Old Mack’s Tales

January 31, 2012

Flying Gypsy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 8:38 am
The Gypsy Pilot Episode.

A Gypsy Pilot will fly anything with fixed wings, anyplace at any time, for a fee. It’s a tough row to hoe, and nobody I know ever got rich or even stayed solvent for long, doing this kind of flying. But it sure was a blast while it lasted.

I had a salaried job demonstrating new Beechcraft Bonanzas and Debonairs to prospective buyers all over Oregon and Eastern Washington.  It had been fun for a while, but then it began to feel like riding a carousel horse. I logged many hours in good airplanes, landed in countless farmers fields (wheat ranchers were our prime prospects) and at every airport on the sectional charts, but in the end I was getting nowhere fast. So I put out the word to fixed base operators that I would be happy to deliver airplanes for them, or take their buyers to the factories in Wichita,Kansas or Kerrville, Texas to pick up their new planes.

Ron Scott, the FBO and Mooney Aircraft distributor at Albany, Oregon called me one day. He reached me at Milt Ruberg’s airport in Springfield, OR, where I was consoling Milt for the loss of his son to cancer. Ron Scott said: “I’ve got three men who have to get to Kerrville, Texas  to take delivery of their new Mooney Super-21s.  Could you fly them down there?”

“Be glad to do it, Ron,” I said, “If I can get Milt to fly me up to your place; he recently lost his son, and is in a funk. Maybe I’ll talk him into flying up in his Boeing Stearman. Some oil smoke and wind in his face might get his head straight.” I looked at Milt. The old man had half a grin on his leathery kisser as he nodded.
“We’ll give you a call on the Unicom frequency, Ron,” I said. Milt was already shrugging on his leather jacket as I hung up the phone.

“This is the best notion anybody has had, Mack,” Milt said as he did a low altitude barrel roll with the Stearman over Coburg, Oregon. As we approached Albany, Milt’s voice came through my head set: “Thanks, Mack. Any time I can help you out buddy, just call me.” Milt greased the wheels on the macadam runway at Albany in a perfect three-point full stall landing. He waved a gloved hand at Ron as I climbed out of the front cockpit. I barely had time to get out of the way of his empennage, when Milt hit full throttle and took off.

Ron and I watched Milt put on a show of aerobatics before he headed south for Springfield. Sadly, Milt’s name, his airport and his son’s name are all Xes in my address book now.

We walked into Ron’s office. He poured two cups of coffee and sweetened them with old bourbon. We toasted all the men like Milt that we knew or had known. Then we got down to business.

“You’ll have to let these guys each fly a leg of the trip to Kerrville, Texas.  None of them has much experience with the Mooney’s manual landing gear retraction and lowering mechanism, so let them get some practice landings along the way,” Ron said, as he wrote their names down on my knee board.
One man was the FBO at the McMinnville airport, another lived in St. Helens and would meet us at the Hillsborough airport, and the third man asked me to pick him up at Portland International Airport at the Flightcraft office—my former employer; it would not make my old boss happy to see me flying the Mooney , but so it goes.
As we walked out to one of Ron’s older Mark-21 aircraft, he pulled a wad of bills from his pocket and peeled off three C notes. “If this doesn’t do it, call me and I’ll wire you more cash,” Ron said. Then he added: “I’ll pay you your fee when you get back, if that’s okay with you.” I had agreed to do the job for twenty-five bucks an hour based on the time on the tachometer. I didn’t believe in charging for time I’m on the ground due to crappy weather, or a hangover.

“I’ll lead them back here over the Mountains as far as Phoenix or Tucson. From there they can find their way  home.  A buddy of mine is recuperating from crash injuries at the Grand Canyon and I plan to stop there for a visit before coming back. Will that be okay with you?”

“Sure,” Ron said, “The weather may be better down there. But be sure to instruct these guys about the rotor zones on the lee side of the mountains before you cross the Cascades with them; I don’t think they’ve had much mountain flying experience, except for the guy from McMinnville.”

I asked if any of the men had flown in formation.  Ron didn’t know.

“I suppose you could teach them after they pick up their planes.”

That old Mooney Mark 21 was a tight fit for four full-grown men. The guy from McMinnville flew the plane from his field to pick up the other two passengers; he was an experienced flight instructor and had no problems with the throw-over bar that retracted and lowered the landing gear. I sat in the right hand seat–sweating,  just as I always do when I’m not controlling the airplane I’m in.

The guy from St. Helen’s had to get used to more than the landing gear; he’d never flown a high performance, low wing plane before. He got the gear down okay, but tried to land twenty feet above the runway at Boise, Idaho. I told him to take a “wave off,” but he didn’t comprehend. “Go around again!” I shouted into his right ear. Then I had him make three touch and go landings before making a final and swapping seats with the man from Oregon City whom we’d picked up at Portland International.

Oregon City guy did fine until we landed in Salt Lake City. He would have landed gear up, if I hadn’t reminded him. He too had to make several touch and go practice landings before we could all go in for lunch. After lunch, I put Oregon City back in the command pilot’s seat and gave him the Omni heading for Colorado Springs.

The damned fool tried to take off and climb directly over the mountains east of Salt Lake City. I could hear McMinnville in the back seat groaning as the mountain loomed ahead of us. I wanted to let the guy make his own decision, right up until the last minute.  But with four men and our overnight bags in the plane, we were at full gross weight. I explained that the Mark 21 didn’t have as much power as the Super 21 he had bought from Ron. He gave me a blank stare and continued on course, climbing at less than 100 feet per minute. When it was obvious that we couldn’t clear the mountain, I told him to execute a climbing 180 degree  turn and get more altitude before trying to cross it.

While he was climbing, I lectured all three men on the danger of rotor zones on the lee side of mountains: “They can smash you right into the damned ground. So keep at least two thousand feet above the tops of mountains. Winds are lifted by the mountains and break like an ocean wave when the go over the top. On the windward side you get plenty of free lift, but when the wave breaks, it’s like being in an elevator with a broken cable; downdrafts of thousands of feet per minute lurk on the leeward side of the hill.”

When we landed in Kerrville that night, I was exhausted, even though I’d flown the plane for only an hour during the trip.  A rep from the Mooney factory drove us to a motel. We doubled up in two rooms  and I paid the bill.

Before the three men went up with a check pilot from the Mooney factory, I briefed them all on the basics of flying formation, using a couple of model airplanes in the instructor’s lounge. I asked the check pilot if he would show these guys how to intercept my airplane as I circled over the field. He said that it was against company policy, but if I just happened to be circling up there within ten miles of their airport, he’d demonstrate the intercept maneuver.

“How tight do you want these guys to fly on your wing?” he asked. I told him to feel them out. Wingtip separation and step-down would be up to him. “Just don’t bump into me, okay?”
McMinnville slid in on my port wing very smoothly, but then he got sucked. That is, he took off too much power and fell behind. After a bit of throttle jockeying he managed to hold a good position at a 45º angle, in a left echelon and twenty feet lower than my wing. Crossing him from left to right, under my fuselage was a bit nerve-wracking for me and the check pilot, but after a few tries McMinnville got it. The guy from Oregon City would have nothing to do with formation flying; he said he’d take his time and fly VFR back to Oregon by himself via Wyoming and Idaho. The St. Helen’s dude tried like hell to maintain formation after completing a rendezvous, but would not, or could not move in closer than 100 feet between our wingtips. That would have to do, as the check pilot couldn’t spend more time with us without catching hell from his boss.

Oregon City took off heading for Wichita, Kansas, but put the airplane down at Midland-Odessa airport and called it a day, the Rep from Mooney reported.

McMinnville took off first in his new Super 21 and orbited west of Kerrville, where St. Helen’s joined him in a very loose formation. I joined them and took the lead, moved them into position off each wing like goslings. Their airplanes could out run mine easily, so I set the pace for them.

It was a beautiful day. Clear all the way to Santa Fe, but beyond that there was a squall line. Both men were in a hurry to get home, but neither was instrument rated, or at least not current. They agreed to follow me through a notch in the mountains west of Deming where the bottoms of the thunder bumpers were less than five thousand feet above the summits and lightning was striking the peaks on both sides of the pass.
We  circled east of the pass to gain altitude, but just enough to keep our heads out of the clouds. Then we headed for the tunnel of light over the pass. Half way through that eerie green tunnel we met two Air Force fighter jets coming at us head on. Whether those two jet jockeys had us in sight or on their radar is doubtful. They screamed over our planes close enough to bounce us around in their wake.

We landed at Tucson International and had a drink together before they went on their way. I noted as we bumped our shot glasses together that all of our hands were trembling.

After a night in Tucson, I flew up to the South Rim and landed. When I called his number, I got the word that Elling was recuperating at the North Rim Lodge. I asked the FBO about the small air strip on the north side of the canyon. He told me  it was on a side hill with several humps and dips in it. “But it ain’t that bad.”

I topped off my fuel tanks at the South Rim airport.   I planned to look over the strip on the north side and land on it, if it looked okay. I figured I’d have to hike to the lodge where Elling staying.

Hot air is less dense than cold air. The higher the airport, the lower the density. The power an engine can put out, the lift of the airfoil and the thrust of the propeller are all directly proportional to the air density.  Landing at an airport  8,000 feet above sea level when the temperature is 90 degrees is like landing on the top of Mount Whitney; the density altitude is around 14,000 feet. You have to land hotter, which takes a longer roll out than you’d need at sea level, or on a colder day. This particular dirt landing strip is draped across three fingers on the side of a hill. It was long enough, but only because it was tilted upwards from the north end to the south. The whole landscape tilts upwards from 7,000 feet to almost 9,000 feet there on the high plateau north of the Grand Canyon..

I landed okay, but the roll out was like riding swells on a surfboard. Heavy braking got me stopped short of some scrub junipers at the south end of the dirt strip. A jeep driver from the lodge picked me up and delivered me to Elling Halvorson’s retreat.

My reunion with Elling was interesting. His crash injuries had been extensive and life threatening, but he had mended more rapidly than he  expected. Elling’s experience had transformed him; he’d been “born again,” The main topic of our conversation was his religious experience, and his new corporation for taking tourists on helicopter rides in the Canyon.

I’ve never been able to sit long for sermons. I cut the meeting short, saying that I had to make it to Las Vegas before dark. I concocted something about navigation lights, as I recall.
I got a ride out to the strip. The driver returned to the lodge. I debated with myself about having the driver return with containers so I could drain most of the gas from the Mooney; without the weight of gasoline, I knew I could take off and land at the South Rim. On the other hand, if I could get off the ground with full tanks, I could spend the night in Vegas.  Of course there was also the option of spending the night at the lodge and leaving in the cool of the morning, but that would have been out of character, as writers say. I chose the riskier option; I would attempt to take off with full fuel tanks and fly to Vegas.

Maybe the heat and altitude affected my critical faculties,  I certainly wasn’t using my head. The wind was dead calm. I could have taken off to the north and it would have been all down hill.

I sat at the north end, revved the engine and released the brakes. As soon as the wheels broke ground, I raised the landing gear. I climbed until the plane would climb no more, and then found that I had only fifteen or twenty feet between my butt and the deck. The landscape was climbing as fast as I was.  At the far end of a long meadow there were tall ponderosa pines that I knew I couldn’t clear.

It was beginning to look like I’d have to ditch the plane.  I  had barely enough altitude to bank the wings a few degrees without dragging a wingtip on deck. I was munching the seat cushion with my puckering strings and talking to myself out loud.

Ah, there’s a glimmer of light.  Pay attention.  That’s a reflection from water in a brook.  Follow it.  It’s flowing west through a break in the forest.  Easy now, gentle bank, that’s it.  Easy on the controls.  Pay attention.

I gently banked right and flew between the trees.  I followed the stream.  When it cascaded over the rim of the canyon, I followed it in a steep dive, gaining surplus airspeed, before zooming upwards. I felt like I just made my point on a craps table.

I knew it was my lucky day, as I pointed the nose of the old Mark 21 toward Vegas, trimmed the plane and lit a Winston. A cigarette never tasted so good.

My Course-Deviation instrument wasn’t working properly. It was indicating that I was on course to my destination–Las Vegas.   But I had drifted north into restricted air space.

Ground Control Intercept radar had obviously picked up my blip on their scopes.  Two fighters from Nellis AFB scrambled and were looking for me.  I dove for the deck, turned south and wove through the canyons until I came out over Lake Mead. The interceptors either lost me, or lost interest after I left their area. Over the Lake I climbed up to traffic pattern altitude and landed at Thunderbird Airport in Las Vegas.

A guy from the electronics shop checked the instrument. He said he would fix it in the morning, and then gave me a ride into town..

He parked at the Travel Lodge Motel. That’s when  I realized that four singles were all the cash I had left. I had blown the money on fuel, meals, and motel rooms for all four of us. I used my Mobile credit card to rent a room for the night, and then bought the tech guy a drink at the bar.

While he sipped his drink, I took the dime and quarter change and put them into two slots. I pulled the handles at the same time and hit a jackpot on both machines. There was a flood of dimes and quarters. After converting the change to bills, Tech Guy suggested that we take a look at the new casino across the road which had “Grand Opening” signs fluttering behind some fantastic, illuminated fountains.

The new casino was “Caesar’s Palace,” and it looked like one. Inside the dealers and waitresses were clones May Britt, blond hair, long legs and wearing short vestal virgin white togas, enticing that is.

I sat across from a lonely blackjack dealer with emerald eyes the size of quarters and bumped heads with her until my stacks of silver dollars were about to topple. My Tech friend had gone home, so I dined alone in splendor. After paying for the meal, I returned to the Travel Inn, showered and hit the sack.

The next morning, when Tech Guy picked me up, I counted my winnings; it was close to three hundred bucks. That’s not a lot of dough, unless you were down to your last buck when you made it. Then it feels like a fortune, heavy yet comfortable in the pockets.

It took Tech Guy only minutes to fix my CDI. The instrument worked fine all the way back to Albany.

Ron paid me off, and then flew me down to Springfield, were I was living in a boarding house near the University of Oregon campus. That night I went to the “Down Under” night club and listened to Monty Fisher and his band “Amazing Grace” play some fine mountain blues.

I was enjoying my new career as Gypsy Pilot.  I’d made several mistakes due to my complacency.   I would not make the same mistakes in the future; I would make different mistakes, and learn from them too.



January 30, 2012

OldMack’s 17 Foot Sloop

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 6:47 pm
Located in Mack's back yard in Seminole, Florida.  There's a trailer for it and a 4hp Johnson kicker

Ron sailing his boat solo on Boca Ciega.  Photograph by Christine McKinney taken using her telephoto lens.

Christine and Ron were partners in the building of this boat from Ron’s design in their own back yard.   The hull of their boat is laminated wood and epoxy sheathed in epoxy saturated Dynel cloth.  It has a stainless steel centerboard and a dry storage compartment forward of the mast and main bulkhead.  The cockpit sole is spruce planked and when padded makes a good bed.  Spars are aluminum by Kenyon.  Sails, main and jib, are of Dacron.  There is sufficient flotation fore and aft to prevent sinking if swamped.

January 28, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 7:04 am

On The Beach

January 13, 2012

Memoir of Old Jack, an Army Mule

Filed under: Short Stories — Ron McKinney aka "OldMack" @ 8:34 am

Call Me Old Jack,

This is how an Army Mule retires: working with cowboys and tourists in the Grand Canyon; this is the watering and rest stop at Indian Gardens, where a young Mack was staying while he worked on the Trans-Canyon Pipeline which supplies the water.

My daddy was a jackass stallion; Momma was a big roan mare.

I was born on Roan Mountain on Black Tuesday in 1929

I’m an old Jack Mule now, who has been most everywhere.

I was born in North Car’lina.  Had it not been for hard times, some called it the Great Depression, I might have spent a lifetime draggin’ stone boats up them hills.  A sawed off mountain lad the local yokels called Mack thought I was his pet, like that yeller hound dog and the old Dominicker chicken that follered him around those mountains.  I follered him too, because he was needy.  And, to tell the truth, I liked to munch on the parched corn the kid always carried in the pockets of his overalls.

Mack was a lightweight, a scrawny kid.  Even when I was just a colt I’d let him ride on my back; I hardly knew he was there.

Mack’s daddy got hard up for cash and had me trucked to Jonesboro, Tennessee.  I thought that was the last I’d see of Mack, but danged if I wasn’t mistaken.  I was sold at auction to a feller from Memphis who bought mules to resell to the U.S. Army.

I was most full grown when the Quartermaster from Fort Reno won the bidding.  From Memphis a bunch of us sturdy young studs (that’s just a figure of speech, you know we mules are sterile, which means we can’t reproduce—it don’t mean we’re queer) and a few Jennies were loaded on a train and hauled out to Oklahoma.  I fell for the cutest blue-nose Jenny you’ve never saw during that long, smoky train ride.  Prettiest eyes and ass you’ve ever seen, love at first sight so to speak.  But they kept us apart, chained to the stanchions of that cattle car.  Maybelline was my Jenny’s name.  Our romance was brief and unrequited as they say, but I’ll never forget those eyes.

At the Remount Depot, in Fort Reno we had our Army physical exams, got our shots for tetanus and anthrax, and were tattooed in our ears.  Poor Maybelline caught a cold during the train ride and it developed into pneumonia; she dropped dead while we were having our hooves examined, poor thing.  I reckon the Army veterinarian though I was in good shape—better’n most due to the workouts with the stone boats in those mountains of North Carolina; some of those Missouri mules was half starved when they were recruited, or acquired—so they gave me my service number, 08K0 and shipped me down to an artillery regiment at Fort Sill.

I’m sure stranger things have happened, but imagine my surprise when they put on the chow wagon team and assigned a Buck Private by the name of Mack to ride me.

I reckon if you’ve seen those movies about the 20-Mule Teams that lug those wagons filled with Borax out of Death Valley, you probably got the wrong impression.  We weren’t driven like that, with a man sitting in the wagon, steering us with reins and crackin’ a bull whip over our heads like we were dumb oxen.  No it wasn’t that way at all.  Of course we were harnessed, collars and all, but experienced mule such as myself were put at the head of the team, saddled and ridden by our soldier.  In my case it was my old partner, Mack.

Now I don’t know for sure that Mack recognized me right off, the way I knew him by his smell.  But the first time the Private came close with a bag of corn nuts, I snatched ‘em out of his hand.

The dumb kid might have slugged me, but an old Sergeant had his eye on him.  I nudged Mack with my nose in that spot where he was ticklish, and got him laughing.  And then I gave him back his bag of corn nuts and he shared ‘em with me.  He knew from that moment on just who I was.

“Jack!” He hollered like he’d met a long lost friend, “You sonofabitch, I thought it was you.”

Well, to make a long story short, Mack got married to a girl over in Marlow, had some kids and got out of the Army.  And me, well they hauled me to California on the train, put me on a ship and sent me to Honolulu in Hawaii.  I wound up working for those dog face soldiers at Schofield Barracks, packing loads of K-Rations to feed them, when they went on maneuvers in the Kuhuku Forest on the Pali.

Next thing you know those Japanese airplanes came over and bombed our biggest ships in Pearl Harbor and clobbered all of our airplanes at Hickham Field.  That, friends, was a day to remember.  I have to tell you how dumb the Army Officers were; they had men walking guard duty and manning the anti-aircraft guns, but wouldn’t give them any ammo—dumber than horses they were.  And they didn’t get much smarter as time went on ( I heard they’re using horses in Afghanistan’s mountains, which is clearly a job for mules) but I digress.

I got another boat ride to Australia on my way to the China-Burma-India Theater of War.  For you young folks reading this I should explain that a Theater of War ain’t what you may be thinking—we didn’t put on plays.

When we got off the boat in India, we were assigned to the Engineers who were building a road across the Himalaya Mountains into northern Burma and on into southwestern China.  Now that was some damned hard work.  The loads we carried and the muck we had to hike in was hard to believe.  Then there were those jungles and the Japs.  Need I mention the altitude, or the attitude of those draftees marching through that muck?  Just think of the Ledo Road as hell on earth.  Back and forth over those mountains we went, humping loads that would kill a work horse, swimming rivers filled with leeches. It was not only hard work, but deadly boring until someone started shooting.  We reached Myitkyina finally.  That’s where the Ledo  Road joined the old Burma Road. And from there we went on to Kunming, China followed by the trucks. In 1944, I was in a column of experienced mules loaned by the U.S. Army to the Chinese Nationalist Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

Chiang was an arrogant sonofabitch who was pulling a fast one on Uncle Sam, hoarding the loot the U.S. shipped to him over the Ledo-Burma Road and not doing much fighting with the Japanese to speak of, so it should surprise no one that Mao and Chou En-Lai’s Red Army whipped his butt.  That’s when I became a Prisoner of War.

Like all POWs everywhere, I was harnessed to a plow one day and draggin’ a Red Army wagon the next.  Little by little I made my sway from south China to Manchuria.  I even spent a while at Port Arthur working for the Russians, until the war ended—the civil war that is.

As you may recall, the peninsula of Korea was split in two along the 38th Parallel of Latitude and the Sovs occupied the northern half and the U.S. Army ran the southern half.  That situation began to change even while Mao and Chou were still fighting the old Generalissimo Chiang’s army.  In 1949, Chiang and his Nationalist Army bugged out of China and settled on Formosa, an island once owned by the Japs that’s called Taiwan.  The Red Army won the war and Mao was set up as the leader of The People’s Republic of China.

Meanwhile, one of them Koreans by the name of Kim Il-Sung, who’d been to Moscow and learned Communism, and then fought in the Red Army went home to Pyongyang and took over as head of the government in North Korea, which he called The Peoples’ Republic of North Korea.   So Kim Il-Sung got Chairman Mao to send all of the Koreans who’d fought in China against Generalissimo Chiang back home.  Then Kim got his buddy, Uncle Joe to send him a bunch of tanks and burp guns, fuel and ammo and he built himself one mighty army.

Kim’s troops were mostly experienced soldiers.  Singman Rhee’s army in The Republic of Korea, down south of the 38th Parallel, on the other hand were mainly peasants in uniforms with little or no training and though they were reinforced with a regiment of U.S. Army troops and Officers, they were nowhere near as good as Kim’s armies.

So, with permission from Uncle Joe Stalin, the acquiescence of Chairman Mao, and the promise of air support from the Soviet Air Forces in Siberia, Kim Il-Sung invaded South Korea on the 25th of June, 1950.  Let me tell you true, Kim’s troops and tanks went through the South Koreans like shit through a tin horn.  But like most invaders, Kim made a great mistake; he went too far too fast.  By the time his army was down near Pusan, at the Naktong River, he ran out of gas for his tanks, ran out of ammo too.  Well, almost out of ammo, but not quite.  And he went farther than the Soviet Aircraft could fly and fight and still get back to their bases in Siberia and Manchuria.  So Kim’s army was in about the same shape our U.S. Army was that Sunday morning in 1941, when those Jap airplanes hit us on Oahu.

Next thing you know, General MacArthur landed two thirds of a Marine Division and a bunch of soldiers at Inchon and cut off the North Koreans stuck down south.  With the remnants of the R.O.K. Army and the First Marine Brigade and some U.S. Army reinforcements whipping them down on the Naktong, in Mason and so many places, there wasn’t too much left of Kim’s army left to fight.

Well, Kim Il-Sung wasn’t the only one to make mistakes.  Danged if Macarthur didn’t do the same foolish thing of extending himself too far by pushing the fight clean up to the Yalu River—the boundary between Korea and China—with winter coming on.  Some of those old generals were dumb as stones, in spite of all the glory heaped on ‘em.

It was late in November, when the Chinese loaded me up with ammunition and sent me across the river with all those Chinese Volunteers.  It must have been the coldest damned winter on record.  Damned ice was thick enough to hold a tank, but slick!  By then my shoes were worn down so thin they looked like tin foil, no cleats on them at all.  I slid on the ice at every bend in the trail, skint my knees, near broke a leg.  And Christ knows I wasn’t a young Jack by then.  I was Old Jack, and Cold Jack.  By the time the Chinese Volunteers chased the Marines out of the Frozen Chosen Reservoir area down to their ships at Hamhung and the U.S. Army well south of Seoul, I was one Hungry Jack.  What I would have given for a bag of corn nuts that winter.  I must have lost thirty or forty pounds or more.

Then President Truman fired General MacArthur, so I heard, and put another in charge and he counter-attacked and there I was, caught right in the midst of another melee.

Tell you what, by then I’d had ten years of war, damn near continuous war, and I was tired of it.  You can call me a coward if you like.  But I’d had enough, thank you.  I clomped down through the rubble of the Railroad Station in Seoul and hid.  That’s what I did.

After the battle was over, a little Korean boy found me hiding in the dark.  I reckon he must have thought I was a pony—God knows I’d lost a lot of weight.  So the kid, name of Tack Su-Tu, rode me out of the rubble of the Railroad Station and was heading for his daddy’s farm in the Taebak Mountains, when an M.P. stopped us.

The M.P. ran little Tack Su-Tu off and took me prisoner.  Before you know it, I was humping ammo up some mountains higher and steeper than any in North Carolina in a place called The Punch Bowl and a hill called Heartbreak Ridge.  It was nowhere as rough as the Himalayas, but then I wasn’t the youngster I was back then neither.  It was rough, I’ll tell you, and no corn nuts for a reward either.

I was just about worn down to a nubbin when the veterinarian ordered them to give me some R&R and new shoes.  I won’t go into all the trouble I got into during those 10 days of freedom down south.  Well, there was this little roan Mongolian filly, cute as a button, bangs and tail the color of Tennessee clay—ah me.  She couldn’t speak a word of Mule and I hadn’t learned Mongolian, but well, let’s just say we got along and leave it at that.

In 1953, three years and a couple of days from when it started, the Truce was signed in P’anmunjom and I was shipped home on a troop ship, just like one of the boys.

Old Jack was 26 years old by the time the ship docked in Oakland.  Had I been a human being, I would have had a bale of back pay coming to me.  Being an old mule, however, all I got as a reward for all my service was a small bag of corn nuts  when they mustered me out.

When it’s all said and done, I can tell you this: war’s are a bunch of horse shit, and any mule with half a brain would steer clear of armies and wars.  Personally, I’d rather pull a stone boat, or skid logs for a living than go to another war.  Well, they put me out to pasture in a place called Bright Angel to spend the remains of my days toting people down into the Grand Canyon.

If you don’t believe it, you can kiss Old Jack’s tail.


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