Lee and Evel – Chapter 6 – The Final Act

 

Evel in his office

Evel in his travelling office, busy as usual. (from one of many original Polaroids taken by Lee Ratliff)

When asked to recall some details of Evel’s appearance at the Great Lakes Dragaway in the town of Parish, Wisconsin Lee right away said that it had to be outside. That was because the event took place in the summer, June 22-24 of 1973. Lee recalls that indoor venues were generally limited to the colder months. The Great lakes Dragaway near Union Grove, Wisconsin was no different. Evel’s truck and the equipment it carried almost didn’t make it to Dragaway. Everyone has seen those signs on the freeways that say “Weigh Station, Right Lane; All Trucks Must Enter”. They usually have another sign tacked on to them that says “CLOSED”. Lee wasn’t so lucky this time when he entered Wisconsin. They were just closing in on their motel exit when the weigh station sign appeared with a big “OPEN” sign attached. There was no choice other than to pull in with the obviously overlength 62 foot rig. It was daytime and this time Lee was not able to trick the state troopers who were doing the inspection. Lee was ordered to unhook his trailer because the total length was too long. That left him with just the cab and the permanently attached front flatbed that served as Evel’s dressing room. All the ramps and other equipment would have to be left behind if Lee continued to the motel. He wasn’t prepared to do that so he approached another trucker who had a cab only with no trailer. Lee offered to pay him to tow the Evel Knievel trailer as far as the motel. The trucker was awe-struck that someone was asking him to tow Evel Knievel’s rig. He agreed to help out but he refused to accept any payment. All he wanted was for Lee to take a photograph of him towing Evel’s trailer. How else would his friends be expected to believe the story he was going to tell them? Lee was happy to take the photo and the trailer was promptly delivered to the motel where it was reunited with the Kenworth.

It was party time and Evel took the guys out to a Mexican restaurant. He bought everyone sombreros. From left to right: Jack Stroh, a painter (possibly also called Jack), and Lee.

It was party time and Evel took the guys out to a Mexican restaurant. He bought everyone sombreros. From left to right: Jack Stroh, a painter (possibly also called Jack), and Lee.

There was some pre-jump partying in Wisconsin. Lee distinctly remembers visiting the home of the promoter; although, he does not recall his name. Lee was impressed upon entering what looked like a very long house, possibly a sort of ranch. The promoter invited Evel and his men to his trophy room. Everywhere you looked there were heads on the walls. Every big game animal imaginable was represented. Lee had never seen anything like it before. It had the air of a museum but it was in someone’s home. It was a lot to take in for a young man from Kansas. Work, otherwise known as jump time, did eventually come around. Evel was not successful with that first jump over 13 cars. He came down at too steep an angle which caused him to slip off the back end of the bike. Evel “landed on his tail and slid on his butt”. The motorcycle flipped and landed on its handlebars upside down. Evel later explained that the grip pulled out thus causing him to slide backward and then off the bike. Lee examined the grip after the event and he found that it was broken just as one would expect if the handlebars had slammed into the ramp when the bike upturned. That would indicate that the grips never did loosen and pull off as Evel had explained. It is Lee’s opinion that Evel just lost his grip and did not want to admit it; so, he came up with an excuse.  It is interesting to note that in present day such a situation is very unlikely to occur. Riders, knowing that the front wheel must hit first, have a special technique for lifting and slowing the rear wheel. They squeeze the clutch which stops the rear wheel from spinning. At the same time they apply the brakes while still midair and this causes the front wheel to descend for a controlled landing. Evel and other jump artists of his era were not aware of this technique. The modern rider has greater knowledge of the physics of jumping and they have much lighter motorcycles. This is why many of Evel’s record jumps have been bested in recent years.

Knew What We Were Doing

Evel’s inscription to Lee is reflected in the faces of both Lee and Evel. A ‘sure thing’ is not part of a daredevil’s daily life. There was a fair amount of guess work and lots of guts.

Providence, Rhode Island was one of the last shows that Lee worked. Eventually Lee would end up living in the Providence area.  It was the end of July in 1973. At that time of year it is usually extremely humid on the East Coast. It’s beer drinking time. That’s just fine for most of us but some folks take it a bit too far and I suspect that’s what happened to some of the people who crowded the stands at Lincoln Downs Race Track that day in July.

Evel was making his pre-jump approaches down on the field that usually hosted horse races. The dirt on the track was loose and so Evel was driving on a plywood runway that Lee had erected. Lee was crouched alongside the ramp and watching closely as Evel made his practice runs. Suddenly Lee was aware of a commotion behind him. A fight had broken out among some patrons in the stands. Fortunately there was a chain link fence separating the stands from the track and this prevented the commotion from overflowing onto the performance area. Lee stayed focused on Evel and mostly ignored what was going on with the fans.

Apparently one biker noticed another biker who had a chain draped over his shoulder. This somehow offended him so he pulled it off and began whipping its owner with his own chain. If that wasn’t enough of a sideshow a female spectator promptly joined the fight and just as quickly lost her blouse. Unfortunately for her, though maybe not the crowd, she was not wearing a bra (a common apparel decision in the 1970’s). This only served to heighten the excitement of the crowd. The young lady seemingly enjoyed here sudden fame so she trotted on up to the highest level of the grandstands where she put on her own show. (I’m not sure if anyone other than Lee was watching Evel at this point). The security officers were obliged to give her a personal escort off the field.

The Lincoln Downs show was actually a great venue. There was Evel Knievel, the girl in the stands and the fight between bikers. The company next moved on to Stafford Springs, Connecticut. George Chitwood was there with his Joie Chitwood Thrill Show. Chitwood was an accomplished stunt person who often worked in various Hollywood movies. 1973 was the year that he did stunt work and acting in the James Bond thriller Live and Let Die. Lee knew it was going to be a good show so he made a point of inviting Gary Selby, an old friend and coworker, to attend the performance. Lee used to work with Gary at Kaman Aircraft in Connecticut. Gary was now living in Rhode Island so Lee connected up with him and gave him enough tickets to accommodate his entire family. Gary brought along his mom, wife, and two daughters. He did not bring his sister, Joyce. Why is that important? Joyce eventually became Lee’s wife; but, that’s another story.

After the show Lee took Gary and his family to meet Evel. Gary’s mom was a huge fan of Evel. She was very quick to remove her two white gloves (remember when women wore those?) and ask Evel to sign them. Of course Evel was happy to sign the gloves and today Lee has one of them since it was left to his wife, Joyce. So how big a fan was Gary’s mom? She loved the guy but she liked Lee even better and always referred to Lee as her “adopted son”. Evel left soon after the show but the Selby family stayed for the grand tour. Mike kindly drove Gary’s car while Lee packed the whole family into the big rig and drove it to the motel where they were staying. It’s not everyone who gets a ride in Evel Knievel’s travelling dressing room!

So where did Evel go after the Connecticut show? He immediately flew down to Georgia to play golf. Lee naturally assumed that things would be calm for a while since the boss was off relaxing and not constantly looking over his shoulder. That assumption was soon proven wrong when Lee received a telephone call from Georgia.

“Lee, get my nine iron and put it on a plane for Georgia” was Evel’s directive.

Why in the world would Evel suddenly need a nine iron? It seems he had destroyed his regular club while raising a bit of a commotion on the links.

Evel was enjoying a round with a foursome. Only one of the guys was a friend who knew Evel well. The other two were just happy to be playing golf with the world’s greatest motorcycle daredevil. As Evel walked along he sported the cane that Lee had given him. You may recall that this special cane had a hollow area that concealed several vials. Evel usually filled the first vial with whiskey. The others would contain just colored water. Evel was drinking from the vials throughout the game. As they moved from hole to hole Evel got “drunker and drunker”; at least that is how he acted.

The pivotal moment arrived when Evel was making a nine iron chip to the green. He stubbed the chip shot and then slammed his nine iron on the ground, thus bending it.

One of the golfers, Evel’s partner, laughed at the bad shot that Evel made.

Evel promptly pulled out a .38 Special handgun and shot the guy who had dared to laugh.

He then turned to one of the invited players and while pointing the gun at him said “You laughed too!”

At this point the laughing man ran off as fast as he possibly could.

Of course Evel was shooting blanks and his buddy (the dead guy) was in on the prank.

Evel just loved practical jokes. I’m not sure all of his victims did.

It wasn’t always easy for Evel to get the bookings he wanted. He once sent Lee to the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Seven Springs, PA. Lee’s mission was to interest the management in an Evel Knievel Daredevil show to be held on their spacious ski resort grounds. Lee stayed for a week and tried to sell the enterprise on the idea. It was a no go. The only interesting, and unfortunate, event was when Lee went for a ride with one of the employees. They ended up hitting a deer. Chalk that one off.

That wasn’t the only accident associated with the trip to Pennsylvania. Lee left the resort and attempted to get on the freeway. Unfortunately he ran over a curb near a toll booth. This was enough to cause the booth operator to single Lee out for an inspection. The operator was suspicious about the length of the rig (a familiar story to Lee). Lee was ordered to pull up to the white stop line on the ground. He knew that if he did as requested the rear end of the truck would shoot some five feet beyond legal length as marked by a second stop line at the other end of the truck.

Lee was already pulled up beyond the front stop line so he proceeded to back up and as he came to a halt he released the 5th wheel so that the rear trailer would override it and push forward against the back of the first trailer. He then pulled forward slowly and overshot the front line once more. At this point the booth operators became frustrated with Lee and one of them questioned “What is that guy doing?” They waved him through just to get rid of him.

One item that Lee has to remember Evel by is this ring. If you look closely you will be able to make out the motorcycle design. Evel gave these diamond-encrusted rings to close friends.

One item that Lee has to remember Evel by is this ring. If you look closely you will be able to make out the motorcycle design. Evel gave these diamond-encrusted rings to close friends.

The next prospective show site suggested by Evel was the Indianapolis Speedway. Lee parked the rig in front of the Speedway as negotiations were going on. Evel was not able to make the deal but he and his crew stuck around to watch the races.

Lee hooked up with his brother Jim, a Harley employee, who was running flat track at that time. They waited for two days for the rain-delayed race to start. Eventually his brother had to leave. The races began the next day! Evel spent most of the time hobnobbing with the likes of A. J. Foyt and J. C. Agajanian. Lee, meanwhile, was able to chase down A. J. Foyt and get a book signed by him. He also went to a local gas station bought a case of Indy promotional glasses (he still has some of them to this day). Even when things didn’t work out as planned Lee and Evel knew how to have a good time.

The final act of Lee’s employment by Evel and the good times associated with their venture arrived in December of 1973. Evel and Lee would frequently have disagreements on things such as how to assemble ramps, the gearing of his motorcycles, and impulsive requests for late night meetings. Lee was fired on several occasions when he refused to back down in the face of ridiculous demands by Evel. Evel, on the other hand, recognized that his rash decisions were often just plain wrong and he had no problem recanting what was obviously a poor decision and he would immediately rehire Lee. The confrontation of December of 1973 was a bit more serious.  Evel was having a house built near the 16th fairway of a golf course in Butte, Montana. Lee and Mike had just finished a whole day of building a fence around the property. They were beat and it was time for dinner.  Lee and Mike got cleaned up and were getting ready to go out to a restaurant. Just as they were about to go out Evel called from the mobile home he was staying in and instructed the boys to meet him at his new house where they would begin to clean up the inside. This irritated Lee and showed in his attitude when he got to the house.

Evel confronted Lee when he arrived and asked “Well are you going to work?”

Lee said “I guess.”

Evel said “You guess? Linda make Lee a reservation to fly to Wichita. “Evel continued with “I just brought you guys up here to give you a little extra money for Christmas.”

Now it was Mike’s turn and he responded with “I really don’t need the money that bad. “

Evel yelled “Linda, make that two reservations.”

Lee and Mike flew back to Wichita with Lee making a detour to pick up his toolbox and tools.

After the holidays Evel called Lee and said “I would like for you to go back to work for me.  I am going to cut your wages to $200 a week, but when we start making the movie you will be playing your own part and you will be getting actors’ fees and have your own car.  You will have it made!”

Lee said “I think I’ll pass.”

Evel ended the conversation on a friendly note with “Well if you are ever where I am, look me up and if I am where you are I’ll look you up.”

Lee looks back on the years he worked for Evel Knievel as a great experience that he was privileged to enjoy. He is proud of his role in assisting Evel by providing expert motorcycle maintenance and modifications, precision jump setups, safe and timely transportation, and logistical support. Fellow workers, performers, and famous personalities that he met all contributed to an exciting three years that Lee will never forget. Above all, Lee will always remember his friend and fellow adventurer, Evel Knievel.

 "To my pal, Lee" pretty much sums up how Lee and Evel felt about each other. From left to right: Fagundo-Campoy, Jack Lancaster, Evel, and Lee

“To my pal, Lee” pretty much sums up how Lee and Evel felt about each other.
From left to right: Fagundo Campoy, Jack Lancaster, Evel, and Lee

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Workshop Comfort

I’ve always had a little shop in the house. It’s the spot where I can repair whatever needs repairing. My shop, more formally my workshop, has always been within reaching distance of the oil burner. That means that there is a little extra warmth in the winter. It also means that it is often difficult to hear a radio when the burner fires up.

The workshop at our first home had a door, storage racks, an oil tank, a window, and two walls that I covered with 1 x 3 furring. After finishing the walls I put in electric outlets and an overhead light.  I even built a set of bookcases and of course my workbench. I made that from a set of plans circulated by Stanley Bostitch. That basement workshop was also my ham radio shack. The basement is a great place for a short ground wire.

We have been at our new home for six years. About the only thing that I brought from my old shop was the workbench. The ham radio station is on the second floor now. It is not very good for a short ground wire but great for quiet operating. My new shop is of course in the basement, once again a short distance from the oil burner. It has about twice as much room as my last shop but the only window is one of those little deals that sit in a semicircular well next to the foundation. I am completely underground now!

I promptly erected storage shelves and they covered up the window. It wasn’t of much value anyways. Only a skinny 10-year old could crawl through it. Little or no light entered that way either since it opens up underneath the outside deck.

The new shop had no electricity. I had to run a long extension from the adjacent ‘finished’ portion of the basement to get the power I needed. That is not a very tidy situation. Things had to change.

I finally got around to making the changes this spring. I now have a workplace that makes me feel comfortable and at home. I’m not sure if I will have any greater luck at fixing old radios but at least I will have plenty of power and light. There are still a few things to do. I need to hang a couple of cabinets and some decorative stuff. I also have to make room for the bookcase I moved out during the construction. All should be shipshape just in time for winter. For now I intend to spend the summer outside with the lawn, the old Buick, and maybe that cranky old tractor.

(Note: Clicking on any image will display the large version)

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The 2016 ECARC Swap Meet or What can $10 get you?

The 2016 Eastern Connecticut Amateur Radio Club Flea Market is now history. It took place last Saturday, March 19. I wait all year for this one (see an earlier post about the 2013 event). It’s nearby (I made the drive in 45 minutes ), well attended and it usually has lots of old stuff that radio collectors like. The emphasis, of course, is on amateur radio equipment. I’m pretty well all set when it comes to ham radio. Unlike me, most of the attendees are looking for newer items. That’s good news because I have my pick of the old stuff.

ECARC 2016 Heathkit Transistpr Portable front

I look for bargains. A nicely restored radio is not usually something that I will buy. I want something that I can work on and hopefully bring back to life with minimal work. Otherwise I am content to leave some radios as found so long as they look good. Well, I circled the church hall where the event takes place several times. Some restored portables were interesting but none of them were must-have items, so I concentrated on looking for parts.

One seller was disposing of some nice rigs (mostly Heathkit) and a variety of parts that once belonged to her recently deceased husband. The radios did not interest me much but the parts did. She had about 8 boxes of them. The deal was that you took a cardboard flat (the ones that hold beer) and filled it up  for $5. If you filled three the price was $12 for all three. I was able to fill just two with the items that caught my interest. It’s amazing how many neat items you can find by  sifting through all the junk.  Just to prove my point I have inserted a little gallery of photos here to display what I took home. The photos do not cover everything, just some of the more interesting items. Have a look and then let me know if you think it was worth $10.

(Note: Click on any image to see an enlarged version. Comments welcome)

I took home other items too: one 01A tube (a dud but a nice space keeper), an eye tube, cables, brass shims, and even a special motor kit that actuates the landing gear on a RC airplane. Go figure!

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The 2016 New England Antique Radio Club Swap Meet

If you have visited this blog in the past you are well aware that I am a dedicated radio collector. A better description might be radio accumulator. A collector is very discriminating. He or she specializes in certain styles or eras. The collector usually only buys items that are in the best possible condition. If something is broken or otherwise not in near perfect condition he repairs and restores it. My collecting interests are all over the place: communication radios, 1920’s  TRF’s, cute little Bakelite tabletops, cathedrals, portables, and incredibly large consoles of all sorts. Although I am getting a bit more selective these days it is due more to a lack of space rather than a maturing of my collecting interest. I haven’t stopped buying radios yet. I just do it less often.

My primary sources for old radios are three:

(1) The Eastern Connecticut Amateur Radio Association (ECARA)  annual flea market held in Dayville, CT,(2) The New England Antique Radio Club (NEARC) annual swap meet, and (rarely) (3) eBay. ECARA has not happened yet this year (9 days to go and counting). eBay is a constant source of temptation. I recently bought a RCA Radiola 16 through eBay. It looks pretty good with all of its globe tubes present but unfortunately only two work. The cabinet will need to be refinished. I have not tested the audio transformers yet. I hope they are good!

I have not been to the NEARC meet for some 5 years or so. It is a long drive (1-3/4 hours) and since my partner in crime, Ken Franklin, moved away I have nobody to share the  ride with. This year I finally decided to attend once more.

TNEARC Buyer Badgehe event is held at the Westford Regency Inn in Westford, Massachusetts. There is plenty of parking but you need to get there early if you want to be anywhere near the end of the sprawling complex that houses the swap meet. This year I arrived at exactly 8:00 am just as the doors opened. Stand in line, pay your $10 and put this sticker on your jacket, that’s the drill. If you frequently enter and leave the exhibit room (the size of a basketball court) you will need that sticker or the guards will not let you pass. I anticipated several trips to the truck since the stuff I usually buy is quite heavy and it takes a few trips to get it all loaded. It was not so bad negotiating the aisles between vendor tables at first but things picked up quickly within the first hour. This is a very crowded event! I walk the periphery of the meeting room first and then continue with an aisle by aisle search.

Right off I found a book I was looking for. It is a history of E. H. Scott Radio. Books and other kinds of radio ephemera are a big deal for me. I love looking through the old stuff, especially the brilliant engravings from the 1920’s and earlier. I did not see any old written material that was of interest at this particular flea market; but, I did see several radios.

This is the Crosley model 5-38. Five tubes and $38. Crosley was known for making radios affordable for everyone. Maybe a little cleaning, Old English and lemon oil will be enough to make hide the scratches.

This is the Crosley model 5-38. Five tubes and $38. Crosley was known for making radios affordable for everyone. Maybe a little cleaning, Old English and lemon oil will be enough to hide the scratches.

The first one I noticed was a Crosley 5-38. It’s an old wooden slant top battery radio from 1926. It had five UX201A Globe tubes with it. The seller claimed that they were all good and that the two audio transformers were also good. I made the deal for $60. If the tubes are good (I have not checked yet) they are worth at least $15 each. What are my chances? This Crosley is a Tuned Radio Frequency (TRF) radio that also has a feedback amplification stage, otherwise known as regeneration. That means it combines two different styles of amplification and tuning. The three TRF stages all have their own separate dials. I’ll try to update this post in the future when I get a chance to inspect this radio properly. For now I know that it is a good-looking radio that just needs a bit of cleaning and polishing to make it look almost new. Then I have to build the power supply kit that I have in the closet and I will be ready for the big test.

That little Crosley weighs just about 6 pounds. The light weight is partly due to the fact that it does not have a power supply. The next radio that intrigued me, a Kolster K-21, was also a TRF (Tuned Radio Frequency) radio but it was much more advanced than the Crosley. The Kolster is set into a cabinet made of wood with a metal frame. The top is hinged and lifts up for access to the 8 tubes within. Although the Kolster is also a three-stage TRF it has just one dial to turn all three tuning capacitors. This is because they are ganged together and thus rotate in unison. This 1928 radio also has its own internal power supply that provides all the required voltages by routing the AC wall current through a transformer which is tapped for the various voltages. The tubes are also specific to AC power. They were designed to help eliminate the 60 Hz hum that AC creates. Weight? It has to be between 60 and 80 pounds. I had to rest this one on my knee several times while carrying it out to the truck. I could almost see the headline in the Monday newspaper: “RI Man has Fatal Heart Attack while carrying 1928 Radio”. The shape of the radio and the way the top is hinged has led to this style being called “coffin radios”. Fortunately I did not collapse while carrying the coffin radio. Look closely at the intricate detail on the cabinet. This thing is a work of art! And do you see those feet? It has four real feet with little toes sticking out. They are made of brass. All this for a mere $25!

After walking around the room twice I decided to slow down and look more closely. There must be a few more inexpensive but desirable radios that I missed. Then I spotted a bathtub radio. All metal with a metal top. Take the top off and you have a bathtub. Of course that is not what it was called. It was an Atwater Kent Model 40. I already had a working Model 44 at home. The 44 and the 40 look very similar but the 40 is only about two-thirds as long as the 44. This one was in pristine condition. It had a mostly brown crackle case with a green panel on top. In the middle of the green top panel is a huge gold emblem. The inside was especially clean and all 7 tubes were present. The sign on the radio said “restored”. That was a switch. The price for this beautiful AC gem? A mere $25! I took it right away. Off to the truck again. This time the total weight was only about 35 pounds.

By now I pretty much had my fill of old radios. I was beginning to think about where I was going to put all of them. That’s when I came to the table that had some radios with the word “Free” written on their tags. I could handle that! The vendor had two 1940’s Motorola police squad car transmitters (model T69-20A), or that’s what it looked like. I have since inspected them more closely and I believe that one box is the transmitter and the other is the power supply. I like old cars. I’m even in an old car club. These were the perfect item for a radio-collecting car nut. I might even use them as props for an upcoming presentation on radio collecting that I will be giving to the car club (the Westerly Pawcatuck Region AACA). Oh, when boxed they weighed about 50 pounds. The final trip to the truck almost did me in.

Note: All of the above photographs can be clicked on to see an enlarged version.

References:

Geoff Fors, WB6NVH has a nice website that discusses Motorola transmitters and receivers used by the California Highway Patrol.

Nostalgia Air circuit data for the Crosley 5-38

Nostalgia Air circuit data for the Kolster K-21

Google Books excerpt from Crosley section of Alan Douglas book.

KD6FW/R discussing the speaker that goes with Kolster K-21

Atwater Kent Model 40 in action at a site dedicated to AK radios.

 

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Fig Squares, The Quick and Easy Kind

I’ve always liked fig squares. They usually consist of two layers of semi-flaky pastry with a sweet fig filling. Some have just a taste of fig and with others the stuff is oozing out. Either way, I can’t resist eating more of them than I should. When I was a kid we used to get them at Kennedy’s Bakery right at the top of our street. That’s when fresh doughnuts were 7 cents each and a half-dozen of iced cinnamon rolls were about 50 cents. My brother and I would hang out at the open back door of the bakery on summer mornings and just watch and smell as the baker performed his magic.

About 12 years ago I came across an after-Christmas bargain in my local grocery. They had trays of figs that were marked down to about $1 or less per package. A pack usually is about 9-15 ounces in weight. It consists of about 20 figs wrapped up in a tight circle. Well, I bought a bunch of them and delivered them to my dad who was retired and looking for something to do. He took those figs and changed them into fig squares and then delivered them to family members including me. They were great! He had learned how to make traditional flaky pastry crust that was perfectly tasty.

My dad has been gone about 9 years now and good fig squares are difficult to come by. The local grocery and bakeries sometimes have them but I really think the average $2 per square is a bit pricey. I decided to be on the lookout for some post-Christmas figs and luckily I found some for only $1.50 per bunch at my local Ocean State Job Lot store. I got the very vague recipe from my mom (now 92 years old) and tried my hand at making those delicious fig squares. The result was well worth the work. They are every bit as good as the store-bought ones. So far I have tried two batches. The first time my wife bought me some frozen flaky pastry. I was able to make about half a pan of very thick squares with that. I believe she paid about $4 for the pastry. For my next try I just made two regular pie crusts using the old Crisco recipe. The result was not as neat but tasted just as good. I did not try to make correct flaky pastry (cold butter chopped into pastry, etc.) because I wanted to do something easy. Cooking is not a hobby with me. It is a means to an end.

I have presented here my recipe (based on dad’s). The primary options are what you use for the pastry. I prefer the pie crust. It’s easy and inexpensive.


Quick and Easy Fig squares

Prepare the Filling
Cut off and discard stems of figs from two circular bunches of figs.
Place figs in small pan and cover with water.
Add 1 half cup of sugar for each 9-14 oz bunch / package of figs that you use. So, one cup of sugar for two bunches.
Boil for 12 minutes then put figs through
a grinder (reserve liquid in pan).
To the water that is left in pan, add two
tablespoons of corn starch and heat.
Remove from heat when it boils.
Mix with figs.
Prepare the Pastry
Make two ordinary pie crusts, one for the top and one for the bottom. Crisco© recipe works well.
Roll the pie crusts as thin as possible. You may have to patch together rectangular pieces to cover the pan.
These will easily cover a 15” x 10” baking sheet.
(Alternate Methods: purchase a frozen pastry or make flaky pastry from scratch)
Final Steps
Line the baking sheet with the pastry (pie crust)
Spoon on the filling. Use the amount you want. If you spread it a little thin you will get at   least two full baking sheets. If you put it on very thick you may get one sheet.
Cover the filling with the top crust and seal the edges.
Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes. Check often. Remove early if necessary. A very light brown color indicates doneness.
Cut into squares of the size you like best.


 

Here are a few photographs of the process:

If you try these let me know how they came out. If you have suggestions or comments you can use the form that follows this blog to submit them.

Two last items: I lined the baking tray with parchment paper for the first batch. I did not use the paper or any lard for the second batch. Neither stuck to the pan. That could be because I used too much Crisco in my recipe.  Also, I recommend you refrigerate the squares for several hours before eating. They are much better when fully cooled.

 

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A Short Winter Walk

Yesterday I experienced a sudden moment of health consciousness. I’m overweight and under-exercised. I find every excuse in the book to remain at home and do ‘inside things’. Instead of going outside I worked on an upcoming blog series and tinkered around with a 1948 Ford radio that I am trying to resurrect for a friend. My intelligent and beautiful wife went off to the gym. I should have followed but did not. Then the weather changed. It shot up to 55 degrees yesterday. That’s rather warm for a winter day in New England.What to do next? Hang around and finish off the M&M’s?

I made the decision in a flash. Take a walk! I quickly suited up (hoodie covered by a light jacket), attached a cell phone to my belt and put a camera in my pocket. The note I left on the counter for my wife said “I went for a walk. I have my phone. Love, Ken”. The Boy Scouts taught me well: “Always register with the mountain trail rescue staff before taking a hike.” Okay, so it was just going to be a two-mile round trip on level country roads; at my age you don’t take chances.

My biggest problem with exercise is that I get bored easily. Every walk has to be in a different direction. I need to liven things up with a new GPS program, an active search for old hubcaps, or taking photographs. The camera was good enough for this short outing. I present here a few of the photos I took. You will notice that our neighborhood is a bit scruffy during the winter. There is an excess of gray dirt, gray trees, dull mailboxes, and invading bull briers. Thankfully the groundhog did not see his shadow today so that means we can expect an early spring.

One of our neighbors keeps Highland Cattle. They like to stare at me. Although they are said to be gentle beasts, I am grateful for the fence that contains them.

One of our neighbors keeps Highland Cattle. They like to stare at me. Although they are said to be gentle beasts, I am grateful for the fence that contains them. They are beautiful animals. I usually stand for several minutes staring back at them. Clicking on the photo will bring you to a site dedicated to people who enjoy raising these imports form Scotland.

 

Do they have Bop the Mailbox competitions where you live? It's a great sport that is practiced primarily by teenagers who have about as much imagination, creativity, and pride as an old bottle cap. Some people repair the mailbox after it has suffered one or two rounds of match play. Others don't.

Do they have Bop the Mailbox competitions where you live? It’s a great sport that is practiced primarily by teenagers who have about as much imagination, creativity, and pride as an old bottle cap. Some people repair the mailbox after it has suffered one or two rounds of match play. Others don’t.

I think this tree is making a plea to heaven: "Please take me to the great forest in the sky." It's limbs have been rotting and falling for decades, cuttings of hurricane-damaged saplings surround it and the brambles are closing in.

I think this tree is making a plea to heaven: “Please take me to the great forest in the sky.” It’s limbs have been rotting and falling for decades, cuttings of hurricane-damaged saplings surround it and the brambles are closing in.

Our town, like many in New England, used to have a couple town pounds. It usually consisted of an enclosure with a brook running through it. Stray domestic animals were kept there until the owners paid a fee and picked them up. These granite posts would have supported an iron gate at one time. If this was on my property I would clean out all the bull briers and small trees. History should not be neglected.

Our town, like many in New England, used to have a couple of town pounds. They usually consisted of an enclosure with a brook running through them. Stray domestic animals were kept there until the owners paid a fee and picked them up. These granite posts would have supported an iron gate at one time. If this was on my property I would clean out all the bull briers and small trees. History should not be neglected.

There are several plants species represented in this fall debris but oak is the dominant one. I look down a lot because that is where you find all the neat things like old signs, broken telephones, and hubcaps. I really should take a garbage bag with me next time. It would be a cinch to fill it with Budweiser cans and those small liquor bottles they used to serve on airplanes.

There are several plants species represented in this fall debris but oak is the dominant one. I look down a lot because that is where you find all the neat things like old signs, broken telephones, and hubcaps. I really should take a garbage bag with me next time. It would be a cinch to fill it with Budweiser cans and those small liquor bottles they used to serve on airplanes.

After walking about a mile (and removing my jacket and hoodie - it was getting hot) I passed by my cattle friends again. This time one of them began to approach the fence. This is as close as he would go, though. They have incredible curiosity. Are all cattle like this or just these shaggy mountain dwellers?

After walking about a mile (and removing my jacket and hoodie – it was getting hot) I passed by my cattle friends again. This time one of them began to approach the fence. This is as close as he would go, though. They have incredible curiosity. Are all cattle like this or just these shaggy mountain dwellers?

Many years ago I subscribed to the Providence Journal Bulletin, the only RI newspaper that is not a one-community paper. They used to pile up inside my home because I never seemed to have enough time to read them. These days I get most of my news from the radio, TV, and Internet. A newspaper is better but I know what would happen to it if I subscribed again. Apparently these people are on vacation or they don't read as much as they think they do.

Many years ago I subscribed to the Providence Journal Bulletin, the only RI newspaper that is not a one-community paper. They used to pile up inside my home because I never seemed to have enough time to read them. These days I get most of my news from the radio, TV, and Internet. A newspaper is better but I know what would happen to it if I subscribed again. Apparently these people are on vacation or they don’t read as much as they think they do.

Flowers that bloom in the winter. You should see the other side. It's even more colorful. This family keeps a nice place and reminds us that spring is coming. Their newspaper goes in the red box.

Flowers that bloom in the winter. You should see the other side. It’s even more colorful. This family keeps a nice place and reminds us that spring is coming. Their newspaper goes in the red box.

So, are you inspired to take a walk in your neighborhood now? Take your camera. The photos are waiting for you to take them.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Nature: Plants and Animals, Backyard, Woods, and River, Occasional Commentary | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Plumbing Penance

 

This past Tuesday night my friend and neighbor Ed informed me by email that he had a bit of a computer problem that might need fixing. I gave him some suggestions and indicated that I might see him the following day if he still needed help. Unfortunately I ended up Wednesday by returning home late in the day and a bit exhausted. I wrote a followup email to Ed to explain where I was all day. If you dislike plumbing, please read the email message I have copied below.


 

Ed,

How did your day work out? I’m sorry I wasn’t around to help you
with that computer problem. My day did not follow the plan I had
worked out. Let me explain.

I left home at 7:05 am and got back at about 4 pm.
I went to mom’s after breakfast at McDonald’s with the guys.
I found her still in bed at 9:30.
She felt warm so I figured she was alive (you have to do that stuff when someone is 92).

She woke up after a little while and told me about how
sick she was the previous day. I gave her the scheduled vitamin shot (1 ml every 6 weeks)
and then went to the kitchen to wash dishes. This is when I noticed the faucet had
no handle (reminds me of an old Bob Dylan ballad).

“Oh yeah” says mom, “I have to walk to the bathroom to get
water to wash the dishes.” So I ask her how long has it been like this.
“Since the weekend, I think” says she. Well you need a new
faucet set. “I know that” she returns, “Andrew is going to get one
for me”.
I decide to call Andrew to determine whether or not he has
acquired the sink faucet set. “It’s on the floor next to the china
cabinet in the dining room” Andrew informs me. “I was going to put it in
as soon as I felt better. Got a serious case of the runs, you know.
Even the dog is sick.” I see a pattern emerging here.

So what to do? I called my friend Lee and informed him that I would
not be able to meet him today. I was having a plumbing crisis. He
offered to loan me some tools but I declined. I had to go home
and get all my special gear.

So off to Hope Valley I go at warp speed. I return to Warwick in no
less than 100 minutes laden with every tool and light source
known to modern man. I also drag along my wife who is seriously
concerned about a maniac errant son driving with wild abandonment
on the slightly icy roads of Middle RI.

Of course my mom has already requested that I return with a loaf
of cinnamon swirl bread without the raisins. She used to put raisins in
everything she cooked, including meatballs. That was to make my
dad happy. Now he’s gone so damned the raisins. I said damned the cinnamon
swirl bread until we get the sink fixed.

So we arrive. I carry in my tools that are cradled in a cardboard Narragansett beer
flat, the best toolbox I had on hand. Camille goes into the dining room to
converse with my mother (bless her heart; Camille’s, not mom’s) so
I can tinker, throw things about and curse willy-nilly to my heart’s desire.
It’s the only way I know to do plumbing.

What does it take to install a kitchen sink faucet? This box of goodies just about covers it. Someday I'll turn in the Narragansett Beer box for something more sturdy. For now, it does a nice job.

What does it take to install a kitchen sink faucet? This box of goodies just about covers it. Someday I’ll turn in the Narragansett Beer box for something more sturdy. For now, it does a nice job.

Step one was to remove all four mousetraps from under sink. Two were sprung and contained no bait. One was primed and went off when my screwdriver touched it.
Number four had a mighty well-dead mouse attached. Lucky me.
Now the fun part of the day (and I thought the 15 mph first drive up on route 95 couldn’t be beat) began. The old faucet set was held on by this really big fitting that would not budge. So I just started ripping stuff out. I severed the old spray hose with some sharp scissors mom had on hand (the only tool of any value in the house; even her
flashlight didn’t work … it was full of water). Then I proceeded to undo the two nuts
that seemed to be holding the faucet stem in place. Have you ever tried to use
an 8-inch wrench in a 3-inch space? After a liberal dose of the F-word and much
twisting and bending of my back (not to mention the drop light that decided to drop
in my face and the spanner that missed my head by an inch) I finally pulled
the sucker off. The actual install of the faucet was a piece of cake, almost. If you
think using an 8-inch wrench in a 3-inch space is frustrating, how about using
two at a time? Yup, that’s how you tighten the supply nut without twisting
off the faucet nuts (both cold and hot). Did I already mention falling wrenches,
raining rust flakes, and dripping supplies? I swear, all plumbers must go straight
to heaven when they die. No waiting in line for those guys. They already spent
a lifetime in purgatory.

Finally the faucet is working. The only leak (very slight) is the shutoff valve. I don’t do those.
Besides, if I fixed that what would the mice think? So my wife and I make a quick run
to the store for cinnamon swirl bread without raisins ( any brand will do, just no raisins if you please) and a fresh pink bottle of Pepto-Bismol© so as to replenish mom’s recently
exhausted supply. Job done. Goods delivered. Bye mom! “You can’t leave yet” says mom. “Watch me” my face responds. You have to replace the bulbs in the dining room
lamp. I do this with great reluctance (plumbing brings out the worst in me).

My wife and I finally leave. “I would have stayed home if I knew it would take this long” she huffs.
“Wait!. Do you know what day it is? It’s Wiener Wednesday!” I say. That did it.
We set a path for Kingston Pizza down in Peacedale. When we enter the store I immediately ask the friendly lady behind the counter “Is today Wiener Wednesday?”
“All day, honey” she responds. And the guy eating alone in one of the booths
chimes in “That’s what I ask her every Wednesday too.” So five wieners, one large fry, a six-pack of Gansett and 20 minutes later we are back home eating our 4:00 pm lunch/supper.
That was an unexpected day.

Ken

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Puttering Around with the Buick

Lately I have been spending more time working on the Buick. The car is about to turn 75 years old. It’s about time I paid more attention to it.

I’ve joined the Antique Automobile Club of America and the local affiliate, the Westerly-Pawcatuck Region of the AACA. I bring the car to at least one cruise night per week and even attended one show with it. Next week I will join a caravan of antique cars that will travel from Westerly, RI to the Washington County Fair in Richmond, RI. Our cars will be one of the many attractions at this annual event.

Little fixes are the order of the day for me. I was returning from a Friday night cruise when my neighbor passed by in his red 1932 Ford hot rod. He gave me a toot and a wave. I returned the wave but there was no toot. The horn had suddenly failed again. In the past I did a total rebuild of the interior horn button insulator. It had broken into about 5 separate chunks of plastic. I got them all back together with epoxy, adjusted the horn ring, and made a test. The horn worked.

The horn relay is the little box at the top. It will be painted soon. The wiring harness is a mess as you can see.

The horn relay is the little box at the top. It will be painted soon. The wiring harness is a mess as you can see.

What could be the problem now? After a little poking around I decided that the root cause might well be the horn relay. I took the relay apart and measured all clearances and cleaned all contacts. I also firmed up one of the three wires (the S or switch wire) that was badly frayed. Now I have a well-functioning horn.

I’m still trying to remove the hood vent so I can replace its gasket. I just get tired and discouraged when lying upside down under the dash with my legs  over the back of the front seat. There is only so much pain you can take at 65 years old. I’ll get back to that one. Then there are the inoperable door jamb light switches. I inspected them and found that they are not original but newer switches that have been soldered in place. They don’t fit correctly, have come loose, and don’t work. I am still tracing the circuit for the interior and back end of the car. When I have this done I will place an order for the required parts.

One other small item that has been pestering me is the sun visors. They needed to be tightened. Also each one has a small vinyl finger grip that had come loose on one side. The stitching came loose and so the grip material just dangled. I decided to fix this with fabric glue. It worked well. You would have to look real close to notice that there are no threads holding it together.

Then there are the instruments. Most of them don’t work and the wiring is in really bad shape. All of the cotton braid coverings are frayed and faded.

Hopefully I can remove just this instrument panel so I can replace it with a better one I have. I also need to refresh the wiring behind it. Not all the gauges work.

Hopefully I can remove just this instrument panel so I can replace it with a better one I have. I also need to refresh the wiring behind it. Not all the gauges work.

Short circuits abound. Sensors no longer sense. I have to figure out how to remove the instrument panel without taking the entire dash out. If I can do that I may be encouraged to purchase a new wiring harness. The neat thing is that the harnesses are made at Narragansett Reproductions in Richmond, RI adjacent to my hometown of Hopkinton. Narragansett Reproductions is just minutes down the road and they have everything I need. The price is fair but I am not going to make a purchase until I am sure that I will follow through with the installation. (see above discussion).

I did some experimentation with hubcaps. The Buick hubcaps for 1941 have ‘BUICK’ stamped across them. Each letter is filled in with black paint. Most of my black paint is missing. I masked off the letters on one hubcap and managed to do a decent job of spraying the letters. I also experimented on a 1953 Buick hubcap. My son gave me a full set. They are nicely chromed. Originally they also had black, red, and blue paint on them. This particular hubcap was found only on the Special with the straight eight, the very last car to have that engine. All other models had the new V8.

Then there is the trunk. I have been working on that for a while. I was able to purchase several missing items through eBay auctions. These include: spare tire hold-down clamp, spare tire wing nut, and the spare tire wheel cover. The wheel cover is a special one. It does not have BUICK impressed on it. The cover is perfectly smooth. It’s only purpose was to prevent any sharp protrusions from the wheel hub coming into contact with luggage. I restored my cover by sanding it smooth and painting it black. Unfortunately the wheel was missing the little wheel clips that hold the hubcap on. My regular supplier was out of them. There just were not any available. Then I found some similar clips that go to a Volkswagen. They were priced at only $8.00 shipped for a set of 5, just the amount I needed. Rivets were included at no extra cost. The ebay seller told me that they would not work on the Buick. I bought them anyway. Each of the four wheels on my car has three of these clips on them. The wheel that resides in my spare tire well is different. It has five positions for the clips. I attached the clips with nuts and bolts rather than rivets. I then bent them a bit to increase the clearance between the wheel and the spring portion of the clips so they would have the exact contours as the ones on my other wheels. When I tried to pop on the wheel cover it would not stay in place; although, it did seem to be attaching at one of the clips. I removed all of the clips and bent each one again so that they had outlines that approximated the one clip that was holding. The clips were then put back on the wheel and to my surprise the wheel cover fit very nicely. Now that was fun! (Note: I can’t guarantee they will work on your car. I just used them on the spare and am not sure how well they might hold on a moving wheel.)

I got a bit carried away while taking some photos of the trunk area. I was trying to test out various features of my camera, a Fuji HS50EXR. I do not like this camera. It is just too difficult to get good photos. If anyone has a suggested replacement I am all ears. I need something that has a high zoom ratio (50x or more) and a tremendous number of automatic modes that cover every possibility. I’m tired of trying to figure out how this thing works. It’s time for something that is very automatic and which has a large sensor.

(Note: clicking on any image will enlarge it in a new window. Click ‘BACK’ to return.)

 

 

 

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The Graduate, the car

My son-in-law has the good fortune to have a reputation. He is the go-to guy if you want to offload a vintage car, tractor, or truck. He lives on a small island (Block Island, RI) and it isn’t cheap to transport a vehicle off via ferry and thence to a junk yard. So, the first thing to do is to check if Chris wants it. Oftentimes he does. I have benefited from this arrangement since his excess, namely a 1948 IH Cub tractor, came my way as an overflow item. I took the tractor and he had room for another vehicle.

Most of his current hoard consists of huge shovels, tractors, and dump trucks. Then there is the tiny Alfa Romeo 1600 Duetto Spider, otherwise known as the Graduate. This is a really cool sports car. Although it has seen better days and is more properly designated as a parts car, it still has wonderful lines that beckon to anyone who appreciates Alfa Romeo style.

Why is it called the Graduate? Well, the car was featured in the 1967 film by that same name. This is the car that ran out of gas as Ben (played by Dusitn Hoffman) was racing to a wedding so he could stop the proceedings and run away with the almost bride. You might want to check out the YouTube video below that features the car this one commemorates.

 

 

 

This style will never be outdated.

This style will never be outdated.

The Alfa is ready for a new home. Chris asked me to give it some space here so that anyone interested might inquire with him regarding details of its condition and completeness. So, check out the following photographs. It would be a shame if this car was not somehow put back on the road again. If you are interested you can contact Chris directly by telephone or by sending him email. If you send email put “Alfa Romeo Graduate” in the title.

Email: smelycar at gmail.com  Phone: Area Code 401 dash 418 dash 2661                 Price: $500.00

 

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Of Mice and Buicks

Some years ago shortly after purchasing the ’41 Buick Roadmaster I noticed that it had a rather unpleasant odor. It was something different from the typical ‘old car’ fragrance. My temporary response was to stick an air freshener to the dash.

It looks like fewer than a quarter of the springs have been invaded. Not so. The little pests tunnel from one spring to the next. This will all have to be replaced some day.

It looks like fewer than a quarter of the springs have been invaded. Not so. The little pests tunnel from one spring to the next. This will all have to be replaced some day.

Then I decided to root out the cause. Some determined sniffing soon lead to the front and back seats. Upon removal I found that they were infested with mice nests. The chewed up newspaper, cloth, and mice fur filled many of the spring cavities. Each spring is wrapped in burlap. It was easy to spot the sections that had been chewed through to expose the springs. The final clue that pointed at mice was the trail of small black feces that they leave everywhere. What a mess.

Each spring is wrapped in burlap and sewn shut. This does not deter mice, as you can easily see. Long nose pliers and tongs are effective at pulling out the mess that a vacuum can't get to.

Each spring is wrapped in burlap and sewn shut. This does not deter mice, as you can easily see. Long nose pliers and tongs are effective at pulling out the mess that a vacuum can’t get to.

Notice the material poking out of the spring. The numerous small black items are mouse feces.

Notice the material poking out of the spring. The numerous small black items are mouse feces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently I had reason to remove the back seat so as to access the well that is used for storage of the jack. Guess what I found. The mice were back. They not only open up individual coil covers but they then tunnel from one to the next in a lateral direction so that coils that appear unmolested (should that be unmouselested?) from the outside are actually filled with nests.

I was told very little about the origins of this car when I purchased it. Sifting through the sucked-up nests makes interesting reading.

I was told very little about the origins of this car when I purchased it. Sifting through the sucked-up nests makes interesting reading.

So far I have found two references to New Jersey. Note the 1985 date. I really wanted to find something from 1945.

So far I have found two references to New Jersey and a 1985 date. Can’t read the text? See the enlarged version below.

 

I believe this text describes a state park in NJ. Now I have to decide if I want to look through the rest of the debris.

I believe this text describes a state park in NJ. Now I have to decide if I want to look through the rest of the debris. It would be nice to find something from 1945.

So it was time to get out the shop vacuum and suck them out again. Some day I may bring them to an upholsterer and have it done right by getting the seats stripped right down to the frame and having every soft part replaced. For now it is just mouse-intervention.

I wish I could keep those pests out permanently. The car is stored in the garage at all times but that does not seem to keep them out. I even have mouse traps here and there. I think I will begin putting those traps under the seat frames from now on. I am sure more invaders will arrive.

This guy got stuck in the end of the vacuum crevice tool. His supple texture indicates he may  have expired only recently. I do not like mice!

This guy got stuck in the end of the vacuum crevice tool. His supple texture indicates he may have expired only recently. I do not like mice!

Regarding the capabilities of a shop vacuum, there are limits. I had to use a regular vacuum to get into smaller areas. It’s good that I did because at one point it became stopped up – with a mouse. Yup, an entire mouse. He was in great condition as in deceased only moments before. Oh well, the battle goes on.

After cleaning the back seat I decided to check the front. This desiccated rodent was found tucked in a corner.

After cleaning the back seat I decided to check the front. This desiccated rodent was found tucked in a corner.

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