Sunday, March 29, 2009

Until this Morning ....

Until this morning I hadn't realized how the Army prepares its' members to say good-bye.  A few hours ago we gathered in front of our house to say good-bye to Lt. Kyle Brinks; my daughter Erin's fiancĂ©e.  For Jani and I it was about the 5th time we have had to say 'good-bye' and it was as difficult this time as it had been in the past. However, for Erin this was just another moment in a long string of moments requiring her to whisper 'good-bye' and offer encouragement to her best friend and soon to be husband before he drove off. 
           Over the last 3 or 4-years Erin has had to say 'good-bye' to Kyle as he left Furman for ROTC duties, departed for multiple active duty assignments and after holiday gatherings. The number of times she has had to say 'good-bye' are far more numerous than I can recount and as an observer to many of those moments it appears to me that each time it gets easier for them.  I don't mean to say they seem to be less connected or have less interest in being together than they did in the past but rather, because of the practice they've received over the years these moments appear to be easier now than they were in the past.  I can only assume that their need to repeat it so often has strengthened them somewhat and that strength is evidence of their taking one more step in their preparation for the BIG ONE that will come too soon.  
     For Kyle and Erin the moment for which the Army has been preparing both for will come next Spring when his (for now) permanent assignment as a platoon leader for a group of combat engineers at Ft Stewart will (it is rumored) result in his unit being deployed to Iraq.  That will be the BIG ONE for them and no one is looking forward to the occasion. That will be the time for them to collect all the courage developed from all the 'Good-bye's' practiced in the past.  They will, at that time, draw on every one of them!
     But for now the future is mostly bright with wedding plans being made and thoughts of their own family unit occupying both of their heads.  So by the time Spring returns next year and the BIG ONE finally comes they will have had even more 'Good-bye' practice sessions to combine with the years of practice they have right now.  And then, when most needed, all that practice and experience will converge to serve them well when it is most needed.   

We pray!  

Dick Bear

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Gone Junkin'

I had often thought about doing it but never had.  You know, taking time to stop, introduce myself and find out what junk another man might have buried under years of vegetation, in old sheds, in the grove or deep in some ditch located on the back 40.  I guess in the past I’ve never been interested enough in another mans’ junk to take the time or make the effort to stop.

Things are different now and for 3-days during Thanksgiving I’d passed a run-down deserted highway grocery too many times to ward-off the temptation any longer.  Besides, Jeffrey's Gone Junkin’ series posted on kept running through my mind and that old roadside dump of a building met all the requirements for great discoveries as described by Jeff and the other Masters of Junk on MetalMeet. 

So; as I drove through the curves leading up to the old place I would be passing for the last time I was pleasantly surprised to see an old gentleman picking his way through the overgrown patch of weeds in what had been, I suppose, the off-road parking area for the store in its’ more successful years.  The building was covered with those imported vines that seem to be taking over the landscape of the SE faster than even the Yankee immigrants.  Ked sue.  I’m sure that’s not spelled correctly but if you’ve ever seen this stuff you will remember it even if I can’t spell it.  The leaves were brown now, stunted by the season's first frosts in the mountains of North Carolina.  The vines and the few remaining leaves nearly blocked the building from view and had it not been for the two old Ford truck carcasses resting near the highway I probably wouldn’t have given the place a second glance.

It was junky.  Real junky and the store appeared to be locked in time, somewhere between old and real old, but I knew I had to stop.  Seeing that old gent made the decision easier than it might have been.  As I said, stopping was quite out-of-character for me and my slowing down followed by a quick turn directly into the weed patch caught my wife by surprise.  Before she could formulate her question, I was in a conversation with the old guy.  Not being experienced at this sort of thing and without saying even hello first, I got straight to the point. “Got any other old cars around the place?”.  Pretty impolite on my part but I guess you have to understand that I was just learning and hadn’t practiced the Gone-Junkin’ routine, not even once before.

“Yep… got those two ’49 Ford pickups and that black Cadillac and the Chevelle behind it”.  “Mind if I take a look?”, I asked as I got out of the car.  “Nope”, he said and slowly stepped in the direction of the vehicles.  He was obviously suffering from some medical problem, looked like he had had a stroke …. left hand and left leg weren’t able to function fully.  “Be careful, don’t trip on those weeds”, I said as we walked closer to the old trucks.  “Did you say they were both ‘49’s”?  “Yep, that one missed the corner and killed the guy when he hit the tree that was there”.  “He just left the truck here…?”  “He couldn’t take it with him, I guess”, the old man said with a slight smile that in addition to a sense of humor exposed an obvious life-long lack of dental hygiene.  We both laughed at his comment.

After wading through a thick mass of sticker bushes that seemed to want to protect the old truck from anyone (me) wanting to get near, I was able to see that it was all there; including the V8 engine of some denomination and some rock hard tires that rested flat on the ground.  Major surface rust, due to a lack of annual waxing but solid, nonetheless.  As I went around the truck pulling weeds in great bundles from the cab and the box, he said, “Was going to take the parts from both trucks to make one that run”.  “Never got to it ‘cause my hand stopped workin'”.  “Yah, that’d be a problem without the use of your hand”, I said as I headed back through the thorns toward the second truck.

This one was in a lot worse shape than the first.  One of the fenders was bent over the already empty engine compartment but the box looked intact and the hood, lying on the ground near by, looked to be in good shape, as well.  “Have you thought of selling the trucks”, I asked.  “Ya, I’d sell ‘em…”  “How much you want?”  “Well, I guess ‘bout thousand”, he said and turned back slowly in the direction we had come.

“What’s in that old building there?”, I asked, pointing at a metal shed that had been hidden from view earlier.  “I got an old Cadillac in there but it’s not for sale”.  “An old Cadillac, what year is it?”, I asked.  “’59”, he said.  “What kind of Cadillac is it?”  “It’s a goodin”.  “A good one eh, but it’s not for sale?”  “Nope, not for sale.”  I asked if we could get into the building to take a look and he said sure but emphasized, once again, that the Cadillac was not for sale. Keep in mind that this guy was suffering from an apparent stroke and although it would be difficult to guess his age I’d be surprised if he hadn’t celebrated at least 10-15 more birthdays than I have while still believing that what he had hidden in that old shed would be taking him to Sunday meetings before long.

We walked up to the shed and I helped him lift the plank inside the twin doors unlocking each enough for us to squeeze through the opening.  Inside I found not just a Cadillac but a monster Cadillac covered with dust but in what appeared to be perfect condition.  A quick brush of the dust from one of the classic fins exposed the polished black paint surface of a beautiful, extremely long ’59 Cadillac.  A walk along side revealed an impressive funeral procession limousine…. Not a Hurst but a limo, the type that usually transports the family to the cemetery.  “A guy offered me $12,000 for it once but I didn’t take it”, he said.  “Why not?”  “Didn’t want to sell it.”   Which to me sounded like a reasonable answer and since I had no need for such a vehicle I didn’t press the issue any further.

It had been a bright and beautiful Thanksgiving weekend during each of the three days we spent in the mountains and that Saturday was no exception.  Walking from the bright sunlight into that old tin shed played havoc with my eyes for a while.  Seeing the big beautiful Cadillac kept my attention until my eyes became accustomed to the relative darkness of the room.  Once I could see more clearly and I stopped stumbling over items piled on the dirt floor I looked up and nearly yelled out, “What’s that?!”

“Model T”, he said just as matter of fact as anyone can imagine.  

“Model T?”, I said.  “Yep, got everything on it in good shape, engine and all…. had to stop working on it when my hand went bad.”  Sure enough there was a stripped down, full-bodied model T that looked like it was nearly ready for the paint booth! 

By this time, I was nearly going out of my mind.  My first journey into the world of Gone-Junkin' had developed into a real experience and it had only taken about 15-minutes out of our planned 3-hours travel back to Winston-Salem.  What an experience!  I hadn’t bought anything but that didn’t matter the experience was worth it with surprises that seemed to turn-up following each new question I asked.  The answers I had received and the sights I saw that afternoon kept my mind active during the drive home and beyond. 

I think I’ll do that again.  Yep, the next time I’m motoring down an old country highway and see some junk along the way I’m going to stop.  Yes indeed, I’m going to do some serious Gone-Junkin’ activities in the years to come.

Dick Bear

Footnote to this entry: On a recent trip past this,my first Gone Junkin' experience, I found that the building that housed the Cadillac and the model T had been completely destroyed by fire.  A quick walk through the rubble revealed no trace of either vehicle.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wipe That Smile Off Your Face, Sir!

Wipe that smile off your face is no doubt what some uniformed officer will be saying to me sometime but for now I'm all smiles.

"I looked down the road and saw you coming.  You jumped from 35 mph to nearly 70 on my scope in just a second or two but I couldn't tell if there were two motorcycles or what it was at first.  When we passed I called Dispatch and told them I had "one" but I don't think I'll be able to catch it", the Walnut Cove officer reported to us after he asked for my license and registration.

Moments later he returned to the McBearen where I had been waiting and began by saying,  "This is a warning ...".  Those first few words from his mouth brought a smile to my face that lasted long enough to be recorded in the attached photo Chris Downey shot of the encounter.  Earlier that day I had stopped to say hello to Hunter Willard who had graciously painted the McBearen the first time.  He introduced me to his friend Chris D. who was visiting him from Durham and suggested that I take Chris for a ride.  Chris and I were returning to Hunter's shop when I (totally out of character and completely irresponsibly) accelerated out of Walnut Cove's 35 mph speed zone to [a bit] more than the 55 mph limit of the open highway ahead.   

I guess the kind officer was suffering from the same illness we all were experiencing that day ... Spring Fever; brought on by clear sunny skies and a temperature in the mid 70's.  

Monday, March 9, 2009

600 Mile Day Trip in W. Virginia

Less than 7-days after the previously posted snow storm the weather has broken providing sunny skies and temperatures into the 70's.  Being the first sustained period of ideal driving weather I decided to take the day trip up into WV to explore the worlds most perfect and most abundant mountain roads in the eastern part of the US.

I woke Sunday morning and opened Google Earth to map out my trip from Winston-Salem heading north up highway 8 past the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of a particular stretch of curves that parallels the New River in the vicinity of Deep Water, WV.  My first stop was for breakfast at Toggles Gap and great little restaurant at the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway on highway 8.  That is a "must stop" for me and should be for anyone who finds themselves anywhere near the place on an outing.  Don't stop without trying the chocolate pie!

After finishing my breakfast of eggs, country ham and a huge pancake I went out to strap into the McBearen for the rest of the day's travels.  There were a couple of guys who had arrived the restaurant on motorcycles taking pictures of the car and in general scoping it out from top to bottom.   Both were instructors at Virginia Tech in the Product Design Department so we had a lot to talk about. Seldom does the McB make a stop for gas or anything else without prompting conversations with others interested in knowing more about the car and today it looked like that would not be an exception to the rule.  We had a great discussion, exchanges cards and I bucked into the car for parts unknown.

My briefly prepare directions included only highway numbers and (unfortunately) just a few small town names like Raines Creek, Lookout and others that turned out to be very easy to miss because, as I discovered, they were simply unincorporated wide spots in the road.  The result was I never found the section of road I set-out to find but the driving experience was so wonderful it didn't matter.  For some reason I locked onto highway 219 north and never gained consciousness until hours later.  When I finally stopped to establish exactly where I was none of the gas stations had maps and I had to rely on verbal explanations to place my whereabouts within the state.  At the farthest point in my travels from Winston I was told that Pittsburgh, PA was 100-miles to the northeast and Charleston was 100-miles to the southwest.  Interestingly enough the road I was originally searching for was suppose to be a short distance southeast of Charleston so you can see that the intrigue of route 219 was enough to get me off-course by over a hundred miles and 180- degrees!

ThIs great day of aimless travels reminded me of the weekends my roommate and I would spend while a student at Fullerton Jr. College in California long ago in the mid-sixties..  Neither of us had a car and so for entertainment we'd stand on opposite sides of Harbor Boulevard hitch-hiking.  The first one of us to get a ride was quickly joined by the other and we'd begin 2-days of traveling throughout the state going to wherever that person's transportation would take us.  When we'd reach the end of a ride we'd do the same thing again until Sunday evening when we'd be pressed to get home for classes on Monday morning.  It was a great way to see the country and we met several interesting people along the way.  That was in a less violent age and although exciting back then I'd be fearful of doing the same thing today.

Finding myself a 100-miles from no where in upstate WV required some planning on my part if I wanted to get back home at a reasonable time that evening.  I decided to head for the nearest interstate for the drive to Charleston.  It turned out that I-79 was just 30-miles east of my location so I headed in that direction.  Traveling on the interstate toward Charleston was boring compared to the mountain curves so I exited and  headed south on route 19 in an attempt to find the illusive section of highway along the New River valley.  Without a map and with so many roads to choose from I was able to find the correct road (state-41) but made a critical mistake taking South 41 instead of North 41 and before I realized my error the sun indicated that it was time to head south for home.

When I finally rolled into Winston I had been gone for 14-hours a had driven a little more than 600-miles.  I'd had another great day of driving the McB though the mountains and neither the car nor I were any worse off than when we began.  The first extended day of travel in '09 had provided all the pleasures associated with driving the McBearen.  Meeting new people and seeing new views from high on tree covered ridges had once again provided a relaxing and exciting day on the worlds best public roads in the country.  I can't wait to do it again but in preparation I'll create a more detailed map so I can experience the New River valley road I've heard so much about.

Dick Bear

Monday, March 2, 2009

Just Enough to Remind Me .....

Yep!  Nearly every year we get enough of the white stuff to remind me of those cold, snowy winters I hated so much in Iowa.  Here however we can enjoy the change and see the beauty because we know that in a day or two it will be gone.  Without an army of men driving a motor pool full of road equipment capable of clearing hundreds of miles of roads in a couple hours or more most  residence stay in their homes for the duration. 

Having emptied the supermarket shelves of milk and bread several days earlier, they are confident that they're prepared to wait-out the "blizzard" conditions in style.  Even I have gotten into that routine.  

It's not so much that the roads are not clear but rather because you can be sure that each person you meet  has no more than a hand full of days of experience driving in the stuff. It is difficult to dodge all the potentials for disaster along the way. It's simply not worth the risk.  Because everyone is in the same boat, employers and shop keepers are very accommodating when freezing rain and snow begins to fly in North Carolina. 

So, now we've had our winter storm for this season and being the first day of March it won't be long before nearly every bush, tree and plant that grows here will be in bloom.  

Springtime in NC is perhaps the most wonderful place in all the country to be and April is only a short 4-weeks of waiting away!


Sunday, March 1, 2009

200 mph plus ....

A young and enthusiastic private campaigner stopped into my shop recently to enquire if I'd be interested in helping him reach a standing mile speed record for his 4-wheel drive Evo during next month's event at the Maxton Mile near Laurenburg, North Carolina. The car he and his engine builder (Buschur Racing) have prepared generates nearly 760 HP from the surprisingly small four cylinder engine.  To reach his goal of 200 mph plus, Matt's calculations indicated that it would be necessary to eliminate all possible drag factors. 

To do this Matt proposed enclosing the underside of the car with custom aluminum panels.  

In prior runs made on 1/4-mile strips Matt had achieved top speeds in the 150-160 mph range but to propel the vehicle through the remaining 50-mph of this run, the car's ability to slide smoothly through the air would be even more critical. The body of a  Mitsubishi Evo is anything but streamlined in shape and the only surface available for modification, while remaining  true the Street Classification, was the bottom. Turbulence caused by the air trapped beneath the car is compounded by the exposed nooks and crannies formed by the underside structures typical of all cars and is no different for the Evo. 

Being part of this effort seemed like a interesting side-step from the other activities I had going in the shop so I agreed to do what I could to make the run successful.  It was decided that the encasement would include a front splitter to slice the air as it hit the front of the car and a series of  rear diffusers to reduce turbulence (drag) as air from the bottom and the top of the car reunite.  In addition to these components it was also decided to nearly eliminate the obstacle created by the exhaust pipe by shortening it and encasing it in it's own aerodynamic shroud straight back to an exit point midway in the vehicle's overall length.  

During the first weekend in April we'll witness the results of our effort as Matt takes to the track.  Hopefully he will be successful but if not, I'm sure this will not be the last time he reaches for this or other speed goals in his incredibly exciting Mitsubishi Evo.