A Rookie On Ice

I was 18 and working at Howard Motors, a Chevrolet/Buick dealership in Augusta, Kansas. It was winter and we had been having some lousy weather. It snowed and then the next day it warmed up enough to thaw a little. Then, that night, the water standing in the streets and roads re-froze and a little bit of snow fell and covered it. This resulted in roads so icy and slick you could barely walk or drive on them.

I had been told the night before that the next day, I would be delivering a brand new 1 ½ ton Chevrolet truck to Great Bend, Kansas, about 130 miles away and bringing back the trade-in. The trade-in was at a dealership in Great Bend and the dealer had already removed the livestock bed from the truck. That meant that neither truck I would be driving had a bed mounted on it so therefore there would be no weight on the rear wheels.

I got to work early and got my instructions and by 8:00 AM was heading out on an adventure. I had never been to Great Bend, had never driven so far, and had certainly never driven a truck that far. I was having an exciting time before I hit the city limit. Touch the brakes and the rear end slid out from under you because there was no weight to hold it down. Try to accelerate and the same thing happened. At that time there was no 55 MPH speed limit on the highway but it didn’t make any difference because I couldn’t get over 20 MPH and neither could anyone else who was on the road. Going west from Augusta to Wichita I never got over 20 miles an hour. When I got to Wichita and took Highway 81 North, it was the same story. I kept hoping it would warm up a little and the roads would thaw. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get home until midnight.

I finally got to Newton and stopped for some pie and coffee. I figured I could kill 15 or 20 minutes there and give the weather a little more time to warm up. I got back on the road and headed west out of Newton. After a few minutes, I was tickled to see patches of road that were free of ice. I was actually able to get up to 50 and 55 miles an hour for short periods of time but had to be careful of bridges because they were always shady and covered with ice. This was nice country with farm towns every few miles. Probably most of the farmers through there were Mennonites as they had settled the area many years before.

I finally got to Great Bend. As I recall, it was called “Great Bend” because it was located on a great bend of the Arkansas River. That’s not pronounced “Arkensaw” like the state. It’s pronounced “R Kansas River”.

I got the paper work taken care of and they showed me the old trade-in I would be driving home. It was a pretty well beat up old 1 1/2 ton with slick tires. They told me the engine had a knock in it and it was burning lots of oil. They also told me to stop and check the oil frequently and they put 4 quarts of oil up in the cab with me. I lit out for home and drove as smoothly as I could. I didn’t rev the engine or let it load up at all. I got it up to 50 miles an hour and held it steady. I watched my gauges and stopped and checked the oil often and was getting on down the road. I got to one of those little farm towns west of Newton, and the engine threw a rod! I pulled off onto the shoulder and looked under the hood. Sure enough, the party was over.

I could see a country store up ahead so I hiked on up there. The people that owned the place were real nice and let me use their phone for a long distance call. I called Kenny Markley, the Service Manager at the garage and my boss, and told him what had happened and where I was. Kenny said it was getting late so he had called the Truck Manager at the dealership in Great Bend and after hearing about the truck was surprised that I had made it that far. He told me to sit tight and he would get in the wrecker and come up and get me.

I hung out at that country store and visited with those nice people until Kenny showed up. We hooked up the old truck to the wrecker and took off for home. It was getting late so we stopped in Newton and Kenny bought me supper. It was a big day and I experienced a lot and learned a lot.


Dave Thomas
December 7, 2014

Aircraft Spotter Cards


aircraft spotter cards 1

I was five years old, a Kindergarten student, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Naturally, at that age, I had no idea what that meant. As the days, weeks, and months went past, young and old received lessons every day in the meaning of war and the obscene way the young men of our town were called up and then sometimes returned home in caskets to their broken-hearted parents and friends and neighbors. We all learned about the rationing of food and gasoline and bubble gum and about War Bonds and rallies and restrictions of many kinds. As the men went off to war, the women took their places in the factories, war plants, and farms and churned out the goods we needed to support our servicemen and our country.

We all wanted to contribute to the war effort in any way we could and one of the most interesting ways for a kid to do that was to watch out for enemy aircraft. This may sound strange, considering that we lived in Kansas which is located right in the middle of our country. The Japanese flew in and bombed Pearl Harbor and the Germans were shooting rockets and buzz bombs at England so we didn’t know what they would be capable of doing next. Our enemies could possibly build secret air bases in Mexico or Canada or could launch carrier strikes from the Atlantic or Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico. We all had black curtains temporarily installed over each window in the house so that when the Civil Defense people conducted black-out drills as part of practice air raid drills we could take cover in our homes and be sure that no lights would give away the location of our town.

We kids were all excited about learning to identify all the aircraft in the skies so that we could sound the alarm in case of attack. The greatest aid in this endeavor was the pack of Aircraft Spotter Cards which were manufactured by the people who make Bicycle Playing Cards. These cards could be used as playing cards but their other purpose, and most important to our point of view, was to help identify the military aircraft of friend and foe. We learned to identify the P-40, the P-38 Lightning, the B-25, and the P-51 Mustang as well as the Jap Zero and the German Messerschmitt. It was comforting as well as fun to know these airplanes. As I said, we lived in Kansas but we were only 15 miles from Wichita, the location of an air base and the Boeing, Cessna, and Beech aircraft plants. For all we knew the enemy was liable to make a bombing run on those places at any time. We didn’t go around wringing our hands and crying out of fear but our resolve to be alert and prepared was great.

Dave Thomas
November 27, 2008

aircraft spotter cards 5                                                        aircraft spotter cards 4
aircraft spotter cards 2




Quarry Story 3

Technically speaking, this is not a quarry story but since it took place on the road to the quarry I figured that’s close enough.

Have you ever ridden on an Army tank? Well, I did once, and that’s what this story is about. Pay close attention, learn, and then don’t ever do anything like it.

It was spring and we had been having our share of rain. The rivers were up and had overflowed their banks earlier in the week. The Walnut River, just south of town, was slowly returning to it’s normal size and we decided to check it out. I was 13 or so and my friend, Jack, was 15. You can get your driver’s license when you are 14 so Jack had gotten himself a job at a neighborhood grocery store, saved his money, and bought himself a 1935 Chevrolet. We headed for the river. It wasn’t much of a trip. From the edge of town, at what I remember was 4th Street, you crossed the Santa Fe railroad tracks and wandered down a country road for about a quarter mile to the steel bridge that crossed the Walnut River. It was one of those fine-looking steel bridges that looked like it had been made from a giant Erector Set.

The gravel road was still a little wet and muddy but we got to the bridge, crossed it, and continued along. About 100 yards south of the bridge was a place you could pull off the road and follow the tracks worn by many other cars to get closer to the river. At this point, the river bank was normally 5 or 6 feet above the river. It was a good place to fish from and we were told by older guys that it also served as a lover’s lane. We decided to check the river so Jack pulled off onto this track that paralleled the road and stopped and we got out. We looked at the river and messed around and finally got back in the car. Jack tried to drive off but the wheels started spinning. He was a good driver but couldn’t overcome the wet grass and mud and the fact that the ground sloped toward the river. I got out and tried to push but it didn’t do any good. We decided to walk back to town and call Jack’s Dad for help.

We got back to town and crossed the tracks and the first building in view at that time was the National Guard Armory. We decided to go in there and use the phone. The National Guard guy that took care of the Armory and answered the phone and did all the chores was a friend of ours named Billy Joe Davis. Billy Joe liked baseball and we had both played catch with him and hit a lot of fly balls and grounders with him. We told Billy Joe our story and asked to use the phone. Billy Joe said there wasn’t any point in making the call and upsetting Jack’s Dad because he’d be happy to pull us out. He said we should go out in the street and wait while he locked up and we could close the gate behind him when he came out. After a few minutes we heard an engine revving up and here comes Billy Joe driving a National Guard tank and yelling at us to shut the gate and climb on. We scrambled up onto the thing and Billy took off across the tracks. It just took a few minutes to get to the bridge and as we approached it, Jack and I looked at each other. Billy Joe may have crossed the bridge many times in a tank but it scared the devil out of us. That bridge looked pretty flimsy compared to this big chunk of iron we were riding on. Billy didn’t even slow down. He rolled over that bridge like it was him and Patton crossing the Rhine.

The rest of it was kind of anti-climatic. It just took a couple of minutes to get to the car. Billy Joe had brought a chain and he hooked up to Jack’s car and pulled us out. We thanked him and waved good-bye and headed back to town. I don’t even want to think of the possible consequences of “borrowing” a tank or running it off into the river. If you’ll excuse me I’ll just say “tanks for the memory”.

Dave Thomas
October 24, 2013


Holy Molar!

Our son, Doug, was having trouble with a wisdom tooth. An out-patient appointment was scheduled with an Oral Surgeon. Doug was in his late teens but since we knew they would have to knock him out, his Mother, Pat, drove him in. The surgery went well but Doug is a big guy and they had to give him a pretty hefty dose of the anesthetic. On the way home, he was awake but was kind of goofy.

They got home okay and Pat needed to go to the grocery store. She told our daughter, Terri, that Doug was still “out of it” and she should keep an eye on him so he wouldn’t hurt himself or try to go anywhere.

Pat bought her groceries and when she got close to home she could see Terri sitting on the grass of the front yard and watching Doug. Doug’s little red, Ford Courier pickup was sitting out front and Doug was inside the cab. When Pat got out of the car she could see that Doug had removed the inner panels from both doors of the truck and was now working on the headliner. Doug’s eyes were still kind of glazed over as she asked him what he was doing. He told her it was a job that needed to be done so he thought he should get right on it. Pat told him to stop and then turned to Terri and asked her why she had let Doug do something crazy like that. Terri said, “Well, you said not to let him get hurt and I thought he would be okay with this.”

Dave Thomas
January 18, 2015


Bat Stuff

In 1974, we rented a 35 foot RV for our trip back to Kansas to visit our folks. Russ and Doug would be 16 in the fall and we figured this might be our last chance for a big family vacation trip. Terri was going to be 13 so she was old enough to share the grown-up attractions along the way and enjoy the trip also. So that Terri would have a buddy to share things with, we invited Susan Trivett as she and Terri were good friends of the same age.

The boys were typical teenagers, rebellious, and not about to admit that they might be enjoying something. Also, this was that sad time in history when all boys thought they should have long hair hanging down to their shoulders. I hated it but at the same time was proud that they took care of their hair and kept it clean.

We took the southern route and made it all the way to Las Cruces, NM the first night. The next morning we got up and headed for Carlsbad Caverns. At the Caverns, we took the tour and all enjoyed the spectacular sights. The boys were in their teenage mode and complaining about everything though we were pretty sure that they were paying strict attention to the tour guide and taking it all in. We enjoyed visiting the different chambers and hearing the stories of the guide. We were all fascinated when we heard about the number of bats living in the cave and about the thousands of tons of bat guano that had been deposited on the floors.

We reached the end of the tour and headed back outside. The boys, though absorbing the wealth of information dispensed by the tour guide, had complained non-stop. Russ had been particularly bad about it, so Pat, in an effort to lighten things up, (and maybe get back at him a little) told Russ that it looked like he had some of that bat guano in his hair. Susan chimed in and said she saw it, too. The rest of us jumped in and started pointing and laughing and Russ was completely mortified. He ran to the nearest restroom, wetted some towels and started scrubbing his hair. I don’t remember how long he worked at it but it was some time before he realized it was all a joke. Always a good sport, his face turned red but he was able to laugh a little. We had a great trip and shared a lot of sights and Pat and I believe that the kids will have nothing but good memories of the trip.

Dave Thomas
February 21, 2015


Old Mrs. Coates

It was about 8:00 AM on one of those joyous summer mornings with the sun shining and heavy dew glistening on the leaves and grass. I had just finished my third grade year and was thankful to be free. I was on the way to visit my Great-grandma Minnie, who lived several blocks from us. It was always a special treat to be invited to breakfast with Grandma Minnie because she always fixed me her special bread pudding with raisins in it.

As I got closer to Grandma’s I could see that her across-the-street neighbor, old Mrs. Coates, was out on her front porch enjoying her morning tea. I yelled, “Good morning, Mrs. Coates!” She yelled back, “Good morning, David, how are you this morning?” (I should explain that Mrs. Coates had a voice that was loud and clear and you could hear her clear to the end of the block.) I responded “I’m OK, how are you?” She bellows back, “Well, David, I had a wonderful bowel movement this morning so I know it will be a great day!” This was more information than a little kid could handle and I felt my face turning red as I ran for Grandma’s door and a chance to get out of sight.

Dave Thomas
March 31, 2012


Here’s Another One!

Thinking about it, our family has a lot of stories that involve birds and animals. Well, here’s another one.

One of the most interesting and enjoyable experiences I have ever had is the ride on the Palm Springs Tramway from the desert floor and up toward the peak of Mt. San Jacinto (haw-sin-toe). The peak, itself is at 10,834 feet. The tramway starts at Valley Station at an elevation of 2,643 ft. and rises to the Mountain Station at 8,516 ft. That’s an increase of 6,000 feet, over a mile, and the ride is actually longer than that because you are riding the hypotenuse of the triangle.

Tram 1

Valley Station

The city of Palm Springs is in the desert and the temperature can easily be 115 degrees in summer. Imagine how good it feels to ride to Mountain Station where you may need a jacket. The temperature difference is usually about 40 degrees. 

Tram 2

The tramcars have windows all the way around for maximum viewing. Pat has ridden the tram 3 times and I have ridden it twice. At the time of our rides, the cars didn’t rotate so we had to move from one side of the car to the other to get a good look at both sides of the canyon. In the year 2000, the new tramcars were installed that slowly rotate 360 degrees and make 2 complete revolutions as you go from the Valley Station to Mountain Station.

Tram 3

In 1967, the first episode of the TV detective show, “Mannix” was shot on the tram and featured some wild scenes on top of the tramcars. (The star of the show, Mike Connors, is a distant relative of our son-in-law, Steve.) Pat and I enjoyed this show and also saw an episode of the TV show, “I Spy” that was shot on the tram. The stuntmen on both shows performed some harrowing stunts.

At Mountain Station there us a large lodge with a restaurant, gift shop, and viewing decks. There is a good selection of souvenirs and post cards in the gift shop in case your own pictures didn’t turn out well. Of course, the brisk mountain air will make you hungry and you’ll need to visit the restaurant for a meal or at least, a hot cup of coffee. The observation deck has telescopes mounted in a number of places and as you look around at this wild, mountain country you will further appreciate the amazing amount of planning and work that went into the building of the tramway.

Tram 4a

The first tower was the only one that could be reached by a road. The materials and workmen to build the rest of the towers were brought in by helicopter. All together, helicopters made 23,000 trips before the tram was completed.

Our daughter, Terri, and her husband, Steve, were taking the kids to Palm Springs for the weekend and invited Pat and I to go along. It sounded like fun to us. Grand-daughter, Christie, was nearly four and grandson, David, was a cute little infant. We enjoyed the ride over as Palm Springs is less than two hours from San Diego and we were looking forward to riding the Palm Springs Tramway.

We got to the Valley Station and Terri decided that she and David would stay at the bottom while the rest of us took the trip. We were mainly interested in the spectacular ride and didn’t plan to be gone long.

Tram 5

The ride to the top was just as extraordinary as it was touted to be. The height, the rugged cliffs, the changing micro-climate zones, the amazing construction of the thing, and the views, added up to an incomparable 10 or 12 minutes. We looked around Mountain Station to see what it was like. Steve read some signs about a hiking trail that went on up the mountain. Farther up, there were even camp sites where you could spend the night. Steve said he wanted to take a look at the hiking trail, thinking that he and Terri might want to return sometime for a hike. We all headed outside to enjoy the amazing view. We found the trail head and probably walked half a city block. The area was populated with pine trees, bushes, boulders, and big flat rocks. Steve found some signs telling about hiking trails and camp sites and was intent on reading them. Christie asked her Dad if she could climb on the big rocks next to the trail and he told her to go ahead but to be careful. She crawled up on one of the big flat rocks that was part of a pile and sat down. I got involved with the view and was busy taking it all in when I heard Pat saying Steve’s name. Steve and I turned toward her about the same time and she immediately pointed toward Christie. We looked and saw Christie sitting on her rock and just behind her was a big bobcat! Steve stayed cool and climbed part way to Christie and told her that there were some neat little animals near the base of the rock and she should slowly and quietly come to him so he could lift her off the rock so she could see them. Christie did as she was told and when she got close enough, Steve grabbed her. The bobcat faded back into the brush and a Dad and two grandparents breathed a sigh of relief. That being enough excitement for one day, we headed back to the tram so we could go down and join up with Terri and David. It was a memorable excursion from start to finish.

Dave Thomas
April 3, 2015



Terri and Alex

The boys, Russ and Doug, were six years old, so they were in school. Terri, only three at the time, was hanging out with her Mom as they waited for a plumber to show up. Pat had errands to run so she and Terri both were wearing their “go to town” clothes. Terri was wearing her favorite red, plaid dress.

After lunch, the plumber that Pat had called showed up and got busy. Terri was playing with Alex, the dog, while Pat kept an eye on the plumber and watched his progress. After the plumber finished his job and packed up and left, Pat realized that she didn’t hear Terri out on the patio. She went back in the house and went from room to room calling Terri’s name. That didn’t get a response so she went back to the yard and started searching. Terri wasn’t in the yard and Pat began to get anxious. She thought Terri might have gone to play with her friend, Susan, who lived on the corner but Susan and her Mom hadn’t seen Terri that day. Pat was beginning to panic and hurriedly ran from door to door, checking with other neighbors. No one had seen Terri.

We lived in a rural area just outside the city limits. Police work was shared by the Sheriff and the California Highway Patrol with the CHP being more available as they had an office near our home. Pat called the CHP and reported Terri missing and then called me at work. My job was half an hour from home so I jumped in the car and took off as fast as I could go.

When I finally arrived at the house Pat and some of the neighbors were out in the front yard. Pat filled me in on what had been done and what was taking place at the time. Some of our neighbors were checking the neighborhood and the Highway Patrol was searching a little further out. Terri was a self-disciplined little girl and never left the yard without permission. We couldn’t imagine her just taking off so were scared to death that someone had taken her.

As we talked we were scanning the area. Behind our house was a steep hill running up to the east. The hill was terraced and had been a vineyard or an orchard before being abandoned many years ago. After you crested the hill there was a canyon (now Interstate 8) and then you could pick up a dirt service road that went uphill into the foothills. This area was hundreds or maybe thousands of acres in size. At the top of one of the hills was a giant boulder that could be seen for some distance. This boulder gave the place its name of “Big Rock”.

As we glanced around, Pat suddenly spotted a patch of red with something brown beside it moving down the hill toward us. She realized then that being so worried about Terri, she hadn’t been aware that Alex was missing, too! As they got closer, we could see that it was indeed Terri and Alex. I took off up the hill to meet them. As I got up to them and made sure they were both okay, I asked Terri where they had been. She told me in a matter-of-fact way that Alex wanted to go for a walk so she went with him. There I was, heart pounding, adrenaline pumping, and ready for action! But, there was no action to be taken. Terri was a very good girl and never did anything wrong on purpose so for me to go crazy would have been the wrong thing to do. When we got down to the house, I explained what had happened to Pat and she and I thanked everyone for their help and concern. Then, we went in the house and explained to Terri (and Alex) that we don’t just wander off without permission.


Dave Thomas
September 6, 2014


The Two-headed Snake

Leland and the 2-Headed Snake

I believe it was in the spring of 1950, our 8th grade year, that our classmate, Leland Collins, brought a two-headed rattlesnake to school. He had caught it over the weekend and brought it to school so we could all see it. I’m not sure who was most fascinated by it, the teachers or us kids.

It was a young snake, between 6 and 9 inches long, as I recall. Both heads were perfectly formed with bright eyes and those tongues that dart in and out. Leland and his snake were the center of attention for several days as he carried it around town and showed it off. There was a write-up in our local newspaper, the Augusta Daily Gazette,  and one of the large city papers in Wichita even carried the story with a picture of the snake. I don’t remember exactly, but I think Leland ended up donating the snake to the Wichita Zoo.

Dave Thomas
October 27, 2013


Life Is Hard

Model T

My great grandma, Minnie Peebler, lived at 1120 School Street. Next door, on the south, lived Joe and Rosella Pimlott. Joe was a nice old guy but he didn’t say much or move around too much. Rosella was a stout, grandmotherly type lady. She was a seamstress and a good one. She always had work stacked up. I knew them because they were Grandma Minnie’s friends and because my Mom sometimes had Rosella make things for us. Mom made me a lot of nice looking shirts out of feed sacks but some projects she deemed to be more suited for Rosella.

Joe had a Model T, black in color (of course) and it looked to be in perfect condition though the paint had faded a little. I’d see Joe, now and then, driving the Model T to the store or wherever he had to go. Joe kept the Model T in his garage which was out in back of the house like most of the older places. You entered the garage from the alley.

When we were little kids, Mom always made my sister and I go with her to Mrs. Pimlott’s house. Mrs. Pimlott was perceptive enough to know that I wouldn’t be too interested in dresses and that kind of stuff and would tell me to go on out and check out the back yard and the garage while I was waiting. Joe had tools and all kinds of stuff hanging on the walls so I could entertain myself for quite a while. I could even get up in the seat of the Model T and pretend to drive.

Time passed and then Joe Pimlott passed as well. Meantime I’ve turned thirteen and have started thinking about cars. In Kansas you could take Driver’s Education when you were thirteen and then get a restricted driver’s license when you were fourteen. The year was 1950 and cars were getting more expensive with V-8 engines and all that other stuff. I knew I wouldn’t have much money so I started thinking about old Joe Pimlott’s Model T Ford hidden away in that garage on the alley. Mrs. Pimlott liked me so I could probably get it for a good price. Model T’s were supposed to be easy to drive and easy to fix and practically indestructible. I knew that this was the car for me and now I had a plan. I would save my money and keep a secret that there was a perfectly good 2

Life IS Hard (cont.)

Model T stashed in Mrs. Pimlott’s garage. The weeks rolled by and I was taking Driver’s Ed. And whenever I went up to visit Grandma Minnie I would slip over and look through the crack between the doors to see if “my” Model T was still there. Everything was fine until one day when I was riding my bike down the street and here comes this Model T driven by Ross Larcom, a kid 2 years older than me. “Hi Ross””, I yells, “Where’d you get your car?” He yells back “I got it from Mrs. PimLott for 15 dollars!”

I was wiped out!

Dave Thomas
January 2, 2014