Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Western Electric Again

Chapter Six

Wherein I return to civilian life, return to work at Western Electric, continue my glittering academic career, lose some teeth and become disenchanted with the rat race and the attendant quest for material gain

We landed in KC at the old airport called, I believe, Kansas City Municipal Airport. (Still there - just used nowadays for light aircraft.)

My Dad, sister Lynne and brother Jim were there to meet us.

At that time the OM was living at 4324 S. Saville in Independence. After a few days of happy reunion time I went back to Western Electric to get my job back. Uncle Sam looks after his vets.

I did a week on days as a floor hand and then I was back on nights in the packing department. Of course, all the products made at WE had to packed up for shipment to the desired locations. So, we packed them.

Hours of work were 1600 – midnight, 5 days a week. What I remember most about the packing department was being left-handed. When I arrived for the evening shift I had to move everything around so that I could pack things the way which seemed most logical and most expeditious for a left-handed person. My colleagues could never figure out what I was doing, but it worked for me.

At this time I was also slowly resuming my academic career. I had finally decided to be a teacher. Why? Well, I had always followed the line of least resistance and since I was good at English and Biology they had become by default, my major and minor. But what to do with them? The career path seemed very limited. Whilst there are jobs called Biologist there are no jobs called Englishist. You might par-lay an English degree into a spot in journalism or some other related activity, but the line of least resistance is teaching.

“Those who can do – those who can't teach.”

Therefore I was accepted onto the teacher education programme at CMSU.

A routine developed. Up about 7. In the car by 7:30. Drive to CMSU at Warrensbugh for 9. Back in the car by 3. Drive to WE in Lee's Summit for 4. Work til midnight. Home by 12:30. Bed – get up and do it all over again the next day.

We did get weekends off and some vacation time. One weekend we went to the lake with Stoner and I tried water-skiing. I was doing great but eventually, of course, fell off. I landed awkwardly on my head and dislodged my upper denture. I made a grab for it, but my life vest stopped me from reaching it. Costly and embarrassing!

I finally got out of the packing department. I went back to being a floor-hand in Transistors. In Transistors I was paired with another floor-hand, Danny Ray Grimm. What a character!

Danny Ray had a large FuManchu tash and long hair. He had a brilliant plan to account for the fact that we were not allowed to smoke in the WE factory. Nobody said we couldn't chew tobacco.

(My first experience of chewing tobacco was at Ft Hood. At the end of the month – just before pay-day – when there was not a spare nickel to be had in the entire battalion we would scrounge up enough cash for a pack of Winstons and some chewing tobacco. Sharing both we would get a good chaw going and then light up. Get you about as high as you can – legally.)

So at WE, just to piss off the supervisors, we would wander about the department sweeping and chewing, oh yes, and spitting in all the bins (fortunately they had plastic liners and it was one of our jobs to empty them).

I have a abiding memory of Danny Rae leaning on his broom, listening intently to what the super was telling him with an un-nerving brown bit of tobacco juice leaking from the corner of his mouth. Priceless!

Come lunch time we would go out for lunch. Lunch breaks were staggered, so Danny had a plan. We signed out at the gate for first lunch break, he got one of the girls to punch us back in at the appropriate time and we stayed out for 3x lunch breaks – so we could sit in the car and drink Thunderbird before staggering back. He even managed to sneak a bottle of Southern Comfort into the department one Xmas. We drank it. I was violently sick. Even today just the smell of Southern Comfort is enough to make me gag.

Summing up Danny Rae – once the cops stopped him in his pick-up truck. He was surrounded by and knee deep in beer cans (empty). Somehow he managed to get them to let him go and drive on. What a character!

Like all good things Western Electric had to end. I was in my last year at CMSU and deep into teacher training. I had to do my practice teaching (I lucked out there – I got a placement at Truman HS – about a quarter of a mile from my house.) I figured I could not do both, so I had to quit.

Practice teaching at Truman High was interesting. For one thing, I had my dopey brother Mark in Homeroom. (Oddly none of the kids ever put two and two together and made us family – they were not the brightest tools in the shed) My supervising teacher was Mrs Meredith and I suspect she secretly despaired at my career choice. What I most remember about the teaching of English at Truman High School in 1974 was that it was mind-bogglingly boring (sorry Mrs Meredith, but it was).

I passed and got my degree and a life-time certificate to teach in the public schools of Missouri. Much to the state's profound disappointment, I decided to move to England. So we did.

Friday, October 16, 2015

US Army Norway

Chapter Five

Wherein I learn to ski, become a troglodyte, help avert a Cold War crisis, meet some interesting locals, get married and generally have a great (but cold) time

BJ and I landed at Fornebu in September 1970. Located on one of the many islands in Oslo fjord, Fornebu was the airport serving Oslo in the 1970's. We landed and were met in the terminal by a GI, Jose Carasco. We grabbed our kit bags and drove to Kolsas, a pleasant suburb about 10 miles from down-town Oslo. The major feature in Kolsas is the mountain, which rises steeply from the main road from Sandvika. It was inside this mountain I was destined to spend the next 18 months (sorry, not all the time – just working hours!).

Kolsas held the HQ of Allied Forces Northern Europe. Very impressive sounding – the reality was slightly different. 

 Backtracking slightly, Norway is a member of NATO, but also has a long tradition of “seeming” neutrality. Therefore, we were there - but not really there. We were “encouraged”, for example, not to wear our uniforms when off the base.

Norwegian independence was sorely tried in WWII when the Germans invaded and, in the process, helped to introduce a new word into the English language – quisling. A quisling is a traitor and is so named after one Vidkun Quisling. “He was put on trial during the legal purge in Norway after World War II and found guilty of charges including embezzlement, murder and high treason. He was executed by firing squad at Akershus Fortress, Oslo, on 24 October 1945. The word quisling has since become a synonym for collaborationist, an allusion to the very poor light in which Quisling's actions were seen both at the time and after his death.” - Wikipedia

Consequently, the Norwegians are somewhat suspicious of foreign military forces being stationed on their soil. Low profile was the watchword.

The NATO base at Kolsas contained an interesting blend of the various NATO forces. There was the Norwegian Army and Air Force. The Norwegian Army took care of the base security and consisted mostly of young Norwegians doing their national service. The Norwegian Air Force personnel were more career-armed-forces orientated. The Danes were out in force, Army, Navy and Airforce. The UK was well-represented with a full complement of the three services. Our happy band consisted of the US Army Element, AFNORTH (about a dozen), some US Airforce (again about a dozen) and one or two US Navy personnel. Total (minus officers) - about 30. In short it was like being in the Army, but not really. The officers and NCO's of the US Army Element had no real contact with us on a day to day basis.

The Communications Center was located inside Mt Kolsas. Those friendly Germans had tunnelled it out during WWII and the Norwegians simply took it over. It was a ideal spot for a Com Center. Buried under a mountain of rock with enormous blast doors to get through, we were much better placed to withstand a Cold War nuclear fry-up than most. Fortunately, we were not tested in this regard during my tenure – though we did have quite a hairy time during the Prague Spring of 1969. All in all it was an extremely pleasant place to work – deep in the mountain it was a constant temperature (outside it might be 20 below!) we had a canteen which served light meals during office hours, complete with beer for the Danish and Norwegian contingent - who subscribed to the theory that life without beer is not worth living.

We worked a shift system. Days – 08:00-16-00. Swings 1600-22:00 and Mids – 22:00-08:00. So, you did two swings, then two days then two nights and then had 4 days off. And by off I mean actually off – for their were no military duties whatsoever. Months could, and did, go by without seeing a US Army NCO or officer. Even the mail was delivered to your mailbox outside the US Army Element AFNORTH office so you could pick it up at a convenient time, i.e. when no-one was about!

So, what did we do? We relayed messages to the various NATO commands all over Europe. We received a message, logged it and sent it on to its destination. Simple.

In addition to the easy working hours with plenty of time off, we always had more than enough people to cover each shift adequately. Each shift had an NCO in charge of the Com Centre and he (usually it was a UK Army Sergeant) would assess their shift needs and offer “stand downs” to personnel that were not really needed. Everyone did the day shifts. Swing shifts and night shifts could be subject to a “stand-down”. In a lucky month you might get the first swing shift and the last mid shift off. Therefore, you actually worked 4 days and had 8 off in that cycle. Not bad – and the pay was good as well, for we received COLA (cost of living allowance) on account of Norway being such an expensive country to live in. Our barracks were comfortable with two or three man rooms, the food was good in the main base canteen, the work was not difficult – repetitive and boring but not difficult, we received a duty-free allowance of 1000 cigs and 4 bottles of spirits a month – and I mean real duty-free – not the airport type – but the real thing. Ciggs at a dollar a carton and whiskey at two bucks a fifth.

We were about half an hour by trikk (train) from down-town Oslo, which had the usual capital city style entertainments. For local entertainment we had the Junior Ranks Club – basically a bar with seating for about 50. Let's face it, when it is very cold and very dark there isn't much else to do other than hang out in the Club and have a few drinks. The added bonus came in the form of local girls who would gladly be our guests for the evening. Anyone could go to the main gate and sign them in (so much for security).

On particularly boring evenings someone (inevitably) would go to their room and bring back a fifth of whiskey and we would share it. We went to Oslo to the bowling alley. We shopped a Steen & Strom ( ). We organised ski trips to Geilo and Lillehammer – where the Olympics were held in 1994. There was a very nice, but very expensive, restaurant at Hollmenkollen just next to the Olympic ski jump. We skied cross-country style on the numerous ski trails which dot the Norwegian countryside near Kolsas. There was lots to do.

In the summer it was surprsingly warm. We sailed on Oslo fiord. We camped at Horten and took the ferry across Oslo fiord to Moss.

The truth is It was an eighteen month holiday in beautiful surroundings with excellent companions and plenty of money. Eventually I rented one-fifth of a large house in Jar with some buddies and only went to the base to work. I managed to source an abandoned Volvo from someone who was rotating back to the US for a song and drove it everywhere.

In November of 1969 we went to Weisbaden AFB ( ) to play in a basketball tournament. It was not like the NCAA Final Four, but it was a kind of vacation courtesy of AFNORTH. Teams from small commands like ours from all over Europe were invited.

We flew to Rhine-Main AFB ( ( in one of the last surviving DC3's in the US Airforce. What a trip! There were no seats, just benches along the sides. The door consisted of a canvas screen you could pull back and watch the Baltic slide by from about 5000 feet. When we hit the ground at Rhine-Main one of the engine cowlings fell off. It was a gas. We played some basketball games and did some extreme partying. At the end of the ten day vacation we were scheduled to fly back to Fornebu. Unfortunately, replacing the missing engine cowling was more than problematical – it meant making a new one! So, when we got back to Rhein-Main we found a “backup” of personnel waiting for transport back to Norway. Someone had to stay behind and wait for the next flight – which was a week away. We drew straws. I lost.

I had no money left so they took up a collection and gave me about $25 for the week. I was ok for barracks and food ( AF canteen was very good ); but I had nothing to do and didn't know anyone. I did get the bus into Weisbaden once for a look-around. Exciting?

The highlight came one morning as I was standing in the mess hall waiting for breakfast. As I got closer to the front of the line, I noticed that the lady who was serving was an enormous, horse-faced German hausfrau. I glanced at her name tag. It read Kauffman. I quickly took mine off and stuffed it in my pocket. What a lucky guy I am.

Eventually, I got back to Oslo and the warm bosom of AFNORTH.

In my absence my (eventual) wife had arrived. She was a Wren (Women's Royal Naval Service). Essentially she was a secretary. There were two Wrens on the base. They lived in a hotel in Oslo. Not a bad life.

Winter in Norway is cold, very cold. It is also dark, very dark. Some respite came when the NATO fleet sailed into Oslo harbour and hundreds of matelots arrive at the JRC for one almighty booze-up. I distinctly remember the carpet being under about two inches of beer.

The long Norwegian winter moved into spring and the vacation continued. In the autumn of 1970 I drove from Oslo to Kristiansand and took a ferry to Harwich to meet my prospective in-laws. My first view of England was from the deck of a North Sea ferry. It looked grey, dark and dreary. I was not far from being wrong.

I got leave to go to England for the wedding in December 1970. Unfortunately before I left, I had my first run-in with the US Army since I had got to Norway. I applied for leave, which was granted, but I foolishly went to collect my mail at a particularly inopportune time. The First Sergeant saw me and shouted at me to get in the office.

I should explain. Owing the the complete lack of military supervision, we had gotten used to leaving our hair quite long, which was the fashion in 1970. My buddy BJ actually looked like he would not have been out of place at Haight and Ashbury. Mine was equally long. The First Sergeant was not amused, so he put me in a chair and gave me a haircut. It was a particularly inexpert job. She who must be obeyed was not amused.

Winter turned into spring 1971 as my service lurched towards its conclusion. I was offered an E5 (Sergeant) post if I would sign on again and stay in Norway. I declined, not entirely respectfully. We packed up, having first sold most of my duty free allowances (which I had been hoarding since my new responsible as husband and provider had ensued), and headed for Fornebu for the flight to New York.

Pan Am had the craziest pilots I've ever seen. (Perhaps, that's why they went bust?) I'm not the greatest of flyers at the best of times, but these guys were something else. Cruising along in the stratosphere over Greenland, the Captain spied a small Inuit village. Whilst carrying on an interesting commentary on the PA, he stood the 707 on its wing tip and announced that we were going to drop down and say hello. I swear I could count he hairs on the eskimo's luxurious fur coat as we passed by. Lovely.

We landed at JFK and a typically surly and unhelpful New York taxi driver took us to the hotel in a typically circuitous and roundabout way to jack up the fare. (I've never liked New York and never will) I reported to Ft Hamilton for processing. I received my Good Conduct Medal and my Honourable Discharge from the US Army. My illustrious military career was over. We hopped a plane to KC to be met by my Dad, my sister Lynne and my brother Jim.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Chiefs Inept?

Chiefs Woes Continue

I've been lucky. The scheduling has meant that the Chiefs have been live on TV for two of the three games so far this season.

(I can hear someone out there screaming that I've been very unlucky the way they are playing!)

Fans could just about take the lacklustre performance against the Texans – at least we won the game. You could make some kind of a case for the effort against the Broncos. Given just a little bit of co-operation from the football gods, we could have won.

But, the Packers? The Packers? Crisis time is looming large.

Now don't get me wrong, the Packers are a good football team. But, disappointingly, and I mean ugly disappointingly, the Chiefs made them look like a great football team. One of my enduring images of the game was Aaron Rogers sitting on the sidelines (having constructed a big lead) looking over the results of his efforts and smiling condescendingly.

Forget the score. The Chiefs were never in this game.

Why? Where to start?

On offence the Chiefs could not move the ball. The tone was set right at the beginning. The pre-game hype had it that the boys in red could run the ball and Jamaal Charles would have a big day. He got 49 yards on 11 carries. The three TD's are irrelevant. The running game was more or less non existent the whole game. Meanwhile the Packers could keep the Chiefs defense honest by rushing for 130 yards.

So, we had to rely on Alex Smith to win the game with his arm. Not pretty sight. Again the stats are misleading. The Great Hope that was Jeremy Macklin had no catches in the first half. He finished with what looks like a respectable afternoon – 8 catches for 141 and a touchdown. Take away the one big catch and he averages about 10 yards a catch. For this we paid big money? (Watching him miss simple downfield blocking assignments was too painful to comment on.)

On defence, the tribe looked like rabbits in the headlights. Tamba Hali had a sack. The containment of a mobile QB like Rogers was on a high school level. The tacking dummy would have been of more use than the real players. It was embarrassing to watch. The Packers had seven sacks and god knows how many hurries.

So, is this just a bad day at the office? Was this just a game the Chiefs were destined to lose anyway? Can they put this performance behind them and move on?

The signs are not good.

Andy Reid's post-game press conference was interesting. He could barely contain his exasperation at the lack of skill, preparation or professionalism in the team. It is his job to prepare the players, and I'm now wondering if he is up to it.

Yes, it's only game three. There is another game away next week (mercifully not on TV, I hope) against the 3-0 Bungles who were narrow winners over the Ravens.

Another poor performance by Reid, Smith and the other starters could start the boo-boys, start the calls for Chase Daniels at QB, start the call for Reid to go and start the beginning, if not the end, of a reality check. A one and three start is staring the Chiefs in the face and the omens are not good.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

US Army - Part Two

Wherein I sojourn in Texas (the only place in the world where you can stand up to your bum in mud and have the sand hit you in the face), do my RVN training, am posted to the Big Red One and end up in Norway

It is generally true that we humans have a very over-inflated opinion of our ability to affect events. We like to think we are in control. We like to believe, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”.

This is, in my experience, seldom true. You could just as easily argue that life is a series of unanticipated and unrelated accidents. My experiences in 69 - 70 - 71 prove this point rather nicely.

I had leave over Christmas 1969 and spent it in Independence. No-one else was about. Everyone was off was assisting Uncle Sam. I saw the family and a few friends. I booked my ticket to Texas on Trans-Texas Airways. I think I flew to College Station, Texas. I remember I had a lot of trouble getting a ticket. I soon found out why.

Fort Hood, Texas is near Waco. Near, in this context means Texas near, which is about about mid-distant between Waco and Austin. The adjacent town is called Killeen. It has little to offer the serving soldier, as Bell County was one of the dry counties in Texas. Even today just 11 the 254 counties in Texas are officially “wet”. It's a funny old place. You'd think with the sand hitting you in the face you could at least get a beer!

When I arrived in January 1969, there was a mass influx of personnel to Ft Hood. Why? Who knows? You may remember I got the word at Ft Bragg, “Who wants to go to Ft Hood?” and I said “Me!”.

There were so many troops arriving at the same time that our bags were left at the airport to be collected and delivered to the base over the next week or so.

I got lucky. I was assigned to Company C, 141st Armoured Signal Battalion. I was shown to the barracks. I met some guys. I easily made some friends. The lucky boys in my barracks had managed to wrangle their way into a real cushy job. I was soon included.

Most of these lads were ex-crew chiefs on UH1 helicopters. Returning from Viet Nam, they had time to do and somehow ended up at Ft Hood. (If the Army had any sense they would have just discharged them and saved the money they were paying them!) Anyway, these troops had somehow become the specialists in Public Address systems.

Our job was simple. Every time the Commanding General (or some other high-ranking officer) wanted to make a speech, we set up the PA system. There was, in true Army fashion, an officer in charge but, none of them who were ever assigned to us had any idea what we did, how we did it, where we did it or when we did it. Magic! (Actually, the poor officers were at the mercy of the PA troops. If one decided to become too ARMY for us, the next time the CG grabbed the mike he was likely to get an electrical shock – officers of that type didn't last long!)

The best part was we did no duties. No KP. No guard duty. No duties other than take care of the PA system. We had two trucks and a jeep – none of which were subject to the ordinary Motor Pool regulations. We alone could sign them out. We went where we wanted, when we wanted and with whom we wanted. I never did completely understand how we did it – but it worked. The ranking NCO was only a SP/5, but he ran the whole show and also rings around anyone who started poking their noses into our business.

Sound too good to be true! Well, it was not always plain sailing. For example the General might make a welcoming speech in the theatre. Excellent. Set up the mikes and amps, plug them in and then go backstage and have a nap! Simple!

At other times, he might want to address the troops on a rifle range or a tank firing range. Not so simple. First of all you needed power. That meant a gas-powered generator and a lot of power cable. Not too much of a problem for our trucks were a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of stuff we had “borrowed” from other units. So, we had the equipment. But, to use it outdoors we needed sandbags – lots of lovely sandbags. The Commanding General did not want to hear the noise of a generator. We would have to build a double or triple sandbag enclosure around the generator - !2 feet high and five or six layers thick. We put the generator inside. Standing outside you couldn't hear it from 10 feet away. Then all you have to do is run the microphone cable and you were in business.

In the course of all these endeavours, I got to see some amazing, not always pleasant, sights. There was the time some tank driver – who wasn't looking where he was going – managed to hang a track over the side of a concrete bridge over a stream. He flipped the tank into the stream bed on it's turret. Unfortunately, this was one of the few times a Texas stream was filled with water. The whole crew was trapped inside and drowned. So, we set up the PA equipment and the Commanding General made a speech. No idea what he said for them boys in the tank were as dead as door-nails.

Another good one occurred when some bright spark was cleaning a 175mm self-propelled gun. Somehow he managed to hit the wrong switch and the gun began to elevate fully. Then the breech began to move smartly towards the bottom of the carriage. Bright Spark managed to get himself wedged into a very small space between the breech and the carriage.

In order to get him out, numerous ingenious solutions were suggested and some were even tried. The only thing that worked ruined the gun. Two large, metal D-rings were welded onto the barrel of the 175 and two tow trucks pulled and lifted at the same time. Bright Spark got out, but the gun was, not entirely unexpectedly, completely ruined! The CG had a lot to say about that one!

In between all these exciting events I coped with the Texas summer. We were lucky. We had air-conditioned barracks. Not everyone did. We were give salt tablets with every meal. I learned to chew tobacco. I watched the Moon landing in July of 69. I was effectively killing time. I bought a small motorcycle – a 150 cc Honda – on the back of which one of my mates, Quigley, used to ride with an M14 (remember the endless supply of contraband?) complete with ammo he had stolen from the rifle ranges and take pot shots at cows. Ft Hood was “open range”.

Then, the time was up.

I got orders for Viet Nam in late August. I was posted to the 1st Infantry Division. I had injections for every disease known to man (and a few others). I did my RVN training – chiefly consisting of qualifying as Expert with the M16 and being eaten alive by Texas chiggers and I was all ready to go.

Then, I got a message to report to Company HQ.

The First Sergeant said that I was not going to Viet Nam. I asked him where I was going. He said he didn't know, but I was going somewhere. In short time, a big bunch shipped out for SE Asia. I hung around for about a week. Eventually the First Sergeant told me I was going to Norway instead. I said something like, “You've got to be shitting me – nobody goes to Norway!” He agreed but told me, nevertheless, I was going to Norway. I was joined in this effrontery to common sense by none other than SP/4 BJ Sievers, who I had not previously met, though we were in the same battalion. More will be heard of BJ anon.

(Having puzzled about this amazing event for years, I finally decided that it was all to do with the battery of tests you do when you are in Basic Training. Now, I was always good at tests so I scored highly. So did BJ. Therefore, when two guys who were in Norway left someone somewhere ran the replacement through the system our names came out.)

BJ and I suffered the ignominy of having to clear post – a ritual which involves taking a copy of your orders all over the place, giving a copy to the relevant authority (say the medical orderlies), and getting lots of stamps on the papers whilst all the while having to put up with, “So you guys off to the Nam, yeah?” “No, actually we're going to Norway.” “You gotta be shitting me! Hey sarge you gotta see this – these guys are going to Norway!”

We had become instant, small-time celebrities.

Within a few days, we had loaded my Honda in the trunk of BJ car – a Chevy four door as I remember and set off for KC. We had a week's leave. As BJ was from Iowa he said he would drop me off in Independence cause it was on the way. We cruised past Dallas and on to KC. He dropped me off and said we would meet up at JFK on September 6th or 7th or?

At the appointed date I flew to Kennedy, met up with BJ and flew to Norway via Iceland. In those days the old 707 couldn't do the whole trip without refuelling. I remember coming into Fornebu Airport in Oslo and the Captain saying it was 7 degrees! Fortunately, he was speaking Celsius.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Chiefs Super Bowl Bound?

Chiefs Prospects 2015

I have left my analysis of the Chiefs chances until late this year. We have only got down to the 53 man roster. Only now are the pundits beginning to make realistic appraisals of the chances of the various teams.

Interestingly, opinions are divided. Almost everyone, including the neutrals, think the Chiefs will be better this season. The question is – better than what?

It is difficult to see how they could be any worse. Just remember, they lost two very good players to injury almost before the season started. Then they managed to play 16 games and not throw a touchdown to a wide-receiver. Measuring getting better by those standards should result in some kind of improvement – it would be some accomplishment if they actually got worse! Certainly the pundits think so – well quite a few of them do.

I'm sure I said last year that as Alex Smith goes so goes the Chief's season. I was right. Smith was Ok and so was the season, just missing the play-offs. This season the ante is truly upped. The tribe have provided him with some weapons down-field. Jeremy Maclin is a big free-agent signing and is a proven NFL receiver. Travis Kelce is fit and could be the new Tony Gonzales. Rookie Chris Conley looks a good prospect for stretching the field. It's now up to Smith to find them downfield and complete some passes. Couple a real passing threat with Mr Reliable and Mr Do-It-All Jamaal Charles and some points are on the horizon. The play of back-up QB, Chase Daniel, also had the fans taking notice. An excellent pre-season – which saw the Chiefs undefeated – has shown Daniel to be a more than capable replacement. The O-line has been revamped and upgraded. Thin on the ground is true but still upgraded. The defense looks strong with Derek Johnson returning at inside LB and Justin Houston having signed a big contract. Eric Berry returns, but it remains to be seen how well he has recovered from cancer. Disregarding Sean Smith's suspension, the secondary looks strong. The Chiefs have some weapons and what could be an outstanding defense. They just finished 4-0 in the pre-season. The experts have them winning anything from 8 to 12 games.

My prediction: Chiefs to make the play-offs and be one and done.

If so, where are the problems? First, as said, Alex Smith. Then the O-line (unproven, untested and no real back-ups. The coaching is just average in my opinion. Andy Reid is a proven winner, but can he get the best out of the group on hand? Only time will tell. Finally, too many players are coming back from injury. Will they hold up for the season?

My biggest fear? The Chiefs may be at the back end of the cycle and have not got all the personnel in place for a run at the Super Bowl.

Time will tell.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

US Army

Chapter Four

Wherein I am drafted, make the best of a bad job, learn some new skills (generally useless in polite society), help train US Special Forces in the North Carolina woods, whilst learning how to play Hearts and eventually spend my last Christmas at home for a few years.

1968 was a bad year. Richard Nixon won the Republican nomination for President and the November election. Vietnamese villagers were massacred at My Lai. Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated in April. Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June. Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate on the private island of Skorpios – ending the Camelot myth. Mayor Richard Daley opened the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and days of rioting followed.

My job at Western Electric in Lee's Summit, Missouri was just the pause before the storm. My local draft board reassigned me 1A quite quickly. It was just a matter of time until I was drafted. I went to work. I came home.

I opened an envelope on February 14th – St Valentine's Day. It was not a card from a secret admirer.

The President of the United States

To; Malcolm Rodney Kauffman

Greeting: Your are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States and to report to . . .

My service would begin on March 8, 1968.

The OM drove me to the induction center near Union Station in Kansas City and gave me the benefit of his insight and advice. “Never volunteer for anything except get paid or go home!”

Not for the first time, I didn't completely follow his instructions.

Being inducted was an experience. Because it was you, if felt unique. Actually you shared the experience with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of your fellow citizens. The over-riding quality is one of dumb resignation. Everything was all so new and beyond everyone's experience. I had never before been away from home and family for more that a few days. Years stretched ahead. Uncertainty was the order of the day.

We had a physical examination. It was cursory. I distinctly remember a hippy type sitting on a bench in the middle of the large room. He was as naked a jay bird. He looked distinctly unhappy.

We raised our right hands. We swore the oath.

"I, Malcolm Rodney Kauffman, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

That's it. Your are in the Army. You are now subject to the UCMJ. The personal freedom you have long enjoyed is now subsumed in the greater good.

We learned the first maxim of military service. You spend most of the time standing in line waiting for something to happen. There is an over-whelming desire to get on with it. To get started. The sooner we get started the sooner we will get out! Years stretch ahead.

I think I had a chance to call home to tell them that we were being put on a train to Louisiana. Actually, It was quite a pleasant trip - considering what awaited us. We were fed in the dining car and had a sleeper to ourselves.

We arrived at the United States Army Training Center (Infantry), Fort Polk, Louisiana late the next afternoon. We learned the second rule of military service. You stand where you are told and get your hands out of your pockets!. It was raining. We got wet. It was all so odd. I'm sure not one of us had ever purposely stood in the rain for hours before. Now we did. Eventually we were shown to barracks. We made beds. Because everyone was at this stage a stranger there was little talking. We were fed. To enter the mess hall you had to shout out your Service Number. I was simply US 56429974. The first stage in making you a soldier had already happened and you hadn't really noticed. You were now just a number.

Time moved inordinately slowly. Stand around and wait was the watchword. Some things made an impression on me. Firstly, we could not wait to get out of our civilian clothes and into OD green. Without the uniform you felt an outsider and distinctly out of place. Within a few days we had our kit issued and we looked like soldiers – though we had little idea what that actually meant.

About this time, I took stock. Two things made an immediate impression on me. Firstly, at every opportunity trainees were confronted with the eventual destination of trainees at the US Army Training Center (Infantry). It was the Infantry. Walls were adorned with the unit shoulder patches of the combat infantry divisions. 82Nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, 1st Infantry Div, 4th Infantry Div, 25th Infantry Div, 1st Cavalry (Airmobile), 9th Infantry Div, 173rd Airborne Brigade, 198th Light Infantry Brigade - the wall was certainly colourful. There was little doubt where the vast majority of trainees would be ending up – in the Infantry. Secondly, I observed trainees doing Infantry AIT (Advanced Individual Training). It did not look like much fun – anything but.

From Wikipedia - “In 1962, Fort Polk began converting to an advanced infantry training (AIT) center. A small portion of Fort Polk is filled with dense, jungle-like vegetation, so this, along with Louisiana's heat, humidity and precipitation (similar to Southeast Asia) helped commanders acclimatize new infantry soldiers in preparation for combat in Vietnam. This training area became known as Tigerland. For the next 12 years, more soldiers were shipped to Vietnam from Fort Polk than from any other American training base. For many, Fort Polk was the only state-side Army post they saw before assignment overseas. Many soldiers reported to basic training at Fort Polk and stayed on post for infantry training at Tigerland before being assigned to infantry line companies in Vietnam.” Nuff said?

Therefore, when after only a few days in the Army I was presented with an opportunity I had to consider it. If I would care to commit to three years instead of two, I would be able to choose a much more interesting MOS (Military Occupational Speciality – essentially a job description). It was a big decision and I had to make it on my own. I couldn't call my Mom and Dad, I couldn't see the Chaplain, I had to make up my mind right now.

I decided to accept the offer of the Signal Corps, MOS 72B20 – Communication Center Specialist. After basic training I would go to the Southeastern Signal School at Ft Gordon, Georgia. From there I had orders to go to Ft Meade, Virginia, though this did not, as it happens, happen.

The group I came down with on the train from KC and was with for two or three days, left for a Basic Training Company. I was delayed by paperwork sorting out my change of status. Eventually, I was sent to Co D, Third Battalion, Second Basic Combat Training Brigade.

Things began to happen fast. First our kit bags were unceremoniously dumped on the ground and all the cigarettes and candy bars confiscated. We repacked them. Next we went to the barracks where we learned to make beds (again) and clean the latrines. (Latrines are a big shock to the civilian system. For most of our adult lives when you needed to sit down and go to the toilet it was a rather private affair. Not in the Army. There were plenty of toilets with bowls, but no partitions between them. Get used to it!)

Training began. Because most newly inducted soldiers were overweight, the diet was designed to thin them out a bit. Before you could get to the mess hall door there were over 100 monkey bars to negotiate. Fall off and you start over. I soon learned to eat everything that was offered. And, I was still hungry at all times.

On day two I was in a meeting room learning that I had been selected as a squad leader. Explanation? I had finished two years of college. That was enough to make you a leader. (The bonus was as squad leader I was exempt from KP or Guard Duty.)

A typical day began with a five mile run in formation before breakfast. After breakfast some PT (physical training). Maybe an hour in the classroom learning first aid or how to strip a M14 was followed by more PT and then lunch (after negotiating the bars again).

Afternoon – more PT, more drill, some more PT and then go to bed – if you were lucky.

We learned new skills. How to march. How to shoot. How to fight. How to kill. All the training is easily conflated into these simple area. It lasts for eight weeks.

Highlights? CBR training – you get to smell tear gas and chlorine. Pugil sticks – you get to smash other people without really injuring them. PT test – our company averaged in the 480's – 500 is perfect. A cherry pie liberated from the mess hall by someone in our barracks who shared. Firing the M14 - ours were so old I swear you could hear the bullets ricocheting down the barrel as they left. Also, we got free haircuts (very short) and we also got paid. I just checked, it was $102 a month. That's about it.

After six weeks we got a weekend pass. I went with a buddy whose family had come down to Louisiana and got to stay in a motel in Leesville. Heaven. Real food. A Coke. Air-conditioning.

Finally, it was over and we were put on a bus to who knows where. The drill sergeant said not to say goodbye, just go -so we did.

We drove to Barksdale AFB where we were put on a plane. First time for everything. Uncle Sam transported us to Georgia – free of charge. I distinctly remember watching the rain pour out of the sky to the strains of Rainy Night in Georgia by Brook Benton – quite poetic.

The United States Army Southeastern Signal School, Ft Gordon, Georgia is near Augusta, Georgia.

The Communications Center Specialist course lasted, as I recall, about 12 weeks. I managed to skip two weeks of it because I could already type 35 words per minute. We learned to operate the Army's signal equipment – ranging from the PRC -25 radio -

“The AN/PRC-25 (AKA “Prick-25″) has a long and successful history. In 1967 General Creighton Abrams, deputy commander of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam called the PRC-25 “The most important tactical item in Vietnam today”.

to machines which encoded messages. They were old. Enigma old, and they worked on pretty much the same principle.

Ft Gordon was unexciting. I did manage to get into Augusta and hire a motorcycle for a bit of a ride. Why I did not make it anywhere near the Augusta National Golf Course is a never-ending mystery to me. Maybe it was the heat. Georgia is hot in May, June and July. - very hot.

I did my share of KP. It was quite an interesting system. You were rostered for KP and someone came to the barracks and woke you up at about 04:30. You raced to the mess hall so as to get the best job. It was first come, first served. I liked DRO (dining room orderly) best. You made sure the silverware was clean and stocked up, same for condiments. You cleared the tables and wiped them down between meals. If I was not quick enough for DRO I would choose Back Sink. Pots and pans, really. (Here my extensive experience as a “pearl-diver” came in real handy!)

Training took place Monday to Friday, so we had weekends “off”. Sort of. Saturday mornings were work details, i.e. policing the area. Litter-picking! Still we could laze about the barracks if we wished. You could also go to the movies on post. Magic. At the end of training I was promoted to PFC and given orders for Ft Bragg, North Carolina. (What happened to Ft Meade is an Army mystery) I was assigned to the 35Th Signal Company, Third Army. Fortunately I got a three week leave to visit the home folks before reporting. By late August I was at Bragg.

I confess this was my worst time in the Army. We literally had nothing to do and nothing to look forward to. Most days we went to the motor pool and messed about with the signal vans. We did extensive guard duty. Something was drastically wrong with our mess hall. We almost never had decent grub and often had no milk for days on end. (Later, I heard that the mess sergeant was selling our grub off post, but I'm not sure if it was ever proved.)

The only excitement was in September when we were assigned to help train the U.S. Special Forces. An elaborate training exercise was planned involving us as pseudo-guerillas tasked with receiving a Green Beret team and planning and executing operations in the North Carolina woods. Units of the 82nd Airborne from Bragg would try to find us and stop us from blowing up bridges, etc. (Not with real explosives I may add for the safety of the farmers of North Carolina)

We decamped to the woods, led by Sergeant Gamble – the most aptly named soldier I ever met. S/Sgt Gamble liked to play cards – particularly Hearts. So we spent the first week of the exercise messing about in the woods and playing cards. We had very old C Rations for grub. The weather was excellent and we were having a break from military discipline with only Sgt Gamble in charge. No officers at all.

Somehow we conned the Army into transporting us to the nearest town for a bit of R&R. Robins, North Carolina did, at least, have a movie theatre. Maybe a Woolworth's as well. The citizenry was ill-prepared to be “invaded” by some smelly soldiers in civilian clothes carrying M14's and bayonets. Someone told us of a party nearby and we got invited. After checking out the local talent we were brought back down to earth. Someone showed up with the news that two local lads had just been killed in a car accident. We left and returned to the woods.

It was too good to last, of course. The exercise started. We laid out a pattern of burning oil lamps in a field. We heard the drone of aircraft. We thought they had gone past the drop zone. They had but the fools jumped anyway. The Green Berets jumped and landed all over the place, in trees, in streams, in the swamp, on a road – one poor klutz broke his ankle. Anyway, we gathered them together and set off for the camp we had constructed deep in the woods.

We pretended to be interested in the military matters so beloved of the Special Forces. We mooched about in the woods for about two weeks simulating guerilla raids. We “ambushed” columns. We “blew-up” bridges. We “captured” installations. Great fun. Strangely, some Canadian Special Forces were participating in this exercise. Not a bad bunch compared to the gung-ho types in the green beanies.

We did obtain some insight into the difficulties encountered by our comrades in SE Asia. Despite having a whole division with air support, the 81nd Airborne never got close to us. We could hear and see them over the canopy of trees but they never spotted us. We were visited and congratulated for not getting caught. Our Green Beret guests were super-pleased.

Too soon it was over and it was back to reality. For entertainment at Bragg we played football in the “company street” - that portion of sandy scrub between the barracks. I got whacked from behind whilst running a side-line route and was smashed into a bit of concrete sticking out of the sand. The edge of the concrete punched a hole in my left knee. I went to the company HQ. After some wrangling and nonsense about a self-inflicted injury they agreed to transport me to the base hospital. I got the wound cleaned and some stitches. Somehow I had to find my own way back.

I was tasked with returning to the base hospital in a couple of weeks to get the stitches out.

I messed up – as you do. After about ten days I decided to take the stitches out myself. It looked all healed up, so I cut the stitches and pulled them out. Next day I was playing football again and the wound opened up. I couldn't go back to the Company HQ and explain what happened, so I decided to sew it up again myself. I went to the PX and got some cotton thread, some hydrogen peroxide and some sewing needles. Applying a liberal dose of H2O2, I threaded the needle and began to sew. It didn't hurt. I kept applying liberal doses of Hydrogen Per and in about two more weeks cut the thread and removed it. Result – though I still have the scar!

1968 moved on. It got colder - even in NC. I remember huddling in the cab of a deuce and a half trying to keep warm whist pulling guard duty at the motor pool. By wedging myself in a particular position, I could just be woken up in time by the guard Jeep’s headlights as they approached, get out of the truck and look as if I had been assiduously doing my duty.

Sometime in November I was offered a transfer to Ft Hood, Texas. I volunteered, thinking that it couldn't be worse than Bragg. In some ways I was right.

The real bonus was I got leave over Christmas and did not have to report to Hood until the beginning of January 1969. Happy days!

More in Chapter Four – Part Deux

Monday, August 03, 2015

Western Electric

Chapter Three

Wherein I move into relatively well paid employment, discover what a chicken checker is and quite accidentally make some career choices

By 1967 I had moved one step forward and some steps back. I was no longer in full-time education and, therefore eligible to be called by my fellow citizens to swear to protect and defend the Constitution.

I had grown increasingly disenchanted with 7-Eleven. Following my adventures at the hands of Mr Robber, I felt that the HR section of the Southland Corp left a lot be be desired. Apart from having to undergo a lie detector test to ensure that I was not a party to the hold-up - little was done to get me back in the saddle.

When my sister Ruthanne said she could get me a job at Western Electric, I jumped at it. Western Electric make equipment for Bell Telephones. It's a big operation. (from the History of Lee's Summit: 1957 Western Electric announces it will build a $20 million factory for vacuum tubes in Lee’s Summit, if the city can provide sufficient utilities. The property has since changed owners and became Summit Technology Campus which today houses data and call centres. The plant, opened in 1961, employed about 3,000 workers and started Lee’s Summit’s transformation to a fast-growing suburb.”)

I was not blindingly excited by factory work. I did a bit at KC Booth Manufacturing. Western Electric was a different kettle of fish altogether. It was well paid and very secure employment. Although it was a factory, it was very clean and quiet. Making sensitive electrical components does not lend itself to dirt and noise. I managed to get on the evening shift – from 4 till midnight. I struck it lucky. I was in a department of one when the day shift logged off. I went in, saw the supervisor, got my instructions for the evening and that was it. No-one else about at all.

I know what you are thinking, “Why not just goof off or do a little bit of work and then have a nap?”

That's where the chicken checker comes in. The nom-de-guerre chicken checker was not official. Officially they were time and motion study operatives. Their job was to randomly check what you were doing and write a report. Essentially, it was a game. The word would go around that the chicken checker was about so you made sure – as far as humanly possible – that when he saw you you were doing something productive. This was difficult when you are working on your own, but I got quite good at it.

Western Electric had a complex bonus system in place. The basic salary was OK but each separate department was judged (somehow) on its performance every month and that judgement became a bonus paid in addition to the hourly rate. In some months it could be as high as 20% of your basic salary. The non-production employees (like me) contributed by scoring well in the chicken checker marks. Very complex but it worked.

I looked forward to lunch breaks in the canteen when I often met up with Ruthanne and Alan. Official break times (10 minutes) were signalled by a bell. Smoking was not allowed in the plant but at break times you could smoke in designated area. The whole plant was surrounded by a chain-link fence and you has to have a pass to get through the gate – which was permanently manned.

At the same time, although I was in full-time, relatively well-paid employment I was conspicuously not very well off. Looking back it's difficult to remember where the money went. I was driving an old Chevy. A good night out consisted of going to the Drive-In movies by myself and there seemed little incentive to do very much. I was, in truth, just hanging around waiting for Uncle Sam to send me an invitation to serve my country. My lot in life had become quite tedious and altogether unrewarding. That's the way I remember it.

One interesting evening did occur when I came home from the Drive-In movies and found cop cars swarming all over Hidden Valley Rd and a helicopter circling overhead. I was stopped and had to prove I lived there before they would let me go home. The OM explained that somebody had beaten up a cop and they were advising everyone to stay indoors and lock up whilst they tried to find the perpetrator.

Guns and gun control are always nowadays in the news. Down on Hidden Valley Rd in 1967 nobody ever locked their doors. The OM had a .22 rifle which he used as a bird scarer. He would sit at the kitchen table with the door to the adjoining garage open a shoot at birds – which he considered as pests. He seldom hit one. Nobody worried about a break-in or strangers shooting you.

When I was about 12 or 13 the OM would take me squirrel hunting with a buddy of his at the Dairy. Off we would go somewhere down in South Missouri, near the Kansas line, and shoot a million squirrels. Even then they were considered as pests and there was no limit to how many you could kill. So we killed them. Very occasionally, I would go with Stoner to Uncle RT's and shoot rabbits with the aid of his pack of beagles and a 410 shotgun.

Squirrels and rabbits are good eating. So is deer. I have no problem with using rifles to shoot them.

Neither do I have a problem with folks who enjoy hunting and fishing in the wonderful outdoors nature has blessed us with.

I just do not think that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to obtain, store use and carry any weapon they choose.

The exception, of course, is in the defence of the country, so after spending the fall and winter of 67-68 at Western Electric I eventually received (on St Valentines Day 1968:


The President of the United States,

To _________________Malcolm____________Rodney____________Kauffman______________________________
(First name) (Middle name) (Last name)

Order No.______281_______


Having submitted yourself to a Local Board composed of your neighbours for the purpose of determining your availability for training and service in the armed forces of the United States, you are hereby notified that you have now been selected for training and service in the___Army_____________________

My Dad took me down to the induction centre, quite close to Union Station in KC. He gave me some good advice (some of which I took). Never volunteer for anything except get paid or go home. I breezed through the physical examination and was very soon thereafter swearing the oath.

The put us on a train to Fort Polk Louisiana.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Seven Eleven

Chapter Two

Wherein I go to work full time, suffer an armed robbery and fall in love with an Austin Healey.

All good things must end and so I had to leave 70-Hi Drive In and get a full time job. Reason? No money and no prospects. I had to drop out of school in order to make ends meet.

I obtained employment with the Southland Corporation – they own the ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores.

In those halcyon day of yore every neighbourhood had a little store. Down on South Pleasant in Independence we had Wisemore's. That's where your Mother sent you for tea bags, sugar and stuff. There were supermakets but not many and most folks didn't do a weekly shop. Every neighbourhood had a little store.

7-Eleven filled the gap when the “Mom and Pop” local stores couldn't keep up with the big boys and gradually vanished. It's good to know that 7-Eleven are still going strong.

Before I left 70-Hi I managed to borrow enough money from Larry Titus and Bosco Cox to buy a beautiful Austin Healey 3000 Mk 111.

I always had English cars. I bought my first, a Old English White MGA 1600 when I was about 18. Some guy at school had it and wanted to get rid of it. I bought it for $100. It had no third gear in the tranny, no side windows and no radiator – oh yeah, and no brakes. Otherwise it was good. What do you expect for $100 – even in 1966!

I persuaded Stoner to help me drag it back from near Sugar Creek to our house on Hidden Valley Road. He had an old Ford and I had a couple of old tyres. We tied the front of the MG to the back of the Ford and we were good to go. We got it back with out any real incident.

Of course, I couldn't wait to fire it up and go for a spin – so we did. I figured that if I didn't run it too long it would not get too hot. No brakes? Heck, we're only going to go for a little ride; and it is uphill from the house, so we just go up the hill, swing it around and coast back home. Easy.

Rabbie Burns was right - “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]!

Off we went, got to the top of Hidden Valley Road, tried to slow enough to turn around, failed, went over the top, headed for a busy road, US 71 By-pass, managed to swing it around sideways and get it stopped, pushed it back to the top of the hill and charged back to the house – getting it stopped - somehow. Whew!

I fixed it up. It got brakes, side windows and a rebuilt gearbox. I drove it for quite a while – time passes slowly when you are 18/19. There was one very eventful trip to Trenton, Missouri to watch an American Legion baseball game with Stoner. Eventually I sold it to a dentist from Overland Park, Kansas for 400 bucks. I've had worse days.

By the time I was in training to be a 7-Eleven manager I was comfortably esconced in the Austin Healey. It was (as they still are) a gloriously beautiful car. Mine had a white leather interior and a light blue paint job. The 3 litre straight six would purr beautifully down the road – for about two months. Then it would run very sick indeed. It would hardly run and it lost power alarmingly when going up a hill. At such times, I would take it to a local specialist who would tune it and it would go swimmingly for the requisite two months and then start the cycle over again.

It was not designed for the Missouri climate. It would only start in the winter if you liberally sprayed ether into the carbs first. Even with the radiator mostly blocked off with cardboard the temperature guage would barely move in January.

It was too beautiful to last. I was doing my training for an exciting career in convenience store management out in Grandview. 139th and Grandview Road is where the store was, s far as II can remember. Way out in the sticks. (Just checked on-line and the only 7-Eleven in Grandview is now at 6506 E Main St -that's not it!) This store was run by a franchisee – but his name is too far gone to even think about. It was one of the larger stores, for it had it's own delicatessen counter. I learned about stock and such. It was neither exciting nor challenging. I remember the Manager was consumed by his pride in his store – to the extent that he never let an opportunity slip to extol its virtures. It was a good store and it turned over a tidy sum for him and the Southland Corporation. It didn't, in truth, do much for me.

Whoa! say that again, actually it nearly got me killed! I was doing a day shift out in Grandview and knocked off about 7 in the evening. (They were long shifts – about 12 hours!) I was in a hurry to get to a party – I think at Linda Hall's house. The Healey was in one of its sicker moods and I was struggling to make much progress down 71-Bypass. My technique involved risk. I would keep the revs up above 3000 and that would stop the thing from slowing down so far as to be crawling. This meant, of course, that I had to overtake anything doing less than about 65 so I did not have to brake and lose momentum. I was cheerfully weaving in and out overtaking slower cars until I chanced it once too often. Nearing the crest of a hill I found my self ovrertaking a Ford station wagon and as I hit the crest another car came at me from the opposite direction. It was something small. We went past – all three of us side by side at a closing speed of, say, 150 m.p.h. It happened so fast I didn't have time to be scared. It was only a few miles down the road that it hit me and I began to shake uncontrollably.

I slowed and crept down the hi-way. At 39th and Lee's Summit Road I ran out of gas. I pulled it over as far as I could and luckily someone I knew was coming along behind me and recognised the Healey. I got a lift to the party.

I went to get it the next day and some drunks had come over the hill and plowed into the back of it. Cops nailed them but the insurance adjuster who came out said it was a write-off and they towed it away for silly money. I'd like to think it's still a cherished classic car somewhere.

Only a few weeks before, I was taking my Mom to the launderette at 23rd and Lee's Summit. I loaded her in the car for the return trip to Hidden Valley Road. She was a typical mother – nosy. I had some papers in on the parcel shelf – Healey's had no glove box. She reached for one and dropped it. I leant over and put it back. I looked up, only to see that the whole line of cars in front of me had stopped. Somebody was making a left turn. I looked left – a line of cars was coming in the opposite direction. I looked right – there was a telephone pole. I stood on the brakes and jammed it into first gear. I stood the poor old girl on its nose and slid under the back of a big Chevy station wagon. I mangled the driver's side front fender and pushed the radiatior back into the fan blades. Mother bounced her head off of the windscreen but was not really hurt. Thank Goodness. The Chevy was more or less unscathed. Cops had a look and disappeared, but not before they loaned me a tyre iron with which I managed to pry the radiator mounts forward a bit so I could drive it home.

The OM had a look at it. The headlight was almost detached but, as the OM said, the law says you need two headlights – it doesn't say where they have to point. (Those were the days!) So we bolted it to what was left of the front fender and it worked! Pointed up into the trees, though.

The radiator was more difficult. We got it out with a bit of fiddling about, finally. The OM had a brain-storm – right then the little light that goes off when things are about to go belly-up should have gone off in my head, but it didn't.

We tied one end of a chain to the radiator mounts and the other end to the back of the milk truck. The idea was – we start the engine – sans radiator – put it in reverse and pull the mounts out a bit. Sounds so simple.

I was in the car. The OM was trying to tie the chain on. I swear he said, “Start her up!” So I did. The fan blades caught the ends of his fingers neatly lacerating them to a depth of about half an inch. He screamed. I laughed.

This was my big mistake. I couldn't help myself. He had done the same thing to the other hand without any help from me just a week or so before whilst messing about with the milk truck. Now he had a matching pair.

I got out. He screamed, “I'll kill that kid!” I believed he meant it. I ran as he picked up a two by four to hit me with.

I stayed away for three days – sleeping in the woods. I went home in the morning after he had gone to work and Mom would give me something to eat. Happy days!

Meanwhile at 7-Eleven I had become a fully-fledged retail operative. Time to strike out on my own – retail-wise. I began by doing relief shifts at stores who were short of staff. I had a shift at the 7-Eleven at 87th and Raytown Road. According to the 7-Eleven website there is no store there now. Good old USA.

It was a small store with not too much turn over. I met the manager and did the tour – thought all stores were basically the same layout. He gave me instructions for the evening shift, left me his phone number and he left. There were some customers in the evening, but I was by no means rushed off my feet. By about 22:30 it was so slow that I took the time to stock up the coolers for the morning – maybe gaining a few brownie points in the process. It got to be 22:50. I decided to close early. Heck – I was in charge!

So I locked the doors and went back to the cooler to do some more stock.

There was a knock at the front door. I assumed it was a customer who thought closing time was 23:00 and fearing I might get into trouble for closing early I went to the door. Through the locked door, some guy was asking if I had any change. I said no but stupidly unlocked the door at the same time.

He pulled gun and sort of pushed me back inside and to the island in the middle where the cash register and counter was. He told me to take off my shirt. I did. He put it on. He told me to lie face down on the floor Oddly, despite the gun, I never had the feeling that he was going to harm me. Stupid naivety?

He told me to open the safe.

(Explanation – 7-Eleven had a floor safe. It had two compartments. The top part could be opended by any employee and containted not much of value. Slot at the side enabled valuables, like cash and money orders to be pushed down inside the lower compartment, which could only be opened with a combination.)

Naturally, as I was just doing a relief shift I could not open the safe. I explained this. He asked if I could get the combination. I said I could call the manager. We went to the payphone and I dialled the number. It rang about twice and then Mr Robber hung it up.

I suspect he realised that me asking the manager for the combination to the safe would start the alarm bells ringing.

Instead he took my wallet – with about 5 bucks in it – the money order machine, which he had to cut free of the wire that held it to the counter, some loose money order receipts – which I think he thought actual real money orders – and my shirt which he was still wearing. Warning me not to call the cops, he told me not to move for 10 minutes and left. I heard the door close.

I was lying face down behind the counter. I waited about two or three minutes. I got up, looked around and could see he was gone. I had no money for the phone. I rummaged through the cash register and, very luckily, found a nickel. I went to the phone and called the cops. Thinking that the Raytown Bulls were likley to be somewhat trigger-happy since I was not wearing my 7-Eleven shirt, I went to the cooler, got a cold Dr Pepper, went out the front door and leant on the Coke machine to await their arrival. In the distance I could hear sirens. Comforting!

Not so fast. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mr Robber reappear around the corner of the building. He shouted, “Get inside!” I did. (I wonder what I did with the Dr Pepper – I have no recollection of putting it down?)

Soon I was back face down behind the counter. He had the gun and was standing in full view of anyone who came through the door. This seemed silly to me until I remembered he was wearing my 7-Eleven shirt. The Bulls charged in.

They shouted, “Where is he?”

Mr Robber said, “He went out the door.”

So, off went my would-be rescuers.

I was flabbergasted, until I put two and two together – it was the shirt that threw them off the real scent.
Fortunately, the follow-up crew arrived a few minutes later. He tried the same trick but they were intent on surveying the situation. I could see out of the corner of my eye that Mr Robber had grabbed one of the cops and was struggling to get the gun from the cop's holster.

As they struggled I could see why cops have straps on their holsters. Mr Robber could not get the gun out. More cops arrived, there was a short stuggle of which I could hear more than see and then it went quiet as the action moved outside the building.

I just lay there not really knowing what the outcome was. Did the Cops prevail? Was Mr Robber holding them all at gunpoint outside? I had no idea, so I just stayed put. The door opened and I couldn' t resist having a look. As I started to raise myself to look over the counter a cop ran around and slapped the cuffs on me!

Hold on, I'm the victim here!” I shouted.

He got me to my feet and explained that they thought I might be an accomplice. I explained about the shirt. They took the cuffs off. I went outside where the Bulls had roughed up Mr Robber a bit and handcuffed him. Eventually, they stuffed him in a squad car and disappeared. I drove home with an exciting story to tell the OM and Mom. I remember worrying that Mr Robber might know where I lived and come to the house intent on doing harm.

A few week late I attended the Raytown Police HQ to try and get my wallet and five bucks back. No such luck. They said they were holding it as evidence for Mr Robber's trial. I never saw it again.

The odd thing was the Southland Corp insisted that I take a lie detector test, said it was standard procedure. They wanted to make sure I wasn't in cahoots with the bad guy. As if!

My career in retail was just about over. My sister Ruthanne and her husband (remember the milk truck accident?) were working at Western Electric in Lee's Summit and somehow wangled me a job interview. I left 7-Eleven and became a floor hand in the Western Electric factory.