Thursday, 25 December 2014

OUR WONDERFUL CUSTOMERS Part II


SNOWBIRD STEVE


First of all, one must be kind to the snowbirds. After all, for the majority of the year, they are home, working the farm or other businesses, and then, when harvest is done, they start making their plans to fly south for the winter. JC could never blame them. In later years he has even opted to work toward similar goals. Places like Mesa, AZ, or Needles, CA, where the winter weather is favorable, and there is a car show every weekend, has a lot more appeal than shoveling snow and scraping ice off the windshield just to be able to get to work. Back in the day, JC envied snowbirds to some extent, although there were times he locked horns with them.

The trouble with snowbirds is that, when they close the door to the machine shed, all thoughts of what might need to be done to the tractor (or truck) to have it ready for the spring season seem to vanish--out of sight; out of mind, so to speak. So many repair shops in the country are all but devoid of work during the winter while hundreds of hours of potential revenue are languishing in the sheds on the farms in the region. Spring comes around, the equipment comes out and then, when it's needed the most, the grim reality of what should've been done during the off-season sets in. And the tractor, truck, or whatever is rushed to the shop, only to find a lineup of broken-down equipment ahead of them.

A television ad from fifty years ago comes to mind: Why wait for spring; do it now...

Well, Steve (his real name was Howard but that doesn't matter right now) and his wife had spent yet another glorious winter in Mesa, taking in that wonderful desert air; going to the massive market; eating pizza at the Organ Stop; square dancing (they weren't into collectible cars so BJ's auction was out), and just taking in the winter months with easy strides. Of course all good things must come to an end and come spring, it was back to the real world. And so, farming had begun for the year and Steve was busy getting tractors ready, and trying to motivate a couple of unmotivated boys who had spent the winter at the home Forty, doing very little other than party throughout the winter. The tractors and equipment were pressed back into service and it wasn't long before the memories from last season came flooding back.

The big four-wheel-drive tractor's clutch resumed slipping until it would barely pull itself downhill with a tailwind. The smaller tractor resumed its rhythmatic clunk-clunk-CRUNCH, clunk-clunk-CRUNCH, emanating from the depths of the front driving axle. To make a long story shorter, both tractors were soon lined up at the shop awaiting their turn to get repaired.

Now, I might add right here that Steve was also one of the original shareholders in the shop where JC worked--there were ten originally but when one shareholder bought the business from the others, it was under the condition that he alone called the shots. No longer real participants in the daily operations of the business, all the founding shareholders still had privileges of buying their cars, trucks, and farm equipment at cost. And they all expected a little bit of priority when they needed work done.

Seeing that he was about to get put off for the better part of a week, Steve went to JC and told him the situation. JC told him the truth: Steve was likely a week away before repairs to his tractors could even begin. Steve countered with a typical story where he absolutely had to have his tractors running because he had fertilizer coming; he had seeding to do; I'm sure that if it would've done any good, he'd have told him that his wife needed to get to the hairdresser and he couldn't take her because his tractors were broken.

JC apologized and told him that he already had everyone in the service department spoken for and even had some work going on outside because they couldn't fit it all inside the shop. That didn't sit very well with Steve; there might be other ways to influence whose machine came into the shop next.

JC was in the shop attempting to stem the tide of small jobs by spending time at the bench repairing starters, alternators, hydraulic control valves, fuel injectors and whatever else needed to be done; that also kept the rest of the crew working on the larger jobs. Evenings would find him in his office closing out work orders, writing up warranty claims and generally handling the administrative duties of a service manager. It was a demanding time of the year and he was doing his best to stay on top of things. What he didn't need was interference.

JC saw Steve and GL coming through the shop and heading his direction. Actually he wasn't surprised because many customers, thinking that they could gain extra consideration, made it a habit to talk to the boss, maybe even cry on his shoulder: my family is starving; my kids need new shoes; I can't afford to replace my three year old RV so I'll have to suffer through another winter in Arizona with my old one; my wife has to get to the hairdresser...

'Why can't you get Steve's tractors in the shop?' GL demanded, not caring that he had butted in ahead of two other customers.

'Because we're backed up solid,' JC said a trifle irritably. 'I've already got things double-booked.'

GL took a look around the shop. 'We're gonna have to bump somebody!' he said in a commanding voice. He pointed to a tractor in an adjacent bay that appeared to be mostly together. 'What about this one?'

JC quickly apologized to the customer he was waiting on and went over to deal with the boss. 'Jimmy's tractor? The water pump had young ones and the fan went through the radiator. Rob's pulling it out as we speak.'

'What about this one?'

'Matt's? Final drive is out. Tell you what, why don't you pick any one of those tractors that are in here. I'll get the customer on the phone and YOU can tell them why Steve deserves priority over them. Maybe we can get Steve on the phone with you and you both can tell them why they've got to be sidelined.'

JC didn't give GL a chance to counter. Patience completely worn through, he pressed his attack:

'All winter you've threatened to lay everyone off because there's no work in the shop, and I've been begging you to keep everyone on, just to keep control of things when spring work started.' He gestured around the crowded shop. 'Tractors and trucks have been locked in sheds all over the country; they've all had problems but we couldn't get in touch with anyone, or there's been a massive pile of grain in front making it impossible to get the machine out! Whatever the reason, we had an empty shop all winter and now I've got guys working overtime to get everything fixed up!

'I can't help it if Steve is down in Arizona basking in the sun while his kids are partying up a storm up here all winter. Last fall Steve mentioned that he should get his tractors in for some work but then he was off to Arizona. I spent half the winter trying to round up someone on the phone so we could go out and pick the tractors up, but I failed to do that. Consequently I had to put up with threats of layoffs and closing the shop down!'

JC turned and headed back to the workbench. GL called after him: 'We've got to do something to help Steve out--.' Steve, realizing that JC was right, grabbed GL's arm and pulled him away. 'No, GL, JC is absolutely right; it's entirely my fault and I'll have to wait. It will never happen again. Steve continued to steer GL away and they both left the shop.

Three days later, JC succeeded in getting the larger of Steve's tractors into the shop and make the necessary repairs which took an additional couple of days. Steve went home and raised supreme hell with his two boys, one of whom called it quits and now works at a tire shop in the city. The other one took his lumps and is still on the farm, the sole operator of that establishment to this day. Steve no longer has to worry about the problems that life has to offer as the Big C took over a couple of years later; he is now off to his eternal reward.

And putting off repairing broken machinery on Steve's farm during the winter has never happened again.



BROKEN TAILLIGHTS


There's always someone who is trying to get something for nothing. Often times he (or she) is moderately successful and that only gives him the confidence to try it again. Each continued success gets them in a little deeper until they get mired down in their games of deceit, and eventually has them convinced that they are in the right. It's too bad because all too often it lands them in a great deal of hot water. If that doesn't happen, having someone confront them with their devious plot often provokes a heated argument. The upside of this is that the perpetrator realizes that not everyone is about to fall for their fraudulent acts.

For some reason attempts at fraud seem to happen quite frequently in a service department. Maybe it's just because of so many staggering repair orders. My good friend Kurt, who worked in a shop out in New England, told me how he was accused of ruining a customer's radio while performing a brake job (could no longer tune into his favorite radio station). My other friend, Ernie, who worked in a shop on the west coast told me that he was accused of substituting an entire engine while performing a tuneup--the police were even summoned for that one. I might add that some of those investigative programs on television, showing how fraudulent repair shops can get, tend to go viral and have everyone in the world thinking that all mechanics are crooked. The best way to counter such claims is for the service department to be accommodating and honest. But also to stick to its guns when a customer isn't willing to hold up his end of the bargain.

We met Elmer a few stories ago when he took his relatively new 3/4 ton pickup ice fishing. As a second truck, he had a one ton pickup that was probably fifteen years (or so) old at the time. It had once belonged to the power company and therefore got used a lot during its tenure there. Elmer had purchased the truck at a dispersion of surplus vehicles and was content to use the truck around the farm as a fuel truck/service truck. As such it was more subject to neglect than anything else; it didn't get all that many miles in a year so routine maintenance kind of got forgotten until something went wrong.

Springtime and a busy time of year for any farmer. Crops had to be sown in order to have a good chance of growing and maturing so that harvest could be accomplished and a living derived. Elmer was as busy as any other farmer, working long hours and trying to beat the calendar, not to mention the weather. One day he was heading to the field with the old tried and true one-ton when suddenly there was a clunk, followed by an ear-splitting screech from somewhere in the engine compartment. Seeing steam come out from under the hood, accompanied by the smell of antifreeze and Elmer pretty much knew what was wrong.

JC watched as the older truck was being towed to the shop by the newer, super clean, farm truck. It was dropped off at the shop entrance where JC helped the guys push it inside. It didn't take long to determine that the water pump bearings had seized necessitating replacement of the pump itself. The fan belts had suffered severe damage and would've been replaced anyways because they were cracked and frayed from normal use over the years. In fact, the radiator hoses, heater hoses and the thermostat were replaced because of age and if they failed, it could cause further damage. Of course JC knew Elmer well enough to know that if anything else failed he'd try to hook the shop for damages. JC also ensured that the antifreeze/coolant was replaced because it was likely the same age as the truck itself.

Well, the repairs were completed in less than half a day. Elmer was presented with a bill that he thought was completely outrageous and told JC so. Elmer also knew that he couldn't get a better job done elsewhere for that kind of money; he also knew JC well enough that attempting to argue with him would've been totally futile. He simply paid the bill and stormed out and back to the farm.

It was about three days later when JC was in his office finishing up some warranty claims when Elmer burst through the door. He held a crumpled yellow paper out to him. 'You guys wrecked my taillights and I got a damned ticket!'

JC took the ticket and examined it. Sure enough the ticket was issued the day after the truck had been in the shop. The truck had been pulled over on the road less than a mile from Elmer's farm and cited for non-functioning taillights. Fair enough but a question came to mind.

A typical truck is of the front engine/rear wheel drive variety and has been that way almost since the beginning when the tongue was pulled off a wagon and someone stuck an engine into the works. Now in Elmer's case, the engine was in front where it was supposed to be, and that's where the work was done. The taillights are way the heck and gone in the back; let's see, the bed of the truck is nine feet long; the distance from the back of the cab to the firewall is a good five feet and the engine is ahead of that. The work took place at the front of the engine--well they did replace the heater hoses, so the work actually went as far back as the firewall but that was still--fifteen feet from the taillights? The question still remained: How the hell would the work performed on the engine affect the taillights? No point in arguing, just get the truck back in the shop and find out what happened.

JC did just that. He also opted to be there himself, dismantling and checking; maybe he'd actually learn how something like the Process of Osmosis might have wrecked the taillights. He first noticed that the red plastic lens on the right hand taillight was broken and that the cavity was half filled with fine sand. He removed both lenses and blew everything out to have a closer look.

The bulb on the right side was broken, leaving a jagged shard of glass still attached to the brass base of the bulb. The socket was jammed, requiring a great deal of pushing and twisting to get the bulb free. The left side was almost as full of dirt as the right, probably due to a long failed gasket. The bulb itself wasn't in any better shape than the right except that the glass was intact. JC switched on the lights and was rewarded with two evenly matched headlight beams on the wall of the service bay. He tested the tail lamp sockets and found that there was no power. He had the mechanic step on the brakes and operate the turn signals, which resulted in no power in those contacts either.

JC laid down on a creeper and slid underneath to inspect the wiring. He was rewarded with an almost total lack of wire or harness from the bulk head on the firewall, along the frame and back to the taillight assemblies. The taillights had quit working years ago!

Of course JC confronted Elmer with that. Elmer predictably responded with a blast of profanity that would've made the average sailor blush (probably make the average teenage girl swoon but that's for another story). Suffice it to say that Elmer told JC that he was lying and was merely trying to get more money out of him. JC held his ground: 'Elmer, those lights haven't worked in years.'

'Those lights were working when I brought that truck in here for that damned, overpriced water pump!' JC kept his cool. 'Elmer, they weren't.'

'They were working the last time I checked them.' Elmer's story was (again, predictably) beginning to show some cracks.

'It was obviously a long time ago because they haven't worked for at least five years,' JC maintained.

'You calling me a liar?' That was always the final attempt from a customer trying to get something for nothing.

'Elmer--.' JC gazed at him, not in an accusing manner but just to show the customer that JC was in charge and wasn't about to cave in. The broken taillights were due to a total lack of maintenance on the part of the owner; nothing more, nothing less.

Elmer started to give in. 'Well, I guess they've got to be fixed, but I still think that something happened to them while it was in the shop.' These types never completely give in.

JC had the mechanic replace the entire rear harness and replace both sockets as well as lenses and gaskets. When they were through, the taillights worked, and so did the brake and turn signals. Even the backup lights worked.

Elmer grudgingly cut another check for the repairs then, shoulders slightly stooped, ambled out and drove his truck home.









 


Saturday, 6 December 2014

OUR WONDERFUL CUSTOMERS--Part I


Anyone who is involved in public service is going to encounter all kinds of people. Happily, most of the customers encountered in the service department of a dealership are relatively easy to deal with. In many cases customers evolve to become friends who are always welcome and often bring a special atmosphere to the shop. Of course there are others who about as welcome as a turd in a swimming pool; they are their own worst enemy and tend to drag everyone down with them. Unfortunately the service department hasn't got the ability to pick and choose whose unit the work on; they have to take on each on individually. But through the years, guys like JC have few regrets as to his choice of profession. He often said that the few undesirable customers just made him appreciate the desirable ones all the more. The following posts are part of a series in the collection of customers that JC had to deal with from time to time. All too often the personalities blend with others so there might be some similarities but still there's enough uniqueness to show what place they are in.



BILLY BIG RIG


Everyone in a service department has had at least one run-in with one of these. Billy is usually someone who has been put down most of his life so he surrounds himself with expensive toys, almost always drives a large diesel 4X4 that never gets used as a 4X4. He usually is height-challenged so he has some of that Small Man Syndrome (big mouth) and has had someone install (what I would call a masculinity enhancer although there are a lot more explicit terms) a lift kit to jack his truck up at least six inches. He's got a fairly good job, or at least very good credit; he desperately needs it because the wheels, tires, lift kit and performance chips will set him back in the neighborhood of ten grand. His truck owns him; not the other way around. When he drops his truck off to be left overnight for service the following morning, he's completely adamant that his truck be put inside.

There was a time when he might have driven a Class 8 truck around the block or into a service bay at a shop where he once worked, and since then he's become a full-fledged trucker. To this he'll talk trucks with anyone who will listen (and half of those who won't) and knows a lot more about them than anyone in the service department. He doesn't think he's got any power unless he sees black smoke pouring out of those exhaust pipes faster than the stacks of a Chinese factory. He usually has some moronic label across the rear window of the cab that says: 'Hybrid Exterminator' or something to that effect. And to prove it he floors the accelerator at every green light in an attempt to obliterate the vehicles behind him by engulfing them in a cloud of black smoke.

JC once talked about one particular Billy who wanted a Jake Brake installed in his Dodge/Cummins diesel truck. JC got out some information and tried to explain the two kinds of engine brakes that were available.

Now the term Jake Brake (Jacobs Engine Brake), over the years, has been loosely attached in the trucking industry. No doubt everyone who has been near a freeway, highway interchange, or truck stop has heard them deploy; they make quite a racket and have thus been banned by most municipalities. Developed by Clessie Cummins (yes, that's him), it uses engine compression to slow the vehicle down in an attempt to preserve the wheel brakes. It was first available on the Cummins engines on large highway trucks, but was later adapted to Detroit Diesel and Caterpillar. Variations of this have been built by Cummins (itself) and Mack. For lighter applications, manufacturers have brought out exhaust brakes which essentially close or highly restrict the exhaust passage in a deceleration condition. Not as effective as the good ol' Jake but still worth it.

Back to our story: JC tried to explain what was available. However Billy wasn't interested in that Pansy stuff, he wanted the real thing; he wanted to be able to turn it on and let it blast away just like the big rigs. Long story short, JC didn't sell him an exhaust brake and Billy would spent many years vainly searching for a real live Jake Brake.

Well, Billy Big Rig, and all the variations to the theme, is here to stay. Like it or not, he's going to be stopping in at some unsuspecting service department where he'll not only request a job be done but will also instruct you on how to do it.


LOOSEY LOVE MUFFIN

Imagine a cartoon showing the man of the house scanning a bill from the repair shop. He scowls at the bottom line and says: 'Those guys down in the shop are stupid; they only charged you five dollars for a new transmission.' He hasn't seen it yet but his wife is in the bedroom getting undressed and her dress is covered with greasy hand prints. The smirk on her face tells it all: the World's Oldest Profession isn't always on a street corner late at night.

Believe it or not, in the forty plus years that JC has been involved in the service business, that has happened to him more times than he'd care to mention. Most of the time the women were sort of single; that is, living with someone. The majority of them gave the impression of Rode Hard and Put Away Wet. The singer, Jim Stafford, made the famous comparison: 'Would make a freight train take a dirt road.' JC ran into them time and again, picking up their boyfriend's/common law husband's truck then offering a way to take something off of that astronomical bill. In those cases JC just politely sent them on their way, minus their money, and fringe benefits aside, and thanked his lucky stars that he wasn't so stupid and desperate that he might've gotten a communicable disease, or a busted head. But the real shocker was yet to come.

Think of a well-respected family; active in the community, good kids. The man of the house was a decent customer and always dealt at the dealership. JC always thought of them as pillars of the community, and always gave them the respect they deserved. Now just imagine that image; that aura of strong family values getting shattered when the wife suggested that maybe they could get a sizeable discount on the work order if she offered something like a personal service to help out. It first happened to JC after he'd been in the business about five years. Of course in trying to be a gentleman, he first ignored it. When the proposition was repeated, JC just chuckled; just a friend teasing. But then, by the third time he suddenly realized that she wasn't kidding; she was downright serious!

Now JC was no prude but that was the last straw. No, if the lady wanted to jeopardize her marriage that was her problem, and she'd have to proposition someone else. JC refused to even consider it. The interesting part of all this was when he attended some update courses. He was in for quite the surprise when it was revealed that some of his colleagues actually gave in to that.

Well, Loosey, I just told the world about you, but I kept your real name a secret.



MILTON MILQUETOAST

Anyone who has read the works of James Thurber knows who this character is. Very, quiet, humble, soft-spoken, polite. Never expects any miracles, and never asks for anything special. Overall, a nice guy to do business with. A typical service department isn't likely to take him for a ride because he exudes honesty; sort of akin to one of those 'Support Your Favorite Egg' ads on TV from forty years ago, where a monk says: 'Hello, I'm soft-boiled and I'm a candidate to be your favorite egg...' That's all well and good, BUT, this guy is usually married to someone like Zelda from one of my earlier posts.

His wife is capable of taking the paint off the walls without using a scraper or sandpaper. All she has to do is open her mouth. She calls him down, telling him to develop a backbone, and any other insult she can come up with.

For this post we'll Borrow a name from James Thurber; she'll be known as Ulgine. And we'll refer to Milton and Mr. Martin.

There was an incident in JC's shop where Mr. Martin brought a garden tractor in for some major work on the transmission. It was a time when, luckily, JC had someone who could get right at it. The tractor was tested, a diagnosis was made, the mechanic stripped it down, and parts were ordered. JC advised how long it would take, and Mr. Martin left, happy that he'd left the fate of his tractor in the hands of a qualified crew.

Monday morning came around and Mr. Martin phoned to inquire about the job. JC told him that they wouldn't have parts until the next morning but there was a very good chance that it would be completed on Wednesday. JC also advised him to call ahead and make sure that nothing had gone wrong.

Well, as luck would have it the parts didn't come in till Wednesday. The mechanic, knowing that the owner needed to get his machine back to work as soon as possible, went right at it and by noon, had the transmission reattached to the tractor, and had managed to test it before his lunch break. All that was needed was to put the operator's platform and seat back on, and connect the wiring. Just before lunch hour was over, Mr. Martin walked into the shop.

'Ahem, is my tractor finished?' JC told him that they still had some final reassembly to do and that the mechanic would be at it shortly. He also reminded Mr. Martin that he should've phoned ahead. Mr. Martin appeared satisfied and headed out the door. JC thought all was well and proceeded to organize the shop for the afternoon's workload. The sound of high heels on concrete told JC that things might not be all that good after all.

'Who's in charge?' a female demanded. JC turned around to see a rather attractive, fairly well-dressed woman facing him.

'Can I help you?'

'Why isn't our tractor ready? You promised us it would be ready on Wednesday!'

'We're just finishing it up, Ma'am. We'll have it out in half an hour or so.'

'You promised it on Wednesday!'

'Yes, ma'am, I did,' JC said wearily, 'today's Wednesday, and it will be ready. Now I advised your husband to phone ahead, which wasn't done. So you'll have to wait.'

'We shouldn't have to wait around no damned filthy shop!'

That one got JC's dander up. 'Ma'am, we're doing the best we can,' he said shortly then turned and headed back toward his office.

Obviously, that didn't satisfy Mrs. Ulgine. She had more to say. Don't turn your back on me when I'm talking to you..!'

JC stopped. What was wrong with this bitch anyways? Did she have to go to the bathroom that bad? He turned again. 'Ma'am, I told you that we're working on it! You'll just have to wait!'

He turned his back again but she reached out and grabbed his shoulder. JC spun around and pointed his index finger at the bridge of her nose, between her eyes. With his finger almost touching, he half-snarled. 'Ma'am, don't even think about it! Now, get yourself out of here and and wait!' He turned and headed back to the office.

Less than twenty minutes later, the job was done. JC even went out and helped load the tractor into Milton's truck. He noticed that Ulgine was sulking in the passenger's seat. No doubt Mr. Martin got many an earful on the way home.

JC felt sorry for him.



BOBBY BLOWHARD

This kind of customer isn't exclusively attached to the personnel in the service department; they are found everywhere retail sales happen. One might even equate Bobby with the aforementioned Billy but Bobby is usually above average in height and somewhat on the stocky side. A bully in every sense of the word, he loves to boast about the deals he made and came out on top, smiling. One such individual showed up at JC's place of business and his attitude rang loud and clear.

The secretary/service writer noticed that his truck was fairly new and asked him about it. 'Ha!' Bobby responded in a voice that probably carried on to the next town, 'those guys in that dealership thought they had me where they wanted me but I showed 'em. I got the price of that truck down almost six-thousand bucks when they finally said they couldn't go any lower. I sort of let it go, then when I cut that check I dropped it down another thousand; told 'em that was all they were gonna get. And they fell for it--stupid bastards!'

That show of arrogance really got JC's dander up. He'd seen it time and again, always with the Bobbies of this world; they were convinced that they could bully anyone into giving in. Besides that, JC had worked for a dealership long enough to know that there wasn't a lot of mark up between cost and retail of a new vehicle--the complete opposite of what the average car-buyer thought. If it was well-optioned then the margins were higher; but JC had seen with some, especially compact cars, where the margin could be as slim as $800.00. Maybe the dealership made out OK with Bobby, but JC had his doubts.

He continued to eavesdrop as the conversation turned to other things. 'Who owns that old red Ford pickup off to the side?' He was referring to a '47 Ford pickup that JC had used as a parts truck for his current restoration project.

'I don't think it's for sale,' Bona responded, 'JC is planning to haul it home when things dry up later this spring.'

'Everything's for sale!' Bobby said confidently. 'Let me talk to him.'

Bona went back to the shop and asked JC to come up front. JC frowned and reluctantly followed her. He preferred to avoid what was about to happen but he also had to admit that he enjoyed tangling with those arrogant asses. Bona introduced JC and added that he owned the truck that Bobby was interested in. JC also noticed several others hanging around the reception area awaiting their turn to be helped.

'How much for your truck?' Bobby's question sounded more like a demand. 'It's not for sale,' JC responded evenly.

'Oh c'mon, everything's got a price!'

Not for you, buster. JC never said that aloud even though he was tempted. 'I told you it's not for sale,' he repeated himself.

Bobby pulled out his checkbook. 'What'll it be? Five-hundred, maybe six?' JC smiled grimly and stood his ground. 'Maybe after I'm dead and gone, my kids might want to sell it--.'

'Whaddya mean, after you're dead and gone? I want to take it home now; I've got plans for it.'

No doubt he had plans for it. Butcher it into something barely recognizable, with a small block Chevy engine to add further insult to injury. JC hated this guy and there was no way he was willing to sell it to anyone, especially this jack-ass. But he knew that the guy wouldn't take no for an answer. The only way out of it was to give the guy no place to go. He pulled his mouth into a tight line and leaned across the counter to glare at Bobby.

'You--haven't got enough money!' he half-snarled then slowly backed up, keeping his eyes leveled at Bobby's. Bobby was the first to turn away, his face an expression of shock and defeat. JC turned around and strode back into the shop. He could hear Bobby muttering something to Bona but couldn't make out exactly what was said. But then, JC really didn't give a rat's backside either.





Thursday, 30 October 2014

ENGINE FAILURE

In learning to fly, we all have to spend a minimum number of hours practicing emergency landing procedures, the most common of which is an engine failure. If your engine conks out, you just cannot coast to the side of the road then try to investigate the problem, or call a tow truck. Oh, there are tow trucks specifically designed and built to tow aircraft but they fall short of picking up that stranded airman at the edge of Cloud 901, just off the intersection of Luminous Lane and Cumulus Crescent. No, if you encounter an engine failure, you have to find a place to put the plane safely on the ground (rather than let the plane do that because the plane itself isn't all that fussy), then call your tow truck.

When we do our Flight Test, which is showing the examiner that we are indeed capable of handling an aircraft and all the hazards that some with it, we have to show specifically that we can handle an emergency. For example, you'll be on a cross-country flight. The examiner will ask you to note your check point then point it out to him both on your chart (map) that you have either strapped to your leg or on a clipboard located between the two front seats. The moment he is satisfied, he'll suddenly shut  the fuel off, feather out the prop, and tell you that the engine has seized. You'll notice that the prop is standing still, which is unnerving in itself.

Well, the first thing you do, is try to find a safe place to put down. In farming country, a stubble field or a smooth pasture will be first and second choices; summer fallow or a road would be your last. You keep the airplane straight and level while you set yourself up to land. You then get on the radio and notify Flight Service that you are declaring an emergency, and give the operator your location. From there on, it's concentrate on lining up your airplane, keeping it level and making sure that you're going to actually make it to that selected spot. You may have to use the ailerons, rudder and elevators to lose altitude quickly if you may be too high; but you were taught how to do that--right?

Your field is all lined up, and it looks like you're going to actually succeed in landing with what is often termed: a Dead Stick. You're getting into the ground effect and you think that your examiner is really expecting you to go through with it, then suddenly he moves the fuel control to Full Rich, hits Start and the engine spins back to life. You 'firewall' the throttle and you begin to pick up speed, and soon ascend back to regulation flight altitude.

You passed the test, except when the examiner tells you that maybe the stubble field would've been a better choice than the summer fallow field that you did choose, right beside it. At any rate, the examiner is confident that you are capable of landing--Dead Stick--and staying safe.

After several hours of classroom time, dual time and solo time, you have successfully met the requirements of a Private Pilot and received your wings. Then you have the opportunity to fly whenever and wherever you want. The flying hours add up and your skills increase even more. Sometimes, in order to keep your skills sharpened, you simulate many more engine failures and are happy with the outcome. The passengers you have with you might not be willing to share your enthusiasm but that's their problem. At any rate, you know how to handle an emergency but you never think you're going to face the real thing.

There are two kinds of pilots: those who have experienced an engine failure in flight, and those who are going to.

Scotty received his wings back in the 50s. Being a farmer in the Milk River area, he flew planes for a number of owners, doing a number of things such as counting livestock or finding out where the cattle all went, but that type of work was sporatic and didn't support owning a plane of his own. One day he decided to embark on a more stable (read: lucrative?) business involving flying. Since he already flew for Aime, spraying crops, Scotty made a deal to buy Aime's Piper Super Cub, which was already equipped with spraying apparatus, and do it all for himself.

For years Scotty's Cub could be seen from early June until well into the fall. He sprayed field after field, and then even found some time to remove the sprayer tank and use the back seat for a real live passenger. His continued flying added up the hours, and of course, after so many hours, certain maintenance requirements are needed to keep the plane in the air.

One of the most major parts of aircraft maintenance is an engine overhaul. During the war, that often meant that the engines had to be gone through as often as every 250 hours. Peacetime might have stretched them out to 750. Most civilian planes needed engine majors every 1,000. Modern private planes can run up to as much as 2,000 hours before they need to be done. The bottom line is that government regulations dictate that the engine must be completely disassembled, inspected and rebuilt to original specifications at the specified hours of use as stipulated by the manufacturer or the airplane will not be allowed to fly again.

Now just think if those rules of maintenance applied to our regular family cars?

The engine in Scotty's plane needed to be overhauled every 1,000 hours of operation. Having accepted that, Scotty made arrangements to get the job done, maybe over the years, three times. In this case it seems to me that the engine had been overhauled before, at least once. Anyways, he flew his Cub up to Taber, to Ray's shop, where the propeller was removed, the engine pulled and the two of them sent to the repair shop--the engine for its scheduled overhaul and the prop for its certification.

I might add right here that Ray was qualified to perform engine overhauls himself but with other maintenance procedures that needed to be done, sending the engine to the repair shop allowed him time to work on other parts of the plane.

In due time, the engine came back, all signed and certified, and looking very much like a new engine. Ray installed the engine, the prop, then started it and took the plane for a couple of circuits (take-offs and landings) at the local strip. Everything OK, Ray signed it off and called Scotty.

Scotty got in, gave it his own checks then waved to Ray and flew away south.

Everything checked out as good as could be expected. Oil pressure, cylinder head temperature, all gauges showed where they should be. Scotty flew across Highway 3, and using Highway 36 as sort of a guide, continued along his way.

About twenty miles south of Taber is Chin Coulee, which also contains an irrigation reservoir called: Chin Lake. Not a heck of a lot of imagination there but at least it got named. Approaching Chin Lake, one can see the Wrentham elevators about five miles south. Scotty had seen this same sight countless times, and it hardly registered anymore. However, this time would be a little different.

Just as he cleared Chin Lake and was 'feet dry' over the farmland again, the engine started to labor and lose rpm. Hardly before Scotty could read his gauges or attempt to see what had gone wrong, the engine let out an ear-splitting squeal and seized, causing the plane to lurch sideways. The prop stood still, the blade listing maybe ten degrees past center.

Scotty was shocked. He stared at that frozen prop blade in disbelief, trying to understand what had just happened but when the airplane began to lose speed and altitude, reality began to close in fast. After over four thousand hours in the sky, he had just witnessed his first engine failure, and his next major task was to get the airplane on the ground. Safely!

Being springtime, a lot of stubble fields were there for the choosing. Scotty picked a suitable place, not too far off the highway, lined up for the landing, and called it in. He touched down exactly where he thought he would and allowed the plane to roll to a stop, miraculously close to an approach then waited for the rescue party (parties) to arrive.

Now I'll have to add another little tidbit of information here: Scotty was an experienced sprayer pilot and flew like a typical sprayer pilot. Flight regulations dictate that you must fly at a specified distance AGL (Above Ground Level) which is in the neighborhood of a thousand feet up. That helps to ensure that you clear most obstacles on the ground (most big cities would still pose problems there). It also helps you to safely find a place to land your plane--and actually land it--in case of an engine failure. Unfortunately, since sprayer pilots are used to flying at about cattail elevation, they have a little less time to execute emergency procedures. Yes, they can clear a fence and fly under a powerline at the same time but flying at Circuit Height? Na, takes too long to get up there, and too long to get down.

Back to Scotty, the fire department, ambulance, police, air rescue, ground rescue, local peeping toms and maybe even some local dogsled teams all converged on the airplane. Scotty was checked over and deemed to be only a little shaken. The crew removed the wings from the airplane and it was towed back to Taber.

The engine was removed and sent back to the repair shop which determined that a main bearing had spun causing the seizure. Repairs were done, the engine shipped back, installed, tested, and Scotty was notified.

Once again, everything went quite well, Scotty was flying home, at a little higher altitude this time and he was ready to take on his customer orders...

Well, just across Chin Lake and that same loss of power, followed by that same screech, the whole aircraft shuddering and the prop stood still--again! Only the prop was at maybe a 45 degree angle, but I never heard of anyone taking a protractor and measuring it.

Once again, Scotty had to pick a place, line up the plane, call it in, land the plane, and wait for all the officials and rescue crews to arrive. Once again, Scotty was checked up and deemed to still be a little shaken up but there was also a little bit of an angry demeanor as well.

Once again, the plane was partially dismantled and hauled back to Taber; once again the engine was sent to the repair shop, which, once again, determined a spun main bearing and consequently, a second destroyed crankshaft.

Once again, the rebuilt engine was installed, tested--more vigorously this time--and Scotty was, once again, on his way home.

The first engine failure scares you to death; the second one has you a little on the apprehensive side; but the third in a row has you saying things to flight service that might not be deemed appropriate for proper communication. No doubt, there were some adjectives directed to the repair shop, toward Ray, and probably to the founding fathers of this nation.

When Scotty experienced the third failure he was determined to take that engine to the shop himself and give it to the mechanic more as a suppository. He was angry!

Maybe a good thing he wasn't Irish or he might have made good on that promise. Of course I've known a few Scots who could be just as irascible...

This time the repair shop prepared a complete new engine and sent it down. The failed engine was completely dismantled and inspected by a team, who, the first time over, couldn't determine why that one main was seizing up. Oil starvation was behind it but the gauge showed full pressure right up until the engine seized. It was finally determined that an oil bypass valve had inadvertently been installed backwards, causing it to block off the flow of oil to that one bearing when it got hot.

Some red faces; many apologies, and maybe a few more descriptive terms and the airplane flew home safely to resume its role as sprayer. In reflection, Scotty understood what happened, and when his plane came up for a final major, the services of that same shop were engaged.

No lasting hard feelings...



Saturday, 6 September 2014

BEAR TRAP

I've always been brought up with the attitude that the law enforcement community is to be respected; to be looked up to. The police and sheriff's departments are in place to keep the peace, thus often given the title: Peace Officer. For most of my life, I've done my best to remain on the right side of the law, even if I thought that the law enforcement officers weren't doing their best job. Fortunately, the vast majority of them were good dedicated officers who performed their duties to the best of their abilities and thus had the respect of the community and the county. I was able to befriend a few of them as they passed through our region, even to travelling down to pistol shooting practices and events together. But there were some who didn't seem to measure up and consequently weren't all that welcome.

Enforcers, they were often referred to as, usually male, single, usually fresh out of boot camp (or the police academy), and usually with an attitude. They weren't assigned to a post for long as their arrogant, hard-nosed approach quickly created hard feelings that could result in some form of retaliation.

There is a story about an officer who was going to restore law and order, and in doing so, riled up a truck driver to the point where the trucker, obviously a lot tougher and a better experienced fighter, got the upper hand, beat up on the officer then stuffed him into the back seat of the patrol car, and when a safe distance away, put in an anonymous phone call to tell the base that an officer needed help. There was one where the officer was female, whom most of us would still normally respect as a qualified law enforcement officer, but in this case, all attitude, especially toward the male of the species. She got ambushed and ended up handcuffed with her own cuffs and forced to stand outside the car with her head thrust through the window, the glass cranked up enough to trap her head. As an added message, her pants were pulled down.

Of course the latter has turned up on several different chat sites and has been heard all over the United States and Canada so one would almost have to call it an Urban Legend. But on the other hand, the story had to start somewhere. At any rate, the so-called bad officers are usually transferred to another post long before things get to this point.

In this case, the new officer was fresh out of the academy, full of attitude but also lacked some basic intelligence which included reasoning.

The boy was an avid off-road enthusiast. His personal vehicle was a four-by-four pickup that had been jacked up, and fancy wheels with oversized tires installed. It was one of those vehicles that stood so high in the air that the driveshaft of which would go through a 24 pack of universal joints in less than a thousand miles. He subscribed to all the Off-Road magazines and attended all the mud-bogging, rock-climbing, cross-country competitions, and truck shows that he could take in while off-duty. A simple visit in the coffee shop found you listening to him rattle off all the latest off-road equipment and tell you all about hill-climbs and how his truck wasn't just for show; it was mostly go.

Boring...

Just east of my hometown was the local junk collector. Dick, as he was known to everyone, had a farm with several hundred derelicts on it. On the south side of his place, between his farm and the neighbors, was a drainage ditch that had been dug to hopefully collect excessive runoff water and route it back to the river further to the south. The ditch, about six feet deep at one time, had been dug in the twenties and thirties but didn't see much use because--especially during the thirties--about the only runoff was dust. The banks of the ditch slowly eroded away and the natural grass grew in. As time went on, one could actually drive a vehicle through it in some places; a four wheel drive truck had no trouble negotiating it.

This young officer was cruising through town one Saturday night and spotted a familiar four-by-four pickup parked in front of JB's Lounge. Mostly innocent except for the fact that the truck had been parked there for several hours, which meant that the owner (driver) was likely several sheets to the wind and would no doubt try to sneak home without getting caught driving under the influence. The officer kept up his patrol but concentrating on that particular truck. As luck would have it, he was several blocks away when he saw the taillights come up and the truck back out of its stall. Police lights flashing and the smell of blood in his nostrils, the officer floored the accelerator and took up the chase.

Larry, the driver who shouldn't have been driving, wasn't so drunk that he didn't notice the police lights come on. As a matter of fact, he had been gazing out the window of the bar for some time watching the officer make too many passes down this side of town. He had to make this chase worthwhile so he pushed hard on the gas and headed down the street.

One thing that was in Larry's favor was that, when the chase began, there were several blocks between them making it impossible for the officer to make a positive ID of Larry's truck. Determined to keep it that way, Larry shot down a couple of alleys, emerging out a block from the easternmost extremity of town and headed for the park. Two and a half miles east, he switched off his headlights then turned and headed south down the graveled road toward the river. Just to the south of Dick's place he swung off the road and onto the trail between Dick's and Gerry's farms.

The young officer followed the dusty trail, and spotted Larry's truck by its brake lights. Seeing an approach, the officer turned off the road and onto Dick's hayfield. Being no stranger to off-roading he drove at high speed across the hayfield in an attempt to cut the fugitive off. Keeping an eye on the approaching truck in the moonlit field, he sped off at an angle to cut him off. The shadow of the truck grew larger. He was almost to the place--

Well, he didn't know about the drainage ditch. And he definitely didn't know about the places one could drive through it without damaging the car's undercarriage. That full-sized Dodge sedan shot over the edge of that ditch like something from Dukes of Hazzard. Engine racing and tires clawing vainly for traction, the patrol car almost floated through the air, coming to an abrupt halt after encountering the bank on the opposite side.

In a perfect world he might have made it but the heavy car's front suspension caught the edge of the bank, the crossmember shaving at least a foot of dirt off the top of the opposite bank. The car was going fast enough to continue forward for several feet and come to a stop with the rear wheels dangling over the edge of the ditch. The chase over, Larry continued across the ditch--in a safe place to cross--and headed over to Dick's place where he had Dick phone it in.

When the smoke was cleared, the officer suffered some whiplash, and needed some dental work when the abrupt halt in forward motion caused him to take a large bite out of the steering wheel. He also suffered a few bruises which cleared up in no time at all. I guess you could say that the most damage was to his pride; after all he was a qualified off-road racer in his own mind. It wasn't long before he was packed up and on his way to another post to resume his duties as an officer of the law, maybe just a little less gung-ho now. The patrol car, less than two weeks old at the time of the crash was bent like a giant pretzel. When sitting on the ground, one rear wheel was completely in the air. Larry was charged with DUI, attempting to flee, and dangerous driving, none of which stuck because, as was mentioned before, they couldn't prove that it was Larry's truck, let alone that it was he who was driving.

The only lesson that could come out of it was maybe know the terrain before heading off into the darkness. And always understand that the local residents just might know more about the country than you do.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

APPEARANCES

They say that appearances are everything; always look your best and people will think the best of you... Or so the saying goes. But appearances aren't always what you think. There are a lot of men who look their best at all times, not a hair out of place, footware that's so shiny one would swear that he was in the military; a wardrobe that rivals the American Gigolo,

But under the surface lies the real man. Oh he's got personality that can charm a dozen women into the sack but it isn't long before that polished exterior cracks and the real person steps out. After taking the woman for everything she has--and often leaving a kid or two for souvenirs, he's out the door and on his way down the road where he gets polished up again to make his move on the next one.

I believe that the British term for that type is Alfie.

Still it is necessary to look your best when looking for a job, or playing the field, either in the nightclubs or on the internet, as appearances are still a necessity. Of course a little common sense should be practiced as it wouldn't be all that necessary to dress up in a suit and tie if one is applying for a job cleaning out sewer systems for eight hours a day.

But there are times when appearances might not be the best way to judge a person. What if it simply doesn't matter how you look? What if you had it made so well that people would show you every courtesy if you looked like a tramp? JC once told Mattie that when (more like if ) he finally had it made in the shade, he'd head uptown clad in lounging pants, bathrobe and slippers. Everyone would greet him as if he was their best friend.

It's doubtful that Mattie agreed, or Kammi for that matter because both laughed almost as hard at him as they did when JC tried to don his old motorcycle jacket.

There was a story that was told at the old coffee shop a few years back that had almost everything to do with appearances and what could happen if one acted too quickly. We'll begin this story near the end and work our way forward:

Police Chief West was summoned to the station late one night. Two of the duty officers had picked up a vagrant and required West to conduct the investigation. West showed up, clad in lounging pants, moccasins and a--jacket, and walked through the cell block. All he saw was a couple of drunks in one cell, sacked out in the bunks, sleeping off whatever it was they were on at the time, and a couple of cells over sat an old man, clad in a moth-eaten wool coat, ragged pants and worn out rubber boots that were liberally coated with cow manure. The old man was so disheveled and filthy that he made the two drunks appear well-groomed.

West merely gave the old man a cursory glance then headed up to the front desk where he was greeted by the duty sergeant. The two arresting officers were there as well and they came right up.

West gazed at them quizzically. 'Do you know who you've got locked up back there?' he asked reasonably.

The officers shrugged. 'We just saw him walking down the street on the south side of town,' said the first patrolman.

'Did he say anything?'

'Mostly muttered,' the second officer said. 'We fist thought he was drunk but we couldn't smell anything, other than he missed a date with a bar of soap a long time ago. We just brought him in here to get him off the road. It's quite chilly out there tonight.'

'Do you know who he is?' the first officer enquired.

'Sure do,' West responded. 'He probably couldn't talk to you because he likely hasn't got his teeth with him. He's on the downhill side of ninety and he's a little shaky. But let me tell you something: That old man could cut a check for a million dollars and wouldn't have to go to the bank to clear it. He owns in the neighborhood of fifty thousand acres of farm and ranch land south of here.'

The officers were incredulous. How could a disgusting old man like that be a multi-millionaire? He didn't look like he could afford a downpayment on a free meal but here, Chief West was telling them that they had just arrested one of the richest men in the country for vagrancy.

Back in the days before the First World War--the Great War to some--the Canadian government came out with The Homestead Act, a deal (some called it a bet) whereas for the princely sum of ten dollars you could receive a quarter section (160 acres) of land. The only catch was that the homesteader had to prove up on it; break and plant so many acres per year, and commence building. If he defaulted he would have to move off and the land would be turned over to another homesteader.

Well, Mr. Rheinfelter, the old man in the holding cell, had come from somewhere in Minnesota and made his way to Alberta along with other homesteaders. They settled in the Jefferson region near the international boundary and proceeded to put down roots. The only difference between Rheinfelter and the rest of the homesteaders was that Rheinfelter had a little bit of money. He bought a quarter section and proceeded to break sod and prove up. Soon after, a neighbor fell upon hard times and had to leave for something more attainable than scratching a living out of that unforgiving prairie. Mr. Rheinfelter offered to buy the neighbor out with a generous offer to assume the debts plus cover the neighbor's initial expenses.

The neighbor was ecstatic. He was ready to sign papers immediately and wasted no more time loading up his family and heading for the bright lights of the big city where he and his family would live happily ever after, or so to speak. A short time later another neighbor decided that he wasn't cut out for this farming stuff either so he approached Rheinfelter and got the same generous, life-saving bailout. It wasn't long before Rheinfelter accumulated three full sections of land; he was on his way.

Then came the guys who fell upon hard times but wanted to keep farming. All they needed was a little boost of capital to cover expenses, for a short term anyways. The banks weren't all that eager to lend money to farmers but Rheinfelter was. Of course the collateral was always the land; if the farmer defaulted, measures were taken to foreclose thus forcing the farmer out of his only home.

I might add that there were a lot of farmers that Rheinfelter helped out who were able to pay the loans back and stay in business.

Enter the Thirties--the Dust Bowl--a time when it got so dry that the grasshoppers had to carry a lunch. Farming methods at the time left a lot to be desired and with the drought, the parched land began to blow, drifting like snow around buildings, abandoned vehicles and farm equipment; it buried fences and the fences that were built atop where the old fences had been. Heart-broken farmers often packed up and left without a word while some at least attempted to sell their farms for whatever they could get. Some offered their farms to men like Rheinfelter for as little as a dollar an acre with nothing down and so much a year. That helped grow a lot of empires in the south.

You would think that people with Rheinfelter's means would tend to dress up and show off a little but Rheinfelter, and his two sons, who were schooled on the same tight-fisted methods of the old man; use only what was needed and nothing more; new clothes were frivolous when what they already wore covered them properly. They ate like homeless people, sometimes having nothing for lunch but stale bread sopping up the morning's bacon grease in a frying pan, and washing it down with black coffee that was far stronger than anything the airlines could serve.

It's amazing that they found women who would put up with their miserly practices but oftentimes, especially during the hard times, their wives traded their wanted luxuries for security and simply put up and shut up.

The Rheinfelter empire grew throughout the Second World War and well into the fifties before things began to slow down. But then, Rheinfelter, and even his sons were beginning to feel the effects of age. One of the boys became so crippled (mostly from malnutrition) that he had to be hoisted up on the tractor, or swather, or combine, where he would spend the entire day before he was hoisted off at day's end.

Obviously they were all accustomed to hard work and could be found in the fields working almost around the clock. And so it wasn't surprising that the old man was found walking along the road into Lethbridge late one evening.

He was hauling grain in one of the big trucks he owned. Unfortunately he had run out of gas and since this was long before the age of cellphones, he was walking into the city to find a payphone so he could call his boy (collect of course, and if you finished the call soon enough there was no charge at all) to come out and bring some gas.

But the police found him first, out in the cold, clad in dirty dilapidated clothing, staggering (because he was crippled) like a homeless wino. I'm sure that old Rheinfelter was enjoying himself immensely, especially when the police chief told those two officers who they had arrested.

They say that you can't take it with you, and obviously, even Rheinfelter knew that. In the end he wasn't all that stingy as he left a five-million dollar endowment to the local university and community college. One thing you've got to agree with is that he didn't die broke. But was he really that happy?



Saturday, 19 April 2014

LOTTERY, THE SECOND STORY

Through the years, and for at least the time that lotteries have been around, there has always been a negative connotation about it. Stories about how winners' lives get completely upended with their families destroyed and friendships dissolved abound when the topic comes up. People suddenly finding themselves wealthy beyond their wildest dreams do undergo a lot of changes whether they like it or not. There was a man who won close to five million and troubles for him and his wife began even before the lights from the reporters' flash bulbs went out.

A greedy and conniving realtor hastily built up an acreage to at least look appealing and sold it to the winners for a price far more than the property was worth. Almost immediately there were problems with the house which was discovered to be way short of passing building regulations (the realtor was able to skirt the codes because the property was in his own name and he was merely remodeling and thus wasn't subject to so much scrutiny). It cost the winners a small fortune to get the house rebuilt so it could pass inspection then their lives were disrupted by freeloading family members and (now ex-) friends.

They didn't properly consider large purchases and often suffered severe consequences, like the pedigreed (?) racehorse they paid over $.9M for, only to see it die two months later.

The couple's new found fortune was gone almost before it was received and it gives credence to the statement: A fool and his money are soon parted. They did manage a second kick at the can when they won a million and a half about five years later. They did the right thing this time; they packed up and left the country for several months and when they came back, they were living in another neighborhood.

Another couple of cases happened close to home: The first was when a couple moved into my hometown and purchased the local drug store. They paid too much for it, and their house, and were backsliding into a major financial abyss when a relatively small lottery jackpot ended their troubles. They won just enough to pay off their debts and thus were allowed to carry on life and prosper, although they still had to fend off nearly every freeloader and con-artist in the country for the better part of a year.

The other one close to home wasn't quite that lucky. The couple had won just under a million dollars and their lives got so disrupted that they cleared out in the middle of the night and moved away, never to be seen again.

The problem to this is largely publicity. Winners have to allow their names to be published and allow their mugshots to be plastered in every major news publication across the country. The late newsman, Andy Rooney, once said that if he could work his will, he would make it illegal to publish a winner's name or picture in anything, even the lotteries' own publications.

The druggist, and the couple that had to leave town were a couple of stories that inspired me to write the novel, Lottery. A friend and I were seated on the deck late one hot summer night, enjoying a cold beverage and we discussed the plights of those two winners and how we'd set things up if we'd won. That had my thoughts going wild and I came up with all sorts of possibilities. I had things nailed down pretty well and then, while up in the Athabaska Tar Sands, I became acquainted with a rock truck driver whom I'd have sworn had read my manuscript and duplicated the way my main character cashed his ticket in. That only reinforced my own idea and thus my first novel was born.

But how does all this tie in with the story I'm about to tell? Well, it just provides some background and tells some of the bad things that can happen to lucky but still good people. A lot of people regard the lotteries with disdain and for the most part, their thoughts are well qualified. Con-artists and long lost family members come out of the woodwork. So often friendships are strained and even lost, but there are times when a lot of good comes out of good fortune.

The first one would be the druggist in my hometown; the second would be a group of four co-workers who had worked for a local foundry for many years. The latter group won $16M and they were able to retire debt free and, by planning carefully, were able to enjoy (and are still enjoying) their lives. And the one I'm about to share is another true story about luck in its tenderest of mercies.

Max had suffered with Angina since he was in his late thirties. By the time he was in his sixties the chest pains could get almost unbearable. What he needed was bypass surgery but none of the specialists were willing to perform that operation because the risk in this case was too high. However one specialist on the west coast said he could do it and Max was given a five-way bypass.

Surviving the operation was a miracle in itself but it gave Max a lot more years than he originally was given. He had a new lease on life that enabled him to travel to the far ends of the continent to see his family and share some good times. He would spend over ten years enjoying life until the chest pains returned.

Another bypass was too much of a risk but with proper medications Max was able to at least have a full life. Even after his beloved wife was called home to her Maker, Max still kept up his activities and was able to do so many things he enjoyed.

But there were times that Angina wasn't fair.

Max's oldest boy was an engineer at the Hoover Dam. He lived on a modest acreage in Logandale which isn't far from Lake Meade and thus Jeff was able to drive back and forth to work quickly. Just after Jeff and his wife moved into their new house, Max flew down for a visit. They toured Las Vegas and saw many programs, and ate lots. They might have even gambled a bit but no one is telling. They went back to Logandale and settled down for the night. It wasn't long before things went bad for Max.

He was awakened in the middle of the night with horrible chest pains which couldn't be controlled with Nitro. Jeff called the EMTs and they rushed Max off to the hospital where his condition was treated with fairly good success. The pain was brought under control and the specialists were discussing further treatment. Unfortunately heart disease was a pre-existing medical condition so Max's insurance wouldn't cover his situation. Unable to pay for the bills that were sure to ensue from the battery of treatments, Max checked himself out of the hospital. He found out that the airline wouldn't allow him to board because of his condition so Jeff loaded him up and began to drive north.

JC headed south while Jeff continued to drive north and they met somewhere in between. JC proceeded to take Max home and put him in the hospital there. Max soon recovered and was able to resume his life of retirement. He was back in his workshop, building clocks and attending Coffee Row with his buddies. But he knew that there was bad news on the horizon.

An envelope eventually arrived from the hospital in Las Vegas and not surprisingly contained the bill. For those few hours as a patient, Max was charged in the neighborhood of two thousand dollars. For a man on a fixed income, that was a burden that was very difficult to pay. JC and Mattie even contemplated helping out although they would have to do that surreptitiously because Max had that pride thing.

One day JC got a phone call from Max. Without hardly a greeting, Max asked: 'JC does five matching numbers mean anything on the lottery?'

'It's a lot better than four,' JC replied, 'not as good as five plus the bonus and definitely not as good as all six.' There was a pause then JC asked: 'Why?'

'Well, I was picking up a prescription at the drug store the other day and I had some change so I bought a ticket. I just checked it out and it looks like I've got five out of six.'

'Dad, you did good,' JC said with genuine enthusiasm. 'If you look on the back of your ticket, you'll see a toll-free phone number. Call that and give them the serial number off your ticket and they'll tell you how much you've got coming.'

Max did just as JC had told and it turned out that he'd won over two-thousand dollars. He cashed his ticket in and received a check that was enough to pay his hospital bill, make a charitable donation to his church and take his lady friend out for a nice dinner. Nothing left but a feeling that a tremendous weight had been taken off his shoulders.

Now, people are cautioning us about lotteries and gambling and the evils that games of chance spawn. Church leaders, financial planners, parents and spouses sometimes vehemently oppose taking chances. Despite that nearly everyone dreams of hitting the big one and what new frontiers can be achieved. Unfortunately the percentage of those who actually make it big is very small. But sometimes one doesn't have to make it big; just making it enough to keep the wolves from your door is often sufficient.

Go ahead and have some fun but as the lotteries themselves advise: Set a limit and say within it.  

Sunday, 23 March 2014

THE BIG BAD LANDLORD/TENANT

Today's posting is a series of true stories straight out of the lives of JC and Mattie. It might have some humorous overtones but it's dead serious. I'd have to say that it's as much of a warning as it is a story. Read and enjoy...


PART ONE--THE BIG BAD LANDLORD

For more than a century there has been talk of the Big Bad Landlord. Back when immigration was at its peak, families paid astronomic rent in order to live in a dilapidated apartment, and there was no guarantee that they'd be able to stay there as they could be thrown out on a moment's notice with no excuse other than the apartment had just been rented out to a family who can pay more rent. Families, already devastated by the trauma of moving to a strange new land were left to their own to fend for themselves. For this reason the various governments stepped in and implemented laws that helped to prevent such flagrant abuse. Since that time relationships between landlords and tenants has improved although not to a perfect state.

JC rented a bachelor's suite in Fort McMurray. Considering the location (read: Isolation?) JC wasn't surprised that rent up there was close to $200.00 a month more than a similar sized place in Edmonton so he just kept the place clean, paid his rent on time and everyone was happy.

Until the day that JC moved out.

When JC moved into the apartment he noticed that there was a chip in the kitchen sink. He didn't pay a lot of attention to it as it wasn't anything that required immediate attention. It didn't even detract much from the appearance of the place but then, JC was a guy, who wasn't all that concerned about how his kitchen looked as long as it was clean. But when he was putting his dishes away he noticed an inspection form made out by the super for the previous tenant. The chip in the sink was noted.

JC filed that paper away. He didn't know what for but he was a stickler for keeping track of official documents so that form went into the file cabinet along with everything else that pertained to the apartment. When he moved out the super came in and carried out the standard inspection to ensure that JC hadn't wrecked the place during his stay. She noted the chip in the sink and gave JC a copy of the form.

Back at his real home at the south end of the province, JC quickly got back into his old routine. He moved completely into his old place (which he never really moved out of in the first place--he camped at Fort McMurray) and quickly assumed his new role, which amounted pretty much to what he was doing all his life. One day he received a letter from his former landlord which contained his damage deposit refund. It also contained a copy of the inspection form as signed by his former super.

The landlord deducted the cost of the sink from his damage deposit leaving him with only a fraction of the original deposit. JC bristled when he read that but kept his cool. He went into the back room and retrieved the copy that the former tenant had left behind. A couple of phone calls to Fort McMurray and he was able to get in touch with the former tenant. She (the former tenant) happened to know who rented the apartment before she did and she got in touch with that girl, who told her that her damage deposit refund had also been docked for the chipped sink.

Well, JC made a copy of the form that had been left in the apartment, and the twice removed tenant, who also happened to be a stickler for keeping documents, faxed JC a copy of her inspection form. JC simply mailed copies of all three forms to the landlord in Edmonton, along with a letter stating that he wasn't responsible for chipping the sink.

He let the landlord decide about the two previous tenants...

Four days later, a courier showed up at JC's workplace. He personally presented JC with an envelope that contained a check for the balance of the damage deposit, along with a letter of sincere (?) apology.

JC entertained thoughts about getting in touch with the previous tenants to see if they each received their full refunds.

It sometimes pays to hang onto papers, even if they seem insignificant at the moment.


PART TWO--THE BIG BAD TENANT

Sometime down the road, JC and Mattie met, fell in love and began to plan a life together. Things couldn't have been better except for their housing situations. They were both involved in professions that limited their abilities to simply pack up and relocate. Mattie lived in Arrowwood and was a branch manager for a charter bank as well as manager for two days a week at a branch in Vauxhall. JC lived in Taber which was only twenty miles from Vauxhall but a whole lot of miles from Arrowwood. Despite being a heavy duty mechanic, he had chosen to specialize in fuel systems, which eventually became a trade in itself, albeit in limited facilities. For him to move and take on a regular position in a dealership or regular service shop the disadvantages far outweighed the advantages. Mattie was just as stuck as management positions weren't all that plentiful. They discussed this at great length and it was decided that Mattie would spend her three days or so in Arrowwood and then come down to Vauxhall for her two days and then onto Taber where they would spend a weekend, with the next weekend spent at Arrowwood.

That settled, they went ahead with wedding plans.

Mattie told her boss what was going on. Upon hearing that, her boss said that there was going to be some major changes in Arrowwood, Okotoks and Milo. He also told her that changes were coming for Vauxhall too. That meant that Mattie's position in both branches was going to change as well. But he asked if she would be willing to transfer to Standoff, a branch on the Blood Indian Reservation just north of Cardston. Mattie had dealt with First Nations people before and she looked upon the offer as a challenge, which she accepted but not without serious consideration.

That drawback to that was Mattie would be leaving Arrowwood, a place she absolutely loved. She loved the people, she loved the location, and she loved her eighty year old home, which sat on two large treed lots.

Try that in the city...

On the same note, JC agreed to move out of Taber and relocate to Coaldale, which was a tad bit more central to both their workplaces.

Probably the hardest thing she would ever do was say good-bye to that fabulous old home. I might add that JC felt quite badly that Mattie would be giving up a place she loved so much. It still bothers him from time to time and there's no doubt that Mattie gets melancholy about it as well.

But the decision was made. Mattie first rented her place to her brother and his wife for a few months but she also listed the house for sale through a self-administered agency.

After that first winter, the brother and sister-in-law moved out leaving the house empty. One weekend, Mattie and JC loaded up tools and supplies and drove up to Arrowwood, the purpose of their mission to clean up the place and paint a couple of walls, something to give it more appeal. They were just getting at the tasks at hand when Mattie received a call regarding selling her house.

The potential buyers were (at the time) living in Gleichen, about twenty miles due north of Arrowwood. They weren't happy with the place they had there and happened upon the listing of Mattie's house. In a very short time the couple was down to check the place out.

They loved the place and they didn't even haggle over the price. They wanted the house and that was it. But they were waiting on some money to come through from a construction job and they couldn't afford a downpayment until July but they would gladly rent until then.

If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. This couple, a Barbie and Ken, if anyone ever saw one, would have been the unanimous choice for Prom King and Queen in their high school days I am sure. Both now in their thirties, Ken was six-foot two, athletic, with the handsome chiseled features that could have won him leading roles in major movies. Barbie was drop-dead gorgeous. Blond, with a figure that rivaled Pamela Anderson. Ken was a self-employed carpenter while Barbie worked at one of the recycle depots in the southern part of Calgary. Their occupations gave JC and Mattie the idea that Barbie and Ken were down-to-earth, hardworking people and people they could trust.

Mattie hastily made up some papers. Signatures were affixed and witnessed, and money for the first month's rent changed hands. The new owners would start moving in immediately.

And they did...

That was April. May came around and the money was deposited right into Mattie's account through the branch in Arrowwood. Barbie and Ken were welcomed into the community and Ken was even asked if he would like to join the volunteer fire department.

June came around and the money wasn't deposited on time. A phone call from Mattie and they acknowledged that business in Calgary had kept them away from home for a spell but the money would be deposited very soon.

It did, about two days later. Mattie phoned and asked them about their financing and was told that they had the papers at the lawyer's and they would be signing them soon. But could Mattie wait another month as the downpayment was taking longer than they thought?

Mattie reluctantly agreed but she (and JC) were beginning to worry.

August came and once again, no money. Mattie phoned several times before she managed to get hold of Barbie. She was assured that the rent would be deposited within the week and that the downpayment was on its way. The rent for August never showed up.

September came and no deposits, and no answer on the phone. Mattie had a manager's meeting in Calgary so she swung by the place to see what was going on. No one was home but, as a landlord, she was entitled to go in and check the place out. She did and she found a total pigsty--she couldn't believe that two good-looking people could live in the conditions that they were living in.

They had a Golden Retriever dog that left golden hair in piles everywhere. If that wasn't enough, the dog had experienced some indigestion, leaving the evidence on the floor in the living room. The double kitchen sink and expensive tap set, which Mattie had saved an entire year for, had a hole in the side of one basin and the faucet was broken; a pair of vicegrip pliers was attached to the mechanism.

Some time before Mattie met JC, she had bought a wood-burning stove and paid to have it professionally installed. A granite hearth had been set up in the parlor, the stove installed and the pipe and chimney exited properly out the wall. Barbie and Ken had removed the stove and set it in the front porch. They removed the granite hearth and back wall and leaned the slabs against the outside garage wall.

A short visit with the neighbors, who mentioned that Barbie and Ken were getting more and more difficult to visit with and Mattie got busy. She left a note on the table telling the tenants to clean the place up immediately, and that they would be responsible for the sink and tap set. She also told them that the rent was way past due. She was giving them one more chance to get the purchase completed.

October, and no money. Three months gone by and no contact whatsoever. Mattie gave up phoning and leaving messages but she somehow found their E-mail address and began to send them messages. Interesting enough, they replied to the messages but carefully removed any parts of Mattie's messages that could be deemed a disadvantage to them. With no other choice, Mattie drove up one evening and stapled an eviction notice to the door.

They got the notice; the neighbor watched Ken rip it off the door that night.

Mattie petitioned the court to charge them for damages to the sink and the floor coverings; she asked for compensation to reinstall the wood-burning stove, and petitioned to get them thrown out of the house. For a system that is notorious for delays Mattie's court date came up quickly. Thinking (hoping) that things would go Mattie's way, she took a day off work and drove to Gleichen where court was being held.

There was another part to this story: another potential buyer had seen the listing and was very interested in buying the property. Unfortunately there was no way to show it while the occupants were still there.

The court docket was loaded. Mattie's case ended up being the last of the day. Mattie presented her case objectively and then sat down to let Barbie and Ken present theirs.

Well, it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Barbie and Ken had been through situations like this before. They both entered the courtroom dressed to the nines and they knew the Landlord-Tenant Act intimately, even better than the judge. Ken quoted it verbatim, ending up with the classic: it's coming winter and we've got no place to go line.

By this time, the day was over for the court and the judge obviously wanted to go home. He told Mattie to hammer out an agreement with Ken and adjourned for the day.

Mattie and JC were stuck. They had (high-classed?) squatters residing in the house and it looked like they would have to put up with them for the winter. Come spring, if they were still there, they would have to take them to court again to get them thrown out. Dejected, they contemplated their next move.

But in the case of Mattie VS Barbie and Ken, sometimes fate steps in to lend a hand.

The house in Arrowwood was heated with oil. The main reason Mattie installed a wood-burning stove was to save on her heating bill; anyone who had to heat their home with heating oil knew that oil was the most expensive way by far.

Well, Ken moved the wood-burning stove out and was going ahead with plans to convert the parlor into something else, only he hadn't quite got around to anything other than moving the stove out. November came and it got very cold very fast. Late one night the furnace quit running; it had run out of stove oil and shut down. Ken tried everything he could to coax the last remaining drops of stove oil out of the tank but his efforts were to no avail. With no oil and no money to buy more he had to move the wood-burning stove back into the house and attempt to heat it that way.

He had also removed the granite hearth and backwall and had no way of restoring it back to where it belonged. Undaunted he set the wood stove into position and perched it on top of some wooden blocks. After connecting the chimney he had a fire going once again. Consequences be damned!

That must have worked for a couple of days, until they ran out of firewood. According to the neighbors they packed up and headed out in the middle of the night and hadn't been around for some time.

Mattie and JC drove up and looked over the damage. They quickly notified the fire inspector who promptly condemned the stove and put a sign on the door forbidding occupation until the problem was corrected. Locks changed, the house was secure (to a certain extent although access could still be made through the entryway on the east side of the house.

The aforementioned buyer was still in touch. Mattie showed him through the house and a deal was struck. Only problem now was what to do with Barbie and Ken's stuff? Again fate would lend a hand.

One evening Mattie received an interesting phone call. The caller was from Gleichen and had heard about the trouble Mattie was having with Barbie and Ken. She (the caller) told Mattie that the town of Gleichen had given Ken an advance on some remodeling to the community center. Trouble was the check was cashed but the work wasn't done and they needed to have it done or the money returned so the town could hire another contractor. Mattie told her that the delinquent couple's stuff was still in the house. Suddenly excited, the lady asked how difficult access to the house was. The answer was simple: either the east end or take the large window out of the north wall and you're there.

Maybe Mattie should've been a little more cautious about this but she had the understanding that the lady would simply enter the house and take inventory of what was in there so she could use it in a collection case. But the lady got a crew together and they took everything, even the garbage. I might add that there wasn't much other than a big screen TV that was worth anything, and that was the first thing they carted away.

Barbie and Ken showed up one day about six weeks later and discovered that their stuff was gone. They tried to phone Mattie who suddenly became very hard to get. They finally phoned the police and reported that their stuff had been stolen. To make a long story shorter, the lady admitted to taking all the stuff out and was holding it for repayment of monies that had been given with nothing in return. She also implicated Mattie in that Mattie had given permission to get all the stuff.

A trip to the lawyer and another trip to the police and everything was straightened out. Barbie and Ken got their furniture back and Mattie was able to sell her house... Almost a year after the whole fiasco began.

Moral of the story: 1/ If it seems too good to be true; it is. 2/ Believe nothing of what you hear, and only half of what you see. 3/ The devil wears many disguises.


PART THREE--THE BIG BAD TENANT

This is more of a footnote but it's interesting that when Mattie complained about her situation to others, she was told some tales that were just about as bad. In one of them, the landlord, after pursuing every avenue imaginable, simply backed his truck up to the front door and started moving his own furniture and belongings inside. When the family asked what was going on, the landlord simply told them that he was moving in; it was his house and he had the right to live there. He moved the tenants' stuff over to one side of the living room and put his stuff on the other. He simply moved in and set up shop with a family he couldn't get to leave.

It wasn't long before they left.

But there are cases where the tenant not only knows the Landlord-Tenant Act but is cunning and crafty as well. A couple had rented a house on a farmstead outside of Lethbridge. They had a handicapped child and one of the parents worked while the other one stayed at home to look after the child. It wasn't long before the rent was overdue to the point where they were being evicted.

It was winter, they had no money and no place to go; their child was sick and draining all their resources; the landlord had to present the eviction notice personally to the tenant whose name was on the contract in order to throw him out...

Believe it or not, that last statement was the one thing that allowed the delinquent family to remain there for five years, without paying a cent. They even filed suit against the landlord when he took down the satellite dish because the tenant's wife worked from home and needed internet access (thus the satellite dish) to do her job.

The landlord investigated hiring a professional torch to burn the place down but refrained at the last minute; a smart move to say the least. The last I heard, the landlord hired a contractor and began extensive renovations on the house. He couldn't throw the tenants out because that would mean he would have to provide alternate accommodations until the work was completed. He just told them that there would be a lot of construction going on and they (the tenants) would have to work around the crew. From what I heard the handicapped boy got so upset that they had to get out and move him up to Calgary where he could get some more help. The delinquents took a lot of their stuff with them but the rest of it was put out in the garage which will soon be standing by itself as the house has been sold and will be moved off the place as soon as renos are done.

Not exactly legal but then, how legal were the tenants? Yeah, I know, two wrongs don't make a right, but sometimes there isn't any choice.

FACTORY TOUR

When kids leave home for the first time and live on their own they are expected to derail a time or two. Life without parental supervision; college parties, getting drunk and disorderly, and generally making fools of themselves are part and parcel to growing up. Then there's the moment when life's realities start to sink in. Job, marriage, kids (not necessarily in that order) and generally joining in with the mainstream of society, raising a family and becoming a decent citizen are all necessary to keep the world moving ahead. But there are times when that youthful recklessness comes back for a visit, even several years down the road.

Manufacturing--mass-production--is always interesting. Seeing that metal being heated into a molten state then poured into molds to become a transmission case or an engine block, then watching as those castings are machined and assembled into complete units, tested and sent to other parts of the factory; watching sheets of steel being cut out, pressed, and formed to become frame rails, fenders and hoods, then to watch all those pieces being assembled on a moving line where the sum of the parts becomes a car or truck, or a tractor or combine. Companies, like General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, John Deere and Caterpillar all manufacture products that are used by the masses to commute, transport, dig, plow and build (although some products are not used for what they were originally intended--more of that in another story). And it naturally raises one's curiosity to see how those products are actually made.

Almost all manufacturers offer guided tours through their various plants. Guided is absolutely necessary to ensure safety of the visitors as well as that of the workers. Through the various dealerships many mass tours are organized where the visitors are flown (and bussed) to several plants to see all kinds of work in process. John Deere, to name one company, is especially capable of handling those masses and seeing that all have a good time. They organize what is called The Deereland Fly-in, usually twice a year, and the select customers are brought in for two to three days of education, good food and a chance to rub shoulders with others from other parts of the continent (and even overseas).

Service personnel in dealerships are required to attend annual updates and service schools that specialize in the products they service. In the early days of JC's tenure as a service technician those schools/workshops were held right at the factories. During some of those trips factory tours were given so JC was quite familiar with the goings on there. After a couple of update sessions he was content to socialize with the other technicians then simply head for home when the course was over.

Well, it was in late February and JC had completed a four and a half day update course at the John Deere Tractor Works in Waterloo, Iowa. The course let out at noon on Friday and JC was back at his room packing his things and getting ready to head for home. An extensive two day drive and he would be home, possibly have part of Sunday to recuperate and be ready for the carnage that awaited him on Monday morning. To his surprise, the phone rang.

It was GA, JC's boss, and sometimes (read, often) adversary. 'JC, how was your course?' That was more of a statement to break the ice because GA never cared much about the courses that his service department attended except that they cost way too much and were a waste of valuable shop time. And that they were another ploy of the manufacturers to hold a gun to his head in order to be allowed to continue selling their product lines.

JC responded in true character: 'Just fine." Translation: 'Things were just great until you phoned.'

'JC, I've got a big problem: The Deereland Fly-in begins on Monday and I've got some things I've got to attend to here at home. I've got six customers coming down on the charter plane on Sunday for that tour and I was hoping that you could represent our dealership and go on the tour with them. Just meet them at the airport and take my place.'

'No problem; I'd be glad to do it.' JC hung up then proceeded to unpack and prepare to spend a rather boring couple of days cooped up in Howard Johnson's, reading and watching TV. It could've been worse; having to stay behind to watch a ballet or something cultural (therefore the last thing even remotely interesting) like that.

Sunday morning, JC checked out of his room then moved over to the Sheritan where Deere and Company housed all their tourists. He drove out to the airport, parked his truck and waited for the plane. It was about then he began to wonder what was in store for him.

Through the years it was commonplace for some of the factory tourists to go haywire. First time away from home and the wife and kids, and it was almost like being in college again. Party it up, have a good time then sober up and come home. There was in incident in Manheim, Germany, where everyone down one corridor was awakened at three in the morning by a woman shrieking and pounding on the door to one of the rooms.

'You bastard! You owe me a hundred Marks!' It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what kind of business the woman was in. And at breakfast the next morning the 'customer' showed up with a black eye. The excuse: walked into a door.

Okay...

Well the charter 737 jet landed and taxied over to the terminal. The weary travelers shuffled in and JC looked for his charges. Before he recognized any of them he did notice a couple of men in their early forties, quite well-dressed and each holding tightly onto a briefcase. Their red faces and somewhat disheveled appearances made it quite clear that they had consumed a rather large amount of alcohol both before boarding that plane and during the flight.

JC was glad they weren't from his dealership. Actually all of his group came out at once and none of them was the worst for wear. It could be that none of them drank either.

They all boarded the buses and drove straight down to the Sheritan where they were treated to an excellent dinner--courtesy, Deere and Company--in one of the large dining rooms and then off to their individual accomodations to spend the evening unwinding and getting ready for the first tour early the next morning.

JC's curiosity was aroused with the two partiers he had seen at the airport. He wondered if they would be in any kind of shape to actually go on the tour. Strangely he didn't see them at breakfast and they weren't on his tour group, but since there were over three hundred people at this event, they could easily be with another group.

They toured the John Deere foundry, then the Waterloo Tractor Works, then across the Interstate to Cedar Rapids where they toured the Engine Works. Then they boarded their buses and drove across the state to Moline Illinois, where they were fed and put up in the Sheritan Rock Island.

After supper, JC contacted a couple of friends he had met on one of his motorcycle trips and made arrangements to meet them at a tavern a short distance away. They shared a few stories, played a few games of pool then parted company. JC entered the hotel lobby and pressed the button for the elevator. When the doors opened JC was quite surprised at what he saw.

One of the mystery men he had seen get off the plane in Waterloo two days ago, was lying, spread-eagle on the floor of the elevator, head propped up against the wall, passed out cold. He was still clad in the same suit, only with the jacket open, shirt open, tie undone, and still holding tightly to the handle of his briefcase. JC had no idea how long the man had been there but it looked like he'd been going up and down with the elevator for some time.

Once securely in his room, JC phoned hotel security and advised them to check the elevator.

The next day, Tuesday, they toured the Combine Works, then the Plow-Planter Works, then at day's end they were bussed out to the Deere and Company World Headquarters where they toured that facility and sat down to an elaborate supper in the massive dining hall there.

By ten everyone was back at the hotel to unwind and prepare for the trip home.

The fortunate thing about the organized tours is that the host (in this case, Deere and Company) is very careful to keep track of everyone. Every morning there is a head-count and if someone isn't present, a search is conducted and the missing person found.

Well, they were missing someone. JC saw the one guy (same suit) from the elevator but he didn't see his buddy. Everyone was kicked off the bus and reissued their room keys. Back in their rooms a new head-count was taken. They were almost ready to summon the authorities when someone called out from down the hall: 'I think he's here!'

There must have been quite a party going on in that particular room as both beds were a shambles. The missing man was found, buck-naked, sleeping on the floor next to one of the beds.

And it wasn't his room!

It's needless to say that the trip back to Waterloo was rather quiet as the busload of tourists/partiers had other things on their minds aside from the breaktaking sights they had the privilege of seeing in those factories. Back in the airport terminal, JC said good-bye to his charges and watched as the weary travelers headed through security. Near the end of the line were those two, still wearing the same suits, still clutching their briefcases, shuffling through the gate.

To this day JC can't help but wonder what those guys actually saw.