.  I’ll take you to the house and you can pick one out.”

I started looking out the window and judging the speed.

The name on the mailbox said R. The pickup turned into the yard with all the equipment.  There in the background was a house.  In the front yard were all those old parked cars that I had passed a hundred times.

The pickup stopped and I hopped out.  I was less than a ½ mile from home.

“Look around there’s also some in the back.  Give me $100.00 and I’ll get you a title.”

I counted about 15 cars. The hoods were up on some.  Trunk lids up on others.  Rusted bodies, cracked windows. Keys in the ignitions.  My optimism sank as I looked over this bone yard of derelict cars. Most were automatic - that at least was a plus.

“I really need one that runs.”

“Oh they all will run.  You can always use the shop to work on the one you buy.”

“I don’t know how to fix cars.”

“Guess its time you learned.”

I was faced with learning how to drive a stick shift (standard) or learning how to restore an old car.  I figured it would be easier for me to learn how to restore an old car.

I wandered through the maze trying to decide which one to buy.  My intuition kept reassuring me that I would find my car here.  Then I saw it, a little green Subaru.  It had 3 flat tires, no windshield.  You could tell it had been parked a long time because of how the grass was growing around it.  I opened up the doors there were seedlings growing on the floor board.  It felt right.

“Mr R, this is the one I’ll take.  But I really need it running.”

“Well, I’ll make you a deal.  I’ll lend you my pick up until you get the Subaru running.”

“I can’t drive a stick-shift.”

“Its automatic.”

“It’s a deal then.”

I gave him the money.  He gave me the title.  He took me to a parts house and told me to buy a Chilton’s Repair Manual.  I think the Subaru was early 1970’s.  The Repair Manual cost me $15.95.

“Go home read it.  Come back tomorrow.  My sons are in and out of the shop.  You can ask them questions if you get stuck.”

I looked at the manual.  I was over whelmed but I needed transportation.  So I continued to slog through it.  

Mr R had the car towed to the shop, the tires were fixed.  One of his sons had put together a list of what needed fixing.

  • headlight
  • alternator
  • brakes
  • windshield
  • muffler
I was disillusioned - the alternator.  I had paid around $300 to have alternators put in other cars.  What had I gotten myself into?  Where to begin?

I guess he decided that I was harmless.  He came over and checked what I was doing.  I explained what the book said.  I remember him smiling as he offered me some pointers on taking out the old headlight.

Looking back I think this was another case of “watching the entertainment”.

I replaced the headlight and felt very successful.  One of the boys jacked up a back tire and helped me get the tire off.  So that I could look at the brakes.  I decided I wanted someone who knew what they were doing to fix the brakes.  I knew that someone wasn’t me.  He told me he would fix it.

I was still driving the pickup.  I was very careful with it and made sure I took the keys out.  The doors didn’t lock though.  I stopped at the house before going to the shop one morning.  Mr Robinson glared at me when I came in.

“What did you do with the pick up keys?”

“I took them in the house.”

“Why didn’t you leave them in the pickup?

“I didn’t want anyone to steal it.”

“Don’t you think that if someone stole it.  They probably needed it more than you?”


“Leave the GD keys in the ignition.  I went to use it and there were no keys.”

After that I left the keys in the ignition.

Next was the alternator.  I read the instructions and someone came to see how I was doing.  I got the alternator out.  It took me less than 15 minutes.  I became so angry the more I thought about it.  I was angry about all the times I had shelled out over $300 dollars for other alternators that I had paid to have replaced.

Mr R explained that the bushings probably needed replacing in the alternator.  So it was back to the parts house.  They looked the alternator over and did replace the bushings.  

I went back to the shop and put the alternator in.  It felt good.  And it ran!

Next was the windshield.   The wind blew my hair and made my eyes water.  I swallowed several bugs before arriving at our destination - a salvage yard.  They sold me a window and installed it into my Subaru.  

I drove the Subaru for a couple of years before a friend asked to buy it.  They wanted to use it for parts for their car.  Instead they drove it for a few more years.  I did get the Fury repaired and my mom drove it and later sold it.

That green Subaru could be heard a couple of blocks away.  It sounded like the blades of a helicopter going around -whop, whop, whop - at a high decibel, but it ran.  
I still smile when I think of driving that green Subaru.  And to think until then I had never heard of a Chilton Repair Manual.