Monday, November 11, 2019

Pierre's Warfare

Pierre’s Warfare
By Bob West
Feb. 1, 2001

My military career started one cold January morning in 1943 when I and seven other young men from this community boarded a bus for Spokane. We were the first of many that were called into military service after the draft age was lowered to 18. Our destination was the Armory where we joined many other draftees from Washington and Idaho. About 7:30 that night we were bussed to the train station to board a train for Ft. DouglasUtah, to be inducted into the army of the United States of America.
Once there we were issued Army clothing and given a GI haircut, which took all of three minutes, using clippers only. Some of the guys actually cried when they saw their curly locks lying on the ground. After several days of total confusion, orders, indoctrinations, training films, and a hundred immunization shots (well, almost!), we were separated into companies and shipped to camps or forts all over the country. My company was sent to Camp PolkLouisiana for basic training. It was at this point of my military service I witnessed my first of many, many SNAFU’s (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up). There was no room for us – there were no sleeping barracks. We spent the first night at camp sleeping in the aisles and under the tables in the mess hall. The next morning, 8-man squad tents were erected around the perimeter of a drill field. Each tent was assigned a barracks for showering and sanitary needs. This was to be our home for several months.
My tent was lucky #13. All but one of us was in this young age group. Pierre was the old man of the tent, all of 25 years of age. He was about 30 pounds overweight and soon had the nickname Porky. He was a happy-go-lucky guy, always in a good mood, and a real comedian. At first, we all wanted to be his friend, but this changed a little later when we found he had one major fault.
For many of us young men, this was the first time we had been away from home for any length of time, and we were extremely homesick. During the day they kept us so busy we didn’t have time to think of our loved ones back home. Nighttime was different. After we showered and ate our evening mess we had several hours of leisure time. Most of us used this time to write letters to our friends and loved ones. When the order, “Lights Out” came, and “Taps” was played, homesickness really set in. I think most of us cried a little, I did. As tired as we were, it was hard to fall asleep. There were so many strange and weird sounds we were not used to – groaning, coughing, sneezing, snoring, just to name a few. Because of our eating habits and the change in our diet, we all suffered from irritations of the lower digestive tract. Soon after we retired, it sounded as if our tent was involved in a small-arms firefight. Pierre brought in the heavy artillery. He had a severe case of chronic flatulence. His was not the nighttime only variety, but the 24-hour, every 10 or 15-minute variety. None of us wanted to sit at the same mess table with him. When we got passes to go to town, we avoided getting in the same bus with him. He was excused from close-order drill (marching) because he drowned out the drill instructor’s orders and cadence count.
After we completed our basic training we were sent to Camp ChaffeeArkansas to begin training for combat duty with the 16th armored division. In late September a bulletin was sent to all units informing us that on the following Saturday a special ceremony was being held to celebrate the induction of the division into the active fighting service of the United State ground forces. This was to be a very formal affair with several Army generals and big wig officials from the nation’s capitol in attendance. The memo stated we were all to be on our best behavior (meaning, no SNAFUs). Perpetrators would be severely dealt with.
Arkansas is very hot and humid this time of year. By noon of the day of the big event, the temperature was over the 100-degree mark. To add to our miseries our uniform of the day was ODs (woolen olive drab), no jacket but shirt collar buttoned with a tie. By the time we marched 12 blocks to the field where the affair was held, our uniforms were wet with perspiration. Marching that far in this heat was bad enough but standing at parade rest until all the troops were assembled was worse. I heard later that over 200 troops suffered from heat prostration and had to be carried off the field. Although all the troops were sweating it out, I think our company, especially members of Tent 13, were doing more sweating. Pierre had not been heard from. I will give him credit, he tried to be good, but there were forces he could not control and it finally happened. Even those of us who knew what he was capable of were astounded. I truly believe that if this could have been recorded, and there was a record for this event, his would be on the top of the list for its longevity and the record high on the decibel scale in the Guinness Book of Records. At first, we were so shocked we failed to react, but someone snickered, setting off a chain reaction of laughter in our section of the area. The guilty ones spent the next week confined to our company area, doing KP, washing windows, scrubbing barracks floors and other company duties.
I admit this event did not capture worldwide attention as “the shot heard around the world” at the Concord Bridge during the Revolutionary War did, but the shot on the drill field at Camp Chaffee did attract attention on the base for several weeks.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

My Old Friend Frank

My Old Friend “Frank”
By Bob West
April 27, 1995
The first family car that I can recall was a 1924 Franklin touring car. This car was powered by an air-cooled engine. It had a hardwood frame, an aluminum body, and a top made of weatherproof cloth material. Each of the four doors had curtains made of this same heavy material. The windows themselves were isinglass. Isinglass, for you younger readers, can be compared to a very heavy clear plastic of today.
I can remember Dad taking these curtains to the Charles Day Harness Shop on Main Street to have new isinglass sewn in to replace the cracked and discolored ones. The curtains were held in place by a curtain rod standing vertical to the door, then snapped to the door and also to the roof. In good weather, the curtains were removed and stored under the front seat. Without the curtains in place, it was of course, very windy. On one of our family outings, my older sister Dorris, who was also my tormentor, told me not to turn my head sideways because the cartilage between my nostrils (she called it a plug) would be blown away and lost. Thereafter I was very careful to pinch my nose with my fingers to keep this from happening.
As cars were not equipped with turn signals, the curtain on the driver’s side had a small opening, covered with a flap of the cloth material so the driver could use hand signals. Sometimes it was hard to signal, shift and steer the car all at the same time. This car was very modern in its day. It had an electric-driven windshield wiper, most other cars had a hand-operated one. There was also a small fan with rubber blades to keep the windows from steaming up. On the dashboard, in addition to the speedometer and the odometer, there were four switches, one marked primer and one was the ignition switch. What the other two were for, I do not remember. There was no ignition key, but there was a key to lock the transmission, so the car could not be shifted. Since the motor was air-cooled, there was no chance for the radiator to freeze and burst. Dad told me that the last winter we lived in Post Falls was an extremely cold one. After work he would drive home, about three miles, drive the car onto blocks in the garage and then drain the oil from the crankcase into a pan and store it in the furnace room. The next morning he would fill the crankcase with the warm oil and the car would start with no trouble. He said he was one of the few people that didn’t have to do a lot of walking that winter. Of course there was no heater in the car. We depended on lap robes and blankets to keep warm.
One night when we were returning from a visit with my grandparents, the lights on the car went out. After that Dad parked it in the garage and never tried to start it again. One summer several years later, Eugene Schell, one of my high school friends, and I decided to see if we could get it started. We rented a storage battery and bought a couple gallons of gas from the Texaco station. As I recall, there was a one-half gallon vacuum tank on the engine, which was to be filled with gas. This acted as a primer.
We hooked up the battery cables, poured the rest of the gas into the gas tank, crossed our fingers and stepped on the starter. After a few agonizing moments of moaning, groaning and wheezing, the motor backfired, a big puff of black smoke came out of the tailpipe, and it then started purring like a kitten. We were really excited! All four of the tires were low, and we had to find a hand-operated air pump to inflate them. Finally the big moment. We slowly backed the car out of the garage and headed for country roads. Never mind that we didn’t have license or insurance, we simply stayed on the back byways where the cops wouldn’t catch us. We sneaked the car out numerous weekends on those country drives. One of my dad’s friends saw us driving one day though and reported us to Dad. I thought he would be angry, but he wasn’t and even agreed to sell us the car for $50. We then bought the license and insurance for it and we were ready for some fun times. We were actually the proud owners of a 1924 Franklin! Suddenly we were very popular at school. We had one of the five cars that students owned. Ours was by far the largest so we ran a regular taxi service up and down the schoolhouse hill.
The tire size for this Franklin was 4 ½ X 32, and it was very high off the ground, which made it great for bucking snowdrifts and mud holes. I truly believe that with chains it could go anywhere today’s Jeep can. We drove this car until both of us entered the armed service during WWII. We then stored it in a barn at Gene’s place until after the war.
When we returned over three years later we had no trouble getting it started. It was as if it were welcoming us home. One day we were driving out in the country by my Uncle Clayton West’s farm when we had a blowout. Much to our dismay, we found the spare tire was also flat. Those poor old tires. All the inner tubes had been patched a dozen times or more.
We hiked the five miles back home and returned the next weekend with the fixed spare only to find the other three had gone flat. As hard as we tried we could not find any more tires to fit. We left the car where it sat.
A few months later Uncle Clayton told me he was going to drag it to his place and use it for a farm vehicle. Some years later a stranger came into our store and asked me if I was Bob West. When I said yes, he asked me to come outside and see something. I walked around the corner by the bank and parked there was our old friend the Franklin.
It was painted a shiny black and had a new top and curtains. It looked like a factory new car. The stranger told me he was driving around the country looking for old cars to rejuvenate and had spotted ours in the junk pile at my uncle’s place. He asked if he could buy it but Uncle Clayton told him he could just have it. He came back the very next day and hauled it to his shop in Lewiston where he spent many hours restoring it.
The drive to Palouse was her maiden trip after the restoration and he wanted me to be the first to see it. I promptly called Gene so he was able to see it too. It was a happy reunion.
Three years later the same fellow stopped in Palouse again, on his way to Spokane to a car show. He told me he had won many awards for the Franklin, three of which were first place. When I asked him how the motor was running, he said, “like a Swiss watch.” That was the last time I ever saw this grand old car.
The following information about Franklin cars was printed in the June 13, 1913 issue of the Palouse Republic:
“J.A. Miller blew into Palouse from Walla Walla Sunday with a new six-cylinder Franklin car, taking his friends completely by surprise. The car was bought through the Palouse Garage which recently secured the agency for the Franklin. The price is $3,050, making the car the most expensive so far owned in Palouse. While the price is somewhat fancy, the car also has a fancy appearance, and a gait like a singlefooter, together with all the modern devices which go with automobiles.”