When I was a kid – growing up in Roy, Washington, the things we did for fun were limited not by batteries, but by our imagination. Electronics like video games and the like were simply not a part of the definition of fun.
Gasoline, heavy metal, and explosives were – but I’m getting ahead of myself…
It’s one of those things you talk about to your kids when you’re a grown up, you know, the “Back when I was a kid…” kinds of things –
One of the things I’d do often was ride the bike I used on my paper route out onto Fort Lewis, over by Chambers Lake, and just explore. One of my customers was also a friend. He had this late ‘60’s blue iron monster of a car. No idea what the make was, and it had no distinguishing characteristics other than the following:
- It was blue.
- It had 4 doors.
- It had a V-8 engine.
- It had a suspension that rivaled the stiffness of the Sta-Puf Marshmallow® man.
Now there were two types of roads on Fort Lewis:
- The kind that had been surveyed, graded, paved, and marked by professionals, and had speed limit signs to keep you on the straight and narrow, so to speak….
- The kind that were unsurveyed, ungraded, unpaved, and were made by a teenager driving an M-60 tank. They most definitely didn’t have speed limit signs, because the roads were so rough that a sane person didn’t need them.
Now, sanity aside, guess which ones were the most fun to drive on?
…and guess whose car was just a touch inadequate to use on said roads?
Yup – My buddy Mike’s car with its Marshmallow Suspension just didn’t do too well out there … In fact – there was this one place where – well, the road wasn’t even a road… See, the water going out of Chambers Lake goes into what’s called Muck Creek… And just as it does – it goes under one of the paved roads. The thing about this road and the bridge is neither of them were stressed for 60 ton M-60 tanks to drive across – so the Army had put this ford in beside the bridge for the tanks to cross the creek on. Understand, this isn’t a ford as in Ford car – but ford as in “shallow spot in the stream” – they’d put huge blocks of concrete down so you could drive across/through the creek to get to the other side without sinking in.
That is, if you were driving a tank.
Now somehow, Mike and I had decided, in that synergistic stupidity that only happens when young males make decisions together, in which the decisions made by a group of young males are far, far superior in both the quality and quantity of their stupidity than any one young male could possibly achieve on his own, that his car would be an absolutely optimal piece of equipment to get stuc – er – to drive through said creek, across the ford and up the other side. The fact that a perfectly good bridge was right there was completely irrelevant. Oh – I didn’t mention the fact that the banks of the creek at that point were actually rather steep, the rocks in that area were all round – like ball bearings, and scraping the bottom of the car on those rocks as you went down was to be expected.
That is, if you weren’t driving a tank.
So, Mike driving, we slowly coaxed the car down until water was washing over the tires – and then started up the other side – at which point things started scraping again and those old tires really didn’t work too well. Now, being guys, the mentality there was simple: If a little power wasn’t getting us up the other side of the creek, well, more power would be better.
Mike’s old, smooth tires on the smooth, wet rocks of the creek bank simply didn’t offer any traction, and try as he might, all that hitting the gas did was dry off the rocks as the tires started steaming the creek water off them.
While we were trying to figure our way out of this conundrum, lo and behold a couple of guys showed up… in a tricked out 1954 GMC suburban… (by ‘tricked out’ I mean it actually still had functional paint and had mag wheels. Think about what kind of surface mag wheels are good for – if “round wet rocks” isn’t at the top of your list, you’re on the right track…)
So these guys figured they were going to be our heroes and save the day…
They backed their suburban down the bank in front of the Marshmallow Mobile®, tied a rope to it, hit the gas, and promptly got stuck up to their axles.
So – big picture here – the Marshmallow Mobile® is in the middle of the creek. A rope’s tying it to the Suburban on the bank. Both of them hitting the gas only gets them up as far as – well, both of them getting stuck a little further up the bank.
Wait – it gets better…
Lots of testosterone fueled pondering ensued – which was interrupted by a third vehicle driving by, seeing the commotion, and the driver realizing that he, being far more manly than these poor, wretched peasants stuck in the creek, would be far better able to get us out than we were…
Little did he know…
To be honest, I don’t remember the kind of car that that one was – all I remember is standing on the bridge, looking down at three vehicles, all tied together, with their 3 V-8 engines putting out several hundred horsepower, and the only achievement was that the gas was being turned into smoke and steam from the tires on the wet rocks.
After a few minutes of this I realized that clearly the thing that was missing wasn’t power, it was traction. So I walked over to my Grampa’s farm (my options being rather limited since all available vehicles were busy either farting exhaust bubbles into the creek or redistributing the gravel on the bank) to see if I could borrow one of his tractors to help pull the folks (and my buddy Mike and his Marshmallow-Mobile®) out.
Grampa wasn’t there – in fact, nobody was, so in my (ahem) Infinite Teenage Wisdom ®, I figured forgiveness would be far easier to obtain than permission, so I ‘borrowed’ one. This was an old Ford Tractor that had a transmission with 12 speeds forward and 3 in reverse. First, as you might imagine, was pretty low.
When I got back to the bridge – all the cars were tied together right where I’d left them, just like the children’s story, the “Little Engine that Could” – only with three stuck locomotives and no caboose. I looped a chain from the back of the tractor to frame of the car in the front, put the tractor in first, and, with 3 V-8 engines roaring plus a little 34 horsepower tractor chugging – everyone doing the delicate gas pedal dance of hitting the gas hard enough to try to move, but not enough to run into the person in front of them (it was a bit of a challenge), our little choo-choo-train of cars made it out of the creek.
We untied the ropes, unhooked the chains, and went our separate ways. I took the tractor back to Grampa’s and put it back in EXACTLY the same spot it had been in (still nobody home).
And… I never volunteered to ride in the Marshmallow Mobile® again.
Come to think of it, I don’t think I was ever asked to.
Moral to the story?
Heck, when I started writing, I was just writing for fun, and I didn’t think there would be one – but I guess there is one, and that’s this:
Raw power will not always get you out of the trouble that gravity can get you into. Sometimes it’s the steady application of a very small amount of power in exactly the right place that will do the trick, rather than hundreds of snorting, whinnying, or roaring horses applied in the wrong place or the wrong way.