March 20th……..“TELL ABOUT THE SPLIT SECOND DECISION SOMEONE HAD TO MAKE AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF THAT DECISION”.
Rather than “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”……..my working partner and I could have changed that film series to the title of “Evaders Of The FOUND ARC”. For about my first three years of employment with the Battle Ground School District, I was one of a two man team that scrubbed floors and cleaned carpets throughout the many buildings and campuses within our Clark County educational realm. In an average year, Ron Bergren, and myself would make the circuit twice (or more) to all the schools under our care. Within two weeks, or sometimes three, we’d be done with another school and have our big battery-powered “Clarke” scrubbing machine (and related equipment) hauled to the next sight.
Ron was the “straw-boss” (not a full supervisor, but just someone to see that the work was carried out) of the crew and was kinda like a big brother to me, since he was at least five years older than myself. Ron had served a tour of duty in the United States Navy and, during his Vietnam years, was a crew member of one of the river patrol gunboats that cruised those jungle rivers to support our Army and Marine service men. On an aside, Ron told a hilarious story of how his boat crew had been invited to eat with a local Vietnamese chieftain in his village one day. His buddy was crunching on some tasty delicacies and made the mistake of asking what these yummy orbs were. The village chief responded, “Ohhh, those our favorite! Those candied goat eyes”!!! Upon full knowledge now, the crewman held his hand over his mouth and jumped up to run for the nearby bushes to be sick!! 😉
Our old “Clarke” brand scrubbing machine was a vintage old beast; likely purchased in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. The creature was all metal construction, in those days, with polished metal side panels. It resembled a baby elephant, in a way…….wide, slow and stumpy looking. Within that scrubber were six “deep-cell” marine batteries that gave it its power to do our floor scrubbing. Any battery-powered machine, over time, will start to lose the use of those batteries from well over 1,000 charges over the span of a few years or more.
The time had arrived when our current machine batteries were just plain tired of old age. Six new, deep-cell marine batteries had arrived and it was Ron’s job that evening to load and hook up our new power packs. Doing this kind of work was dangerous on at least a couple levels. Number one, the battery acid inside both old and new batteries was extremely corrosive and, if spilled, could eat through clothing and skin in a wink. Number two, the new batteries were very powerful with their new charge and had to be reconnected correctly, or an explosion could happen that could seriously injure or kill us both.
As a team, the two of us grunted out the six old batteries from the scrubbing machine and set them to one side on some plywood so their residual battery juice leakage wouldn’t eat through and damage the concrete sidewalk that we were standing on that evening. Once the brand new power packs were loaded into our floor scrubber, it was time for Ron to begin hooking up all the battery cables into proper succession from battery to battery.
As you may recall (if you’ve ever seen that 1981 classic film), the bad guy in the movie grabs a searing hot medallion from a fire and it melts an image into his hand as he screams out in agony. Well, what happened next to Ron was similar. My partner was using an open end/box end wrench to secure the battery post clamp nuts. I’m guessing that his hands were sweaty, because the wrench slipped out of his hand and fell down upon the batteries, accidentally “shorting out” on two wrong battery posts. Immediate and intense flashes of sparks began to fly in all directions!!! Within the next split second, Ron reached down into that maelstrom of hot fire and grabbed that wrench and heaved a pull that freed it from what surely would have been a full battery EXPLOSION within a few more seconds.
Ron was, in my humble eyes, the hero that day, but he paid a price. Just like the bad guy in the movie had the image of the medallion melted into his hand……..Ron had the image of that wrench melted into his hand. In just those couple of seconds, the metal of the wrench had become white hot from the massive power that was fighting back and forth in those bad battery connections. Ron not only saved our lives that evening, but he also saved the school district many hundreds of dollars from wrecked batteries and even possible facility damage if all those batteries had been allowed to explode. I am so grateful for the split second timing and action of the friend of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.