January 11th...”DID YOUR IGNORANCE ABOUT SOMETHING EVER RESULT IN SOMEONE ELSE BEING INJURED?”
Ignorance is not ALWAYS bliss. Especially when my extent of automotive mechanical knowledge is putting gas in the tank, saying a prayer, and hoping the fool car starts when I twist the ignition key. Another old adage comes to mind when I stroll back into the “humble pie” history files of my life; there is a saying that goes, “Be careful for what you wish for, you just might get it!!” Not only was I gonna “get it”, but another co-worker was really gonna get it when he became involved with me in a mishap one day on the job.
My first 13 years of life, on our farm in southern Minnesota, gave me a great love of diggin’ in the dirt and seeing what I could accomplish with my own two hands. Upon my family’s arrival in the Pacific Northwest, in 1967, I guess that farmer’s blood just kept coursing through my veins as I learned to enjoy seeing what I could do in helping with the upkeep of our yard’s landscaping there in our new hometown of Battle Ground, Washington. I relished the opportunities to attend Home & Garden Shows in nearby Portland, Oregon and just loved our family’s excursions to numerous landscape nurseries in our Clark County area as we bought and planted more lovely flowers and trees for our yard. When I eventually took over the Head Custodian position at Glenwood Heights Elementary School, in July of 1976, I jumped into the joys of turning the surrounding school flower beds and lawns into, what I felt were, the best looking grounds in the entire District. So, when a job opening presented itself, in 1981, to take over the Lead Groundskeeper position for our Battle Ground School District, I thought……..”Here’s my chance!” NOT!!!!
Taking care of flower beds was truly my forte. And, being the idealist that I was, I thought I could really showcase my talents in this new position…….as well as make some extra dollars. In my greenhorn ways, though, I completely overlooked an important aspect of moving into my new working scenario with the District. The greatest majority of our equipment, from tractors to trucks, was motorized and prone to break down, from time to time. And yes, it was part of my responsibility to fix those mechanical monsters…..if at all possible, before asking for a mechanic’s help. How could I have been so naive as to not face the reality that I was, basically, illiterate in those facets of work life??!!!!
On one of those fateful days, as Lead Groundskeeper, I was to drive a, District-owned, mid-1970’s Ford pickup into an area of Vancouver, Washington to pick up some parts for a piece of equipment that had broken down. Now I knew that that pickup had dual fuel tanks, but what I didn’t know, was that there was a dashboard switch AND a floor mounted twist-lever valve switch for the second fuel tank. Sure enough, on my my way into Vancouver, my Ford ran out of gas as it sputtered dead while I rolled it to a stop alongside the highway. “Oh”, I thought, “I’ll just flip this dashboard switch over to the second tank and be on my way, right?” WRONG! No matter how many times I twisted the ignition key for the engine to try to run…..it refused….. no life. I was stumped. Cell phones, in those days, were basically either non-existent, or a luxury of the rich. So, I ended up hiking for over a mile, or more, till I found a phone and called the District Maintenance Shop to send Ron Yates to find me and fix my truck.
In his younger days, Ron Yates had led a very rough life. He was almost like a local version of the Hell’s Angels, to me, but I could also sense that a tender heart resided inside that almost toothless mouth (most of his teeth had been knocked out in drunken barroom brawls). After walking all the way back to the dead pickup, I waited until Ron showed up on scene. Granted now, he’s ASSuming that I actually know what I’m talking about, mechanically……..that made both of us an ASS as time went on.
Poor Ron. He popped open the hood and played with this and he played with that. He even ran over to the local parts store and bought a new fuel pump and installed that. STILL no start! Remember now, he also ASSumed that I had already turned the gas floor valve in the ON position, which ,at that time, I didn’t even know existed. We both walked about a half mile to a local gas station and found an empty glass Coca-Cola bottle in the trash. Filling the bottle with gas, we hiked back to the “sick patient” on four wheels. Climbing up into the engine compartment, and hovering over the carburetor, Ron was going to “prime” the carburetor by pouring gas directly into the device while I cranked the engine. Dooofus me was about to pull a doofus stunt!!! While Ron is pouring dribbles of gas into the carburetor, and I’m cranking the engine, I notice this unmarked valve handle on the floor next to the truck’s door. “Heyyy Ron, I wonder what this is for?” (as I then turned the switch valve).
Unknowing, I had innocently turned on the gas flow from the second tank and KAHPOWWW!!! An enormous ball of flame erupted right into poor Ron’s face. The explosion literally blew him out of the engine compartment and into the nearby field! His eyebrows had been burned off and part of his massive beard was on fire. Knowing of his past, wild, motorcycle lifestyle……I was scared stiff that he would rise up and kill me, for sure!!! As he’s slapping his face to put out his beard fire, I came out of the pickup truck to profusely apologize for what I had unintentionally just caused to happen. Other than some VERY colorful language, Ron allowed me to live another day. Such were the UNmechanical adventures of this Norwegian Farmer’ Son.